Saturday, November 30, 2013

Where Your Treasure Is (part 1)

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Luke 12:34  (NET)

As is almost always the case, Jesus does not offer up these words as a disconnected aphorism.  Though it can be taken as a truth, it is only taken as such because of the context provided to it by Jesus and the Lukan narrative.  Though the overall movement of Luke’s Gospel will not be here touched upon, it would be entirely inappropriate to make an attempt to rightly comprehend a statement such as this without operating within a mental framework that is consistently cognizant that Luke is telling a story so as to communicate a particular point of view, and that every component of that story is serving a greater end. 

That greater end that would seem to be in Luke’s view is Jesus’ conception of the kingdom of heaven.  In fact, it is a reflection upon the kingdom of heaven that is the immediate precursor to the series of statements that concludes with “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  To this point, and prior to this telling statement, Jesus has said to “pursue His kingdom” (12:31) and that the “Father is well pleased to give you the kingdom” (12:32b). 

Before moving any further, one must take care to not make the serious mistake of thinking of the kingdom of heaven as something distant, whether that distance be a matter of time or space.  For a Jew such as Jesus, the kingdom of heaven was defined as the Creator God’s rule on earth---the realm of their God and His rule invading and occupying the realm of the beings that He had created as His image.  Heaven was not conceived of as the post-death eternally blessed attainment of a life well-lived, and as such, was not a motivating factor in living according to that which would be expected of a member of the covenant people.  It is incredibly important to establish such things, as it is incumbent upon observers to know what Jesus would have had in mind, along with what His hearers would have had in mind, knowing that they had to share a common verbal and mental vocabulary if Jesus was going to be understood. 

The idea of heaven, and the attached idea of an eternal realm to be occupied by disembodied souls, would have been foreign to the religious thought-world of the Israel of Jesus’ day.  There would almost certainly have been an awareness of such ways of thought, but thinking along those lines would likely have been heavily resisted, as an alien invader.  It was Greek thought, popularized by Plato, that divided the physical from the spiritual, positing that the physical world was only a shabby reflection of the spiritual world.  Essentially, for the Greeks and for those influenced by Greek thought, physical equaled bad, whereas spiritual equaled good.  This was antithetical to contemporary Jewish thought.  Now, this is not to say that because it was Greek, it was wrong, but rather, it would have been foreign to Jesus, and likely rejected by Him and the earliest of those that sought to convey His message to the world. 

So it needs to be reinforced that thinking of heaven or the kingdom of heaven in such a way would not have been the position of one of the covenant people of the Creator God.  They knew that their God had created a world that was very good, that the good world He had created had been corrupted, that His image-bearers had been marred, and that their God was eventually going to act to not only restore this world to its very good condition, but that His restoring, redeeming operation, which would occur within history and be brought to bear in this creation, was going to create a world even better than the one that had suffered a fall. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

In This Is Love (part 18 of 18)

It is from that insistence about those that are the sons of the Creator God that Paul goes on to write of the creation that eagerly awaits the revelation of those sons of God (Romans 8:19).  Paul seems to insist that the creation, and indeed the beings that have been charged with the stewardship of that creation, await the revelation of the sons of the Creator God so that they might suffer alongside and on behalf of the creation as did Jesus, and so that they might destroy the works of the devil by which they are enslaved---even if they are part of that group of image bearing stewards that have not yet realized the fact of their own enslavement. 

So it is in this suffering that one finds 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 one must not overly personalize this statement and think of sins in the usual way of petty moral failings.  One must think of the larger sin of idolatry---of not worshiping the Creator and of improperly bearing His image.  Jesus addresses this in that He not only reveals the Creator God, but He perfectly bears the image of that God, and therefore, shows forth what the Creator expected and expects of His human creation. 

His ultimate self-sacrifice, trusting with a great hope in His God’s power for resurrection and re-creation, shows the way and the truth, along with that which is productive of eternal life (properly understood).  His reported giving over of the Spirit is taken to be the impartation of the power that brought about His Resurrection, and that imparted Spirit gives the desire and the ability to enter into self-sacrifice, while trusting that all that is done in His name will remain because the recipient also look towards the experience of a resurrection, just like Jesus.  This self-sacrifice is thus rooted in the same love that the Creator 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 (the church) into the world to prepare for the return of the Son. 

It is with these thoughts ringing in open ears that duty is to be considered, with that duty being the ongoing responsibility of the church (as the son of God) to destroy the works of the devil.  How does the last of the revealed sons of God do this?  The Johannine author writes “Dear friends, if God so loved us, then we also ought to love one another” (4:11).  How is this love shown?  It is shown through the embodiment of the Gospel (Jesus is Lord and this demands a certain response), and living as if there is a living and reigning King who gave His life and His all, and seeking to follow His example and His voice (food, clothing, cups of cold water, visiting prisoners, etc…) while also giving voice to that allegiance so that those that submit to that King might be used in somehow sending His power into the world, so that it is never forgotten that it is not by accomplished through one’s own might or power, but that it is 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 the Creator God had 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 the Christ, as the son of God in and for the world today, the Savior of the world?  The immediate response is “of course not,” but to that is added a “well, yes and no.”   The “no” comes because none can be the Son that Jesus was.  The “yes” is uttered because those that comprise the church as the son of God are the ambassadors of the Creator God’s love and purpose, as those that are supposed to turn men to the God as revealed in the Christ, compelling a saving allegiance to that God through the 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).        

