Revelation 7 and the 144,000

Revelation Chapter 7 (Interlude)

Introduction

I will borrow from several parts of Beale’s introduction because I have found it helpful for showing how chapter 6 and 7 tie together:

Revelation 7:1-8 explains how believers are sealed so that they can persevere through the first four tribulations (he is referring to the four horsemen) enumerated in chapter 6. The vision of 7:9-17 reveals the heavenly reward for those who do persevere. It amplifies the brief picture of the saints in 6:9-11, who have finally entered into God’s presence, after having successfully completed their course of suffering (see esp. 7:13-15). 7:9-17 also describes the kind of rest that the exalted saint were told to enjoy (6:11)…Saints who suffer in the tribulation are encouraged to persevere as they reflect on the divine protection they have through God’s sealing them and as they recall the promise of their future heavenly reward.

Therefore, the sealing of the saints explains further how Christ will “keep them from the hour of trial” which is “to test the earth-dwellers” who have persecuted them (cf. 6:10). All these connections concern matters that precede the final judgment and reward, so chapter 7 must function as an interlude or parenthesis in its placement after chapter 6. Yet the chapter also has a future aspect, especially toward the end (vv. 15-17). From this perspective the chapter is also an answer to the concluding question of 6:17, “who is able to stand”: before God and not suffer the wrath of the last judgment? This is the definite answer to 6:17 and the main point toward which the visionary narrative of 7:9ff drives.[i]

Hamilton rightly says that, “This chapter is important because we will see later in 9:4 that those who are sealed will not be harmed, and we see in 14:1-5 that this group stands with Jesus, redeemed, on Mount Zion. The fact that God seals his servants also informs the number of the beast in 13:16-18, which seems to be a satanic imitation of God’s sealing of his servants.”[ii]

7:1 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree.

There are obviously no “corners” to the earth – Columbus helped us figure that one out some time ago – and just as obvious is the fact that God knew it all along! But the meaning here is a simple literary device to mean that the reach of the power of the angels was worldwide.

What are they holding back? The “four winds”, which I tend to believe equate with the four horsemen from chapter 6. For in Zechariah 6 they are equated as the same thing:

And the angel answered and said to me, “These are going out to the four winds of heaven, after presenting themselves before the Lord of all the earth.[iii] (Zechariah 6:5)

Beale explains:

This identification becomes clearer from understanding that the sealing of believers in vv 3-8 explains how they can be protected spiritually from the woes of the four horsemen, which they must endure. Therefore, the identification of the winds with the horsemen means that the sealing of believers in vv 2-8 takes us back even before the time when the four horsemen of 6:1-8 are unleashed.[iv]

7:2-3 Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, [3] saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.”

The Seal and the Passover

The seal of God here is the mark of ownership and of protection that indicates that you are God’s own possession and that your salvation has been secured. A brilliant picture of this occurred prior to the Exodus when God instructed Moses to adorn the lentils of Jewish homes in Goshen with the blood of a lamb so that the Angel of Death would know to pass over those homes in the midst of a devastating night-time slaughter of the first born of all Egypt. That night, thousands of years prior to John’s vision, an entire generation was taken away by the Sovereign of all life.

And it is those plagues – the 10 plagues that wracked Egypt prior to the Exodus – that serve as one of the main OT backdrops of the first four seal judgments (the four horsemen), but especially come to mind in the Trumpet and Bowl judgments in the coming chapters. They are modeled after those plagues, and are meant to serve as a reminder of God’s power and sovereignty, as well as His plan for anti-typical fulfillment of a final exodus from sin, death, and a fallen world; He will lead His people to a new land.

Now, the seal is the opposite of the mark of the beast. The mark of the beast is just another way of saying you are a child of the enemy, as opposed to a child of God.

It is a harsh reality that we must come to grips with that all those who are not children of God are, in Biblical terms, categorized as children of Satan, because they are under His control. This reality goes back to Genesis 3:15 where the seed of the Woman was to battle it out with the seed of the Serpent. It didn’t take long before the first battle commenced – Able was the first physical casualty in a war that would stretch for thousands of years. Jesus taught this dichotomy clearly:

They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, [40] but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. [41] You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” [42] Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. [43] Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. [44] You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. [45] But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. [46] Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? [47] Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (John 8:39-47).

Paul emphasized this as well:

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

It is only through the grace of God that one is saved from the enemy camp. Indeed, Jesus came to make enemies His friends:

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. [10] For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life (Romans 5:9-10).

And this seal is that which indicates that we have been snatched from the enemy camp, and are in the army of God’s glorious elect. It is also an indication of protection from all the evil plagues I mentioned were about to befall mankind. Not protection from difficulty, or struggles in this life. The Israelites were spared death, but yet they endured many of the plagues the Egyptians endured, and then wandered in the wilderness and had a tough go of it for many years before being granted entrance into the Promised Land. So too are we protected ultimately.

Beale explains this well I think:

The nature of this protection is spiritual. This is apparent from the fact that believers and unbelievers suffer similar physical afflictions. But, whereas these trials purify God’s servants, they harden the ungodly in their response to God (so 9:19-21). The seal is closely related to the salvation of the people who bear it. This is evident from 14:1-4, where the group that has “written on their foreheads” the names of Christ and the Father (vs1) is also said to be redemptively “purchased.”[v]

Now, more poignantly, the seal is especially that which protects us from what Revelation refers to as “the second death.”

The sealing of the elect is the answer to the question posed in 6:17, “who is able to standin the great day of the Lord’s judgment. Well, the answer is that the elect are able to stand because God has sealed them. Tom Schreiner sums up nicely:

Those whose names are written in the book of life are enrolled because the Lamb has been slain on their behalf (Rev. 13:8; 21:27). The 144,000 are sealed (Rev. 7:1-8) only because they belong to the Lamb. His death is the source of their life. The sing a new song of salvation and have the name of the Father and the Lamb on their foreheads because they have been redeemed by the Lamb (Rev. 14:1-5).[vi]

A Reminder of the OT Imagery

In this way we can see the importance once again of knowing our Old Testament. I’ve said again and again in class how these OT images and stories would have been automatically conjured up in the minds of 1st century believers hearing John’s symbolic descriptions. Their minds would work with OT imagery the same way ours works when we hear the words “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” Immediately we think: Star Wars! And all the stories and characters flood to mind in milliseconds. The same is true for the original readers of John’s letter. Therefore, we much be extra studious to understand their minds, and seek to know the OT backdrop which colors the words of this book.

7:4-8 And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: [5] 12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad, [6] 12,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh, [7] 12,000 from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000 from the tribe of Levi, 12,000 from the tribe of Issachar, [8] 12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000 from the tribe of Joseph, 12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.

There are four general theories[vii] of who makes up this group of 144,000.

  1. The dispensational view, which takes it literally as 144,000 exact people, they see it as Jewish Christians coming out of the great tribulation. “This is based on the presupposition that John’s language is to be understood literally except where he states explicitly otherwise.”[viii] The issue is that hermeneutically their literalization of the number is incorrect – every number in Revelation is figurative, why would this be different? Also, their view that a rapture of Christians will take place prior to a period of tribulation is further error that compounds the mistake.
  2. Some classic pre-mills view this group as figurative, standing for the Jews who are partially hardened but will be come to faith en masse when Christ comes back (Romans 11:24-26). The issue with this is that the Romans 11 passage talks about salvation en masse, whereas this pass in Rev. 7 has in view a remnant of people. They seem to be conveying two different ideas.
  3. Some see the 144,000 as Jewish and Gentile Christians in the first century who will emerge from the horrors of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. My issue with this is that it doesn’t seem to accord with the context. If chapter 7 is an explanation of chapter 6:1-8, which I believe is evident, then one would have to say that the four horsemen were only corresponding to that destruction which took place in 70 A.D., with the following 5th seal emphasis on Christian martyrdom. However, I’m not sure that historically this has been the emphasis coming out of 70 AD (not that its not possible I suppose). It would either damage the recapitulation hermeneutic more generally, which we have seen manifold evidence for thus far, else it might suppose that all of the trumpets and bowls are referring to that time in 70AD, something that the global nature of their descriptions seem at odds with.  
  4. Lastly, there is the view that the number is figurative and that the group here is “the complete number of God’s people” (so Beale). I believe this is correct because every other number in Revelation is figurative, and because the context of the passage demands this conclusion.[ix]

I believe there is ample evidence to point to the fact that what is being represented here is not simply a special carve out of ethnic Jews, but a figurative description of the church across all time. While futurists believe that this group of people are Jewish believers coming out of a literal 7-year tribulation period after the rapture, not all premillennial futurists agree. Both Mounce and Ladd disagree, saying that the 144,000 is symbolic for the church in the tribulation.[x] That being said, I just don’t see these ideas as working very well, and believe Schreiner, Beale, and Hendriksen to be on the right track here. This is evidenced by the figurative nature of 144,000.

