Introduction to Revelation: Part 4

The Kingdom of God & the Already Not Yet

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dispensationalist John MacArthur puts it this way:

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

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

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

The Already/Not Yet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beale puts it this way:

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

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

This also has ramifications for how we understand the millennium.

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

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

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

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

John Frame quotes Geerhardus Vos for us on this matter:

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

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

Anthony Hoekema puts it this way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Millennium

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

Amillennialism

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

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

John Frame describes it:

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

R.C. Sproul adds…

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

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

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

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

Frame describes how the Amil views the future…

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

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

Postmillennialism 

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

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

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

Sproul describes this unique part of Post-millennialism:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEXT TIME…..Premillenialism…..

FOOTNOTES

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

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

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

[iv] Kelly, Pg. 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[xviii] Frame, Systematic Theology, Pg. 1094

The Tempting of Jesus

So tonight I get to teach a Bible Study on the Temptation of Jesus from Luke 4.  This has been a rewarding little study, and I decided to post my informal notes below.  They aren’t as well organized as I would have them be, but hopefully they are helpful and edifying for you as the long weekend awaits!

PJW

The Temptation of Jesus

Luke 4:1-15

Couple points on the first 15 verses to contemplate before we examine each verse individually:

  1. Satan offered Jesus a kingdom without a cross – later when peter says that surely Jesus wouldn’t die, Jesus replied by calling him Satan and rebuking him! The way of the messiah is the way of the suffering servant.
  2. Jesus was fully man – only a man (a human being) could be tempted (Hebrews 2:17-18).
  3. Christ is our supreme example. This is true in three ways:
    1. Jesus used Scripture to shore himself up in great distress and temptation
    2. Jesus knew the Bible and its context backwards and forwards
    3. Jesus did all things “in the Spirit” even when it would have been much easier to abandon all hope and faith in the Father
  4. Where Israel failed in the wilderness, Jesus succeeded. Jesus isn’t merely a supreme example to us here; what we see here is that He is the only Righteous One and the true Israel.

There are a great many parallels with Israel and the wilderness that we’ll see pop up here as we examine this passage more. But I want to first read a few of the wilderness passages of Isarel before we get into the text so that we have in our minds what was going on here in the OT in order for the clarity of the typology to shine through as it ought.

The Lord delivered Israel from Egypt with amazing wonders and might:

But the LORD has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of his own inheritance, as you are this day. (Deuteronomy 4:20)

“It was not the Israelites’ moral virtue that caused the Lord to save them from Egyptian bondage; he delivered them because of his mercy and love, which were undeserved and unmerited” (Schreiner, Biblical Theology, Pg. 35). “Israel’s liberation represented their redemption and testified to the Lord’s love for his people” (Schreiner, Biblical Theology, Pg. 33).

Despite all of this, the people of Israel rebelled:

…in the wilderness, where you have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ [32] Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the LORD your God, [33] who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go. (Deuteronomy 1:31-33)

God gave them a gracious covenant, yet the covenant that Moses received on Mt. Sinai, while gracious, revealed a major defect – and that defect was not with the law itself, but with the people of Israel whose hearts were not transformed by the covenant. This fact, and the sacrifices which provided a type of atonement which never cleansed the conscience (see Heb. 10), all pointed forward to the need for a Savior and a Sacrifice that would cleanse God’s chosen people from their sin and restore the fellowship that was obviously breached by that (aforementioned) sin.

The people of Israel failed miserably in the wilderness, but where they failed, Jesus would succeed. Thus we see that at the heart of this passage is the heart of the gospel: it is only by the righteousness of Christ that we are justified.  Only through his perfect obedience are we redeemed and reconciled to God.  This passage, while preparatory for his ministry and mission (which we’ll learn more about in verses 16-30), is also emblematic of his whole mission in that he overcame the world in order that we could bask in his victory, and that He is submissive to whatever God had in mind for Him.  His short life and death was all that was necessary to please God on our behalf, and reconciled a dying world to their Creator.

4:1-2 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness [2] for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry.

Some versions day that the Spirit “drove” Him out into the wilderness. The ESV here describes the action as a “leading”, and I like the forcefulness of the former, but the latter shows how personal the Holy Spirit is. Such language surely gives us reason to believe that of the Spirit is not an impersonal force, but a person and indeed a person of great power – this is God.

Secondly, Jesus is described here as “full of the Holy Spirit” – and in this way He is the model for how every follower of Christ ought to be. We all need to be “full of the Holy Spirit”, and although its probably talking about the fact that Jesus possessed the Holy Spirit, still the sense of it seems to be that He was walking in the Spirit, He was abiding in the Spirit, He was listening to the Spirit. And it was the Spirit who would equip Jesus fully for His mission and ministry here on earth.

Listen to what I’ve copied down (in multiple places in my notes) from Geerhardus Vos who explains the role of the Spirit in the life of our Lord: “Our Lord needed the Spirit as a real equipment of his human nature for the execution of his Messianic task. Jesus ascribed all his power and grace, the gracious words, the saving acts, to the possession of the Spirit (Matt. 12:28; Luke 4:18; Acts 10:36-38). And, through qualifying him in this manner for achieving his messianic task, the Spirit laid the foundation for the great Pentecostal bestowal of the Spirit afterwards, for this gift was dependent on the finished work.”

It was Jesus’ submission to the Spirit that brought Him into the wilderness in the first place. God had a plan for Jesus here, and Jesus was willing to follow the Father’s plan to the enth degree. The fact that He was tempted at all, as I mention above, shows that He was indeed man – a real human being.

For as Hebrews 2 says:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, [15] and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. [16] For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. [17] Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. [18] For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:14-18)

So God had a purpose in all of this, and that purpose was to deliver us from slavery to Satan and to destroy Satan’s power over us. He had to do this because His desire was not only to save us from sin, but to give us His own righteousness. Hence, the doctrine of double imputation (we give him our sin and he gives us his righteousness).

Geldenhuys says, “As real Man, Jesus could really be tempted, and from His childhood days until the end of His earthly career He was exposed to all the temptations that every human being has to contend with – except, however, those temptations that come from within as a result of the inward original taint or of the influence of former sins.”

Now, before examining the following verses, I’d just lastly note here that Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days. Perhaps there’s a reason for that number, it is the number of completeness and of fullness. When Moses was on the mountain in Sinai with God, he was there for 40 days and didn’t eat anything during that time either. Also, Israel was in the desert for 40 years. So there seems to be a theme here, once again, that where Israel failed, Jesus would succeed.

4:3-4 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” [4] And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’”

Interestingly, Satan uses a similar ploy as the one he did in the Garden (of Eden) by questioning the Jesus’ relationship to God. In the garden he had questioned the veracity of God’s word when he said, “You will not surely die” (vs. 4). Here he says “if” you are the Son of God – He questions the relationship and says that Jesus has to prove Himself by doing a miracle on his terms. He’s basically saying that there’s no need for Jesus to deal with this hunger/this trial anymore. Stop waiting on the Lord and just make things happen on your own! Stop living in the Spirit and just use the powers you have as the Son of God. Stop doing things God’s way and live at the end of my cattle prod!

Yet Jesus succeeds where Adam and Even failed – as the ‘Second Adam’ He “is obedient to God in a way that other people – including Adam – are not” (Bock).

And Jesus’ response to this first recorded temptation is essentially that it is more important for Him to wait for the word of the Lord than to eat before the appointed time has arrived. He cares more about His spiritual well being than His physical well being. His flesh is subordinate to His spirit.

This is implied when you realize the rest of the verse he’s quoting goes like this…

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

In other words, the trial in the desert for Israel was a humbling experience to show them that they needed to rely on God and thirst after His word. We need to be hungrier for the Word of God than for chocolate ice cream on a hot summer day!

4:5-8 And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, [6] and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. [7] If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” [8] And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”

Ironies abound here, don’t they! But before we look at that, we have to as this: what kind of kingdom is Satan offering? A worldly kingdom. And the price for that kingdom is not simply a one-time act, but a complete defection from God’s purposes. As Darrell Bock so rightly comments:

Often the temptation is describes as if all Jesus had to do was hit his knees once and all would be his. But he challenge represents a defection from God, and such a defection would have lifetime consequences. Jesus was to give the devil the respect and honor due to God alone. For by bowing down before the devil, Jesus would be accepting his authority and sovereignty. The meaning of the offer was clear: if Jesus would given Satan his heart and bow down before him, Satan would let Jesus rule. It was a high price to ask for an empty claim, but the response would reveal where Jesus’ priorities were.

So essentially, Satan is offering Jesus a kingdom without a cross.

Perhaps Satan didn’t understand this at the time, but “The cross was the pathway to his (Jesus’) exaltation and victory. He has been lifted up and glorified through the cross. Suffering has become the pathway to glory,” says Tom Schreiner (Biblical Theology, Pg. 640).

And this is why we see the close tie between what is going on here and later when Jesus rebukes Peter and actually calls him “Satan” because Peter’s thinking mirrored Satan’s:

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. [22] And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” [23] But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:21-23 ESV)

What is Jesus’ primary accusation here? It is that Peter is thinking in the flesh with worldy thoughts. His perspective was not heavily, was it?   Those who are in the world think like the world and are under the rule of this world’s ruler (Satan). But Jesus here in Luke 4 called out Satan’s false choice. Satan couldn’t offer Him a kingdom of any substance! God was the one who owned everything. And because Jesus is the Son of God, this is tantamount to Satan trying to give Jesus what Jesus already owns!

To apprehend this illusion of a kingdom, all Jesus had to worship Satan! No big deal right? Satan was way over his skis on this one! But you see here what he’s doing – he’s pretending that he’s equal with God (which is what got him tossed out of heaven in the first place) and can offer Jesus what it was that Jesus wanted – or what was really rightfully His (a kingdom)!

The arrogance of it! Geldenhuys is right to say, “…the Devil cannot deliver the world’s kingdoms into the power of whosoever he chooses, as he declared in the second temptation. God Himself is, in the final instance, the establisher and dispenser of worldly power.”

Now, of course Satan has been given some power, but all of that power comes from God. He is only allowed to do what he does because God allows it. He is not an absolute ruler of this world, and if there was ever a question about that one only need look at “Jesus’ expulsion of demons” (Block) to see that view doesn’t hold water.

Jesus could well have said “actually since I’m the one who made all this, I’m the one who will be worshiped.” See for example:

For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. [11] I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. (Psalm 50:10-11 ESV)

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. [17] And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:16-17 ESV)

When we see Satan’s offer here to Jesus we see his and his temptations for what they are – lies, and cheap imitations (illusions, actually) of the real thing!