Thursday, November 28, 2013

In This Is Love (part 17)

As a recognized son of God, Adam must be understood to have been 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 usurping encroachment of death. 

Israel, as a son of God, was given a heady responsibility as well.  Their mark of covenant was the law.  Most specifically, their covenant required them to keep a series of Sabbaths, reverence the sanctuary of their God, and to worship the Creator God exclusively.  Their adherence to these requirements would be life to them, causing the accrual of blessings untold to them (Leviticus 26 & Deuteronomy 28), 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 the Creator God in service to that God’s people and as that 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 and purposed a renewed people of the Creator God with a very much 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 fundamental Gospel message that Jesus was indeed the crucified and resurrected Messiah and Lord of all. 

Adherence to this idea and this task would mean life---eternal life (not a never-ending life in a far-off place called heaven, thought of in such a way as to make this life and world secondary and almost irrelevant, but rather, the life of the age to come intruding upon this present age).  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 into this world 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 and in response to 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 somehow effect transformation in minds and in lives, along with the destruction of evil and the defeat of death---the ongoing and eventual renewal of the creation along with the renewal of those that had been made in the Creator God’s image to steward God’s creation.  This renewal is always happening in incremental stages but it is never complete, as it is the Holy Spirit’s mysterious working through those that are now called sons of God, to provide them and the world a glimpse of heaven come to earth (the realm of the Creator God overlapping the realm of man), in advance of it finally and fully 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 of the Christ.  Just as the Creator God has placed numerous sons in this world, so too is this particular son placed in the world to shine the light of His glory, and to carry on the long-established mission of the Son, doing so in and with the same Spirit, as was promised.  As Paul communicates to the Roman congregation, again relying on the context of the son of God tradition and writing “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).  

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

In This Is Love (part 16)

This realization gives an even greater weight to Paul’s apparent thinking about the church that is presented in the first chapter of Ephesians.  There, Paul undergirds the entirety of the Christian life with the premise of being “in Christ.”  With what might very well be a line of thinking that is shaped by Israel’s son of God tradition, he writes about the Creator 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 is almost as if Paul, along with the author of the works that bear the name of John, believe that the church of Jesus the Christ has been specially and purposefully appointed to take the place of Jesus in the world, and to be His representatives (with a nod to the underlying comprehension of Jesus as the true King of the cosmos).  Of course, that is exactly what they believe, with Paul reinforcing such thinking elsewhere by speaking of those that are in union with the Christ in purpose and mission as ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20), and as the church as the manifestation and extension of the Creator 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 the Creator God (which is to be contemplated in terms of the mission to destroy the works of the devil---as outlined by Jesus words and actions undertaken in the grand son of God tradition), there is the demonstration of the foundations of the church as such, which has been previously referenced in the course of this study.  To that point, after His Resurrection, upon His first appearance to His disciples, Jesus is said to have told them that “Just as the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21).  With this, Jesus was sending His disciples into the world, as revealers. 

As Jesus had been the direct revelation of the Creator God, so would His disciples now reveal that God through revealing and proclaiming Jesus and the message that He is Lord of all.  This revelation, among other things, as a continuation of the Creator God’s purpose for His revealed and revealing sons, would have as its purpose the destruction of the works of the devil.  It should be noted that the words of sending that Jesus employed carried 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 (not to mention the animating of Adam) was continued, as His delivery of the Holy Spirit to them attunes the reader to the previously reported descent of the dove.  As it was said about Jesus, so too could it be said of those that would go forth to speak and live out 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 what is taken to be the act of receiving the Spirit of the Creator God and so effectively becoming living beings for the first time, the church is now understood to be a son not unlike Adam---a new creation charged to steward the Creator 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. 

Making this connection is not at all untenable, as Adam was said to have received his life through the very breath of the covenant God, Jesus is referred to by those that undertook to comprehend and share about His life and mission and its meaning as the last Adam, and the church operates as the present and active body of the Christ to be the living and breathing and perpetual witness of the love of the Creator God that was made supremely manifest in the life and death of the Son. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

In This Is Love (part 15)

Though Jesus was not one hundred percent unique to the point that He would not be recognized and understood by anybody, He was obviously and distinctively set apart from anybody that came before or that would come after in a number of ways.  It is not necessary to here go very deeply into this point, but it is almost needless to say that the crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the ascension, combined with the portended effects and meanings of those three things in the messianic context provided them by Jesus and the expectations and hopes of the culture in general, 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 long son of God tradition recognized by Israel.  Though the acts were unique, the purpose remained the same, as it can be wholeheartedly agreed upon 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.  There, He is said to have informed 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 can be added the casting out of demons.  Does this not sound very much like the destruction of the works of the devil? 

Jesus is set forth as one who went about engaging in workings that served the purpose of eliminating that which was marring the Creator 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 the Creator 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, could be understood to be that which 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 the Creator God through His person and His work.

