What was lost is now found

Last night I taught on Luke 15, three parables that teach us about the lengths God has gone to save us, and the only proper response to His pursuit: joy and repentance.  Below are my notes, I hope you profit from them!

Luke Chapter 15

Introduction to the Chapter

Chapter fifteen features three parables which showcase many aspects of the character of Jesus, but only one essential truth: God has gone to great lengths to save those who were lost and not thought worthy of the kingdom of God, and finds great joy in doing so! If there’s a second point, it is that the lowly, the meek, the humble who seek repentance are those who populate the kingdom of God.

You’ve heard of “seeker-sensitive” churches, but in this chapter we learn that it is God who is the seeker, and we see his character and his chase highlighted herein. We also see the kind of person he is chasing (sinners) and what the proper reply is to his calling (repentance).

In each parable something that was lost been restored. In the first parable we see the lengths to which a good shepherd will go in order to find a lost sheep. In the second parable, the woman who has lost a valuable coin searches everywhere in order to find that which was so valuable. Finally, in the parable of the prodigal son, we see the longsuffering father, effusive with joy and love upon the return and restoration of his long lost son.

Through each parable we see the heart of Christ for the lost, the sinful, the wayward – He sees them as valuable beyond measure. God doesn’t do anything that is a “waste of his time” so to speak. Everything he does is supremely worthy of his effort. He always ordains and acts according to what will bring him the most glory – this is the wisdom of God.

Those whom Christ has chosen to set His love upon from eternity past as HIS. They are a love gift from the Father, and despite their wanderings, He will surely go to the ends of the earth to chase them down with His love.

Once again, Luke 19:10 serves as a wonderful guide to understanding this chapter, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

15:1-2 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. [2] And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

These sinners were the social outcasts. Tax collectors were traitors to their own people, collecting money from fellow Israelites on behalf of the Romans. They functioned as mercenaries who cared more about riches than holiness. Ryken says, The word ‘sinners’ was the catch all for people who had a notorious reputation for bad behavior – thieves, drunkards, prostitutes, and anyone else who refused to conform to the holy habits of the religious community.”[1]

In this culture hospitality was a very important part of the social order, and who you ate with was just as important. – so much so that when these Pharisees saw Jesus eating with sinners it was enough to throw them into convulsions.

Ryken says that this word “receives” (prosdechomai) was “to welcome them into fellowship, to accept them and associate with them. In that culture, one of the most tangible ways to establish this kind of friendship was to share a meal.”[2]

You have to ask yourself this: Are you so outwardly religious that no sinner would want to get near you?[3] Or are you compassionate, and full of wisdom? Do you welcome and surround yourself with sinners who need saving? It is easy to fall into a legalistic mindset, so much so that you are unwilling to have a beer with a colleague after work. And on the flip side, perhaps you are willing to eat with them, and you’re very approachable, but you don’t ever lead them to the reason for the hope within you. Jesus calls upon us to be both approachable and loving and also transparently truthful. His mission was to seek and save the lost – and that ought to be ours as well.[4]

15:3-7 So he told them this parable: [4] “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? [5] And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. [6] And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ [7] Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

There are three things we need to notice about this parable.

  1. Jesus is the shepherd in this parable, and he is seeking a specific sheep. He knows the name of that sheep. The shepherd of Israel was always seen as the Lord.

This is a truth rooted in the psalms:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. [2] He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. [3] He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. (Psalm 23:1-3)

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth. [2] Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up your might and come to save us! (Psalm 80:1-2)

This is a truth rooted in the prophets – He had a specific group of people upon whom He had set his affections:

“For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. [12] As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. [13] And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. [14] I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. [15] I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. [16] I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice. (Ezekiel 34:11-16)

This is a truth which finds is greatest expression in the person of Jesus:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. [12] He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. [13] He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. [14] I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, [15] just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:11-15)

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. [10] All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. (John 17:9-10)

  1. Notice there is no guessing in what state this sheep was found – he was lost. He was a sinner. He needed repentance. This is what is sometimes chiefly missing from our study of these parables. The one thread that runs through them all in the case of the objects of God’s love is the central need of repentance.

What is it that fuels the joy of heaven? Repentance! This is a great insight for us because it shows us firstly that the priorities of heaven are not the priorities of earth. Those not valued here on earth are greatly valued in heaven. Secondly, it shows the importance of spiritual warfare and of sharing the gospel. If heaven is rejoicing at these things, ought we not to give them our attention as well?

J.C. Ryle gets at an important point that I hadn’t thought of right away, namely that the world “mocks” at repentance.[5] It isn’t a popular thing to “repent” of our behavior. If someone doesn’t like the way we behave, we say “tough, that’s what makes me unique!” We celebrate our sins and call them “diversity”, and we go endless days without doing business with God because we don’t take God as seriously as we ought.

  1. The shepherd goes to great lengths to rescue the lost sheep. As Geldenhuys says, “the shepherd considers no trouble, sacrifice and suffering too great to find the lost sheep and bring it back.”

This is the real central point of all of these parables, namely the great lengths to which Jesus has gone to rescue us from ourselves.

15:8-10 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? [9] And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ [10] Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

This next parable was one that women of Jesus’ day could relate to – which actually cuts to the point that Jesus cared more about relating timeless truths to the lower classes of men and women than to the rich and powerful. He had a word for everyone because He was rescuing men and women from every tribe, tongue and nation.

Ryken comments, “Can you see what Jesus was doing? In contrast to the other preachers of his day, he wanted to teach women as much as men. To do that effectively, he made a point of using examples that related to their life experience.”[6]

In this case, the woman who lost her coin represents God. And the coin that is lost – well you guessed it, that’s the lost sinner God is searching after.[7]

One of these silver coins, called “drachamas”, was worth an entire days labor in the time of Jesus.

Imagine working all day long, getting dinner made, getting the laundry going, the kids finally in bed, the house somewhat clean (if you’re lucky), and you sit down to get the money ready for grocery day tomorrow. A sinking feeling takes hold when you realize that you’re missing an entire day’s worth of money in your bank account – what in the world happened? Where did it go? That’s when you start looking through your bank statements, scrolling furiously through the online line items. The horrid realization is setting in that everything you did today doesn’t even matter. It might as well never have happened – its gone. You immediately start combing your purse, your wallet, your statements, you stop and think – you must be missing something somewhere. That’s when you realize – you had gotten an extra $300 out of the ATM and put it in an envelope for tomorrow – that’s why it wasn’t showing up in the online statement!

We’ve all been there – in fact, more likely than some cash in an envelope is the case that the bank charged you 5 times for overdraft fees even though you have plenty of money sitting in another account. They just didn’t bother to ask if you wanted to transfer any of the over!

But the point is this: That silver coin was worth a lot to this lady. She needed that money to run her household. Losing the coin wasn’t just a write off, or bad business, it could be fatal.

Tony Romano talks about how this stops everything, it interrupts everything – life stops cold in its tracks in order to find this coin. All else, all other priorities fade for the moment, and the search consumes everything.[8]

Such is the value God places on the lost sinners of this world. And when He tracks one down, all of heaven erupts in jubilant celebration.

15:11-13 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. [12] And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. [13] Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.

Notice two things. First, the father didn’t deny his son what he asked for. Sometimes God gives us the desires of our heart in order to show us that they are foolishness. He basically says, “Fine, you want these things? Take them and see that they are worthless and temporary compared to what I have to offer you!”

But it is devastating to realize that this son wants to waste everything his father has worked so hard to save.[9]

Secondly, the living of this son is the life promoted by the world. It is the “good life” – it prioritizes the self ahead of others, and the temporal before the eternal.

15:14-15 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. [15] So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs.

The privileges of this son in his own land were lost. What took years to save is spent in no time at all. And, ironically, the well-healed young man has now become the hired servant. His bondage is self inflicted – in more ways than one.

The son is now at the nadir of his life. Jews listening to Jesus’ parable would have been completely repulsed by the idea of feeding and eating with pigs – an unclean animal.

15:16-19 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. [17] “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! [18] I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. [19] I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’

This is the moment – at his lowest – when he comes to himself. That is a very important statement. He is finally in his right mind – he sees reality for what it is. He isn’t trying to just get himself out of a spot with the intention of going right back to the life he led before. No, he is finally desperate enough to realize how much he needs saved.

Furthermore, he knows that what he has done has been an offense first and foremost against heaven.

What this says, and what all of these parables intimate, is that our sin is of cosmic importance. Angels celebrate when we repent and are saved. Our sins are recognized as that which is an offence first and foremost against God.

This is something that David realized as well:

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. (Psalm 51:4)

15:20-24 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. [21] And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ [22] But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. [23] And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. [24] For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

We must notice three things about the Father:

  1. Even when the son was far off he felt compassion and “ran” to him. Pride, anger, resentment had no place in this man’s heart.
  2. He lavished upon the son great gifts and love. Such is the love the father had for his son.
  3. He recognized the state of his son as “dead” and now “alive” – so are all men who were previously outside of the family of God.

And once again, a celebration ensues!

15:25 “Now his older son[10] was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. [26] And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. [27] And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ [28] But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, [29] but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. [30] But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ [31] And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. [32] It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”

What strikes me about this is the excitement, the party atmosphere, the joy, the dancing, the music – loud music! This is a real party going on here! The God of the Bible is not a stoic. He is a God who has created all of these lost men and women – fashioned them with His own hands. He cares deeply for them. And he has set his affection on a chosen number to save from eternal punishment. This special affection is seen in the profuse love of this father for his wayward son.

Also, God works from a different plane of reality here.[11] He says it was “fitting” that they celebrate. It’s a given, its natural. This is what we do, he says. That is not human logic; this is a statement motivated by someone with perspective on a higher plane of reality. Because we have the mind of Christ, we must also elevate our thoughts to His, to celebrate the significance of a lost sinner coming to salvation.

Now let’s examine once again some of the bigger picture here…

The Bigger Picture

We would do well at this point to pull back and remember the bigger picture of Jesus’ ministry, and how it fits into the larger scope of redemptive history. The history of Israel was one of disobedience, exile, and salvation.

To get a better picture of the cycle, remember that just as Joseph went ahead of the Israelites into the land of Egypt, so also Daniel went first into Babylon – into exile – before the rest of his countrymen joined him. Both men were elevated to the highest positions in the land due to their faith. And just as Moses came later to rescue the people from Egypt, so too Daniel predicted that even after the exodus from Babylon there would be a new exodus led by the One he referred to as the “Son of Man.”

Moses the great Midianite shepherd, rescued his sheep from the serpents of Egypt. Jesus, the son of Man, and greater son of David, has taken up staff and rescued the sheep of His Father’s flock, delivering them from exile to a new exodus – a spiritual exodus – an exodus from sin and death.

That is what is going on here – Jesus has come to usher in the exodus – and as He does this, He establishes His kingdom. It is a kingdom built upon a rock. It is a kingdom which will never be shaken. It is a kingdom which will cover all the lands as the water covers the sea. And as we see in chapter 15, it is a kingdom populated by sinners.

Which leads to the last points…

The Character of God

Underlying all of this the manifold character of God is seen. His sovereignty is manifested in ordaining, and indeed bringing about, the salvation of those who seemed (by all worldly standards) to have wandered beyond the reach of salvation. His justice is seen in His passing over those self-righteous “older brothers” who refuse to come in and eat with the prodigals. His mercy is showcased in the way in which He loves the unlovable – whom He amazingly sees as valuable enough to search the earth over for – and saves them out of a wretched situation.

