Samuel and David: An Overview

Last night I had the privilege of walking through an overview of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles for a group of ladies devoted to the Word of God. In their preparation to study 2 Samuel, they graciously invited me to discuss the book in an introductory fashion.  My notes from that study are below.

Introduction to 2 Samuel

The Approach to this Introduction

I’m going to discuss 2 Samuel in three categories in honor of the three horizons of interpretation: textual, epochal, and canonical (not that we’re doing exactly this form of interpretation, as this is only an overview). So first we’ll look at some of the textual issues like authority, dating, themes, some of the characters and David himself. Then we’ll zoom out and see how this book fits into this period in history, and the surrounding events and characters of this time. Finally, we’ll look at how this book fits into the overall canonical context of the Bible, including how David typologically and covenantally fits into the larger schema of redemptive history.

Textual Horizon

Authorship and Dating

1 and 2 Samuel were originally one book. So in order to understand 2 Samuel, you must first understand that you are picking up in the middle of a story.

Let’s talk first about authorship and the flow of 1 Samuel. The book as one unit covers about 135 years of history from 1105 BC to 971 BC and mostly focuses on the story of David as the central character.

The first 7 chapters of 1 Samuel are very focused on Samuel, who is the last man in a line of judges that have led Israel for hundreds of years. We learn about his upbringing, his parents, his lifestyle, his dedication, the plight of his mother Hannah, the state of the nation of Israel, the state of the priesthood, and other significant things as well.

Internal and external evidence seems to point to Kings having been written with a knowledge of what was written in Samuel, and Samuel seems to have been written with some knowledge of what occurred in Deuteronomy (Firth). However, the author is unknown. Traditionally the writing is ascribed to the namesake of the book by Jewish traditionalists, but that can’t be the case since Samuel’s death is recorded for us in 1 Sam. 25:1. Others say that Gad, and Nathan (both prophets during the time of David) wrote the book, but it is more likely that their writings helped serve as a foundation for the book since it is obvious the book was written after the kingdom was divided.

We don’t know the exact date of the writing, but MacArthur notes that it must have been post divided kingdom since there are distinct references to “Judah” and “Israel” as separate entities, and because the statement “to the kings of Judah to this day” (speaking of Ziklag belonging to Judah) in 1 Sam. 27:6 indicates that the writing must have been post-Solomonic rule. Some say that Samuel was written by the same author who wrote 1&2 Kings during the Babylonian Captivity, but as MacArthur notes, the writing style differs enough for that not to be a possibility, and therefore it was likely penned prior to the exile but during the era of the divided kingdom.

Notable Cities

  • Shiloh – the residence of Eli and the tabernacle
  • Remah – the hometown of Samuel
  • Gibeah – the headquarters of Saul
  • Bethlehem – the birthplace of David
  • Hebron – David’s capital when he ruled over Judah
  • Jerusalem – the ultimate city where David ruled all of Israel

Notable Nations

Philistines – these were one of two chief enemies of Israel during the time of Samuel/David. They had migrated from Asia Minor and settled along the Mediterranean cost of Palestine in the 12th century BC (to the west of Israel). They also controlled the iron in the region, so they had a distinct advantage over Israel in that way.

Ammonites – these people were settled to the east of Israel and were the second major source of trouble for the Israelites. As MacArthur notes, the Ammonites were descendants of Lot who lived on the Transjordan Plateau.

David conquered both the Ammonites (2 Sam. 12:29-31) and the Philistines (2 Sam. 8:1) during his reign.

The Themes in 1 Samuel

As we open the book of 2 Samuel its important to know what events were covered in the previous book. There are many issues brewing politically and spiritually in Israel. As MacArthur notes, “Israel was at a low point spiritually. The priesthood was corrupt, the Ark of the Covenant was not at the tabernacle, idolatry was practiced, and the judges were dishonest.”

There are four major themes that run throughout the books according the MacArthur:

  1. The Davidic covenant (1 Sam. 2:10 and 2 Sam. 22:51). This is the reference to the Messiah coming in the line of David. He wants to make a “house” for God, God ends up making him an eternal “house” (lineage – see Gentry for Hebrew play on words).
  2. The sovereignty of God – i.e. His power in brining about Samuel’s birth and David’s reign.
  3. The Work of the Holy Spirit – i.e. both Saul and David were anointed as king by the Holy Spirit. Victories in battle were won with the help of the Holy Spirit, and the power of the Holy Spirit brought forth prophesy (1 Sam. 10:6).
  4. The personal and national effects of sin. This ranges from the sins of Eli and his sons, to the sins of David, and the disobedience of Saul. These men all had to deal with the consequences of their sins.

I think I would add to these themes a nuance to number four called “the character of David” and here is what I would note about David’s character:

  1. He was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22) (DeYoung says, “David was a man after God’s own heart because he hated sin but loved to forgive it”)
  2. He was a sinful man
  3. He was a humble man
  4. He was a man of great faith in God
  5. He came from nothing and God made him something
  6. He was a man of great courage and talent (see Kevin DeYoung’s article)

In an article entitled “What made David great”, Rev. Kevin DeYoung says that what made David great, in a nutshell, was that, “In particular, David was a great man because he was willing to overlook others’ sins but unwilling to overlook his own.” He continues, “More than anyone prior to Jesus, David loved his enemies. Like no other Old Testament king, David was willing to welcome rebels back to the fold and overlook the sins of those who had opposed him.”

Some Final Interesting textual notes:

  • Three different pieces of Samuel were found in the Caves at Quomron – often referred to as the Dead Sea Scrolls. There were not entire books or even entire chapters, but rather just fragments of 1&2 Samuel (Firth).
  • There is good reason to believe 1&2 Samuel were originally one book, and should probably be read as one volume. In the original masoretic texts they were one volume (Firth). It was only during the Greek versions of the OT (the Septuagint LXX) that a division occurred (MacArthur study notes). 1&2 Kings were called “3&4” Kings/Books of the Kingdom in the Vulgate and LXX.
  • There are four citation of 2 Samuel in the New Testament, and 1 direct citation to 1 Samuel. However, there are also several allusions to instances within the book in the NT (Firth).
  • There are four poetic texts in the writing. We know that at least one of them is drawn from the book of Jasher – 2 Sam. 1:17-27 (Firth).

 

The Epochal Context

Much of how we understand the framework of 1 Samuel comes through the prayer song of Hannah at the beginning of the book. Much like Mary’s Magnificat – which borrows greatly from its themes – Hannah’s prayer is predictive of the events in the book. The prayer is as follows:

2:1 And Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the LORD; my horn is exalted in the LORD. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation.

2:2-8 “There is none holy like the LORD: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God. [3] Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. [4] The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength. [5] Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. [6] The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. [7] The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. [8] He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s, and on them he has set the world.

2:9-10 “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall a man prevail. [10] The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.” (1 Samuel 2:1-10)

Stephen Dempster comments that, “Hannah and David not only echo each other’s desperate prayers at holy sites; they echo each other’s songs of thanksgiving, and these songs focus on a messianic king…These two figures, Hannah and David, are crucially important for understanding the book. Hannah’s song looks to the future for the overthrow of a tyrannical dominion that will be replaced by a just king, a Messiah, who will bring justice beyond Israel to the ends of the earth (1 Sam. 2:10). David looks back and sees how God has delivered him from all his enemies. David some them until they fell under his feet (2 Sam. 22:39-40). God gave him the neck of his enemies (22:41), and this becomes the pledge of a future in which God will magnify his salvation to his king and extend covenant loyalty to his Messiah, to David and his seed for over (22:51).”[i]

So “The poem begins with a renewed Hannah, but by its end there is a vision of a renewed cosmos.”[ii]

With that said, let’s back up even more…

By the time you have arrived at David, it’s roughly 1000 BC, and you’ve seen the slow – sometimes deathly slow – progress of this Middle Eastern nation as they go from 12 boys, to 70 family members traveling down to Egypt. When they come up out of Egypt they are over 600,000. The country is leaderless though, and they will not be ruled by the wise council of judges any longer. Everyone does what is right in their own eyes.

They’ve been given the Promised Land, and Abraham has more descendants than he ever imagined. Yet the blessing of a united nation, a prosperous people, has not yet come to pass. They are harangued by nations on every side that are stronger than they.

God placed them geographically in the midst of super powers so that they would be a light to the world, a people who would shine in the midst of darkness. They were to show mankind what it means to be in a right relationship with God – the God – and therefore what it meant to be truly human. To rule as God’s image bearers and representatives on earth.

But they failed.

Eventually they call for a king. Not because they want a righteous ruler, but because they want to be like everyone else. They want to look like the world. “No sooner is Saul installed as king than he sins and Yahweh rejects him. It is Israel at Sinai all over again, taking cultic matters into its own hands (1 Sam. 13:8-14).”[iii]

Samuel sees their request as a rejection of his leadership, but God sees it for what it is: a rejection of His divine kingship. So God gave them a king – one that fit exactly what they were hoping for.

That king – Saul – was a failure.

But God, in His everlasting mercy, raised up a man – a shepherd boy – named David. David’s first two acts were to 1. Be a servant of healing to Saul who was plagued by evil spirits who troubled him and 2. To liberate his people from the oppression of a giant enemy.

