Rejoicing in the Prize of Glory

There apparently were some (“the enemies”) who might have charged that the standard of conduct was not clear. So Paul responds to these with a living pattern of behavior by which their lives could be formed and fashioned. Imitation of this apostolic example assures Christians of their citizenship in heaven and the coming resurrection. This is Paul’s main point in 3.17-4.1 of Philippians.

17Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.

Brothers: fellow Christians in Philippi who are citizens of the heavenly kingdom (v.20).

Join in imitating me: as Paul imitates Christ (1 Cor 11.1). Or this imperative is a call for the Philippians to be fellow imitators of Christ or God (cf. Eph 5.1).

And keep your eyes…in us: “keep your eyes on” (Gk skopeite) is to scope them out. Fix your eyes on them and pay attention; observe, contemplate. There is a metaphor change from the Christian life being compared to a race to now a walk. Watch those who daily tread the Christian path of life. The “example” (Gk tupon), either imprint or image, is the Philippians (“have,” present tense) in “us.” Who? Certainly Paul, Timothy, Epaphroditus contextually speaking. In a more general sense, the apostolic college at large.

18For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.

For many…walk as [the] enemies of the cross of Christ: No definite number is given and very little is said about their manner of life. But that they tread an unchristian path of life is evident by their conduct. These enemies have given themselves over to their evil passions, evading the obligations Christ’s death lays upon them concerning holiness. They are therefore hostile to the cause of Christ though they move around in Christian circles.

Of whom…with tears: “I have often told you” is past tense. This is not news to the church in Philippi. Paul had constantly warned them of the erroneous enemies among or around them. Through tear laden eyes Paul acknowledges that even as he writes they are still enemies. “So true is his sympathy, so deep his care for all men.” – Chrysostom

19Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.

Their end [is] destruction: The destiny of these “many” enemies is destruction for they have cut themselves from salvation in Christ. “They have no prospect except the doom which awaits unsaved humanity” (Martin 161).  “Destruction” is the same word found in 1.28. Lenski says, “The word never means annihilation as has, in view of the translation ‘destruction,’ been claimed by those who attempt to abolish hell.”  It does mean the loss of eternal life unto eternal misery and death. It is the kind of ruination that would happen to a sunk ship.

Their god [is] their belly: Elsewhere Paul speaks of those who “serve…their own belly” to describe divisive brethren who must be avoided (Rom 16.18). Perhaps here the Judaizers are in mind who by their regulations regarding clean/unclean food and “Taste not—touch not” doctrines (cf. Col 2.21) were literally serving their belly while causing dissension in the church

They glory in their shame: Glory, in the Bible is often used of God and in this case answers to “god” in the previous phrase. “Their shame” are their evil practices. This seem to be an allusion to Hosea 4.7 where shame is a “devastating caricature of false gods” (Martin 161). So their sensuality, carnality, all-around earthly-mindedness is condemned.

With minds set on earthly things: All of the preceding is merely indicative that the enemies of the cross of Christ are living their life without a thought of eternity. Their attentions and affections are given over to on a continual basis (present tense) to earthly things. Further, their conduct carries out what they have their minds set on. “It is not so much those who deny the doctrines of the cross, as it is those who oppose its influence on their hearts” (Barnes).

20But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,

But our citizenship is in heaven: present tense. It exists there now, therefore, we are even now enjoying the benefits of being kingdom citizens. Though Paul was a Roman citizen and leveraged that privilege to his advantage (Acts 16.38; 22.25-29); though the Philippians, by virtue of the fact that they lived in a Roman colony, enjoyed the rights and privileges of citizenship—Christians are citizens of a kingdom not of this world (John 18.36). “Our” citizenship is above which requires certain behavior (cf. 1.27) stands in contrast to those who have their “minds set on earthly things” (v.19). Christians are  looking toward the imperial city of Christ. All we have is in the heavens: our Savior, our city, whatever a man can name (Chrysostom).

And from it…Lord Jesus Christ: this waiting is appropriate behavior of the kingdom citizen. Eager expectation of the imminent return of Christ is the normal attitude of the Christian.  Even as right now our citizenship is in heaven, we are also presently waiting for Him who will deliver us from this world to our home. While Christians are saved in the present there is yet a future full and final realization of salvation to come.

21who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Who will transform: the root for “transform” is the word we get our English words “scheme” and “schematic” (Gk metaschematisei). A scheme is a plan or design. In this case, coupled with the prefix, the original design is changed .

Our lowly body…glorious body: lit. our body of humiliation, which refers to our present mortal, carnal, broken by sin, subject to pain, destruction, and death body.  This body will be changed to be  like (lit.) the body of His glory. This refers to an immortal, spiritual, heavenly, indestructible, undying body. Whether dead or alive at the time of Christ’s return, “we shall all be changed” (1 Cor 15.51). This new body will be suitable for life in the afterlife and to associate with Christ in His glory.

By the power…to himself: How much power does Christ have? Plenty, and then some. His power enables Him to bring under firm control everything—the cosmos, angels, demons, Satan, death, hell. The whole universe and beyond. “Nothing is to hard for you” (Jer 32.17). “If anyone doubts the power of Christ to do this transformation, Paul replies the he has power ‘even to subject all things unto himself’” (Robertson).

1Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.

Therefore: This is the conclusion of the third chapter (cf. 2.12). In light of the foregoing…

My brothers: fellow citizens of the kingdom of Christ, born again into that kingdom (Jn 3.3,5)

Whom I love and long for: a few words later they are also “my beloved.”  No other congregation associated with Paul is referred to in this manner. “Paul lets all his love, all his joy in the Philippians, all his pride in them, speak at once” (Lenski). It his love and affection for these brethren which should act as motivation to carry out what he commands.

My joy and crown: As noted, joy runs throughout this epistle. These brethren had been nothing but a joy to Paul. Further, their steadfastness would indicate he had not “run in vain” but had run and won the victors crown (Gk stephanos).

Stand firm thus in the Lord: This is an admonition oft repeated by Paul (1 Cor 16.13; Gal 5.1; 2 Thess 2.15). Earlier in the epistle, Paul said of his brethren that they are “standing firm in one spirit” (1.27). This is further behavior becoming citizens of the kingdom of Christ. Here, the call is to stand “in the Lord” as opposed to outside of the Lord like the enemies of the cross would. Since our citizenship is “in [the] heavens” Christians must keep standing (present imperative), unmoved by the errors and attacks of enemies and the defection of the panicked.