This reaction from Jesus isn’t what Satan is used to. It seems that today the people in our world gladly worship their idols in hopes that they will offer great satisfaction. They all will do whatever it takes to get an earthly kingdom. But sadly idolatry always leads to slavery and not great freedom and power.

This week Tim Challies sent out a great riff off of CS Lewis’ famous quote about mud pies and the beach. This encapsulates well what our perspectives often are versus what it means to have the mind of Christ:

It is one of C.S. Lewis’ most powerful and most enduring illustrations: An ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. It is a vivid illustration and one that is simple enough to see in the lives of other people—those people who settle for lesser pleasures when the greatest of all pleasures awaits. But I, at least, find it far more difficult to see in my own life. You may find it just as difficult.

  • It is worth asking: What is your mud pie?
  • Is it money? You will never have a bank account rich enough to satisfy you.
  • Is it food? You will never have a meal filling enough to satisfy you.
  • Is it pleasure? You will never have a sexual experience gratifying enough to satisfy you.
  • Is it popularity? You will never have enough friends to satisfy you.
  • Is it stuff? You will never accumulate enough possessions to satisfy you.
  • Is it pornography? You will never find a person naked enough to satisfy you.
  • Is it control? You will never have enough authority to satisfy you.
  • Is it leisure? You will never have enough rest to satisfy you.
  • Is it success? You will never achieve enough to satisfy you.
  • It is freedom? You will never be lawless enough to satisfy you.

And in the light of all those questions and the certainty of the answers, let’s go back to Lewis.

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

So it is that Jesus saw Satan’s promises as shallow mud pie imitations of the real thing – and we should too! After all, why spend your life building mud pie kingdoms for Satan when you could be clothed in the rich majesty of the righteousness of Christ for all of eternity?

It’s notable here that Jesus didn’t come to inherit a worldly kingdom bargained for and bought by worship to the Devil, but to inaugurate a spiritual kingdom (and fulfill the everlasting Davidic kingdom – 2 Sam. 7) that would march from Jerusalem to the farthest reaches of the earth and conquer foe after foe in its wake. His mission and vision for us is big – bigger than ourselves and what we want here and now in the moment. Our mission is to enter into his labor (John 4) and spread His kingdom, not spend endless days in the slave fields of Satan.

4:9 And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, [10] for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ [11] and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” [12] And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

NOTE on the Scene: Darrell Bock has some great insight on the scene here: “Jesus ends up on the temple’s pinnacle, but the exact locale is uncertain. Some think it is the temple gate, but many think it is the Royal Porch on the temple’s southeast corner, which loomed over a cliff and the Kirdon Valley, creating a drop of some 450 feet….According to church tradition, James the Just died from a similar fall from the temple’s pinnacle (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.23.11).”

As we examine the text from which Satan is quoting, we see it comes from Psalm 91, which says, “He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you” – here Satan is using scripture very ill indeed. He is twisting it to suit his own purposes – how often do we see that in today’s preaching amongst the popular preachers of our day! But looking at this particular passage we specifically see two things: 1. We see Satan’s capriciousness with human life and 2. We see that he promotes a lifestyle that says “sin first, ask forgiveness later.”

There is a great deal of presumption in Satan’s words. This same temptation though actually works for people today and we’ve seen it again and again have we not? We see people test God by living recklessly and squandering what they have. They pay little heed to their bodies or the gifts God has given them, instead they say “I’ll do things my way and if I’m wrong I’ll just ask God to forgive me.”

And at the heart of this temptation is not Satan’s desire to see God’s power magnified, but rather to see God’s image bearers maligned and killed. Remember, it if Satan’s great desire to kill and harm God’s creation – especially those who are His children.

Of course our Lord doesn’t fall (no pun intended) for the trick. Thus, we see in this third and final test that Satan has been flummoxed and completely beaten. His presumptuousness has been show for what it is, and his twisting of Scriptures hasn’t fooled the Son of Man and the Son of God.

Christ finishes each test exemplifying His role as Prophet, Priest and King – as Henricksen so neatly lays out, “as Highpriest he suffers being tempted (Heb. 2:18); as Prophet he thrice appeals to Scripture (verses 4, 8, 12); and as King he gives battle to his chief opponent and triumphs over him.” I love that!

4:13-14 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. [14] And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. [15] And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.

NOTE: here it says he was “glorified” by all, and I have made mention of the way this word “glorified” can be used in my notes on John’s gospel. Commonly we think of the word used to praise God or sing praises to God, or simply the glory of light or radiance that emanates from God’s presence. But in uses like this we see a fuller version of the former idea – but its about more than singing praise. There is this underlying meaning that has to do with pronouncing the virtues or character qualities of a person. You are magnifying so that others can see, what it is that is good about this person. So there is a fuller sense to “glorify” than simply to sing praise, and it has to do with the content of that praise. You are pointing to the why and not simply the who; you are proclaiming the character of God to the nations (so to speak). This brings him glory.

Jesus comes out of the desert triumphant, whereas Moses didn’t even make it out of the desert, nor did the first generation of the Israelites!

The Israelites broke the covenant before Moses even made it down the mountain! They couldn’t get past “Go” before they were in breach of the covenant with God.

But Jesus is the “true Israel”, the one who succeeded where Israel failed. As Burk Parson’s said:

Only Jesus completely fulfilled all of the Father’s righteous laws for Israel. As the only faithful Israelite, Jesus is an Israelite according to the flesh, and He enjoyed all the benefits that come from being born into the nation that possessed the oracles of God. As the faithful Israelite Jesus is the true Israel because He is the true Son of God (Matt. 2:13–14).

Often times in the OT Israel would be called God’s “vine”, and when Jesus said “I am the true vine” (John 15), he was saying that He is the “true Israel” the one who obeyed perfectly and fulfilled the law perfectly in order to give us His righteousness.

Commenting on John’s portrait of Jesus as central to all things, Tom Schreiner says, “He is the true vine – that is, the true Israel. He is the true bread, which in contrast to manna, bestows eternal life” (Biblical Theology, pg. 640).

And unlike Adam, Jesus withstood all temptation – even though, as Geldenhuys says, “He had found Himself in the most unfavorable circumstances when the devil launched his most ruthless attacks against Him, He was nevertheless victorious. What contrast this forms with Adam, who fell although he was living at that time under the most favorable circumstances!”

Adam fell and plunged the race into sin, and Israel failed countless times in the wilderness to love and obey God despite all He had done for them. However, contra the Israelites, Jesus here comes triumphantly out of the wilderness. “His time of preparation and testing was now finished. He had succeeded in the wilderness where Israel had failed. He was God’s obedient Son in contrast to Adam. He commenced his public ministry full of the Spirit’s power; equipped by the Spirit to carry out the will of God” (Schreiner, NT Theology, pg. 443).

This victory was emblematic of his ministry as a whole, and it is because of His final victory at the cross that we can know our own failings are drowned in the deep pool of His success.

NOTE: As we wrap up this section and look into the next, we’ll how Jesus, filled with the Spirit, has transitioned into His mission here on Earth. He has finished the preparatory stages and is now going to proclaim the in-breaking of the kingdom of God, and advance the most significant three years of historical narrative and spiritual importance up until and since.

 

Christ our Supreme Prophet

Last night I had the privilege of preaching on the role of Christ as our Prophet.  The next few weeks I’ll be preaching on his priesthood and kingship.  Here are the notes from that lesson.  Note: I’ve also included some Appendices which were more for my benefit, but also help provide context and more background on a few of the sections (should you make it that far!).

Soli Deo Gloria!

PJW

Christ the Supreme Prophet

He Preaches a Gospel of Liberation and then Fulfills the Office of Deliverer

December 1, 2013

It is the very beginning of advent season.  A time in which we excitedly anticipate Christmas – just as the Israelites anticipated the coming of the Messiah.

In His coming, Jesus would grow up to fulfill hundreds of prophecies and predictions and accomplish what no other man had ever accomplished.  In so doing He would fill three key offices: that of a prophet, a priest and a king.

Tonight we will examine the first of these, and see what Jesus’ role as prophet entailed, and what it is that He did to fulfill this role in His life and ministry. The text for this evening comes from Luke 4:16-21.

Luke makes two important points in this passage that we need to examine this evening.

  1. First, Jesus Christ is our Supreme Prophet, and His message is a gospel of liberation.
  1. Second, Jesus not only proclaims liberation, He also liberates. He is Daniel’s promised deliverer and covenant maker and ushers in a great antitypical jubilee.

What is a Prophet?

Now, before we go too much further, let me ask an obvious question: What is a prophet?  The answer is that, in short, a prophet is someone (in the Bible) who speaks on God’s behalf to God’s people.  Whereas a priest speaks to God on behalf of God’s people. 

Theologian Geerhardus Vos put it this way; “(a priest’s) function differs from that of a prophet in that the prophet moves from God toward man, whereas the priest moves from man toward God.”[i]

In the Old Testament, the office of a prophet was not a popular one.  God’s people had killed many of the prophets that He sent (Acts 7:51-52). And, I suppose in this way you could say Jesus was no different than the others!

However, what makes Jesus God’s supreme prophet is His proclamation of most important message God had ever sent His people: the Gospel of salvation.

It is this proclamation of Christ’s to which we now turn…

Exegesis of Luke 4:16-21

4:16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.

Historical Foreground

Jesus has been preaching in the surrounding region, and his fame was beginning to build.  Now it was time to come home for His first appearance at the synagogue in Nazareth where He grew up since the start of His ministry.  It was a homecoming for Him of sorts.

The people were no doubt anxious to hear Jesus speak. Here was one of their own who had been gathering popularity throughout the region, and they were no doubt poised to accept Him.  But were they ready to accept His message?

20th Century South African theologian and pastor Norval Geldenhuys says, “It was customary to give such an opportunity in the synagogue to visiting rabbis; and especially as all were curious to hear Jesus.”

As Jesus came into the synagogue, we are told that He “stood up to read.” The practice of the day was to stand up to read the word of God, this was done out of respect. Once the reading was done, the rabbi would sit down and give a sermon.  The sermons of that day were not like they are today, they focused almost exclusively on instruction, rather than a public oration or preaching style (see Geldenhuys).

NOTE: John MacArthur and Darrel Block both give some time to the order of ceremony in a Synagogue (see Appendix 3 for more info on Synagogues) and it was something like this:

  1. Thanksgiving or “blessings” spoken in connection with the Shema
  2. Prayer, with response of “amen” by the congregation
  3. Reading a passage from the Pentateuch (in Hebrew followed by a translation into Aramaic cf. MacArthur/Block)
  4. Reading of a passage from the Prophets (called the “Haftarah” cf. Block)
  5. Sermon or word of exhortation – by any qualified male (so long as 10 males were present per Block)
  6. Benediction by the priest (if there was one present) to which the congregation responded with “Amen” and then a closing prayer.