In the defeat of Goliath, some of the great themes from Hannah’s song are beginning to play out, as Dempster so adeptly tells us:

This clash between the giant and the boy vividly displays the theme of the song of Hannah. But it also does more. That song celebrates the birth of a child (Samuel), God’s demolition of the power structures of the world and the installation of his Messiah to bring justice to the ends of the earth. It thus reaches back to the creation of the world and the promise to restore world order at the beginning through the birth of a child, the seed of the woman. The genealogical focus has shifted from Adam to Seth, to Shem, to Abraham, to Israel, to Judah and finally to David. David has become the focus of world genealogy. The seed of the woman has arrived, and in David’s first action as king he is a warrior, an anointed one who conquers and beheads a monstrous giant, whose speech echoes the serpent’s voice. David will now become the main focus of the storyline and, with his coming, there will be a similar narrowing and expanding of the geographical focus. It will be David who will bring this about as he conquers the Canaanite enclave of Jebus, and it will be Jerusalem that becomes the centre of world geography.

God put David through many trials and tests. He was chased from cave to cave as Saul had a strong desire to put him to death. Saul’s madness eventually drove David away, and David joined the Philistines as a sort of rogue mercenary. While working on their behalf, David ended up plundering many of Israel’s enemies, sending that plunder to the elders of Israel. David did in exile what Saul failed to do from the throne.

Then the final day came for the Philistines to engage in battle against the Israelites. What would David do? He told the king of the Philistines that he would go into battle with him, but the king’s generals would not permit that to happen. They were concerned that in the heat of battle David would not be able to remain loyal to them.

In this brutal conflict, both Jonathan and Saul were slain on mount Gilboa. Jonathan was David’s best friend and soul mate.

Now the Philistines were fighting against Israel, and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines and fell slain on Mount Gilboa. [2] And the Philistines overtook Saul and his sons, and the Philistines struck down Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchi-shua, the sons of Saul. [3] The battle pressed hard against Saul, and the archers found him, and he was badly wounded by the archers. [4] Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and mistreat me.” But his armor-bearer would not, for he feared greatly. Therefore Saul took his own sword and fell upon it. [5] And when his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword and died with him. [6] Thus Saul died, and his three sons, and his armor-bearer, and all his men, on the same day together. [7] And when the men of Israel who were on the other side of the valley and those beyond the Jordan saw that the men of Israel had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their cities and fled. And the Philistines came and lived in them. (1 Samuel 31:1-7)

That is where 1 Samuel ends and 2 Samuel begins, and where you will pick up the story in the weeks ahead.

Dempster concludes his overview of Samuel by saying, “The lesson of Hannah’s song, however, is repeated again and again. The future belongs to the one who says, ‘I am abased (low) in my own eyes (and am not tall) (2 Sam. 6:22). The future does not lie with the strong and secure but, rather, the least likely of David’s sons will inherit a throne of glory (1 Sam. 2:8b). Michal will die childless (2 Sam. 6:23).”[iv]

The Canonical Context

The story of the Bible is a story of redemption. Ever since the Fall God has been executing His plan to reconcile man to Himself and restore what was lost on that day so long ago.

Now from the larger canonical perspective, when we get to David, we have arrived at a time when Israel as a nation is finally going to reach the very peak of the blessings God made to Abraham, and begin to once again fulfill what it looks like to subdue the earth.

In this time we see the kingdom of God seems settled politically, physically, and spiritually in the town of Jerusalem, in the kingship of God’s anointed servant, David, and in Solomon’s time in the temple in Jerusalem. The result is both physical blessing and spiritual intimacy with God. The key here is that His presence is with them – in the tabernacle and then in the temple. Redemptive history is moving from the separation experienced in the Garden of Eden to a restoration of the relationship between God and man, and God dwelling amongst His people in a way that is increasingly intimate. From Abraham to Moses to David this reconciliation of the relationship between God and man is steadily increasing.

The terms of the relationship are defined in terms of “covenant”, this is the framework God operates within as He’s dealing with His people. This framework will become extremely important in your study of 2 Samuel because God will make a covenant with David that is the latest in a series of covenants that began with Adam.

Grahame Goldsworthy says, “Central to the theology of the books of Samuel is the covenant made with David (2 Sam. 7:4-16). David expresses the desire to finish the glory of the city of God by building a permanent sanctuary for Yahweh. Nathan the prophet is instructed to tell David that, far from his building God a house, God will build him a house; that is, a dynasty. David’s son will build the sanctuary, and the throne of his kingdom will be established for ever. God declares of this son of David, ‘I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son’ (vs. 14). There is a clear reference here to the covenant with Abraham and God’s intention ‘To be God to you’ (Gen. 17:7).”[v]

The Davidic Covenant is found in 2 Samuel 7 and 1 Chronicles 17.

Both Goldsworthy and Stephen Wellum see that in the Davidic Covenant God has now embodied within the king the attributes previously attributed to the nation of Israel. The Israelites are still under the Mosaic Covenant, but now the king will represent them as their federal head. Just as the Israelites were regarded as God’s son (Exodus 4:22), and Adam before that (Luke’s genealogy) so now the Davidic ancestor is seen to be the Son of God – this will be uniquely fulfilled in David’s greater son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who owns the title (Son of God) in a unique way (ontologically).

Goldsworthy sums up the lead up to this moment well:

Biblical history begins with creation and, after the Fall, as a new beginning with the call of Abraham and the covenant of grace that God makes with him. This covenant underpins the exodus from captivity in Egypt and the binding of the redeemed people to the covenant instruction given by Moses at Sinai. This, in turn, underpins the responsibility of the people of Israel toward their God as he brings them to the Promised Land, gives them possession of it, raises up a king and establishes Zion and its temple as the focal point representing God’s presence among his people.

So you can see that these covenants before David are layered and interlocking. God is progressively revealing Himself and His plan of redemption for His chosen people and for creation itself.

What we see then across these covenants, and in David as well, is a tension between God’s mercy and God’s justice. This is an outgrowth of His character, which we read about in Exodus 34:

The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, [7] keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7)

So within God’s character there is both a love for Mercy and for Justice. And God cannot deny Himself.

As the OT story unfolds, this tension grows.

You could say that the tension reaches its peak with the great blessings experienced during the reign of David and then Solomon, and that His justice is shown in the downfall of the kingdom and the exile to Babylon and Assyria.

What we see in the life of David is the very peak of God’s fulfillment specifically of the promises to Abraham: Land, Seed, and finally, worldwide Blessing. All of these elements have come to fruition in the time of David and Solomon. Yet not in a way that can fully usher in the kingdom of God. Why? Because these people are still covenant breakers. They still prefer to do things their own way and chase after the desire of their own heart.

Even in the time of great blessing, which will be seen in the life and rule of David and then Solomon, there is a very clear sense that this can’t be as good as it gets. Sin – even in David’s life – is still predominant, and the author of Samuel does not hide David’s character (warts and all!) from the reader.

Eventually the sin of the king leads to exile.

But even in exile the people believe exactly what David believed, namely that, 1. The Davidic reign would be forever and 2. All the earth and its kings would be ruled and subdued by the Davidic king.

The latter is drawn from David’s response to God’s covenant:

Then King David went in and sat before the LORD and said, “Who am I, O Lord GOD, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord GOD. You have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord GOD! (2 Samuel 7:18-19 ESV)

So the question in exile becomes: “How long oh Lord?”

The end of your study will leave you with this impression – of a need for a faithful convent partner who will obey God and desire to do His will, and the need for a Messianic king who will deliver His people from bondage.

This is why, by the way, the original arrangement of the OT ends with Daniel, Nehemiah, Ezra and then Chronicles because it anticipates a day soon to come when a glorious temple (a better temple) will be made, and a time when the city (God’s city) will be built with an everlasting foundation and strong walls, and finally a time when an everlasting king will come to sit upon the throne of David. All of these things point forward typologically to Jesus Christ, the everlasting king who is building a temple with living stones, and a city which John describes as a “bride adorned for her groom” – that’s us!

So as you study 2 Samuel and the 1 Chronicles, you must understand where you’re coming in on the story. This is Israel at its height. God’s faithfulness has remained despite years of the people going their own way. His love has lifted this people from nothing to the richest, most envied nation in the ancient world.

Yet unresolved tensions will point you forward toward a need for resolution. Let me end with a summary from Wellum and Gentry:

As one works across the covenants and the tension increases, there is only one answer to these questions: it is only if God himself, as the covenant maker and keeper, unilaterally acts to keep his own promise through the provision of a faithful covenant partner that a new and better covenant can be established. It is only in the giving of His Son and through the Son’s obedient life and death for us as God the Son incarnate that our redemption is secured, our sin is paid for, and the inauguration of an unshakeable new covenant is established.[vi]

Footnotes

[i] Stephen Dempster, ‘Dominion and Dynasty’ Pg. 134.

[ii] Dempster, Pg. 135.

[iii] Dempster, Pg. 138.

[iv] Dempster, Pg. 141.

[v] Grahame Goldsworthy, Christ-Centered Biblical Theology, Pg. 124.

[vi] Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum, Kingdom Through Covenant, Pg. 611.

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Israel Day 3: It is the Heart that Matters

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It’s 6am here in Jerusalem.  I’m taking stock of what I’ve seen, heard, and the conversations I’ve had on this trip thus far and I am struck to the point of tears this morning at one simple reality: It is the heart that matters above all else in the affairs of man.

Yesterday we met with Jerusalem Post journalist Herb Keinon who offered an insiders view of Prime Minister Netanyahu from his years covering Israeli politics, and traveling oversees and around the country with him.  Then we visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum here in Jerusalem.