Special Study – Savior

The word “Savior” appears 24 times in the New Testament. Interestingly, Paul only refers to Jesus as “Savior” about nine (9) times in all his epistles (Eph 5.23; Phil 3.20; 1 Tim 1.1; 2.3; 4.10; 2 Tim 1.10; Titus 1.3, 4; 2.10, 13; 3.4, 6). Some argue he uses the term infrequently because gods and even the emperor were referred to as “saviors.” By comparison, John refers to Jesus as Savior only twice (Jn 4.42; 1 Jn 4.14) and Luke only 4 times (Luke 1.47; 2.11; Acts 5.31; 13.23). Arguably, Paul uses it more than all other New Testament writers.

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The Coming of the Lord, part 3

James began this epistle with an exhortation concerning prayer (1.5) and in the middle gave a word about prayer (4.2-3). He now closes this epistle with a final word about prayer (5.13-18). Needless to say, this epistle is saturated with prayer. Fitting that James would write concerning prayer so often. History tells us that James was on his bare knees so often praying for the church that his knees became hard and callous, without sensation and like the knees of a camel. James will mention prayer seven (7) times in these six (6) verses. He will use three different words for prayer.

James 5.13-20

13Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.

14Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

15And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

16Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

17Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.

18Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

19My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back,

20let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

In the short span of six (6) verses James will mention prayer seven (7) times using three (3) different words (or derivatives of them): proseuchomai (v.13, 14, 17, 18), euche (v. 15, 16a), and deesis (v.16b). There are not many versions which recognize the use of different words for prayer. The subtle distinctions will be identified and connected with the context.

Counsel concerning Supplication (13-16a)

Seasons for Prayer (13). When should we pray? James gives a two very time for God’s people to offer up prayers. First, when a fellow Christian is experiencing trouble it is a good time to pray (13a). “Is anyone among you (pl.) suffering?” Are there any brothers or sisters who are suffering any kind of distress or trouble? This is the same word Paul will use years later near the end of his life concerning his imprisonment (2 Timothy 2.9). Contextually, no doubt these Christians were experiencing all kinds of affliction from their rich masters (5.4-6). The common theme of patience in perseverance in this epistle also seems to point to the fact that these saints have come up against many hardships. So James points his readers back to God – cast the pain and burden upon the Lord. His primarily Jewish audience would no doubt already have an idea of praying when distress comes upon their fellow countrymen. When one was afflicted with leprosy and declared among the people “Unclean, Unclean” in keeping with the ordinance, the rabbi taught that his fellow countrymen were to pray to God on his behalf. Now as fellow countrymen of the heavenly territory, when anyone among them experiences distress and disaster, James says, “let him keep on praying.” In other words, don’t stop praying! In the midst of trials is the prime time to pray.

Second, when a fellow Christian is experiencing triumph is a good time to pray (13b). “Is anyone cheerful?” James asks. The cheerfulness mentioned here is quite general. This is a Christian who is glad, of good cheer, and joyful. Here is a state altogether free from trouble and affliction. If this is the present station of life for a Christian, James emphatically commands them “sing!” This is the force of the present imperative. Further, the root of this imperative is psallo, a word notorious for debate among theologians and church members. The debate centers on one crucial point: Is the instrument of music inherent in the word? Without doubt the Greek word was associated with playing a stringed instrument. Etymologically this is the case because at its most basic definition psallo means to pluck (as one would do with a bow or harp). So Aristotle and Plutarch understood and used the word. Even when the Septuagint was written (3rd century BC), the word was still somewhat connected with the idea of playing a stringed instrument. However, by the time we come to the first century, the word has evolved to a point to where the instrument of music is not inherent. Rather, psallo (with the fellow members of the word group humons and psalmos) means simply to sing unaccompanied by musical instruments. Indeed, James’ primarily Jewish audience would identify that the instrument of music belonged to the shadow of the old covenant out of which they came. But now, since they have obtained the reality found in Christ and the new covenant, those things have passed away. Therefore, sing with the voice a song of praise to God. One writer calls praise “the highest form of prayer” (Pulpit Commentary 70). James and Paul once more agree: whether in trouble or triumph, pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5.17; cf. Ephesians 6.18).

Reasons for Prayer (14-16a). Why should we pray? Or more precisely why should elders of the church pray? When there are spiritually weak members of the body. Those who are spiritually weak (perhaps in faith due to sin) are commanded by an elder to call upon the elders of the church. A plurality of elders implies that more than one of the presbytery shows up at the house of the spiritually weak, not just one of them and not the preacher. These men pray “over him,” probably indicating the laying on of hands. The laying on of hands would be necessary for anointing this person with oil, a symbol of consecration (Exodus 40.15; Numbers 3.3) and possibly the Holy Spirit.   This anointing takes place “in the name of the Lord,” that is by His authority.

It should be noted that a shift takes place in verse 15. Previously, the word translated prayer was from proseuchomai, which is the typical word for prayer in the New Testament for prayers of all kinds. In verse 15, though, James uses a word used on three times in the New Testament, though it ha sa rich history. Euche was the most comprehensive term for the invocation of deity. Thus, in the Septuagint it is regularly used to translate the word for “vow.” Indeed, the other two times this word is used in the New Testament (Acts 18.18; 21.23) it is translated as “vow.” Therefore, what we should understand about euche is that it carries the notion of the vow and that the meaning of vow is more common than prayer. There is a dedicatory aspect to this word. So it is this “vow of faith” which “saves” (or resotres) the soul of this weak Christian. So while the elders of the church offer prayer over this weak Christian, a consecrating vow is made by this weak Christian who is seeking spiritual strength. Also, this person arises from prayer to a life of active devotion to God (cf. Romans 13.11; Ephesians 5.14). And if, in this moment of spiritual weakness, this brother has sinned, there is the hope of forgiveness of those sins.

Confession of Sins (16-18)

Exhortation to Acknowledge Sin (16). “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.” In light of the foregoing, that Christians are to pray in times of trouble and triumph and that Christians are to call for the spiritually mature to help in times of spiritual weakness, James commands confession (a public declaration or agreement) and prayer for spiritual healing of the disease of sin. Once more the pastoral heart of James is on display as he recognizes the human condition and how prone even Christians are to sin. So the habitual practice of every Christian to his fellow brethren should be to speak the same word as God about sin (confession), then speak a saving to God for sin (prayer). There seems even to be an indication that public confession to fellow brethren (Gk. exomologeo) should follow the private meeting with the elders of the church. The word used here for prayer carries with it the idea of desire. In this case the desire would be to have spiritually strength and fortitude in the future when faced with weakness. And when sin is committed, the desire for healing from the wounds of sin is expressed in prayer.

