Thursday, September 30, 2010

In This Is Love (part 10 of 10)

As a son of God, Adam was given a responsibility of covenant that would aid him in identifying a creative power beyond himself.  The mark of his covenant was the commandment to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  To do so would be to eat to his own peril, as death would be the result.  In contrast, adhering to the commandment would be life for him, and he would presumably never feel the encroachment of death.  Israel, as a son of God, was given a responsibility as well.  Their mark of covenant was the law, and most specifically, the requirements of Sabbath, sanctuary, and the worship of the Lord God exclusively.  Their adherence to these requirements would be life to them, causing the accrual of blessings untold to them, whereas violations would bring the requisite and promised curses, ultimately resulting in exile and death.  The son of God that was Solomon received a warning related to idolatry, but was offered the promise of long life if he were to make proper use of the gifts bestowed upon him by God in service to God’s people and as God’s representative to the world. 

Jesus, the unique Son of God as the physical embodiment of the Lord God of Israel, performed the work to which He had been tasked, and re-oriented the promises and blessings and cursings and life and death around Himself.  He commissioned a renewed people of God with an old covenant task.  The new mark of that old covenant task---the destruction of the works of the devil---would be the proclamation of the Gospel that Jesus was the crucified and resurrected Messiah and Lord of all.  Adherence to this idea and this task would mean life---eternal life.  However, it would not just mean eternal life for the one that embraced the belief and what it required, but it meant life would be communicated by the very act of proclaiming this Gospel message.  Speaking forth the Gospel, along with manifesting the power of the Gospel in deed (which would mean service to the world because of the call of its King), would actually be activated by the power that raised up Jesus from the dead, while also activating that same power in the place where the Gospel was being preached (in word and deed).  This, in itself, would effect transformation in minds and in lives, the destruction of evil, the defeat of death---the renewal of the creation along with the renewal of those that had been made in God’s image to steward God’s creation.  This renewal is never complete, but rather, is the Holy Spirit’s working through those that are now called sons of God, to give us a glimpse of heaven come to earth, in advance of it finally being so. 

The son of God for this world in which the kingdom of God has been inaugurated and in which Jesus is the resurrected King is the church.  Just as God has placed numerous sons in this world, so too is this son placed in the world to shine the light of His glory, to carry on the mission of the Son, in and with the same Spirit, as was promised.  As Paul writes in Romans, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God,” adding “The Spirit Himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children.  And if children, then heirs (namely, heirs of God and also fellow heirs with Christ)---if indeed we suffer with Him so we may also be glorified with Him” (8:14,16-17).  It is from there that Paul goes on to write of the creation that eagerly awaits the revelation of the sons of God (8:19).  The creation, and indeed, the beings that have been charged with the stewardship of that creation, await the revelation of the sons of God, so that they might suffer alongside as did Jesus, and so that they might destroy the works of the devil by which they are enslaved---even if they do not realize their enslavement. 

So it is in this that we find love.  It is “not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10b).  It is here that we must not overly personalize this statement and think of our sins in the usual way of moral failings.  We must think of our larger sin, which is that of idolatry---of not worshiping our Creator and of improperly bearing His image.  Jesus addresses this for us in that He not only reveals God, but He perfectly bears the image of God, and therefore, shows us what God expected and expects of His human creation.  His ultimate self-sacrifice, trusting in God’s power for resurrection and re-creation, shows us the way and the truth, along with that which is productive of eternal life.  His giving over of the Spirit is the impartation of the power that brought about His Resurrection, and that imparted Spirit gives us the desire and the ability to enter into self-sacrifice, while trusting that all that we do in His name will remain because we also look towards the experience of a resurrection, just like Jesus.  This self-sacrifice is rooted in the same love that God showed for the world in the repeated sending of His sons which culminated in the sending of the Son, so that He could, in turn, send a new son into the world to prepare for the return of the Son. 

It is with these thoughts ringing in our ears that we consider our duty, as the church (as the son of God), to destroy the works of the devil.  How do we do this?  “Dear friends, if God so loved us, then we also ought to love one another” (4:11).  How do we love?  We love by embodying the Gospel, and living as if we do have a living and reigning King who gave His life and His all, as we seek to follow His example and His voice (food, clothing, cups of cold water, visiting prisoners, etc…), while also giving voice to our allegiance so that we might be used in sending His power into the world, so that we never forget that it is not by our  might or our power, but by His Spirit, that light overtakes darkness.  Why embody the Gospel?  Because “No one has seen God at any time” (4:12a), which is the unfortunate by-product of the fall.  This is a distortion of what God intended.  His son is to be the representative of His glory that will cause all to honor Him.  Therefore, “If we love one another, God resides in us, and His love is perfected in us” (4:12b), and this will enable the world to see God.  Yes, “He has given us of His Spirit” (4:13b) so that we might “testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world” (4:14b).  Is the church of Christ, as the son of God in and for the world today, the Savior of the world?  We say, “of course not,” but add a “well, yes and no.”   We say “no” because we cannot be the Son that Jesus was.  We say “yes” because we are the ambassadors of God’s love and purpose, as those that are supposed to turn men to God in Christ, compelling a saving allegiance to God through Christ, “because just as Jesus is, so also are we in this world” (4:17b), loving the world by the Spirit “because He loved us first” (4:19b).        

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

In This Is Love (part 9)

Though Jesus is not one hundred percent unique to the point that He would not be recognized and understood by anybody, He is obviously and distinctively set apart from anybody that came before or that would come after in a number of ways.  Here, we need not go very deeply into this point, but needless to say, the crucifixion, Resurrection, and ascension, combined with the portended effects and meanings of those three things, position Jesus as the unique Son of God in a way that greatly distinguishes Him from the entities to be found and readily understood within the son of God tradition.  Though the acts were unique, the purpose remained the same, as we can wholeheartedly agree that Jesus was revealed---put forth as the Son of God in and for the world---to destroy the works of the devil. 

Jesus announced His mission in a synagogue in Nazareth by quoting from a familiar passage in Isaiah, and informing His hearers that He had been “anointed to proclaim good news to the poor… to proclaim release to the captives…the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18b).  Later on, when John the Baptist would make an inquiry about Jesus and His mission, Jesus instructs John’s  disciples to tell him that “The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news proclaimed to them” (Luke 7:22).  To this list we can add the casting out of demons.  Does this not sound like the destruction of the works of the devil?  Jesus went about engaging in workings that served the purpose of eliminating that which was marring God’s image bearers.  When He touched and when He spoke, doing so in the authoritative context of the declaration of the kingdom of God, He was revealing God to men.  He was forcing humanity to center their attention upon Himself, and in so doing, away from all else that could claim its allegiance.  This, in the most basic sense, is what destroyed the works of the devil.  That which was out of joint and out of place was set to rights when the men and women to whom He came were able to set their gaze upon the one that was revealing God.

That destruction of the devil’s works, which was ultimately the delivery of death to humanity and to the world, would be accomplished in their totality by means of the crucifixion and the Resurrection.  In His crucifixion, Jesus would be visited by that which was the common fate of all of mankind.  With His Resurrection, that fate would be overcome and conquered in His person, as He would be raised to a new physical life, completely animated by the Spirit of God, as Jesus was present in a world that was now beginning to be altered by the presence of the power that had accomplished that Resurrection.  To this was attached the hopeful promise that as it had been done for Jesus, so too it would it be done for all those that believed in Him and claimed Him as Lord. 