The Yad Vashem experience was led by a tour guide who asked a lot of questions in order to convey her ideas and the thrust of the museum – perhaps it was just her style, but it was a good way to open up the lid a little and get people thinking about the deeper issues surrounding not only the Holocaust, but hatred and killing in general. The questions that summed it all up were: How could human beings do this to other human beings? What is it that happened inside their minds and hearts? What is the genesis of this grotesque defect? What can be done to stop it in the future?

Hold that thought…

After Yad Vashem, we had lunch with Brig. General for the IDF Reserves Nitzan Nuriel.  The lunch was nothing short of fantastic.  Nuriel is an amazingly candid and heroic man.  His vision of survival, optimism, and hope for future Israeli generations was clearly what surfaced during our time together.  He exuded strength, good naturedness, and resolve.  In short, this was one of the greatest leaders I have ever met in person.

During our conversation with the General, we asked many questions.  The dialogue was great – as it has been all week here in Israel.  And Nuriel seemed to echo what Keinon had said earlier in the morning, namely that long term peace and long term solutions to living in peace are elusive, and frankly probably not the way to focus all one’s efforts.  Living life to the fullest and best in-between conflicts is what counts, said Nuriel. What do we do with that time?  In the context of why he has hope for the future, Keinon put it this way, “Israel is remarkably good at finding solutions to short term problems.”

When you approach the problems these men are describing about Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon, Iran, Syria, the border with Jordan, and on and on, you come to quickly realize there is no easy solution. They are dealing with people who are not playing by the same rules.  A member of Hamas has one goal in mind: exterminate the Jews. If they die trying, so much the better – they aren’t afraid to die, because of all they’ve learned about their supposed rewards in the afterlife.  YET, many palestinians who live in Gaza or the West Bank simply aren’t as militant.  They want a life of their own, and they are people with rights as well.  Israelis, more than anyone I know, understand the fundamental gritty truth that Palestinians, Muslims, Arabs etc. are human beings with families, lives, and souls.

The rock and the hard place are coming into focus, are they not? How do you live next to people and sit across the negotiating table with people who want to kill you because you’re a Jew.  They are completely unreasonable – they are terrorists.  Yet, there are millions and millions of men, women, and children whose lives are at stake and if you come from a Jewish background, there’s no way you’re going to wantonly kill innocents in any battle – even to defend your own people.  This is a nation of people defined by the holocaust, and that means it has been indelibly marked on them the fact that all people are human beings – just as they are.  That is one of the impressions, by the way, that one learns from Yad Vashem.

Making it all Make Sense

In the evening we had the privilege of meeting with three start-up businessmen and women who were success stories here in Israel.  It was a great dinner at a fun Moroccan restaurant in the Center City portion of Jerusalem.  As fun as it was to meet them, I was even more moved by a meeting that occurred just prior with a Palestinian Christian Pastor. I won’t tell you his name because he’s suffered enough persecution and I’d like to protect his privacy.

This young pastor was about my age – mid 30’s – and is on the front lines of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Palestinians – Muslims.  He has been beaten, had his church bombed, had his friends harassed and on and on.  But he still continues to preach.  What does he emphasize?  Loving your enemy. Why? Because this is what Jesus taught, yes, but how is he able to do it?  Because His heart has been changed radically by God. 

And…his ministry is flourishing. People are coming to Christ.  Interestingly enough, it is this idea of “love” and an understanding of mutual humanity that bridges gaps on an interpersonal basis even among secular Jews and Palestinians.  The entrepreneurs we listened to last night confirmed that as well.  But the difference between common decency and the radical nature of Jesus’ love is that one promotes harmony until the other party wrongs us, while the other – the love of Jesus – helps us love people while they wrong us.

Why did men mass murder other men and women?  Why do members of Hamas blindly hate and target Jews – sacrificing their own citizens in order to do this?  These questions are deep, but not as deep as the answers to how these problems are solved.  If we acknowledge the depth of our sin and fallenness as humans, that is the starting point.  That is the obvious answer to Yad Vashem.  But what is the answer to the second question?  How is this nature overcome?  How is hatred and ignorance overcome?  By the love of Jesus Christ.  

This is a supernatural love, an alien love, a love not found naturally in the corrupt hearts of man. It is also a gracious love, a love which God has shed abroad in the hearts of men and women who share a faith in Christ.  For those who are Christians, we need to understand that the ultimate answers to the difficult questions of our time both here and at home, begin not at the military, political, or diplomatic level, but in the hearts of mankind.

Pictures from Day 3 below:

Israel day 2

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We started the day today hearing from professor Reuven Hazan from Hebrew University. Mr. Hazan gave us an overview of the political/government system here in Israel. It was extremely insightful and very enjoyable. Israel is a Parliamentary democracy and, unlike the U.S., elects it’s governing body nationally and not by districts – in fact, the names of candidates aren’t on the ballot, only the party names. Vote for a party and you get the whole ball of wax – every candidate that the party chooses to install.

After each election the parties are allowed to send to parliament a certain number of candidates based on the percentage of what their party received from voters nationally.

After this morning session we toured the old city which included many of the holy sites you’ve likely heard of before.  These included the temple mount, the wailing wall (western wall), the church of the holy sepulcher and the room Jesus was believed to have eaten his last supper in.

For me, walking up the temple mount, knowing that Jesus had walked on those stones, and taught in that place, and that Peter had likely delivered his sermon in Acts 2 from that spot, was indescribable.  The best way to describe it would probably be to coming home.  A tremendous peace and amazement that lay unsettled in my gut – until the prayer at the western (wailing) wall whereupon I felt like for the first time in my trip I had met God in this place.  Mostly I attribute this to taking in all that I had seen, and then getting to come in prayer to the Lord.  When one pastor asked what I had prayed about, I told him that my entire mindset was dominated by thoughts of “come back quickly, Lord.”  I say that because there is an overwhelming sense – for me at least there was – that this is where it all took place.  And you want it to happen again.  You want Him to come again and to consummate His kingdom.

All the graves alongside the road leading up to the old city with the Mt. of Olives on the left etc. are there because they want a “front row seat” as our tour guide put it, to the coming of the Messiah —- now jokingly he said that the Jews first question will be “this your first time to Jerusalem?”  LOL!   For me, that resonated on a deeper level.  You see this wide swath of grave stones/head stones there laid out at the base of the Kidron as it wraps around toward the valley of Gehena and you realize they’re like seats in a movie theatre waiting for the great act of world history to sweep across the planes of that desert region and call them up to either judgment or to life everlasting.  Regardless, this is going to be the “place to be” so they say.

All of this sense, this feeling, comes to a nexus at the wall – at the time of prayer.  And needless to say it is very special.

We had several meetings after this.  One with a humanitarian activist from the Palestinian perspective, another with the leader of the Labor party opposition in the Knesset, and lastly we had dinner with an amazing journalist who is an Arab, Muslim, Palestinian, Israeli.  Crazy combination!  But that Palestinian perspective has been interesting.  Even the Palestinians we spoke with are against the Hamas, they think of Hamas as a terrorist group, and think of Barak Obama and John Kerry as closely aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood – at at the very best, empowering the Muslim Brotherhood!

Despite this sentiment toward Obama and Kerry, the Israelis and Palestinians we have met have been very very hospitable toward Americans and have nothing but good things to say about our country in general.  In fact, there hasn’t been an elected official, professor, journalist or expert of any kind that has not gone out of their way to thank us for coming at this time to show solidarity with Israel.  I can’t begin to describe how amazing it is to receive that kind of message from these men and women who have their lives in danger from terrorists every day.

Now, some of you have asked about my safety, and many are praying for me – thank you!  I want you all to know I’m safe, and couldn’t be enjoying this time more if I tried.  We’ve talked openly with people on the street, and because there has been a ceasefire for over 24 hours now (observed), we’re in good shape.  No rocket sirens thus far.

I’m pasting some pictures below of what I saw today.  This is only a sample, of course, but hopefully you’ll get a sense for what we saw and did today.  It was an amazing day.  The Israelis, I am learning, are a very courageous people.  Their political system is diverse, they have a unique outlook on life, they are surrounded by enemies, and they’re a beacon of freedom and morality in this part of the world.  It makes all the sense in the world, therefore, to stand by them in their efforts to not only exist as a nationstate (something Hamas’ charter puts them diametrically opposed to), but to thrive and to lead this part of the world out of the darkness of terror and radical Islam.

Several more amazing days in front of me.  If I went into everything I learned in each session and at every stop, these blogs would be way too long!  But needless to say, this trip is so well rounded that one cannot come away without a very thorough understanding of the geopolitical, religious, historical, moral, and military significance of this place.

Until tomorrow…Soli Deo Gloria!

The Last Super
The Last Super
Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount, Mount of Olives
Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount, Mount of Olives
The Temple Mount
The Temple Mount
Church of the Holy Sepulcher
Church of the Holy Sepulcher

 

Israel day 1

20140805-194122-70882201.jpg

This is day one of my AIEF (American Israeli Education Foundation) trip. I’m typing this from the plane (no internet yet on this Boeing 777 – only four craft in their 777 fleet have wifi…seriously) and we haven’t yet landed. It’s 9:45am eastern and we didn’t take off right away as scheduled due to a problem with the plane not wanting to accept fuel – obviously that wasn’t very obliging of their aircraft…So we switched planes. The result was a relaxing 2+ hour delay in Newark’s very nice airport. Now that we are on the way and somewhat rested, the anticipation for the day is beginning to build.