The latter part of verse 16 gives still another good reason to pray in conjunction with confession of sin and the spiritual healing bestowed to those who desire such. Just five densely packed words in the Greek translates to: “A righteous person’s supplication has great strength when energized.” Once more the word for prayer is different (deesis), this time indicating an expression of personal need. It is sometimes rendered “supplication” (so reads the margin of NASB). It carries the idea of lacking and being in need so that what is asked for is asked with urgency and pleading. The strength of supplication is that it is energized (Gk. energoumene). There is remarkable power in prayer since the power in back of prayer is God Himself. Prayer is more than just a wholesome spiritual discipline; prayer rouses God to act on behalf of His people. And this power is not reserved for the elites of the faith; “righteous person” is a term used to denote one who is completely committed to God and sincerely seeking to do His will.

One writer (Stulac) sums up what James is saying in the following: “In your trials, you don’t need the power gained by money or favoritism or selfishness or fighting or swearing; use the power of prayer, for which you need righteousness. Commit yourself to doing what is right without compromise; then you may rely on God in prayer for all your needs.”

Example of Appealing Spiritedly (17-18). To demonstrate the truth of the maxim at the end of verse 16, James calls upon a well known example of a righteous man who tapped into the power of God through prayer: Elijah. First, his nature was like ours. In other words, he was human. Literally, he suffered just like us. No doubt James is appealing to the sensitivities of his suffering brethren by calling their attention to a co-sufferer and his prayer life. He felt pain just as they do. Specifically, it would seem he felt the most over sin among his people Israel. What James wants his reads to know is that this kind of powerful prayer is not just for a select few elite saints; it is available for all who sincerely follow God. Nevertheless, “he prayed fervently” or “earnestly” (NASB). James, writing to a primarily Jewish audience, borrows a Hebrew idiom and literally says, “in prayer he prayed.” It is similar construction to what we read with Jesus at the Passover meal with His disciples (Luke 22.15): “in desire I desired this Passover…” John Gill says this is “a praying, not merely externally, or formally, and with the lip only, but with the Spirit, and with the understanding, and with the heart engaged in it, with inwrought prayer. The prophet prayed with much earnestness, with great vehemence and intenseness of Spirit…it was constant, and importune, and was continued till he has an answer.” For what did Elijah pray? It’s deeper than just Elijah asking for no rain for three and a half years (a figure with agrees with our Lord, Luke 4.25) and then praying for rain at the end of the drought. Elijah prays fervently for the judgment of God upon the land of Israel which is manifested in drought (Deut 28.22-24). God promised to bring the curse of drought if His people were faithless in regards to the covenant. Once the judgment of God accomplished its purpose and the people repented, that was when Elijah, no doubt with equal fervency, prayed for the Lord to open the flood gates of the heavens so that the land could bear fruit.

Conversion of Sinners (19-20)

In a final word to his brothers, James connects this illustration with what he has just said about confessing sins and what he now says about the erring person. It should be noted that James for granted that it is possible for a child of God to wander from the truth. In other words, the possibility of apostasy is very real. In fact, Coffman says, “That a Christian can err from the truth is not merely a possibility, but a frequent occurrence.” When it comes to a spiritually weak person veering from God’s truth into the devil’s lies, perhaps God’s people should be praying for God to execute some kind of judgment in time before it is eternally too late. Even as Elijah prayed for God to send the curse of drought on the land in conjunction with the faithlessness of the people of Israel, so too should Christians pray for God to send spiritual drought into the life of one who, having known the truth, has turned from it. Further, when that judgment has executed its purpose (i.e. repentance), then we should pray for God to rain down blessing in the life of the restored person. Even as Elijah prayed for God to remove the curse, likewise Christians unite to beseech God to send forth blessing into the life of the returning brother. Is this not what James is referring to in the conclusion of this letter about those who wander from the truth? They incur the judgment of God and we agree with God to blight their life with spiritual drought to rouse them from spiritual slumber before it is everlasting too late. Should the sinner respond and turn back to God, two results occur: 1) salvation of their soul and 2) the pardon of sins from God. Then, even as the land bore fruit following the drought, so too the returning sinner (who is now called brother) can bear fruit inasmuch as they are engrafted into the Vine (John 15.5). James, who has the Old Testament Scriptures running through his veins, aptly concludes his epistle alluding to Scripture (cf. Proverbs 10.12).

The Coming of the Lord, part 2

James shifts focus in verses 7ff. The previous section was directed toward the rich of the world who are not Christians. The rest of the epistle is addressed to “my brothers” (v.12, 19) or simply “brothers” (v.7, 9, 10). As is characteristic of this epistle, the pastoral heart of James is evident as he exhorts and encourages his brethren to patience (7-12) and prayer (13-20).

James 5.7-12

7Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.

8You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

9Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.

10As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

11Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

12But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

Concerning Grit (7-8)

Exhortation (7a). “Therefore” points us back to the preceding context about the mistreatment from the rich and the miseries in store for them. Since all these things “are coming” upon them, that is, since judgment is coming for the rich from the Lord of Hosts, God’s people (“brothers”) must “be patient.” Brave perseverance is what James is calling his brethren to. The word itself (Gk. makrothumesate) carries the idea of having a “big thermometer” – in other words, withstand the heat of persecution when it comes. Why be patient? The Lord is coming and he will bring deliverance to the righteous.

The Lord is coming to execute judgment upon the wicked also. We, in the religious realm, often speak of the “coming of the Lord” as though it is a one time event. Indeed, Robertson in his commentary notes that what is in view here is the second coming of Christ. On the contrary, Scriptures often speak of the coming of the Lord and you can read about the many times God has come in judgment (Psa 22.19, on enemies; Psa 50.3; Isa 13.9, on Babylon; Isa 19.1, against Egypt; Isa 26.21, inhabitants of the earth (not final judgment); Jer. 4.13, against his people Judah and specifically Jerusalem; et al.). Here is another instance of God coming in judgment on the wickedness of man in history. Granted, the word used here (Gk. parousias) can be used in connection with the final coming of Christ. Jesus Himself used it to speak of judgment coming in history upon wicked men, specifically upon Jerusalem (see Matthew 24.3, 27, 37, 39). Perhaps James has this same coming judgment in mind (i.e. AD 70). James saying that the coming of the Lord is “at hand” or “near” (v.8b) only works to support the idea that this judgment coming would happen soon, even during the lives of those first century readers of this letter.