Such is the mercy that He has showered upon each one of us, even if we don’t think very frankly about our state prior to His saving work. Listen to the reflections of C.H. Spurgeon:

“I must confess,” he says, “that I never would have been saved if I could have helped it. As long as ever I could, I rebelled, and revolted, and struggled against God. When He would have me pray, I would not pray, and when He would have me listen to the sound of the ministry, I would not. And when I heard, and the tear rolled down my cheek, I wiped it away and defied Him to melt my soul. But long before I began with Christ, He began with me.”[12]

We all must stand in debt and awe that the Hound of Heaven has chased us down, has set His great and mighty love upon us, and though we deserved it not, has rescued us from certain death. God be praised for His mercy.

Footnotes

[1] Ryken, Commentary on Luke, Volume II, Pg. 103.

[2] Ryken, Commentary on Luke, Volume II, Pg. 113.

[3] I appreciate the teaching of Tony Romano who brought this question to my attention two years ago during a campout when he spoke on this passage. My personal notes reflect several pages of introspection from those teaching sessions in August of 2013.

[4] Tony Romano, August 23, 2013 notes on Luke 15 teaching. He said, “The church is on mission because God is on mission.”

[5] Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Luke, Volume Two, Baker Books, Pg. 177.

[6] Ryken, Volume II, Pg. 117.

[7] Ryken points out that the H.S. is possibly represented by the woman in the second parable – Pg. 118.

[8] Romano, August 23, 2013, notes on Luke 15 talk.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ryken wisely points out that there is a progression in the three parables. The sheep was 1 of 100, the coin was 1 of 10, but the prodigal was 1 of 2. Although it is evident here that both sons were really lost, and many believe that the Pharisees are represented in the older son in this final parable.

[11] Romano, August 24, 2013, men’s campout, personal notes on his lesson.

[12] http://www.spurgeon.org/misc/bio2.htm

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Woe to Moralism

Like the Pharisees of two thousand years ago, we all tend toward legalism – we all want to put rules, systems, and guidelines in our lives that will help us be “good people.”  The concept seems like it makes sense – on the surface. And while rules themselves are good things – heck, we’d have anarchy without rules!  – these rules alone don’t really serve as motivators toward living a good life. The Bible teaches that only the Gospel of grace – an inward change of the heart and mind – can do that. And that power comes from God alone.

Here are my notes on a very powerful and challenging passage of Scripture, Luke 11:37-54.

11:37-38 While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. [38] The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner.

As you might recall from previous study, the Pharisees had been demanding a sign – all Jesus was going to give them for a sign was himself – his death burial and resurrection, the sign of Jonah.

There are two main groups of people in the narrative before us, the Pharisees and the Scribes. Philip Ryken gives some helpful background for understanding the difference between these two groups, he says:

What, then, was the difference between these lawyers and the Pharisees? Whereas the term “Pharisee” referred to a religious party – almost like today’s Christian denominations – the term “lawyer” referred to a professional occupation. Some lawyers were Pharisees, but not all of them, because not all lawyers followed the customs of the Pharisees. There were also some Pharisees were lawyers; they were Bible scholars by profession. Yet many Pharisees were involved I some other line of work. In fact, many of them were lay people.[1]

It’s interesting that this discussion took place over dinner – what a dinner! Ryken is right to point out that we should use opportunities like Jesus did to be sociable and take advantage of these times to build relationships. Ryken, “But we must always be sure to point them to God. All too often Christians accept this kind of dinner invitation without using it to full spiritual advantage.”

The Pharisees really did believe that cleanliness is next to Godliness. They didn’t want the hands that they used for everything during the day to ceremonially defile their food, and thus their bodies.

But this wasn’t something in the law code itself; it was a rule that the Pharisees invented for helping them keep the rules. Ryken comments, “It is important to understand that there was nothing morally wrong with what Jesus did. The only thing Jesus violated was a man-made rule for religiously acceptable conduct. The Pharisees had a thousand and one of these extra biblical rules, which they believed God had given to Moses on Mount Sinai, and were subsequently handed down by oral tradition. They further believed that breaking any one of themes a serious breach of holiness.”[2]

11:39-44 And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. [40] You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? [41] But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you. [42] “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. [43] Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. [44] Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”

Woes to the Pharisees

Jesus didn’t hesitate to offend His dinner guests! He did so because His heart hated evil, and He was constantly teaching people the way of God, even over dinner, there was no downtime for Jesus. He was always on mission.

Jesus is going to pronounce “woes” on these men, and because that is not a term we use a lot in our day, I want to explain what it means. It primarily means judgment – it is a pronouncement of judgment on these men. But at the same time there is mixed with this a sense of sorrow.[3] You may have read some Shakespeare play where the character says, “O Woe is me!” – this is an expression of sorrow, not a pronouncement of judgment.

That being said, judgment is primary. You might be familiar with Calvin’s three offices for Jesus: Prophet, Priest, and King. In this instance Jesus is acting as the supreme Prophet come to speak the Word of God.

In the OT many prophets would pronounce “woes” on Israel or the surrounding nations for their ungodliness. One or two examples from Isaiah ought to give you the idea:

For the look on their faces bears witness against them; they proclaim their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! For they have brought evil on themselves. (Isaiah 3:9)

Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him, for what his hands have dealt out shall be done to him. (Isaiah 3:11)

The idea of woe can likely also be tied to the idea of a curse – like the covenant curses under the Old Covenant. For example:

“But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field. Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out. (Deuteronomy 28:15-19)

Now, there are three woes He pronounces to the Pharisees:[4]

  1. Neglecting God’s justice and love
  2. Loving the best seats
  3. Leading people to death

The first thing Jesus addresses, however, is how the Pharisees are all about cleaning the outside of their bodies, the whole time leaving their hearts a stained and disgusting atrocity.

We know that God desires our hearts and minds – the inside of us – to be just as devoted to him as our bodies and actions and words. It isn’t as though this is just a New Testament teaching either, for David recognized this and said:

“In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.” (Ps 40:6)

And earlier Samuel had said, “And Samuel said, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22).

Therefore these Pharisees were more concerned about what was going on ceremonially outside, and all the while neglected not only their hearts, but also their interactions with others. They neglected love and justice. When they dealt with man they dealt with that which was of least concern while neglecting that which was of utmost concern.

Secondly, Jesus accuses them of loving the best seats. Ryken draws a parallel with the way parishioners in the Old North Church used to have pews with their names written on them. Anyone daring to sit in those who wasn’t a bearer of that family name was bound to be kicked out of the church. I had a similar experience in Toledo at the First Baptist Church in the Holland area. They had names on the pews, a strange female minister, and frowned on visitors. I had forgotten all about this oddity until this past week while driving past their building. Oddly enough when I looked up their website again, the logo they use is a big heart around their name! The irony, of course, is that when we behave like this church does – like the Pharisees did – we are anything but loving!

We have been called to put others first. Those in leadership ought to especially be models of servant leadership. This is the model Jesus gave us, and its how we are expected to serve.

Paul says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

The third woe Jesus pronounces has to do with leading people to death. He calls them “unmarked graves.” But what does that mean, exactly? Well to step on or over an grave during the time of Jesus meant that you would be ceremonially unclean for one week (Numbers 19:6).

What the Jews used to do was whitewash the gravestones in order for them to be clearly marked. That way no one would come near them and be defiled.

Therefore what Jesus is saying is that people come near the Pharisees, listen to their teaching, begin to try and follow their advice, and defile themselves without even knowing it!

You catch the irony here, right? These Pharisees are so concerned with people washing their hands to remain clean, while the whole time they’re the ones defiling people left and right!

In Matthew 23:15 Jesus puts it this way:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

Those are powerful words! They are words or warning, words that ought to be taken seriously.

You know, the whole thing is really absurd. That is the right word for it – it’s the word J.C. Ryle uses to describe these people. But let us also beware to look inside our own lives to see if there be any falsity, any empty religion, any superficial attitudes of self-righteousness. These are things that so easily creep into the hearts and minds of men, and we must be on our guard not to think of ourselves as above or beyond them.

11:45-52 One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.” [46] And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. [47] Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. [48] So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs. [49] Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ [50] so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, [51] from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation. [52] Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.”

Background

This particular scribe must have had a sensitive conscience because he picked up the fact that when Jesus pronounced his “woes” to the Pharisees His pronouncements leaked over to the scribes as well – many of which were guilty of the same thing.

Before I get into the Woes themselves, let me point out the historical background here. Jesus says that these men are just as guilty as their forefathers who killed the prophets. He then gives Abel and Zechariah as examples. We all know Abel was killed by Cain in Genesis 4, but which Zechariah Jesus is referring to here is disputed.

Its possible that Zechariah was the man referred to in 2 Chronicles 24:20-25 because in the Hebrew Bible Chronicles was the final book, thus making him the final murder before the close of the OT canon as those in Jesus’ day knew it. Some scholars seem unconvinced because that Zechariah died in the “court” of the temple, and they see an issue between that description and Jesus’ description here as Zechariah perishing “between the altar and the sanctuary.” But Bock does a good job of laying out all the possible options, and it does seem that this Zechariah from 2 Chronicles is the most likely person to whom Jesus is referring.[5]

The point He is making here is that from the beginning there has been a war between the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15) and the seed of the serpent. The serpent has continually tried to kill the seed of the woman, for there is enmity between them (see Gen. 3). All those who are of the world and not of God are under the influence of Satan, as Paul says:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins [2] in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—[3] among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1-3)

Tom Schreiner has some good things to say about this passage and how it fits into the larger redemptive-historical picture:

They (the Pharisees) neglected what is weighty and clear in the law and become preoccupied with what is secondary. On the outside they appeared to be righteous and pure, but inside they were stained by deep corruption, so that they were comparable to whitewashed tombs. Their evil culminated in the execution of God’s messengers, showing that they were not the seed of Abraham at all but were a “brook of vipers” – the seed of the serpent.

What is said about the leaders cannot be restricted to them. By nature the hearts of all people are dull and insensitive to the things of God, nor are people genuinely interested in hearing and seeing what God has to say to them (Matt. 13:15).[6]

Zooming back in on this particular context, Jesus is pointing to these men, His current generation, and naming them as complicit in rejecting the Father’s messengers and His ultimate Messenger: Jesus Himself.

In many ways their judgment would come in such a violent fashion that thousands if not millions of Jews would perish and be dispersed within a generation of Jesus’ speaking. In 70 AD the Romans absolutely destroyed Jerusalem and scattered the Jews. It wasn’t until 1948 that they would be back in the land as a sovereign nation. Such was the judgment that came upon the Jews of Jesus’ day.

Finally, there is also a strong sense that ultimate judgment is being referred to here as well. For the consequences of opposing and rejecting Jesus and His gospel is death and judgment upon His return.

Woe to the Scribes

There are three woes that He pronounces:[7]

  1. Giving burdens to others, but not to self
  2. Building the tombs of the prophets
  3. Taking away the key of knowledge

Now, the first thing Jesus launches at this scribe is that he and the others of his trade have burdened the people unnecessarily. They had added so many rules to the law of God that any hope they had at keeping the law was blown to smithereens.