Most of this first day will be spent traveling and getting settled in. So not much to report. But the group of folks in traveling with (13 of us I believe) is a great and diverse group of men and (1) women. Mostly people from the Midwest who grew up with cold winters, fall football, and Christian faith backgrounds.

The several pastors who came with us include Tim Throckmorton, a fellow Ohioan, who has been my seating companion on each leg of our trip this far. Tim is from the Circleville area and pastors a church of about 500 folks.

There are also several politicos along for the adventure. My good friend Gregg Keller is on the trip. Gregg is a Missouri boy, and got his big break in politics working for former U.S. Senator Jim Talent.

I’m hoping to be able to share some of the journey here as we go. All my posts will come after events or the day following, for security reasons. Some will simply be pictures and others a mix (so long as the app I’m using doesn’t flake out on me!).

UPDATE: 30 min until Tel Aviv (from the journal, transposed)

The sense from all the men I’ve talked to on our trip is that this is a once in a lifetime/bucket list type of trip. A real privilege.

Of course the accommodations and hospitality are all first class, so in a superficial sense that is what is meant. But in a deeper sense, everyone knows that soon they will be walking on ground walked on by their Savior. And what that may feel like is yet unknown.

All Christians long for the Day He returns, and we feel and sense this desire from within us from God’s Spirit. So I wonder if there is some of this sense coming alive in our small party. As if setting foot in Jerusalem and Galilee were going to bring His Day and His presence nearer. The sense perhaps can be likened to that great joy one feels when a friend is born again. A touch of eternity is nearby…

Humans are designed for more than the temporal. We are beings created for an eternal God. When one comes alive from the dead it is a reminder of the eternal, the weightiness of these realities is more tangible to us in those moments.

So also, perhaps, we glimpse what the Spirit is reminding us of as we contemplate Israel, and that is namely this: we are here for a purpose, on a mission, grounded in what happens on that Hill outside the city.

And though seeing it will be wonderful, the reality is that the it is the Spirit that is the guarantee, and setting foot in Israel doesn’t change that. All a Christian need do is open the Pages and read.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…and we have seen His glory…

Until the next post…
Soli Deo Gloria

PJW

Landing in Tel Aviv
Landing in Tel Aviv

Study Notes June 16: The Triumphal Entry

12:12-13 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. [13] So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”

How the Crowd Reacted

First, the crowd here seems to have been part of the large group that came from all over Israel to the annual feast, and not specifically those who were Jerusalem dwellers. As Morris points out, many of these folks probably knew Jesus from His ministry in Galilee, and so there was likely a familiarity with Him. Which leads us secondly to the fact that there is an intentionality of the crowd that is significant. John says that they “went out to meet him.”  It isn’t as though He was gathering a crowd around Him.

But what was their mindset? Morris says, “When on this occasion he (Jesus) did not reject their acclamation their enthusiasm knew no bounds.”

The ESV Study Notes have some solid insight as well:

Most of the crowd probably understood the title King of Israel in a political and military sense, still hoping that Jesus would use his amazing powers to resist Roman rule and lead the nation to independence. Like Caiaphas (John 11:49–52), however, they spoke better than they knew, as his disciples later understood (12:16).

What has always been interesting to me is this waving of Palm Tree branches. From what I read (Morris also mentions), Palm branches are symbolic of victory. Morris comments, “In John’s mention of them (palms) here we must detect a reference to the triumph of Christ.”

D.A. Carson gives an in-depth background on the use of the palm trees, as does John MacArthur. Carson says this:

From about two centuries earlier, palm branches had already become a national (not to say nationalist) symbol. When Simon the Maccabee drove the Syrian forces out of the Jerusalem citadel he was feted with music and the waving of palm branches which had also been prominent at the rededication of the temple. In short, waving palm branches was no longer restrictively associated with Tabernacles (the Feast of the Tabernacles).

MacArthur also mentions Simon the Maccabee and his victory and says, “Perhaps many in the crowd had that incident in their mind as they waved their palm branches. Maybe, they hoped, Jesus would prove to be the great messianic King and military conqueror who would liberate them from the yoke of Roman (rule) and establish the promises to Abraham and David (Gen. 12:-1-3; 2 Sam. 7:1-16).

What the Crowd Said…

First, the crowd began to shout “Hosanna!” which is literally translated “give salvation now” and as D.A. Carson notes, “had come to be a term of acclamation or praise. Every Jew knew of its occurrence in Psalm 118:25, for Psalm 118 is part of the Hallel (Pss. 113-118), sund each morning by the temple choir during the Feast of Tabernacles but also associated at this period with the Feast of Dedication and with the Passover…The connection was so strong that many Jews referred to their lulabs (used in the Feast of the Tabernacles) as hosannas.”

Secondly, they said “blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” – this is also from Psalm 118 (verse 26) and should be understood as a messianic title. They clearly see Jesus as their messiah, although as we have mentioned before, their version of what the messiah would be and what the messiah actually ended up being are completely different things altogether.

Lastly, Morris notes that the part “even the King of Israel” was not an expression that is from prophecy, but is rather the crowd’s addition. It also brings us to mind how Nathanael called Jesus the King of Israel in 1:49. This just further goes to show the fact that while the crowd saw Jesus as a political power and savior; in their ignorance they spoke truer words than they knew. For Jesus indeed was the King of Israel and of the whole of creation!

How Jesus Reacted…And What He Said

Luke records for us what Jesus said after reaching Jerusalem, and far from the “giddy” (MacArthur) crowd’s reaction to His coming to town, Jesus was heartbroken over the shallowness of the people.  He knew the nature of their interest in Him.  Listen to what He says:

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, [42] saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. [43] For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side [44] and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19:41-44 ESV)

This is a powerful, and painful, passage.  We see that Jesus was really the only one who understood the gravity of the moment.  He was the only one who really knew what was about to happen. Knowing what He did, how could He not have grieved over a people who were so faithless, and so blind.  The same holds true today. People lap up the teaching of prosperity gospel preaching because that’s what they think they need to hear. They want all that “positive reinforcement”! All the meanwhile they’re missing the gospel. They’re missing the atonement and the fact that they NEED an Atonement. While the people here in Jerusalem desired a savior from their political oppression, what they needed was the same thing we need, a Savior from the oppression of our own sinfulness!

Christ didn’t come to set us free from political bondage, but rather to free us from the bondage of sin that has enslaved the entire human race (see Paul’s discourse in Romans 6).

The Moment Had Come!

And so Christ came to set us free. That was His mission. When He began His ministry He quoted several prophecies that bore witness to this:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, [19] to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19 ESV)

Furthermore, this entry into Jerusalem marked the fulfillment of Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy. Listen to what MacArthur says about this:

The exact day that the Lord chose to enter Jerusalem fulfilled one of the most remarkable prophecies of the Old Testament, Daniel’s prophecy of the seventy weeks (Dan. 9:24-26). Through Daniel, the Lord predicted that the time from Artaxerxes’ decree ordering the rebuilding of the temple (in 445 B.C.) until the coming of the Messiah would be “seven week and sixty two weeks”, that it, 69 weeks total. The literal translation is “seven sevens and sixty-two sevens”, seven being a common designation for a week. In the context of the passage, the idea is 69 weeks of years, or 69 times 7 years, which comes to a total of 483 Jewish years (which consisted of 360 days each, as was common in the ancient world). Several different systems of reckoning have endeavored to determine the chronology of the 483 years after Artaxerxes’ decree, putting the date at either A.D. 30, 32, or 33, depending on the actual decree date and the complex calculations through those years…it is best to understand the triumphal entry as taking place on 9 Nisan, A.D. 30. But even the other dates offered by these authors leave one thing remaining undeniably clear: whatever may be the precise chronology, Jesus Christ is the only possible fulfillment of Daniel’s prophetic timetable.

Peter Gentry and Steven Wellum agree with Dr. MacArthur (although not on the dating):

Thus, the seventieth sabbatical is from A.C. 2-34 following Zuckerman or A.E. 28-35 following Ben Zion Wacholder. Halfway through this time, i.e., A.D. 31, the Messiah is cut off, but not for himself. Astonishingly he dies, but his death is vicarious. The phrase commonly rendered “and he will have nothing,” is better translated “but not for himself”…The point in the vision is that the coming king dies vicariously for his people.

And so as was predicted long ago, Christ came to set the captives free and lead a new exodus (a third one counting the Mosaic and Babylonian ones), only this one would be the beginning of a mass exodus spiritually from the bondage of sin and death that will one day culminate in the glorious day of the Lord.  Listen to Isaiah who mentions this:

In that day from the river Euphrates to the Brook of Egypt the LORD will thresh out the grain, and you will be gleaned one by one, O people of Israel. [13] And in that day a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out to the land of Egypt will come and worship the LORD on the holy mountain at Jerusalem. (Isaiah 27:12-13 ESV)

12:14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, [15] “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

The quotation here is from Zechariah 9:9 which says, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Delivery From Oppression

“Fear not” is how John chose to interpret “rejoice greatly” (it could also be taken from Is. 40:9 according to the ESV Study Notes), and it is a poignant expression because when I think of the situation that the Jews were in at the time, they were being oppressed and under the rule of yet another foreign nation (this time the Romans). They longed for the day when a great king would deliver them – not from another nation, but from within their own people. They knew that the Scriptures spoke of such a Messiah, and they new that when that great leader came they could have no reason for fear of oppression any longer.