Example (7b-8a). James points his readers to a very common and relevant example of patience from the agrarian culture. The farmer plants his seed and “waits for the precious fruit of the earth.” Expectation and anticipation are coupled in this example of the farmer. Time must pass before the crop which is useful to beast and man can be reaped following the early and late rains. Although “rains” is not in the text, the implication is heavy that what are in view are the rainy seasons in late Autumn and early Spring (Moo 168). In the farmer is an example of patience. The seed of divine judgment has been planted. These Christians are waiting for the harvest of deliverance to come from the Lord. In the same way the farmer is patient for his crops, “You also, be patient.”

Encouragement (8b). With the pastoral care of a shepherd James offers another word of encouragement. “Establish your hearts” while you wait for “the coming of the Lord” which is “at hand.” These Christians are to firmly ground their faith in anticipation of the coming judgment. Earlier James addressed the man wavering in faith who prays and how this individual is “unstable in all his ways” (1.8). Here is the opposite of this unstable one. A heart that is established is a stable heart, strengthened by grace (Hebrews 13.9). Since the Lord’s coming is so near, these Christians need to firmly adhere to the faith. Adam Clarke captures the nearness factor perfectly when he writes, “He is already on his way to destroy this wicked people, to raze their city and temple, and to destroy their polity for ever; and this judgment will soon take place.”

Concerning Grumbling (9-11)

Exhortation (9). A cleaver way of understanding the imperative in verse 9 is as follows: Do not grudge that you be not judged. If grudge takes its archaic meaning of “murmuring” then this captures the thrust of James’ exhortation to his brethren. The connection of this command to the preceding context seems to be that grumbling because of unjust circumstances is the opposite of patient endurance of trials and mistreatment. The question is why these Christians were grumbling (or complaining) against one another? Perhaps after a long day of injustice from the rich, they would come home to friends and family or come into the assembly and take out their frustration on those around them. Another idea is that these brethren were complaining to their brethren about how bad they were mistreated. Or maybe these Christians were blaming each other for their persecution. Whatever the reason, these Christians were complaining and grumbling against (lit. finding fault with) one another and James has to say cut it out.

Why stop your complaining? “So that you may not be judged.” The judgment of God is at hand and very near, so near in fact that James says “The Judge is standing at the door.” Whether the “standing” is a perfect or imperfect tense verb can be debated by scholars, but the fact of a very real and immanent judgment from the Judge is undeniable. There is no doubt that James is very deliberate in the language he uses to exhort his brethren. It conjures up images of Israel murmuring in the wilderness and alludes to the question of Abraham: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18.25). If that were not enough, perhaps a verse of the song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32 is alluded to also. God knew His people would grumble against Him in the wilderness and “the time when their foot shall slip” was going to come (verse 35). Therefore Moses says, “The Lord (i.e. YHWH) will judge his people” (32.36, NIV). Over and over God is pictured as Judge of those who grumble. How much more will He judge those who grumble against their own brethren?

Examples (10-11). Two examples of patience are used by James to further strengthen his case and to encourage his brethren to cease and desist in grumbling against one another. These examples are intended to be instructive, like a copy used for imitation. First, he points to the prophets who endured suffering (physical pain and hardship) yet were patient (same word as verse 7, 8). They spoke “in the name of” (Gk. en to onomati) the Lord and were mistreated. Perhaps a contrast is painted here: these Christians are maltreated over their work in the world but the prophets were maltreated over their work in the Word. Yet the prophets did not grumble but entrusted their souls to their faithful God. They remained steadfast in their faith and mission. James reminds his brethren of what he has already written about earlier in the epistle (1.12; see also Daniel 12.12) about the beatitude of the steadfast. Those remaining steadfast enjoy the bliss of God.

Second, James points his readers to Job. Like the prophets he remained steadfast during severe trials. Up to this point, James has spoken of “patience” (Gk. makrothumia). Now he writes concerning the “steadfastness” (Gk. hupomone) of Job. There are those who find subtle differences between these terms. Lenski says the former is patience when people abuse us and the latter is brave perseverance under things which distress us. Moo says the former is long-suffering with a loving attitude toward others and the latter is a strong and determined attitude with which we face difficulty. Perhaps there is a difference but it would seem James uses them somewhat interchangeably, almost as synonyms. Nevertheless, Job presents an interesting case for steadfastness. Did he not grumble against God concerning his affliction? While he did complain, Job never renounced God nor abandoned his faith. He clung to God and continued in hope.

No doubt this was a familiar example for James says, “You have heard.” Not only that, James says, “You have seen the purpose of the Lord.” Seen here is used in the sense that God has shown it through His revealed word. The “purpose” (or end) of the Lord has to do with how he dealt with Job, that is with compassion and mercy. Most commentators point to the end of Job (42.12-13) where the property and family Job lost is restored to him and long life is granted to him. “Certainly, James does not mean that patience in suffering will always be rewarded by material prosperity; too many examples , the Old Testament (Jeremiah!) and the New, prove this wrong” (Moo 172). Rather he seeks by this allusion to the Old Testament character Job to encourage and assure his readers “the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (see Exodus 34.6; Psalm 103.8).

Concerning Giving Your Word (12)

Verse 12 is clearly a restatement or at least an allusion of the teaching of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5.33-37). James reminds his readers of what Jesus has said which seems to indicate that this teaching (if not the passage itself) was evidently present to James’ thoughts. Coming out of Judaism which taught “a man might swear with his lips, and annul in his heart; and then the oath was not binding” (see Clarke concerning Rabbi Akiba), these Christians were perhaps a bit hasty in their oath taking. So prevalent was swearing in the Jewish culture (and the Oriental culture in general) that Aben Ezra says, “Men swear daily countless times, and then swear that they have not sworn!” (Pulpit Commentary 70) Though Jesus’ teaching was available, either these Christians were lax in keeping His word or had not been instructed concerning oaths. Perhaps like Peter the night Jesus was betrayed these Christians had relapsed into behavior of their former life (see Matthew 26.72, 74). James leaves them without excuse. The oath taking usually involved invocation of a divine being or in this case invoking heaven or earth or some other oath to execute judgment upon a person if the statement or obligation made were not true or kept. James says not to do this. Burton Coffman notes, “It was a common sin of that day to punctuate ordinary conversation with all kinds of imprecations and oaths used as a device for establishing credibility.” Instead, Christians should be so truthful that when they say “yes” or when they say “no” there is no need for an oath or swearing or “pinky promise” – Christians keep their word. To fail to keep your word is to fall under the judgment of the Judge.