The power of the Resurrection, as confirmed by His ascension, inaugurated the kingdom of God on earth, with Jesus as its Lord and King.  Though this kingdom is now present with power, it is still to come, and its ongoing purpose, which would be accomplished through the verbal and physical witness to Jesus’ Lordship that is made by His church, is to continue that which Jesus and the sons of God before Him had been commissioned to do---the destruction of the works of the devil.  If this is the task that has now been given to the church, then Christ’s church, as His body---His hands and feet in the world---must now be understood, like Israel before it, as the son of God.  Much follows from this realization.  This gives an even greater weight to Paul’s thinking about the church that is presented in the first chapter of Ephesians, where Paul undergirds the entirety of the Christian life with the premise of being “in Christ.”  There, he writes about God’s adoption of sons through Jesus (1:5), and presents the church as “His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (1:23).  It’s almost as if Paul, along with the author of the works of John, believe that the church of Jesus has been appointed to take the place of Jesus in the world, and to be His representatives.  Of course, that is exactly what they believe, with Paul reinforcing such thinking by speaking of those that are in Christ as ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20), and as the church as God’s covenant faithfulness (righteousness) in the world (5:21). 

Beyond the constant repetition of the theme that those who believe in Jesus have become the sons of God (which we are now able to contemplate in terms of the mission to destroy the works of the devil---as outlined by Jesus words and actions), there is the demonstration of the foundations of the church as such, which has been previously referenced in the course of this study.  After His Resurrection, upon Jesus’ first appearance to His disciples, He told them “Just as the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21).  Jesus was sending His disciples into the world, as revealers.  As Jesus had been the direct revelation of God, so would His disciples now reveal God through revealing and proclaiming Jesus.  This revelation would have the purpose of destroying the works of the devil.  The words of sending that Jesus employed carry an echo of His baptism, when the voice of confirmation and approbation spoke from heaven.  Likewise, when Jesus “breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (20:22), the repetition of His baptismal scene was continued, as His delivery of the Holy Spirit to them attunes us to the descent of the dove.  As it was said about Jesus, so too could it be said of those that would speak the word of His kingdom---this is “the Chosen One of God” (John 1:34b). 

It is quite possibly with all of these things in mind that the same author would pen: “By this the love of God is revealed in us: that God has sent His one and only Son into the world so that we may live through Him” (1 John 4:9).  By receiving the Spirit of God and becoming living beings for the first time, the church is now a son not unlike Adam---a new creation charged to steward God’s creation/kingdom and reflect His glory into the world by rightly bearing His image and reminding the world of its true Lord and King.  This connection is not untenable, as Adam received life through the breath of God, Jesus is called the last Adam, and the church operates as the body of Christ to be the living, breathing, ongoing witness of the love of God that was made supremely manifest in the life and death of the Son.  

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

In This Is Love (part 8)

The analogous relationship between Jesus and Solomon is straightforward, but at the same time, requires a bit of thoughtful application.  As son of God, Solomon was a king, and this is true for Jesus as well.  Certainly, the promises of the Davidic covenant, while applicable to Solomon, can almost all be seen through to Jesus.  Because the son of God was purposed to serve, like Israel, as a light to the nations, and as a destroyer of the works of the devil (in its most basic manifestation of idolatry, from which so much evil springs), one of the interesting ways to make a comparison between Solomon and Jesus through the lens of Israel’s and the Scripture’s understanding and presentation of the son of God (which, as always, must be the basis for any and all right understanding), is to be found in the first book of the Kings.  We read that “People from all nations came to hear Solomon’s display of wisdom; they came from all the kings of the earth who heard about his wisdom” (1 Kings 4:34).  It is said that “Solomon was wiser than all the men of the east and all the sages of Egypt” (4:30), while going on to list four prominent wise men of his day.  In relation to Jesus, we need merely consider the crowds that flocked to Him.  In Solomonic tradition, these crowds were composed of Jesus’ fellow countrymen, as well as Gentiles from within the borders of Israel and the surrounding nations.  As was said of Jesus, and which could also be fittingly said of Solomon, “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46)    

Presumably, those that heard did more than hear, but also acted upon what it was that they heard, as we can imagine that Solomon was not shy about sharing the source of the wisdom that caused kings to come before him.  Not only does this fit snugly into the son of God tradition, as Israel’s king becomes a light to the nations through his impressive displays of wisdom and understanding, but it also shares a continuity with the New Testament’s most often referenced portion of Hebrew Scriptures, that being the second Psalm.  There we find the Psalmist speaking in regards to the son of God, giving direction in accordance with His role, and saying, “So now, you kings, do what is wise; you rulers of the earth, submit to correction” (2:10).  Is this not, in a sense, what was occurring at the proverbial feet of Solomon?  More to the point, is this not what is being communicated when the Apostle Paul, as he reports the early church’s comprehension of Jesus, writes that “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow…” (Philippians 2:10a)? 

Yes, Solomon has great wisdom and great discernment and breadth of understanding (1 Kings 4:29); and certainly we can say this about Jesus, thereby linking the two in that manner as well.  More importantly though, it is interesting to note what is said about the breadth of Solomon’s understanding, in that it “was as infinite as the sand on the seashore” (4:29b).  This, of course, is an overt reference to the Abrahamic covenant, and serves as an indicator that we need to see God fulfilling some measure of His promise to Abraham in Solomon, to whom God refers as His son.  Furthermore, Solomon’s sharing of this wisdom with the people of all nations would have made him an exemplifier of divine blessing, thereby more solidly grounding him within the always important Abrahamic tradition.  The New Testament authors, to a man, see Jesus, together with His church, as the complete fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, which once again forces us to reflect on such tremendous love. 

As we can see, Jesus’ identification as the Son of God has to, of necessity, take place on multiple levels and in multiple contexts.  It cannot be understood apart from Israel’s history.  Indeed, this means that the whole of Christian teaching must be grounded within this same history in order for it to carry any meaning whatsoever.  Divorcing the words and thoughts about Jesus from their historical context will inevitably lead to bad theology, Christology, soteriology, ecclesiology, and more.  Indeed, if we do not take the history and theology of Israel with all seriousness, then most of our words and thoughts and attempted deductions concerning Jesus will be little more than exercises in missing the point.  Though “no one every spoke like this man,” had His teaching, along with the things said about Him by His disciples after His departure been incredibly unique, it could have gained momentary notoriety, but eventually all of it would have been dismissed in much the same way the church would dismiss the Gnostics texts that sprang up as exhibitions of that very type of historical disconnectedness.  Unfortunately, much of what is said about Jesus, when it is not rooted in a sober treatment of the multiple points of His context, ends up looking and sounding like little more than the heretical Gnosticism that a church with a firm grasp of history and its deeply Jewish roots effectively pushed to the side. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

In This Is Love (part 7)

To further reinforce the congruity between Adam (son) and Jesus (Son), as presented through Jesus’ experience of wilderness temptations, Mark adds that Jesus was “with the wild animals” (1:13c).  Adam, of course, was given “rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth” (Genesis 1:26b).  Additionally, the animals that had been created were brought before Adam, “to see what he would name then, and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.  So the man named all the animals, the birds of the air, and the living creatures of the field” (2:19b-20a).  Adam, before Jesus, was very much with the wild animals.  Perhaps this is why Mark, drawing from the son of God tradition that would have included Adam, makes what seems like a rather out of place insertion about Jesus being with the wild animals during His wilderness trials? 

