Friday, December 21, 2012

The Identity of the “We” Who Speak and Testify in John 3:11

In John 3:11 Jesus is reported as saying to Nicodemus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have beheld, yet you do not receive our testimony.” The main question in this verse is: to whom do the pronouns we and our refer?

The options suggested are that the pronouns we and our refer either to Jesus and his disciples, to the Trinity, to Jesus via a plural of majesty, or to Jesus and the Old Testament prophets (including John the Baptist).

Out of all of these options, it makes more sense in the context to take the pronouns we and our as referring to Jesus and the Old Testament prophets. Jesus links the concepts of speaking and testifying with knowing and beholding or seeing. In Jewish thinking, it is supremely the prophets who pass on what has been revealed to them. The prophets were people who heard or saw the mysteries of God, and passed such truths on to God’s people. The fact that John the Baptist has previously appeared speaking and testifying (see John 1:6–9, 19, 29–33, especially 1:34) helps to confirm this linkage.

The pronoun you in the final clause of this verse is in the plural. This pronoun refers, therefore, not just to Nicodemus, but to the Jewish leadership viewed as a whole. Overall, the meaning of this verse is that the Jewish people viewed as a whole did not receive the testimony of the prophets. The rejection of the prophetic word by old covenant Israel was a problem that Israel had experienced throughout her history, but it reached its climax with the Jewish rejection of the testimony of Jesus the Messiah.

Monday, December 10, 2012

“The Wind Blows Where It Wills”: The Meaning of Jesus’ Teaching in John 3:8

What did Jesus mean when he said: “The wind blows where it wills. You hear its sound, but do not know where it is coming from and where it is going. Thus is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8)?

To understand the meaning of Jesus’ teaching in this verse, we need first of all to recognize that there is a play on the double sense of the noun πνεῦμα in this verse. πνεῦμα can be translated as wind or spirit. John is deliberately playing on the dual sense of πνεῦμα as wind or spirit, drawing an analogy between the wind and the Holy Spirit. Wind is considered in the Bible to be a phenomenon that, like the waves of the sea, is beyond the control of human beings (e.g., Job 38:24; Ps 107:25; Prov 30:4). Just as the wind blows wherever God wills, so also God’s Spirit blows wherever God wills. That is to say, God’s Spirit works in a sovereign way.

Just as people cannot see the wind but can hear the sound of the wind blowing, so also the Spirit of God cannot physically be seen with human eyes but we can perceive his effects on the objects which he touches. The concept of the sound of the wind as an image of the movement of the Spirit finds an echo in the events of the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, when the sound of a mighty rushing wind from heaven was heard as the Spirit came down upon the early church (Acts 2:2). The movement of God’s Spirit cannot be predicted or controlled by human beings, but we can perceive his effects as people’s lives are transformed by the power of God’s Spirit.

The point of Jesus’ analogy between the wind and the Spirit is stated in the final clause of the verse: “Thus is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” The point of the wind/spirit analogy is that the beneficiaries of rebirth by the Holy Spirit are not determined by human beings. In the context of the concern on the Gospel of John with the ethnically universal nature of salvation provided through Jesus, and given that Jesus was currently directing this teaching to Nicodemus, a representative of the teachers of Israel (John 3:9–10), the implication of Jesus’ analogy in this verse is that it is not right for Jews to think that the saving work of the Spirit is solely limited to Israel.

Although covenant membership is inherited according to physical descent—a principle which applies under the new covenant as well as the old (Acts 2:39; 1 Cor 7:14)—the work of the Spirit during the new covenant age exhibits a greater scope compared to the situation under the old covenant. Under the old covenant, the work of God’s Spirit was limited to operate primarily within the boundary of covenant membership in Israel. But under the new covenant, God’s Spirit operates not just within Israel, but extensively beyond the borders of Israel. Furthermore, even within the constraint of covenant membership, it is not the case that everyone in covenant with God is a recipient of the saving work of the Spirit. The determining factor for salvation under both the old and the new covenants is not formal covenant membership but whether or not a person has experienced the work of God’s Spirit writing God’s word upon one’s heart. Those who have God’s law written in the heart are those who are right with God and who therefore experience salvation (e.g., Ps 37:29; Isa 51:7; Rom 2:28–29).

Regeneration by the Spirit, therefore, remains a sovereign act of God. God has mercy on whomever he wills, the implication being, that he has mercy on “everyone,” which is to say, on Gentile as well as Jew. This is the sense in which the Spirit blows where he wills.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Parable of the Sower and the Danger of Temporary Faith

Without denying the truth of the perseverance of the saints (i.e., that the elect will persevere in faith and definitely be saved), it is important for Christians to know that it is possible for faith to be temporary. This is a truth that Jesus taught in the parable of the sower in Matt 13:1–9, 18–23 (see also Mark 4:1–9, 13–20; Luke 8:4–8, 11–15).

A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Satan can snatch the word of God from people’s hearts before it has time to take root (Matt 13:4, 19).

Some seed fell on rocky places, where there was not much soil. The seed sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. The seed sown among the rocky soil symbolizes those who hear God’s word and who receive it joyfully, but when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away, because the word of God has not been received deeply into their hearts (Matt 13:5–6, 20–21).

Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. The seed sown among thorns symbolizes those who hear God’s word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth end up strangling the life out of them, making them unfruitful (Matt 13:7, 22).

But some seed fell on good soil, and it grew up to produce a crop, a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown (Matt 13:8).

Out of these four different types of soil, it was only the good soil that allowed the seed to produce a positive harvest. This represents the person who hears and understands the word of God (Matt 13:23).

In three out of the four soils mentioned by Jesus there was some kind of growth, some kind of response to God’s word. In three out of the four soils the seed germinated and was alive for a certain period of time. But only in one of these three situations was there enduring life and growth to maturity that resulted in the positive outcome of fruitfulness.

Because faith can be temporary, encouraging his disciples to persevere in the faith was an important part of Jesus’ ministry.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Understanding the Flesh versus Spirit Distinction in John 3:6

The content of John 3:6, where Jesus says “that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” is supposed to be understood in the context of Jesus explaining further to Nicodemus the concept of Spiritual rebirth, which Nicodemus had misunderstood as if Jesus were talking to him about a literal rebirth. Being born again physically will not help anyone. Even if being born again could literally happen, a person born again could live another lifetime, but in the end would still have to die, or else endure a cycle of multiple deaths and rebirths. The reality of the death of what is flesh is implied in Jesus’ statement that what is born of the flesh is flesh. Human beings born into the world have no hope of eternal life unless they have God’s Spirit in their hearts; and since the fall, ordinary human nature is devoid of God’s Spirit.

The important thing for true human existence, therefore, is whether or not a person “is spirit” in the sense of possessing the Spirit. The determining factor for salvation is having God’s Spirit, for “the Spirit gives life” (John 6:63; see also Ezek 37:14; 2 Cor 3:6). A person who is born physically will die, but one who is born of the Spirit is spirit in the sense that he or she cannot die (the second death), and so will live forever (John 1:13; Rom 8:6).

Therefore, the flesh versus spirit distinction in John 3:6 (as generally throughout Scripture where a flesh versus spirit framework is applied to human beings) is not to be understood in terms of Greek philosophical dualism, where flesh and spirit indicate the corporeal and incorporeal realms of existence respectively. The Bible can talk of human beings as being either spirits or spiritual wherever human nature is energised in a salvific way by God’s Spirit (e.g., 1 Cor 3:1; 15:44–45; see also Rom 8:9). The biblical presentation of flesh versus spirit can be summarized as follows:

human(ity) - God’s Spirit = flesh 

human + God’s Spirit = spirit

Jesus’ point is that regeneration by God’s Spirit is what transforms a person from flesh to spirit. God’s Spirit transforms a person destined to die into one who can live forever in the presence and blessing of God.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Meaning of the Phrase ‘Born of Water and Spirit’ in John 3:5

Jesus’ statement in John 3:5—“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God!”—is an amplification of Jesus’ prior statement to Nicodemus in 3:3 concerning the condition for seeing the kingdom of God. The equivalent of being born again or being born from above is literally being born of water and spirit. In the context of John 3:6, 8, where Jesus is arguably talking about the Holy Spirit, it makes sense to translate the phrase born of water and spirit (γεννηθῇ ἐξ ὕδατος καὶ πνεύματος) in John 3:5 as born of water and the Spirit, where Spirit indicates the Holy Spirit.

To be born of water and the Spirit means, therefore, to experience Spiritual regeneration, which ultimately is the work of God. This is the primary idea in John 3:5, but a question remains concerning to extent to which the term water in John 3:5 indicates water baptism. In regard to this issue, the structure of the phrase of water and spirit, where two co-ordinate nouns are governed by a single preposition (i.e., ἐξ), suggests a close connection between water and Spirit. Since Gentile converts to Judaism were considered to become like newborn children through proselyte baptism (which was performed in order to cleanse them from their Gentile impurity), it is quite likely that the word water would have conveyed the idea of baptism, or at least some kind of ceremonial washing, to a Jewish audience, including Nicodemus. Elsewhere in John’s writings where the concepts of spirit and water are placed in close proximity, namely, in 1 John 5:8, spirit refers to the Holy Spirit, and water to Jesus’ baptism.

Jesus’ mention of water and spirit is also to be understood (as it most likely would have been in a Jewish context) in the light of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the new covenant age. The Old Testament prophets foresaw a time when God would work through his Spirit to bring Israel back to himself in covenant obedience (see Deut 30:6; Jer 31:31–33; Ezek 36:24–27). In particular, Ezekiel 36:24–27 pictures the future work of the Spirit as being like water sprinkled upon Israel to cleanse her from her uncleanness. Therefore, understanding the phrase born of water and spirit in John 3:5, in conjunction with the idea of the kingdom of God, on Jesus’ lips, in a Jewish context, leads us to take the phrase born of water and spirit to be referring to conversion or baptism by the Holy Spirit.