Interestingly, my first reaction to this was that “well, it’s a good thing we stomped that out in the early church era!” But the fact is that we still do this today – the Catholic Church excels at this. They elevate traditions of the church to parity with Scripture, and in so doing elevate the opinions of man to a level only reserved for the Holy God.

Ryken is right in pointing out that it isn’t just the Catholics who fall into the trap though. Anytime we elevate moralism instead of the Gospel we are basically doing the same thing. He says:

Above all, we must not present the Christian faith as a law to keep rather than a gospel to believe. The obedience we offer is not some desperate attempt to gain God’s favor, but a grateful response to the salvation he has provided through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The second thing He said to the scribe was that they were building the tombs of the prophets. This is an odd saying isn’t it? Well what was going on here was the Scribes were busy making monuments to the prophets of old. They would make these big tombs and memorials to them, but in affect Jesus was saying that because their behavior was just as bad as their forefathers, their acts of honor only amounted to finishing the job their forefathers did!

So they were just as guilty as their forefathers who had murdered the prophets. Ryken quotes a scholar who explains, “They killed the prophets: you make sure they are dead.”

This is a brutal excoriation. Jesus then uses the example of Abel and Zechariah that I mentioned above and says that they men have been on the wrong side of history from day one. Now, the Wisdom of God has come from prophets, but never more so than in the very embodiment of wisdom – the Lord Jesus Christ.

Side note: Grahame Goldsworthy talks about how when David and Solomon were on the throne, Israel was at its peak. And the kingdom of God seemed only at the threshold – though it wasn’t to be, sin was still in the land and in the people inhabiting it. Yet during that time wisdom flourished, as we see with the massive amounts of wisdom literature recorded for us in scripture. How much more so when Jesus came did the wisdom of God come from His mouth.

Finally, the third woe He pronounces is that they have taken away the key of knowledge. In other words, they have blocked people from knowing their Creator – they have led them astray and they have not entered themselves.

As Ryken says, “The key to saving knowledge is the grace that God offers to guilty sinners through Jesus Christ. The way to be saved – the way to have eternal life – is not by works of our own obedience. Rather, it is to confess our sins and put our trust in Christ along for salvation.”

Woe to Us if We Neglect the Gospel

We’ve now looked at what Jesus meant by these woes, and how these men two thousand years ago were behaving. But this lesson can also be applied to us.

For as the author of Hebrews says, “how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?? (Hebrews 2:3a).

“Jesus pointed out three ways in which his gospel reveals our brokenness and sin – ways in which we may be no different than the Pharisees: having an outward appearance of cleanness but being full of greed on the inside; sacrificing a portion of our possessions while neglecting justice for others and love for God; and doing good out of a love for the honor that it brings us.”[8]

Ryken brilliantly devised questions for examining our hypocrisy. When I read these, and truly examined my heart, I found myself under great scrutiny by the Holy Spirit.

He asks the question “When am I a hypocrite?” and the answer is as follows:

  • I am a hypocrite when I am more concerned with outward appearances than inward godliness.
  • I am a hypocrite when I am more concerned about my own little rules than about the big things that matter more to God.
  • I am a hypocrite when I crave for people to recognize my spiritual accomplishments.
  • I am a hypocrite when I am spiritually dead inside, and no one knows, maybe not even myself.

The importance of introspection on these matters is extremely important and was highlighted by J.C. Ryle who said:

Let me counsel every true servant of Christ to examine his own heart frequently and carefully before God. This is a practice, which is useful at all times; it is especially desirable at this present day…We ought to watch out hearts with double watchfulness. We ought to give more time to meditation, self-examination and reflection. It is a hurrying, bustling age; if we would keep from falling, we must take time to being frequently alone with God.[9]

11:53-54 As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, [54] lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.

Nothing Changes Unless that Change is Wrought by God

This is the description of an evil and hard hearted people. Lying in wait for someone to catch them in what they say – that is the epitome of someone not convicted of sin. Even after Jesus had exposed their sin to them, they still didn’t get it. Remember: This is the Son of God pronouncing woe upon them.

This shows both the radical depravity of mankind, and the sovereignty of God in salvation. Man is so fallen that unless God be actively at work in his fallen heart, he will not be saved.

Steven Lawson points out that the term “radical depravity” does not mean “that fallen men are a wicked as they can be, but that the sin affects every aspect of their beings. From the crown of his head to the soles of his feet, man is radically corrupt…Depravity causes all unconverted people to be defiant and disregard God’s supreme rule.”[10]

What must be done, then, for mankind to be saved? God must change his heart in a divine way. Lawson comments, “…when God chooses some to be saved, He sends the Holy Spirit in irresistible power, and the Spirit calls God’s elect to Himself. The Spirit suddenly changes them from being God-haters to God-lovers.”[11]

Praise God He has changed many such men and women who are Pharisees at heart, loving hypocrisy and moralism, to bowing before the gracious throne of the Lord Jesus. We must understand that it is only be the grace of God that we are saved, and only be the grace of God that we are sanctified.

Had it not been for this grace, we would yet be hyprocrites, walking dead men, shut up inside our own sinfulness judging others and hating others. For as Paul says:

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. [4] But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, [5] he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, [6] whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, [7] so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3-7)

Therefore the point in what we are saying here is that the gospel has defeated all men’s attempts at moralism.

J.C. Ryle says the following:

There are thousands at the present day who make a great ado about daily services, and keeping Lent, and frequent communion, and turning to the east in churches, and a gorgeous ceremonial, and intoning public prayers, – but never gat any further. They know little or nothing of the great practical duties of humility, charity, meekness, spiritual-mindedness, Bible reading, private devotion, and separate from the world.[12]

Now remember what Jesus said when the people approached Him asking for instruction on how to do the works of God:

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:27-29)

These people got the order wrong. They didn’t understand the way in which God works, and the same can be said in our day – all of this is baffling to me because in both the OT and the NT it is plain that God wants first a heart that is dedicated to Him, and then works which match it. But the inside must be dealt with first and foremost. That is why I want to admonish you to check the inside, look intently at your mind and hearts and see if there be any hypocrisy that needs rooted out. That is the challenge of this passage, and one we must all take seriously.

Let me close with a thought from Ryle:

Whatever we are as Christians, let us be real, thorough, genuine, and sincere. Let us abhor all canting and affectation, and part-acting in the things of God, as that which is utterly loathsome in Christ’s eyes. We may be weak, and erring, and frail, and come far short of our aims and desires. But at any rate, if we profess to believe in Christ, let us be true.[13]

 

Footnotes

[1] Ryken, Pg. 632-633.

[2] Ryken, Pg. 620.

[3] William Hendriksen, Pg. 636.

[4] As summarized by Darrell Bock, Commentary on Luke Volume II, Pg. 1109.

[5] Bock, Pg.’s 1122-1124.

[6] Tom Schreiner, New Testament Biblical Theology, Pg. 512.

[7] Bock, Pg. 1109.

[8] Gospel Transformation Bible notes on Luke 11:37-44, Pg. 1378.

[9] Ryle, ‘Churches Beware!’, Pg.’s 76-77, as quoted from Ryken, Pg. 621.

[10] Steven Lawson, Foundations of Faith, Pg. 139.

[11] Lawson, Foundations of Faith, Pg. 121.

[12] J.C. Ryle, Commentary on Luke, Volume 2, Pg. 45.

[13] Ryle, Volume 2, Pg. 47.

Introduction to Revelation: Part 4

The Kingdom of God & the Already Not Yet

Often it is very easy to get caught up in viewpoints about the millennium, and I do not want to detract from the importance of the millennium. For even though the millennium – the 1,000 year reign of Christ mentioned in the first few verses of chapter 20 – takes up a very short space in terms of the book itself, its importance is seen in how we interpret what its saying.

But before we discuss these things specifically, I believe we need to begin our study of this book by briefly examining the nature of the kingdom of God. For when we speak of the “millennium” we’re talking about the Kingdom of God, and specifically the reign of His Christ.

Tom Schreiner says, “Those who participate in the first resurrection will reign with Christ for a thousand years (Revelation 20:6), although the nature of this reign is intensely debated, and scholars differ on whether it refers to the reign of saints in the heaven during the time between the resurrection and the return of Christ or to a reign of the saints on earth before the inauguration of the new heavens and new earth.”[ix]

We can see the importance of this idea of the reign of Christ in how it manages to seep into how pastors and theologians comprehend the overarching theme(s) of this book. For instance, Warren Wiersebe, a Premillennialist, says, “The overriding theme of the book of Revelation is the return of Jesus Christ to defeat all evil and to establish His reign.”   Note how he uses the word “establish” in lieu of the word “consummate” which is the term an amillennialist would use because of the emphasis on Christ’s current reign.

The amillennialist would remind us of verses like we find at the end of Mark’s gospel, “So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19 – also see Ephesians 1:20-23)[i]

Now, most theologians believe that Christ is reigning now, but what is the nature of that reign? I think the difference lies in whether or not one believes that His current reign is somewhat lesser or mostly spiritual (i.e. in the hearts of his people).

Dispensationalist John MacArthur puts it this way:

So God rules spiritually now over the hearts of those who know Him by faith. And that’s been the case since His saving work began. There is a spiritual element of the Kingdom that has existed since God started redeeming men. But this is not that spiritual Kingdom of which we read here, but rather that earthly literal Kingdom which comes at the culmination of human history.[ii]

However, I think that this emphasis on the future nature of Christ’s kingdom does injustice to His victory at Calvary, and does not fully comprehend the fullness of Christ’s current reign.

You can now see the rub, can you not? How we think about the kingdom of God shapes how we view the book of Revelation, and perhaps the millennium question in particular.

The Already/Not Yet

I believe the critical hermeneutical principle which will help us most is called the “already/not yet” principle. In order to understand most of the NT – especially the words of Jesus and the book of Revelation – we need to understand this important principle.

For our purposes, I believe that we need to get our heads around two truths about the nature of God’s kingdom. The first is that it has been inaugurated by Jesus Christ, and will be consummated upon his return. The second is that God is working dynamically in history to bring about the expansion of His kingdom and its final consummation.

Regarding the first truth, it is worth quoting R.C. Sproul at this point at length:

Many professing evangelicals today believe the kingdom of God is strictly in the future, although there is no biblical foundation for that. This view robs the church of important teachings concerning the kingdom that are clearly set forth in the New Testament. In fact, the New Testament opens with John the Baptist’s announcement of the kingdom: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2).

Another time the Pharisees asked Him when the kingdom of God would come, and Jesus replied, “Behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21). The kingdom was in their midst became (sic – because) the King was there. In another occasion, He said, “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20).

So John came first with his warning of the radical nearness of the kingdom. Then Jesus came announcing the presence of the kingdom. This was followed by the acme of His redemptive work in the ascension, when He left earth to go to His coronation, where God declared Him King. As Jesus stood on the Mount of Olives, read to depart, His disciples asked him, “Lord will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). They had been waiting for Jesus to make His move, to drive out the Romans and establish the kingdom, but Jesus replied, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8).

In answer to their question about the kingdom, Jesus gave the fundamental mission of the church. Men would be blind to His kingship, so His disciples were given the task of making it visible. The fundamental task of the church is to bear witness to the kingdom of God. Our King reigns now, so for us to put the kingdom of God entirely in the future is to miss one of the most significant points of the New Testament. Our King has come and has inaugurated the kingdom of God. The future aspect of the kingdom is its final consummation.[iii]

When Jesus returns it will not be to establish a kingdom, but rather to consummate a kingdom which has been established from before the foundation of the world, and which He reigns over at this very moment.