Beale explains the 144,000 number, and generally Hendriksen and others say the same thing:

144,000 is the result of the square of twelve multiplied by one thousand or the multiple of the squares of ten and twelve multiplied by ten. The use of twelve (and perhaps ten) heightens the figurative idea of completeness. The square of twelve may be merely the number of the tribes of Israel multiplied by itself or, more likely, the twelve tribes multiplied by the twelve apostles. Chapter 21 confirms this suggestion, where the names of the twelve tribes and of the twelve apostles form part of the figurative structure of the heavenly city of God, “the new Jerusalem.”[xi]

Hendriksen picks up on this citation of chapter 21 and says, “Entirely in harmony with this representation we read in Revelation 21 that the holy city Jerusalem has twelve gates and twelve foundations. On these twelve gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. On the twelve foundations were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (21:9-14). We also ready that the wall is 144 cubits in height (21:17).”[xii]

In other words, the number 144,000 is a number meant to represent something, not specifically count individuals. And that something it represents is “the sealed multitude of…the entire Church militant of the old and new dispensations.”[xiii]

Schreiner helpfully discusses the idea and provides a useful summary snapshot:

Some interpreters, of course, understand the 144,000 as literally referring to Israel. The arguments presented previously (cf. his NT theology chapter 17) suggest that John uses “Israel” symbolically to refer to the new people of God. The twelve tribes of Israel point now to a greater fulfillment: the church of Jesus Christ. The 144,000 is symbolic in that it is twelve squared and multiplied by one thousand. It represents, then, the totality of God’s people and the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham. It also represents God’s army in that it is comparable to the census of Israel s God’s army in the OT. God’s warriors are those who suffer for other sake of the Lamb. The church of Jesus Christ is, then, the true synagogue of God, the place where his people father together. The church does not cancel out ethnic Israel, for the names of the twelve tribes are on the gates of the heavenly city (Rev. 21:12). But the true Israel, composed of both Jews and Gentiles, finds its fulfillment in the church of Jesus Christ.[xiv]

Lost Identity

I sometimes feel obliged to spend more time refuting the dispensational viewpoint because of its odd predominance in our culture at this time in history. So I want to give one more angle on this group of 144,000 as food for thought.

One of the main difficulties with the dispensational viewpoint on this number representing Jewish Christians from literal tribes is that those tribes were completely obliterated during the Assyrian exile. Beale notes that there was still a possibility that some tribal identity existed in the first century A.D. (e.g. Acts 26:7), it seems that many Jews even at this time didn’t have a specific tribal identity. And while dispensationalists like Walvoord argue that God still knows who is from what tribe,[xv] even that argument has two issues

  1. Intermarriage: Of course God knows everything, but what is it that object of His knowledge? Are there some people who have somehow accidentally remained of purely Reuben, or Judah, or Benjamin blood? Assuming God knows the blood lineage of all mankind, it is still highly doubtful that given all the intermarriage in the last 2000+ years that there remain on earth now (or in the future) those who are purely of the blood of one or another of these tribes.
  2. Context: Beale says, “Even if it were viable (and my first point were null), it would have to remain speculation until more evidence from Revelation 7 or elsewhere in the book could be adduced to support it. Instead, the immediate and broad contexts point to a transferal of the tribal names to the church.”[xvi] That broader context could include the noted parallel of chapter 7 with 14:1-4. In those verses the 144,000 are said to be those who are “redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God” (14:4) – in my mind this draws from NT literature in which we are told the church (James 1:18 perhaps picking up on Jeremiah 2:2-3?) and Christ (1 Cor. 15:20; Col. 1:18) are the firstfruits of God (The church due to the nature of its unity with Christ – see Romans 6-8). That they are redeemed from mankind emphasizes again that they are a remnant, and that they are not simply from Israel, but more globally from “mankind.” We will discuss this more when we come to chapter 14.

An Odd List

Now there are some oddities with the tribal list. First, it is missing the tribe of Dan and also missing Ephraim. Futurists like Walvoord say that this is either because the antichrist will come from Dan, or because these tribes were guilty of idolatry.[xvii] But there is no such biblical evidence to support the former, and the latter could be said of all of the tribes!

Hendriksen says, “To say that the symbol ultimately indicates Israel according to the flesh is wrong. The apostle certainly knew that ten of the twelve tribes had disappeared in Assyria, at least to a great extent; while Judah and Benjamin had lost their national existence when Jerusalem fell, in AD 70. Besides, if Israel according to the flesh were meant, why should Ephraim and Dan be omitted? Surely not all the people in the tribe of Dan were lost.”[xviii]

Of course some of this doubles down on what I already mentioned before, but I believe it’s sometimes helpful to hear it from other sources and perspectives.

Another oddity is that Judah is listed first in the list. In my mind there could be some influence here from Genesis 49 where Jacob blessed his sons and predicted that from the tribe of Judah would come a king – that king, as we now know, was Jesus.[xix]

Hamilton sums up some of these oddities, “…in this list that John gives in Revelation 7:5-8, he leaves out Dan, lists Manasseh but not Ephraim, and lists both Joseph and Levi. So john has twelve tribes listed, but this list doesn’t match the way that the Old Testament generally listed the twelve tribes.”[xx]

Hamilton thinks that perhaps Walvoord is right in saying that the omission of Dan and Ephraim (which was the name also equated with the northern kingdom of Israel) might be due to idolatry. But it is hard to say for sure.

7:9-10 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, [10] and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Some objections are given by the dispensastionalists that these two groups can’t possibly be the same people. One group is described as coming from every tribe and nation and the other is described with a number and as Israelites. But the similarities outweigh the differences. The second group seems to have emerged from the tribulation because they were sealed (which was something mentioned of the first group). It also seems likely that, “on this understanding, just as John heard that Jesus was a Lion in 5:5 and then “saw” Jesus as a Lamb in 5:6, so also John “heard” the number 144,000 in 7:4 and then saw an innumerable multitude in 7:9.”[xxi]

Therefore, John looks and sees something that previously he only heard. If verses 4-8 are representative of the church from across all time, which I believe these are, then verse 9 is the visible representation of what John heard in verses 4-8. And what an amazing thing he saw!

John sees a vast multitude, a very diverse group of people. They seem to be people represented from all the nations of the earth. Their diversity transcends tongue and ethnicity, and their unity is found in that they all have white robes and palm branches in their hands, and they all cry out with a very loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

7:11-12 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, [12] saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

The angels, and elders and specifically the four living creatures all agree with the words of the church and say “Amen!”

One of the things that came to mind here was how in Isaiah 6 we are told that “one angel called to another”, that is to say that one of the Seraphim cried out in praise to God to another angel, and as if in agreement they all join together crying “holy, holy, holy” – the trisagion, He is three-times holy. And we see something similar here as well where all of God’s creation is joined together in one mind in praise to God. One group praises God, and the other seeks to echo their praise with praises of their own.

If worship is two parts: one presenting one’s body before the Lord (i.e. Romans 12:1-2), and the second presenting one’s praise before the Lord, then this group has both covered. They “fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God” – but it is not an empty worship of body alone. The body is only part of the worship…

Note now the content of what they are saying about God. They acknowledge these things about and to God:

Blessing – He is the origin of all blessing, for “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). Therefore it is right to bless God with our tongues for all He has given to us, and for who He is intrinsically, and that is just what they do here.

Glory – Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory we are told (Hebrews 1:1-3), but what is this glory? The glory of God is defined by John Piper as the visible and outward manifestation of His holiness – it is his holiness “gone public.” But what is being said here is that all glory, that is, all praise for goodness, is due to God. He is the only person who deserves “glory” or to be “glorified” in the truest sense of the word.