But it should be noted at this point that baptism in the Holy Spirit was viewed by the early church as ordinarily taking place at the point of Christian (water) baptism (e.g., Acts 2:38; 1 Cor 12:13; Tit 3:5), following the model of Jesus’ baptism, in which there was a conjunction of water and the Spirit (Luke 3:21–22). Exceptions to the rule of the conjunction of water and the Holy Spirit in baptism only happened at special stages in God’s plan of salvation, such as at Pentecost (Acts 1:15), at the conversion of the Samaritans (Acts 8:14–18), and at the conversion of the first Gentiles (Acts 10:24–48), matching the pattern of the evangelistic mandate in Acts 1:8, where the gospel was to be preached in Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (i.e., to the Gentiles). Apart from these exceptions, at least as far as adult converts were concerned, baptism in water and baptism in the Spirit were considered in the early church as taking place together. This led to the view in the early church that the eschatological gift of the Spirit was received through faith at the time of conversion, i.e., at the point of Christian baptism.

It is most likely, therefore, that John’s audience, both Christian and non-Christian, would have understood the phrase of water and spirit in connection with Christian baptism, which marked the point of conversion to Christianity. Conversion to Christianity is the necessary condition for entering the kingdom of God, where entering the kingdom of God is itself a metaphor for coming into the possession of salvation, which involves having the right to live in the presence of God and to experience his blessing. All in all, the significance of Jesus’ teaching in John 3:5 is that Christian conversion, which formally takes place at Christian baptism, which marks the official reception of the eschatological gift of the Holy Spirit on the part of the baptizand, is necessary in order for individuals to experience salvation in the kingdom of God.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Born Again or Born from Above? The Concept of Spiritual Rebirth in John 3:3

When Nicodemus came by night to visit Jesus, he had only just offered his greetings to Jesus when Jesus spoke to him about the condition for salvation in the kingdom of God. Jesus said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). As a pious Jew, Nicodemus would have been greatly interested in this issue; but Jesus’ raising of this topic so early in his conversation with Nicodemus definitely highlights the importance of it in Jesus’ thinking.

Unpacking the meaning of Jesus’ statement, the expression truly, truly, I say to you occurs 25 times in John’s Gospel, where it usually introduces sayings of Jesus of particular significance. The use of this expression by Jesus also highlights the fact that Jesus has come into the world to speak the truth (e.g., John 8:40, 45–46; 14:6; 17:17; 18:37).

The word ἄνωθεν, which is often translated as again as in the phrase born again also means from above. In a Jewish context it would be most natural to take ἄνωθεν as being a Jewish circumlocution for from heaven or ultimately from God. It is clear from Nicodemus’s response in John 3:4, however, that ἄνωθεν could also mean again, and this is primarily how Nicodemus understood it. As far as Jesus’ use of ἄνωθεν is concerned, it is likely that Jesus used the word in John 3:3 with deliberate ambiguity but at the same time with the sense of from above primarily in mind. This is apparent from the substitution of the expression by water and spirit for ἄνωθεν in Jesus’ explication of his statement in John 3:3 in John 3:5. The concept of being born again in a spiritual sense should have been familiar to Nicodemus as a reference to conversion, given that Jewish rabbis spoke about Gentile conversion to Judaism as the beginning of a new life.

The expression to see the kingdom of God simply means to experience, to be a part of, the kingdom of God. It is a synonymous concept with entering the kingdom of God (see John 3:5). New birth, a spiritual rebirth engineered from above, is the condition of salvation. This teaching could have been rather controversial for Nicodemus, had he understood Jesus’ intended meaning, because the implication of Jesus’ teaching was that more is needed for the Jews to be right with God than adherence to the law of Moses. A new birth, connected with faith in Jesus, is what is needed in order to experience salvation in the kingdom of God.

In terms of the wider context of the Jewish-Christian polemics relevant to John’s readership—where Christian Jews were facing opposition from many non-Christian Jews—Jesus’ teaching would clearly have been quite controversial. In effect, Jesus was stating that Jews need to be converted out of Judaism (symbolized in its purest form in Jesus’ day by Pharisaism, of which Nicodemus was an adherent) to Christianity, which was distinguished from traditional Judaism by the belief that Jesus is the Messiah.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Meaning of Jesus Not Entrusting Himself in John 2:24

Most English translations of John 2:24 do not make much sense to the average reader. Many Jews, who saw the miracles that Jesus had been performing, “believed in his name”; but Jesus either “did not commit himself” (KJV), “did not trust himself” (ASV), “did not entrust himself” (ESV), or “would not entrust himself” (NIV) to these new believers. But what does it mean that Jesus did not commit or entrust himself to others?

It is good that many people believed in Jesus as a result of the miraculous signs that he had performed. Christians know that “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10), yet Jesus in John 2:24 does not seem to have responded to the conversion of a large number of people with a great deal of enthusiasm.

The key to making sense of Jesus’ response here is to note that the word translated as commit or entrust in John 2:24 is from the Greek verb πιστεύω, the same word that is often translated as believe. In fact, the verb πιστεύω occurs in the previous verse: “many believed [ἐπίστευσαν] in his name.” The repetition of πιστεύω in adjacent verses suggests that there is a kind of play on the word πιστεύω at this point. Many believed in Jesus, but Jesus did not believe in them! These people claimed to be followers of Jesus, but Jesus was not confident in them, and could not confide himself in them.

But why did Jesus not believe in these new converts? A large number of people being converted and coming to faith is surely a time for celebration … but only if such faith is a true faith that endures to the end. Jesus knew, however, that he would end up being rejected by the majority of the Jewish people of his day. He was cognizant of the fact that many of the people who believed in him at the start of his public ministry would end up abandoning him. Jesus knew the fickleness of people’s faith in him.

Further explanation is given in John 2:25. Jesus did not need anyone to tell him what human beings are like, because he himself knows what we are like on the inside. Jesus was well aware of the weakness of human nature, and just how fickle human commitment can be. Jesus knew that in the end he would be rejected by the majority of the Jewish nation, just as God had been rejected by the majority of Israel during the time of the Old Testament, and just as God had been rejected by Adam and the human race more generally throughout the centuries beforehand.

The Jewish rejection of the Messiah is a one of the key themes of John’s Gospel. Many Jews believed in Jesus, but only for a time. Jesus had crowds of people following him around the countryside. This reached fever pitch particularly after the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. Free food! Exciting preacher! Who wouldn’t want to be one of his disciples?

But when Jesus started teaching the people things that they could not readily accept, or when opposition or persecution arose, many of these believers ended up abandoning him (see John 6:60, 66). We are also told in John’s Gospel that there were many in the Jewish leadership at the time who also believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but sadly they were not prepared to confess this belief out of fear of being ostracized from Jewish society (John 12:42).

The Christian confession of faith that “Jesus is the Christ” is a necessary cause for celebration, but true Christian faith is more than just a momentary conversion experience. The question is how genuine such faith is, and whether or not it will endure till the end.

You say that you believe in Jesus, but does Jesus believe in you?

.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

What Does It Mean to Believe in Jesus’ Name?

The expression to believe in [Jesus’] name occurs five times in the New Testament, all in the Johannine literature. The expression πιστεύω εἰς τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ to believe in his name occurs in John 1:12; 2:23; πιστεύω τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ ’Iησοῦ Xριστοῦ to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ in 1 John 3:23; πιστεύω εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ to believe in the name of the Son of God in 1 John 5:13; and πιστεύω εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ μονογενοῦς υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ to believe in the name of the unique Son of God in John 3:18. But what does it mean to believe in Jesus’ name?

When John advocates believing in the name of Jesus, it is handy to substitute the word title for name. To believe in Jesus’ name is to acknowledge Jesus’ title, to acknowledge who Jesus really is, and in particular, to acknowledge who Jesus claimed to be, i.e., to accept the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the anointed one, the Son of God, the divinely-chosen divine King of salvation.

For John, Jesus’ name or title is twofold. Firstly, Jesus is the Christ; and secondly, Jesus is the Son of God (see John 20:31). These terms are virtual synonyms in John’s usage, although the term the Son of God also implies (for John) that Jesus is divine. This twofold understanding of Jesus’ name can be seen from the terms used by John in connection with the idea of Jesus’ name. In John 1:12, believing in Jesus’ name is paralleled with receiving him. In John 2:23, many people believe in Jesus’ name after seeing the many signs that Jesus performed. The signs presumably convinced them that Jesus was the Christ. In 1 John 3:23, the terms Christ and [God’s] Son are used. In John 3:18 and 1 John 5:13, the term the Son of God is used.

Thus, to believe in Jesus’ name is to confess that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Son of God.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Jesus Is the Eschatological Temple

Jesus’ response in John 2:19 to the Jewish religious authorities who challenged him after he had cleared the temple continues the theme in John 1–2 of Jesus being the eschatological temple. Jesus’ clearing of the temple was a provocative act that challenged the authority of the temple authorities. They responded by asking Jesus on what authority he had been acting in the way that he had: “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” (John 2:18).

Jesus answered his opponents by pointing to his resurrection: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). Jesus’ sign was the sign of the destruction of “this temple” and the rebuilding of it in the space of three days.

The narrator explains in John 2:21 that the phrase this temple was used by Jesus to refer to the “temple” of his body. But at the time, with Jesus still situated in the Jewish temple precincts, Jesus’ words were deliberately ambiguous. John 2:22 indicates that the true meaning of Jesus’ words at this point only became clear with hindsight after the resurrection.

At the time, however, Jesus’ opponents did not understand that Jesus was referring to the “temple” of his own body. Given this lack of insight, it is understandable that the authorities incredulously said to him: “This temple was built over forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?” (John 2:20). Jesus’ opponents naturally thought that he had been talking about the physical temple. Starting around the year 20–19 B.C., it had taken Herod 46 years to renovate the temple. But Jesus had in mind the destruction of the temple of his body, and its rebuilding in the space of three days. This would be the sign of his authority to reform the worship of God as part of his ministry.