Indeed the book of Revelation, as we mentioned earlier, was written to assure Christians that He is in control over all things – He is the Lord of history.

Interestingly, Beale thinks that John wrote Revelation with the book of Daniel in mind – especially important in Daniel is the already/not yet function of his literature. Some things were occurring right away for Daniel during his time, while others he saw as distant and far away. Those things which Daniel saw as far away, John saw as fulfilled at least partially in the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus and the inauguration of his kingdom.

Beale puts it this way:

John probably views the death and resurrection of Christ as inaugurating the long-awaited kingdom of the end times predicted by Daniel, which will now continue throughout the church age.

Side note: for those more advanced in prophetic study or curious about these things, one of the things Beale and other see in Revelation is that at the beginning of some of the major sections/division there is a reference or allusion to something from Daniel chapter two (1:1, 4:1, and 22:6) Beale says that a pattern definitely emerges, “John is employing the same allusion as a literary device to give structure to his whole book.”

This also has ramifications for how we understand the millennium.

Douglass Kelly says, “The exercise of this heavenly authority over all lesser powers is the main thing that is happening in this age between the two comings of the Lord; which, as we shall seek to demonstrate, is the prime meaning of the millennium. The millennium is not a literal period of only one thousand years that will occur much later; rather it is that period of victorious outreach of the Gospel to the nations: a time that last from Jesus’ first coming to his last.”[iv]

All of this can be comprehended by identifying how the Bible speaks about the kingdom of God and the reign of His Christ in other places, and how we are to understand this in light of what we read in chapter 20. Is Jesus’ reign something future, or is it now and to be seen with our eyes in the future? How should we think of, and describe his reign?

This is what R.C. Sproul was speaking of earlier when he said that Christ’s kingdom was “inaugurated” but not yet “consummated.” There are some promises, and some realities that are presently being realized in the church age, yet will not come to their full glory until Christ returns. Our very salvation is like this, for we are saved NOW, yet we have not yet fully realized that salvation. We have the down payment of this reality in the giving of the Spirit, yet not the consummation of this reality in the presence of our Lord and Savior.

The second principle is tied to the first, and it is this: The kingdom of God is “dynamic.” That is to say it is more than just this idea of God separately reigning in heaven, He is working out His will in and amongst us in time and space. He is ruling here – He is involved in our lives – His rule is not detached.

John Frame quotes Geerhardus Vos for us on this matter:

To him (Jesus) the kingdom exists there, where not merely God is supreme, for that is true at all times and under all circumstances, but where God supernaturally carries through his supremacy against all opposing powers and brings men to the willing recognition of the same.

Then Frame says, “On this definition, the kingdom is dynamic, indeed dramatic. It is a world-historical movement, following the fall of Adam, in which God works to defeat Satan and bring human beings to acknowledge Christ as Lord. It is, preeminently, the history of salvation.”[v]

Anthony Hoekema puts it this way:

The kingdom of God, therefore, is to be understood as the reign of God dynamically active in human history through Jesus Christ, the purpose of which is the redemption of God’s people from sin and from demonic powers, and the final establishment of the new heavens and the new earth. It means the great drama of the history of salvation has been inaugurated, and that the new age has been ushered in. The kingdom must not be understood as merely the salvation of certain individuals or even as the reign of God in the hearts of his people; it means nothing less that the reign of God over his entire created universe. “The kingdom of God means that God is King and acts in history to bring history to a divinely directed goal. (quoting Ladd)”[vi]

He goes on to say, “The Kingdom of God involves two great moments: fulfillment within history, and consummation at the end of history.”[vii]

Now given what we know of these two principles, we know that God is both reigning supreme over all, but also dynamically working in and through His creation to bring about His purposes. This points to the linear nature of history – God is working toward something.[viii] What He is doing now in and through us by His Spirit and His Lordship over all history and creation is a shadow of what will be upon the consummation of His purposes.

Christ inaugurated a kingdom (the already) and with that inauguration has brought forth fruit first by His cross work, and now by His Spirit’s powerful work here on earth through the spread of the gospel. One day He will return to consummate His kingdom (the not yet) and upon that return will usher in the visible reality of his reign (the already).

While futurists await a future “literal earthly” kingdom (which we all look for), the way in which we speak about and think about God’s exercise of power and authority over the world, and the souls of lost people is important. I believe its crucial that we understand God as working even now dynamically, personally, powerfully in history and in the lives of men all across the globe to expand his kingdom – a real kingdom of real people.

So you can see how these perspectives function to shape our viewpoint of the book itself and the millennium. But they also shape how we live our lives as Christians – especially what kind of mindset we take toward events here on earth and circumstances in our personal lives.

NOTE: Some of the dispensationalists might argue that God rules “spiritually in the hearts” of men, but not physically here on earth, and does not rule them in any way other than in their hearts. To me this is a false dilemma. The postmillennialist has it right in the respect that when God saves a man, there is fruit and evidence of change not only in that man’s heart, but in his life and in the society in which he lives. To argue a distant futurist reign of Christ is to argue the opposite of how the Bible describes the efficacy of Christ’s work on the cross. He truly is Lord of all and he exercises that Lordship full now, though it is unseen (as Sproul mentions above). I’m not saying that the Postmillennial view is perfect, but their mindset on the nature of the kingdom certainly seems to make more sense and align more Biblically to me.

The Millennium

With this cursory understanding of the kingdom of God under our belts, let us examine the four major views on the reign of Christ in the millennium.

Amillennialism

The Amillennial view (Amil) is probably the simplest of the four major viewpoints on the millennial question.

Wayne Grudem says, “Those who are said to be reigning with Christ for the thousand years are Christians who have died and are already reigning with Christ in heaven…This view is called ‘Amillennialism’ because it maintains that there is no future millennium yet to come.”[x]

John Frame describes it:

The Amil believe that the millennium is now, the whole period from Jesus’ ascension to his return. He emphasizes that the resurrection and ascension of Jesus ushered in a new era of world history. Jesus has now achieved a great victory over Satan, sin, and death…The Amil says that Satan no longer deceives the nations (20:3) as he did before the coming of Christ. Before Jesus came, believers in the truth God existed mainly in Israel. The other nations were deceived by Satan into worship idols. But after the resurrection, the Christian church received power to reach people of all nations with the message of the gospel. And God will continue to empower this mission until the last day, until there are believers from every kingdom, tongue, tribe and nation.[xi]

R.C. Sproul adds…

The Amillennial position, which holds some points in common with both of the premillennial positions, believes that the church age is the kingdom age prophesied in the Old Testament. The New Testament church has become the Israel of God. Amillennialists believe that the binding of Satan took place during Jesus’ earthly ministry; Satan was restrained while the gospel was preached to the world, and this restraint continues today.[xii]

The verses that come to my mind as typically cited in terms of the defeat of Satan are as follows:

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:17-20)

He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:15)

Frame describes how the Amil views the future…

Amils affirm that toward the end of this era Satan will be released briefly, as Revelation 20:3 indicates (also verses 7-8). He will then deceive the nations again, presumably achieving some measure of his old power. But he will be frustrated and defeated by the return of Christ and the judgment that will result in his final destruction.[xiii]

Amils believe that the first resurrection is simply that spiritual resurrection that has taken place and realized during the intermediate state. The second resurrection is the physical resurrection of the body preceding the judgment when Christ returns. Frame says, “Similarly, the first death is the physical death of human being; the second death is the condemnation of the wicked, a death that believers do not experience.”[xiv]

Postmillennialism 

Most folks who are of the post-mil persuasion also believe that the millennium period of 1,000 years is NOW just like the Amils believe. John Frame notes that some older literature reveals that there are a few Post-mills who have said that is a part of this time now, but more will reside in the future. Post-mills also agree with Amils on the binding of Satan during Christ’s ministry and his release for a short time before Jesus’ return.

John Frame describes the difference between Amils and Post-mills:

Well, although the postmil agrees with the amil that our age is a time of persecution for the church, he also thinks that during this time Christians will come to have more and more influence in general culture. Believers will indeed gain wealth, influence, and even dominance.[xv]

Sproul describes this unique part of Post-millennialism:

What distinguishes postmillennialists from amillennialists and premillennialists is the belief that Scripture teaches the success of the Great Commission in the age of the church.[xvi]

Grudem says, “ The primary characteristic of postmillennialism is that it is very optimistic about the power of the gospel to change lives and bring about much good in the world.”

I must admit that when I study the history of the world since the spread of the gospel, I do not see a uniform trajectory upward toward a world of people who are united in morals and standards. Certainly I believe that since Christ the world has been changed in huge part by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no doubt that the world was in darkness before He came – so much so that every other nation worshiped idols except Israel. Can you imagine if we looked around the world today and every other nation except one the size of Rhode Island worshiped wooden blocks and golden statues? So certainly the gospel has transformed our world.

However, the post-millennial viewpoint was really made popular and caught on prior to the 20th century. It was perhaps at its height at the end of the 19th century when medical cures were being found, the industrial revolution was in full swing, and great revivals had swept across the world many times over the course of the past several hundred years. Then came World War I. The gruesome bloodshed and seemingly worthless outcome was more than conservative theologians could swallow in their assessments of world events and the human situation on earth.

However, not all theologians and pastors had to wait until the bloody events of the 20th century to object to Postmillennialism’s optimistic theology. J.C. Ryle, the great 19th century contemporary of Spurgeon, wrote hinting about this way of thinking:

Let us dismiss from our minds the vain idea that nations will ever give up wars entirely, before Jesus Christ comes again. So long as the devil is the prince of this world, and the hearts of the many are unconverted, so long there must be strife and fighting. There will be no universal peace before the second advent of the Prince of peace. Then, and then only, men shall “learn war no more” (Isaiah 2:4).

Let us cease to expect that missionaries and ministers will ever convert the world, and teach all mankind to love one another. They will do nothing of the kind. They were never intended to do it. They will call out a witnessing people who shall serve Christ in every land, but they will do no more. The bulk of mankind will always refuse to obey the Gospel. The nations will always go on quarreling, wrangling, and fighting. The last days of the earth shall be its worst days. The last war shall be the most fearful and terrible war that ever desolated the earth.[xvii]

The theology fell out of style, yet there are some very smart theologians whom I respect who still hold this theology today. John Frame[xviii] and Keith Mathison both consider themselves Post-Millennial.

I say all that because, while I do not consider myself Postmillennial, I really respect those who take that view, and their arguments are generally very scriptural. They point to many times, both in Scripture and in the time since Christ, when Christian influence has changed the world for the good. They remind us that when Jesus changes someone’s head and heart, those changes lead to changes in our actions which affect the society in which we live.

NEXT TIME…..Premillenialism…..

FOOTNOTES

[i] Ligonier has a devotional published about the kingdom of God which cites these verses in Ephesians: http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/seated-at-gods-right-hand/

[ii] John MacArthur sermon on Revelation 20 (Part 1): http://www.gty.org/resources/print/sermons/66-73

[iii] Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian, Pg. 307.

[iv] Kelly, Pg. 11

[v] John M. Frame, ‘Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief’, Pg. 87

[vi] Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, Pg. 45

[vii] Anthony Hoekema, ‘The Bible and the Future’, Pg. 51

[viii] For more on the linear nature of history, see Anthony Hoekema’s ‘Created in God’s Image’

[ix] Tom Schreiner, New Testament Biblical Theology, Pg. 846-847.