 

4:17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

Jesus Fulfills the Predicted Role

Jesus is the fulfillment of the OT longing for a new and greater prophet.  And therefore it would be appropriate for Him to show from the prophets of old who He was.

But this passage isn’t the only one which pointed to his arrival.  There are other foundational passages that speak of a prophet that would arise who was greater than Moses, two of which are really important and we’ll look at now:

First, in Deuteronomy 18 Moses wrote the key passage that most Jews thought of when they thought about “the prophet” that would arise in his stead:

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—[16] just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ [17] And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. [18] I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.  (Deuteronomy 18:15-18)

Second, we see in the New Testament that Peter confirms that it was Jesus who fulfilled this prophetic role.  In his sermon in Acts 3 in the Portico of Solomon, Peter says this:

Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. [23] And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ [24] And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. [25] You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ [26] God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” (Acts 3:22-26)

This prophet was Jesus Christ, and He was raised up to proclaim the gospel of repentance and “turning every one from…wickedness” in order that they would be “blessed.”

And so we see that this long-anticipated prophet has come, and the Apostles clearly believed that this role was fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

4:18a  The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
 because he has anointed me

The Holy Spirit in Christ’s Ministry

Now, let’s look at verse 18.  As Jesus opens the scroll He begins reading from the book of Isaiah – in what we would know today as chapter 61 verses 1 and 2 (though demarcations of this kind didn’t come for many hundred years later).

First and foremost we see that the Christ is one who has been “anointed by the Holy Spirit.”  This, as you recall, happened at the baptism of Jesus where John had been baptizing people and calling them to repentance.  Jesus, who would fulfill all the law perfectly, also went to be baptized.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. [14] John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” [15] But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. [16] And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; [17] and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17 ESV)

Everything that Jesus did was done being “filled with the Spirit.”  In fact, just prior to opening the scroll of Isaiah, in the passage before us today, it says, “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country”  (Luke 4:14).

In fact Jesus Himself said that His work in the power of the Spirit (Acts 10:38) was evidence of the fact that the kingdom of God had been ushered in:

And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matt. 12:27-28)

I think we sometimes undervalue or misunderstand the work of the Spirit in the life and ministry of Christ. For instance, how could He be said to “grow in grace and knowledge” when He was already omniscient?  How could Jesus make it all the way to the cross in his humanity without sinning?  Well it wasn’t because the divine nature somehow reached over and controlled the human nature.  Rather, He fully submitted to the Spirit, and the Spirit imparted wisdom from the Father.  The Divine and the Human in Him did not “mix” or get lost somehow. Each was distinct, and we understand that union as communicating back and forth with each other.  And it is the Spirit who, somehow mysteriously, played a major part in this.

Geerhardus Vos explains: “Our Lord needed the Spirit as a real equipment of his human nature for the execution of his Messianic task. Jesus ascribed all his power and grace, the gracious words, the saving acts, to the possession of the Spirit (Matt. 12:28; Luke 4:18; Acts 10:36-38). And, through qualifying him in this manner for achieving his messianic task, the Spirit laid the foundation for the great Pentecostal bestowal of the Spirit afterwards, for this gift was dependent on the finished work.”

In His life and ministry Jesus submitted to the Spirit, but it is also important to recognize that the Spirit’s mission not to glorify Himself, but to shine the light of glory on Christ.  As Bruce Ware says, “All Scripture is given to us by the Spirit. And what the Spirit wants to talk about, most centrally, is Jesus!”

Therefore, Jesus is anointed with the Spirit, and in this way not only does He fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah, but he also is empowered to proclaim the gospel. “The Spirit , then, does not work in an independent saving manner apart from the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is only by the knowledge of this gospel that an can be saved” (Ware).

4:18b  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,

Messianic/Eschatological Overtones

Here we get to the heart of Isaiah’s message, and the mission of the one who was “anointed” by the Lord.

When the Jews heard Jesus quote this passage their minds would likely have been awash in ideas of a dawning age of God’s salvation. Isaiah 61 brought to the Jewish mind of the time the promise of prosperity and a golden age of peace and blessing from God.  For them it had heavy eschatological/messianic overtones (cf. Block). We have a similar excitement and anticipation as we wait for the return of Christ (cf. Rev. 21).

When Jesus read this and connected it with himself, the Jews would have understood that He was saying that He was ushering in a new age of salvation – no doubt leading them to wonder if He was the long awaited Messiah.

So picture yourself in the room at that moment as a first century Jew listening to this man Jesus – who you might have known growing up – read words from Isaiah 61 that bring to your mind thoughts and emotions connected with the coming of God’s Savior.  Jesus hasn’t said anything yet, but dreams of peace and prosperity immediately fill your mind as you look down at your callused hands, and feel the empty money bag on your hip.  You might cringe a bit as you remember recent killings or abuses by the Romans.  Your heart might doubt if there will ever be a savior for Israel; but this Jesus has spoken things with authority you’ve never heard before.  And now He’s reading Isaiah 61…

So What Does This Really Mean?

Let’s look closer at the text itself. First, the “good news” that is proclaimed is the gospel, which is continued on the next line.  The good news is that Jesus has come to free people from bondage, heal those who are sick, and give sight to the blind etc. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount that, “blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The second part of this message is that Jesus came to free captives.  Well, what kind of captives?  I believe that Jesus came to show that the prison He was freeing His people from was a prison of sin and death.  The Apostle Paul helps us understand example what was really meant by this when he says:

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:17-18).

Listen to the words of our Lord when He would later explain this in more detail:

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, [32] and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” [33] They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” [34] Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. [35] The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. [36] So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. [37] I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. [38] I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” (John 8:31-38)

But how is He going to set the captives free?  Through His sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection, and His triumph over the grave. He paid the penalty for the sins that had for so long held His people in bondage.

The second and fourth lines are similar because when spoken from the lips of Jesus they tell us that He came to proclaim His own death: I have come to do more than set you free from earthly bondage, I have come to set you free from the oppression of spiritual bondage.

Lastly, the third line says that He will give site to the blind. The sight that He gave was not only physical – for Jesus healed multitudes of people during his ministry – but most importantly spiritual.  In fact, the healing of blind men and women during his ministry actually pointed to a greater healing of their spiritual site. For the God of this world had blinded the minds of those who didn’t believe, and as Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

Geldenhuys says, “God had sent Him to heal those who were broken-hearted and found themselves in spiritual distress; to proclaim deliverance to those who were captives in the power of sin and in spiritual wretchedness; to give back to the spiritually blind the power of sight; to cause those who were downcast and inwardly bruised to go forward in triumph.”

The physical promises and physical work of Jesus in his healing ministry – like many of those in the Old Testament – pointed to something greater.  Just as the promise of land in the OT pointed to our becoming a new creation in Christ, and the eventuality of a renewed heavens and earth, so too the miracles of Christ pointed to His ultimate work of spiritual redemption which began during His ministry here on earth and will be consummated one day when He returns.

Therefore the “good news” is this: that Jesus will heal your brokenness, will breathe new life into your spiritually dead soul, and will raise you to walk in newness of life. He is the Messiah, He is the anointed One, and He has come to usher in the kingdom of God in power – a kingdom where the blind see, and the poor have been made rich in the riches that only God can give.

Praise God that He sent a Savior to set us free from our bondage to sin! Not by our own efforts or will, but by the powerful work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

4:19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Jesus is the Fulfillment of the Year of Jubilee

Finally, let us examine the last part of this passage.  There are a few key points to be made, and the last one we will examine in-depth.

First, it tells us something about the nature of Jesus’ mission during His first advent. Baptist Theologian Tom Schreiner notes that when Jesus quotes the passage from Isaiah, He notably skips past the whole part on judgment. The rest of 61:2 says, “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.”

Perhaps what this tells us is that during Jesus’ first advent He has come to usher in his kingdom, to proclaim the gospel, and the fulfillment of the year of Jubilee.  But when He returns, He will judge both the quick and the dead.  Jesus is telling us something about his mission here on earth during the first advent – it is a mission of salvation – he came to seek and save the lost.

Secondly, this statement used in this context is Jesus’ way of ending the gospel message he’s just proclaimed with an exclamation point.  This gospel message he’s just proclaimed is so magnificent that marks the beginning of a new age of redemption.

And it is Jesus who is at the epicenter of this new redemptive age. He is the fulfillment of the (“typological”) past, and is the redeemer of all mankind. It is the announcement of the kingdom of God (His kingdom) and the Messianic age. Geldenhuys says, “It amounted to a declaration by Him that the words which He had read to them had finally come to fulfillment – in His own person…thus to ‘proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord’, i.e. to announce the Messianic age – the period ushered in by His appearance, in which God will grant His salvation to His people.”

The phrase “year of favor” is Isaiah’s way of referencing the Jewish celebration of Jubilee. We find this celebration first described by Moses in Leviticus 25 (8-12):

“You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years. 9 Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. 10 And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan. 11 That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of itself nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines. 12 For it is a jubilee. It shall be holy to you. You may eat the produce of the field.

The rest of the chapter is devoted to all of the stipulations that Israel was to keep in this year. Here are the basics (summarized by Sam Storms):

  1. The return of all property, according to the original Mosaic distribution, to the original owner or to his family
  2. The release of all Jewish slaves
  3. The cancellation of debts
  4. The land is to lie fallow, i.e., it is neither to be sown, pruned reaped, nor gathered for an entire year.

The year of Jubilee ensured that the poor and needy were taken care of and the land was properly looked after and not overworked.  It also emphasized that it was God who owned the land (vs. 23), and that (like us today) they were sojourners in the land. Lastly, it laid down rules for redemption.  “If a person gets into difficulty or danger, then a relative (his “nearest redeemer,” v. 25) is to redeem him from his dire straits” (ESV Study notes) – A principle we find especially prominent in the book of Ruth, and in later on in our Lord and Savior’s redemption of us.

If the people of Israel kept these laws, then God promised that He would bless them greatly and they would “dwell in the land securely” (vs. 19)

So Isaiah is saying that when the prophet comes He will bring in a time of great jubilee. Sam Storms helps us understand the importance of how the Jewish people viewed the year of Jubilee:

The jubilee, therefore, was a year in which social justice, equity, freedom, pardon, release, and restoration were emphasized and experienced. The jubilee signaled a new beginning, the inauguration of moral, spiritual, and national renewal. Hence it is no surprise that the jubilee became a symbol and prefigurement of the ultimate redemption, release, and restoration that God would accomplish spiritually on behalf of his people.