So Jesus was pointing to his resurrection as being proof (yet in the future) of his authority. But at the same time, by picturing his body in the figure of a temple, Jesus was hinting at the fact that he himself is the fulfillment of the temple theme of the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, the physical temple was a key symbol of God’s presence with his people. God had fellowship with his people at the temple. It was there at the temple that the people’s sins could be forgiven, and the way opened up for them to come into the presence of God. But because of Israel’s disobedience, the first temple (the temple of Solomon) was destroyed. After the Babylonian exile, the temple was rebuilt, but the glory of God never returned to the temple. The second temple was like a shell, waiting for the return of God’s glory. It is significant, therefore, that John’s Gospel portrays Jesus as being the revelation of God’s glory to Israel (see John 1:14). The coming of Jesus constitutes the return of God’s glory to the temple. In addition, the fact that Jesus could talk about his resurrection in terms of the rebuilding of “this temple” suggests that Jesus viewed himself as being the ultimate fulfillment of the Old Testament theme of temple.

John’s Gospel forcefully states the claim that Jesus of Nazareth is the eschatological temple. The building of the eschatological temple of Ezek 40–48, which is a metaphorical picture of the eternal state, would be achieved through the resurrection of Jesus. This is consistent with the view of the Apostle Paul that (through his resurrection) Jesus was the cornerstone of the “holy temple in the Lord … the dwelling place of God in the Spirit,” of which the saints form the ediface, built “upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph 2:20–22). Jesus’ death on the cross represents the destruction of the old symbolic temple, and his resurrection to life represents the creation of the new, true temple. In the light of this temple-building function of resurrection, it makes sense that Jesus would drive people out of the old temple as a sign that, through his death and resurrection, a new temple was about to be built in order to bring about spiritual reformation for the sake of the establishment of the proper worship of God.

The Gospel of John presents Jesus as being the ultimate fulfillment of the Old Testament tabernacle/temple theme. Jesus is the eschatological temple through whom full atonement is made for human sin, allowing humanity (as they follow Jesus) to enter into the presence of God and live.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Jesus: Stairway to Heaven; House of God

Jesus’ words to Nathanael in John 1:51 build on the temple theme introduced in John 1:14 (see “The Significance of the Incarnate Logos Dwelling among Us in John 1:14” and “Beholding the Glory of the Son in John 1:14”). In John 1:51, Jesus is recorded as saying to Nathanael, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Read in the light of Jesus’ words to Nathanael in John 1:50, the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man is one of the “greater things” that Jesus’ disciples would see.

Although Jesus’ comment in John 1:51 is recorded by the narrator as being directed to Nathaniel, the pronoun you is in the plural. This comment of Jesus, therefore, also applied to the other disciples of Jesus.

The idea of the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man interacts with the description of the content of Jacob’s dream in Gen 28:12. In his dream, Jacob saw a stairway joining earth and heaven; “and the angels of God ascending and descending upon it.” The language used by Jesus in John 1:51 in speaking of the angels ascending and descending follows the wording of the LXX very closely with the exception of syntactical changes made out of grammatical necessity. The LXX reads καὶ οἱ ἄγγελοι τοῦ θεοῦ ἀνέβαινον καὶ κατέβαινον ἐπ᾽ αὐτῆς and the angels of God were ascending and descending upon it, whereas Jesus mentions τοὺς ἀγγέλους τοῦ θεοῦ ἀναβαίνοντας καὶ καταβαίνοντας ἐπὶ τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.

The strong similarity of language at this point parallels it, i.e., the stairway, with the Son of Man. The implication of this parallelism is that Jesus is the climax (κλίμαξ stairway, ladder). Jesus is the one who links earth to heaven. Jesus has opened up the way into heaven, enabling human beings to come into the presence of God.

From a Hebrew perspective, the term the Son of Man emphasizes Jesus’ humanity; but at the same time, given the biblical use of the the term, it also speaks of Jesus’ importance. This is due to the fact that the term the Son of Man, as used by Jesus, was derived from the prophecy of Dan 7:13–14, where “one like a son of man [comes] to the Ancient of Days” to receive “dominion” over an everlasting kingdom. Jesus viewed himself as being the fulfillment of the prophecy regarding the exalted son of man of Dan 7. Putting the concepts of stairway and Son of Man together, the suggestion is that Jesus, who would later ascend into heaven to become the God-appointed King of the world, is the person who links earth to heaven.

A further detail from Gen 28 relevant to understanding the teaching of John 1:51 is Jacob’s naming of the place where he had been sleeping Bethel. The word Bethel means the house of God. Therefore, by identifying himself as the one upon whom the angels ascended and descended, Jesus was linking the name Bethel to himself. Jesus was effectively presenting himself as being the ultimate Bethel. This is consistent with the idea of the Logos tabernacling among us in John 1:14.

Therefore, according to John, Jesus is both the stairway to heaven and the house of God. Jesus is the true eschatological temple, the one through whom God and humanity are reconciled and have fellowship together.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Beholding the Glory of the Son in John 1:14

The third clause in John 1:14 (“and we have beheld his glory”) builds on the temple theme introduced in the second clause of the same verse (for a discussion of the temple theme in the second clause of John 1:14, see “The Significance of the Incarnate Logos Dwelling among Us in John 1:14”). The verb translated as beheld or saw usually implies looking attentively upon or gazing at something. The incarnate Logos was an awesome sight to behold. He was an object worthy of contemplation. The first disciples understood that the Logos incarnate is the ultimate revelation of God’s glory.

The noun δόξα, usually translated here as glory, typically denotes the splendor of a person’s external appearance; but John uses δόξα at this point to capture the majesty of Christ’s intrinsic divinity. The glory of the Logos incarnate is “the glory as of the only one from the Father.” The glory revealed in Jesus is the glory of the unique Son of God.

This mention of the concept of glory in the third clause immediately following the previous clause in which the idea of a tent or tabernacle has already been raised adds a further association in the verse with the theme of temple. In the Old Testament, God’s glory is closely associated with the idea of the tabernacle and the temple. The ideas of glory and tent coincide in Exod 40:34–35; Lev 9:23; Num 14:10; 16:19, 42; 20:6. God’s glory frequently settled over the tabernacle in order that the tabernacle might be filled with God’s glory. God’s glory among Israel symbolized God’s presence with his people.

After the temple was built by Solomon, the conceptual connection between tabernacle and glory naturally broadened to include the temple (see 1 Kgs 8:11; 2 Chr 5:14; 7:1–3). The Babylonian exile, however, represented a time when God’s protective glory withdrew from the temple. As the book of Ezekiel is concerned to show, the Babylonian destruction of the temple in Jerusalem presupposed that God’s glory had left the temple. This was primarily as a result of the rampant idolatry that took place in Israel. This point is argued strongly in Ezek 8, which functions as an awful case study into Israel’s idolatry at the time. Indeed, in the book of Ezekiel, the glory of God is seen slowly withdrawing from the temple to take up position over the Mount of Olives (see Ezek 9:3; 10:4, 18–19; 11:22–23) until the time of judgment against Israel had been fulfilled. The book of Ezekiel pictures that the glory of God would eventually return to his people (Ezek 43:2, 4–5), and be revealed to the nations (Ezek 39:21).

In the light of these prophecies of Ezekiel, it is very significant that the Old Testament does not record that the glory of God returned to the second temple. The Old Testament closes with the people of God still waiting for the return of God’s glory to the temple (Hag 2:3, 7, 9; Zech 2:5).

The brief outline given above concerning the concept of glory in the Old Testament helps us to understand the point of John’s assertion in John 1:14 regarding the glory of the Logos. John was well aware of Ezekiel’s teaching concerning the eschatological return of God’s glory. John’s assertion is that, in the person of Jesus, the glory of God, which had withdrawn previously from idolatrous Israel, has now returned. In Jesus, God’s personal presence has returned to dwell majestically among his people.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Significance of the Incarnate Logos Dwelling among Us in John 1:14

John 1:14 is significant in containing the first note in a symphony of references in John’s Gospel to the temple theme. In the first two clauses in John 1:14, it is written that “the Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us.” Most modern translations talk about the Logos dwelling among us, but this reasonable idiomatic translation effectively masks for today’s reader the important allusion that John was making at this point. A literal translation of the second clause of John 1:14 would be: “and he pitched [his] tent among us.”

The word translated as dwelt or made a dwelling (ἐσκήνωσεν) is related to the word tent (σκηνή). A reader familiar with the original Greek would easily see this connection. Jesus set up tent among us! In addition, a reader familiar with the LXX translation of the Hebrew Bible would also see a clear connection between the verb ἐσκήνωσεν and the idea of the tabernacle, given that σκηνή was the usual word in the LXX for denoting the tabernacle. Thus it is also possible to translate the second clause of John 1:14 as: “and he tabernacled among us.”

The word tent or tabernacle conveys to minds familiar with the Hebrew Bible an idea rich in theological significance. The tabernacle was a portable temple. It was a sacred tent that could be packed up and carried around until the day when Israel had rest. When Israel achieved rest, then the portable temple would become permanent, i.e., the tabernacle would become a temple (Deut 12:10–11). The tabernacle/temple was the supreme symbol of God’s presence among his people. The tabernacle/temple was considered to be God’s dwelling place among Israel. This is clear from the Hebrew word underlying σκηνή in the LXX, namely, משכן, which is based on the Hebrew root שכן, which conveys the idea of dwelling.

By saying that the Logos had tabernacled among us, John was clearly asserting the idea (controversial in its day) that Jesus is the ultimate temple, which is the same as saying that Jesus is the supreme instance of God dwelling among us. Jesus is the Emmanuel, the with-us-God. The tabernacle/temple was the place where human beings could obtain the forgiveness of their sins in order that they might then be able to enter into the presence of God, and experience blessing in his presence. Therefore, by saying that the incarnate Logos had dwelt among us, John was claiming that Jesus is the new and ultimate temple, the locus of divine forgiveness and fellowship.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Why Did Jesus Clear the Temple? The Second Reason: Zeal for God

The second reason given in John’s Gospel to explain the extreme action of Jesus in clearing the temple is given in John 2:17 (for a discussion about the first reason , see “Why Did Jesus Clear the Temple? The First Reason: Commercialization of the Temple”). After reflection on the significance of this event, presumably after Jesus had been resurrected, “[Jesus’] disciples remembered that it was written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me’” (John 2:17). The disciples came to understand that Jesus’ action in clearing the temple was not a case of Jesus losing his temper. Jesus was angry, but it was not an unjustified anger. Jesus cleared the temple because of his zeal for his Father’s house.