[x] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Pg. 1110.

[xi] John Frame, Systematic Theology, Pg. 1087-1088

[xii] R.C. Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian, Pg. 313.

[xiii] John Frame, Systematic Theology, Pg. 1088

[xiv] John Frame, Systematic Theology, Pg. 1088

[xv] Frame, Systematic Theology, Pg. 1088.

[xvi] Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian, Pg. 314.

[xvii] J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Luke 21:10-19. Here Ryle is discussing the Olivet Discourse and particularly, “Christ’s predictions concerning the nations and the world.” That this important, and sound, theologian and pastor would raise such a warning flag against the post-mil mindset while its popularity was at its zenith is (to me) a very important note.

[xviii] Frame, Systematic Theology, Pg. 1094

The Restoration of Peter

Here are my notes for John 21:8-17. This account includes the restoration of the Apostle Peter.  After denying the Lord three times, the Lord Jesus has restored his friend to ministry in a public and profound way.

The Miracle

21:8-14 The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. [9] When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. [10] Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” [11] So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. [12] Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. [13] Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. [14] This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

One can really sense the authority and majesty of Jesus in the fact that no one “dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’”

What’s in a Number?

It is always interesting when Scripture uses such a specific number to describe something. In this case, the disciples caught 153 fish. Why would John remark on that specifically? Well, I think that we can easily say that it was worth noting how many fish simply because it’s a lot of fish! Not that the number itself is significant, but rather that the exact number tells us something of how impressive the catch actually was.

Now, there are other (MANY other) interpretations that range from the bizarre to the more plausible. Hendriksen notes about 7 of them just as a sampling, but even a cursory search of the internet seems to reveal a plethora of others.

Some of the ideas are (quoting Hendriksen):

  1. The fish were not counted until the shore had been reached, in order to teach us that the exact number of the elect remains unknown until they have reached the shore of heaven.
  2. The ancients counted one hundred fifty-three varieties of fish!
  3. There is here a veiled reference to Matt. 13:47, 48, and an indication that all kinds of people are going to be saved.
  4. The number one hundred fifty-three represents 100 for the Gentiles, 50 for the Jews, and 3 for the Trinity.

My friend Uri, an expert in Israeli history and culture, told me that he likes the idea that the number represents the different varieties of fish because it points to the universality of the gospel and the diversity of the church. He says, “In Pliny the Elder’s Historia Naturalis he lists all the known fish species at the time. Behold 153. The significance is the universality of the church. 153 fish, all the species/nations of the world can fit into the net and the net is not broken.”

The Abundance of the Miracle

In every miracle that our Lord has performed there is one consistent theme – what He does He does in abundance!

He made more wine at Cana than was necessary, He made more fish in Luke 5 than the disciples could take in, He made more bread and fish for the 5000 than the crowd needed, and He healed hundreds – if not thousands of men and women. Note also that when He healed people, he didn’t just give them an aspirin. They would have been happy for their suffering to be relieved I’d wager. But He completely healed them. What God does He does in such a way as to indicated that He is God, AND that He is good!

The Lord who remarked that a good father gives his children a fish and not a snake, gives fish in abundance. In everyway and on every level that you have provided for your children, the Father and His Son have far outstripped you. They have lavished grace and peace and in the life to come riches beyond measure.

And just as Jesus bid the disciples to come and eat breakfast with him, so he calls to us, his children, to dine with him. His call to believers is this:

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. [21] The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Revelation 3:20-21)

Seeing A Larger Picture with Ryle

J.C. Ryle has examined this passage and, surveying all the commentators up till his time, has provided some thoughts on the possible broader allegorical meaning of the matter. He is quick to say, however, that we must have caution in adding more to the thing than that which is already there. But still, there are some observations that may hearten us and enrich the passage as a whole. Here is what he says:

Other expositors, of a more figurative and imaginative turn of mind, go into heights and depths where I cannot pretend to follow them. I shall content myself with pointing out the more obvious spiritual lessons which I think the passage was probably meant to convey.

(a) I think that Christ’s remarkable appearance to the disciples, when they were in the act of fishing, was meant to remind them and the whole Church of the primary duty of ministers. They were doing work which was strikingly emblematic of their calling. They were to be “fishers of men.”

(b) I think the lack of success in catching fish, which the disciples had until the Lord appeared, was meant to teach that without Christ’s presence and blessing ministers can do nothing.

(c) I think the marvelous success that attended the cast of the net, when Christ gave the command, was meant to teach that when Christ is pleased to give success to ministers, nothing can prevent souls being brought into the Gospel net, converted and saved.

(d) I think the drawing of the net to shore at last was meant to remind the disciples and all ministers of what will happen when the Lord comes again. The work of the Church will be completed, and the reckoning of results will take place.

(e) I think the dinner prepared and provided for the disciples, when the net was drawn to the shore, was meant to remind ministers that there will be the great “marriage supper of the Lamb” at last, when Christ Himself shall welcome His faithful servants and ministers, and “come forth and serve them” (Luke 12:37).

(f) I think, besides this, that the respective positions of the disciples and Christ, when they first saw Him, may possibly be intended to represent the respective positions of Christ and His people during this dispensation. They were on the water of the sea. He was looking at them from the land. Just so Christ is in heaven looking at us, and we are voyaging over the troublous waters of this world.

(g) Finally, I think that our Lord’s sudden appearing on shore, when the morning broke, may possibly represent our Lord’s second advent. “The night is far spent, and the day is at hand.” When the morning dawns, Christ will appear.

With these conjectures I leave the passage. They may not commend themselves to some readers. I only say that they appear to me to deserve consideration and reflection.

Certainly they do deserve consideration! I think that perhaps letter (f) is a little far fetched, and letters (d) and (e) are very similar. But he is correct that from what I have read at least, letters (a), (b) and (c) are universal in their appearance in the minds of many commentators, and definitely appeared in my mind as I studied the passage.

These are great ideas to reflect upon in the coming days, and a marvelous reminder of the richness of Scripture. It is passages like this which kept Spurgeon busy for hours at a time! Certainly they should also keep us busy in our meditation.

21:15-17 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” [16] He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” [17] He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

The Restoration of Peter

Setting the Scene

I have been to this very spot where Jesus is said to have called these men to shore for breakfast. I have sung ‘How Great Thou Art’ at full tilt with other men and women in the small chapel that sits firmly ensconced upon that shore. This is a beautiful place!

What makes it beautiful is multi-dimensional. Not only is it a feast for the eyes, and ears with the flowering trees and waves breaking upon the shore, but it is a spiritual feast – even an emotional and mental feast for anyone who has ever been restored by the Lord Jesus. And that group includes me.

In this segment of verses we read how Peter and the Lord, while sitting amongst the other disciples, had what must have been their first bit of extended conversation since the night of Jesus’ death. Jesus had appeared to them prior, but apparently had not spent a lot of time in one-on-one discussion, or extended teaching of them yet (as in Acts 1:3).

Therefore the last time that Peter and conversed with the Lord in any substantive manner was during the Farewell Discourses when, as we recall, Peter had proudly declared that he’d follow Jesus even unto death. Jesus’ reply to Peter’s declaration was to prophecy that in just a few short hours Peter was deny Him not once, but three times.

Peter learned that fateful evening that though the spirit may be willing, the flesh is weak. Peter not only denied Jesus, he did so in public. Therefore, as D.A. Carson summarizes, “Whatever potential for future service he (Peter) had therefore depended not only on forgiveness from Jesus, but also on reinstatement amongst the disciples.”

I Agape your Phileo and Raise you an Agape

Now Jesus, the great Shepherd of His flock, begins his interactions with Peter by asking him if he “loves” him “more than these.” In this context Jesus likely means “these” as the disciples. He is daring Peter to once again assert his supremacy. And in doing so, His words cut to Peter’s heart and remind him that though he claims to be the most loyal and dutiful disciples, he has a recent failure of such magnitude that with each passing word from the lips of Jesus, Peter must have been smarting all the more.

Peter responds in the affirmative, and with each affirmative reply, Jesus charges Peter to “Feed the lambs”, “tend my sheep”, and feed my sheep.”

Much has, perhaps rightly, been made of how when Jesus asked Peter whether he “loved” him, he was using the word “agape” whereas Peter was responding with “phileo” for his description of love.

There are four expressions of love in the Greek language, as the wonderful web resource Gotquestions.org has stated:

The Bible speaks of two types of love: phileo and agape. Both are Greek terms and appear at different points throughout Scripture. The Greek language also had terms for two other types of love, eros and storge, which do not expressly appear in the Bible.
http://www.gotquestions.org/phileo-love.html#ixzz3FWIhOYPt

Many scholars have argued about the differences between phileo and agape. The usual summary is that Agape is more a love of choice – a sacrificial love. It is a matter of the will. Whereas Phileo is a love of affection and is based somewhat on emotion.

GotQuestions.org sums up this popular teaching in this way:

Since phileo love involves feelings of warmth and affection toward another person, we do not have phileo love toward our enemies. However, God commands us to have agape love toward everyone. This includes those whose personalities clash with ours, those who hurt us and treat us badly, and even those who are hostile toward our faith (Luke 6:28; Matthew 5:44). In time, as we follow God’s example of agape love for our enemies, we may even begin to experience phileo love for some of them as we start to see them through God’s eyes.

But I don’t know that it’s correct to say that Peter didn’t truly love Christ, but rather Christ was setting the kind of example Peter must follow. He may have been proclaiming to Peter the kind of love – sacrificial love, love of difficult choices, noble love – that He had for His sheep. Now Peter needed to have that same love for the sheep.

That being said, D.A. Carson and F.F. Bruce both lay a very good case out for why its very hard to draw any particular conclusion simply from the use of different nouns – especially in this Gospel when John has been using agape and phileo interchangeably up until now.

I find this extremely important when figuring out questions of interpretation. We need to look at the context of the book and how the author has used words in the past. And while we need to take a sample of the common vernacular as well, I would think that the authorial usage takes slight precedent over cultural commonality if there are multiple examples to draw from, and indeed there are in this book.

Additionally, there is some evidence that agape was also coming into more common use at the time to mean simply “to love” (per Carson).

This is another example of how sometimes popular tradition gets it wrong – or at least assumes perhaps a little more than we ought to assume. Once our inquiries and speculation have been done, if we don’t have a preponderance of evidence before us that leaves us certain of our views, we must humbly step away from proclaiming our views to be “doctrine.”

Soon I will be studying through Revelation with our Sunday School class, and I find a similar example of illogical hermeneutics applied to the millennium in that book. So much is made of whether the millennium is a literal 1,000 years when up until that 20th chapter in Revelation no other number (save perhaps the 7 churches?) was used in a literal fashion. But it is popular tradition now to assume this be the case. Ought we not to ask how John has written of such things in other parts of his book?

I raise this only as a caution that we approach Scripture with humility – especially those with learning and education. For those without education are less apt to project their assumptions onto Scripture and are often open to correction. However it is the learned man or woman who confidently asserts opinion where angels dare not tread. Let us with humility interpret the Word of God.

The Friendship of Jesus

One of the most difficult things to do is confront a brother who has sinned and is in need to rebuke and restoration. We are commanded by Paul to “speak the truth in love.”