The second of the two-fold consideration of Jesus’ experience of forty days in the wilderness also causes us to connect Him, quite rightly, with the nation of Israel as a whole.  Forty is an often referenced number in relation to Israel.  Moses is on Mount Sinai for forty days and nights.  This time of Moses’ absence presents itself as a test of Israel’s faithfulness to their covenant God that had just rescued them from Egypt.  It was a test that they failed, doing so quite miserably.  Elijah, the one looked upon as Israel’s greatest prophet, fasts for forty days as part of an experience that will take him to the mountain of God (1 Kings 19:8).  Saul, David, and Solomon are all said to have ruled over a united kingdom of Israel for forty years each.  Quite naturally then, within the context of His presentation as the Son of God, it is altogether logical to draw an analogy between Jesus’ forty days of wilderness testing and a connection between Jesus and Israel.  Forty days in the wilderness for Jesus after baptism in the Jordan---forty years for Israel in the wilderness after their “baptism” in the sea. 

Jesus had entered the waters of the Jordan, for John’s baptism, which was emblematic of a new exodus movement in anticipation of God’s working through His messiah on behalf of His oppressed people.  Israel had entered the waters of the divided sea (though they did not get wet) as part of God’s working on behalf of His oppressed people, in the movement that would forever define “exodus,” Israel as the people of exodus, and their God as a God of exodus.  Of course, there is a major difference between Jesus and Israel, in that Jesus’ wilderness experience was on the heels of having been declared as being pleasing to God, whereas Israel’s forty year wilderness experience was for the opposite reason, though God had previously shown forth Israel as His elect people (son) by bringing them out of Egypt, much like God shows forth Jesus as His elect Son (who had also been brought out of Egypt, though that is for a different time). 

Needless to say, Israel had its share of problems during their forty years, but it did serve to strengthen their trust in their delivering, covenant God, as the faithless generation died off in the desert and the people, as a result, were prepared to enter into their land of promise, and therefore prepared to enter into the mission that their God had for them.  Israel would cross through the waters of the Jordan (inviting a direct comparison between Jesus and Israel) into their promised land, to carry out the work of their God, to establish a kingdom that would allow them to experience God’s blessing, to become a light in the world for the surrounding peoples, and thereby elicit praises for their God.  Israel was to leave the wilderness and enter their land for the purpose of God’s glory.  What would Jesus do on the heels of crossing the Jordan and His forty wilderness days?  Mark tells us that “Jesus went into Galilee and proclaimed the Gospel of God.  He said, ‘The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the Gospel!’” (1:14b)  Jesus embarked upon His kingdom establishing mission as Israel had done.  In the book of Joshua, we learn from Rahab that the inhabitants of the land---the defiling usurpers in Israel’s promised territory---feared Israel greatly, knowing that they had already destroyed great kings and gained decisive victories over other peoples.  To this can be equated the fearfulness expressed by the unclean spirits with which Jesus dealt, who would cry out with words such as “Leave us alone, Jesus the Nazarene!  Have you come to destroy us?” (Mark 1:24a)  Like Israel, Jesus is even referred to by these demons as “the Holy One of God” (1:24b). 

To accomplish the purpose of His mission, Jesus first went to Galilee?  Why?  Because just like Israel, who was to be a son of God that would shine as a light of God’s glory to the world, Jesus was a Son that would do the same.  As Messiah, He had to fulfill the messianic role as understood through the words of the prophets.  Matthew assists in informing the answer as to why Jesus would do this, as he quotes from Isaiah, saying “Galilee of the Gentiles---the people who sit in darkness  have seen a great light, and on those who sit in the region of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:15b-16, Isaiah 9:1-2).

In This Is Love (part 6)

We now turn to the one more formally recognized as the Son of God, that being Jesus of Nazareth.  Naturally, when we read in the New Testament about the Son of God, it is Jesus that is the being referenced, and we therefore see Him as the last Adam, as something of the embodiment of Israel in His being cursed with the exile of death but then blessed with a restoration to life, and as the king of Israel (the Messiah) that demonstrates discernment and desires the just rule of God over His people.  Therefore, we know Jesus as the Son of God, at least partially, within the context of the vision and concept of son-ship as it is presented throughout the history of Israel.  If we do not understand and take seriously this history, and in so doing realize at each step of the way in the revelation of His son, that God is taking steps to assert His just rule over His creation and to destroy the works of the devil, thereby revealing His love, then we will not be able to make proper sense of Jesus’ mission. 

Jesus, of course, when He is understood to be Israel’s Messiah, is also understood to be the physical embodiment of Israel’s God, as indicated by the prophets.  He is thence also the revelation of love of God.  In the accounts of His life that are presented by the Gospel writings, we see Jesus alternately taking up the various mantles of son-ship that had been worn by the sons of God that had preceded Him.  His time of testing in the wilderness following His baptism is highly demonstrative of this, and it is two-fold.  In it, He demonstrates a congruity with Adam. 

Utilizing Mark’s account, we find that Jesus has been set forth before men, presumably by God with a voice from heaven, as “My one dear Son,” in whom the Father takes “great delight” (Mark 1:11).  In accompaniment, it is said that the Spirit descended on Him like a dove (1:10).  This coming of the Spirit upon Jesus, strangely enough, puts us in mind of the record of the Gospel of John, when Jesus, after the Resurrection, appears to His disciples, “breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (20:22b).  It seems odd to make this connection here, but it is difficult to avoid doing so.  However, this will be quite instructive for us a bit later on, when we finally are able to consider the full impact of the statement that “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).  In turn, Mark’s record causes us to consider the account of Adam in Genesis, when God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (2:7b).  So the experience of the Spirit coming upon Jesus, together with the proclamation (revelation) of Jesus as God’s dear Son, is analogous to the story of Adam, as God breathed into Him the breath of life, thus animating Adam for service by way of His power. 

The analogy does not stop there however, as Mark goes on to inform us that “The Spirit immediately drove Him into the wilderness,” where Jesus spent “forty days, enduring temptations from Satan” (1:13b).  Though Mark does not go into detail concerning those temptations, we find that Matthew and Luke do.  Three temptations are recorded.  In the first, Satan tempts Jesus to turn stone into bread.  Second, Jesus is tempted with rule over the whole of the world, if He will but worship Satan.  Thirdly, Satan suggests that Jesus make a grand display by throwing Himself down from the top of the Temple, suggesting that God would intervene to rescue Him.  In the first and third of the temptations, interestingly enough, Satan’s challenge is prefaced by the words “If you are the Son of God” (Luke 4:3,9).  So Satan’s challenges to Jesus come within the context of whether or not He is the Son of God. 

These temptations, and the written record of these temptations, reflect upon a time at which a messiah is expected.  This messiah would be the son of God, in that he would be Israel’s king, but he would also be the Son of God, in that it was believed to be the case that God would take upon Himself human flesh in order to personally intervene on behalf of His people, establishing Israel’s rule over the nations.  As Israel’s king therefore, this meant that God was going to establish His own physically present rule over the whole of the world.  So when Satan tempts Jesus, what He is tempting Jesus to do is to take a shortcut to acclimation as king.  He could turn stone into bread, and with such a miraculous demonstration, prove Himself to be the messiah, and therefore immediately hailed as king.  We see that such would be a reasonable expectation on the part of Satan, because when Jesus multiplies the loaves and the fishes, the people attempted to come and make Him king by force, causing Jesus to quickly withdraw into isolation.  Jesus knew that there was only one way for Him to ascend to the throne, in which He would be recognized as God, and that was going to be the path of suffering on an altogether unlikely cross.  That is why Jesus refutes Satan’s insistence to worship him in exchange for earthly rule, and why He also rejects the idea of putting God to the test by casting Himself from the Temple to force a miraculous rescue that would have the likely effect of an immediate elevation to the throne of Israel. 

What does this have to do with Adam?  Well, where Adam failed, Jesus succeeded.  When Satan tempted Adam with being like God, we know that Adam acceded to the temptation.  When Satan tempted Jesus with the opportunity to show Himself forth as God, Jesus refused.  Subtle to be sure, but here, in the wilderness, Jesus destroyed a work of the devil.  By holding on to the fate of suffering, love was on display.  