Now, eventually, the anticipation of a coming deliverer (like Moses) and prince who would make a strong new covenant with His people, would soon be made known to a prophet living among the Babylonians.  That man was Daniel.

Let us turn to Daniel 9, and beginning in verse 24 we’ll read through the end of the chapter. This section of Scripture is important because it was Daniel who was told by the angel Gabriel to expect a coming Messiah who would fulfill these prophecies from Isaiah 61, and usher in a time of great deliverance and redemption:

“Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks.

Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed.

And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.” (Daniel 9:24-27, ESV)

You may know this already, but Daniel’s 70-week prophecy anticipates two things: deliverance from the captivity of Babylon, and from the captivity of their sin. And that is the “good news” that Jesus has just declared. Daniel himself prays specifically for the former, but when God sends Gabriel to announce the vision we find that God has a bigger plan in mind. The deliverance from captivity in Bablyon would, like that of Egypt hundreds of years before, only symbolize the great deliverance of His people from sin and death.

That is why we have the 70 weeks.  Each week represents 7 years, and from the time of the decree of Artaxerxes in 457 B.C. to beginning of Christ’s ministry is 49 weeks.  The final week would land between 29-34 A.D. (per Gentry).

***Where the exact dates land isn’t as important as the theological idea that is being conveyed to Daniel here (cf. Storms), namely that Jesus is said to be “cut-off” for His people to die a vicarious substitutionary death for you and for me.[ii]

“This (the year of Jubilee mentioned in Lev. 25) all takes on special significance when we realize that there is decreed for Israel a total period of seventy sevens of years or 490 years, which is to say 10 JUBILEE ERAS, ‘an intensification of the jubilee concept point to the ultimate, antitypical jubilee.’ The jubilary year of God which the consummation of redemption and restoration is to occur is described in Isaiah 61:1-2” (Storms).

In Summary…

“When Jesus declares that in himself the jubilee of God has come he is saying, in effect, that the seventy weeks of Daniels have reached their climax. The new age of jubilee, of which all previous jubilees were prefigurements, has now dawned in the person and ministry of Jesus. The goal of the seventy-weeks prophecy is the consummate jubilary salvation of God!” (Storms)

Jesus was the man spoken of here. He is the “anointed one” and He is the one who makes a “Strong covenant” with the people and He is the one who puts “and end to sacrifice and offering” because He Himself was our sacrifice.

4:20-21 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

In Conclusion 

When Jesus rolls up that scroll, and hands it to the attendant, He then turns to the whole room declaring that they will witness the in-breaking of the kingdom of God!  It’s as if He just handed the scroll aside and declared, “That. Just. Happened.”  BOOM!

It rocks every listener to the core – and it ought to shake us up as well.

Jesus, sitting in the role of the prophet of God (the Supreme Prophet) is declaring that HE is the one whom the former prophets anxiously awaited.

He is God’s Supreme Prophet to the world and is declaring the end of captivity for those held in the bonds of sin, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile. This is the Gospel of Christ. The captivity in Babylon, and in Egypt prior, were types and shadows of the captivity of sin and death that held us in bondage until He came.

Jesus is the one who has come to free the captives. He is the one who will be ushering in a kingdom and age of grace.  Furthermore, it is HE who is most worthy to be celebrated!  “I am here to fulfill the year of jubilee, and usher in the year of the Lord’s favor!”

He is the Message and the Messenger. He is the Word and the Prophet.  You see, a prophet of yesteryear could declare a message of liberty, but couldn’t bring it to pass. It took a deliverer to bring that message of liberty to the people. Jesus is both deliverer and message bearer. 

That is why He is the Supreme Prophet – He is an effectual Prophet who declares liberty (the gospel) and then proceeds to deliver (and usher in an age of liberty for millions of His chosen ones).

Christ has come to fulfill the entire law.  It is kept in His life of righteous obedience, and His sacrificial death on our behalf. His life and death mark the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy. He has come to make a new covenant with us, to put an end to sacrifice and offering (for He is the fulfillment of the Temple), to release us from our captivity to sin, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor – peace in our hearts and a new creation in our lives.

Christmas Conclusion: We are on the precipice of celebrating the greatest birth in world history – the advent of God’s last and greatest Prophet.  We do it knowing that Jesus Himself is our great celebration – not simply because He was born, but because He came to SET US FREE.

Rightly did the prophets say of Him:
 
Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted. (Isaiah 49:13, ESV)

 

Closing Prayer

 

Appendix 1 – Reading the OT through the Lens of Christ’s Words

I think it would be wise of us to recognize that there are often times in Scripture when we read of Jesus saying something that we don’t understand.  This was certainly the case with those who heard Him preach and claim to be fulfilling OT prophecies. In fact, many times we look at the passages He is quoting and even we, who have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside us, do not immediately grasp the connection.  For instance I was recently reading in John 13 and came to verse 18 where Jesus says, “I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’”  He’s quoting David here who said “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who late my bread, has lifted his heel against me” (Ps. 41:9).

If I were to read the Psalms without having read John 13, as many of the Jews had prior to Christ, I would simply assume that David was talking about Saul.  And that assumption would probably be correct with the limited knowledge I had. But this is my point: As we read the words of Jesus, and what He has to say about Himself, we need to trust those words explicitly.

In his commentary on Hebrews, Phillip Hughes says well that, “…over and over again in the New Testament shows that passages in the Old Testament have a significance and an application beyond and in addition to the original occasion of their composition, and this is especially so with reference to the redemptive work of Christ.”

Therefore, we need to understand that our sovereign God has placed words in the mouths of the prophets that even they might not have fully understood.  In other words, God knew all the words the prophets would write, for their words were inspired by the Spirit of God, and He had a plan for those words that may have been fulfilled both in their time, and in the coming of His Son Jesus Christ.  

Appendix 2 – Daniel’s 70 Weeks

As I compiled this sermon, I found that there are many competing views of Daniel’s prophecy, even within the reformed tradition. I spent time dealing mostly with two prominent (and current) theologians, Baptist Theologian Peter Gentry and Baptist Theologian Sam Storms.

Peter Gentry has some helpful remarks on Daniel’s vision:

The vision of Daniel’s seventy weeks, then, can be explained simply. It refers to a period of seventy sabbaticals or periods of seven years required to bring in the ultimate jubilee: release from sin, the establishment of everlasting righteousness, and consecration of the Temple.  During the first seven sabbaticals the city of Jerusalem is restored. Then for sixty-two sabbaticals there is nothing to report. In the climatic seventieth week, Israel’s King arrives and dies vicariously for his people.  Strangely, desecration of the temple similar to that by Antiochus Epiphanies in the Greek Empire is perpetrated by the Jewish people themselves, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem. The events are fulfilled in the person of Jessus of Nazareth. He is the coming King. His crucifixion is the sacrifice to end all sacrifices and the basis of the New Covenant with man. His death is not “for himself”, but rather vicarious. The rejection of Jesus as Messiah and the desecration of Him as the true Temple at his trial by the high priest result in judgment upon the Herodian temple, carried out eventually in 70A.D. The notion of a gap between the 69th and 70th week is contrary to a vision of chronological sequence. The prophecy is remarkable for its precision as it fits the events concerning Jesus of Nazareth.”

But Sam Storms, who has read Gentry, agrees that we have to read Daniel’s seventy weeks in terms of Sabbaticals (theologically instead of chronologically). Still, he has a different (and very helpful) take on this:

My point is that if Jeremiah’s “seventy years” turn out to be only “sixty-six” or even “fifty-eight” we should not be overly concerned that Daniel’s “seventy-sevens” end up being something other than precisely 490 years.”

This is different from Gentry who has done some gymnastics to show that the exact year of Christ’s dying on the cross is likely halfway through the final week of the 70 sabbaticals. But even Gentry seems to realize there is some ambiguity as to the exact year of Christ’s death.  Therefore, it is impossible to know for sure whether He died halfway through the week, or at the beginning of it, or near the end etc. from the historical record we have.

But Storms and Gentry both agree overall that this passage in Daniel is closely related to our passage in Luke.  As Storms says, “This is the passage that our Lord quotes in Luke 4:16-21 and applies to his own person and work. In other words, the fulfillment and anti-type of the prophetic and typical jubilary year has come in the person and work of Jesus Christ! Thus both Isaiah and Luke employ the Mosaic instruction (he had quoted from Leviticus 25 on the year of Jubilee before this) concerning the jubilee to describe the dawning of God’s kingdom in the person and work of Jesus.”

Bryan Chapell (of the Gospel Coalition) also summarizes the passage well, “Daniel’s vision I, unquestionably, ultimately about Christ’s gracious work in behalf of his people…Jerusalem and the temple will be restored, followed by a time of trouble, culminating in the appearance of the Messiah, who himself will be cut off before Jerusalem and its sanctuary are destroyed. These details align with Cyrus’ release of the captives, Jerusalem’s rebuilding, Christ’s coming, his crucifixion, and the subsequent destruction of Jerusalem by the future Roman emperor Titus in 10 A.D.”

Gentry’s overview of Daniel’s prayer sounds like this: Daniels’s prayer is focused upon the physical return from Babylon – the first stage in redemption, but the angelic message and vision of the seventy weeks is focused upon the forgiveness of sins and the renewal of covenant and righteousness – the second stage in return from exile.

Appendix 3 – The Advent of Synagogues

John MacArthur has a fascinating short history of how synagogues came about in his commentary on the first five chapters of Luke’s Gospel. The rudimentary basics are that they could be established if there were at least 10 men in a village (this is something we saw during a study on the book of Acts – if there were not that many men in the town or village, as could be the case in the diaspora, then people would gather by the river if the town had one).

These meeting groups cropped up around the time of the Babylonian Captivity because the temple had been destroyed and there was no one central location of worship and sacrifice.  I’m not entirely sure where or if they even did sacrificing during that time.

The structures were made of stone, generally, and faced (or had windows that faced?) Jerusalem.

Appendix 4The Chiastic Structure of Luke 4:16b-4:20d (as outlined in Block)

the synagogue (4:16b)
  standing (4:16c)
     receiving the scripture (4:17a)
        opening the scripture (4:17b)
            preaching the good news (4:18c)
                  proclaiming release to the captive (4:18d)
                        giving sight to the blind (4:18e)
                  setting free the oppressed (4:18f)
            proclaiming acceptable year of the Lord (4:19a)
        closing the scripture (4:20a)
     returning the scripture (4:20b)
  sitting (4:20c)
the synagogue (4:20d) 
 

Appendix 5 – The Year of Jubilee

I liked and wanted to have in here the summary of the ESV Study notes on Leviticus 25 which state:

This provided a periodic restoration of the means to earn a living for each family in an agrarian society. (The jubilee did not equalize all possessions in Israel, however, since possessions such as cattle and money were not reallocated.) The prohibitions of the jubilee are the same as for the sabbatical year. The land is to lie fallow for two years in a row: the forty-ninth year (sabbatical year) and the fiftieth year (jubilee). This law prohibits the amassing of large estates, which would reduce many Israelites to tenant status on their ancestral land (cf. Isa. 5:8).