That destruction of the devil’s works, which, big picture, had long been the delivery of death to humanity and to the world, would be accomplished in its 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, mysteriously and completely animated by the Spirit of the Creator God, as Jesus was present in a world that was now beginning to be altered (as was believed by those that would begin announcing the Gospel message that Jesus, the crucified and resurrected Messiah, is Lord of all) by the presence of the very 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, is thought to have inaugurated the kingdom of God on earth, with Jesus as its Lord and King.  Though this kingdom is now present with power, it is also 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 the 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.  

Monday, November 25, 2013

In This Is Love (part 14)

Presumably, those that heard did more than hear, but also acted upon what it was that they heard, and one 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 one hears 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 reports the early church’s comprehension of Jesus and 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 this can be said about Jesus as well, thereby linking the two in that manner.  Perhaps 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 of the need to see the Creator God fulfilling some measure of His promise to Abraham in Solomon, to whom the Creator refers as His son. 

Furthermore, Solomon’s sharing of this wisdom with the people of all nations would have made him an ideal 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 an observer to reflect on such tremendous love. 

As can be seen, 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.  In fact, apart from Israel’s history, it withstands comprehension.  Indeed, this means that the whole of Christian teaching must be grounded within this same history in order for it to carry any meaning or comprehension whatsoever.  Divorcing the words and thoughts about Jesus from their historical context will inevitably lead to bad theology, Christology, soteriology, ecclesiology, eschatology, and more. 

Indeed, if one does not take the history and theology of Israel with all seriousness, then most words and thoughts and attempted deductions concerning Jesus will be little more than exercises in missing the point.  Though it is said that “no one ever 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 it is quite likely that most if not all of it would have been dismissed in much the same way the church would eventually dismiss the Gnostic texts that sprang up as exhibitions of that very type of historical disconnectedness that leads to bad theology (and so forth).  Unfortunately, much of what is said about Jesus, when it is not rooted in a sober treatment of the multiple points of His context, end up looking and sounding like little more than the obviously heretical Gnosticism that a church with a firm grasp of history and its deeply Jewish roots effectively and appropriately pushed to the side. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

In This Is Love (part 13)

What would Jesus do on the heels of crossing the Jordan and His forty wilderness days?  Mark reports 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, doing so as Israel had done, though it would take on a different appearance. 

In the book of Joshua, Rahab informs the reader that the inhabitants of the land---presented as the defiling usurpers in Israel’s promised territory (much like death was a defiling usurper in the Creator’s good creation)---feared Israel greatly, knowing that they had already destroyed great kings and gained decisive victories over other peoples during their post-Egypt wilderness sojourn.  To this reported of Rahab can be equated the fearfulness expressed by the unclean spirits with which Jesus is said to have 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 it had also been said of Israel (son of God), Jesus (Son of God) 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 the Creator God’s glory to the world, Jesus was a Son that understood that He was tasked with doing the same.  If He was indeed the Messiah, and according to His own messianic interpretation, 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, quoting from Isaiah from a post-Resurrection-and-Jesus-mission-comprehension-position and 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). 

Moving along, it can be seen that 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 comes to be understood to be 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. 

There it is reported 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 helpfully going on to list four prominent wise men of his day.  Relating this then to Jesus, one need merely consider the crowds that were said to have routinely flocked to Him and followed Him, presumably because of His displays of wisdom (among other things).  In Solomonic tradition, these crowds were composed of Jesus’ fellow countrymen, and would also include Gentiles from within the borders of Israel and the surrounding nations.  As was said of Jesus, which could also be fittingly said of Solomon, “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46)    

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

In This Is Love (part 12)

The second of the two-fold consideration of Jesus’ experience of forty days in the wilderness also causes Him to be connected, quite rightly, with the nation of Israel as a whole.  Forty is an often referenced and significant number in relation to Israel and to the history of the people pre-Jacob (forty days and nights of rain for the flood in the days of Noah).  In connection with the all-important exodus event itself, Moses is on Mount Sinai for forty days and nights, where he is said to have received Israel’s covenant marker directly from the finger of Israel’s God.  This time of Moses’ absence presents itself as a test of Israel’s faithfulness to their covenant God that had just rescued His chosen people from their slavery in Egypt.  It was a test that they are said to have 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 each said to have ruled over a united kingdom of Israel for forty years.  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 the story of Israel in general.  Forty days in the wilderness for Jesus after baptism in the Jordan---forty years for Israel in the wilderness after what is often referred to as their “baptism” in the waters of the sea. 

Jesus had entered the waters of the Jordan to be baptized at the hands of his cousin, John the Baptist.  For a messiah-like figure, this baptism in the Jordan, at the hands of one who presented himself as the voice of one crying in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord (with heavy tones of expectation concerning the coming of Israel’s God), would have been taken to be emblematic of a new exodus movement in anticipation of the Creator 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 their God’s working on behalf of His oppressed people, with this resulting in the crushing defeat of those that had oppressed them, 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 the Creator God, whereas Israel’s forty year wilderness experience was for the opposite reason.  Though the covenant God had previously shown forth Israel as His elect people (son) by bringing them out of Egypt, much like this God shows forth Jesus as His elect Son (who had also been brought out of Egypt, though that is for a different time), His displeasure was evident. 