Saturday, September 25, 2010

In This Is Love (part 5)

Alas, Israel did not live up to the call of its revelation. Rather than destroying the work of the devil by turning men from themselves and their gods, Israel was ensnared by the allure of idolatry. Israel did not engage in the practice of righteousness, denying that to which it was called at Sinai, which was to bring glory to their saving God by living out their covenant markers in thankfulness for their election as God’s chosen people. God desired to show forth His love for the world through His son Israel, but this purpose was denied.

From Israel as son of God, we move to the next explicit revelation of a son of God, which is to be found in Israel’s king, Solomon. After Solomon’s father David had settled into his role as king of Israel, God spoke to him and gave him a promise. That promise was related to David’s dynasty in general, and more specifically to his immediate successor on the throne. God told David: “When the time comes for you to die, I will raise up your descendant, one of your own sons, to succeed you, and I will establish his kingdom. He will build a house for My name, and I will make his dynasty permanent” (2 Samuel 7:12-13). More importantly, at least for our purposes here, to this was added “I will become his father and he will become My son” (7:14a). Now, while we can certainly use this promise as a looking forward to Jesus and the true kingdom and truly permanent dynasty, we can undoubtedly know that this refers to Solomon. We can go on to read, “When he sins, I will correct him with the rod of men and with wounds inflicted by human beings” (7:14b). Though the second part of this statement can be applied to Jesus, it would be difficult to make the first part do the same, so we assuredly assert divine reference to Solomon, and view him as another revelation of the son of God.

With what has been spoken by God, we can also recognize that this title of the son of God, though it is being applied to Solomon, can also be applied to the kings of Israel. This can be said in the context of the concept of the king of Israel as representative of the people, which will is also of dreadful importance to a proper Christology, if we are to rightly understand what was accomplished by God in Christ. If Israel is the son of God, revealed to destroy the works of the devil, then it is only appropriate that the king, if also called the son, engage in this revealed role as well. Additionally, as God promised to correct Israel if it entered into unrighteousness (failing to live to its covenant), providing a rather detailed list of calamities that would be visited upon His people (which we find in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28), so also does the promise come in connection with the king that is directly referenced by God as being His son. As we have already seen, God speaks of correction to come to Solomon if he violates His covenant responsibilities and falls into unrighteousness, making reference to the rods of men and the infliction of wounds.

As the story of God’s elect people began with such high hopes, so also the commencement of the record of Solomon’s rule. His kingdom was established, and this in much the same way that Israel was able to make an entrance into the land of promise. Solomon, firmly entrenched in the kingship (1 Kings 2:46), threw himself upon the mercy of God, asking for discernment so as to justly rule God’s people. He demonstrates wisdom, he gains wealth and fame, he had peace on all sides, and he built the Temple of the Lord (as God has promised David would happen). Because of his wealth and fame, Solomon drew admirers from many lands who would come to him to seek his wisdom. Like Abraham and the patriarchs before him, Solomon would have been in a position to answer the altogether pressing questions in regards to how he came to have what it was that he possessed---wealth, power, and fame. Solomon would have had many opportunities to share the knowledge of covenant-making Creator God with the world, and in the tradition of the Abrahamic covenant, bring glory to God by means of showing forth God’s blessings and causing previously unknowing men and nations to turn from their various forms of idolatry (works of the devil) to the God who was the maker and Lord of all. It is debatable as to whether or not Israel as a people had been able to do such a thing up to that point, but it is reasonable to suggest that Solomon was able to do as suggested.

Much like God had warned Israel what would happen if they were to fail in righteousness, so too was Solomon warned. Even though both Israel and Solomon were specially elected by God, and looked upon as His chosen sons that were to reveal God’s glory and love for the world, much was expected of them. However, as the first two sons had failed, so too did Solomon. In a fashion very similar to Israel, who allowed idolatrous practices to be continued by the occupants of their promised land, so too did Solomon allow for a continued idolatry. Indeed, he not only allowed it to continue, but like Israel, he would participate in idolatrous practices, denying the revelatory role that God desired for His sons. As this was the source of Adam’s fall and expulsion from the role and place into which he had been set by God, as well as being the source of repeated instances of subjugation and various forms of exile for Israel, so too would this result in dire consequences for Solomon.

Because of this falling short of the glory of God, and engagement in the very works of the devil against which he and Israel were warned, the kingdom that Solomon had established was torn in two. “The Lord said to Solomon, ‘Because you insist on doing these things and have not kept the covenantal rules I gave you, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you” (1 Kings 11:11a). Solomon experienced the rod and the wounding, as “The Lord brought against Solomon an enemy, Hadad the Edomite… Rezon son of Eliada… Jeroboam son of Nebat” (11:14,23,26). Even though Solomon had failed, another part of God’s promise still remained, as it had always remained for Israel. Though the Lord’s anger was aroused against Solomon, as it was aroused numerous times against Israel itself, Solomon had a promise from God that “My loyal love will not be removed from him” (2 Samuel 7:15a). As we can see, the Lord loves His son, and desires to reveal Himself and His love through that son.

Friday, September 24, 2010

In This Is Love (part 4)

Continuing our qualification of Israel as the explicitly referenced son of God of Scripture, we are also forced to make reference to the son and grandson of Abraham. These two, Isaac and Jacob, are in-line recipients of the Abrahamic covenant and its blessings. Therefore, if at the bottom line, Abraham’s covenant-connected call was to destroy the works of the devil, then so too was that of these two men as well. However, the call to do this destroying of the devil’s works was not nearly as overt as it would be for the descendants of Jacob. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s roles appear to be more oriented towards being a blessing to those that surrounded them, primarily through the amassing of wealth, thus providing them with the ability to function in that role. Not only would this be a matter of being able to meet physical needs, but the great wealth which all three came to possess without having to resort to domination and oppression, would inevitably lead to numerous inquiries, from all manner of men, as to the reason and source of such wealth. These three men, and even their nephews and brothers (Lot, Ishmael, and Esau), who also benefited greatly and were able to amass their own fortunes, would only be able to point to the covenant of the Creator God as the source of blessing. Thus, they would be that blessing, causing men to turn their eyes to that God and away from idols, and in so doing, diminish the power of the work of the devil, which has always been (since Adam) to get men to worship and honor that which is not God.

That said, we are now able to turn our attention specifically to Israel, the son of God, and another revelation of God’s love. Is Israel rightfully considered to be the son of God? Not only did Israel think of themselves in that way, thus undoubtedly causing the author of the Johannine letters to operate within this cultural and mental framework, but the whole of the Bible is infused with the idea of Israel as the son of God. This idea takes shape, unsurprisingly, within the book of Exodus. It does so “unsurprisingly,” because the story of the Egyptian experience and the exodus is the single most defining story of Israel’s history. It is what gave them their identity as a nation, and is that to which they were constantly looking back, with regularity, to understand their various situations and to understand their God and His dealings with them.

In the fourth chapter of Exodus, God personally instructs Moses to go to the Egyptian Pharaoh and tell him, on behalf of God, that “Israel is My son, My firstborn… Let My son go that he may serve Me” (4:22b,23b). Of course, there are numerous other examples littered throughout the divine record, but the example of Exodus will suffice because the portrayal of Israel is suffused with this understanding that is rooted in their experience of exodus no matter where we were to look, be it the Hebrew histories, poets, or prophets. Consequently, this self-understanding bleeds through to the Gospels, into Acts, and into the letters of the New Testament, which means that the whole of the Bible, with all of it written in the wake of Israel’s being chosen out as the covenant people of God, is written within the context of Israel, the covenant people, as the son of God. We cannot fail to understand that the concept of covenant people as God’s children, with that as the basis for mission, is a paradigmatic construct of Scripture.