The statement “zeal for your house will consume me” is a quotation from Ps 69:9 [69:10 MT]. Psalm 69 is a prayer of salvation offered to God by a righteous sufferer. In the context of Ps 69, the word translated as consumed (אכלתני from the root אכל eat) has negative connotations. The second half of Ps 69:9, which is not quoted in John’s Gospel, confirms this: “zeal for your house has consumed me; the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen upon me.” In Ps 69:9, the idea of being consumed is paralleled with being reproached. This connection between zeal and reproach in Ps 69 links zeal for God together with opposition. When people stand up for God, they will experience some from of opposition.

The classic case of zeal for God leading to opposition is seen in Jesus himself. Because of Jesus’ zeal for the proper worship of God, he suffered opposition. Jesus’ zeal for God meant that his words and actions challenged the status quo. Driving people out of the temple and overturning tables was a challenge to Jewish society in general, and in particular to the Jewish authorities. As a result of his zeal for God, Jesus ended up being “consumed,” that is, destroyed.

Jesus’ zeal for God ultimately led to the cross. This was where Jesus was “consumed.” Jesus was prepared to challenge the way in which the people of his day were treating God; but he suffered opposition, and died on the cross, as a result of his zeal. This is why, when quoting Ps 69:9, the author of John’s Gospel changed the sense of the original wording has consumed—the Hebrew perfect conjugation in אכלתני is effectively equivalent to a past tense—to will consume—καταφάγεται is the future tense of κατεσθίω eat up, devour, consume. This change suggests that John and the other disciples understood that the ultimate fulfillment of Ps 69:9 took place in the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus’ zeal for God ultimately led to his consumption on the cross. But the immediate significance of the content of John 2:17 is to explain that Jesus’ zeal for God was one of the key reasons that led Jesus to clear the temple.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Why Did Jesus Clear the Temple? The First Reason: Commercialization of the Temple

Perhaps the most controversial act performed by Jesus during his earthly ministry was the clearing of the temple. This event is recorded in John’s Gospel in John 2:13–22.

John 2:13 records how Jesus traveled from Galilee to Judea to attend the Passover in Jerusalem. The Passover is the major religious feast in the Jewish calendar. It celebrates the Exodus, when God saved Israel out of Egypt, and in particular, the way in which the angel of destruction passed over the people of Israel, sparing them, during the plague against the firstborn (see Exod 12:1–30). All Jews who were physically able would endeavor to travel to Jerusalem to attend the feast each year, and it was common for Galileans Jews to travel to Jerusalem for this purpose. Following this custom, Jesus also traveled to Jerusalem, despite knowing that Judea was the heartland of Jewish opposition to his ministry.

But when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, he saw that things in the temple were not as they should be. “He found in the temple those who were selling cattle and sheep and doves, and the money changers sitting” down doing business (John 2:14). Jerusalem and especially the temple precincts were a hive of activity during Passover. The cattle, sheep, and doves were actually required for the people’s sacrifices in the temple; and the job of the money changers was to change any unclean foreign or Galilean coins into clean Jewish currency that could be used in the temple. So the animal sellers and money changers were in some sense providing necessary services, but Jesus saw a significant problem in what was happening.

John records that Jesus made “a whip out of cords,” and “cast everything out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle; and he poured out the money of the money changers and overturned their tables” (John 2:15). This was a controlled yet violent action on the part of Jesus. What would cause the normally gentle Jesus to react in this extreme way? The text supplies two reasons to explain Jesus’ action. These reasons are found in vv. 16–17.

The first reason concerns the purpose of the temple and the proper worship of God. By driving out the animals, and overturning the tables of the money changers, Jesus was clearly indicating that there was something wrong with this type of activity. Jesus briefly expressed his opinion through his words to those who were selling the doves: “Take these things from here! Don’t make my Father’s house a market!” (John 2:16).

According to Jesus, the people had turned the temple into a marketplace. The temple was supposed to be a place where God was worshiped. But the people had turned the proper worship of God into an opportunity for economic gain. For Israel, the worship of God was centered on the temple; but this worship had lost its focus on God, and had become a means for making money instead. Jesus’ words indicate that the worship of God in the temple at Jerusalem had become corrupted through commercialism.

Given that the temple imagery in the Bible finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus and the church (see John 1:14; 2:19–21; Eph 2:21–22; 1 Pet 2:5), it is interesting to ponder to what extent Christians today could be accused of turning Jesus and his church into an opportunity for making money. To come to Jesus and his church for primarily selfish gain (whatever form that may take) rather than primarily to worship God is to abuse the Father’s house.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Confession of Faith of a True Israelite

Nathanael functions in the narrative of John 1 as an example of a true, new covenant Israelite. Nathanael was surprised that Jesus could speak about him as if knowing him, without having met him previously. In response to Nathanel’s question “from where do you know me?” Jesus answered Nathanael: “Before Philip called you, while you were under the fig tree, I saw you” (John 1:48).

The detail about seeing Nathanael “under the fig tree” is enigmatic until Jewish cultural presuppositions are brought into the interpretative process. Sitting under a fig tree was a common Jewish image of the ideal location for students studying torah. This metaphor was most likely derived from the Old Testament texts that use living under one’s fig tree, or eating from one’s own fig tree, as an image of a person or people experiencing God’s blessing and peace (see 1 Kgs 4:25; 2 Kgs 18:31; Isa 36:16). The concept of sitting under a fig tree here is also significant in light of the prophecies of Mic 4:4 and Zech 3:10, where peace in the new covenant age is pictured in terms of sitting under one’s vine and fig tree. By saying that he saw Nathanael sitting under the fig tree, Jesus was expressing that he knew that Nathanael was a keen student of torah. Studying torah is an important part of what it means to be a true Israelite, according to the Old Testament (see Exod 19:5–6; Deut 6:5–9, 25; Josh 1:8; Ps 1:1–3; Ezra 7:10). It was only through the study of torah that obedience to torah could be achieved.

Nathanael was impressed by Jesus’ supernatural knowledge of his character. This evidence of supernatural knowledge, along with Philip’s previous testimony about Jesus (see John 1:45), led Nathanael to faith in Jesus Christ. Nathanael’s confession of faith is found in John 1:49: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.” This confession stands as the paradigmatic confession of a true Israelite. This confession acknowledges that Jesus is a rabbi, a teacher; but he is more than just that. Jesus is also “the Son of God, the king of Israel.” The terms the Son of God and the king of Israel stand in parallel, and are both Messianic designations (see Ps 2:6–7 in particular).

Jesus’ testimony about Nathanael in John 1:47–48 (for a discussion of the significance of Jesus’ testimony about Nathanael in John 1:47, see “Jesus’ Description of Nathanael as a True Israelite in John 1:47”), and Nathanael’s confession about Jesus, both function in the narrative of John’s Gospel to express the idea that true torah-keeping Israelites recognize that Jesus is the Messiah. This was a controversial idea in its day. The fundamental issue that existed between Judaism and Christianity in the first century was the issue of whether or not Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. This is still the fundamental difference between Judaism and Christianity today.

The character of Nathanael functions, therefore, in the Gospel of John to assert the Christian claim that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, and the idea that that all covenant-keeping Israelites in the new covenant age must necessarily acknowledge this fact. As the Apostle Paul has also argued, the true Jew is the one whose heart has been circumcised by the Holy Spirit (Rom 2:28–29), who does not stumble over the Messiah but “believes in him” (Rom 9:30–33), confessing that “Jesus is Lord” (Rom 10:9–13), which is the equivalent (in a Gentile context) of saying that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ (in a Jewish context). The character of Nathanael, and the content of his confession, therefore, exhibit a sharp polemical edge that is as relevant today as it was back in Jesus’ day.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Jesus’ Description of Nathanael as a True Israelite in John 1:47

Jesus’ interaction with Nathanael in John 1:47–50 is rather enigmatic until Jewish cultural and theological concerns are considered as part of the assumed knowledge relevant to the communicative context of this incident. In John 1:47, after Nathanael had been invited by Philip to go and see Jesus for himself, Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said about him, “Behold, truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”

Jesus seeing Nathanael coming and then speaking about him follows the pattern of John the Baptist in John 1:29, 36; and also Jesus himself previously in John 1:42. Seeing and saying are significant motifs in John 1 (see 1:18, 33, 34, 39, 46, 47, 48, 50, 51; and 1:15, 21, 22, 26, 29, 32, 36, 38, 39, 41, 43, 45, 46, 47, 48 respectively). This highlights the concern with testimony in John 1. People testify about Jesus’ Messianic status, and Jesus also testifies about true righteousness. That Jesus’ assessment of Nathanael commences with the word ἴδε (behold or look) recalls the use of the same word by John the Baptist in 1:29, 36.

Jesus’ testimony identifying Nathanael as being “truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit” is significant. According to Jesus, Nathanael is a true Israelite. In what sense he is a true Israelite is unpacked in the rest of John 1:47–49. The expression in whom there is no δόλος deceit is effectively a conceptual play on the name Jacob, which literally means heel grabber, meaning supplanter, usurper, hence deceiver. Indeed the word δόλος in used by Isaac in reference to Jacob’s deception when stealing Esau’s blessing in Gen 27:35 in the LXX, to which Esau replies, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob?” (Gen 27:36). The teaching in Ps 32:2, that the person whose sin is forgiven, and in whose spirit there is no deceit, is blessed (see also Ps 10:7; 24:4; 34:13; 35:20; 36:3; 52:2) is also relevant to Jesus’ description of Nathanael.