Also, I noted from the text that if an Israelite is forced to sell his land temporarily, he and his family retain the right of redemption. The land may be redeemed in one of three ways:

(1) a kinsman-redeemer buys back the land;
(2) the seller himself is able to buy it back; or
(3) it is restored to the rightful owner at the jubilee.
 
It is interesting that I have heard in the past that the people of Israel never celebrated the year of Jubilee! In other words, they were disobedient to the command they’d been given.  However, despite their disobedience, and eventual exile into the land of Babylon, God still had a great plan for His chosen people.

Now, I didn’t want to mention this in the sermon itself, mainly because I didn’t find any scholarship to back this up. I had heard it from the pulpit before (not sure where), but without hard evidence to support it, I couldn’t make it a major theme of the sermon.  Nonetheless, it is an interesting thought to consider.

Appendix 6 – The Kingdom of God in Luke 4

I didn’t spend a ton of time talking about the in-breaking of the kingdom in this passage, but some of the work of Baptist Theologian Tom Schreiner has been very helpful as I worked on the passage as a whole, and he has a little section on Luke 4 in his ‘New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ’ which is worth reading.  Here are some of the most interesting points he makes about the passage in relationship to the in-breaking of the kingdom of God in the ministry of Christ:

Jesus began by citing the OT Scriptures and claiming that they reach fulfillment in his person and ministry. The claim is a stunning one, for the OT text refers to the fulfillment of God’s end-time promises. Jesus claimed that he is anointed with the eschatological Spirit (cf. Is. 44:3; Ez. 11:18-19; 36:26-27; Joel 2:28). The good news of the release from exile had now been realized through him. The year of the Lord’s favor and the liberty of God’s people had arrived. It does not appear here that Jesus merely states that these promises will be fulfilled at the consummation of all things. Even now, through his healing ministry, the blind were receiving sight. The gospel that he proclaimed means that the poor were hearing the glad tidings in the present. Indeed, Jesus skipped over the line in Is. 61 that speaks of the Lord’s vengeance and referred only to the time of his favor. This suggests that the present time is not a time of vengeance but the day of salvation. The day of vengeance was delayed and yet, surprisingly enough, the day of favor and salvation had dawned in the person and ministry of Jesus.

ENDNOTES

[i] Vos elsewhere says, “The Son’s unique greatness, his exaltation above man constitutes his chief qualification for the revealership. As a revealer he represents not man but God; therefore the nearer he stands to God the better he is qualified.” So the office of prophet was an office of revelation. And Jesus was the supreme agent of God’s revelation. The same was true of Jesus, who came with a supremely glorious message, yet it offended the people of Israel because it didn’t fit into their presuppositions.

[ii] As Isaiah says:

Thus says the Lord:
“In a time of favor I have answered you;
in a day of salvation I have helped you;
I will keep you and give you
as a covenant to the people,
to establish the land,
to apportion the desolate heritages,
saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’
to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’
They shall feed along the ways;
on all bare heights shall be their pasture;
(Isaiah 49:8-9, ESV)

Study Notes 2-10-13

John 11:28-44 – The Raising of Lazarus

11:28-29 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” [29] And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him.

It is significant to me that her first reaction is to run and find her sister. It reminds me of when the early disciples of Christ ran to find other followers.  When someone is touched by the words of Christ and their heart is captured by God, they want to immediately go and tell others of the experience and bring them near to Christ.

The second thing I think is notably here is the reaction of Mary – she “quickly” rose up and went to find Christ. This reminds me of Philip and how he quickly and immediately obeyed the Spirit in Acts 8.  This is a trait of a true follower of Christ.  When we are called to His side, when we are asked to do something, do we obey?  Or do we hesitate?  Do we run to our master, the healer, the Lord?  Or…do we stay in our homes sobbing over a loss or a heartache. Mary, as stunned and hurt as she was by the loss of her brother ran quickly to find Jesus.  May we do the same.

11:30-32 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. [31] When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. [32] Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Mary’s faith responded in an identical way to Martha’s from the earlier verse. She was so confident in the power and Lordship of Jesus Christ that she announced confidently that if He had been there Lazarus wouldn’t have died.  “Jesus you are so powerful, so profoundly majestic, so good, so gracious and so loving, that if you had but been here in our presence You could have stopped this tragedy from occurring.  They were not appealing to some false idea that Christ would have singled out their brother, or that He played favorites.  What was on their heart and their mind here was what they knew of Jesus: absolute love. Jesus practically overflowed with love. He healed so many people that John couldn’t even imagine writing down all the incidents. He was giving, giving, giving His entire life!  All He did was serve!  He came to serve! Incredible how these women knew the heart of Christ so well, so for them, this wasn’t a big mystery. If Jesus had been there, His love would surely have spilled out over our brother. “That’s just who He is”, they think. Their hearts loved His heart.

11:33-36 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. [34] And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” [35] Jesus wept. [36] So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

Compassion for His Sheep

If these verses don’t show you something of the humanity of Christ, then you are not reading the same text I am reading.

Mary is in tears – not simply a small stream of tears, she is weeping. She is weeping for her brother, but also because she has been stirred again emotionally by the presence of Christ.  It’s not been several days since her brother died, and Jesus’ appearance has opened it all over again and she bursts forth in tears. The love she has for Jesus, and the painful reality of her loss are intersecting in a mass of human emotion that simply cannot be held back.

And Jesus sees this and his spirit is “greatly troubled” and He too begins to weep.

Why is this His response?  It is because of the love He has for His sheep. His compassion for His children is evident here in these verses.  I believe John recorded this incident for a reason. He knew the impact of these verses. John is concerned to show that Christ Jesus understands our pains, He understands our sorrows. But more than that.  He doesn’t simply understand it – for we could well believe that He understands it being, as He is, a all-wise all-knowing God – but He also empathizes with us.  He enters into our sorrows with us.

We are well familiar with the precious words of Hebrews 4:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. [16] Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

More “Trouble” than Meets the Eye…

MacArthur makes a good point about the Greek word used here that is often translated “troubled” is actually more accurately understood as “sternly warned” or “scolding” in terms of the feeling it conveys.  The word is actually embrimaomai, which literally means, “snort like a horse!”  The idea here, as MacArthur says, “includes a connotation of anger, outrage, or indignation. Jesus appears to have been angry not only over the painful reality of sin and death, of which Lazarus was a beloved example, but perhaps also with the mourners, who were acting like the pagans who have no hope.”

So the Lord was upset on several levels.  The scene is a complex one.  He is not simply in tears for His dear friend and the family of Lazarus, but also for a world whose response to death is not fully defined by the realities of God. Jesus came to usher in a kingdom whose power would forever be emblazoned on the lives of His followers to the point which death would be no match.

You see, death here seemed to have the last say, and the attitude of defeat among the mourners smacked of Satan. It showed off his blinding power that these people would have no hope in the reality of glorious nature of the world to come.  Christ came to change all of that.  And when He saw the people mourning with no hope for tomorrow, He was indignant.  This is why His raising Lazarus from the tomb was a major sign (A major wake up call to Satan also) of the ushering in of His kingdom. It’s a blast on the trumpet, it’s a major red flag to the enemy that his time has come and his days are numbered, for the Prince of Life is here, and He will allow no more deception about the truth of God’s plan for eternity.

Consequently, that’s why He was so poignant in His remarks about eternity earlier.  A large part of the gospel is the hope for eternity with God. A big part of the gospel has to do with what happens after death. This is what gives us hope.  There is the hope of forgiveness now on earth, of course, and of forgiveness and Christ’s righteousness imputed to us – which we will hear from God’s mouth on that day of judgment.  But more than that, there is this beautiful hope of eternity with the Lover of our soul.  And that’s what this is about. This is about Christ setting the record straight. It’s about Him giving us a preview of the rest of our lives.

Joined with Christ

Furthermore, because we are one body, and have been united with Christ as His bride, just as He enters into our sorrows and pains, so we too are called to enter into His sorrows as well. We identify with His sufferings and remember that just as He persecuted we shall also be persecuted.

I think it’s so important to remember that we are joined with Christ. We receive the benefits of this – justification, righteousness, and eternal life – but we also are going to be persecuted for identifying ourselves with Christ.

Personally, when I look at how the Lord identifies with us, I marvel to myself that we have such a loving God.  A God who could have sat back and ruled the world from on high, but instead who chose to come down to us.  He came down here, and He entered into our toil, our frustrations, and our tears.  He knew what it was to walk on this earth. He knew what it was to lose a loved one.

I love the fact that He has identified with us in our suffering. I love the fact that angels and all God’s elect children can look at the cross and say, “see how He loved them!

The Impending Victory

But what is perhaps most beautiful about this chapter is that He gives us a preview (as I mentioned above) of what the consummation of His mission will look like when He comes back. The sadness we endure now is like that of Mary and Martha. We weep because we are dying and we exist in a dying world. We have loved ones with cancer.  We have children who are sick. We have pains and ills and death all around us. So did Christ.  So that will make the victory all that much more sweeter when we enter into His presence and He banishes death and sickness once and for all!  That is why we say: “Come Lord Jesus! Come!”

11:37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

This is a statement of confusion and perhaps doubt.  It’s hard to say without having been there, but one thing is obvious and that is that these people had no clue about the plans of God, or the ways of God. Their statement reveals a doubt that is probably part of what Christ was angry (“troubled”) about. Their unbelief in the sovereignty of God and their anxiety over the death of their friend is exactly what Satan would have wanted – it’s a reflection of a world that was lost in sickness and death, mired in a world without hope – at least that seems to be their perspective.

11:38-40 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. [39] Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” [40] Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

Here we see that once again Christ is “moved” again, and it’s no wonder given the nature of the response from those in the mourning party (he is likely still filled with a righteous indignation as mentioned before).

Martha’s response to Christ’s instruction is one of unbelief – this is what tempers us from having been led to believe she had the kind of faith that Abraham had (see above).

SIDE NOTE: D.A. Carson talks about how some of the Jews thought (superstitiously) that the soul of a body hovers above the body for three days prior to finally departing. So waiting four days to raise Lazarus from the dead would have crushed their superstitions. I love how Christ’s perfect timing crushes our doubt and shows us that He alone holds the keys to truth and life.

The Revelation of His Glory and how it Transforms Us

We see in Christ’s response to Martha that He isn’t concerned about the odor of Lazarus, He’s more concerned with the revelation of His glory.