The people were right to expect a great leader who would deliver them from bondage, but this would not be a physical exodus but a spiritual one. Jesus came to set the captives free (Luke 4:18) and deliver His people (the elect) from bondage and usher in kingdom (Matthew 10:7; Mark 1:14-15; Luke 9:2, 60; Acts 28:31 etc.) that would not be of this world (John 18:36).

A Humble King

We also see the mode of Jesus’ transportation – a donkey. And as R.C. Sproul says in his description of the triumphal entry, these donkeys are not the traditional American donkeys we picture in our minds – they are much smaller.  In fact to our western eyes the sight of a grown man on one of these small animals might make us chuckle, but this is the creature that Jesus chose to ride into town on just days before He would die a gruesome death for His people.

As Leon Morris puts it, “But he rode intro Jerusalem on a donkey to symbolize a conception of messiahship very different from that of the crowds. They hailed him as the messianic King. He came as the Prince of Peace.”

So why a donkey? I think the picture of a grown man riding on such a lowly beast is the exact opposite of the picture that the Jews were hoping for. They wanted a powerful political warrior king who would ride into Jerusalem and kick the Romans out. But Christ came to be a servant, a meek man and humble king. This picture embodies His humanity – He is the Son of Man as well as the Son of God. We humans like to picture ourselves as more than we really are, but Jesus Christ shows us what we are, we are small and weak creatures in comparison to the King of kings and Lord of lords.  This is the picture He paints, that in His humanity He identifies with us – but He doesn’t puff Himself up as we do, instead He shows what true humanity is like, what it was meant to be like in the beginning with Adam (Romans 5:12-21). He is the last Adam, the perfect obedient Son who will deliver His people from their sins.

He is also the Greater Son of David who is fulfilling the Davidic Kingship role. He is going to not only deliver the Jews and be their King, but He is going to be a King for all His chosen people from all corners of the world (Matthew 28:19).

12:16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.

I love how John inserts editorial notes like this so we understand better the work of God, His character and will for our lives. John is saying here that the Holy Spirit, who came at Pentecost, illuminated the minds of the disciples and brought them into all truth and helped them understand all that had happened during the life and ministry of Jesus. The man they saw do some many amazing things had mystified them for years, they had only understood a very little. But when the Spirit came they began to understand all that had taken place – can you image all the pieces being put together for them like that! They had just lived a three-year roller coaster of learning through difficult and amazing circumstances, and not only were they beginning to recount all of that, but all of their learning of the Old Testament as well. Their minds must have been spinning! Like when you watch a mystery television show or a movie that’s billed as a thriller, its not until the end when all the pieces start coming together and you see the main characters start to get really excited (or really fearful) as “it all begins to make sense.”

Christ predicted this would happen, and we’ll look at this passage a little later in our study of John’s gospel:

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. [13] When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. [14] He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. [15] All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:12-15 ESV)

What This Means for the Christian Life

As Christians we have an amazing advantage to learning and growing in maturity and understanding – not only of the things of Christ and His Word, but in understanding the ways things are in this world. What I mean by that is that for thousands of years philosophers and scientists have been trying to figure out the nature of being, life, the transcendent, mankind and more. The problem is that they start from the wrong places – they’re essentially trying to “solve for x” without allowing themselves to believe “x” exists!

And so these great minds have either begun their work from an incorrect premise that there is no transcendent personal God who created all things, or they work from the premise that there is a transcendent God or Creator or Mover but He is not personal and therefore He is unknowable. In other words they have an epistemological problem.

Francis Schaeffer saw this and pointed out that Christians don’t have an epistemological problem. We believe that God is a personal transcendent Being, and that we were created in His image. We believe that because we were created in His image and because we communicate using language, that therefore we are meant to communicate with Him and get to know Him. Enter revelation. As Christians we believe that because we can communicate and because we are made in God’s image, we inherently know we are made to communicate with God. He has made us for a relationship with Himself (as Augustine says in his Confessions).

And this is where the Holy Spirit comes in.  The Holy Spirit is God’s way of showing us that He wants a deep and intimate relationship with us, and that He cares for and loves us. We normally would look to the cross for this, and indeed we should! But as I consider the third member of the Trinity, I am amazed at the level of investment that God has made in us, His creatures. He so condescends to us that He indwells us with His presence and leads us into “all truth.” And why does He do this? Because He wants us to know Him. He seeks for us to have knowledge of Him. He is truth, and therefore being led into “all truth” is being led into a more clear understanding of who He is, His character, and His desires for us and this world.

There is simply no other religion that comes close to this kind of epistemology. All other religions are simply forms of ignorance and the inventions of man’s own mind. For though we can perceive that God exists and even have a sense of His moral norms from without our souls, yet He has revealed Himself outside of ourselves, both in His Word (special revelation) and in nature (general revelation).

This truth is amazing, and it ought to cause us to worship.

12:17-19 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. [18] The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. [19] So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”

I love what Leon Morris says about the irony and hyperbole of the Pharisees’ statement in verse 19, “It is ironical. They are concerned that a few Judeans were being influenced. But their words express John’s conviction that Jesus was conquering the world.”

The religious leaders were beginning to see the situation go sideways. They were obviously concerned that the Romans would not welcome the noise and start clamping down on the people – though they were not truly concerned for the people, but for their own power.  The reaction of Jesus to their concerns is captured in another gospel:

And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” [40] He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:39-40 ESV)

The reason for this is that unlike the lying hearts of the Pharisees, the creation is subject to its Creator and knows its creator. It’s an apt analogy because indirectly Christ is saying that He is Lord of all the earth! Little do most people realize the power that God has over you as well as nature. We think that we hold complete sovereignty over our lives sometimes, over our minds and our souls. But this is simply not the case. For one word from the Spirit of God spoken sweetly to your heart is enough to forever awaken your soul and implant in you a love for Jesus you never knew before. He is the Lord of all creation, and we are part of that creation.

Paul agrees in his doxological burst of praise in Romans 11:

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:36 ESV)

Conclusion: Ultimate Triumph

Although the crowds didn’t truly have a good understanding as to the nature of Christ’s impending triumph, we have the privilege of looking back at that week in history and seeing the pregnancy of this moment. The most heinous of all crimes was about to be committed, and these fickle people would soon be cheering, “crucify Him” instead of “hosanna!”  Yet we today have reason (a great reason!) to be shouting “hosanna!”  We can see the triumphal entry for what it really was: a precursor to Christ’s great triumph over sin and death, not simply for Himself, but for you and for me.

1/20-1/27 Study Notes

Chapter 11

11:1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. [2] It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill.

The Bethany mentioned here is not the one across the Jordan. Carson gives us the background:

This Bethany, lying on the east side of the Mount of Olives less than two miles from Jerusalem along the road to Jericho, has not been mentioned in the Fourth Gospel before, and must be distinguished from the Bethany of 1:28 and that alluded to in 10:40-42. That is why John characterizes it as the village of Mary and her sister Martha.

John’s editorial note in verse two that “it was Mary who anointed the Lord” helps us understand that John is assuming his readers would have heard of this story from the synoptic gospels. It could also be a literary/stylistic devise he is employing to prime the reader for more to come (namely in chapter 12).

11:3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”

Boice makes a good point that the sisters don’t directly make an appeal to the Lord here for help, though that is almost certainly what their goal was..

I do not think that it is fair to say on this basis that no request was implied. Clearly there was the implication that they would like Jesus to come to their aid, and there was certainly the suggestion that he might help them by healing Lazarus. If this is not implied, there was no point even in sending Christ the message. But at the same time, we cannot miss feeling that when they phrased the report as the did – “Lord, the one you love is sick” – they indicated by the form of it that they were seeking his will rather than theirs in the matter.

I suppose it is also necessary to address the fact that some say that by the way Mary and Martha address Lazarus as the one “loved” by Christ, that Lazarus is perhaps the author of this gospel and not John – there are other times, of course, when the author refers to himself as the “beloved” of the Lord. But this argument unravels in several ways, not the least of which is that the word “love” here is phileo whereas the word the gospel writer uses to describe the Lord’s affection for him is agape.

Lastly, I think what is instructive about this verse is that the Lord spent His days on earth loving others. This was so apparent that it practically dominates the opening sections of this chapter. Christ called us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:43-48), and to love our neighbor/others (Mark 12:31). He was not a hypocrite in His teaching, He lived out this love – it was this love that motivated His every action and controlled His every move. It was out of love that He was sent to earth in the first place (Eph. 1:5 indicates His will for our adoption as sons).

11:4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

The Meaning of “Glorified”

What does it mean that God would be “glorified” through it? We see that Jesus is saying that the reason why Lazarus has been sick (at this point he has not died) is so that “the Son of God may be glorified.”

Usually we think of giving God glory by praising Him. But here Jesus is almost certainly referring to the revealing of His person/deity and not specifically seeking praise. To put it another way, He is not going to do the miracle so that He can receive praises from men, but rather to show men that He is praiseworthy. It is to provide further revelation of His character and being as the true Son of God.

D.A. Carson comments:

…the raising of Lazarus provides an opportunity for God, in revealing his glory, to glorify his Son, for it is the Father’s express purpose that all should honor the Son even as they honor the Father…The Father and the Son are mutually committed to the other’s glory.