Wisdom – This is a more complex praise than it might seem at first. Wisdom is by definition a “right use of knowledge”, and we know that Christ was the very embodiment of wisdom, and that God is the keeper of all wisdom. If God was not wise, then all of His knowledge could be used to terribly ineffective or dangerous ends. But He is wise – Paul calls God the “only wise God” (Rom. 16:27) in a similar doxological moment. The idea is that the angels and elders acknowledge that to Him alone belongs wisdom. It is like saying, “God only you know all the ends from the beginning, and only you are the right governor of all history and creation, and we would never want it any other way.”

Thanksgiving – Because of these truths we are to be grateful to God for all He has seen fit to do for us. Psalm 118:1 says, “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!”

Honor – Honor is specifically a word that I think fits rightly with kingship. Honor is not simply thanksgiving, or gratitude, it is rather paying respect to one who is due respect. That respect is not due only for what that person does or did, but for who they are. On earth we have a tendency to somewhat begrudgingly honor our authorities because they are in a place above us; God has put them there, thus we honor them. But in heaven honor is due to God because of His own intrinsic person and His authority over all things.

Power/Might – I will treat these two together. Though Power might be thought of as an intrinsic quality, whereas “might” in the Bible (at least in my studies) brings to mind God’s power in action. It is by His “might” that the Israelites were led out of Egypt, and so forth. Often the two ideas are held together – as in Ephesians 6:10, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength (power) of his might” (insertion mine). I love this because the idea is that God’s power is always used toward the right ends. It is not man’s power, which is used often toward wrong ends. This power of God is ultimate, and it is used in righteousness.

These are the character qualities, the attributes, if you will, that are on the minds and lips of the angels and servants of God. They end the praise by acknowledging the everlasting nature of the kingdom of God and of His person: “be to our God forever and ever!”

7:13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” [14] I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

The Explanation of the 144,000

And as if you haven’t figured it out already, the question is asked in verse 13 in a manner that reminds me of a teacher looking to his pupil to make sure they are paying attention. “Who are these people, John? Have you figured it out yet?” John punts, and the explanation is forthcoming, they are the ones who have come out of the “great tribulation.” Furthermore, they have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

Note that they are coming out of the “great tribulation”, which is to say that they will persevere through all the plagues of the four horsemen who will tear the earth apart until the final judgment of God comes at the return of His Son.

This phrase “great tribulation” is one which the dispensationalists have taken to mean a literal 7 year period of tremendous strife and horror on the earth.

Jim Hamilton, has several pages of solid points refuting this incorrect idea. Let me now read you some of his best excerpts:

Dispensationalist interpreters understand “the great tribulation” to refer to Daniel’s seventieth week (cf. Daniel 9:24-27), the final sever years of human history. I have indicated (in the chapter on Revelation 6-16) that I think Daniel’s seventieth week is the whole period of time between the two comings of Christ. I think this because the New Testament indicates that with the resurrection of Jesus, the last days began.

So the age to come has been inaugurated. The final period of human history, Daniel’s seventieth week, is the whole period between the ascension and the return of Jesus.

This also means that the whole period of time between the ascension and return of Jesus is a period of “tribulation.” Jesus told his disciples in John 16:33, “In the world you will have “tribulation.” Paul told the churches in Acts 14:22, “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” In Revelation 1:9 John told the churches that he was their “brother and partner in the tribulation.” Jesus said to the church in Smyrna in 2:9, “I know your tribulation,” then told them in 2:10 that they would have tribulation for ten days.

So it seems that the whole period of church history, the time between Jesus’ ascension and return, is a period of tribulation…Right before the end, it does seem that there will be an intense period of persecution at the very end of history. But I think it is a mistake to expect a literal final seven years.

…I think it more likely that John means this as a description of all believers in Jesus. Thus, what John sees and recounts in Revelation is meant to encourage the churches to whom he writes. They are facing tribulation, and John tells them that God seals his servants to preserve them through the tribulation. God makes it so that though they are killed, they will overcome because they will not stop trusting Jesus.[xxii]

Now, the idea of something becoming white by spilling blood on it is nonsensical to the one who interprets these things literalistically. If we were literalists, we would have to say that this is a great mystery and there must be some kind of magic they are using to make their garments white – what are they using? What kind of blood is this anyway that the Lamb has? You may snicker, but you see the point of my hyperbole, do you not? We must interpret that which is metaphor in such a way as we are informed by the context. In the NT the blood of the lamb is said to cleanse us from our sins.

Elsewhere John writes:

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)

The author of Hebrews alludes to this same truth as well:

…how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:14)

Therefore we must trust that the blood of Christ is that which will cleanse us and shield us from all harm on this earth – it is the blood of His sacrifice which protects our salvation. There seems to be a strong parallel here with 6:9-11. The saints there not only are under the alter (perhaps a symbol of protection from the four horsemen), but they are given white robes (vs. 11) and told to rest a little while longer. So too those here in chapter seven who emerge from the tribulation are given white robes – their garb is the same because they are of the same group, the elect of God.

7:15-17 “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. [16] They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. [17] For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

This promises mirrors that which we find in the end of the book as well. It is a wonderful promise that for those who are God’s elect, He will shelter them and bring them to their final resting place, which will be in a land flows with “springs of living water.” Therefore for those who are parched, God will give ultimate satisfaction. What Jesus gives spiritually now in “living water” we will receive physically later.

Lastly, we are told that God will “wipe away every tear from their eyes.” This perhaps is the most wonderful verse in the entire chapter, because it 1. Acknowledges the tear-inducing struggle we face while we walk upon this earth, and 2. It showcases the tender mercy and love of God for His children.

The all-powerful God of heaven and earth understands your pain and struggle. In fact, He ordained these events in order that as you live through the plagues of the horsemen, you might be refined as gold, a choice stone in the city of God, the New Jerusalem. On that day He will heal your hurt and your scars, and mend all the pain that has caused tears to flow.

The Psalmist knew the truth that for those whose God is the Lord, they are ultimately protected from all the evil on this earth:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. [2] I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” [3] For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. [4] He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. [5] You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, [6] nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. [7] A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. [8] You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. [9] Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place— the Most High, who is my refuge— [10] no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. [11] For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. [12] On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. [13] You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot. [14] “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. [15] When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. [16] With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.” (Psalm 91)

Footnotes

[i] Beale’s longer commentary, Pg.’s 404-405.

[ii] Hamilton, Pg. 188. He’s really spot on here. And gives a great introduction, part of which includes a wonderful analysis of the main point of the chapter, which is that, “God is able to seal his servants and protect them from all danger, winning praise from them” (pg. 188).

[iii] There is also a background from Jeremiah 49:36 here. That verse says, “And I will bring upon Elam the four winds from the four quarters of heaven. And I will scatter them to all those winds, and there shall be no nation to which those driven out of Elam shall not come.” Beale comments in his footnotes on pg. 407 of his longer commentary, “Standing in the same tradition as Zechariah, and therefore possibly also behind Rev. 7:2-3, is Jer. 49:36, where ‘the four winds’ are divine agents of judgment against a nation.”

[iv] Beale, longer commentary, Pg. 406.

[v] Ibid. Pg. 409-410.

[vi] Tom Schreiner, NT Theology, Pg. 429.

[vii] Beale, longer commentary, Pg. 416.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] It might be noted that Beale offer’s Bauckham’s view as a 5th alternative, but I don’t see it generally as fitting that way, but rather as an enhanced understanding of point 4. Namely, Bauckham says that the 144,000 represent an army of God’s people. The tribal lists, and the census terminology seems to be taken from the OT, and the parallel with 14:1-4 where the 144,000 is spoken of in militaristic terms, seems to only solidify this impression. Far from a separate view, it is a view that supports the figurative number of 144,000 (something Beale himself sees), but adds a dimension of conquering in the same way that the Lamb conquered (cf . Beale pg. 423) by enduring the suffering of the four horsemen.

[x] Steve Gregg, Pg. 133.

[xi] Ibid. Pg.’s 416-417.

[xii] Hendriksen, Pg. 110-111.

[xiii] Ibid. Pg. 111.

[xiv] Tom Schreiner, NT Theology, Pg. 751.

[xv] See Beale Pg. 415 and Greg Pg. 133.

[xvi] Beale, longer commentary, Pg. 419.

[xvii] Steve Gregg’s Commentary, Pg. 133.

[xviii] Hendriksen, Pg. 111.