This revelation of His glory is the key – and as I mentioned before, Martha is not going to see the glory of Christ in the way that the disciples did on the Mount of Transfiguration, but rather she will see His revealed character, power, and person pouring out through His majestic work of resurrection.

I want to add some thoughts about the practical purposes of understanding this concept of Christ’s glory and what it has to do with us.

In 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 we read the following:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. [18] And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

We see here that there is a transformational effect from simply “beholding the glory of the Lord.”  John explains in his epistles that:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2).

So there is this connection again between us being transformed, and us beholding Him in His glory.

For the longest time I didn’t understand exactly how this worked. What is the connection here between us becoming like Him and us beholding Him?  It’s hard to read 1 John and really put your finger on how that will happen – but we can look to how it happens in inches during our lifetimes here on earth – and that’s exactly the purpose of what Paul was writing in 2 Corinthians, and why Christ came to raise Lazarus from the grave in John 11.

How is it that we behold His glory here?  We behold His glory because we see His revealed character in His actions and words, and the Holy Spirit uses this Scripture to touch and transform our hearts.  This is a supernatural thing. This is why we can’t “earn” our way to heaven because we can’t make ourselves righteous!  Our doing is our beholding.  And we behold by reading, by praying, and by asking for Him to change us into the image of Christ, which He is gradually doing.

This is the nitty-gritty of sanctification, and its also why reading the Bible and meditating on Christ’s actions here and every word that proceeds from His mouth, is so important.  That’s consequently why I teach expositionally!  I want you to be changed into the likeness and image of Christ. He’s using this Word to do that.  He’s using John 11 to do that, so I want you to take in as much of it as possible, knowing not only that He is using it to gradually melt away the dross of this life, but that one day (as we wait in faithful hope – see Rom. 8) He will radically finish the job simply by the great revelation of His character and person: His glory.

11:41-42 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. [42] I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”

Carson points out that this was not a public prayer meant to “play to the gallery” but rather He sought to “draw His hearers into the intimacy of Jesus’ own relationship with the Father” and “demonstrates the truth that Jesus does nothing by Himself, but is totally dependent on and obedient to His Father’s will.”

There are a few parallels between this prayer and the High Priestly prayer in chapter 17, but the one that stood out to me the most was how the Father and Son had already been (obviously) in previous communion.  It seems that they had already agreed upon raising Lazarus, and that now Christ is thanking God the Father for “hearing” Him and for granting this miracle so that He may be glorified that people might believe.

Every time we hear Christ pray, or instruct us in prayer, we ought to pay close attention.  For this is His insight and instruction as to how to communicate with God, of whom He is One with the other two persons of the Godhead.  Surely He knows more than anyone how to speak with His Father.

11:43-44 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” [44] The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

There are several key points that we see here.

First, the “divine imperative”, as Augustine termed the creation of the world, is seen here in Christ’s powerful control over the life and death of His creatures.  We see that not only is this man the Messiah whose long awaited and desired coming had finally arrived, but he is the very Son of God who called creation into existence millennia prior to this moment.

Second, Lazarus’ rising from the dead was a sign of greater resurrection to come, especially that of Christ’s resurrection which was now only a short time away, and of course of our own resurrections once Christ comes again.  And it was also a sign that Jesus was who He claimed to be. Earlier in chapter five, Christ said this:

But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. (John 5:36)

Third, the power of Christ is on full display in this amazing moment. D.A. Carson notes how some theologians remark that this power seemed to be so awful (awe-inspiring) that had He not specified the name of “Lazarus” that all dead people everywhere would have had to obey His fiat. This is a clear example of Christ calling us from the dead, and the irresistible nature of that call. His grace is so powerful and so effective, that when He calls you, He will not fail in His mission to bring you all the way from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.

Lastly, as Christ raised Lazarus from the dead, it was a clear indication that the kingdom of God was upon them. Christ was ushering in His spiritual kingdom in a way that no man could deny. George Ladd once said that, “…the Kingdom of God is the redemptive reign of God dynamically active to establish his rule among men, and that this Kingdom, which will appear as an apocalyptic act at the end of the age, has already come into human history in the person and mission of Jesus to overcome evil, to deliver men from it’s power, and to bring them into the blessings of God’s reign The Kingdom of God involves two great moments: fulfillment within history, and consummation at the end of history.”

Study Notes 12-23-12

9:17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”

This might not be quite the full-orbed description of the Being of Christ, but as some note, it’s a mite better than “I don’t know.”           

9:18-23 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight [19] and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” [20] His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. [21] But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” [22] (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) [23] Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

First, “The Jews” here refer to the Pharisees.  It is a common thing for John to refer to the religious leaders as “the Jews.”

What we see here is that in response to the miracle of Christ, the religious leaders of the day react in unbelief. So what they try to do is seek verification from the parents since they don’t seem to believe the accounts of the people and the man himself.

However, what happens here is the parents respond in fear of what the religious leaders will do to them if they give their full and honest opinion of what has just happened to their son. Sproul and Carson both excoriate these parents in their commentaries as examples of unbelief, and I agree with them. But who cannot identify with them? Who can blame them? These people don’t yet know Jesus, they don’t have any reason as of yet to stand up for Him other than what they know of in regards to their son.  So they pass the buck back to their child, who is a grown middle-aged man.

Here’s what I mean by this: Overall, while we can identify with the parents, and even the religious leaders, what is it that is dominating their emotions and behavior here? Fear and unbelief. Perhaps that’s why we can so closely identify with them…

9:24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.”

Now they are frustrated and demanding.  Their tone is completely curt and to the point. They demand that the blind man give glory to God (as if he hadn’t been doing that already), and not to in anyway glorify the man (Jesus) who gave him his sight.

Ironically the very man who gave him his sight was Jesus the God-man.  The incarnation of God had healed this man in love and compassion.

Also, it is interesting that they “know” this man is a sinner. Their judgment has already been made at this point – for all the reasons we talked about before, specifically and especially regarding the Sabbath.

9:25 He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

I can picture this man, can’t you?  Recoiling a bit at the harshness of the conversation. But as we will see from the way he interacts with these religious leaders, he is bold.  Why is he so bold? Because his entire life has been resurrected from darkness! You too would be bold if a man healed your blindness! And indeed, if you are a Christian, you have been resurrected from darkness and death and our response ought to be this man’s response: One thing I do know, that though I was blind now I see”!  What a powerful statement!

As MacArthur notes, unbelief is simply irrational at this point, “Stopped dead in their tracks by the incontestable testimony of the man, and left with no way to advance their lame argument, the Pharisees began to go over the same ground they had previously covered.”

R.C. Sproul notes something really important about this whole passage with the blind man and how he interacted with the Pharisees.  At this point in the discussion, the man is bearing witness about Christ, but he is not evangelizing.  He is sharing his testimony, but he is not yet sharing the gospel message – there is a difference.  Our testimony is important, and its what Sproul calls “pre-evangelism.”  It helps us relate what God has done for us to others, and helps others relate to us on a personal level.  It gives glory to God, certainly, but it is not sharing the gospel.  We share the gospel when we announce the good work of Jesus Himself.  As Sproul notes, (to paraphrase) “the gospel is not about me…the gospel is about Jesus.”

We all need to learn to share our testimonies, but we also have to take the next step and share the gospel.

Now listen in your mind as you read below how they interact here…you can almost feel the tension rising…

9:26-27 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” [27] He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?”

Bravo! This man has moxie.  Frankly, if such a wonderful miracle happened to me, and then those around me were so determined to ruin it and slander the God who provided it, I would also be indignant.

Note the rebukes.  First, “you would not listen.”  This is so true.  They were never listeners; they were tellers.  They ordered people about, they didn’t take time to genuinely listen to people.  The man doesn’t let them get away with it.

Second, he taunts them by asking them if they “also want to become his disciples.”  The very thing they would have despised the most! He makes these religious leaders out to be merely ignorant pupils who need to be discipled.

9:28-29 And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. [29] We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.”

Now, obviously this (formerly) blind man was not a disciple of Christ yet, but the leaders throw it back in his face because he had just used the same thing to annoy them.

I think it is really emblematic of this generation that they claim to be disciples of Moses, and children of Abraham (in chapter 8) when they are neither. God knew all along that He would bless the nations through Abraham, which means that the seed of Abraham (spiritually) would populate the church. From Abraham’s body would come the body of Christ (the church) – in other words, the gentile makeup of the elect was never “plan b” for God.  Also, it’s worth noting that God only instituted the Mosaic Law as a “guardian” until Christ came (Gal. 3). Even Moses saw this (Deut. 18:18-19), but these religious leaders were not eagerly anticipating such a high priest, they were instead longing for the day when the Messiah would come and conquer their political enemies and redeem the land.

Their sinfulness had clouded their judgment, and as they were not God’s children (John 8), they were speaking out of their character here.

Now listen to how the man responds to their claims at Mosaic discipleship…does he back down? Not at all!

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

First he castigates them for their lack of knowledge of who Jesus was. Then, in an amazing show of boldness, he gives them a theology lesson! I honestly don’t recall any other time in scripture where a common beggar gives the religious establishment a theology lesson, but here it is!

He says to them, basically, that they aren’t thinking logically. First, he reasons that “God does not listen to sinners” – true enough.  We know that God hears the prayers of those who are His own, and the man goes on to say just that, “if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.” I have to believe he is speaking out of practical experience here. This man has not been healed in vain by God. He is grateful, and from the sounds of his words, was probably in daily prayer for this miracle.

Then he uses some hyperbole to drive home the point that this miracle was done in the power of God – there’s simply no other explanation for it!

9:34 They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out.

The word “utter” here is holos in the Greek, and it means “whole” or “complete.” And thus the response of the Pharisees is accurate here.  He was born in utter sin – complete fallness like all mankind, and of course they mistakenly believe they were not.  Paul’s words are apt:

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; [28] God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, [29] so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:27-29 ESV)

There is perhaps nothing more appalling than the arrogance of ignorance, but that is what he have here. And it is instructive for us as well. Let us, who were also born in “utter sin” not think ourselves too good or too pure to learn from our great teacher. We have all fallen way short of His glory. No man is worthy to boast before God – because Paul’s passage in 1 Corinthians I mention above goes on to say this:

And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, [31] so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31 ESV)

If we are to boast, let us boast in the power of the Lord Jesus Christ as this man did.

9:35-37 Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” [36] He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” [37] Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” [38] He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

I love the compassion of the Lord Jesus. He knows that this man must go through a trial, and He allows it as a testing of his faith perhaps. Whatever the reason as it relates to the man, it certainly gave glory to God – and still continues to do so even to this day.