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 that doubted at the foot of Sinai and at the edge of Canaan is said to have died off in the desert.  Owing to this, the people were prepared to enter into their land of promise, and therefore prepared to enter into the mission that their God had established for them.  Israel would cross through the waters of the Jordan (inviting a direct comparison between Jesus and Israel) into their promised land and to their mission, to carry out the work of their God, to establish a kingdom that would allow them to experience their God’s blessing, to become a light for the surrounding peoples, and thereby elicit praise for and acknowledgment of their God as the true and only God.  Israel was to leave the wilderness and enter their land for the purpose of their God’s glory.  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

In This Is Love (part 11)

In the first and third of the temptations of Jesus that are recorded in Luke, 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 ask to be understood and 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.  In popular comprehension, this messiah would be the son of God in that he would be Israel’s king, but in some circles he would also be the Son of God, in that many believed it to be the case that the Creator God would take human flesh upon Himself in order to personally intervene on behalf of His people, establishing Israel’s rule over the nations.  As Israel’s king therefore, this would mean that the Creator God, through His son, was going to establish His own physically present rule over the whole of the world. 

So when Satan tempts Jesus, it appears that what He is tempting Jesus to do is to take a shortcut to acclimation as king.  He could turn stone into bread (an allusion to Israel receiving manna in the wilderness), and with such a miraculous demonstration He prove Himself to be the messiah and therefore immediately hailed as king.  Such would be a reasonable expectation on the part of Satan, because as would come to be seen, when Jesus multiplies the loaves and the fishes, the people attempted to come and make Him king by force, which caused Jesus to quickly withdraw into isolation. 

It would seem that Jesus knew that there was only one way for Him to ascend to the throne, and ultimately only one way in which He would be recognized as the Messiah (along with all that would entail according to the expectations of a great number of His fellow citizens), and that was going to be the path of suffering on an altogether unlikely cross.  That, presumably, is why Jesus refutes Satan’s insistence to worship him in exchange for earthly rule, and why He also rejects the idea of putting His God to the test by casting Himself from the Temple for the purpose of forcing a miraculous rescue that would have the likely effect of an immediate elevation to the throne of Israel.  Apart from that, Jesus may not have been altogether confident that the covenant God would come to His rescue if he flung Himself from the pinnacle of the Temple, as such would not have been an exilic suffering in the mold of Israel into which their God would enter in to provide deliverance.   

What does this have to do with Adam?  Well, where Adam failed, Jesus succeeded.  When the serpent tempted Adam with being like the Creator God, Adam acceded to the temptation.  When Satan tempted Jesus (the second Adam) with the opportunity to show Himself forth as God ( being “like God” for all practical purposes), 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 put on display. 

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, according to the Genesis narrative, 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” (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, the son of God 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? 

In This Is Love (part 10)

Having examined Adam, Israel, and Solomon, this study now turns to the one more formally recognized as the Son of God, that being Jesus of Nazareth.  Naturally, when one reads in the New Testament about the Son of God, it is Jesus that is being referenced.  He becomes a bit of a summary of the sons of God, and is therefore seen 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 (the recurring theme of exodus to exile), and as the king of Israel (the Solomonic messiah) that demonstrates discernment and desires the just rule of the Creator God over His people. 

Therefore Jesus is to be known as the Son of God, at least partially, within the context of the vision and concept of son-ship as it is presented throughout what is understood to be the history of Israel.  If one does 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 the Creator 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 it will simply not be posible to make proper sense of Jesus’ mission.  Jesus, of course, when He is understood to be Israel’s Messiah, is also understood to somehow be the physical embodiment of Israel’s God, as would seem to be indicated by the prophets (proleptically and in retrospect).  If this is the case, He is thence also the revelation of love of the Creator God. 

In the accounts of His life that are presented by the Gospel writings, ones sees Jesus alternately taking up the various mantles of son-ship that had been worn by the revealed 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 this, He actually demonstrates a congruity with Adam.  Utilizing Mark’s account, one finds that Jesus has been set forth before men, presumably by the Creator 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, should put the reader 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 a bit later on, when considering 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, with a nod to the previously mentioned congruity with Adam, Mark’s record prompts a consideration of the account of Adam in Genesis, when the Creator 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 quite analogous to the story of Adam, as the Creator God breathed into Him the breath of life, thus animating Adam for his appointed service by way of His power. 

The analogy does not stop there however, as Mark goes on to inform his audience 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 the nature of those temptations, fortunately both 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 His God would intervene to rescue Him. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

In This Is Love (part 9)

Because of his wealth and fame, Solomon is said to have drawn admirers from many lands.  They are said to have 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---that being wealth, power, and fame.  Because of this, Solomon would have had many opportunities to share the knowledge of covenant-making Creator God with the representatives of the nations of the world, and in the tradition of the Abrahamic covenant, bring glory to the Creator God by means of showing forth his God’s blessings. 

Ideally, this would cause previously unknowing men and nations to turn from their various forms of idolatry (one item in a presumed list of the works of the devil) to the one 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 if the reports of his fame and influence are accurate (and this information would have been part of the worldview of the average member of the covenant people of Israel), it is reasonable to suggest that Solomon was able to do as suggested. 