If all of this is the case (and it clearly is), then Israel has been given the task of destroying the works of the devil. This will be in response to the love and grace that God has shown to them in bringing them into covenant with Him, and will result in showing forth God’s love for the world. Though Israel would be initially charged with taking possession of the land that had been promised to them through Abraham, and to do so through the extermination of the peoples that occupied the land (which they would never accomplish), which was that strikingly overt call to destroy that which represented the works of the devil and which defiled and defaced that land that God had given to His son (as a microcosm of what God intended for the whole of the creation), we are able to cast our gaze elsewhere in order to understand the way in which Israel was truly called to destroy the works of the devil as love’s great work. In doing that, we take into view the covenant markers that were given to Israel at Sinai.

The events of Sinai are intimately connected to the whole of the exodus account that generated the way in which Israel saw itself as God’s son, and therefore the law and its markers that came to them at Sinai were a crucial component of the way that were to be revealed sons of God that serve the purpose of destroying the works of the devil. These covenant markers ultimately point to the same age-old problem that had initially brought corruption and evil into the world, which was the worship of that which was not God. So when we consider that Israel, above all things, was to reverence God’s sanctuary (His tabernacle and His Temple, as well as the created world in which God rested on the seventh day---a temple was commonly understood to be the place where a God would rest), to observe and honor His Sabbaths (the weekly Sabbath, the feasts, the Sabbath of the land, and the year of jubilee) as a reminder of His position as Creator and sovereign over the world and of the human role of divine image-bearer in this world, and to avoid the worship of idols, we see God’s design that would allow them to destroy the works of the devil. This end would not be best served by physically exterminating their enemies in the land, but rather, by adhering to these marks of covenant, like Abraham, to recognize and worship and proclaim their God as the only God, so as to be the exemplification of divine blessing to the world, turning them to Israel’s God, forsaking all others, and thereby destroying the work of the devil. Would this not be a shining manifestation of love?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

In This Is Love (part 3)

Nevertheless, despite his failure, it remains the case that Adam, according to Scripture, which is written with a conceptual framework dominated by Jewish tradition and custom, is thought of as the son of God. The Scriptures posit multiple sons of God. Indeed, to remain consistent with terminology employed by the author, Scripture contains multiple revelations of the sons of God. This is quite important to consider as we make our return trip to the place of our embarkation upon the theological, Christological, and missiological voyage of this study, which was the tenth verse of the fourth chapter of this first letter of John. Even the author’s own choice of words and structure spur us on to a remembrance of the multiple revelations of God’s sons, as we see the regular usage of “revealed” throughout the third chapter, and on into the fourth chapter.

The repeated use of “revealed” in the third chapter seem to hang on and gain their meaning from the most direct and purposeful statement in connection with the word, which was that the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil. Here, we make note of the fact that this author is not alone in his appeal to the revelation of the Son of God (or sons of God) as an obvious part of the divine plan of the Creator. In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul engages in similar rhetoric, writing that “the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God… in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children” (8:19,20b-21). Can we not surmise what Paul is implying by use of such language? Can we not equate the setting free of creation, in connection with the revelation of the sons of God, with the destruction of the works of the devil? Doing so does not at all seem like an unrealistic or implausible application of the premise.

So now we have two New Testament witnesses to the idea of the revelation of the sons of God, which should certainly lead us to explore this idea. The application of the title of son, in relation to God, is not limited to Adam and Jesus. Adam is merely the first. He is the first to be given a task related to destroying the works of the devil, with this task connected to his righteousness, or his being righteous, and that in the context of faithfulness to a covenant. The second son, or at least the second explicit reference to a son whose revelation is in connection with a charge to do battle with the works of the devil, with this son-ship presented in a manner consistent with that of Adam (righteousness---covenant faithfulness marked out by obedience to specific commands), is the nation of Israel.

It is necessary to qualify this statement for a number of reasons. The first reason is that Adam, in Genesis, is never referred to as the son of God. We only see this for the first time in the Gospel of Luke, while at the same time realizing that it reflects a long-held opinion. The first Scriptural reference to sons of God occurs in the sixth chapter of Genesis, where we read that “the sons of God saw that the daughters of humankind were beautiful. Thus they took wives for themselves from any they chose” (6:2). God’s reaction to this is indicative that such activity was not pleasing to God, as the text there quickly progresses to the pointing out of the wickedness of humankind (6:5). Clearly, these sons were not sons purposefully revealed to destroy the devil’s works, and there is no reference to any type of covenant of obedience.

Continuing our qualification of the insistence that Israel is the second in the line of definitively regarded sons of God, we must also take note of Abraham. Clearly, Abraham is given a covenant, and that covenant carries with it terms that will allow for the demonstration of his obedience. In his case it was circumcision. Also, righteousness is a term regularly associated with Abraham, and as we think through the divine promises to Abraham, it is rather clear that God reveals Himself to Abraham, and in turn reveals Abraham to the world, for the purpose of destroying the works of the devil. This may be especially seen in light of the fact that Abraham will come to be identified as the father of the faithful, with all of those that eventually gain status of being a part of God’s covenant people, both before, during, and after the time of Christ, referred to as children of Abraham.

Abraham may not have thought of himself as having the role of destroyer of the devil’s works, and this may be true of Adam as well, but we are concerned with the worldview of the author, and with what that means for us as that worldview shaped his communication to the church of Christ. Abraham makes his Scriptural appearance after the height of man’s rebellious activity, which was the tower of Babel, as mankind gathered together in one place to make a name for themselves, thereby rejecting God’s implied command to inhabit the whole of the created world. This rejection of responsibility could most certainly be identified as the work of the devil, and is equivalent to what Adam had done. Abraham’s call represented the beginning of God’s corrective measures, and we always serve ourselves quite well by remembering that the church (God’s covenant people) does not begin with Jesus and His disciples, but with Abraham.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

In This Is Love (part 2)

So we have the term “righteousness,” or “covenant faithfulness,” connected to the children of God. Righteousness is ascribed to Jesus, so we know that He is faithful to the covenant. The Son of God, who presumably also operates in righteousness, is revealed and sent to destroy the works of the devil, and this seems to be roughly equated, by the author, with being an atoning sacrifice for sins as part of the activity of the love of God. As has been said, the devil has been operating outside the bounds of the covenant---in covenant unfaithfulness---since the beginning. This necessitated the revelation of the Son of God, so that such work could be destroyed. This is the mission of the Son of God. Inevitably, proper consideration of authorial intent drives us back to the beginning (since the beginning is mentioned), so for the purpose of gaining a more in-depth understanding, we are forced to look to the book of Genesis (the beginning), and to the first revelation of the Son of God. In his Gospel, Luke, as he recounts the genealogy of Jesus, traces that lineage back to Adam, wherein Adam is referred to as the son of God. If Adam is the son of God, then he was placed in this world, or revealed, to destroy the works of the devil.

This forces us into the realm of cosmology, as we look at the beginning of the beginning, and find that God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). Somehow and for some reason, without going to deeply into this and thereby getting dramatically off-topic, the earth became “without shape and empty” (1:2), or traditionally, “without form, and void.” The Hebrew words used in this passage, “tohu” and “bohu,” are often taken to imply that this is a new situation far afield from the way that God had intended when He created. Though we do not like to hunt and peck through the Scriptures for isolated proof texts to support positions, “tohu” and “bohu” stand in stark contrast to that which is insisted upon in Isaiah, which is that the Creator God “formed the earth and made it; He established it, He did not create it without order, He formed it to be inhabited” (45:18b). Though this can have the appearance of proof-texting as part of our Scriptural exegesis, it actually falls well in line with our grasp of the overall narrative-based structure of the Word that reveals God, pointing us to God’s long-held plan to redeem a fallen creation into which disorder was introduced. This seems to be well within the line of thought suggested by God’s creation becoming “without shape and empty,” which also suggests some type of catastrophic activity that produced such a state.