Note also that Jesus requires something of this man more than simply standing up for Him.  Jesus isn’t looking for a supporter for a political or religious movement, He looking for a lost sheep.

Lastly, it is evident that God had touched the heart of this man as significantly as He had touched his eyes.  The man responds in belief, and that’s the challenge for us today. Do we really believe Jesus is who He says He is?  Here he says that he is the “Son of Man” – that favorite designation that Jesus uses for Himself that comes from the book of Daniel, which says:

“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. [14] And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14 ESV)

This “Son of Man” is reigning right now – and His reign will one day see its consummation at His second coming.  When Jesus asks the blind man who had been healed whether he believed in the “Son of Man”, He is asking him to place his faith in the one who is from God, of God, and is God. The one who will one say have “an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away.”

9:39 Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” [40] Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” [41] Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.

Finally, we notice that Jesus isn’t saying these things in just the presence of the healed man any longer. Now others have gathered.  The Pharisees are now listening in, and, aware of this, Christ begins to address them.

First Christ uses the miracle He performed to give greater light to a spiritual truth. We could divine all of these things and see the picture of Christ’s work here pretty easily, but in this case we don’t even have to because He has done that for us here.

He says that He came so that those who don’t see will see.  Conversely, He says that those who see “may become blind.”  The Pharisees immediately feel as if they are the butt of this joke – only its not a joke at all, it’s a hard truth, and one that they refuse to swallow.

The point of the analogy as it relates to “guilt” is much like Paul’s argument in Romans 1.  We all bear the weight of guilt of knowing at least something about God through general revelation. But these were men who were learned.  They knew the law, had access to all the writings of Moses, knew and had heard of the words of the prophets, and yet they who saw all of these words on scrolls were blind to their truths.  In this way they became blind.

It reminds me of what God said to the prophet Isaiah as He commissioned him to go and preach to Israel:

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” [9] And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ [10] Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:8-10 ESV)

Later God says through Isaiah:

Bring out the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears! (Isaiah 43:8 ESV)

Spiritually speaking, only God can open the eyes of mankind. He is completely sovereign over who can “see the kingdom of God” (John 3).

In His sovereignty, God has sent Christ to heal us of this blindness. Another verse from Isaiah speaks of this as well:

I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, [7] to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. (Isaiah 42:6-7 ESV)

Secondly, I want to make note about what Christ says about judgment and blindness here.  MacArthur hints at the way in which spiritual blindness reacts to the light.  He says, “It receives judgment, refuses to admit its blindness, rejects spiritual sight, and results in doom.”

Specifically as it relates to “judgment”, Christ says “for judgment I cam into this world”, whereas in another place He says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).

So which is it?  Is Christ contradicting Himself here? Not at all – these are two truths co-existing in the character of Christ. MacArthur explains this in his commentary, and its worth quoting a lengthy portion of what he has to say:

…far from being contradictory, those two truths are complementary; they are two sides of the same reality. To reject Jesus’ peace is to receive His punishment; to reject His grace is to receive His justice; to reject His mercy is to receive His wrath to reject His love is to receive His anger to reject His forgiveness is to receive His judgment. While Jesus came to save, not to condemn (cf. 12:47, Luke 19:10), those who reject His gospel condemn themselves, and subject themselves to judgment (John 3:18, 36). Spiritual sight comes only to those who acknowledge that they do not see, who confess their spiritual blindness and their need for the Light of the World. On the other hand, those who think they see on their own apart from Christ delude themselves, and will remain blind. They will not come to the Light, because they love the darkness and do not want their evil deeds to be exposed (3:19).

So their response was “self-condemning” as MacArthur goes on to say, and the role of Christ as judge will certainly happen eventually (Jon 5:22, 27), for He has been given all authority to judge by the Father, but during His time on earth (first advent) His mission was to “seek and save that which is lost” (Luke 19:10).

Leon Morris puts it this way, “In one sense He did not come to judge people (3:17; 12:47). But for all that, his coming represents a judgment; for people divide according to the way they react to that coming. The coming of light shows who are spiritually blind and thus judges them; judgment is not the purpose of the coming of the light, but it is an inevitable consequence.”

Finally, and perhaps ironically, the great hero the Pharisees were looking for ended up being the one they mocked openly. The great warrior who they hoped would one day set them free from oppression had just set another captive free before their very eyes. The great king they hoped would rule over Jerusalem was in their midst ushering in a kingdom “that shall not be destroyed.”

Introduction to Acts

This past Thursday our small group began a study on the book of Acts.  Derek Stone, Parris Payden, and myself (PJ Wenzel) will be teaching through the book verse by verse over the course of the next 10-12 months.  I’m thrilled to be starting this study, and look forward to many wonderful months of in-depth learning and growth for everyone.

In that spirit, I wanted to post my introductory notes for week one.  Enjoy!

Introduction to Acts

The Author

Very few people contend that Luke was not the author of this book.  His detailed account of things, and his reference to Theophilus early on in the both books are just two of the internal evidences that show he was the author Acts.

One of the internal evidences that Luke wrote this book and was actually a traveling companion of Paul can be found in the “we” passages of the book (16:10-17; 20:2-21:18; 27:1-28:16) where MacArthur notes that “the writer switches to the first person plural, showing he was present.”

In addition to being a follower of Christ, and one of Paul’s travel companions, Luke was also a doctor, and a man of education.  His Greek is some of the most eloquent that we find in the New Testament, and his precision when it comes to details has earned this book praise – even among critical secular scholars.

Both MacArthur and Sproul tell of the account of British Archeologist William Ramsay, who was a doubter of Christianity and decided to retrace the accounts of Luke step by step to show his inaccuracies.  What started as a de-bunking mission, ended up being a verification process of all that Luke had written.  Here’s what Ramsay said, “It was gradually borne in upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth” (cf. MacArthur’s commentary, pg. 5).

MacArthur notes further, “…he was a remarkably accurate historian. Acts shows familiarity with Roman law and the privileges of Roman citizens, gives the correct titles of various provincial rulers, and accurately describes various geographical locations.”

Luke also was very thorough in his research.  “According to tradition, Luke personally interviewed Mary, the mother of Jesus, to get her perspective on all the events surrounding the annunciation and the Nativity” (Sproul, pg. 20).

The Context

The first thing we must realize from a contextual perspective, is that Acts is really the second volume of a two-volume set written by Luke.

F.F. Bruce explains, “The Acts of the Apostles is the name given since the second century A.D. to the second volume of a History of Christian Origins composed by a first century Christian and dedicated to a certain Theophilus.  The earlier volume of this History is also extant as one of the 27 documents ultimately included in the New Testament canon: it is the work ordinarily known to us as the Gospel according to Luke.

Because of this, we need to realize that the introduction to the Gospel of Luke is really the introduction to both books (such was the custom in the ancient world).  John Stott comments, “it was the custom in antiquity, whenever it work was divided into more than one volume, to prefix to the first a preface for the whole.”  Therefore, it is important to first examine the beginning of Luke’s Gospel which states the following:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, [2] just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, [3] it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, [4] that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)

Sproul and MacArthur say much the same thing.  Sproul comments, “In antiquity, that standard length of a book written in this manner (scrolls) was about 35 feet long. The scrolls were then rolled up and carefully preserved as they were read and passed from church to church. Initially Luke penned two volumes on separate scolls, on, the gospel account of Christ, and the second, which was carried along with the first, the book of Acts.

The Timeframe

There are basically two schools of thought on when this book was written.  Some say that it was written during the end of Paul’s lifetime, while others say that it was written after the fall of Jerusalem (70AD).  John MacArthur lays out some great reasons to believe this book was written before Paul died, and before 70AD:

  1. It best explains the abrupt ending for the book of acts.  The book ends by saying, “He lived there (Rome) two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” Luke doesn’t talk about Paul’s death, something that I think would have been important to note.
  2. The Roman officials in Acts were friendly, if not favorable, to Christians.  This wasn’t the case later on.
  3. Luke doesn’t talk about the violent persecution of Christians during the reign of Nero.  Given the other persecution that Luke mentions (like the stoning of Stephen), it would not have made sense to leave such an important thing out.
  4. There’s not mention of the fall of Jerusalem.  Given all the disputes about Judaizers, and the way Luke documented the Council of Jerusalem, surely he would have written about a momentous event like the fall of the temple, and the city.  The temple was central in the life of Jews until 70AD, and Christ’s coming signaled the end of its physical significance.
  5. The subject mater of Acts is really more focused on early church disputes about the new covenant, and how to deal with the law, and the dietary elements of the law etc.  Whereas later in the first century, most of the debate turned to more theological matters.
  6. Acts doesn’t reflect any theological familiarity with Paul’s epistles.
  7. There’s not one mention of Paul’s travels after his second imprisonment, even though Luke was with him during this time.  If the book was written later, it would have made no sense to leave out those other great ministry stories from Paul’s travels.

The Purpose of the Book

I think we find this laid out in Luke’s preface to his gospel, which states, “it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”  So I think we see here that first of all, Luke wanted to put together an “orderly account” of what had happened.

The second, and more central purpose is what he says to Theophilus “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”

MacArthur comments, “…Luke’s primary purpose is to show the spread of Christianity empowered and energized by the Holy Spirit, throughout the Roman world (1:8).”

Sproul comments, “Luke’s agenda was not only to verify that Paul was obedient to the heavenly vision but to remind his readers of the commandments that Jesus gave just before he ascended. What follows is the rest of Acts is a drama of the highest magnitude – the drama of the obedience of the early church to the mission that Christ had given to it.”

The Meta-Narrative – The Kingdom of God has “come upon you”

R.C. Sproul ends the first chapter of his commentary on Acts this way:

A whole new chapter of world history began with the ministry of Christ and with his ascension to the right hand of the father, where He is enthroned as the King. One of the worst distortions of theology that plagues the Evangelical world is the idea that the kingdom of God is something completely future. That view completely destroys the biblical testimony of the breakthrough of the kingdom of God in the ministry of Jesus, especially in his ascension. Yes, the consummation of the kingdom is still in the future, but the reality of the kingdom is now. The mission of the early church was to bear witness to the reality of that kingdom in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost part of the earth.

The grand scope of redemptive history has seen an ushering in of a new chapter – an entirely new epic is birthed in the book of Acts.  This book was written to remind us to, and bear witness to itself, the fact that Jesus had ushered in the Kingdom of God.

For thousands of years mankind had been living in darkness.  We had gone astray, we had failed to keep the law of God.  We had failed to live in love toward each other, and we had failed to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts and minds.