Much like the Creator God had warned Israel what would happen if they were to fail in righteousness (covenant faithfulness), so too was Solomon warned.  Because both Israel and Solomon were specially elected by the Creator, and looked upon as His chosen sons that were to reveal His glory and love for the world that He had created, much was expected of them.  However, as the first two sons (Adam and Israel) had failed, so too did Solomon.  In a fashion very similar to that which is reported to be the general history of the people delivered from Egypt prior to his day, who disastrously allowed idolatrous practices to be continued by the occupants of their promised land while also joining with them in said practices, so too did Solomon allow for a continued idolatry. 

Indeed, he not only allowed it to continue, but like Israel in general, he would willingly participate in idolatrous practices (with this attributed to his desire to please his many wives), thus effectively denying the revelatory role that the Creator God desired for those that had been declared to be 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 (self-idolatry), as well as being the source of repeated instances of subjugation and various forms of exile for Israel (both before and after Solomon, both inside and outside of the promised land), so too would this result in dire consequences for Solomon. 

Because of this falling short of the glory of the Creator God, via the engagement in the presumed works of the devil against which he and Israel had been warned, the kingdom that Solomon had established was understood to have been torn in two.  Indeed, “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 that would come to a failing son of God, 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 the Creator 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 his God that “My loyal love will not be removed from him” (2 Samuel 7:15a).  As can surely be seen in the record of the Creator’s covenant dealings with humanity and the world, the Lord God of Israel loves His son and desires to reveal Himself and His love through that son despite his failings.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

In This Is Love (part 8)

From viewing Israel as son of God, one then moves on 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, the Creator God is reported to have spoken to him and given him a promise.  That promise was related to David’s dynasty in general, and more specifically to his immediate successor on the throne.  The God of Israel 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 purposes of this study, to this was added “I will become his father and he will become My son” (7:14a).  Now, while one can certainly use this promise as a looking forward to Jesus and the true kingdom and truly permanent dynasty, one can also undoubtedly know that this refers to Solomon.  The Creator goes on to insist that “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 eventually be applied to Jesus, it would be difficult to make the first part do the same, so it is appropriate to almost assuredly assert divine reference to Solomon, and view him as yet another revelation of the son of God. 

With what has been spoken by the Creator God, it becomes possible to recognize that this title of the son of God, though it is here being applied specifically 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 is also of dreadful importance to a proper Christology, if one hopes to rightly understand what was accomplished by the covenant God in and through the Christ.  If Israel is the son of God that is revealed and tasked 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 the Creator God promised to correct Israel if it entered into unrighteousness (failing to live up to its covenant) and provided a rather detailed list of calamities that would be visited upon His people (which are found in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28), so also does the promise come in connection with the king that is directly referenced by the Creator God as being His son.  As has already been seen, the God of Israel speaks of correction to come to Solomon if he is to violate His covenant responsibilities and fall into unrighteousness, as reference is made to the rods of men and the infliction of wounds. 

As the story of the Creator God’s elect people began with such high hopes, so also does much hope adjoin the commencement of the record of Solomon’s rule.  His kingdom was established, and this is said of His kingdom in much the same way that it is said that Israel was able to make an entrance into the land of promise.  Solomon, firmly entrenched in the kingship (1 Kings 2:46), is said to have thrown himself upon the mercy of his God, asking for discernment so as to justly rule that God’s people.  He is reported to have demonstrated wisdom, gained wealth and fame, and achieved peace on all sides.  Along with that, remembering that the Creator Himself is understood to have built Himself a Temple (the Genesis account), Solomon goes on to build the Temple of the Lord (as the Creator God has promised David would happen).  

Friday, November 15, 2013

In This Is Love (part 7)

In addition to the ground that has already been covered, it is possible to cast a gaze elsewhere in order to understand the way in which Israel was truly called to destroy the works of the devil, with this being understood to be love’s great work.  In doing that, one takes 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 the collective son of the Creator God, and therefore the law (terms of covenant) and its associated covenant markers that were said to have come to them at Sinai were crucial components of the way that they were to be revealed sons of God that would 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 the Creator God.  So when one considers that Israel, above all things, was to reverence their God’s sanctuary (His tabernacle and His Temple, as well as the created world in which He is said to have rested on the seventh day---again, 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, one is then able to see the Creator God’s design that would allow them to take up the charge to destroy the works of the devil. 

Ultimately, this end would not be best served by physically exterminating their enemies in the land, but rather by adhering to these marks of covenant, as did Abraham, to recognize and worship and proclaim their God as the only God.  Adhering to these marks are part of what would allow these people to be the exemplification of divine blessing to the world, thus turning other peoples to Israel’s God as they forsook all others.  This would, in a sense, serve to destroy a work of the devil.  Would this then not be a shining manifestation of love?    

Alas, Israel did not live up to the call of its revelation as the firstborn son of the Creator God.  Rather than destroying the work of the devil by turning men from themselves and their gods, Israel is reported to have been repeatedly ensnared by the allure of idolatry.  Israel did not engage in the practice of righteousness (faithfulness to the covenant), denying that to which it had been called at Sinai, which was ultimately, by being the source of blessing to the world, to bring glory to their salvation-providing God by living out their covenant markers as a response of thankfulness to their gracious election as the Creator God’s chosen people.  The covenant God desired to show forth His love for the world through the vehicle of His son Israel, but due primarily to idolatry, this purpose would be denied. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

In This Is Love (part 6)

These three men (Abraham, Isaac & Jacob), and even their nephews and brothers (Lot, Ishmael & Esau), who also benefited greatly and were apparently able to amass fortunes of their own, would only be able to point to the covenant of the Creator God as the source of blessing.  Thus, they would be that blessing to the world, 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 seems to have always been (since Adam) to get men to worship and honor that which is not actually God. 