[xix] Beale rightly remarks, “The priority of Judah here emphasizes the precedence of the messianic king from the tribe of Judah and thus refers to a fulfillment of the prophecy in Gen. 49:8 that the eleven other tribes ‘will bow down to’ Judah.” Beale also says that Ezekiel 34:23-25 further develops this motif of Judah being the head of the tribes (pg. 417). Hendriksen also talks about the priority of Judah in his commentary (Pg. 111).

[xx] Hamilton, Pg. 190.

[xxi] Ibid., Pg. 192.

[xxii] Hamilton, Pg.’s 194-195. I still omitted many good things he had to say. He also talks about how the phrase “great tribulation” does not exclusively refer to a final period of difficulty and then quote Rev. 2:22 and discusses that a bit more.

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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

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

God on Trial Part 2

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

The Setting

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

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

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

Later in his first Epistle John would write:

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

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

The Question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Reply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Purpose for His Coming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh the Irony!

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

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

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

The Response of the Jews

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

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

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

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.

 

Pressing on To Maturity

For the last two weeks I’ve been preaching a message from Hebrews 5 and 6 to several different churches.  Below are my notes on this passage and I hope you enjoy them!  I would just add a disclaimer that they are my raw preaching notes.  So not every thought is written long-form, there are several footnotes with other thoughts at the bottom, and everything is in bullet form.  It this doesn’t turn you off, then I hope you are able to enjoy the study!

PJW

Press On Toward Maturity

Hebrews 5:8-6:3

Personal Note and Background

This series of verses has had an outsized impact on my own life and walk with the Lord. It was these verses that God used to spur me on to learn more, to read more, to draw closer to the Lord and to teach what I learn to others.  When I read this passage several years ago I thought  (rightly) that “I can’t teach anyone now”, but realized that my inability wasn’t God telling me not to teach, but rather it was Him calling me to learn and grow closer to Him in obedience in order to teach when the time presented itself.

The hallmark of this text is a warning to believers not to live their lives as introverted and covetous people.  We are to be people marked by inward heart transformation and a mind renewed in the knowledge of God, which we can readily share with others.

As Moses says, this Word of God is our “very life” – surely it is worthy of our attention today.

The Text: Hebrews 5:8-6:3

 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. [9] And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, [10] being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. [12] For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, [13] for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. [14] But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. 6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, [2] and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. [3] And this we will do if God permits.

I want us to focus on 3 Key Points we must take away from this passage, which we will see rise up again and again in our reading today:

  1. God’s desire and purpose for His image bearers is that we know Him. This call is especially so for believers who have been united to Christ
  2. Our growth in maturity is blocked not merely by intellectual issues, but by sin and love of the world, indicating a serious heart issue
  3. God calls us to press on toward maturity in the strength He has given: in prayerful reading and studying of His Word, asking for and depending on God’s help for our increased spiritual growth

The Biblical Theology

What the author of Hebrews says here, is not an isolated teaching, but reflects what we see throughout the Scriptures from the immutable plans of God for his image bearers, namely that God desires for us to know Him more intimately and to repent of the sin that hinders us from doing so:

And when Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, [46] he said to them, “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. [47] For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” (Deuteronomy 32:45-47 ESV)[i]

One generation shall commend your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,
and I will declare your greatness.
(Psalm 145:4-6 ESV)
 

“For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, [19] and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations. (Isaiah 66:18-19)

***Isaiah clearly has an eschatological purpose here, and I will talk later about how Paul sees God’s glory as currently mediated through the Bible (2 Cor. 3:18)

It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— (John 6:44-45)

***Jesus connects knowing God soteriologically and says it’s the results of His Spirit’s work within us

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

***The work of learning from God the Spirit ultimately brings Him glory, and is His plan for us

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, [10] so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, [11] filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)

From the law, wisdom literature, the prophets, our Lord Himself, as well as the Apostle Paul, there has been a call to deepen our knowledge of the Almighty, His ways and His Son, and to lean on His Spirit’s power in order to shine that light[ii] of knowledge to all nations[iii] as well as with our own families and friends.

The Situation/Context – 5:8-10

Now as we look again to the context of today’s passage, let’s once again examine verses 8-10.  The Author is expounding on some deep Christological truths – mostly pertaining to the Priesthood of Jesus – that required a foundational understanding already in place.  We just need to glean a few things to understand the context…

    1. That Jesus, though divine, was fully man and “learned” obedience – vs. 8
    2. That Jesus was perfectly righteous and that righteousness enabled him to be our source for righteousness and salvation – the very fountainhead from which we would derive our right standing before a holy God – vs. 9
    3. That these things contributed to the fact that Jesus is a priest, not an ordinary priest, but one “after the order of Melchizedek” which is an order both eternal and personal in type. There are many OT types but Melchizedek was the only type who represented not simply the offices of Christ (Messiah, King, Shepherd etc.), but also his person (eternal, and without father or mother).

–       Needless to say these great truths – these are deep truths – and they aren’t going to make a whole lot of sense to someone still stuck on the basics.  One cannot understand or appreciate the need for Christ’s imputed righteousness, the importance of His being fully man, the significance of Christ’s non-Levitical (and eternal) priesthood, or the typological significance of this enigmatic character Melchizedek if one is still learning the basic truths upon which these are built.[iv]

And so he stops and levels this charge against them (read verses 11-12) 

CHARGE #1 – Dull of Hearing – 5:11-12

–       As we read in verses 11 and 12 its almost as if the author stops mid course as he extolls the virtues of these great truths pertaining to Christ, and has to stop and say, ‘you know, I’d go on here, but its obvious that you aren’t ready for it – even though I have “much to say” still!’   He’s stymied by the stagnation of these church members.

–       They ought to be teachers but instead they need someone to still teach them the basics. They come to church every week and never apply their minds past the elementary truths.  They have regressed.[v] They have become “dull of hearing.” (nōthros – “no-thross” – slow, sluggish[vi], indolent, dull, languid)

–       This is not saying they ought all to be teachers in the sense we have today as one called to preach, but rather they must be able to convey their beliefs to others – this is at the heart of “making disciples” (Matt. 28).

–       John Owen rightly explains that this charge against them isn’t aimed at their being slow mentally, or having a learning disability.  His charge is a moral charge “you treasure not them up in your hearts, consciences, and memories, but let them slip out, and forget them” says Owen.  He continues “The natural dullness of our minds in receiving spiritual things, is, it may be, included; but it is our depraved affections, casting us on a neglect of our duty, that is condemned.”

–       Therefore the principle problem here is not primarily an intellectual one, nor is it a communication problem on the part of the Apostle, rather it is primarily a problem within the hearts of these Hebrews, and within our own hearts as well.

–       “By nature the hearts of all people are dull and insensitive to the things of God, nor are people genuinely interesting in hearing and seeing what God has to say to them (Matt. 13:15). Mark emphasizes that the same malady afflicts the disciples.  They suffered from hard hearts that resisted the revelation of God in Jesus (Mark 6:52; 8:17, 21). They failed to grasp the significance of Jesus’ teaching, and their failure cannot be attributed merely to intellectual incapacity.” – Thomas Schreiner[vii]

–       In short, the sins of pride, covetousness and possibly laziness are to blame.  We love the world more than we love God.  We love Monday night football more than we love reading the Scripture. We love our hobbies more than our conversations with the Lord.  And where we spend our time and money is an accurate reflection of where our affections truly lie.

–       Matthew Henry says, “It is a sin and shame for persons that are men for their age and standing in the church to be children and babes in understanding”

–       This is why James rightly says, “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:21 ESV)

–       We must also not misunderstand and think that the “elementary truths” are not precious, that is not what the author is stating.[viii]

–       The basics of the gospel are the foundation for understanding greater mysteries appertaining to the gospel, and to what the author is getting at here, namely the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in this context, His priesthood.

–       Thus to be “DULL OF HEARING” is to have hearts loaded down with other matters – worldly matters, and minds that are clouded with other priorities. These are sins that block the blood flow and clot the arteries of our faith, causing our thirst for the knowledge of God to dry up.

–       We need hearts whose desires are to follow hard after Christ, not spend endless years on spiritual life support!

And why is this?  Because you are “unskilled in the word of righteousness”

CHARGE #2 – Unskilled in the Word of Righteousness – 5:13-14a

–       Philip Hughes writes, “The author is now seeking, as it were, to wean them from the debility of the milk-stage, into which they have sunk back, and bring them on to the solid diet of the doctrine of the high priesthood of Christ, who, as their Melchizedeck, is the King of Righteousness (7:1).”