The time for a rescuer had come.  The long-appointed time for the recue plan had finally arrived, and Jesus had been victorious over even death itself.  Now, as He was wrapping up His earthly ministry, He wanted to ensure that we had closely understood all that He had come to teach us.  We were to be His witnesses to the entire world.  What were we bearing witness to?  Answer: To the reality of His kingdom.

Jesus is reigning in glory now, and has left us to carry on the work of expanding His kingdom through the power of the Holy Spirit.  We are to be obedient to that calling as Paul was – and the book of Acts tells us how this began.  That is why Acts is an important book.  It is showing us how the early church took on the mission that we carry out to this day.

In order to understand the importance of this book, we need to understand the historical importance of the time in which it was written.  The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is like a mile marker that divides all of human history.  By His birth we even measure time to this day.  So when we read through the book of Acts, keep in mind that reality, and the fact that this was really the beginning of an entirely new epoch in history, as well as an entirely new spiritual reality in that Jesus had ushered in His spiritual kingdom.

Lastly, we need to remember as we read this book that so much of what is written in here emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit. Both Sproul and MacArthur rightly comment that the book of Acts could rightly be called “Acts of the Holy Spirit through His Apostles.”  The Spirit is mentioned over 50 times in this book, and its clear that the events in this book were guided by Him.  Also, since He is the writer of all sacred scripture, we must realize that as we study this book, what is included in these pages is not a comprehensive history, but rather what God wanted us to know about this time.  It is quite literally God’s own commentary on the events as they unfolded in the early days of the church.

Overview of Each Chapter

Chapter 1

Jesus promises the Holy Spirit, remains with the disciples for 40 days, and ascends into heaven.  Then the apostles chose Matthias to replace Judas as the 12th apostle.

Chapter 2

The Holy Spirit is given by God at the first Pentecost (there are four in the book of Acts), Peter gives a bold sermon that leads thousands to give their lives to Christ, and Luke details for us the harmony of the early church.

Chapter 3

Peter and John heal a lame man in the temple and give a rousing testament to the live and death of Jesus Christ, boldly sharing the gospel in the middle of the temple in Solomon’s Portico.

Chapter 4

Peter and John go before the council and speak with such bold clarity that the Sanhedrin are completely stumped and decided to chide them and release them.  Once released the church prayed for even more boldness and the entire building was shaken.  Luke tells us that they had “all things in common.”

Chapter 5

Ananias and Saphira die for lying to the Holy Spirit, Peter and John are arrested and speak before the council, but the council decides to let them go again because, under the Gamaliel, they thought it better to let the political situation play out…and they didn’t want to be “caught” on the wrong side of what God might be doing…they never thought about testing what the disciples of Christ were actually saying against what Scripture attested to.

Chapter 6

The apostles and early church members were getting overrun with work, and some were being neglected, so 7 men were chosen to lead a special service effort – similar to what our church deacons do today.  One of the seven men was a man named Stephen.  Stephen was especially bold in his preaching and was a man “full of the Holy Spirit.” Because of this, the Pharisees brought him before the council under arrest.

Chapter 7

Stephen details the historical meta-narrative of Scripture leading up to Jesus Christ.  The end of his testimony concludes with a stinging rebuke against the Pharisees for putting the “Lord of Glory” to death.  This is one of the richest historical narratives in Acts.  The chapter ends with Stephen being stoned to death and Saul standing by approving of the execution.

Chapter 8

Saul ravages the church and drags many to jail. Meanwhile, Phillip is evangelizing from city to city and having great success.  Here we learn about a false convert named Simon, and the end of the chapter details how Phillip shared the gospel with an important officer from Ethiopia. So the gospel is now going to go south to Africa!

Chapter 9

Chapter 9 details the dramatic Damascus road conversion of Paul where he is struck blind from a light from heaven.  Later we learn that Paul immediately proclaims the name of Jesus and is baptized, and even has to escape from Damascus in a basket. After a period of about 3 years, Luke tells us that Paul went back to Jerusalem to meet up with the apostles.  Meanwhile, amazing miracles were still going on. Peter healed a blind man and even raised a lady, Dorcus, to life again.  Amazing stuff.

Chapter 10

Then Luke goes back to focusing on Peter and details how Peter was given a vision from God that related to the kinds of food that Jews were used to eating – specifically God was explaining the end of the ceremonial law to Peter. The famous line from this section is that “what God has made clean, do not call common.”  At the end of this important chapter, the Holy Spirit falls on the gentiles in an amazing show of grace from God to those outside of the physical Jewish heritage.

Chapter 11

Peter describes everything that happened in chapter ten to the Christians in Jerusalem, and Luke details how the church has been spreading abroad because of the persecution and martyrdom of Stephen.  Luke also tells us of a thriving early church in Antioch where the followers of Jesus were first called “Christians.”

Chapter 12

Then Luke turns to the dramatic rescue of Peter, and the death of James.  Peter was imprisoned and freed by an angel.  God is glorified by this amazing rescue, and counter to what most would think Peter would do after this, he obeys God and goes right back to the temple the next day and begins to preach the gospel. At the end of the chapter we learn of the death of Herod.  So time is moving right along here.

Chapter 13

A major shift occurs in chapter 13.  Luke is now going to focus mostly on the mission of Paul, who, along with Barnabas, is sent off on his first missionary journey by the Holy Spirit.  This chapter also details for us Paul’s first preaching in public, and like Stephen, he makes an appeal to history, and to Scripture and shares the gospel with boldness.

Chapter 14

Paul then moves on to Iconium and Lystra and ends up facing many hurdles – the end of the chapter concludes with Paul nearly dying by getting stoned by the people in Lystra! After that they returned to Antioch and shared about how God had opened a door to the gentile world for the gospel.

Chapter 15

This chapter is details the first ecumenical council in Jerusalem where the issue of the Judaizers needed to be dealt with – men who said that the gentile believers needed to adhere to the dietary restrictions of the OT and also be circumcised.  The council finds this to be incorrect, and sends a letter of clarification to the gentile churches.  Unfortunately the chapter also ends with a dispute between Barnabas and Paul, which leads them to separate and go different paths.

Chapter 16

In chapter 16 Timothy joins Paul and Paul receives the call to the people in Macedonia.  Whereupon he sails immediately to that region and begins to preach the gospel.  But they encounter resistance and are jailed.  During their stay in jail they began singing hymns and songs of praise to God and the entire jail is shaken by an earthquake that unleashes their bonds.  But they don’t leave, instead witnessing to the Jailer in charge of their protection.  This man is saved and the leaders of the city let them go (once they learn of Paul’s roman citizenship).

Chapter 17

Next Paul goes to Thessalonica and his teaching persuades some but other form a mob against them uttering the famous words, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.” They escape to Berea, and find a lot more willingness among these people to learn and seach out what the Scriptures have to say about the Christ. Then they go to Athens where Paul addresses the city in the Areopagus and gives his gospel message using the reasoning style and citations of the Greeks.

Chapter 18

Next Paul went to Corinth and where we meet Pricilla and Aquila who were Jews scattered by the Diaspora (the Jewish dispersion). The local Jews in Corinth were so reviling in their reception of Paul that he said “from now on I will go to the Gentiles”, signifying a significant shift in his strategy for sharing the gospel.  The local Jews are so violent that they bring Paul before the roman proconsul who dismisses their charges out of pettiness.  So Paul returns to Antioch and Luke concludes the chapter by introducing us to a man named Apollos who was a great speaker and a great witness for Christ.

Chapter 19

Paul then goes to Ephesus and finds disciples who have not yet received the Spirit, and Luke details yet another Pentecost for these god fearing men and women who received the Spirit and were believers. Luke also takes time to tell us of the amazing miracles that Paul was working – even allowing people to take his handkerchief to the sick to be cured.  The amazing chapter ends with Luke telling of a riot in Ephesus over the preaching of the gospel.  The entire town – led by the silversmiths who made gods for a living – was in an uproar and a mob formed to deal with these Christians.  Fortunately, the town leaders dismissed the gathering and no one was hurt ad Paul was able to leave in safety.

Chapter 20

Paul then leaves Ephesus for Macedonia again, but the Jews plot his demise, so he sailed to Troas and preached there for 7 days during which he raised a young man from the dead who had fallen out of a window during his preaching.  Then Luke tells us that Paul sent for the Ephesian church elders and had them meet him so he could give them some last instructions before he went down to Jerusalem again.

Chapter 21-22

Luke details Paul’s trip to Jerusalem and his meeting with James where he gave a report of all that had been accomplished among the gentiles.  Then Paul went to the temple but was mobbed and for his own safety was detained by the roman tribune who allowed him to give his defense to the people – which they rejected.  The Tribune wasn’t going to keep a roman citizen bound in detention so he called for the Jewish Sanhedrin council to meet and hear Paul’s matter from there.

Chapter 23

Paul gives his testimony before the Jewish council and because of their dissension the Romans keep him in custody for his own safety.  During this time some Jews hatch a plot to kill Paul but its found out and they end up moving him to the care and protection of Felix the Governor of the area until a safe court date can be set with Paul’s Jewish accusers coming before Felix as well.

Chapter 24

Paul’s accusers arrive and lay their case before Felix who Luke tells us has a “Rather accurate knowledge/understanding of the Way” – probably because his wife was Jewish – and so Felix put them off and said he’d decide the case later.  But eventually two years passed and he did nothing until Festus succeeded him.  Festus left Paul in prison for the meantime to do the Jews a political favor.

Chapter 25

In chapter 25 we see more court maneuvering by the Romans.  Now Paul is sent to Caesarea and appears before Festus and the Jewish leaders as well as before Agrippa the king and his wife Bernice. They heart initial statements and concluded that Paul couldn’t have done anything to deserve death.  But Paul had made an appeal to the Caesar – which he was lawfully allowed to do due to his Roman citizenship, so the leadership locally couldn’t simply dismiss him now.

Chapter 26

In chapter 26 Paul gives his defense and testimony before Agrippa and it’s an amazing recounting of what we heard about in Acts 9.  Paul’s testimony is so powerful that Agrippa asked Paul if “in such a short time” he would have him become a Christian.  Paul’s answer is great: “And Paul said, ‘Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.’” At the end of the defense all the authorities agreed that Paul seemed innocent enough to them, but they were forced to send him to Rome.

Chapter 27-28

So Paul is put with a bunch of other prisoners and sets sail for Rome.  In the middle of the trip they encounter a storm at sea and are shipwrecked but swim to safety on the Island of Malta where Paul is bitten by a snake with no affect on him, and then goes on to heal many of sickness and disease.

After three months of sailing and being shipwrecked, they finally arrive in Rome where Paul is greeted by other believers and placed under house arrest.  Paul preached the gospel to the Jewish leaders in Rome right after he arrived.  Luke ends the book by saying that “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.”