That said, it is now possible to turn attention specifically to Israel, the son of God, and another revelation of the Creator God’s love.  Is Israel rightfully considered to be the son of God?  Not only did Israel largely 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 the exodus and the associated fulfillment of long-held expectations associated with that exodus that gave them their identity as a nation, and it is that to which they were constantly looking back, with regularity, to understand the various situations in which they would find themselves and to properly understand their God and His dealings with them. 

In the fourth chapter of Exodus, the Creator God is said to have personally instructed Moses to go to the Egyptian Pharaoh and tell him, on behalf of his 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 one 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 understanding of their being chosen out as the covenant people of God, is written within the context of Israel, the covenant people, understood as the son of God.  One must not 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 would seem to be clear that it is), then Israel had been given the task of destroying the works of the devil.  This will be in response to the love and grace that their God has shown to them in bringing them into covenant with Him, and the associated response will result in showing forth their God’s love for the world (which is thematic for the Johannine writer).  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 (the record of which is loaded with hyperbole, and which they would never accomplish). 

When considered within the covenantal narrative, this would appear to be a strikingly overt call to destroy that which represented the works of the devil, along with that which defiled and defaced the land that their God had given to His son, His firstborn.  Putting aside the call for extermination, this serves as something of a microcosm of what the Creator God intended for the whole of the creation.   

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

In This Is Love (part 5)

Continuing to qualify the insistence that Israel is the second entity in the line of definitively regarded sons of God, note must also be taken 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, the term was circumcision.  Also, righteousness is a term regularly associated with Abraham.  As one considers the divine promises that are said to be on offer to Abraham, it becomes rather clear that the Creator God reveals Himself to Abraham, and in turn reveals Abraham to the world. 

This revelation, when considered within the grand scheme of the Scriptural narrative, would seem to be for the purpose of destroying the works of the devil.  This becomes poignant 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 the Creator 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 this study is concerned with the worldview of the author, and with what that means for the worldview that would have undoubtedly shaped his communication to the church of the Christ.  It must be well-noted that Abraham makes his Scriptural appearance after what is said to be the height of man’s rebellious activity, which was the event generally referred to as the tower of Babel, as mankind is reported to have gathered together in one place for the purpose of making a name for themselves.  In this, it is implied that mankind is thereby rejecting the Creator God’s implied command to inhabit the whole of the created world. 

This rejection of responsibility could quite plausibly be identified as the work of the devil, and it can be nicely equated to what Adam had done.  Consequently, Abraham’s call represented the beginning of the Creator God’s corrective measures, and one is almost always well served by bearing in mind that the church (the covenant people of the Creator God) does not strictly begin with Jesus and His disciples, but rather with Abraham.       

In an continuation of this process of qualifying Israel as the explicitly referenced son of God of Scripture, the study is also forced to make reference to the son and grandson of Abraham.  These two, Isaac and Jacob, are set forth as 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 the call and charge of these two men as well.  However, it should be recognized that 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 (it would seem) through the amassing and distribution of the wealth that is understood to represent the direct blessing of their God, thus providing them with the ability to function in that world-blessing 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.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

In This Is Love (part 4)

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 when returning to the place of 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 the reader on to a remembrance of the multiple revelations of God’s sons, as can be seen in 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, one makes 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. 

To that point, 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 one not surmise what it is that Paul is implying by the use of such language?  Can one 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 there are two New Testament witnesses to the idea of the revelation of the sons of God, which should certainly lead an observer 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.  It would seem that 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.  This can only be seen for the first time in the Gospel of Luke.  When seen here, one must also come to the realization that the thought therein reflected likely demonstrates a long-held opinion.  The first Scriptural reference to sons of God occurs in the sixth chapter of Genesis, where it is reported 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).  The Creator God’s reaction to this is indicative that such activity was not pleasing to Him, 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. 

In This Is Love (part 3)

Though it is never appropriate 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 an effort at Scriptural exegesis, it actually falls well in line with a grasp of the overall narrative-based structure of Scripture that reveals the Creator God, pointing readers to that God’s long-held plan to redeem a fallen creation into which disorder was disastrously introduced.  This seems to be well within the line of thought suggested by the covenant 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?  Is it appropriate to here posit the reported fall of Lucifer and his cohorts, as they seem to have entered into a violation of their covenants with the Creator God (sin), with the result of that violation being a world subjected to tohu and bohu?  Is it possible that the author of John views the world through this type of cosmology?  One should 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 this is so, then the creation account of Genesis, which reflects the ordering of the world into a cosmic temple in which the Creator God would rest (which would have fit well within ancient near east mythology and the idea that a temple was the resting place of a god), is the restoration of the world to the state which had been previously established by its Creator, as it had been marred by the first act of covenant unfaithfulness, with this marring carried out by the one now referred to as the devil. 