–       When the author describes the “mature” the Greek word is teleios (tel-ay-oss), which has the idea of something brought to its end, completeness, it is perfect, it is fully grown, it is consummated.

–       The immature are “unskilled” in the word of righteousness.  They don’t know how to handle their Bible, and consequently they are not living a life in accordance with God’s will – they aren’t pressing on toward “completeness” (Phil. 3:12)[ix]

–       This admonition comes in the context of learning, therefore the call is for God’s children to have discernment about sound teaching and a developed taste for the sweetness of God’s Word.

o   Children have a taste for simple foods, simple drinks, and simple deserts.  Adults, however, desire couscous, cappuccino, and Crème Brulee – not peanut butter, apple juice, and popsicles.

–       NOW there are consequences to being “unskilled” in the Word of God. When you are lazy in your learning, you hurt the body of Christ and cause other people (and yourself) pain in at least two ways:

1. You use the Sword of the Word in an unwieldy way and lead others astray, therefore causing great pain and spreading sour milk (to use the author’s dairy term) around the church.

2. You are completely impotent as a comforter to those who are hurting, in need of wisdom, or exhortation.  This means you cannot effectively correct and guide your children, encourage your wife, lead others in a Bible study, or share with those in pain. You’ve essentially benched yourself

–       The “mature” have a right knowledge of God resulting in the ability to discern between good and evil in all things. This “discerning” is shorthand for living in such a way that reflects God’s work within you – it means loving others and God, and is the result of a renewed mind and transformed heart.

–       Being able to discern between good and evil, then, is the fruit of a life transformed by God.  It is the evidence of faith, and the outward reality of a changed heart within us.[x]   And it is God’s prerogative to use the instrument of His Word and Spirit to do this.

But how is that achieved? How is it said that we obtain this discernment?

The Remedy: Discernment Attained by “Constant Practice” – 5:14b

–       Here we learn how this discernment is achieved: by constant practice.  This means, no doubt, that we must be continually abiding in the Word of God if we’re to grow closer to God, and live out lives transformed by God’s Spirit.

–       We would do well to examine what Paul says about the nature of “renewing our minds” and the close connection between being “renewed” and the ability to “discern the will of God.”

o   “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

–       Therefore, the discerning Christian/growing Christian is marked by time in Scripture and prayer. We must immerse ourselves in Scripture Reading, Scripture Memorization, Scripture meditation, and prayer.[xi]  We must inculcate His truths into our minds and lives.

–       This means a real application of our time, energy, and even finances to learning the deep things of God. [xii]

–       Let me suggest then that you do a few practical things:

o   Read the Word Daily: spend time taking in several chapters of the word each day.  This is more than simply one or two verses.

o   Memorize Scripture:[xiii] Chuck Swindoll says, “I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking, than memorizing Scripture. . . . No other single exercise pays greater spiritual dividends! Your prayer life will be strengthened. Your witnessing will be sharper and much more effective. Your attitudes and outlook will begin to change. Your mind will become alert and observant. Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced. Your faith will be solidified”

o   Extended Times of Prayer: Praying for 30-60 min. greatly increases our love of time with the Lord and grows us in unexpected ways.

o   Read Good Christian Authors: Many of us spend our time reading all fiction, or all one field or another.  We need to be diverse in our reading, but first and foremost we need to read good Christian authors (I’m not talking TD Jakes or Joel Olsteen), slowly working our way up to deeper more mature reading.  Start with the modern day Christian classics: Packer’s ‘Knowing God’, Sproul’s ‘Holiness of God’, Piper’s ‘Desiring God’, Lewis’ ‘Mere Christianity’, and Schaeffer’s ‘True Spirituality’.

–       Furthermore, it is the universal witness of Scripture that calls attention to ITSELF as the instrument by which God changes us and blesses us with a closer knowledge of Him: Consider just a few examples…

o   David begins the Psalms with this important exhortation, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; [2] but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. [3] He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” (Psalm 1:1-3)

o   And Paul writes in 2 Corinthians the following, “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.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

–       We behold that “glory” today by reading the Word of God.  The glory of God is mediated through the written Word of God and effectively applied to our hearts by the Spirit of God. This is what transforms us by “constant practice.”

–       Matthew Henry rightly states, “The word of God is food and nourishment to the life of grace: As new born babes desire the sincere milk of the word that you may grow thereby.

–       And yet again, we must read as much with our hearts as with our minds, applying both to the task.  As C.H. Spurgeon says:

o   “If you had a New Testament in Greek it would be very Greek to some of you, but it would do you as much good to look at that as it does to look at the English New Testament unless you read with understanding heart.”[xiv]

And so now you see the thrust of what we’re getting at here.  We have a heart problem when it comes to learning about God and it is only through the implanted Word and by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are changed and transformed. And that leads the Apostle to his final exhortation…

The Exhortation – 6:1-2

–       “Leave” here does not mean “forsake”, for the author clarifies by stating “not laying again a foundation”, in other words you need to start building on the foundation.

–       Imagine a home where the builders laid the foundation, got the plumbing and electrical set in, built the cement blocks structure and decided to take a break…for a few years!  The structure is exposed to the elements until the rest of the house can be built upon it. Rain hits it. Snow sits upon it in winter…and the heat of the sun bakes it in the summer.  Left as it is, water creeps into crevices and freezes, thereby expanding and cracking the cement blocks. The process repeats itself over and over, until finally decay starts to take place.  So the construction crew has to come and rebuild the foundation again.  What the author of Hebrews is saying is that these men and women in the church had let that foundation rot and deteriorate over and over and over.  They just kept on rebuilding!  The outline was already in place; they’d done it before.  No problem, just replace those blocks!  We need to build upon the foundation, not become so complacent in our learning that that we’re stuck in a perpetual process of groundbreaking!!!

–       This is not to say that we don’t cherish the foundation, of course. For we continually point people to the foundation points of the gospel – and we too need to be continually reminded about them and revel in their glories![xv]  However, we build upon this foundation in order to plumb the deeper mysteries and glories of Christ.[xvi] 

–       At the heart of the Spirit’s work within us is His desire for us to know Christ more. Not to move on from the Gospel, but to better understand and appreciate the profundity of it glory.

–       We are called to “go on toward maturity”, to bring to fullness that which God has started within us.  We do not do this in our flesh, but in cooperation with His Holy Spirit who applies the Word we read to our hearts (which I will mention more in just a minute)

–       Therefore we must be continually putting ourselves in a position to learn more, to hear the Word more, to pray more.  These are the meat and potatoes of the Christian life!  It is in these things that “solid food” is apprehended and consumed.

Finally, the Apostle does not stop with this exhortation, but goes on to deliver a comforting reminder (read verse 3)

 

The Reminder: God is Sovereign – 6:3

–       Along with the exhortation, the author delivers an indicative statement about the character of God.  You see, God never gives commands (imperatives) without first laying the foundation for the ability to obey those commands.  This ability, this foundation, is always grounded in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the power of God the Spirit working within us.

–       Verse 3 reminds us that all we do, all we strive for, is done by both the permission and the power of God.  He is the one who is cleansing our hearts and renewing our minds and He will give us the faith to press on, and the discernment to do His will. For as Paul says:

o   “Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. [2] For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. [3] For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” (1 Thessalonians 4:1-3a)

–       Furthermore, we can rest in the fact that it is God – the all powerful – who is working within us.  Yet we are exhorted to obey, and held responsible as new creations to work toward holiness.  For as Paul says elsewhere:

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

–       Therefore we note once again that God desires for us to know Him.  And it is His working in and through us that will help us do so.  Yet we as Christians are responsible to seek His face, to confess our sins, to pray and ask the Lord to change the desires of our hearts and conform our will to His in order that we might be able to discern what is right and that from a changed heart and a renewed mind, we will please and honor Him.