How this fits in context is difficult. Adam Clarke is outright in saying he cannot figure out why this is here and prefers to think of it as separate and final advice for James’ readers. Robertson likewise states there is no connection to the preceding context. That this verse is connected with the previous context of attitude, behavior, and demeanor of those looking forward to the coming of the Lord is certain – “above all” coupled with de (Eng. but or and) indicates this.[1] Since swearing or making oaths is so foreign to the enduring and patient Christian, it is “above all” to be avoided, especially in light of the Lord’s teaching. Just because a Christian has turned to the one true and only God does not give him/her the right to invoke God in oaths and somehow strengthen your word. It doesn’t work that way. Rather, because a Christian has trusted in the only true and living God, he should speak truth to all, especially in light of the coming of the Lord.


[1] There are those who see pro tanton de as introductory of the end of the epistle, similar to Paul’s “finally” (Gk. loipon) in his epistles or Peter’s “above all” (Gk. pro tanton) in 1 Peter 4.8.

The Coming of the Lord, part 1

Rich people are getting a bad rap these days. Some of it is self-inflicted; some of it not. Recently, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney expanded the gap between himself and the “common man” by explaining that his wife and he drive a mustang, truck, and a couple Cadillacs. There is much made of the wealthy 1% and just how much Uncle Sam should take from them to give to the other 99% (if any should be taken at all!). On and on the rhetoric goes.

It should be noted that riches, money in and of itself has no character. It is amoral. Thus, when bad people have money it’s bad and when good people have money it’s good. Money derives its character from those who possess it. Nevertheless, Scripture does caution rich Christians to be careful because money can have an evil influence (see 1 Timothy 6.10, 17-19).

It should also be noted that “rich” is a relative term. If someone were to ask “Are you rich?” how would you respond? Or “who do you think is rich?” One might answer “Bill Gates” or “Carlos Slim” (Telecom billionaire who is now the richest man on the planet). However, when we consider that Americans make up the richest 5% of people on all of planet earth we begin to realize how rich we really are. Or when we consider that nearly 50% of the world’s population lives on $2 a day…who’s rich now? This should make the words of James come alive and penetrate deeply into our very souls.

James 5

James 5.1-6 (ESV)

1Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.

2Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten.

3Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days.

4Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.

5You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.

6You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.

One writer says that this section (v.1-6) “might almost be a leaf torn out of the Old Testament” because it resembles the prophets so much. It is rife with Old Testament allusions and quotes. It is soaked with the regulations of the Law, especially as regards the relationship between owner and servant and how wages are to be paid.

The Doom of the Rich (1-3)

Who are these rich ones? Are these rich Christians or just rich people in general? Contextually, it would seem these are rich people who are not Christians. First, they are juxtaposed with “the righteous person” (v.6). Second, James does not return to speaking to his “brothers” until verse 7. Third, James has already spoken of rich people who are not Christians and yet find their way into the “assembly” (lit. synagogue) when these Christians meet (2.6). Finally, there is not a call to repentance or amending of ways; rather, all that remains is judgment. This would seem to indicate that “you rich” is a general term referring to those plutocrats outside of the Body of Christ. It should be noted that the rich here are not condemned simply because they are rich; it is because of their 1) refusal to obey the gospel and 2) harsh and oppressive treatment of the righteous that they are condemned. Hence, not all rich people are addressed here, but a specific group known to James and his readers. So why address the rich in a letter written to the church? Conversion! To convert his brethren from envying the rich and their wealth. To convert his brethren from a shaken mind to a solid mind concerning their suffering and endure it. To convert those rich who frequent the assembly from time to time who are not Christians.

These rich ones are to “weep and wail” (NIV). Literally they are to weep wailing. Lenski translates this as “sob while howling.” What is in view is not only the shedding of tears and not simply loud howling, but tears and shrieking. It bears some similarities to 4.9 but there it referred more to exhortation and here it refers more to condemnation. These are common terms for the reaction when the Lord comes in judgment on the wicked (e.g. Isaiah 10.10; 13.6; et al). The reason they are to weep wailing are the “impending miseries” (NAB). Some commentators will point to the destruction of Jerusalem for the coming miseries and even point to select passages in Josephus for confirmation. However, rich and poor alike suffered intensely in AD 70 so perhaps something else is in view. John Gill sees here “eternal miseries, or the torments of hell.” Possibly. Others point to the context and verses 2-3 as the miseries which are prophesied. This seems to be in keeping with the meaning of the word “miseries” (lit. hardship resulting in wretchedness). James describes three miseries coming upon the rich. They are present as three “prophetic perfects” (Pulpit Commentary) or three “present perfects” (Coffman) indicating that they are of such a certainty that if they are not already in the process of happening, they most certainly will be.

Rotted Riches. “Your wealth has rotted” (Lexham Bible). Those things which you possess which make you rich are a decaying dead body. All the fields and flocks. All the grain and grass. The wine and the wheat. The oil and the olive. Supplies stored up in storehouses. All of it has been and stands putrefied.

Moth-eaten Mantle. “Your garments are moth-eaten” (ESV). Those splendid and gorgeous garments which are bought and sold for so much and laid up for show or future use are full of holes and useless.

Corroded Coins. “Your gold and silver have corroded.” All those precious metals which have been hoarded away in some secret place are collecting dust and rust as they lie unused.

An obvious paradox should be pointed out: rich people tend to take care of their storehouses so that supplies do not rot; they tend to take care of their clothes very well or even wear silk; and gold and silver never rust in the hands of rich people. So what are we to make of this? Lenski explains: “The whole passage is exalted and is worded in Hebraic parallelism. When James says that gold and silver rust he becomes purposely paradoxical when his words are understood literally; hence the real meaning of the metaphor strikes the mind forcibly.”[1]

The putrefying supplies, the moth-eaten clothes, and the tarnished coins all rise up as witnesses against the rich. “Their corrosion” is literally their poison, as like that of an asp or other venomous creature. Hence, these rich people stand infected and dying from the venom of riches. These riches are not being put to use and they witness to this by their constantly being stored up. Like the venom of a deadly creature if left untreated the flesh will decay, turn black, and rot, so too the rich will have their flesh eaten by a consuming fire. Certain doom awaits the unrepentant rich person.