What touches my heart so much about this passage in John is the tenderness of Jesus. His tripartite restoration of this impetuous man mirrored the three-fold denial which Peter had so shamefully displayed just days before.

The realization that here in one man is Peter’s God and friend, his Savior, and His Lord, this must have been overwhelming. It is overwhelming to me. It is why one of my favorite verses in Scripture is Exodus 33:11. The passage goes like this:

When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the LORD would speak with Moses. And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent. (Exodus 33:9-11)

If you have found yourself covered in shame, if you have wronged your Lord, take comfort – we all have wronged our Lord. We have all sinned against God. But the blessing of this passage is the reminder that even the greatest leaders can fall, and even the greatest falls can be restored. We have a Savior, aye, this is true – but more than that, we have a friend.

Joseph Scriven’s great hymn, ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’

What a friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer.

 

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged;
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
take it to the Lord in prayer.

 

Are we weak and heavy laden,
cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge;
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In his arms he’ll take and shield thee;
thou wilt find a solace there.
 

The Mission Given to Peter

I’ve briefly touched on this earlier, but we must examine briefly again the mission that is given to the Apostle Peter. Jesus has specifically given him a mission. That mission is to feed the sheep, to tend the flock and so forth. He must watch over the new church of Christ, and must also feed them.

Carson quotes Barrett and quips, “The ministry ‘is described in verbs, not nouns: Tend, feed, not Be a pastor, hold the office of pastor. And the sheep are Christ’s sheep, not Peter’s. Not, Tend your flock, but Tend my sheep.’

What does it mean to feed the flock? Well, if the “flock” is the church then we must necessarily believe the “feeding” and “tending” are also metaphorical devices. The church feeds off of the Word of God.

This is made plain even as far back as Moses’ interactions with the Israelites when he told them:

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:3)

Jesus himself quoted this verse to rebuke Satan during His temptation in the wilderness before the beginning of His ministry.

In fact, He later called Himself the bread from heaven, which is simply another way of saying that He is the Word of God incarnate. The bread and the word are one in the same, the Lord Jesus Christ.

And indeed Peter understood this. For later he would go on to say:

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2-3)

Peter understood that He was being tasked with the spiritual nutrition of the church. Ironically, and scornfully, those who claim direct papal descent from this man are the ones starving the church of its food. The Catholic church (so-called) does not encourage the reading of Scripture, in fact it is the greatest rationer of spiritual nutrition in all the world. Which is why it is with great irony that they are the ones who claim this passage (along with Matthew 16:13-20) as one which sets down the primacy of Peter because not only does it do nothing of the sort, but even if it did, they do not follow the instructions to him who was supposedly made primal.

Carson rightly says, “Thus there is nothing intrinsic to the language of John 21:15-17 that suggests a distinctive authority for Peter. All Christian leadership entails a certain tension between authority and meek, exemplary service, patterned finally on Jesus himself. In the context of the Fourth Gospel, these verses deal with Peter’s reinstatement to service, not his elevation to primacy.”

Yes while most everyone else in the world is either trying purposefully to spread the word of God, or trying hard to stop the spread of this word, the Catholic hierarchy is content to slow drip the Word to a body that is thirsty and dying of starvation.

Conclusion

Now our response must be carefully assessed. For we cannot read this and judge ourselves content to move on before we settle some things in our mind. Let us settle at least these few things:

  1. The Word of God is that which feeds the church and it must be spread throughout the whole world.
  2. The Word is what changes lives, and therefore must not be adulterated or watered down by our own ideas.
  3. We must give great time and energy to studying and spending time in the Word of God.
  4. We must teach others the Word of God – this is the feeding of the lambs.
  5. Jesus told Peter to tend the lambs, which is to say that our leaders must be watchful for the safety of the church, keeping an eye out for wolves and for sheep who have gone astray.

It is a great and precious thing to be both restored and given a task. That is what Peter experienced, and that is what Paul says we each experience – we are not only saved, but we are saved for a purpose:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Let us take this restoration as a reminder of the open arms of Christ, and the charge he gives us upon restoration. He has saved us – and not to mope about in introspection for our entire lives, but to love others in service to our Lord. In this we look to Him the author and finisher of our faith, and our true Friend and Brother.

The Commissioning of the Disciples: John 20:19-23

Below are my notes on the commissioning of the disciples. Jesus has been resurrected from the grave, and now suddenly appears before His followers. Read on to learn what happens…

20:19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

Walking Through Walls?

It is still Sunday, only now the day has reached its conclusion and evening has come. The disciples – this could be a group comprised of more than those later known as “Apostles” – are huddled in a meeting room when Jesus arrives on the scene.

Our author notes that far from the great alacrity with which we hope to meet our Lord upon His return, these men were fearful. John tells us the reason why – they feared the Jews. When Jesus suddenly appears in their presence, this must have given them a great start. Already on high alert, suddenly this man seemingly comes from out of nowhere.

Jesus, it is said by some, must have walked through the locked doors of this gathering place. As MacArthur presumes, “The locked doors were no deterrent to Him; His glorified resurrection body simply passed through the walls.”

But I think Morris, Hendriksen, are correct to urge caution to readers, that we might not jump to the immediate conclusion that we know exactly how He entered the room. Carson, usually very thorough on these kinds of things, agrees with MacArthur, though he actually gives a reason where as MacArthur (in his usual confident style) simply assumes the fact. Carson says,
“The function of the locked doors in John’s narrative, both here and in v. 26, is to stress the miraculous nature of Jesus’ appearance amongst his followers. As his resurrection body passed through the grace-clothes, so it passed through the locked doors and simply ‘materialized.’”

He has a point – at least contextually. And I believe that though the passage doesn’t explicitly say how Jesus got into the room, it seems implicit from the context that He arrived through some spectacular means.

That being said, I think this is a perfect example of a passage where we must read up to a certain point and then stand back in awe of the Lord, without pressing it or adding to it in such a way that it would bring judgment upon us. Therefore some, for example, who use this passage as a way to say that one day we will have some sort of translucent or metamorphic powers. It is not wrong to look forward in hope to the glorious new body Christ will clothe us in upon the resurrection, but those who presume to confidently erect an entire scheme of eschatological physiology based on this verse alone ought to temper themselves, and leave such things in God’s hands.

The Peace of God

Jesus (the embodiment of peace) then greets the disciples with the customary greeting – this would have been salom alekem in the Hebrew. It seems pretty normal, but as Carson wisely points out, Jesus says it twice. Therefore most scholars agree that there is more than a simple greeting here. As J.C. Ryle says, “He who ‘spake as never man spake,’ said nothing without meaning.”

This leads us to ponder two things in particular.

First, the gentleness with which Jesus addresses His disciples. These men have been cowering in fear. They’ve completely abandoned His grave – unlike the brave women and two influential members of the Sanhedrin, they don’t seem to have been spending a lot of time at the tomb.

But as Ryle points out, “’Peace’ and not blame, ‘peace’ and not fault-finding, ‘peace’ and not rebuke, was the first word which this little company heard from their Master’s lips, after He left the tomb.”

Secondly, this leads us to ponder the fulfillment of the promises He made before His death:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Thus the first thing He says to His disciples after defeating death has a tinge of the fulfillment of that great promise He made, and the reminder that because of His work they (and all who come to believe in Him – see Ch. 17!) would have everlasting peace. Indeed Paul saw this clearly:

…remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Ephesians 2:12-16)

It is significant in my own mind that the first thing Jesus says to our souls when we come to Him in repentance and seeking protection is “peace be with you.” As Christians we have that peace, and that rest. We simply come into His presence, we ask for forgiveness, we ask for His power and His peace, and He will be faithful to not withhold what He so enjoy to give:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

20:20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.

He’s Really Real

He is not an aberration – there is a physical body, this is a real resurrection, He is not merely a Spirit. In John’s day, the Docetists were claiming that Jesus hadn’t really appeared on earth with a real human body. They felt that the physical world (much like the Gnostics) was evil, or corrupt, and they didn’t think that God would have subjected Himself to such an evil.

They believed that though He appeared to be human, He was really only spirit – not only post-resurrection, mais après as well.

John lays out the case against this simply by recording historical fact. Jesus, for His part, shows His disciples unparalleled love and kindly condescension. He wants them to know that He is not a mere aberration, but the One they love and have followed these past three years. This is the Lord.

20:21-23 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” [22] And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. [23] If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

The Commissioning

This seems to be a very difficult passage, but I believe the main theme is found in this commissioning of the disciples. Their commission is ours, and is an extension of the Son’s mission, just as the Son’s mission is an extension of the Father’s plans for His creation and chosen people, and that mission is given to the church as a whole to be carried out by individuals empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus makes this plain when He uses the words “as” and “even so” – these words are what remind us of the fact that He is the vine and we are the branches. Without Him we can do nothing.

What a thrilling charge! No sooner has Jesus arisen from the grave than He says, “its go time! Let’s roll. We have a great mission in front of us.” We.

And what I want to just point out here is that once Christ’s “peace” has come upon us, we are commissioned in a similar way. We are to be “doers” in the missional sense of James’ words. He has commissioned the church for action. Now what is that action? We’ll come to that in a minute…

Empowered by the Spirit – A Preview of Pentecost

First, I want to note that this commissioning is grounded in the reality that the disciples were empowered to carry out the mission. They are empowered by the Holy Spirit. They couldn’t do this job alone, and neither can we.

John Owen rightly said that there is a “natural popery in man,” by which (and I believe Tim Challies is right on this account) we naturally want to work our way through ever sin, every problem and every mission of life, depending very little on help from others or from God.

So let us not fall into that trap. As Christians we are commissioned for the spreading of the Gospel and the living of a victorious life. That only happens when we walk in the Spirit.

Now, there is an interesting situation here which scholars of all stripes have long disputed. The scene as we have just read it, involved Jesus breathing on His disciples. He breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Only then does He commission them for action.

Some have said that there is a conflict between this mini Pentecost, and the one in Acts 2. How can we reconcile these two events?

Because of the context, and the order of what Jesus says and does here, I believe that He is grounding this imperative (the charge) in the indicative (the receiving of the Spirit). The Bible never asks us to do anything without giving us the help and power to do so. This is the case in numerous examples throughout the New Testament especially because of the New Covenant promise of the Spirit.

A perfect example of this is found in Philippians:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)

Note that there is a command, which is promptly followed by the reassurance that it is God “who works in you.” So the imperative is grounded in the comfort of the indicative.

With all of this in mind, I think that this breathing on of the Spirit is symbolic of what will happen soon at Pentecost (Acts 2) – it is anticipatory of that event, just as the commissioning is anticipatory of their upcoming mission (this view of the anticipatory nature of the “breathing” is taken by Schreiner, and fits well with my own contextual interpretation of the commission as a whole). Note that He will later instruct them to remain in the city until the Spirit comes upon them.

Therefore He commissions them with instructions grounded in His own promise to help through yet another “extension” of the Trinity – the Holy Spirit. This all anticipates the day they will be sent into all the world to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18).