Is it proper to here insert an idea of the devil sinning from the beginning? Do we here posit the fall of Lucifer and his cohorts, as they entered into a violation of their covenants with God (sin), with the result being a world subjected to tohu and bohu? Is it possible that the author of John views the world through this type of cosmology? We dare not become dogmatic in this area, but this could very well account for the insistence that the devil had been sinning from the beginning. If so, then the creation account of Genesis is the restoration of the world to that which had been previously established by God, but had been marred by the first act of covenant unfaithfulness, with this carried out by the one now referred to as the devil. If this is so, then we can gain an even better understanding of the role that is given to Adam. Why is Adam created? Why is the one that is called the son of God revealed? First and foremost, it is to bear the image of God in and to and for His creation, in proper and loving stewardship of the world. That was the part and parcel of the covenant that God made with Adam, with the mark of that covenant being Adam’s obedience in regards to the trees from which he could and could not partake. Secondly, it is to be in a position to come against and destroy the works of the devil, who we know from the Genesis account of the activities in the garden, is present in the world.

If this is a reasonable position, then we can see that the author of the letter goes on to write about an ideal situation, in which “Everyone who has been fathered by God does not practice sin” (3:9a). Sin, as we have to remember as we constantly steer ourselves away from thinking about sin as “the bad stuff that I do,” is “being unfaithful to the covenant that is designed to bring glory to God, and thereby falling short of God’s intention for me as His image-bearer in and to and for this world.” He goes on to write that the reason those fathered by God do not practice sin is “because God’s seed resides in him, and thus he is not able to sin, because he has been fathered by God” (3:9b). This hardly describes Adam, so we reiterate that this is an ideal representation, which appears to be hyperbolic usage that is designed to point his readers to the uniqueness of the one that is most properly looked to as the Son of God, and to His unbroken faithfulness to God’s covenant.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

In This Is Love (part 1)

In this is love; not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. – 1 John 4:10 (NET)

The author of the works that bear the name of “John” has a great deal to say about the love of God, and about the way that love was shown forth into the world. The most famous of these statements, of course, is to be found in the third chapter of the Gospel of John, where we joyfully read “For this is the way God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (3:16). In that same presentation of the words of Jesus, the love of God is juxtaposed with evil, when Jesus says, “the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil deeds hates the light and does not come to the light” (3:19b-20a).

In the first letter of John, the author appears to take up the theme of the third chapter of the Gospel of John, pitting the love of God against darkness and evil, writing that “The one who practices sin is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was revealed: to destroy the works of the devil” (3:8). Quite naturally, we can think of the works of the devil as that which is productive of darkness and evil. The revelation (sending) of the Son of God, of course, was a demonstration of the love of God; and as has been stated, this was for the purpose of being the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Now, if the author has already stated that the Son was sent to destroy the works of the devil, then can we not rightly replace “atoning sacrifice for our sins” with “destroy the works of the devil”? This begs the question as to what are the works of the devil? More importantly, to what does the author refer when he makes mention of such things? Returning to the third chapter, we read “The one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as Jesus is righteous (3:7b). This is what immediately precedes “The one who practices sin is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning” (3:8a). Thus we have the author defining sin as the opposite of righteousness. In the author’s day, “righteousness” was understood as “covenant faithfulness.” One who was righteous was one that carried the status of being faithful to the covenant. Sin is the violation of that covenant. Here, Jesus is spoken of as one who is righteous, as the author proclaims Jesus as one who carries the status of “faithful to the covenant,” demonstrating covenant faithfulness. In contradistinction to one that is faithful to the covenant, we have the example of “the devil,” along with those who are “of the devil.” It is said that they practice sin, or unfaithfulness to the covenant, with this occurring “from the beginning.” It is upon this definition of terms that the author then asserts the mission of the Son of God, which was “to destroy the works of the devil.”

Before getting to that point, however, the author has made a few other statements that we must take into consideration. Backing up to the end of the second chapter, use is made of the terms we have now defined. They are even used in the context of “son-ship,” as we read “If you know that He is righteous, you also know that everyone who practices righteousness has been fathered by Him” (2:29). Then, in anticipation of what will be written in the fourth chapter, as the context for understanding the author’s point is provided on a narrative basis rather than through interpretative understanding based on a selective and subjective isolation of verses, we read “See what sort of love the Father has given to us; that we should be called God’s children---and indeed we are!” (3:1a) To that is added, “Dear friends, we are God’s children now” (3:2a), which he insists is the case even while admitting that there is a mystery to our purpose in being the children of God, as he writes, “what we will be has not yet been revealed” (3:2b). From here, though confessing that he does not know the precise reason for our being the children of God or what exactly it will look like when we are functioning as the children of God, he goes on to write, “We know that whenever it (or He) is revealed we will be like Him” (3:2c). Furthermore, we go on to find out that “Jesus was revealed to take away sins” (3:5a).

Is it not of the utmost interest that the practice of righteousness is connected to being fathered by God and to being God’s children, with this immediately connected to that which is “revealed”? “Revealed” is used three times in relatively rapid succession before the author makes his grand claim that “the Son of God was revealed: to destroy the works of the devil.” This, of course, is the devil who has been sinning from the beginning.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Hated (part 4 of 4)

Why did the Abrahamic covenant exist? It existed so that Abraham could exemplify divine blessing, so God could be glorified. This is the covenant under which Israel went into Egypt, and it is also the covenant fulfilled by Jesus through His church, with the message of the Gospel as the mark of that covenant. Therefore, even before the Mosaic covenant that came at Sinai, what was Israel’s responsibility? It was to be a light to all peoples, to reveal the glory of their God, which would be done through the demonstration of divine blessings that would come from their living as God’s covenant people. After the exodus, they would show forth this covenant by keeping God’s Sabbaths, reverencing His sanctuary, and not worshiping idols. Through this, God would show Himself, through Israel, as the Lord of all creation.

This could engender hate in two ways, and this is where we shift from history to philosophy, attempting to make an appropriate application of these words. The first way that could engender hate would be based on the fact that humanity, beginning with Adam, has been rebellious, not wanting to submit to God, and certainly not wanting to have their self-erected gods dismissed. Therefore hate is directed towards those that reveal a God that rules over all and demands unswerving allegiance. The second potential reason for being hated is their presentation of themselves as God’s chosen people, through covenant, and then not living in a way that reflected that idea and which did not honor the blessing---by engaging in idolatry or by turning inward so as to keep God’s blessing only for themselves and excluding those that they felt were unworthy of the covenant. The second reason is quite compelling. Can this be applied to the words that Jesus directed towards His disciples, which His disciples, in turn, purposefully directed towards His church? Perhaps.

What is the fundamental obligation of the person that claims to be in Christ? Is it to judge people, to regulate their lives, and tell them how to live? No. A thousand times no! Unfortunately, this is what usually generates hatred; but is hatred that stems from doing that which Jesus has not obligated us to do really the hatred of which Jesus speaks? Probably not. Beyond that, are people going to hate us, or would they have so fiercely hated and persecuted the early followers of Jesus if all they spoke about was escaping off to a heavenly island of peace and bliss following death? Again, probably not. So why would there be hate? Well, as it was for Israel, so it would be for the new covenant people of Christ’s church, as such people went and go about the business of their primary obligation to proclaim that Jesus is the Lord of all, and that all are subject to Him and to His rule, without exception. Quite naturally, this can produce hatred, as it attacks the root of mankind’s problem, which is the mis-use of the divine image, as that divine image bearing is turned into self-worship and a thirst for power rather than being exercised in the reflection of God’s glory into His world.