Immediately a connection can be made from James to his half-brother Jesus and his teaching on riches (cf. Matthew 6.20, 21). The moths which eat and rust which corrodes are themes which Jesus used to describe the fleeting nature of earthly wealth. Yet He pointed His disciples heavenward where those things cannot happen to the treasures of heaven. Further, the storing up of treasure is wrong because it reveals the priorities of the one storing them. Having faith in God and not wealth, clothes, or coins will enable one to properly view those possessions given by God. Finally, storing up treasures is wrong because it deprives those in need of what they need. When wealth could be used to feed the hungry, they lie unused and rotting in barns. When clothing could have been used to clothe the naked, they lie unused and moth-eaten. When gold and silver could have been used to buy what is needful for those in need, they lie unused and corroding in a closet.

James lays a final strike against the rich when he says that they “have laid up treasure in the last days.” Scholars debate what exactly it is that the rich are treasuring up (Greek word from which we get our English word “thesaurus”). The ESV seems to indicate that treasure is still in mind. John Gill seems to confirm this. In the Vulgate text, what is being “treasured up” is wrath. Other scholars point to the preceding object, which is fire. Hence the rich are storing up fire “in the last days.” Nevertheless, the lesson is clear: they have been storing up the wrong things. They should have been storing up treasure in heaven. But now, “in [the] last days,” in the days following Jesus’ earthly ministry and which precede his final coming, they have/are stored/storing the wrong things. Let every (American) Christian learn the message of James to the rich and share, not hoard, our wealth.

The Sin of the Rich (4-6)

Why is all this to befall the rich? Wherefore are these miseries to come upon the rich? What is their sin? James does not leave us or his readers in the dark concerning the judgment of God. Even in their negligence with sharing their wealth, they have been busy in sin. Sin is the cause of the impending doom.

Heartless Injustice. What is described in verse 4 was all too real for those first century Jewish Christians. Even a parable of Jesus captures the daily struggle of hired workers laboring in a field owned by a wealthy person (Matthew 20.1-16). The laborers expected their pay at the end of the day. Apparently, James’ audience has been experiencing fraud from the land owners of the area. Wages were not paid. This was something the rich land owners had done and continued to do in spite of the fact that this was something forbidden under the Law (Deuteronomy 24.14-15; Leviticus 19.13). Now the laborers are crying out (for vengeance) unto God against these land owners. Specifically, James uses a familiar and frequently used term for God found in the Old Testament – the Lord of Hosts (cf. Isaiah 5.9). He is the Lord of the armies of heaven who stand ready to lead his army into battle against the oppressive rich. The imagery here also mimics that of the people of Israel in Egyptian captivity when they cried unto the Lord and He heard them (Exodus 3.7).

Lavish Luxury. Not only do these rich land owners continue to withhold wages from their laborers, but apparently whatever funds would have been paid for work they use for their own “luxury” and “self-indulgence.” These terms taken together point to a soft life given to pleasure. Self-indulgent is a term applied to the people of Sodom (Ezekiel 16.49). This puts into perspective the nature and character of these rich people – they are on par with the people of Sodom. They are pampered and deny themselves no pleasure. Older versions of the Bible use the word “wanton” (KJV). Through all this lascivious living, they grow fat, like an ox or sheep, for “the day of slaughter,” yet another Old Testament allusion (see Jeremiah 12.3). Their doom and destruction is certain.

Murderous Cruelty. The final indictment from James is perhaps the most shocking. The rich “have condemned and murdered the righteous.” How to understand this phrase is the question. Some see Jesus here. He is “the righteous [one]” and James pictures Him the same as John does in his epistle (1 John 2.1). Indeed, it could be argued that the rich of Jesus’ day (Pharisees, Pilate) condemned and murdered Him. Still others see not only Jesus but Stephen as well who was martyred after his sermon (Acts 7). There are those who even see James, the one who is writing this epistle who will himself be martyred (according to tradition, James the half-brother of Jesus was cast down from the pinnacle of the temple and then his head was smashed by a blacksmith’s hammer). Contextually, it would seem that what is in view is that those laborers who cried out against the landowner were silenced permanently and no doubt by fraud. The rich condemn and murder “the righteous man.” Even in the face of the murderous assaults of the rich, the poor man does not resist or withstand the rich man. That is to say that these righteous ones had no one to plead their cause before the court. Like Paul years later, no one came to stand by them save the Lord (2 Timothy 4.16-17).

In light of the severe cruelty, the lavish and lascivious luxury, and the heartless injustice, these rich have stored up the wrath of God for themselves. This should teach man that God is always mindful of the little guy, the ones who cannot take care of themselves, who are poor and in need. God is not ignorant of their suffering and He will issue recompense against those who perpetrate acts such as these against them. As Christians, we must be sure to always do good and help those in need. As Christians, when the godless come against us we must let the Lord be our Justifier.


[1] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and of the Epistle of James (Columbus, O.: Lutheran book concern, 1938). 647.

The Crucifixion, pt.1

Recently, a televangelist told his audience of thousands (possibly millions across the country and around the world) that Jesus never told His disciples he was going to die on a cross, i.e. by crucifixion. What a monstrous display of biblical illiteracy! And this from a guy who has his own television broadcast seen world wide!! This particular pastor (Fred Price Jr., son of Apostle Frederick K. C. Price, pastors of the Crenshaw Christian Center) even had the audacity to claim he had researched this and would not say this if he had not researched it. My advise to this ignorant pastor: read your Bible.

For if you read your Bible, even just a cursory reading of the gospel accounts will tell you otherwise. On multiple occasions Jesus has pointed His disciples to even to the mode of death, crucifixion (See Matt 16.21, 24; 20.19; Luke 9.22-23; 24.6-7; cf. Mark 8.31, 34; 9.31; 10.33-34; Luke 18.32-33, et al). Further, even if Jesus was silent about the specifics of His death, God was not silent and prophecied centuries before crucifixion was invented in the mind of man as a torturous mode of death and nearly a millenium before Jesus ever walked the earth that Messiah would die by crucifixion (see Psalm 22.16). Again, to all the televangelists: read your Bible.

No, Jesus has been predicting exactly what will happen to Him in Jerusalem by the Jewish and Roman authorities: He would be crucified. Luke records this dreadful deed in 23.26-43. First, in verses 26-31, we run into several people on the way to the crucifixion site.