Second, I think this breathing is symbolic because the disciples don’t immediately show fruit of being filled with the Holy Spirit. As Carson points out:

There is too slight a demonstration within the Gospel of John that this alleged bestowal of the Spirit made the slightest bit of difference in the lives of Jesus’ followers. The disciples still meet behind locked doors (vs. 26) and the natural inference is that they are still afraid of the Jewish authorities (vs. 19). When Thomas comes to faith, it is not because of the promised witness of the Spirit (15:26-27), but because he sees the risen Jesus for himself. Those who accept John 21 as part of the Gospel, even if it is cast as an epilogue, cannot fail to observe that the disciples are sliding back to their old employment (21:1-3), sorting out elementary reconciliation with the Master (21:15-19), and still playing ‘let’s compare-service-record’ games (21:20-22). All this is not only a far cry from the power, joy exuberant witness, courageous preaching and delight in suffering displayed by the early Christians after Pentecost, in Acts, it is no less distant from the same virtues foretold in John’s farewell discourse, where the promise of the Spirit receives such emphasis.

Carson goes on to say that if this is really John’s version of Pentecost, it’s really disappointing! And I agree with him. This must be a preview, an anticipation of what is to come.

The Instruction

Now looking at the instruction itself, He tells them that, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” This can only make sense if we understand that He is not talking to the individual (like priests or the pope etc.), but to the church as a whole (cf. Morris).

Furthermore, to understand this we must touch on that foundational truth we just discussed about the Spirit. Our work is grounded in the work of God – our power is assumed to come from Him. And this is the same here as it pertains to forgiveness. Those the church forgives are forgiven, but not because the church has a mystical power outside of God’s prerogative to forgive whomever we want, but rather because the church (when operating in a Spirit-filled manner) agrees with God’s Spirit to forgive, or not to forgive.

Some denominations – Catholics and others – have taken this to mean that priests have the right of “absolution”, but if we are to truly understand the ancient practice of ablution we must understand it to mean that form of agreement with God that reassures a church member that he/she has been forgiven (see esp. Sproul on this).

The Catholic “church” has in recently centuries enumerated unto itself such “powers” as were never meant in this practice (or ought not to have been meant in any case). Catholic priests say now, “et ego auctoritate ipsius te absolvo”, which is to say, “and by His authority I absolve you.”

In sum, the church can bind and loose, can forgive and hold back forgiveness, because it is a Spirit-filled institution, the very bride of Christ, and His body. So long as the church is connected to Him as His branches, we will agree discerningly with Him in all His judgments as we proclaim the gospel of forgiveness and the warning of eternal punishment to all who reject this free offer. What Jesus is saying here is none other than that the church has the commission to preach the gospel to all people in power endued by the very God who had just raised Him from the grave.

For as Peter would later recall…

God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it…This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. (Acts 2:24, 32-33)

Notes on John 18:33-40 – God on Trial Part 2

God on Trial Part 2

18:33-36 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” [34] Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” [35] Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” [36] Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

The Setting

Hendricksen is right that the Evangelist assumes that the reader has had some account already of the goings on here in more detail and is just getting to the point he wants to make – John has an agenda.

In fact, each gospel writer has an agenda. Each one wants to show the reader something about Jesus. Matthew, for instance, wanted to show that Jesus was the Messiah – the one who the Jews had long awaited, the son of David. Luke, writing to gentiles, wanted to show that this Jesus was the Son of God and the Savior of the World. And John’s goal is spelled out in his thesis statement just a few chapters from now:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; [31] but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31 ESV)

Later in his first Epistle John would write:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13)

These are good things to keep in mind as we’re reading this account. John’s goal is to show us the character of this man, Jesus, and what He came to do.

The Question

Pilate is skeptical of the Jews’ accusations against Jesus. So in order ascertain for himself what the situation is surrounding this man, he takes Jesus into Roman custody and begins to question Him.

The first question that John records for us pertains to His kingship. Hendricksen rightly (I think) notes that the emphasis must be placed on the pronoun “you”, if we’re to understand the thinking of Pilate. To put it into the negative, he’s saying, “You aren’t the king of the Jews are you?”

Surely this meek Jewish teacher isn’t their king! In Pilate’s mind this is a joke.

Jesus begins to answer the question with one of His own – because it’s not as if He can answer this with a simple “yes” or “no.” If He answered “yes” then Pilate would suppose Jesus to mean a political type of king – for that’s what he had in mind when he asked the question. But if Jesus answered “no”, then He would be overstating the case. Answering “no” would almost be to say “in no way shape or form am I king – they have it all wrong.”

So in order to answer the question correctly, He must first qualify the question. That qualification earns a scoff in return.

Pilate’s reply confirms our interpretation of the snarkiness we detect in the first question. He says, “am I a Jew?” In other words, “Do I have anything to do with any of this nonsense? I don’t think like a Jew, I don’t look like a Jew, and my king is much more majestic than what the rabble brought before me today!”

Now there are some really interesting ironies here in these contrasts, and Carson exposes one of them having to do with Pilate’s question “Am I a Jew?”

It is just possible that under Pilate’s question ‘Am I a Jew?’ the Evangelist finds lurking deeper ironies. Pilate despises and distrusts the Jews, yet in the course of the narrative he is eventually forced to adopt their position. Insofar as the Jews here represent the ‘world’, Pilate joins them. And in any case, the reader knows that in a profound sense Pilate’s question really means (though certainly not intended this way by Pilate), ‘Are you my king?’ (Carson, pg. 593, cites Duke).

Pilate then demands of Jesus “what have you done?” In other words, “what is it that you’ve done to rile these detestable Jews to this point? How have you annoyed them so as to have them demanding your execution???”

The Reply

Now we are at verse 36, and the reply of Jesus to the questions Pilate has been asking. He’s had Pilate clarify the question, and Pilate is clearly annoyed, and has replied with derision at the Jews and their idea of kingship. Surely it can’t be this man!

There are so many passages in Scripture where we can look to for evidence of the kingship of Jesus. We look at passages that show His authority, or descriptions of His sovereignty and control over lives and nature and so forth. But perhaps this is one of the passages we overlook.

**I think that in Jesus’ reply there are two things we learn: 1. The nature of the kingdom of Jesus and 2. The purpose for His coming to Earth.

First, the Kingship of Jesus is described here in terms of a “kingdom” – and not just a normal kingdom, but an other-worldly kingdom. His kingdom is not like the kingdoms we’re used to seeing or reading about in books. There are no knights in shining armor. There are no castle walls or protective moats. Missing are the court jesters, friars, monks, dukes, and large gathering of couriers (you can tell I think of “kingdom” in terms of the middle ages!).

Furthermore, the kingdom of Jesus is not situated geographically in a static physical location. And although all the world and its heavens are the footstool of God, for He owns all things and made all things, yet His kingdom is more than simply the physical created order that is visible to us today, rather it includes ALL of the created order including the spiritual realm.

The nature of the kingdom of God has been a topic much debated among theologians, but I would like to read a few comments by pastors and theologians to help us have a better understanding of how the church has understood Jesus’ words here throughout the last 2000 years

Perhaps George Ladd had the best definition. He described God’s kingdom in this way:

The Kingdom of God is the redemptive reign of God dynamically active to establish his rule among human beings, and…this Kingdom, which will appear as an apocalyptic act at the end of the age, has already come into human history in the person and mission of Jesus to overcome evil, to deliver people from its power, and to bring them into the blessings of God’s reign.

Commenting on Ladd’s definition, Tom Schreiner says, “We can say, then, that the kingdom was inaugurated in the ministry and death and resurrection of Jesus, but the kingdom will not be consummated until he returns.”

J.C. Ryle’s explanation on the nature of the kingdom Jesus is describing is great. He says, “It is a kingdom which is neither begun, nor propagated, nor defended by the power of this world, by the world’s arms or the world’s money. It is a kingdom which took its origin from heaven, and not from earth, – a spiritual kingdom, – a kingdom over hearts and wills and consciences, – a kingdom which needs no armies or revenues, – a kingdom which in no way interferes with the kingdoms of this world.”

I love how Ryle remarks that the kingdom of Jesus is timeless. It didn’t have a beginning and it won’t have an end. His kingdom is forever.

Martin Luther expressed this idea well in the final verse of his famous hymn ‘A Mighty Fortress is Our God’:

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Of course what Luther caught a hold of in this hymn is that the consequence of being united to Christ is that no matter what happens to this body, our place is in heaven with Jesus whose “kingdom is forever.”

This reality is what governs Jesus’ responses. He abides in the truth – the reality that in this moment is hidden from Pilate and the bloodthirsty Jewish leaders.

And though His kingdom is timeless, as Ryle points out, we find in Jesus’ words a hint of the already-not yet character of the kingdom. He was already a king. He had reigned forever with the Father and the Spirit over all that they created. By definition God is king over all because He created all things and therefore has authority over all things.

Yet, the Son, having set aside the privileges and rights ascribed to Him ontologically as God temporarily, still did not deny here before Pilate that He indeed was and is a king – THE King. And His kingdom will one day be consummated in a great and glorious triumph! Oh what a day that will be!

Carson’s comments reinforce what Ladd and Schreiner have to say (and help temper Ryle a bit):

It is important to see ‘that Jesus’ statement should not be misconstrued as meaning that h is kingdom is not active in this world, or has nothing to do with this world’ (Beasley-Murray, pg. 331). John certainly expects the power of the inbreaking kingdom to affect this world; elsewhere he insists that the world in conquered by those who believe in Jesus (1 John 5:4). But theirs is the sort of struggle, and victory, that cannot effectively be opposed by armed might.

And although Pilate does not recognize in sincerity the kingship of Jesus, he certainly would have had He seen Him in His glory just 33 years before, and, of course, he now knows the error of His ways being (we assume?) in eternal torment in Hell.

Therefore, as I mentioned before, these men are blind to the truth, and Paul was right in what he spoke to the Corinthians about the veiled nature of Christ’s glory during His time on earth:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. [4] In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. [5] For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. [6] For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:3-6)

18:37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

The Purpose for His Coming

So first we looked at the nature of the kingdom of God, and now we’re going to look at the purpose of His coming.

When Jesus replies to Pilate that He is a king and rules over an other-worldly kingdom, Pilate responds “So you are a king?” and we can almost assume that the sarcasm is kicking in at this point, as Pilate completely misses what Jesus is saying…though I think he will sober up here soon.

Jesus’ reply is not to simply confirm what He’s already said, but to give Pilate some insight into why He came to earth. Namely, He came to bear witness to the truth. This truth is the truth of God’s plan, and His gospel for mankind. Jesus’ mission is summed up in Luke’s gospel this way:

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. (Luke 19:10)

Now, Jesus ends His explanation by stating that, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” If you are of the truth, if you have “ears to hear”, then you will listen and understand what Jesus is saying.

Remember that John plays up the contrasts in his book, and one of the biggest contrasts is between light and darkness. Pilate is in the darkness. He can’t understand what Jesus is saying to him. It’s all nonsense to his ears – and that’s why that passage from 2 Cor. 4 that I quoted earlier is so important.

It seems hard to fathom that if you were to stand in the presence of the Lord of Glory that you’d be able to miss that He is God incarnate. Yet many did. They’re eyes were darkened, their hearts were hardened, and they were not looking for the kingdom of God to come in such a remarkable way.