Putting all of this together, it is clear that, through the example of Nathanael, Jesus was testifying to the nature of true covenant righteousness now that the new covenant age had dawned. Nathanael stands as a righteous or covenant-keeping Israelite in contrast to the default situation in old covenant Israel, where the majority were covenant breakers. Jesus’ identification of Nathanael as being a true Israelite is highly significant, particularly in relation to Nathanael’s confession of faith in Jesus as the Messiah in John 1:49, and introduces what is a significant theme in the context of the Jewish argument of John’s Gospel, that the true (i.e., righteous) Jew will recognize and receive the Messiah when he comes (e.g., John 3:21; 10:3–4, 25–27), in accordance with the teaching of the law of Moses itself as per Deut 18:15–19 (see Acts 3:22–23; 7:37, 52–53). At the heart of the new covenant restoration of Israel stands the confession of faith that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Water into Wine: The Significance of the Sign in John 2:1–11

The turning of the water into wine is one of Jesus’ most famous miracles. The narrator of John’s Gospel calls this ἀρχὴν τῶν σημείων the first of the signs that Jesus performed during his public ministry (John 2:11; compare with John 20:30–31; 21:25). If this miracle is a sign, it is appropriate to ask what its significance is.

The detail that Jesus created the wine in six stone jars that were used for Jewish ceremonial washing is important (John 2:6). Each jar could hold about 75–115 liters, which means that together they could have held enough water to fill a Jewish ceremonial immersion pool. It can also be implied from Jesus’ instruction to the servants to fill the jars with water (see John 2:7) that these jars were originally empty or close to such. This is also an important detail.

Jesus filling the jars with water, and subsequently transforming this water into good-quality wine, points to the truth that Jesus is the full-fill-ment of Judaism. The empty state of the jars, and the fact that there were six jars, symbolizes the dryness, barrenness, and incompleteness of the old covenant age. The Old Testament was a time when the work of the Holy Spirit was limited. But Jesus has come to give the Spirit and life and joy in abundance; and as a result, the old covenant age of emptiness and thirst has been replaced by the new covenant age of abundance. This fulfills Yahweh’s promise in Isa 44:3: “I will pour out water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.” The time of the new covenant would be a time when the thirsty were invited to come and drink, to “buy wine and milk without money and without price” from the Davidic leader and commander of the peoples (Isa 55:1–4). John’s Gospel presents Jesus of Nazareth as being the fulfillment of this Old Testament hope, and the miracle at Cana points to the fact that Jesus has come to change old covenant curse into new covenant blessing (Ezek 34:26; Zech 8:13; Gal 3:13–14).

In addition, the fact that this miracle involved Jesus making wine signifies that Jesus has come in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies that describe the new covenant age in terms of an abundance of new wine. For example, in Isa 25:6 it is prophesied: “On this mountain [i.e., Jerusalem] Yahweh of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.” This divine provision of wine occurs as part of an eschatological feast, which is connected with the abolition of sadness and death on a universal scale: “And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord Yahweh will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth” (Isa 25:7–8). The Old Testament often associates divine blessing with an abundance of wine (see Deut 33:28; Jer 31:11–12; Joel 2:19–27; Zech 9:16–17).

On a deeper level, the sign performed by Jesus at Cana stands as a witness to God’s plan for the world. In terms of the bigger picture, world history involves a movement from curse to blessing, from sadness to joy, from death to life, corresponding in large part to the movement from the old covenant to the new, wherein God saves the best till last.

This idea about God saving the best till last is emphasized through the way in which the episode in John 2:1–11 finishes. When the servants took some of the water that had been turned into wine to the master of the banquet, the master of the banquet was amazed, not just at the quality of the wine, but also because of the late timing of its serving:

“When the master of the banquet tasted the water which had become wine and did not know where it was from … [he] called the bridegroom, and said to him, ‘Everyone sets the good wine first; and when they have had too much to drink, the inferior. But you have kept the good wine until now’” (John 2:10).

The master of the banquet was presumably unaware of the deeper significance of his statement, but it captures brilliantly God’s way of working in history, and that is exactly why it is recorded here in John’s Gospel. The statement of the master of the banquet that “you have kept the good wine until now” is statement about God’s way of acting in world history through Jesus. By entering the world in the person of Jesus near the end of world history, God has kept the good wine until the end. God has saved the best till last!

Understanding that God is saving the best till last affords us a profound insight into the purpose of the cosmos. God could have arranged for sin never to have entered our world, but he chose not to structure world history that way. God could have sent Jesus and unleashed the full power of his Spirit shortly after Adam and Eve had sinned, but he chose not to structure world history that way. Rather, God would take his time. This is consistent with the fact that God took six long days to create and order the world before it was “completed” and “very good” (Gen 1:31–2:1). The time frame of creation itself points to the idea that God’s plan for human history would get worked out over time. And as part of this process, God was saving the best till last.

But why would God act in this way? Why take his time? We can frequently become impatient with God and his timetable. At times we are unwilling to accept that suffering continues. We sometimes question God as to why he is not seemingly doing anything. Even Mary wanted Jesus to act before his time had come (John 2:3–4). But God is taking his time, and saving the best till last, because that is the process that is most conducive from God’s perspective for his overarching purpose of self-revelation. History is his story; and like with any story, it takes time to tell it. You cannot appreciate the ending of a story without knowing the preceding narrative. Our experience of the negative helps us to appreciate the positive. That is simply the way that God in his infinite wisdom has chosen to structure things.

God’s saving of the best till last is connected with the revelation of Jesus’ miraculous power and his divine glory (John 2:11). The miracle of turning the water into wine was “the beginning of [Jesus’] signs” because it signifies how the best has come with Jesus. This sign tells us that Jesus has come to complete God’s plan of salvation. Jesus is the one who changes emptiness into fullness, sadness into joy, and death into life. In this way, Jesus is the full-fill-ment of the Old Testament hope of life and salvation. In Jesus, the best has been saved till last, and has “now” been revealed.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Seven Day Structure of John 1:29–2:11

The four pericopes that make up John 1:29–2:11 have been given a particular setting in time by the author of John’s Gospel. The first three pericopes are each introduced by the phrase τῇ ἐπαύριον on the next day (John 1:29, 35, 43), and the final pericope is introduced with the words καὶ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ and on the third day (John 2:1). The presence of these adverbials of time forces the reader to question why they are present.

All in all, when taken sequentially, it seems like John 1:19–2:11 has been deliberately structured according to a seven day pattern:

Day 1  John 1:19–28
Day 2“on the next day”  John 1:29–34
Day 3“on the next day”John 1:35–42
Day 4“on the next day”John 1:43–51
Day 7“on the third day”John 2:1–11

Given the author’s obvious concern with Gen 1 in John 1:1–5 (as seen in the phrase in the beginning, which is a quotation of the first phrase of the Bible in Gen 1:1; and also in John’s concern with the concepts of creation, life, light, darkness, which are key themes in Gen 1), it makes sense to take the seven day structure of John 1:19–2:11 as presenting the first seven days of Jesus’ ministry after his baptism. If creation week back in the beginning involved a seven day time period, then the suggestion seems to be that Jesus’ ministry involves a kind of re-creation. This seven day sequence serves to remind the reader that, through Jesus, a new beginning has arrived for creation. Jesus’ entrance into the world is a new episode in which God’s creative and life-giving power, mediated through the Spirit, is going to be made manifest in the cosmos. The climax of this new creation week is Jesus’ first recorded miracle, the turning of the water into wine.

Concerning the final episode in this sequence, the phrase on the third day in John 2:1 is most likely meant to be taken as indicating that the miracle of turning the water into wine took place three days after the previous episode, i.e., on the seventh day. Given Jesus’ habit of performing miracles on the Sabbath (John 5:9; 9:14; see also Matt 12:9–13; Mark 3:1–5; Luke 6:6–10; 13:10–16), we are probably meant to understand that the day when this miracle took place was not just the seventh day of Jesus’ ministry after his baptism, but also literally the seventh day of the week, that is, the Sabbath. The fact that Jesus seems to have performed the sign of turning the water into wine on a Sabbath day helps in understanding the significance of this miracle and the seven day structure in John 1:19–2:11. Jesus has come to usher in the eternal Sabbath rest, which will be a time of joy and celebration amidst the fullness of God’s new covenant provision and blessing.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Eureka Theme of John 1

One of the interesting minor themes of John 1 is the eureka theme. The word eureka occurs in the English language as an exclamation that is used upon finding or discovering something important. It is a classic expression that is used, for example, when miners find gold. The word eureka is a transliteration of the Greek word εὕρηκα, which means I have found.

The word εὕρηκα does not occur in John 1, but on five occasions in two adjacent pericopes the verb εὑρίσκω find is employed. The relevant pericopes are John 1:35–42 and John 1:43–51.

It is recorded in John 1:41 that Andrew first finds (εὑρίσκει) his brother, Simon. He then told Simon, “We have found (εὑρήκαμεν) the Messiah.” John 1:35–42, therefore, contains a double eureka. Andrew found his brother, and then told him about what they had found regarding Jesus being the Messiah. When a person finds something precious or important, it is natural to want to share that news with others.

In John 1:43–51 we have a triple eureka. Jesus finds (εὑρίσκει) Philip, and asks him to follow him (John 1:43). Jesus’ mission on earth can be thought of as involving Jesus going out and finding disciples. Philip then finds (εὑρίσκει) Nathanael, and tells him, “We have found (εὑρήκαμεν) the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and the prophets, Jesus, the son of Joseph, from Nazareth” (John 1:46). Once again, having found Jesus, Jesus’ disciples go out to find others to share with them what they have found regarding Jesus Christ.

By way of summary, in the two pericopes of John 1:35–42 and John 1:43–51, εὑρίσκει he finds occurs three times (in vv. 41, 43, 45), and εὑρήκαμεν we have found twice (in vv. 41, 45). The effect of this is to create a finding or eureka theme. Jesus finds disciples; his disciples then find others, and tell them what they have found in Jesus.