 

Conclusion

And so in all of this we again see the three things I mentioned above:

  1. God’s desire and purpose for His image bearers is that we know Him. This call is especially so for believers who have been united to Christ
  2. Our growth in maturity is blocked not merely by intellectual issues, but by sin and love of the world, indicating a serious heart issue
  3. God calls us to press on toward maturity in the strength He has given: in prayerful reading and studying of His Word, asking for and depending on God’s help for our increased spiritual growth

My message today has been mostly aimed at those who profess the lordship of Jesus Christ and are followers and believers in His name.  However, if you have been listening to this message and feel a stirring in your heart to know God, then I would implore you to seek Him while He may be found.  Act on that conviction and surrender your heart to His call.  We are all sinners, we have all acted against the law of God which has been emblazoned on our consciences.  We know right from wrong, yet we have spurned the Lord and Creator of all that is right.  All men will one day give account for their behavior during this life.  Only in repentance and faith in Jesus are you able to be saved from the consequences of your sin.  Jesus not only promises (and delivers) forgiveness, He promises and gives a healed heart and transformed life to those who call on Him and believe in His name.  You must trust yourself, your heart and your soul and your entire life to His command.  If you have come to a point where you realize the condemning nature of your sin, and the need for salvation, then I urge you to surrender and be forgiven and receive eternal life in the name of Jesus.

For those of you who have heard this message and are followers of Christ, I urge you to take this calling seriously and work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Realize that God is calling you not to a life of intellectual boredom, but to a renewed mind and transformed heart — a mind which sees terrors as joys and trials as blessings.  A mind and heart that look through the gray havens of today to the eternal riches of His presence in heaven.

We can do this, as Christians, by prayerful meditation on the Word of God.  By asking God to change our hearts’ desires to match that of His Son’s.  By continual “hearing of the Word” and submitting your lives joyfully to its teaching.  This will bring you both peace and joy and give you great strength when all else seems to fail.

None of this can be done alone, can it?  That is why we have the fellowship of the church.  And so I admonish you to stir up one another toward good works, toward meditation on the word, toward times of prayer together, and apart.  That you will together as a congregation seek the face of the Lord with all diligence.

We will do this with His great help, and with David we say:

Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! [9] Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! [10] Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice! [11] Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually! [12] Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles and the judgments he uttered, [13] O offspring of Israel his servant, children of Jacob, his chosen ones! (1 Chronicles 16:8-13) 

 

[i] This is also seen in Exodus 33:11, 17 and 18.  Moses is talking to God and God says, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name” (vs. 17). This follows close on the heels of verse 11 which stated, “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend…” So what we see is that God has initiated a personal relationship with Moses (keep in mind this is in the Old Testament, for those of you who think God has somehow changed and is more loving and personal now because of Jesus).  Moses’ reaction is what our reaction ought to be when God changed our heart, “Please show me your glory” (vs. 18b).  Moses’ reaction is “I want to know you more!”  That is the proper reaction toward a God who has entered into a personal relationship with us!

[ii] (Is. 49:6, 60:3)

[iii] Matthew 5:16; Acts 13:47

[iv] Owen is right to cite 1 Corinthians 2 which says, “It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—[46] not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.” (John 6:45-46).  Paul then goes on to say, “ [10] these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:10)

[v] Hughes makes a wonderful point that the fact that they have “become” dull of hearing means that at one point they were not dull, they have regressed.  Therefore it is not a mental, or intellectual issue he’s dealing with, nor is it a communication problem with what the author is saying to them, rather it is a problem of the heart.

[vi] In the Reformation Study Bible R.C. Sproul says, “The Greek word translated “dull” reappears in 6:12 (translated as “sluggish”), suggesting that the danger of spiritual laziness is in view throughout this section.

[vii] This quote from Schreiner is from his New Testament Biblical Theology, Page 512.

[viii] These are foundational truths, as John MacArthur says, “the phrase is equivalent to the gospel of salvation by faith rather than works.

[ix] Again we see the call to Spiritual maturity, which is more than simply “intellectual sophistication” (Sproul). And while none of us will reach our “completeness” in this life, yet we agree with Paul who says, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Philippians 3:12)

[x] As Paul says, “the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (2 Cor. 2:15-16a)

[xi] I like what Tony Reinke says on reading through the Bible in a year, “Reading the Bible from cover to cover in 2013 is a noble goal. And it’s a goal that positions us well to commune with God. Keep communion as your aim, and remember the words of Scripture are there for us to know God’s heart, to commune with the Living Christ, and to respond appropriately to his beauty and to his voice.”  The thing this passage really stresses as a result of diving deep in the word of God is the ability to have discernment between what is good and what is bad (vs. 14).  But there are obviously many other benefits to spending time in God’s word, which flow from a renewed mind, and a transformed heart.  Here’s the link: http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/why-we-read-the-bible

[xii] I don’t know where to put this, or if it really even fits in, but there is such a stark contrast between our own affections and those of the angels in Zechariah 3.  Here we see that they are completely obsessed with adorning Joshua (the High Priest at the time) with the best robe etc. in order that God will be pleased.  Their minds are continually thinking “how can I please God in my actions?”  They are obsessed with that!  So also was the Apostle Paul.  When you take the entire corpus of his work, his writing, you’ll see a man so transfixed on Jesus that in order to summarize his entire mission to the Corinthians he says that he resolved to know nothing else but Christ and Him crucified.  Christ permeates Paul’s writing to such an extent that it would be impossible to read around it.  Paul’s entire lens of thinking was seen through the Lordship prism of Jesus.  Jesus was all to him.  So should it be with us – but this means we must have hearts that are desirous of this and not simply our own obsessions and hobbies.  Everything must play the servant to Christ. All desires and all hobbies, all people and all family must be His second fiddle.

[xiii] Dallas Willard, professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern California, wrote, “Bible memorization is absolutely fundamental to spiritual formation. If I had to choose between all the disciplines of the spiritual life, I would choose Bible memorization, because it is a fundamental way of filling our minds with what it needs. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth. That’s where you need it! How does it get in your mouth? Memorization” (“Spiritual Formation in Christ for the Whole Life and Whole Person” in Vocatio, Vol. 12, no. 2, Spring, 2001, p. 7). http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/why-memorize-scripture

[xiv] He says a ton of great things here.  Just a few sentences later Spurgeon goes on to say, “It is the spirit, the real inner meaning, that is sucked into the soul, by which we are blessed and sanctified. We become saturated with the Word of God, like Gideon’s fleece, which was wet with the dew of heaven; and this can only come to pass by our receiving it into our minds and hearts, accepting it as God’s truth, and so far understanding it as to delight in it. We must understand it, then, or else we have not read it aright.”   http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/1503.htm

[xv] Peter O’Brien says it well, “the author is not suggesting that they should leave behind the gospel for some form of deeper or fuller instructions for initiates. There is no proposal here that the listeners should abandon these basic truths. Indeed, the author reminds them of some of the essential elements of the foundation by immediately listing them. His point is that they are not to lay again the basis of elementary teaching, but to make progress by building on it. The solid food they need is a development of the themes of repentance and faith, resurrection from the dead and eternal judgment’, in the light of the author’s exposition of the high priesthood of Christ.”

[xvi] In the context of Hebrews 5 the call is to understand better the mystery of the priesthood of Christ.

Study Notes for June 16: John 17:24-26

Yesterday I taught on John 17 – we finished that chapter in class and the notes are below.  I hope you find them edifying.  I admit that they are not as “complete” as the lesson was in person, simply because many things were coming to mind during the lesson, and those are not added in here.  Still, there are some great thoughts from theologians and wonderful teaching from our Lord that we can glean from His High Priestly Prayer.

PJW

17:24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

Introduction to 24-26

This is the second part of this section of which I mentioned earlier that there are two main themes: unity and knowing God.  In these last few verses we’ll examine the latter of those two themes in some more depth.  But first let’s examine what Jesus says here in verse 24…

The Desire of Jesus

So often we talk about our desires and wanting them to match Jesus’ desires.  We want to have minds and hearts that are like His. And here we learn explicitly what some of those desires are.

And so the first really significant thing we learn from this passage is what the desires of Jesus actually are.

Jesus desires that 1. We be in heaven with Him when we die – “where I am” – and 2. That we see His glory in heaven. These really aren’t two separate items, I suppose, but one is the result of the other.  The reason Jesus wants us in heaven is so that we will see His glory.

Later John would go on to write this:

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)

D.A. Carson’s comments on this verse are helpful and I will quote them at length:

…they had not witnessed Jesus’ glory in its unveiled splendor. Christians from every generation glimpse something of Jesus’ glory even now (vs. 2 Cor. 3:18), but one day, when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 Jn. 3:2). The glory of Christ that his followers will see is his glory as God, the glory he enjoyed before his mission because of the Father’s love for him. The ultimate hope of Jesus’ followers thus turns on the Father’s love for the Son, as in 14:31 it turns on the love of the Son for the Father.  Presumably those who share, with the Son, the delight of being loved by the Father (vs. 23), share also in the glory to which the Son is restored in consequence of his triumphant death/exaltation.