The Man

We meet a man named Simon of Cyrene, a town in North Africa. This man is a long way from home, no doubt one of the Passover pilgrims in Jerusalem for the Feast. There is precious little we know about this man and what happened to him once he finished carrying the cross to the site. Mark tells us he was father to two sons, “Alexander and Rufus” (Mark 15.21). Most scholars believe that Mark wrote his gospel, aided by the apostle Peter (an eyewitness) and the Holy Spirit, to or for the church in Rome. Hence, Mark includes this specific detail about Simon of Cyrene being the father of Alexander and Rufus as if to say, “If you have any questions, just ask these men who’s dad was there and actually carried the cross.” It is interesting that in Romans 16.13 Paul greets a man in the Roman church named Rufus and his mother. Is this the same Rufus? It is possible, but any attempts to draw a hard line connecting them is purely speculation. Nevertheless, if nothing else, it would seem that Simon’s sons went on to be leaders in the early church. Were they influenced by their father, himself impacted by what he experienced when he carried the cross of a condemned man named Jesus?

Simon was coming in from the country. It seems that Jerusalem, crowded with Jews from all over the Empire, yet again has no room in the inn for anyone, Simon of Cyrene included. Hence, he forced to lodge outside the city in a nearby village and “commutes” as it were to Jerusalem for the Feast. Perhaps on this occasion he was on his way to the Temple or to the Cyrenian synagogue, which Jerusalem had. Cyrene was an important city with a large number of Jewish residents. So when they had to come from Cyrene to Jerusalem for the various feasts, they had a place to gather.

Simon is “seized” by the Romans and “compelled” to carry the cross of Christ. Jesus has been weakened by the last 24 hours and perhaps especially the scourging He has endured has taken its toll. So the soldiers lay hold of Simon had force him to go “the extra mile” as it were. The cross is laid on him and he follows Jesus as Jesus walks. Scholars reading from historians of antiquity say that the condemned often had a white sign hung about their necks which read their charges and what they had been condemned of. Perhaps Jesus has a similar sign and this is what is affixed later to the cross.

The Maidens

Luke is careful to note that this whole episode was not done in secret where no one could see; in fact, when Jesus is before Pilate there are substantial crowds of people (23.4, 13) present. Here again we see there is “a great multitue of the people” who are following along this deadly processional to Golgotha. But Luke, as he has done throughout this gospel account (1.39-52; 2.36-38; 7.11-15, 37-50; 8.1-3; 10.38-42; 11.27; 13.11-16), highlights some women who are walking along with Jesus. These women are crying out, wailing loudly, beating their breasts or smiting themselves as they go. Perhaps He sees the faces of some of the women He has known during His ministry: Mary and Martha, Joanna, Mary Magdalene. Did He see His mother’s face in the crowd? She was present at the cross (John 19.25-27).

Nevertheless, Jesus sees these women and turns to them, a dramatic gesture in the midst of chaos, and imparts some teaching about what is to come. First, He says stop weeping for Him. What? But Jesus is one His way to death. True, but Jesus knows something even worse is yet to come. Stop weeping for Jesus. Second, start weeping for yourselves and your children. When I was little if I cried over something I wanted but did not get, my dad would tell me to “dry it up or I will give you something to cry about!” Jesus does something similar; He tells them exactly what to cry about. Third, He explains why: There are some bad, terrible, horrible things come down Jerusalem’s way. In fact, it will be a blessing to have been barren and not had children when this time comes. People will be calling for mountains and hills to fall and cover them from the terror and horror of what is coming. “They” in v.29-30 seems to be the people who have called for the death of Jesus – the religious leaders and other various people of Jerusalem, the crowds. And all the judgment coming upon them would spill over onto all of Jerusalem. Hence, these “Daughters of Jerusalem” who belong to Jerusalem proper do have something to weep, lament, and beat their breasts over: the coming destruction of Jerusalem, heaven’s exclamation point on the grand scheme of redemption.

Finally, there is this cryptic word from Jesus in v.31: “For if they do these when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” What’s this all about? It seems to be a common proverb used as an explanation of what Jesus has just said. Various interpretations abound. Leon Morris in his commentary on Luke offers several which all seem plausible. Morris writes: “If the innocent Jesus suffered thus, what will the fate of the guilty Jews? If the Romans treat thus One whom they admit to be innocent, what will they do to the guilty? If the Jews treat like this Jesus who had come to bring salvation, what will be their punishment for destroying him? If the Jews behave like this before their wickedness reaches its consummation, what will they be like when it does? If grief is aroursed by the present events, what will it be when the subsequent disaster strikes?” Farrar adds: “If they act thus to me, the Innocent and the Holy, what shall be the fate of these, the guilty and false.” Inasmuch as Jesus addressed these Jewish women and it was the Jewish who so vehemently sought his death, this proverb from Jesus seems targeted for the Jews. The “wood” when he spoke this proverb is “green,” that is hard to burn. But its drying. Even as Jesus marches to Golgotha, the wood is drying. And when it is dry, what will happen? We, looking back into history, know exactly what happen when Jerusalem’s time in AD 70.

Jesus at World’s End, pt.4

As we approach Luke 21.29-38, we see the final words of Jesus concerning His coming in judgment on Jerusalem. As we have seen in part 1, part 2, and part 3, Jesus is warning his disciples about the impending doom yet to come upon the Jews for their continued rebellion toward God. He concludes His warning with a parable, a favorite tool for teaching of Jesus.

A Fig Tree

The fig tree is a plant indigenous to Asia Minor and the Eastern Mediterranean region. Its blooms appear before the leaves do in the spring. Jesus uses this example from the creation in order to drive his point home: Just as certain as summer follows spring, the season when the fig tree puts forth its leaves, so also you may be certain that “when you see these things taking place” (all the things in v.10-28) you can know the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the Jewish world is right at the door. Jesus, in v.31, says the kingdom of God is near. That is, the rule and reign of God, His sovereignty over nations and peoples to bring them up and tear them down. What you see in the destruction of Jerusalem is an exercise of God’s sovereignty in human history.

Jesus reiterates His point in case anyone missed it: this thing is going to happen soon; so soon that the present generation (those people alive in the first century, some of them standing in front of Him) would not die until it had taken place (v.32). Hence, those expositors and commentators who try to shove this passage (and it’s parallel passages) into the future do so erroneously. Jesus is not talking about something millenia in the future; this is something right at the door for the first century disciples. If this has not yet been fulfilled, either Jesus lied (since that generation passed away without this prophecy fulfilled) or we should still have 2000 year old people walking around still waiting for the fulfillment. Neither of these is a reality nor possible – hence, Jesus’ prophecy was fulfilled just as he described in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Indeed, Jesus makes this very point in v.33 when in essence he says “No word of mine will ever pass away unfulfilled.”  