From this it is possible to speak about a triple eureka purpose to life. Having been created to know God, our job is to find and to follow the Messiah, Jesus. Following Jesus then involves us finding others, and telling them what we have found regarding Jesus. If we have found Jesus, and if we are convinced that he is the God-appointed Savior of the world, then going out and telling others about this should be natural. Evangelism is not about bashing people over the head with the Christian religion; but as opportunity presents itself, it should be natural for Christians to share what they know about Jesus with others. Evangelism is not about selling an idea or a product. According to John 1, evangelism is sharing with others our eureka experience regarding the messianic status of Jesus of Nazareth.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Confession of John the Baptist in John 1:20

John 1:20 records John the Baptist’s testimony that he was not the Christ. To some readers, the narrator’s comment that John the Baptist “did not deny” that he was the Christ seems a little strange because saying or I am not Z sounds to us like a denial. The narrator of John’s Gospel at this point says that John the Baptist “confessed and did not deny, but confessed” that he was not the Christ. The narrator portrays John the Baptist’s statement in John 1:20—particularly through the repetition of the word ὡμολόγησεν he confessed—as being a confession rather than a denial.

In order to understand the way in which John the Baptist’s statement was a confession rather than a denial, it should be noted that the delegation that had been sent from Jerusalem to interrogate him (see John 1:19) did not ask John the Baptist if he was the Christ. Up till that point in time, all that they had asked him was: “Who are you?” (John 1:19). John the Baptist’s statement that he was not the Christ is called a confession instead of a denial because he came out immediately with the statement that he was not the Christ even though he had not been asked previously by the delegation if he was the Christ. John would have known that the Jewish leaders might have been wondering if he was claiming to be a messianic figure. Other historical persons had sought to pass themselves off previously as messianic figures (in order to gain a following); but John was keen for the Jewish leaders, and for people in general, to understand very clearly that he was not the Christ. So the first thing that John the Baptist said to the delegation was his (negative) confession: “I am not the Christ.”

This confession on the lips of John the Baptist develops one of the prominent themes of John 1, that John the Baptist is not the Christ but has come in order to testify about (i.e., to identify) the Christ (see John 1:7–8, 15, 29, 31, 33, 36).

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Divine Metaphor of the Logos in John 1:1, 14

The concept of the logos in John 1:1, 14 is a key idea for understanding the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. John’s depiction of the second person of the Trinity as the Logos is in reality a metaphor. But what is the deeper significance of this metaphor? In what sense is the second person of the Trinity the Logos, and what does this imply about God the Father?

Father, Son, Spirit, Word: all of these are metaphors. The description of the Trinity in the Bible is dominated by metaphor. When applied to God, metaphors operate by taking something in common human experience as a kind of analogy to describe a particular attribute or set of attributes in God.

The idea of the second person of the Trinity as the Logos or Word, in combination with the common biblical depiction of the third person of the Trinity as the Spirit or רוח, a word which also means breath, is particularly illuminating. In the field of phonetics, it is obvious that there is a close connection between the spoken word and breath. Speaking words involves the modification of the flow of air from the lungs through the vocal tract. This physical linkage in human speech between breath and word strongly suggests that the conceptual framework underlying the divine metaphors of Word and Spirit is that of human linguistics. This also suggests that God the Father in the context of this conceptual framework is analogous to the concept of mind or cognition. This is based on the idea that words reveal thoughts hidden in the mind.

The logos or word metaphor implies, therefore, that the relationship between God the Father and God the Son is like the relationship of the mind to its verbal expression. God the Father is like the mind or thought. A thought is hidden unless it reveals itself. How can I know what is in a person’s mind unless that person expresses his or her thoughts through some kind of communication? Given that the primary form of human communication is verbal, it is common human experience that we get to know a person and his or her thoughts through the words that that person speaks.

In saying “the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1), the author of John’s Gospel implies that the divine Father and Son are as close to each other as thought and word. The Father is the source of divine cognitive activity, and the Son is the expression of this divine activity. When it is understood that words reveal the person, it makes perfect sense for John to assert that the Word is God. The Son is the self-expression of the Father just as words give expression to one’s thoughts. The Son is simply the eternal self-expression of the Father. For this reason, the Logos is divine and can rightly be called God. The Son of God, in his capacity as the Word of God, is God as he reveals himself; and clearly God as he reveals himself is none other than … God! At its heart the concept of the Trinity makes sense. It is logical. God’s self-revelation is none other than God as he has chosen to reveal himself. Jesus, as the Word of God incarnate, is the Father’s self-revelation in human form. Being the Father’s self-revelation incarnate, Jesus is God. This is a key element of orthodox Christian faith.

The logos or word metaphor also implies that God the Father is unknowable unless he expresses himself. The Apostle Paul captures this thought by saying that “the Son is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). God the Father, God in his essential nature, is invisible and unknowable; but God the Father is a God who eternally expresses himself. The Father’s eternal self-expression is the Logos, the Word. This means that, without the Word, knowledge of God would actually be impossible. If the Logos did not exist, then we would not be able to know anything about God. In fact, without the Logos, without God’s creative self-expression, no universe would exist, nor would be able to exist. We can only know God as he reveals himself, and God both beyond and within space and time eternally reveals himself through his Word. By saying that Jesus is the incarnation of the Logos, John’s Gospel asserts that Jesus of Nazareth is the eternal self-revelation of God in human form.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Doctrine of the Trinity Is Logical

The Trinity is a unique and important Christian concept, but some people have expressed the opinion that this concept is illogical. It is interesting in this regard that the English word logical is derived from the Greek adjective λογικός, which is related to the word λόγος (usually translated as word) that is used in John’s Gospel to refer to the second person of the Trinity (see John 1:1, 14).

According to Liddell and Scott, the word λόγος denotes “the word by which the inward thought is expressed,” and additionally “the inward thought or reason itself” (Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Lexicon: Abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon [Oxford: Oxford University, 1983], 416). The adjective λογικός also reflects this basic dual semantic potential of the word λόγος. Thus, λογικός can mean “belonging to speech or speaking,” or “belonging to reason, rational” (ibid.).

From the point of view of the Greek language used in the prologue of John’s Gospel (i.e., John 1:1–18), we have to say that the concept of the Word is λογικός. The Logos expresses the rationality or thought of God the Father that the latter has chosen to express (John 1:18).

Extrapolating from John’s depiction of the second person of the Trinity as ὁ λόγος, we can say that the totality of the concept of the Trinity is itself distinctly logical. The logic involved is the logic of the Father expressing himself through the Son and the Spirit. Being the self-expression of the Father, the Son and the Spirit possess the same divinity as their eternal source, God the Father.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Jesus: The Supreme Revelation of God the Father

The Greek word λόγος that lies behind the English translation the Word in John 1:1, 14 was used by some Greek Stoic philosophers to designate reason, which was thought of as being the basic principle which gives structure to the universe. But to understand the significance of logos in John 1, the concept of word needs to be placed primarily within a Jewish framework rather than a Greek one. In a Jewish context in which the Hebrew Bible is greatly influential, this concept would be linked in the first instance to the concept of the word of God. The word of God is the primary vehicle of divine revelation in the Old Testament. The obvious thematic connections between John 1 and Gen 1 (e.g., the phrase in the beginning, and the concepts of creation, life, light, darkness) also suggest that the concept of logos in John 1 should be understood in a manner consistent with the concept of word in Gen 1. Ten times the expression and God said occurs in Gen 1. The concept of word back in the beginning, as recorded in Gen 1, is the word of God, the word of divine fiat. The primary function of the word of God is revelation, the communication of God’s thoughts.

The Logos, therefore, is the Word in the sense that he uniquely reveals God. But with what are we to identify this Word? The key to identity of the Word is found in John 1:14, where John says: “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” It is obvious that John understood that the Word became incarnate in Jesus at a particular point in human history. The Word in more technical theological terminology is the second person of the Trinity, who is understood in John 1:14 to have become incarnate in the person of Jesus. In other words, Jesus is the incarnation of the Logos, who is the eternal self-revelation of God.

The revelatory function of the Logos is confirmed by the way in which the prologue in John 1 concludes: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18). The Logos makes known (i.e., reveals) the Father. The Logos becoming incarnate in Jesus makes Jesus the supreme revelation of God the Father. The implication stemming from this is that a person cannot truly know God without knowing Jesus.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

In the Beginning Was the Word: The Uncreated and Eternal Divine Logos

John’s Gospel begins with the famous words “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). The phrase in the beginning in the first clause of John 1:1 is very significant. By starting off his gospel with this phrase, John is deliberately alluding to Gen 1:1, the very first verse of the Bible, which says: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

The significance of this allusion is profound. By saying that the Word was in the beginning, John implies that the Logos already existed before the beginning talked about in Gen 1:1, namely, the beginning of created reality. This means that the Logos must be uncreated and eternal. It is totally appropriate, therefore, for John to say in the third clause of John 1:1 that “the Word was God.” After all, John’s main argument in the prologue to his gospel in John 1:1–18 is that Jesus is the Logos incarnate, God’s revelation of himself in human form (see “The Divine Logos as Eschatological Torah in John 1:1”). Jesus himself could not be divine revelation if the Logos were not divine.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

In the Beginning Was Language

Words! We are surrounded by words, and on average each of us speaks more than ten thousand words each day. But why do we have words, and from where did the ability of language arise?

Evolutionary biology is not unified on the question of the development of human speech, but the most common theory held today is that the human ability of speaking only emerged around 50,000 years ago. This means that anatomically modern humans (according to this theory) existed for 150,000 years on earth before developing the ability to speak.

I personally find such a theory very hard to believe. What were our ancestors doing for the first 150,000 years? Just grunting and groaning? Some scientists have even suggested that a single mutation in the brain of certain human individuals suddenly resulted in the ability to speak. But that kind of explanation is more likely to be speculation rather than anything more substantial. Generally the evolutionary biologists simply look at the complexity of art and artifacts at various prehistorical periods, and try to determine from this when the ability of speech developed.

All of this “informed speculation” is, however, far removed from the picture painted in the Bible. The Bible indicates that God created Adam with the ability of speech. In Gen 2 we see Adam naming the animals (Gen 2:19–20) and speaking poetry to his wife (Gen 2:23). In Gen 3 we see both Adam and Eve speaking (see Gen 3:10, 12, 20; and Gen 3:2–3, 13 respectively).