This is just a great explanation.  So without rehashing what Carson says, let me approach the text from an existential/experiential perspective…

Have you ever considered that the purpose of heaven – of our going to heaven – is largely to see the glory of Jesus?  I confess that this isn’t the thing I normally think about when I contemplate heaven.  I normally think about peace and my own joy and happiness.  But what I came to realize that the two ideas aren’t incompatible.  My joy in heaven is really going to be a result of seeing and savoring (as Piper would put it) the glory of Jesus.

The implication of this is very much what Jesus prayed for in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy Kingdom come.”  We ought to also have this desire here during our time on earth.  If we are going to have great joy in heaven from beholding the glory of Jesus there, what is keeping us from doing so in a lesser, though still important, way here on earth?

I’ve argued in the past that we behold the glory of Jesus here on earth through the Word of God and that it is God the Holy Spirit who helps us see this glory and really appropriate it to our minds, hearts and lives in the here and now.

We could really plumb the depths of this for a long time, but for now let us just be content to think on these things and what their practical implications are for our lives here.

The Father’s Love of the Son

The second really big thing we notice about what Jesus says here is that the Father’s love for the Son is very great.  He loves the Son and gives Him glory.  In other words, all the goodness and greatness of Jesus is His because of His relation to the Father.  It is His connection to the Father that makes Him great and glorious.

Jesus, being the second member of the Trinity, is glorious and this glory is manifested most perfectly in heaven where He desires that we – His chosen people – will one day reside with Him.

There’s a lot of difficulty for our human minds here when it comes to the nature of the Trinity and why it is that Jesus is getting His glory from the Father.  I’ve mentioned this earlier in other passages, but we must affirm that Jesus is ontologically equal with the Father, yet in His role He is subordinate.  We must always make that careful distinction and not wander off into unfounded speculation. There are only so many truths we can know here on earth, and hopefully when we arrive in heaven we will have a greater grasp of who God is and how He is, and so forth.

Because He Prayed

This could easily be missed, but at the core of this verse is the reality that Jesus is praying that we will be with Him in heaven.  This ought to give us great assurance that if we are His, if we are born again, we will surely be in heaven upon our death!

It is a popular verse to quote, but I think its worth of remembering here, that Jesus is the incarnate word of God and nothing He prays for is going to be left on the cutting room floor (so to speak):

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
(Is. 55:11)
 

What a great truth to read that Jesus is praying here for us to be with Him in heaven.  If He said it, surely it will come to pass.

17:25-26 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. [26] I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Leon Morris says, “The last two verses are something of a retrospect. They might, perhaps, be set off as a separate division of the prayer. There is no petition in them. Jesus is no longer praying for those who would believe through the apostolic witness. He is making statements about what he has done and the purpose of his doing it.”

The World Does Not Know You

Again I want to quote Morris, who is spot on in this passage, when he says, “It is probably significant that immediately after addressing God as righteous he proceeds to distinguish between ‘the world’ and his followers. It is because God is righteous that he treats both groups as he does.”

This is something we’ve looked at in the past, but John’s gospel is teaming with examples of how the world has rejected Jesus. There is a real dichotomy in John’s gospel between those who “know” God and those who do not.  In this gospel “knowing” is tantamount to “believing.”  The word “believe” is used 98 times (Schreiner)!

So here we see that the world does not know God in this intimate, believing, sort of way.  Obviously the world knows that there must be a God (so Romans 1), and that is why Paul can say that they are all without excuse.  But this kind of “knowing” is much more than simply the internal conscience that God has given every man that must acknowledge there is a creator.

Throughout the Gospel of John this concept of knowing God has been contrasted with those who do not know God. “Knowing” and “Believing” in John are really the same thing in many many instances.

Here are some examples of the contrast between those who know God and those who don’t and the call to believe and know God:

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, [13] who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (John 3:19)

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” [61] But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? [62] Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? [63] It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. [64] But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) [65] And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” [66] After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. (John 6:60-66)

But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. (John 8:55)

This concept is not limited to John’s gospel though; it is all over the New Testament.  One example that comes to mind is how Paul articulates this in 2 Corinthians:

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

Therefore, knowing God and believing in Jesus are very closely tied together in John’s gospel.  To know the heavenly Father is to first know His Son.  To place your faith in the name of Jesus is how we come into a relationship with God.

As a side note, we earlier learned about how the name of God sort of acts as short hand for summing up who He is, His attributes and character etc.  Well there’s an interesting connection here between the importance of the name of the Father, and how later in the NT the apostles call us to believe in the name of Jesus, and do wondrous things in His name.  The natural conclusion here is that Jesus is divine.  I just mention this because so many in our group are reading or studying other Gospels and we have just finished a study of Acts where this is so prominently seen.

Knowing in Order to be Filled with Love

There is a close relationship between “believing” and knowing God.  The connection is that the Spirit, who helped us believe in the first place, is now filling us with knowledge of who God is.

Tom Schreiner aptly sums up John’s close tie between soteriology (the study of salvation) and Christology (the study of Christ) in the following comment:

He is fully divine and equal with the Father, so that those who honor the Father must honor him as well. Prayers offered in his name (the name of Jesus) will be answered, and eternal life comes to those who believe in his name. The Son existed with the Father before the world began and shares his glory, and the disciples will enjoy the Son’s glory forever in the future. And yet the Son was sent to bring glory to the Father, while at the same time the Father glorifies the Son. The Son as the sent one acts in dependence upon and in submission to his Father and constantly does what is pleasing to the Father…Life in the age to come is the portion of human beings even now if they put their trust in Jesus as the Son of God and Messiah. His name saves because his name is exalted.

We already addressed that when Jesus speaks of the “name” of God, He is referring to the sum total of God’s attributes – his characteristics.  Now we hear Jesus end His prayer by asking that His followers be kept in God’s name in order “that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

This “love” is nothing short of the Holy Spirit’s filling us post-Pentecost.  Tom Schreiner says that “the Spirit has the unique ministry of filling believers with the Love of God.”

This is seen in Paul’s letter to the Romans as well:

…and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)

There is a progression here in Jesus’ prayer.  He prays that we would be kept in God’s name in order to have the love of God manifested in our hearts through a kind of unity with God.  This must have been pretty mysterious to the disciples at the time, but we know looking back that Jesus is saying that knowing God and being filled by the Spirit are all part of the same Christian experience.

We are born again, filled with the Spirit, and learn more and more about God.  We are unified with God through the filling of the Spirit, and the adoption into His household.

John Stott says this, “what the Holy Spirit does is to make us deeply and refreshingly aware that God loves us. It is very similar to Paul’s later statement that ‘the Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children’ (Romans 8:16). There is little if any appreciable difference between being assured of God’s fatherhood and of his love.”

Conclusion

This chapter is one of the neatest, most assuring sections of Scripture I have ever studied.  It is a source of great comfort, and also great insight. I hope that it serves you as a continual well of inspiration and comfort in the years to come.

Jesus Prays for Unity – John 17

Below are my notes on John 17:20-23, its really part 1 of a two part series on how Jesus wraps up his prayer to the Father.  I hope you enjoy!

PJW

17:20-23 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, [21] that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. [22] The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, [23] I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

Background on verses 20-23, and 24-26

In this section Lord turns his attention more generally to the universal church and all the elect whom He came to save. Of course many of the things He’s said up until this point could (and do in many ways) apply to believers who came after these 11 standing around Him, but now He makes this clear.

William Hendricksen puts it well:

…engraved upon the breastplate of the great Highpriest are the names not only of those chosen out of the tribes of Israel but also of those drawn from the world of heathendom.  In addition to the sheep that are led out of the fold of the Jews there are also “other sheep” (10:16). All must become one flock, with one shepherd (17:21).

Also, a note about verse 22 which states that Jesus has given the disciples “glory” – Carson rightly points out that this is likely addressed to not simply the 11, but to all the elect, the entire church, given the nature and context of where it is mentioned.  This is how Carson describes what this “glory” is, “Glory commonly refers to the manifestation of God’s character or person in a revelatory context; Jesus has mediated the glory of God, personally to his first followers and through them to those who believe on account of their message.”