Is that not fantastic?! MacArthur also finds this to be the central theme of the text in front of us:

The most important theme in the universe is the glory of God. It is the underlying reason for all God’s works, from the creation of the world, to the redemption of fallen sinners, to the judgment of unbelievers, to the manifestation of His greatness for all eternity in heaven…Everything God created gives Him flory – except fallen angels and fallen men. And even they, in a negative sense, bring Him glory, since He displays His holiness by judging them.

It is this revealing of God’s character through created things, through His plan, and through His Son that we are to focus on here. Specifically, of course, on the revealing of the glory of the Son, which MacArthur says, “blazes in this passage against a dark backdrop of rejection and hatred on the part of the Jewish leaders.”

The great signs (of which this is the 7th and final in John’s gospel) of this book point to the character of Jesus Christ and His true identity as the Son of God. They also provide us with a solid reason for faith in His word and in our future with Him. Likewise, the miracle that we’re about to read of bolstered the faith of the disciples and those who were near Christ. The primary reason for the miracle (to bring glory to God and Christ Jesus) leads to the secondary reason, the bolstering of our faith.

How Lazarus Points Forward to the Pleasure of God in Christ

Certainly one of the most difficult things for us humans to deal with is the truth that God, in His eternal purposes, has allowed, yea even willed, for terrible calamity to befall those whom He loves. Spurgeon once preached a message on this passage in John and said this:

The love of Jesus does not separate us from the common necessities and infirmities of human life. Men of God are still men. The covenant of grace is not a charter of exemption from consumption, or rheumatism, or asthma.

We see here that God’s purpose was to use the suffering and death of Lazarus to reveal the glory of His Son. And likewise He can use sickness and death in our lives to both refine us (Ps. 119:71), and glorify Himself. His character is certainly made known in many ways through suffering – just think of all the times that men and women who have endured sickness have testified to the great and glorious character of Jesus Christ.

Certainly the most glaring example of suffering and death being used for God’s pleasure is the example of Jesus Christ’s own passion and death. The story of Lazarus was not included for no reason at all in this gospel. Rather it is put here to point us to Christ, and how Christ ultimately triumphed over the grave. We’ll talk more about that parallel in the coming texts, but for now I want to see how God was going to be glorified in the death and resurrection of Lazarus, and how He was glorified and even “took pleasure” in the death of His Son (Is. 53:10). In that Isaiah passage we read:

But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. (NASB)

It is so difficult to understand how God can possibly have taken pleasure in the “crush(ing)” of His one and only Son. We can see how possibly the Father could be glorified at the end game, but to actually be “pleased” to crush Him…that takes on a whole new difficulty for us. It’s applicable to what we’re looking at here, because I believe it will show us something of the character of God, and if we can see some of this we can perhaps see some of what it is that He is working in our lives through the difficulties and storms.

John Piper explains this passage in the following ways:

One part of the answer is stressed at the end of verse 10, namely, that God’s pleasure is what the Son accomplished in dying…God’s pleasure is not so much in the suffering of the Son, considered in and of itself, but in the great success of what the Son would accomplish in his suffering.

Piper continues…

The depth of the Son’s suffering was the measure of his love for the Father’s glory. It was the Father’s righteous allegiance to his own name that made recompense for the sin necessary. So when the Son willingly took the suffering f that recompense on himself, every footfall on the way to Calvary echoed through the universe with this message: the glory of God is of infinite value! The glory of God is of infinite value!

…the Father knew that the measure of his Son’s suffering was the depth of his Son’s love for the Father’s glory. And in that love the Father took deepest pleasure.

Scripture backs up what Piper is saying. Just a few weeks ago we read from John 10:17 the following:

“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.”

Piper closes his thoughts on the matter this way:

When Jesus died, he glorified the Father’s name and saved his Father’s people. And since the Father has overflowing pleasure in the honor of his name, and since he delights with unbounded joy in the election of a sinful people for himself, how then shall he not delight in the bruising of his Son by which these two magnificent divine joys are reconciled and made one!

The reason I bring this up is because it shows the deeper purposes of God in Christ for you. He took pleasure in bruising His Son, and takes pleasure in allowing you to face difficult trials for both His glory and for your refinement and sanctifications sake. He does not glory in your pain, but sees past that and rejoices in the glory to be revealed to you – His glory.

11:5-7 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. [6] So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. [7] Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”

The reason this verse (verse 5) is here is because John wanted to ensure that we understood that Christ’s reasoning in verse four in no way interfered with how we understand verse six.  In other words, it was the love of Christ that compelled him to stay away for another two days, and it was the love of Christ for His Father that motivated His obedience to wait another two days. Also, it was the love of the Father for us that He allowed Lazarus to get sick because through this He would reveal more of His Son’s glory to His creatures.  God reveals Himself to us out of love for us and a desire for us to be ushered into a love relationship with the Trinity as adopted sons and daughters of God.

Specifically, we see in the word “so” at the beginning of verse six, that Christ’s motivation for staying is born out of verse five’s “love” for the Bethany family. This is a bit mind bending, but I think it correlates well with the idea we find in other parts of Scripture that God’s ways are not our ways, and that He does many things that at the time we may not understand.  This could even be discipline or difficulties.

As I was thinking on this passage this week, one of the great passages about love reminded me of Christ’s character here.  Take note of 1 Cor. 13: 3-7:

Love is patient and kind;

Note the patience of Christ.  He does not rush off to see the family of Lazarus, does not run to comfort them, does not run to perform the miracle. He waits patiently for God’s plan. In His speech to the disciples He is patient and kind.  He abides their foolishness and lack of understanding. He deals with their lack of faith and misunderstanding and selfishness.

love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant [5] or rude.

Perhaps this is obvious, but Christ never boasted in Himself but allowed His truthful teaching, His actions and the testimony of others to glorify Him. Instead of being rude, He is sometimes short and to the point.  But this is not rude.  He is never seen interrupting others, but rather He is always putting others first.

It does not insist on its own way;

We might say that Christ was the one person who deserved to insist on His own way, and yet He submitted Himself to the will of the Father.

it is not irritable or resentful;

Christ was omniscient, and yet the human side of Him never was bitter for what He knew in explicit detail would one day be His demise.  He looked around Himself and was constantly surrounded by incompetence, sin, rejections, and idiotic behavior.  He could have said to Himself ‘I am really dying for this?’ but He did not. Such was the natre of His patience and longsuffering.

[6] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

Christ was never happy when something horrible happened, but often used difficulties to share the good news of the Kingdom (Luke 13:1-5).

[7] Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV)

Not only did Christ trust in the will of His Father and in the plan they had formulated from before the creation of the world, but He also looked forward in hope (Heb. 12) so that He was able to endure the torment of the cross.

In these ways and many more, Christ is the suffering servant; He is the very heart of love. That is why John can say that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8), because He saw it embodied first hand.

Jesus obeyed the sovereign timing of the Father rather than His emotions.  We know that He was fully human and we know He was emotional (had emotional ties to Martha and Marry and Lazarus) about this situation. But He never allowed His humanity to prevent Him from making absolutely perfect and righteous decisions.  We know His motivation, as discussed earlier, for this was love. He knew the Father’s will; He sought the Father’s mind on all things through prayer.

In our own lives this means that we need to emulate Christ.  We need to ask for His help to change our desires.

How many times have you been prevented from getting something, doing something, going somewhere because of situations or circumstances beyond your control?  I’m sure you can look back at times in your life when you wanted so badly to fly here or go there or do this or that but you couldn’t and perhaps as you look back on it now, it was for the better.  Presently, Kate and I would really like to sell our house.  We’d love to move closer to church and to my work. But there are many reasons beyond our understanding that prevent that right now. I do not think that anything is a coincidence or that anything is out of the control and plan of God Almighty.  Therefore I must patiently wait for His plan to unfold even amidst trial. He waited to come to them out of love, remember.

Lastly, and I touched on this a moment ago, in revealing the nature and character of the Son in this moment we also see His sovereignty. The Father has a sovereign plan, and the Son knows that all things are in the hand of the Father – this is illustrated all the more in verse 9.

11:8-10 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” [9] Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. [10] But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”

We should recall that the tension between the Jewish religious leadership in Jerusalem and Christ was at a boiling point at this time. The Jews were so angry and threatened by Christ’s ministry that they were seeking to kill Him.

So when Christ says, “let us go to Judea again” we can perhaps understand the nature of the disciples concern…they knew full well that going back to the Judean area meant extreme danger.

Carson comments on the disciples’ response “they are frankly aghast.” But Christ’s response is to remind them that as long as the Father still have work for Him to do, as long as there is life in Him, He will continue to boldly (and obediently) carry out His mission here on earth.  The specific meaning, therefore, of, “are there not twelve hours in the day” is to remind them that the fullness of the days work (His ministry) had not yet faded.  “These verses metaphorically insist that Jesus is safe as long as he performs his Father’s will. The daylight period of his ministry may be far advanced, but it is wrong to quit before the twelve hours have been filled up” Carson comments.

This certainly reminds of 9:4 where Christ says, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.”  And 9:5 actually ties nicely in with verse 10 here, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Christ once again uses the situation to remind them of a spiritual truth that He is the light of the world. All goodness, all illumination as far as truth is concerned comes from Him. He is the source of truth and understanding of that truth is also a supernatural gift from God.