If this is so, then it becomes possible to 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 the Creator God in and to and for His creation, in proper and loving stewardship of the world.  That was part and parcel of the covenant that the Creator God is said to have 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, as is revealed in the Genesis account of the activities in the garden, is present in the world.

If this is a reasonable position, then one 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” (John 3:9a).  Sin, as one must remember in an effort to constantly steer 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 the Creator God via man’s participation in his role of stewardship of the creation, and thereby falling short of the Creator God’s intention for man as His image-bearer in and to and for this world.” 

The author goes on to write that the reason those fathered by the Creator 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 it should be reiterated that this is an ideal representation, which would then appear to be hyperbolic usage that is designed to point his audience 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.   

Monday, November 11, 2013

In This Is Love (part 2)

To talk of the Father’s love and becoming children of the Creator God is added: “Dear friends, we are God’s children now” (3:2a), which the author of the letter insists is the case even while admitting that there is a mystery to the purpose of being the children of that 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 that he and others are have become the children of God or what exactly it will look like when they are functioning as the children of God, he goes on to write that “We know that whenever it (or He) is revealed we will be like Him” (3:2c). 

Furthermore, the author goes on to insist that “Jesus was revealed to take away sins” (3:5a).  Is it not of the utmost interest that the practice of righteousness (faithfulness to the requirements of the covenant---a right standing) is connected to being fathered by the covenant God and to being His 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 it has been said has been sinning from the beginning.  

So here the term “righteousness” or “covenant faithfulness” is now connected to the children of God.  Righteousness is ascribed to Jesus, as the author wants all to know that He is faithful to the covenant.  The Son of God, who presumably also operates in righteousness (meeting all covenant requirements), 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 the Creator God.  As has been said, the devil has been operating outside the bounds of the covenant---in covenant unfaithfulness---since the beginning.  This, presumably, is what necessitated the revelation of the Son of God, so that such work could be destroyed.  This then is the mission of the Son of God. 

Inevitably, proper consideration of authorial intent drives one back to the beginning (since the beginning is mentioned), so for the purpose of gaining a more in-depth understanding, one is forced to look to the book of Genesis (the beginning) and to the first revelation of the Son of God.  Demonstrating that such is necessary and proper when considering Jesus, it is worth noting in the Gospel of Luke, as the narrative recounts the genealogy of Jesus, traces that lineage back to Adam.  In that presentation, 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 the reader into the realm of cosmology, to look at the beginning of the beginning as far as one with an Israelite worldview is concerned, where one finds that the God of Israel 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 what had been intended by the Creator when He brought the cosmos into existence.  

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 the Creator God, and about the way in which 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 so many have been able to 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 that 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 that had been set forth in the third chapter of the Gospel of John, pitting the love of the Creator 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).  This said, it is quite natural to 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 Israel’s God; and as has been indicated in the passage with which this study begins, this sending was for the purpose of being the atoning sacrifice for sins. 

Now, if the author has already stated that the Son of God was sent to destroy the works of the devil, then it would seem to be appropriate to replace “atoning sacrifice for our sins” with “destroy the works of the devil”.  This begs the question as to what exactly should be considered to be 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, the author writes that “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 the author would seem to be here defining sin as the opposite of righteousness. 

The question then becomes, “what is righteousness?”  In the author’s day, “righteousness” was properly understood as “covenant faithfulness.”  One who was righteous was one that carried the status of being faithful to the covenant requirements of Israel’s God.  Contrary to that, sin would be defined as the violation of those covenant requirements.  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, the author presents 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 must be taken into consideration.  Backing up to the end of the second chapter, use is made of the terms that have now been more properly defined.  They are even used in the context of “son-ship,” as the author writes “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, one there reads “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)  

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Hated (part 7 of 7)

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 deny the blessings associated with that confession by not living their proclamation into the world.  If one names the name of Jesus, and revels in being a part of the chosen people of the covenant God, but then turns a back to this world to dismiss this creation in a way that Jesus never did; or if believers hold to the claim to be the transformative power of the Gospel to themselves within the walls of their churches without taking that power 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?  Was it these type of actions, or lack thereof, that caused the Creator God’s fruitful people to be hated?  Is this what Jesus had in mind when He spoke of the hatred to come?  Is it possible that followers of the Christ are hated when they proclaim allegiance to the name of Jesus, but then simply do not live according to that proclamation?  At the risk of redundancy, should they be hated when they 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 is not to be found with Jesus?  With a historical grounding for the language of Jesus that is rooted in the experience of Egypt and the exodus, this would appear to be highly plausible. 

Finally, with Jesus’ speaking to enduring to the end and being saved, there comes a reminder that His disciples are most certainly in this world, but at the same time they are a part of the kingdom of the Creator God that was being proclaimed by Jesus and which was inaugurated at the Resurrection.  Believers live in anticipation of the age to come, which is already present with the power of the Gospel (Jesus is Lord) that began to be shed abroad by the Resurrection of Jesus, but the coming of which in its fullness (the restoration of the cosmos) is still awaited. 