A note about verse 23 which states “perfectly one” – this reminds me of the call to be holy just as Jesus is holy. He is calling us toward perfection and yet this is not something we achieve in this lifetime.  This perfection of unity with God is in one sense accomplished in fact at the cross, but the reality of this will not yet be realized fully until Jesus comes back.  In this way we ought to understand the call for holiness the same way we see Jesus petitioning the Father for perfect unity – eschatologically.  We need to see these things as a comfort that since Jesus has prayed for it, therefore it will happen. So there is still an element of “not yet” here.

The entire section is summed up well by D.A. Carson’s commentary on verse 23:

The unity of the disciples, as it approaches the perfection that is its goal, serves not only to convince many in the world that Christ is indeed the supreme locus of divine revelation as Christians claim (that you sent me), but that Christians themselves have been caught up into the love of the Father for the Son, secure and content and fulfilled because loved by the Almighty himself (cf. Eph. 3:17b-19), with the very same love he reserves for his Son. It is hard to imagine a more compelling evangelic appeal.

Two Main Themes

There are really two main themes in this section (verses 20-26), the first is unity of believers with God and with each other, and the second is the importance and prerequisite assumption that we know God.  This knowing of God is enunciated by our Lord in greater detail as He concludes the prayer in vs. 24-26; therefore let me first address this idea of unity.

Unity with God and Each Other

Jesus prays to the Father that “they also may be in us” and the goal is “that the world may believe that you sent me.”  In other words, it is unity with Christ and the outflowing of a changed heart and life (actions, words, deeds) that will testify to the world that Jesus has effectively joined us to Himself.

J.C. Ryle says, “The meaning of this sentence I take to be, ‘I pray that both these my disciples, and those who hereafter shall become my disciples, may all be of one mind, one doctrine, one opinion, one heart, and one practice, closely united and joined together , even as Thou, Father, and I are of one mind and one will, in consequence of that ineffable union whereby Thou art in Me and I in Thee.’”

What this means is that when you become a Christian you are going to change – it’s inevitable.  You will bear fruit, and you will begin to love God and others more and more until the day Christ returns, or you die and meet Him in heaven. These changes are occurring across the body of Christ, so that He is working universally to conform His bride to how she ought to be.  We who believe are all united in the fact especially that God is working within us and we are united by that Spirit who dwells within us.

And so we see that in the deepest prayer we have ever been privileged to encounter in Scripture, Jesus prays for fundamental things having to do with the Christian life: knowledge of God, and unity with God as His body/His church. The glory of this cannot be missed. How can it be that God of very God would be praying that we – human beings – be ushered into an intimate relationship with Him?   Yet that is exactly what we see here is it not?

If we look at the testimony of the rest of the NT authors it seems that they also saw the importance of unity with God and with others. Here are just a few references:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:28)

Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. (Phil. 2:2)

 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. (1 Cor. 1:10)

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. (1 Cor. 12:12)

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. (1 Peter 3:8)

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6)

This list could go on and on.  There were so many references that I couldn’t write them all down or go through each one, suffice it to say that in the NT unity of the body of Christ is very important.  This is something Christ petitioned the Father for, and something we ought to always keep in mind.

I think its important to note that Jesus’ prayer was/has been/is being realized, and this is happening is ways, but lets examine at least two key ways…

Christ achieved this unity at the cross and sealed it at the Resurrection

In Paul’s letter to the Romans we learn about what Christ achieved for us in terms of us being united to Christ:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:3-5)

So the reality of our unity with Christ has been realized, yet we await a day when Christ comes back and we see that reality, that unity with our eyes.  We live in what Tom Schreiner calls “the awkward era” of the already/not yet.  We are unified with Christ and have all those promises, yet we won’t realize all of them until the day He returns and consummates His kingdom.

We are unified through the Spirit

Another reason we have unity with God and with the body of the church is due to the fact that the Spirit has come and inaugurated this new age.  Have you ever thought of that?  It is the Spirit of God that birthed us into the kingdom, and brought us into the family of God.  We read about this in Romans 8:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. [15] For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” [16] The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, [17] and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:14-17)

John MacArthur notes that when Pentecost happened it was the beginning of Jesus’ prayer being realized.

We have to see then that unity with God is a priori and what flows from it is this like-mindedness with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We should be able to settle disputes, and live harmoniously with each other because we are united with Christ, because of His work, and because of His indwelling presence.

J.C. Ryle remarks, “The true secret of the unity of believers lies in the expression, ‘one in us.’ They can only be thoroughly ‘one’ by being joined at the same time to one Father and to one Savior. Then they will be one with on another.”

I mentioned this earlier, but there are sometimes when the already/not yet reality of this life really rises to the surface, and I believe that in the area of unity we see that clearly.  We are filled with the Spirit, yet the flesh still encroaches and keeps us from being in harmony and unity with others.  The same goes for our words and thoughts and actions – even though the Spirit of God dwells in us, yet we still behave as though we are our own gods and satisfy our own desires instead of looking to please God first.  This is the tension we live with and will continue to live with until our Lord returns.

Now, all of this unity is really important, but it cannot be understood apart from knowledge of God and His message.  D.A. Carson puts it so well that it is worth citing his words at length:

This is not simply a ‘unity of love’. It is a unity predicated on adherence to the revelation the Father mediated to the first disciples through his Son, the revelation they accepted (vs. 6, 8) and then passed on (‘those who will believe in me through their message’, vs. 20). It is analogous to the oneness Jesus enjoys with his Father, here fleshed out in the words just as you are in me and I am in you. The Father is actually in the Son, so much so that we can be told that it is the Father who is performing the Son’s works (14:10); yet the Son is in the Father, not only in dependence upon and obedience to him, but his agent in creation (1:2-3) and his wholly concurring Son in the redemption and preservation of those the Father has given him (6:37-40; 17:6, 19). The Father and the Son are distinguishable (the pre-incarnate Word is ‘with’ God, 1:1; the Son prays to his Father; the Father commissions and sends, while the Son obeys), yet they are one.

And therefore in order to be unified with Jesus and with the Father we must first “adhere” to their revelation, we must know God.  Indeed that is something we’ll discuss as we look at the next series of verses.  But first we need to examine one last glorious truth about what Jesus is saying here…

The Purpose of Unity

In verse 23 we read what Jesus has in mind for all this talk of unity – what His purpose is – and this is what He says, “so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”  This is certainly the thrust of John’s gospel is it not?  He wants people to know that God sent Jesus and that Jesus is the Lord of all, He is the Messiah.

There are two things Jesus is asking for here:

  1. That the world will know that He was sent from God
  2. That the world (and we) will know that God the Father loves us just as He loves the Son

Jesus is saying firstly that when the world sees us united to the Father and the Son through the Spirit they will know that something is different.  That something is a supernatural something is it not?  Jesus expects that this unity will have such an outward manifestation as to warrant the world coming to the conclusion that He (Jesus) was sent from God.  There are obviously several steps logically that people would have to go through in order to make that connection, but the fact remains that here Jesus foresees this, He wants this, He’s praying for this, and this is consequently what our lives are all about.

Jesus is praying that all who come to believe in Him will be united with Him and the Father in such an obvious way that people will look at this, will notice this and will say “those people have a special bond with the God of the universe and His Son whom He sent.”  They will know we are Christ followers and have to conclude that Jesus must have been sent from God because only a divine being could affect such a change in John Doe here!  There’s no other way they will be able to explain what they see and hear unless somehow these Jesus lovers are really connected to a higher power.  That’s the purpose of what Jesus is saying here.

Secondly, we have to note that one of the things the world will notice and we will cherish is that disciples of the Lord Jesus are loved by the Father – the creator of the universe, mind you – as He loves His Son.

Carson rightly says that, “the thought is breathtakingly extravagant.”  It is so amazing that its worth pondering and then realizing once again that this is like Jesus’ last will and testament here.  He’s about to die, and what does He pray for?  For us to have love poured upon us to such a degree that the world will have to conclude that we’ve been taken under the wing of God Himself and because we are united to Christ we are one with Him in receiving the love that the Father has shed abroad on the Son.

It is almost as if (in my mind) a see pitcher of water (the Father) pouring into the cup of the Son and this cup is connected to a wide saucer (the church) which is the beneficiary of the overflow from the pitcher.  We receive love certainly because God has set his particular affection upon us individually, but here we see a different picture of our reception of the love of God as a direct consequence to our connection to the Son.