But why did God create human beings with the ability of speech? The flow of Gen 1–3 suggests that God created human beings with the ability of speech because God himself speaks! The tenfold and God said of Gen 1 highlights the fact that God speaks. Speech is an expression of thought; and because God thinks, he also speaks. Furthermore, God created human beings in his image with the ability to think and to produce and process language. God did this in large part because his plan of self-revelation (for which he created the world, and human beings in his image) necessarily means that he wants to communicate and share his thoughts with us.

At the beginning of the Gospel of John, reflecting upon the content of Gen 1, the Apostle John was moved to proclaim: “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1). This proposition not only asserts that the second person of the Trinity is eternal, but it also asserts that language is integral to the nature of God. As it is for God, so it is for humanity. Language and the ability of speech is integral to who we are as human beings. It is a divine gift that has been with us since the very beginning.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Great Commission to Make Disciples through Baptizing and Teaching

Because all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to the risen Lord Jesus, disciples are to be made of all nations (see “The Great Commission of the King”). But how are disciples made?

The Great Commission itself teaches us how disciples are made. Jesus mentions two main stages in the process of discipleship in Matt 28:19–20. According to Jesus, disciples are made through baptism and teaching.

Baptism in the name of the Triune God (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) is something that many Protestant Christians do not associate with being a Christian. In some Protestant baptism ceremonies the minister often spends most of his time explaining what baptism is not and very little on explaining what baptism actually is. Statements to the effect of “baptism does not make you a Christian” are frequent. Protestants who act like this are probably in most instances reacting against a perceived deficiency in the Roman Catholic understanding of baptism; but in doing so Protestants need to consider whether or not such statements contradict Jesus’ teaching on baptism. Jesus clearly teaches in Matt 28:19 that baptism “make[s] disciples” in some sense or other. The words βαπτίζοντες baptizing and διδάσκοντες teaching are both present active participles that are subordinate to the main verb μαθητεύσατε make disciples. These participles function syntactically to explain how disciples are made. According to Matt 28:19, Jesus’ view is that making disciples formally begins with baptism. Furthermore, when it is understood that the word Christian historically is simply another term for disciple (see Acts 11:26), then it is possible to say that baptism makes a person a Christian in some sense of the word.

The key to understanding the way in which baptism makes a person a Christian lies in realizing that conversion in the early church typically went together with baptism. In the early church, a person would convert to Christianity by confessing “I believe that Jesus is the Christ” or “I believe that Jesus is Lord” in the context of a ceremony of baptism. This can be seen in the book of Acts, for example, in the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:37). Indeed, there are nine instances of particular conversions in the book of Acts, and all of these conversions involve baptism (see Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12; 8:37–38; 9:18; 10:47–48; 16:14–15; 16:31–33; 18:8; 19:3–5; 22:16). Baptism makes a person a Christian, therefore, in the sense that it marks the official point of conversion to Christianity, the point at which the convert officially submits to the lordship of Christ. Baptism marks the formal beginning when a person officially becomes a disciple of Jesus. Baptism is, therefore, a sign which says that the baptized person belongs to Jesus, and that his or her responsibility is to follow Jesus by submitting to his lordship.

So baptism is important, but at the same time it needs to be remembered that baptism is only a beginning. Baptism marks the official beginning in a person’s role as a disciple of Jesus. Baptism can be thought of as being like a citizenship ceremony that proves that a person is a citizen of a particular country. But after becoming a citizen of a particular country, one is bound to live as a citizen of that particular country, which involves obeying its laws.

This is the reason that Jesus in Matt 28:20 moves from baptism to talk about the second element involved in making disciples, namely, teaching. If Christian discipleship formally begins at baptism, then it develops and matures through Christian indoctrination. Disciples in the true sense of the word are made through being taught about the gospel (about Jesus and what he has done for the world) and how we are expected to live in response to who Jesus is and to what he has done. This indoctrination occurs with a view to Christians growing in their obedient service to the King. Being disciples in name, we need to become disciples in reality. Therefore, teaching is essential. Christians need to be taught in order to learn and to grow in their devotion to the King.

If you have been baptized, this means that you have received the sign proclaiming that Jesus is the risen King. Baptism is the sign of Christ’s lordship over your life. Having been baptized, your responsibility is to persevere in your submission to the King by studying and following his teaching.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Great Commission of Discipleship

The Great Commission is the command of Jesus, the divinely-appointed Messiah, for the church to engage in the important task of calling upon all people everywhere to submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ, the risen King (see “The Great Commission of the King”). The Great Commission serves to explicate the significance of the lordship of Christ for humanity, and to promote submission to his lordship on a worldwide scale. Because Jesus is the risen King with authority over the nations, everyone from every nation is to submit to his lordship.

If Jesus is indeed the King over all, that means that this planet, and everything on it, in it, above and around it, belongs to Jesus. That means that you and I belong to Jesus. In fact, every single human being, every cockroach, every fly, every kangaroo, every piece of gold or silver, every single mobile phone … these all belong to Jesus. And if we belong to Jesus, honesty demands that we acknowledge this fact, and submit to Christ’s rule.

According to Jesus’ language in Matt 28:19, everyone is expected to submit to his kingship. This is why Jesus says “having gone, make disciples of all the nations.” From this we can see that Christ’s lordship is realized throughout the world as people become disciples of Jesus.

Contrary to what many evangelicals naturally think, Jesus’ focus in the Great Commission is not on preaching the gospel per se, but on discipleship. Matthew 28:19 does not mention preaching the gospel; but it presupposes (as shown through the use of the aorist participle πορευθέντες having gone) that, as Christians go out into the world, the gospel will be proclaimed to all the nations. Every person in every nation needs to bow down and acknowledge the truth that Jesus is the risen King as proven by his resurrection. The focus of the Great Commission is on discipleship, but discipleship at this point includes both initial conversion and subsequent indoctrination.

The Greek word μαθητής disciple, which is implied in the verb μαθητεύσατε make disciples, is related to the verb μανθάνω learn. This lexical connection clearly indicates that a disciple is a learner, a student. In the ancient world, a student submitted to the wisdom and authority of his teacher. In the case of Jesus, the master teacher is also the King of heaven and earth. The task of a disciple of Jesus is to submit to Jesus’ lordship by following his teaching.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Great Commission of the King

Many (if not most) Christians have heard of the Great Commission:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:19–20).
But all too often these verses are quoted, and even thought of, in isolation from their context, which includes in particular Jesus’ preface to the Great Commission in Matt 28:18.

Immediately preceding the words of the Great Commission, Jesus proclaimed his universal authority. In saying “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt 28:18), Jesus clearly stated his understanding that he was the divinely-appointed Messiah. Jesus understood, in accordance with Old Testament prophecy (see my previous post ‘“All Authority in Heaven and on Earth Has Been Given to Me”: Intertextuality between Matthew 28:18 and the Old Testament’), that he had been appointed by God to be King over all the nations on earth.

It is important to understand, therefore, that the Great Commission is a function of Jesus’ great authority as the King of all nations. The presence of the word οῦν therefore in v. 19 makes explicit the causal connection between Jesus’authority (as stated in v. 18) and the Great Commission (stated in vv. 19–20). Because all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to the risen Lord Jesus, disciples are to be made of all nations.

The Great Commission, therefore, is not just about evangelism in the narrow sense of merely preaching the death and resurrection of Christ. The gospel is supremely the proclamation of the lordship of Christ, and the Great Commission is the command of the divinely-appointed Messiah for the church to engage in the important task of calling upon all people everywhere to submit to the lordship of the divinely-appointed risen King.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

“All Authority in Heaven and on Earth Has Been Given to Me”: Intertextuality between Matthew 28:18 and the Old Testament

One of the most significant post-resurrection appearances of Jesus has to be the meeting that took place in Galilee. Missing Judas Iscariot, the eleven disciples “went to Galilee, to the mountain about which Jesus had commanded them” (Matt 28:16). There they saw that Jesus was alive, but even then some of them found it hard to believe that Jesus had been resurrected (Matt 28:17). On seeing Jesus, they worshiped him. Then, as Jesus approached them, he uttered these remarkable words: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”(Matt 28:18).

By saying that all authority—not just some authority, but all authority—in heaven and on earth had been given to him, Jesus was effectively claiming to be on par with God. It was the same as saying that he was the King of the universe!

Had the resurrection gone to his head? No! Jesus understood that his resurrection had proven that he was the fulfillment of at least two very important Old Testament prophecies. In saying that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him, Jesus was interacting in particular with Dan 7:13–14 and Ps 2:8–9. That Jesus had these verses in mind can be surmised on the basis of the intertextual connections between Jesus’words in Matt 28:18–19 and these particular Old Testament texts.

The prophecy of Dan 7:13–14 talks about one like a son of man who goes up to heaven on a cloud into the presence of the Ancient of Days to receive authority to rule over the whole world as the king of an eternal kingdom. The expression son of man is Jewish idiom for a human being. According to this prophecy, therefore, we have a particular human being who would be appointed by God to be the king of the whole world. By saying “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” Jesus was claiming to be the fulfillment of this Son of Man prophecy of Dan 7. The intertextual connections are especially apparent in the original LXX version of Dan 7:14 (as opposed to the translation of Theodotian), which includes the words ἐδόθη αὐτῷ ἐξουσία authority was given to him and πάντα τὰ ἔθνη all the nations. Jesus echoes these words in Matt 28:18–19 in saying ἐδόθη μοι πᾶσα ἐξουσία all authority has been given to me and μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη make disciples of all the nations.

Concerning Ps 2:8–9, the intertextuality centers on the common use of the word ἔθνη in the LXX of Ps 2:8, as well as the conceptual similarity between the two texts in the idea of the Messiah ruling over the nations. In Ps 2:8–9 God instructs the Messiah, following his establishment as king in Zion, to ask God’s permission to receive authority to possess the nations of the world. By saying “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”in Matt 28:18, Jesus was also claiming to be the fulfillment of this prophecy of Ps 2 where it is previewed that the Messiah would receive the nations as his possession.