Like Israel in Egypt following their enslavement to an oppressive power, believers are to know themselves as a people of promise.  Believers are to know themselves as people of the covenant, yet maintain the understanding that they will toil in bondage to the eventual coming of death, waiting for their final deliverance that has been promised in the Resurrection of the Christ, while compassionately sympathizing with a suffering world as did their 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.  The believer holds 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 their God’s land of promise.

If one is to be hated in association with the Christ,  it is best to be hated for the right reasons.  The believer is to be hated because of a proclamation of the Lordship and the supreme rule of Jesus over all of mankind and over all of this creation as they await a resurrected entrance into their God’s restored creation.  Thus the believers will be hated for a cause, as the redeeming and resurrecting power of the Gospel is brought to bear.        

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Hated (part 6 of 7)

Even before the Mosaic covenant that came to Israel at Sinai, what had been Israel’s responsibility?  According to the Abrahamic covenant, it was to be a light to all peoples that they might reveal the glory of their covenant God, which would be done through the demonstration of divine blessings that would come from their living as their God’s covenant people---exemplifying divine blessing.  After the exodus, they would show forth this covenant by keeping their God’s Sabbaths, reverencing His sanctuary, and by not worshiping idols.  Through this, their God would show Himself, through Israel, as the Lord of all creation. 

This could engender hate in two ways, and this entails a 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 its Creator 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 (deserves?) unswerving allegiance. 

The second potential reason for being hated is their presentation of themselves as the Creator 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 their 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 would in turn purposefully direct towards His church?  Perhaps. 

What is a 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.  However, is hatred that stems from doing that which Jesus has not obligated His followers to do, really the hatred of which Jesus speaks?  Probably not.  Beyond that, are people going to hate believers, 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 the 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 what seems to be mankind’s primary problem, which is the misuse 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 the Creator God’s glory into His world. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Hated (part 5)

This study then returns 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).  It is appropriate to 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 their God’s rescue from enemies or their deliverance from oppressors. 

Though it can be easily missed by the modern reader, such language would be easily picked up on by His hearers.  It would have been readily discerned by the majority of first century readers of the Gospels, as they would also have been steeped in Israel’s history.  When that is understood, and once one picks up on the exodus context for the hatred of which Jesus speaks, while at the same time discarding 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, readers will find themselves 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 the Creator 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?  The answer is to be found in Deuteronomy, where one finds 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 says that “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, making it possible to catch yet another glimpse of that historical self-understanding out of and into which Jesus spoke, when the Psalmist writes (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 should provide pause to consider a question that is never asked, which is “what was Israel doing for Egypt when their God made them fruitful in that land?”  Were they being a blessing as Abraham had understood to have been?  What was it that caused Egypt to turn against Israel and to hate the covenant people of the Creator God?  Were they serving those people well by sharing their God’s blessings and revealing their God to them, or were they hoarding the blessing? 

That goes to the question of why the Abrahamic covenant existed.  Presumably, it existed so that Abraham could exemplify divine blessing (as indicated in Genesis), so that his God could be recognized and glorified as the Creator God of the cosmos.  This is the covenant under which Israel went into Egypt, and it is also the covenant that comes to be fulfilled by Jesus through His church, with the message of the Gospel (Jesus is Lord) as the mark of that covenant.  

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Hated (part 4)

For believers that live in a Christianized western world, blessing one’s cursers and praying for one’s mistreaters probably seem like relatively easy things to do, as real hatred is so rarely experienced.  Cursing and mistreatment are fairly tame, and have little impact in a culture that does not operate on the basis of honor and shame.  Because of that, a number of western believers have a tendency to create dummies and bogeymen, and point to those often-theoretical and non-specific enemies (the world, the flesh, the devil) as those that hate them because of the name of Jesus, when such is generally not the case. 

In so doing, believers find convenient excuses to isolate themselves from the world around them, in what is actually a Gospel and Resurrection and kingdom of redemption denying way, clustering together within the four walls of their church buildings as if they are modern-day Qumran communities that are awaiting their God’s judgment to fall from heaven on these pretend enemies in a way that will vindicate their self-decided holiness.  However, in Jesus’ day, with this talk of enemies that hate and curse and mistreat, which may very well have been heard as not-so-subtle references to the Romans, such thinking was radical, especially if Jesus was indeed 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, an extended discourse on being hated can be found.  This discourse begins 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 a strictly 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 on the part of the author. 

Regardless of placement, it serves well to make the point that the disciples of Jesus heard these things as something of a regular topic, and that they did so in an atmosphere that was highly charged with ideas of revolution, with that revolution and its victory (though it would be through their Messiah) presumed to be coming at the hands of the very same God that had once saved His people out of Egypt, and Who had (according to the way that Israel’s prophetic literature was to be understood) promised to do the same thing again.     

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.  This was a key component of their self-identification.  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. 

The record of Exodus, and the ideas associated with the event of the exodus, are what influences the soteriological terms that are encountered within the divine record, such as redemption, deliverance, rescue, and salvation.  When such words are put to use in Israel, be it by a judge, a Psalmist, a prophet, a king, or by Jesus, that 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 condition of the world that was understood to have been brought into about by the fall of man.  In a culture in which these stories were told and heard on a daily basis, and which were highlighted at the times of the festivals, it does not strain credulity in the least to posit such a manner of contemplation.