Secondly, hate comes when Christians proclaim Jesus as their Lord and God and are thereby charged to exemplify divine blessing, subsequently presenting themselves as a chosen and rescued and delivered people, but then denying the blessings associated with that confession by not living their proclamation into the world. If we name the name of Jesus, and revel in being the chosen people of God, but then turn our backs on this world to dismiss this creation in a way that Jesus never did, or if we hold what we claim to be the transformative power of the Gospel to ourselves within the walls of our church without taking it out to give cups of cold water and food and clothing (exemplifying divine blessing), then the world has every right to express hatred. Is this what happened to Israel in Egypt? Is this the type of actions, or lack thereof, that caused God’s fruitful people to be hated? Is this what Jesus had in mind?

Is it possible that we are hated when we proclaim allegiance to the name of Jesus, but then we do not live accordingly? Should we be hated when we live as if this world does not matter, looking to a rapture or a far-off realm, turning God’s blessing into that which is merely personal and spiritual under the cloak of a cultivation of personal holiness in supposed service to Jesus, and thereby showing contempt for the world in a way that we do not find with Jesus? With a historical grounding for the language of Jesus that is rooted in the experience of Egypt and the exodus, this appears to be highly plausible.

Finally, with Jesus’ speaking to enduring to the end and being saved, we are reminded that we are in this world, but at the same time, we are a part of the kingdom of God that was being proclaimed by Jesus, and which was inaugurated at the Resurrection. We live in anticipation of the age to come, which is already present with the power of the Gospel that began to be shed abroad by the Resurrection of Jesus, but which we still await the coming in fullness. Like Israel in Egypt following their enslavement to an oppressive power, we know we are a people of promise, and we know that we are people of the covenant, yet we still toil in bondage to the eventual coming of death, waiting for our final deliverance that has been promised, while compassionately sympathizing with a suffering world as did our Lord. Though they were oppressed in Egypt, Israel knew that they had a promise that had been given to Abraham, that a deliverer, bringing salvation, would come after a certain period of time. That hope was never lost. We hold on to that hope as well. It sustained them even as they served the Egyptians, which they were forced to do unwillingly, through hatred, rather than joyfully with divine blessing. Though they experienced the effects of hatred at the hands of the Egyptians, for whatever reason that hatred came, those that endured were saved, and they were led out into God’s land of promise.

If we are to be hated, let us be hated for the right reasons. Let us be hated because we proclaim the Lordship and the supreme rule of Jesus over all of mankind and over all of this creation as we await our resurrected entrance into God’s restored creation. Thus we will be hated for a cause, as the redeeming, resurrecting power of the Gospel is brought to bear.

Hated (part 3)

It is always key to hold fast to the thought that the people to whom Jesus spoke, be it His disciples or fellow Israelites (though His wider audience also frequently included Gentiles), always thought of themselves as the people delivered from slavery in Egypt. Though they had been more recently been delivered from a Babylonian exile, which allowed a rebuilding of the Temple and a rebuilding of Jerusalem, this return from exile was always considered incomplete, so the more sure demonstration of the power and faithfulness of their God, which more readily identified Israel as His chosen and special people through which He desired to carry out His purposes in and for this world, was the deliverance from Egypt under Moses.

Exodus is what influences the soteriological terms that are encountered within the divine record, such as redemption, deliverance, rescue, and salvation. When such words are used, be it by a judge, a Psalmist, a prophet, a king, or by Jesus, their usage would generate a remembrance of the God that delivered from Egypt. In turn, this would stir a remembrance of the Sinai covenant, which should then remind the hearer (or the reader) of the Abrahamic covenant, thereby driving thoughts right back to that which the Abrahamic covenant was designed to correct, which was the world that was brought into existence by the fall of man. In a culture in which these stories were told and heard on a daily basis, and highlighted at the times of the festivals, we do not no strain to credulity to posit such a manner of contemplation.

This returns us, then, to what Jesus said in the thirteenth chapter of Mark (and elsewhere): “You will be hated by everyone because of My name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (13:13). We now key in on the second part of that statement, in which Jesus speaks of enduring to the end and being saved. This use of “saved” links Jesus’ words to Israel’s Egyptian exodus, as again, “salvation” expressions, for Israel, speak of God’s rescue from enemies or deliverance from oppressors. This would be easily picked up on by His hearers, and it would have been readily discerned by the first century readers of the Gospels, as they would also have been steeped within Israel’s history. When that is understood, and we pick up on the exodus context for the hatred of which Jesus speaks, and discard the idea that Jesus is talking about some ethereal, other-worldly notion of a paradise somewhere off in the sky to be enjoyed after death (a thoroughly un-Jewish notion) when He speaks of being saved, we will find ourselves better positioned to identify the reason for the hate.

So why in the world is this connected to Israel’s exodus? What is the reason that God gives for rescuing Israel (His covenant people through Abraham) from their Egyptian bondage? Essentially, it is the same reason He gives for rescuing the church (His covenant people through Jesus) from their bondage? We find the answer in Deuteronomy, where we read’s Moses report that “It is not because you were more numerous than all the other peoples that the Lord favored and chose you---for in fact you were the least numerous of all peoples. Rather it is because of His love for you and His faithfulness to the promises He solemnly vowed to your ancestors that the Lord brought you out with great power, redeeming you from the place of slavery” (7:7-8) Just before this, Moses reminds Israel that they “are a people holy to the Lord” (7:6a), and saying “He has chosen you to be His people, prized above all others on the face of the earth” (7:6b).

One of the Psalmists picks up on this, enabling us to catch yet another glimpse of that historical self-understanding out of and into which Jesus spoke, when the Psalmist wrote (in reference to Israel in Egypt), “The Lord made His people very fruitful, and made them more numerous than their enemies. He caused them to hate His people, and to mistreat His servants” (105:24-25). This gives us pause, so as to consider a question that is never asked, which is “what was Israel doing for Egypt when God made them fruitful in that land?” Were they being a blessing as Abraham had been? What caused Egypt to turn against Israel and to hate God’s covenant people? Were they serving those people well by sharing God’s blessings and revealing their God to them, or were they hoarding the blessing?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hated (part 2)

Hated? Hate was not an uncommon disposition in those days. Israel was hated by a variety of people. In turn, Israel offered hate in return---one can think of the attitude and disgust engendered against the Samaritans in this regard. The hate for and from Israel would center on Israel’s claims to be the special and chosen people of the covenant God, and thus stem from the exclusivist positions derived from their understanding of that claim. Perhaps Jesus’ mention of this hatred because of Him was a way of communicating to His disciples that they must continue on with some of the exclusive practices being carried on by the wider citizenry of Israel? Of course, in consideration of Jesus’ wide-open practices in the area of table-fellowship, in which He welcomed all and sundry to break bread with Him in defiance of custom and societal norms, we can dismiss such thinking almost immediately. Thus the high-mindedness with which Israel looked upon themselves, and was the reason for which they disassociated from the rest of the world, and therefore became the grounds for mutual hatred, was precluded by Jesus’ active and oft-repeated example.