Lastly, I am personally reminded of the nature of light and how it sort of symbolizes purity and cleanliness – a sort of antitheses to darkness and sickness. When we live one day with Christ forever after this world has been remade and renewed, there will be no sickness and no darkness. In fact there will be no sun because the Son will be our only necessary light.  Apart from the Son there will be only darkness.  These comments foreshadow a truth that is so brilliant and so wonderful that we could linger all day upon their glories.

11:11-15 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” [12] The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” [13] Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. [14] Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, [15] and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

It wasn’t a terribly common thing in second temple culture to use the euphemism “fall asleep” for death, but if we scan the entirety of Scripture we see it is actually a very common phrase/word overall – especially in the books of Kings and Chronicles (examples: 1 Kings 22:40, 50; 2 Kings 8:24, 10:35)

The Patience of the Son

Interesting how Christ had to explain to the disciples, at this sensitive moment, what He meant by His words. I can just see Him now patiently repeating Himself so as to make them understand His meaning, and I wonder how many other times He had to do this same thing. These are the kinds of things that make lesser men frustrated to the point of boiling over with anger. Not Jesus. He is as patient and longsuffering as ever.  What an amazing display of forbearance.

This really puts me to shame. I like to think of myself as a patient man – except, of course, when the kids or the co-workers, or someone (anyone) else has really pressed my nerves or my buttons repeatedly. Only then do I feel like I have an “excuse” to lose my temper.  This, to my own shame, was not the example of Christ.

So that You May Believe

The main thing we should take note of in these verses is that what Christ was doing was for the purposes of bringing glory to God (as mentioned earlier), and the phrase above “so that you may believe” does not modify that purpose or even add to it, but rather it explains more specifically how He will be glorified. These are not two separate items. Believing in the Son glorifies God because it gives proper due to who the Son is, and it magnifies Him.

John wrote this entire book for this purpose (John 20:30-31), and Christ’s entire mission was centered on this fundamental goal.  I hope that anyone reading this now understands that Christianity is all about Christ. He is the center of the Bible and indeed of all human history. Life (of the abundant kind) is about believing in Him, in placing full confidence in His words and surrendering to His leadership and direction.

Christ knew that He was going away soon. He knew that soon His great passion would be upon Him. Before He endured the cross, He wanted to shore up the faith of those disciples who had for so long been following His words and His teaching. He knows that they might not fully understand His words, but He knows that His words will never pass away (Matt. 24:35).  He knew that millions and millions of Christians would read these words and meditate on His character, and bring Him glory.  Remember, He is not speaking to those who do not believe, but rather to those who love Him. But He wants them to have utmost confidence that He is who He says He is, and so that for years to come they would look back on this moment and fall on their faces with thanksgiving in their hearts.

11:16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Thomas is called “Didymus” in the Greek, which means “twin” – Thomas is Hebrew for “twin” as well…though no one really knows who his twin was.

I think that so often we underestimate Thomas.  This is the same man who we call “Doubting Thomas”, but we see here that there is more to this man than simply cynicism (though that certainly seems to be a dominant characteristic of his nature).  He has a strong courageous streak about him, and the fact that he was willing to die for/with Christ says a lot (even though we see later that, like the other disciples, he deserts Jesus).

This also sets in sharp relief once again just how dangerous it would have been for Jesus to go back to the Jerusalem area.  This is the moment in which life and death decisions are being made.  Christ can either stay beyond the Jordan and enjoy a vibrant ministry (10:40-42), or He can fulfill the will of the Father and accomplish His ultimate destiny and mission here on Earth.  He can save Him own life, or the lives of countless millions.  Had He been but man, a mere mortal, there’s no way we’d be even discussing this right now. The choice would be obvious. No man would put themselves in harms way of this kind (almost certain death) for the lives of people who weren’t his family. Ironically, Christ did this very thing in order make those who weren’t His family part of His family by sovereign adoption.

Acts Study Notes 11-1-12

PJ’s Notes on Acts

Acts 1:12-2:13

1:12-14 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. [13] And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. [14] All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.  

The first thing that is striking about this portion of the text is that the apostles were in a situation in which their Lord had once again been taken away, and now they were to wait for the promised Spirit, yet they didn’t all disperse.  They all gathered together, and made sure to stay as a group in proximity with one another so that they could, no doubt, encourage one another, and pray with one another.

The second thing, and perhaps the most obvious thing, that stands out here is their activity. They were “devoting” themselves to prayer. The men and the women were all praying together. Can you imagine being there? To see Mary, and Peter, and John and James and 120 other people gathered together in a room for corporate prayer…it must have been an amazing thing. The tension that they must have felt waiting to see what would happen, the expectancy of the moment would have been high, the words of these saints would have been precious. Oh to be a fly on those walls!

John Stott says this, “We learn, therefore, God’s promises do not render prayer superfluous. On the contrary, it is only His promises which give us the warrant to pray and the confidence that He will hear and answer.”

1:15 In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, [16] “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. [17] For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” [18] (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. [19] And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the Book of Psalms, “May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and “’Let another take his office.’

God Foreordained it to Take Place

There’s a difficulty here for some folks because of the fact that Judas, it says, was prophesied to have defected – now his name is never mentioned of course, but God knew all along that this would happen and He spoke of it by the mouths of His prophets. But we need to recognize that just because God is completely sovereign, that does not mean that we are not personally responsible for our actions.  Stott agrees and quotes Calvin who says this, “Judas may not be excused on the ground that what befell him was prophesied, since he fell away not through the compulsion of the prophecy but through the wickedness of his own heart.”

Different Accounts?

Matthew’s gospel is the only other place in scripture that gives an account of Judas’ death, and he says that Judas hanged himself.  Here we read from Luke that Judas fell down in a field and his intestines burst out. Is there a contradiction?  No, there need not be.  For as Stott, Grudem, and many other scholars have pointed out, it is likely that Judas simply fell from the tree on which he was hanging and had his body burst open in the field. Greek scholars have said that this is perfectly plausible given the words used here (for more details see Stott’s commentary on the word “prenes”).

Matthew also says that the field where Judas died was purchased by the Pharisees with Judas’ money, whereas Luke says it was purchased by Judas – both can be correct.  It was still Judas’ money that was used to purchase the field.

Lastly, Matthew says that people called the field where Judas died the ‘field of blood’ because of the blood money that was used to purchase it, and Luke doesn’t directly say one way or another, but seems to infer that it was called this due to the way Judas’ body was found. It’s possible that it was called this for both reasons by independent traditions – so neither account is wrong, but are correct.

The Apostles’ Understanding of Old Testament Scripture

One of the things that we need to be keeping in mind as we study the book of Acts is the way that the Apostles understand the Old Testament Scriptures. During the time between the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, He spent time “opening up their minds” to the truths of Scripture (Luke 24:45).

Why is it important that we understand how the Apostles interpreted the Old Testament? Well its important because so often we come to the Bible with a man-made system of understanding it and we often end up “wrongly dividing” the word of God.  What happens is that many Christians grow up learning to view the Bible through a system, be it dispensationalism, or traditional covenant theology, and then a passage(s) in the New Testament confront us with the scary prospect that the way we’ve viewed the Bible may have been incorrect altogether.  Then what happens is that in our pride we adapt the passage in the New Testament to fit what we see as the metanarrative of our system.  We don’t do it purposefully, or maliciously, but since we assume our system is correct, then that must mean that our assumptions about this or that passage in the New Testament are correct, when they may by completely off base.

This may seem like a lot of theological mumbo jumbo, but it is from these pitfalls that we get disagreements about whether or not infants should be baptized, whether or not there’s a “secret” rapture, and so on.  These are issues that don’t materialize from simply misinterpreting a single passage; rather these issues materialize because when we read New Testament passages about this or that doctrine, we often come to them with presuppositions.  Some are good, and some are bad.  But we ought never to think so highly of our own systematizing of the Bible that we believe ourselves to be dogmatically infallible and averse to correction.

Therefore, when we see the Apostles dealing with the realities of the New Covenant, and the promise of the Spirit, and the mission they’ve been given, we see that their interpretive lens is a Christ-centered lens – because it was Him who opened up their minds to understand that He was the central focus of all Scripture in the first place.  They see the entirety of Scripture through the words and work of Jesus Christ. And that is how we ought to see Scripture as well.  So, throughout Acts, we will see the Apostles quoting Old Testament passages, and when they do, notice what they say.  Don’t glance over them quickly to get to the next part in the passage.  Take some time and see how they apply Old Testament passages to the realities of the New Covenant.

1:21-22 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, [22] beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”

What are the qualifications listed here to be an apostle?  Well, it seems that they wanted someone who they knew and who had been with Christ from the beginning, but the main purpose of this was stated lastly, namely that this man “become with us a witness to his resurrection.”  So this man had to have been a witness to the resurrected Savior, and he had to have been taught directly from the mouth of Jesus Christ, or have spent a good deal of time with him.  These men spent three yeas with Jesus, and I don’t know if this is simply irony or not, but before Paul even came to Jerusalem and was counted among the brethren – before the launch of his public ministry – he also spent 3 years learning from Christ after seeing the resurrected Lord on the Damascus road (Gal. 1:17-18).  Just some food for thought…though some say that Paul didn’t fulfill this second more “full” (Stott) qualification.

The last qualification is that the Apostle had to be chosen by Christ himself. This was certainly true of the original Apostles and of Paul who came later, and we see it is true of Matthias.