Furthermore, Jesus recognized this and explained this reality throughout the gospels, and we have read a lot of it in John’s gospel. For instance, compare these other instances to what we’ve read just now:

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:5 ESV)

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24 ESV)

And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, [38] and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. (John 5:37-38 ESV)

Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. [44] No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. [45] It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— (John 6:43-45 ESV)

Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. [44] You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. [45] But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. (John 8:43-45 ESV)

We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” [30] The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. [31] We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. [32] Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. [33] If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (John 9:29-33 ESV)

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, [15] just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. [16] And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. [17] For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. (John 10:14-17 ESV)

The point all of these citations is to show that Jesus has come on a mission to find His sheep, to seek and save the lost sheep, and that before anyone is saved they are in darkness and unable to find their way to the safety of God’s arms. It is Jesus Himself who searches us out, who calls us to Himself, and whose truth must abide in us if we’re to be saved. It is He who sovereignly changes the hearts and minds of men, softening us to His call and His message, and giving us the truth of His gospel which is able to save our souls.

This is the truth He came to hear witness to, this is the truth He proclaims now before Pilate.

18:38-40 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. [39] But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” [40] They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.

Oh the Irony!

Finally, as we wrap up chapter 18 we read of Pilate’s reply to Jesus’ mission statement that He came to hear witness to the truth. Jesus extolls all the great things that we Christians hold dear and Pilate responds with scoffs. He says, “what is truth?”

Of course the irony of this statement/question is that Pilate scoffs at the notion that there is an absolute truth standard to the man who embodies the truth itself and whose character is the basis for the very standard Pilate doesn’t believe exists.

Ryle is perhaps right that this state of mind reflects that which many rich and powerful men throughout every age have held. Pilate has heard of all the many philosophical systems and ideas in his own time and he’s given up even trying to figure out who and what is right. And I think that perhaps in Pilate’s mind, the very fact that he’s having to try a man for a crime that is so obviously absurd is more evidence in his mind that if there is an absolute standard, it doesn’t seem discernable to him or these ridiculous Jews.

The Response of the Jews

Pilate goes back to the Jews now and, not convinced that there’s anything wrong with this man Jesus – for how can he be a king? – says that he’s willing to release Him and chalk it up to their yearly custom of letting a prisoner go.

It’s fitting of the sarcastic narrative I’ve been painting here of Pilate that he continues to call Jesus ‘The King of the Jews’ – in his mind this is meant to denigrate the Jews that they would have such a lowly king.

Now the response of the Jews seals their fates and fulfills the prophecies that they would reject the Messiah, and stumble over the Great Cornerstone of the Church. Their salvation is at hand, and their reply is an enthusiastic call for the release of the robber Barabbas.

Notes on John 18:28-32 – God on Trial Part 1

Here are my notes on John 18:28-32, it is the first in several installments of the trial of Jesus Christ.

God on Trial Part 1

18:28-31 Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. [29] So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” [30] They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” [31] Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” 

Some Background

It is still “early morning” and Jesus has now moved from a Jewish trial to a Roman one.  John obviously stresses the “early” nature of these events.  Hendricksen notes that, “Rising at (or very soon after) dawn, and being ready for business at such an early hour, was not unusual in the ancient world, not even on the part of important officials, such as Pilate.”

The Jews wished to have Jesus killed, and while their council could decree the death penalty, they couldn’t execute such a decree – only the Romans could do that. Thus, in order to finally exterminate the existential threat Jesus posed to their political and social standing, this was the next necessary step.

Now in John’s gospel we miss some of the context for what happened at the Jewish council, so I want to just give that here so its fresh in our minds what Jesus just came from, and what the religious leaders just finished doing:

Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered. 58 And Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end. 59 Now the chief priests and the whole councilwere seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward 61 and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’” 62 And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?”[i] 63 But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God,tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” 67 Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him,68 saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” (Matthew 26:57-66)

Self-Righteousness on the Outside, Murder on the Inside

In verse 28 we read something remarkable.  John says that the Jews didn’t want to enter the governor’s headquarters in order not to be defiled.  Being around gentiles made one impure – this is why when Jews in the diaspora came in for the Passover they cleansed themselves from having lived among gentile nations/people.  It is purely figurative, of course, but it was part of the ceremonial idea that these were God’s chosen people and that they weren’t to come to worship in an unclean way.

In addition to this, as Calvin notes, it wasn’t against the law to be with Gentiles, it was their traditions that added this to the law!

What is most remarkable, however, is not that they were working to keep themselves clean, but that in one sentence John has shown us why the religious leaders of that day got it so wrong.  They were so concerned about the ritual of not consorting with Gentiles, all the while their hearts were as black as soot.  Jesus decried this hypocrisy earlier in His ministry:

While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. [38] The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. [39] And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. [40] You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? [41] But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you. (Luke 11:37-41)

So these Pharisees march right up to the point of physical ceremonial defilement, just stopping short of the doorway so as not to mess up their feast days – wouldn’t want to do that – all while on a murderous rampage that has completely consumed them. They are totally bent on killing Jesus.

I think Matthew really captures their mindset well:

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. (Matthew 26:3-4)

As Calvin says, “…they carry more pollution within their hearts, than they can contract by entering any place however profane…and…they carry to excess their care about smaller matters, and neglect what is of the highest importance.”  “In short”, Calvin says, “they observe the shadow of the Passover with a false and pretended reverence, and yet not only do they violate the true Passover by sacrilegious hands, but endeavor, as far as lies in their power, to burry it in eternal oblivion.”

Augustine is simply aghast at this scene and details his thoughts in somewhat hilarious (to the modern reader) Shakespearean dialect, “O impious blindness! They would be defiled, forsooth, by a dwelling which was another’s, and not be defiled by a crime which was their own. They feared to be defiled by the praetorium of an alien judge, and feared not to be defiled by the blood of an innocent brother.”

Now, from a textual/background/timeline perspective, I want to just note that some have had difficulty with the phrase that John gives here that the Pharisees wanted to “eat the Passover” still.  Well, didn’t Jesus just eat the Passover meal with His disciples? I believe that He did indeed.  But Carson, who weighs all the opinions and scholarship from Bruce, Morris and others points out that what is likely meant is the continuation of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  Once you weigh all the points together (including the different potential defilements and their time penalty) one has to come to the conclusion that “the Passover” here is the continuation of the Passover celebration, and not the Pascal Meal itself. Therefore, “The Jews wanted to continue to participate in the entire feast; they wanted to eat the Passover” (Carson).

From Whence We Came…

The mindset of the Pharisees is one set on plots and death. And really, one of the things that we need to understand is that apart from God and His work in our hearts, we’d be right there with these guys. We’d think as they did, and we would despise the Lord of Glory.  It is an unnerving truth to face.  Can you imagine thinking evil thoughts about Jesus like “who do you think you are you miserable peasant from Nazareth!”

The revolting nature of this truth is a reminder that we are naturally at enmity with God – do you know what that means? It means that we hate God and have murderous intent toward Him.  It means that we are enemies of God – mortal enemies of God – before being saved.  Jesus didn’t die to save His friends.  Jesus died to save His enemies!

I’m saying this and reminding us of this here because it helps us to remember the lengths to which He went to save us, and the kind of people we were before we met Him. These truths – and seeing the Pharisees in all their ugliness – reminds us of our own ugliness, and helps us treasure the gospel all the more.

Listen to what Paul says on this:

…remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. [13] But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. [14] For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility [15] by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, [16] and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Ephesians 2:12-16)

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, [22] he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, (Colossians 1:21-22 ESV)

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. [11] More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:10-11 ESV)

In all these verses we see two realities: 1. Our state of sinfulness and alienation of/from God prior to His saving us, and 2. That our salvation is grounded in the work Christ did on the cross at Calvary.

It is the gospel that while were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  That is what we see unfolding here with these evil religious leaders. They bathe in the filth of their heart’s delight.  So eager to get to get rid of this man, yet so loathe to taint themselves with uncleanliness that comes with consorting with gentiles.

Baselessness

I mentioned before, in the last section of teaching, that the accusations the Jews had against Jesus were just rubbish, and the trials by which they accused Jesus of blasphemy were all trumped up and really illegal by their own custom.  Now, they have to somehow convince Pilate, the Roman in charge of Jerusalem, that there was something worthy of dealing with him from a secular standpoint.

Pilate’s initial question is answered by the Jews by essentially a non-answer.  They say, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.”  In other words, “hey trust us on this one. He’s not a good dude, just deal with him.”  Well obviously that’s not good enough for Pilate, so he tells them to get lost and deal with their issues themselves.  But these Jews are determined.  Their hearts are full of hate.  They’ve been searching for this opportunity for months (at least), and they’ve been up all night to boot.  They aren’t backing down.

Pilate’s answer to them is filled with irony says Calvin, “Take you him. He says this ironically; for he would not have allowed them to pronounce on a man a sentence of capital punishment” – mostly because these people were obviously not capable of executing any kind of justice! A society governed by these men would have been nothing but corruption and anarchy, and Pilate must have been thinking as much at the time.

Carson brilliantly points out that the Jews had already secured a detachment of troops to capture Jesus, so they were likely thinking Pilate would simply ratify whatever the Sanhedrin Council concluded, yet here he was seemingly opening up a whole new trial and not simply rubber-stamping their decision to kill this man.  This is likely what got them worked up so quickly – perhaps they were expecting an easier go of it.

18:32 This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

“Did He Predict His Destiny?”

This past week or so we held a Vacation Bible School at the church, and one of the songs the kids sung asked the question “Did He (Jesus) predict His destiny?”  Those kids answered the question in the affirmative because, as they saw in the Scriptures, Jesus was able to know exactly what was going to happen to Him.  He predicted that all these things would come to pass.

And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, [18] “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death [19] and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” (Matthew 20:17-19) see also Luke 18:31-34

Luke Adds: “But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” (18:34)

Only the Son of God could have made this kind of prediction.  Only someone who knew the future could have said “here’s what going to happen, here’s how it’s going to happen, and here’s who is going to do it.”

This is just one more proof that John lays before us in order to establish in our minds the truth that this man Jesus was indeed the Son of God.  When we read things like this, it’s right to step back and be amazed.  These are the kinds of things that no normal man could have known.

Ryle rightly points out that this moment is the fulfilling of the entire Scriptures dating back to Jacob’s own predictions.  In an amazing bit of insight he says the following:

Let us mark here what a striking confession the Jews here made, whether they were aware of it or not. They actually admitted that they were no longer rulers and governors of their own nation and that they were under the dominion of a foreign power. They were no longer independent, but subject of Rome…By their own mouth and their own act they publicly declared that Jacob’s prophecy was fulfilled, “that the scepter had departed from Judah,” that they had no longer a lawgiver of their own stock, and that consequently the time of Shiloh, the promised Messiah, must have come.  How unconscious wicked men are that they fulfill prophecy!

Calvin agrees and adds that, “And, indeed, if we wish to read with advantage the history of Christ’s death, the chief point is, to consider the eternal purpose of God.  The Son of God is placed before the tribunal of a mortal man. If we suppose that this is done by the caprice of men, and do not raise our eyes to God, our faith must necessarily be confounded and put to shame.”

And yet in all of this the gospel was played out.  For as Calvin continues, “But when we perceive that, by the condemnation of Christ, our condemnation before God is blotted out, because it pleased the Heavenly Father to take this method of reconciling mankind to himself, raised on high by this single consideration, we boldly, and without shame, glory even in Christ’s ignominy. Let us therefore learn, in each part of this narrative, to turn our eyes to God as the Author of our redemption.”  Amen!!!

Therefore there’s a second dimension to His predictions, and that is that not only did He know of these events, He allowed them to occur and steadfastly and patiently endured the corruption of justice by the Jews, and the human authority of the Romans, all in order to fulfill His great plan for our salvation.