Yet at the same time Jesus spoke of His disciples being hated. So how would these disciples have responded to this? How would they have heard this? To uncover the answer it will be necessary to look into Israel’s history, and especially the history by which Israel saw itself supremely defined. We must always, always, always remember that even though Jesus was unique in a number of ways, His teaching and His mission were firmly grounded within Judaism and the history of Israel. If it was too unique, He could never have found an audience, and would have been dismissed as a heathen, outside of the realm of the covenant people, and probably overly influenced by the pagan religions by which Israel was surrounded and to which they had so often succumbed in their past. While remembering the grounding of Jesus’ teaching within historical Judaism and Israel, we also do very well to remember that those that heard, and those that would later record His life and teaching, so as to pass it on in both oral and written form, heard what He had to say within the same historically-rooted context. They did so while also speaking and writing of Jesus in the light of the Resurrection and what that Resurrection implied for Him, for Israel, for the world, and for the ultimate eschatological purposes of Israel’s God.

Before we move on to the uncovering of the answer that will enable us to get a more firm and far less anachronistic grip on what such words from Jesus implied, it must be said that this pronouncement concerning hatred was not isolated. Jesus spoke of being hated on more than one occasion. While Mark has Jesus speaking of being hated in association with His pronouncements concerning the end of the age, in the wake of His kingly entry into Jerusalem and His “cleansing” of the Temple, Matthew has Jesus first speaking of being hated much earlier. Now, just as Matthew records a sermon on the mount, whereas Luke records a sermon on the plain, it is quite likely that Jesus’ message was repetitive in nature, as we bear in mind the oral-history-oriented community to which He spoke. So in regards to the hating, Matthew has Jesus speaking of such things in association with His sending of the twelve “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (10:6). It is in this context that Jesus says “you will be hated by everyone because of My name” (10:22a), while adding, as He did at the time of Mark’s record, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (10:22b).

Progressing on to the Gospel of Luke as we are on the lookout for hate, we land in the sixth chapter, where we find Jesus speaking of such things during the aforementioned sermon on the plain. Here, He is speaking to a wider audience than just His disciples, but the general theme remains unchanged. Jesus says, “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you and insult you and reject you as evil on account of the Son of Man!” (6:22) Interestingly, Jesus here speaks of being excluded, which should certainly have reminded His hearers (and us) of the exclusive practices referenced earlier, though in a way that informs His hearers (and us) that separating exclusions within the “kingdom of God” (6:20) should themselves be excluded. Later, Jesus will add the difficult demand to “Love your enemies,” and to “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (6:27b-28). For those of us that live in a Christianized western world, we see this as a relatively easy thing to do, as we so rarely experience real hatred. In fact, we tend to create dummies and bogeyman, and point to them as those that hate us because of the name of Jesus, when such is generally not the case. In so doing, we find a convenient excuse to isolate ourselves from the world around us, in a Gospel and Resurrection and kingdom of redemption denying way, clustering together within the four walls of our church buildings like some modern-day Qumran community awaiting God’s judgment to fall from heaven on these pretend enemies in a way that will vindicate our self-decided holiness. However, in Jesus’ day, with this overt reference to the Romans, such thinking was radical, especially if Jesus was the Messiah that was supposed to be raised up and ordained to drive the Romans from their land.

Finally, in the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, we find an extended discourse on being hated, beginning with “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated Me first” (15:18). John positions this discourse within what is generally referred to as Jesus’ “parting words” to His disciples, thereby placing it, in chronological sequence, after the record of Mark. That, of course, simply points to the fact that Jesus said the same things multiple times, rather than a faulty memory or a merely fictitious construction. Regardless of placement, it makes the point that the disciples of Jesus heard these things as something of a regular topic, and did so into an atmosphere that was highly charged with ideas of revolution, with that revolution and its victory, though it would be through their Messiah, coming at the hands of the very same God that had once saved His people out of Egypt, and Who had, according to the prophets, promised to do the same thing again.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Hated (part 1)

You will be hated by everyone because of My name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. – Mark 13:13 (NET)

Jesus---the healer, the wondrous miracle worker, the good and wise man, the social revolutionary---tells His disciples that they will be hated by everyone because of His name. He says this in the midst of answering a question posed by Peter, James, John, and Andrew (13:3). Prior to the question and the answer, one of His disciples had spoken of the Temple, making reference to its size and grandeur. This occurs after Jesus has observed the significant offerings that were being made for the Temple, which would be used for its ongoing upkeep, adornment, and expansion. The amount of money that filtered through the Temple was substantial, with large offerings able to do wonderful things for the Temple that visibly represented Israel’s hopes, its dreams, and its God. Nevertheless, Jesus focuses in on one particular woman, a poor widow, who “came and put in two small copper coins” (12:42b). He said to His disciples, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the offering box than all the others. For they all gave out of their wealth. But she, out of her poverty, put in what she had to live on, everything she had” (12:43b-44).

We rightly view the recognition of such sacrificial giving as a badge of honor and praise from Jesus. It appears that Jesus is singling this woman out and holding her up for praise due to her gift. At least one of the disciples hears these words from Jesus as praise for the woman, as He honors her gift above the others, when he says, “Look at these tremendous stones and buildings” (13:1b), as if to say, “So much money has been given to erect and to maintain this Temple. Some of those gifts have been quite large, and in addition, all of the people participate in this construction and maintenance program by their gifts. This Temple would not be what it is today if all gave only what this widow gave, and yet you, Jesus, say that she gave more.” Jesus’ response to His disciple allows us to consider that His recognition of the widow’s gift was also something of a lament, as this woman has given all that she has to live on, and is now going to suffer hunger and thirst and privation, to support a Temple (and a Temple regime) that is going to come to an end. Jesus says, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left on another. All will be torn down!” (13:2)

These are cataclysmic words. These are weighty words. The Temple will be torn down? What do you mean the Temple will be torn down? This is big news---the biggest! Moreover, such words are not being spoken by some raving lunatic. This is being said by the man recently hailed with “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (11:9b-10) This same man had entered the Temple, and with a demonstration of a deep and abiding respect for the Temple and its purposes, along with a respect for Who and what it symbolized, and drove out those who were selling and buying in the Temple courts and overturned the tables of the money changers and prevented merchandise from being carried through the Temple courts (11:15-16), saying “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have turned it into a den of robbers!” (11:17)

Not only had Jesus been conducted into Jerusalem as its King, and then said and done these things in connection with the Temple, but He said and did a great number of things prior to that which had enabled Him to gain a following and a reputation that resulted in His “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem and His being able to act with seeming impunity in the Temple. The record of Mark’s Gospel prior to Jesus’ words that spoke of the destruction of the Temple have Him enduring Satan’s testing in the wilderness following His baptism, casting out demons, healing Peter’s mother-in-law, cleansing a leper, healing a paralyzed man, restoring a withered hand, offering mysteriously authoritative teaching, calming a storm, restoring a well-known demoniac to sanity, reversing a woman’s twelve year long ailment, raising a twelve year old girl from the dead, feeding multitudes, walking on water, providing hearing to a deaf man, giving sight to a blind man, experiencing a transfiguration accompanied by Moses and Elijah, and cursing a fig tree so that it withers and dies.

This is the man---that has done these amazing works---that now speaks such things about the Temple. He goes on to speak of the possibility of being mislead, with many coming in His name, wars and rumors of wars, of nations and kingdoms rising up in arms against one another, of earthquakes, of famines, and of pain (13:5-8). It is then that Jesus speaks of His own disciples experiencing persecution, of standing before governors and kings on His behalf, of preaching the Gospel to all nations, of arrest, of the Holy Spirit, of brother rising against brother, and of children rising against parents. It is to this that Jesus adds those poignant words, saying “You will be hated by everyone because of My name.”