Christ’s lordship is closely linked in the Bible to his resurrection. In Matt 28:18 Jesus linked his resurrection in with the prophecies of Dan 7:13–14 and Ps 2:8–9 in order to highlight the connection between his resurrection and his lordship. By coming back alive from the dead, Jesus has shown himself to be the one chosen by God in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy to be King over all. To be clear, Jesus’ resurrection means that he is King over the whole world. This makes sense: being able to conquer death, Jesus is the king who is able to lead the human race in victory against the forces of evil (whose greatest weapon is death). By defeating death, Jesus can lead the human race back to regain the eternal life that was lost in Eden. An important aspect of the significance of Jesus’ resurrection is the necessary conclusion that Jesus is the King and Lord of all. Jesus is the one who goes before us, leading redeemed humanity to victory over sin and death.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Resurrection of Jesus in Matthew 28:1–10

Over the centuries many people have doubted the truth of the resurrection of Jesus. But it is remarkable how one charismatic preacher, who had no possessions and no worldly wealth, who commanded no army, and wielded no political power, who wandered around a far-flung out-of-the-way province of the Roman Empire almost two thousand years ago, could change the world in the way that he has if nothing happened on that fateful morning.

According to Matthew’s account, two women, both called Mary walked to the tomb early on the Sunday morning (Matt 28:1). There was Mary Magdelene, whom Jesus had healed from demon possession (Luke 8:2); and the “other Mary,” who was the wife of Clopas (see John 19:25). These two women were among those who used to follow Jesus as he traveled around, and helped provide for him and the disciples. In their devotion to Jesus, they were wanting to go and see the place where he had been buried.

But on their way to the tomb suddenly a large earthquake shook the ground around them (Matt 28:2). An angel had come down from heaven, and pushed back the stone blocking the doorway of the tomb. We know that the angel had pushed back the stone to let Jesus out; but all that the two Marys knew initially was that an earthquake had taken place, and that the angel was sitting high up on top of the stone. The angel looked as bright as lightning, and his clothes were as white as snow (Matt 28:3). The guards who had been placed there at the Jewish leaders’ insistence (see Matt 27:62–66) had been effectively hypnotized by the angel. Out of sheer fear, they had been psychologically stunned, and were motionless, as if dead (Matt 28:4).

When the women saw this, the angel spoke and said to them, “Don’t be afraid! I know that you are looking for Jesus, who has been crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, just as he said!” (Matt 28:5–6). Jesus had told his disciples on at least three occasions during his time with them, that he would be put to death, but rise from the dead three days later (Matt 16:21; 17:22–23; 20:17–19; see also Matt 12:40). The three days in question were determined in terms of inclusive counting. Friday, Saturday, Sunday makes three days. Matthew, through the words of the angel, makes the point that Jesus’ rising from the dead happened just as Jesus had said it would. And to prove that Jesus was no longer there, the angel invited the two Marys to look inside the tomb in which Jesus had been placed (Matt 28:6).

Jesus’ disciples initially found it hard to believe that Jesus had been resurrected. Even today some people find the concept of Jesus’ resurrection incredible, but Matthew’s Gospel asserts that the resurrection of Jesus really happened. The angel said that Jesus had risen, and the two Marys witnessed the empty tomb as proof of this angelic assertion.

The angel then told the women to go and tell the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead (Matt 28:7). The women were to tell the disciples that Jesus would meet them in Galilee, and that there they would see him.

The women did just as the angel had commanded them (Matt 28:8). They raced quickly from the tomb, filled with a mixture of great fear and wonderful joy. It is likely that their thoughts were also racing at this time: Is it true? Is it possible? Is our Master indeed risen from the dead? They had seen the empty tomb, but as they were running all of a sudden … Jesus!

Jesus was standing in front of them, greeting them (Matt 28:9). The women fell down to the ground, grabbed hold of Jesus’ feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Go, tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there” (Matt 28:10).

Not only the angel, not only the empty tomb, but now … Jesus himself! Standing there in front of them, Jesus’ personal presence was proof indeed that he was risen from the dead.

The account of Jesus’ resurrection in Matthew’s Gospel functions as an invitation to all people to believe in the historical resurrection of Jesus, to accept the fact that Jesus, who died through crucifixion, has risen from the dead.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Summary of Biblical Christianity

A summary of Christianity from an evangelical and Reformed perspective:

The Bible (i.e., the 66 books of the Protestant Bible) is the word of God. This form of revelation is God’s ordinary means of communication with humanity. The content of the Bible, being a form of divine communication, is to be accepted as authoritative.

The Bible reveals that God is triune. God the Father is the eternal source, from whom God the Son, and God the Spirit, eternally emanate. God the Father is invisible and unknowable in and of himself, but he reveals himself through God the Son. God the Spirit is the invisible presence and power of the Father and the Son over and above and throughout the universe.

God has a plan for the world that he has chosen to create. His plan is ultimately to reveal himself to his creatures through the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth. All things come to pass in accordance with God’s decree and in a manner most appropriate for the achieving of this plan.

God created the universe through the power of his word. Through his word, he brought form to the original formless state of the earth. Through his word, he also began the process of filling the earth with living creatures, thereby overcoming the original empty state of the earth.

God created Adam and Eve in his own image to live in the garden of Eden, to enjoy God’s provision and presence. God entrusted to them and the human race the task of extending the kingdom of God throughout the earth, but this could only be done as humanity was obedient to God’s word. Upon the completion of this task, humanity would enter into an eternal Sabbath rest, living permanently in the presence of God.

Sadly, Eve was tempted by Satan, and Adam disobeyed God by eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This led to Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden of Eden. Through this disobedience, humanity lost the privilege of living in the presence of God.

Despite this rebellion, God responded graciously to humanity. God has a plan to save his people, allowing humanity ultimately to be able to return to live in his presence and to experience his blessing. God’s plan of salvation was revealed with greater clarity over time. The key stages of redemptive history in the Bible are the flood with Noah, the calling of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), the redemption of Israel from Egypt, the Sinaitic and Deuteronomic covenants, the conquest of the promised land, the Davidic covenant, the division of the kingdom, the exile of Israel and Judah, the post-exilic restoration, and the new covenant in Christ.

From the beginning of redemptive history God has indicated that he was going to bring about the salvation of the human race and the world through a chosen seed. Over time, it was revealed that this chosen seed would be a Spirit-filled King of Israel. This King, the promised Messiah and suffering Servant of God, the divine Emmanuel, would die as an atonement for the sins of his people; and having broken the power of sin, would pour out the Holy Spirit upon all flesh, in order to bring about the eschatological return of Israel and the nations in obedience to God.

The New Testament identifies Jesus of Nazareth as being the divine Messiah who was promised in the Old Testament. Through his obedient life and death on the cross, Jesus has made full atonement for the sins of his people. Through his resurrection from the grave, and ascension to the right hand of God the Father in heaven, Jesus has inaugurated the new covenant, and opened up the way for humanity to be able to safely return into the presence of God, and to begin to experience the blessing of eternal life.

Having taken his seat on the throne of the Messiah, Jesus has received the right to possess the nations, along with the right to pour out the Holy Spirit upon those whom he has chosen to experience salvation. In order to bring about the realization of the kingdom of God through his possession of the nations, Jesus has entrusted his church with the task of proclaiming the message of his death, resurrection, and lordship. Empowered by his Spirit, his messengers proclaim this message, which is the gospel; and moved by his Spirit, the elect respond in faith to this message.

Those who respond in faith to the gospel are united to Christ and his church, and share in the benefits of membership in Christ’s body: their sins are forgiven, their persons justified, and their hearts sanctified. Led by the Spirit of God, God’s people are strengthened to walk in the way of the Lord, and to persevere until the end. The destination of this walking in the way of the Lord is experiencing the fullness of eternal life in the presence of God following the resurrection of the dead on the day of judgment.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Is the King James Bible Just a Translation of the Textus Receptus?

It is true that the KJV is primarily a translation of the textus receptus [TR], but it is not solely just a translation of the TR. The KJV has departed from the TR in a number of places. According to Frederick Scrivener, the KJV has departed from the TR close to one hundred times altogether (see F. H. A. Scrivener, The Authorized Edition of the English Bible: Its Subsequent Reprints and Modern Representatives [Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1884]: 243–7, 262–3). Scrivener suggests that when the translators of the KJV departed from the TR, they often did so under the influence of Tyndale’s English translation, which sometimes followed the Latin Vulgate instead of the TR.

For example:

In Matt 10:25; 12:24, 27, the TR has the name βεελζεβούλ Beelzebul; but the KJV follows Tyndale, translating this as Beelzebub.

In Mark 4:18, the KJV, following Tyndale, departs from the TR by omitting the second οὗτοι εἰσιν these are. The second οὗτοι εἰσιν in the TR introduces a new clause, namely, these are those who have heard the word.

In Acts 26:6, the TR reads τοὺς πατέρας the fathers, whereas the KJV has our fathers. It is likely that the translators followed Tyndale at this point, and that Tyndale in turn followed the Vulgate patres nostros, which means our fathers. All other major manuscript traditions have τοὺς πατέρας ἡμῶν our fathers, thereby agreeing with the Vulgate.

In 1 Cor 16:23, the KJV has our Lord, whereas the TR, along with all other major manuscript traditions, simply has τοῦ κυρίου the Lord.

In Phil 2:21, the KJV follows Tyndale with the translation of Jesus Christ, whereas the TR, along with all other major manuscript traditions, has Xριστοῦ ’Iησοῦ of Christ Jesus.

In 1 Tim 1:2, the KJV follows Tyndale with the translation Jesus Christ, whereas the TR, along with all other major manuscript traditions, has Xριστοῦ ’Iησοῦ Christ Jesus.

In the first part of Rev 9:19, the KJV reads: For their power is in their mouth, and in their tails, which is quite close to the reading of all of the major manuscript traditions, except for the TR. The TR reads αἱ … ἐξουσίαι … εἰσιν their powers are instead of their power is, and completely omits the wording and in their tails.

All in all, we can say that the KJV is primarily a translation of the TR, but at the same time we should acknowledge that the translators of the KJV felt free to depart from the TR at various points. They did not slavishly restrict themselves to the TR as the sole source for their translation. It is incorrect, therefore, to think that the KJV is just a translation of the TR.