1:23-26 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. [24] And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen [25] to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” [26] And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

SIDE NOTE: The name “Matthias” means “gift of God” (MacArthur)

The Method of Choosing

John Stott points out that there are three things that the Apostles used to pick out the one who would replace Judas.

  1. They used Scripture.  They went to the Scripture and were convinced that the Old Testament Scriptures pointed to a need for replacing Judas.
  2. They used Common Sense.  The Lord ultimately made the selection, but the apostles still combed through those whom were present of the 120, and found that two that met the qualifications.
  3. They Prayed.  What a crucial part of the process.  They prayed and acknowledged their dependence on the Lord for His help in the matter.

In these three things – plus the blessing we now have of the Holy Spirit – we ought to emulate their decision making process even today.

A Note About the Casting of Lots

I believe this is the last time that the casting of lots is mentioned in Scripture.  Notice that this is prior to the giving of the Holy Spirit – another great dichotomy between the old and the new. This is also the last time we see the Apostles, or any Christian, use this form of finding out God’s will in a matter.  It ought to throw into sharp relief the immense blessing we have as Christians in the New Covenant.  With the power of the Holy Spirit, we are able to being God’s hands and feet all over the world.

You Know the Hearts of All

Peter begins his prayer in this way, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen”, and I think there are a few significant things he says here.  First, he exalts the knowledge of the Lord. Peter knows that the Lord cares about the hearts of men first and foremost (1 Sam. 16:7; Matt. 15:17-20), and that He knows the hearts of all men (John 2:24).

The second thing that’s significant is that Peter knows that Jesus has already chosen someone – He already knows the man who will replace Judas.  Note that Peter says, “you have chosen” in the past tense. This reminds us of the great truth that Jesus Christ, though He was a man, was also fully God.  He was and is and is to come.  He is a member of the triune Godhead, and as such He has foreordained all that is to come, and there are no surprises to Him.  He has orchestrated His plan from the beginning and is completely sovereign over all history – past, present, and future.

Conclusion of Chapter 1

The scene is now set for the first Pentecost.  The disciples are waiting in Jerusalem for the fulfillment of the promise of Christ.  It won’t be long now before they will be “turning the world upside-down”!

Chapter 2

2:1-4 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. [2] And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. [3] And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. [4] And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

The Day of Pentecost

The word “Pentecost” means “fiftieth” and, as John MacArthur explains, is “the New Testament name for the Feast of Weeks (Ex. 34:22-23), or Harvest (Ex. 23:16), which was celebrated fifty days after Passover. In post-exilic Judaism, it also celebrated the giving of the Law to Moses. The Spirit’s coming on that day was linked to the pattern of the feasts in the Old Testament.” He continues, “Fifty days after the first Sunday following Passover, the Feast of Pentecost was celebrated (Lev. 23:15). At Pentecost, another offering of first fruits was made (Lev. 23:20). Completing the cycle of the typical fulfillment of the feasts, the Spirit came on Pentecost as the first fruits of the believers’ inheritance (cf. 2 Cor. 5:5; Eph. 1:13-14). Further, those fathered into the church on that day were the first fruits of the full harvest of believers to come.”

There are seven days in a week, and seven days in a feast, and so the “feast of weeks” is like 7×7 which is 49 days – Pentecost is the fiftieth day following this post-Passover countdown.

“Suddenly”

In the ESV version of this passage it says that, “suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind.”  The disciples had been told to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit. No doubt they waited eagerly for this amazing event, and it reminded me of how it will be when the Lord Jesus comes back again. No one will know that hour exactly, but we await it with eager expectation. We long for that day, and we pray for it to come soon – as John did at the end of his apocalypse.

John says, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20 ESV).

The Fire and Wind

It is significant that the coming of the Spirit was accompanied by “rushing wind” and that the tongues came as “fire.”  Both fire and wind or cloud are used to manifest the presence of God on this earth (This is wonderfully outlined in R.C. Sproul’s commentary on Acts).  This is a theophany of the most amazing kind. They saw what looked like fire and heard what sounded like wind.  But it was neither fire, nor wind, it was the outward manifestation of God the Holy Spirit in their presence.

When we read of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, we read that the Lord God descended in a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night.

So often we read this passage, and we marvel at the gift of tongues, and the sort of bewildering image of all these men and women speaking in different languages, and we completely pass over the significance of what is happening here.  God Himself, the Deity, has come down from heaven to indwell His chosen ones from among humanity.  His Holy Spirit, One of (and co-equal with) the Trinity, the eternal Godhead, has come down in a visible manifestation of wind and fire!  Yet how quickly we focus our attention back onto man.  How quickly we shift gears away from the awesome presence of a Holy God and to the outward manifestation of His gift to us.  It is fine to bless God for the gift, but let us first bless God for who He is, let us bless Him for His awesome character and condescension that He would inhabit us – lowly sinners!  That the pure and holy God of the universe would descend and empower us to do His will for His glory because it was His pleasure to do so! What an incredible reality.

John Stott comments, “We must be careful, however, not to use this possibility (the event being one of a kind in history) as an excuse to lower our expectations, or to relegate to the category of the exceptional what God may intend to be the church’s normal experience. The wind and the fire were abnormal, and probably the languages too; the new life and joy, fellowship and worship, freedom, boldness and power were not.”

2:5-13 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. [6] And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. [7] And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? [8] And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? [9] Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, [10] Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, [11] both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” [12] And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” [13] But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

People from All Over the World

Luke takes great care in naming all the regions from which there were representatives at this amazing event. He moves from East to West in his minds eye (Stott) and, though he may not even fully realize this, those whom he names includes members of all three major branches of the Noahic family.  Stott comments, “Luke does not draw attention to what he is doing; but in his own subtle way he is saying to us that on that Day of Pentecost the whole world was there in the representatives of the various nations.”

What does this mean?  I think it shows how the message of the gospel was being prepared to go out to every tribe tongue and nation!

In his commentary on Acts, John Stott has some amazing insight into the significance of this event, and the reason for such diversity in people being present:

“Nothing could have demonstrated more clearly than this the multi-racial, multi-national, multi-lingual nature of the kingdom of Christ. Ever since the early church fathers, commentators have seen the blessing of Pentecost as a deliberate and dramatic reversal of the curse of Babel. At Babel human languages were confused and the nations were scattered; in Jerusalem the language barrier was supernaturally overcome as a sign that the nations would now be gathered together in Christ, prefiguring the great day when the redeemed company will be drawn ‘from every nation, tribe, people and language.’ Besides, at Babel earth proudly tried to ascend to heaven, whereas in Jerusalem heaven humbly descended to earth.”

The condescension of Christ is sometimes overwhelming to us as we stare up at the cross, or peak down into the manger. But we often overlook how the entire Godhead is of one mind and one heart, and here we see the condescension of the Spirit of God.  That the Holy Spirit would come down to dwell within us is a remarkable thing.  That He would empower us to do the works of God is an amazing thing.  That He would touch our minds and hearts and breathe the breath of new life into us so that we can see God, that is an astoundingly gracious and merciful thing, too great to fathom, too deep to plumb.

In Their Own Languages

It is significant to me that the text says several times above “in his own language” because there are some today who say that these tongues that are speaking are some kind of heavenly language.  It seems that from the text that this is not a heavenly language, but rather human languages. In fact the text even tells us which languages in verses 9 through 11.

MacArthur comments, “The text, however, is not ambiguous. Far from being ecstatic speech, the tongues spoken on the Day of Pentecost were known languages.”

The purpose of tongues was a sign for unbelievers and, as MacArthur argues, was associated with being filled with the Spirit – not with being baptized by the Spirit. Paul lays out the purposes of this in 1 Corinthians: “In the Law it is written, ‘By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.’ [22] Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers” (1 Corinthians 14:21-22).

Modern Day Tongues?

One of the things that the modern day Pentecostal movement would like to point out is that the tongues as describes in Acts 2 differ from the ones described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12-14.  The differences, they say, are that the tongues in Acts 2 are known languages, and the tongues in 1 Corinthians are some form of ecstatic speech.  They also say that the purpose of the tongues in Acts 2 was to communicate the things of God to men, whereas the tongues in 1 Corinthians seems to describe the edification (or lack there of in the case of the Corinthian church) of the body of Christ.

Despite this, there is no specific description of the tongues in 1 Corinthians.  The only place in the Bible where we have a specific description of this phenomenon is in Acts 2, and its very clear what the purpose and type of activity was going on there.  As John Stott wisely says, “Acts 2 is the only passage in which it (tongues – glossolalia) is described and explained; it seems more reasonable to interpret the unexplained in the light of the explained than vice versa.”

Because we now see people in the church speaking these odd tongues that are often not interpreted (as Paul instructed in 1 Corinthians), it leads me to be very skeptical on the matter of modern day tongues.  Because this is a matter of interpretation, and one of the important “rules” of interpretation is humility, I am open to correction on this matter. But from what I have studied, the overwhelming evidence points to a more cessationalist position on this matter.

“New Wine”…the Reaction

The world’s reaction to the mysterious working of the Holy Spirit is to call these men ‘crazy’ or ‘drunk’, when in fact they had been given a divine gift as a confirmation of the empowerment and filling of the Holy Spirit.

We often face similar reactions today when we explain Scriptures or give testimony of the Lord Jesus.  It comes across as “foolishness” to those who we share with, when in fact it is the very word of God.