A Final Tip

Jesus wraps up this discourse with a final warning and exhortation to His disciples. “Watch yourselves” (v.34) and “stay awake” (v.36). First, watch yourselves, especially in regards to their hearts. Something big and bad is coming down the pike…and now is not the time to mess with their Christian walk. Jesus mentions some very specific activities to avoid. “Dissipation” which has to do with drinking (alcohol) and the unrestraint behavior that usually accompanies that activity. How many people know the results and consequences of excessive alcohol consumption? Judgment and morality fly out the window and that is what Jesus is addressing. Avoid this. Next, “drunkeness” which is alcoholic intoxication. Indeed, there is absolutely nothing with abstinence from alcohol. And finally, the “cares of this life” are those things which divide our alligence to Christ and God. They pull us from being worshippers to being worriers. Jesus’ word to His disciples is guard yourself from these things. If you do not, “that day” (the day of destruction reserved for Jerusalem) will come upon them “suddenly like a trap.” I believe the imagry is self-evident.

Jesus further explains why they should watch themselves in verse 35. Many will use this verse in order to shove this whole context into the future. Indeed, it can present some difficulty. “For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth.” Well, this would pretty well point to the scope of this judgment being universal, right? Not necessarily when you consider that the world for “earth” can (and in this context should) be translated “land.” Hence, all those who dwell in the land of Judea will suffer this judgment of God. Young’s Literal Translation provides this translation and Adam Clarke in his commentary makes mention of this point.

The next warning is stay awake at all times. In other words, keep yours eyes open and be on watch. What should a watchful disciple be doing in anticipation of this coming day? Pray. For what? Strength to escape all the horrible, terrible things that are coming which Jesus has just predicted. Indeed, it will get very bad. But also, pray that they would be able to stand before the Son of Man. The coming judgment is upon wicked Jerusalem. They will not be able to stand in judgment. But the disciple ought to be able to stand blameless at the coming of the Son of Man. They would then be free from the coming calamity.

One day He’s coming back. We often talk about the “second coming of Christ;” perhaps it is better called the “final coming of Christ.” One day he come back for the final time for final judgment. Ought we to listen to the words of the Master? He predicted physically judgment to be poured out in human history and told His disciples how they can prepare themselves for that day. Much more should we prepare for the Day when Christ will proclaim spiritual judgment upon all men and women. Ought also to stay awake and watch ourselves lest we fall into dissipation, drunkeness, and/or the cares of life? Our alligence must be wholeheartedly to the Son of Man if we would stand in final judgment.

The Faithful Teacher

Luke gives us a glimpse into the life of Jesus in v.37-38. Every day Jesus is teaching in the temple. We have seen Him sere before (see Luke 19.47). No doubt His message is still the same: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 4.17).  He is still teaching during the day, but at night He’s sleeping on the mountains, the Mount of Olives. Mountains appear to be a special place for Jesus. They seemed to be His place of prayer and renewal (see Luke 6.12; 9.28). What’s Jesus every night before he turns in? Probably praying. His time is drawing ever closer and he needs the strength to carry out the mission. We’ve just seen Him warn His disciples to pray for strength; certainly the teacher is modelling for his students what this looks like. But you know where to find Jesus the next morning. Early in the morning He’s back at it, in the temple teaching all the people who came to hear Him.

Jesus at World’s End, pt.3

I continue to marvel at the fantastic intrpretations men have come up with concerning this passage. Albeit, I can understand their efforts; this is a text which is somewhat confusing since it is prophetic and therefore Jesus borrows from the language of the prophets of the Old Testament to convey this prophecy. But if we understand that concept, that this is highly symbolic prophetic language even in the vein of the prophets of old, and keep that ever before us, it will help in understanding this passage.

We now hit the meat of this text where Jesus specifically mentions the fearful fate of Jerusalem. It will be a very ugly end, an horrific sight which is recorded for us in history. Nevertheless, Jesus explains why it must be so: “these are days of vengence” (v.22) brought about by the “God of vengence” (Psalm 94.1). Israel, the Jews are filling to the brim the cup of God’s wrath (see Isa 51.17; Rev 16.19) and the execution of God’s Son will fill it yet fuller. Finally, in AD 70 (just decades away from when Jesus speaks this), God’s wrath will spill over into the land and God will punish them using the Romans (in this context, the “nations” or “Gentiles” of v.24).

The Approaching Disaster

Jesus begins to enumerate the signs that would signal to his disciples that the end of the Jewish age is right at the door. First, Jerusalem would be surrounded by armies. These are the armies of Roman led by Titus. They would encircle Jerusalem and lay seige to it beginning in AD 68. It would take two years, but eventually Jerusalem will fall. Hence, that seems to be why Jesus is very specific: you see the armies of Rome and that means “desolation has come near.” It is not yet fully upon them until the end of the seige.

Jesus’ disciples are warned, then, that Jerusalem is going to be desolated, laid to waste by foreign armies. What should they do? Jesus gives guidance to them in v.21-23. If the are in Judea, run to the hills, the mountains. If they’re in the city, flee the city. And if they’re outside the city, stay out. Again, these are warnings to the disciples of Jesus and warnings for the early church. Would they listen? Indeed, not a single Christian lost their life during the Roman sack of Jerusalem. Eusebius, an early church historian, records that Christians fled to the city of Pella south of Galilee. Here is validation of the words of Jesus.

All this is happening because it is the will of God. Jesus says as much in v.22: God is pouring out his vengeance on His people for their continued unfaithfulness to Him. Where and whom has predicted this particular destruction of Jerusalem? Of course, all prophecy goes back to the mind of God, but these were uttered by Daniel in Daniel 9.26-27. I believe it is safe to make this conclusion (that Daniel is speaking of this event) because Matthew borrows the very language of that passage when in Matthew 24 he details the coming event (Matthew 24 is a parallel passage of Luke 21). Also, Barnes in his commentary cites Zechariah 14.1-2 as speaking to this time. Again, all this to say that this was according to the will of God as he serves His unfaithful people what they deserve for their evil deeds.

We catch a glimpse of the heart of Jesus as He laments for the pregnant woman and the nursing infants during this time. I wonder if he knew…I wonder if he knew just how bad it was going to get. Josephus records for us just severe the famine was going to be during this seige. In War of the Jews he details how people, young and old, father and mother, child were all scrambling for the last bits of food. Mothers snatched from the lips of their children even the tiniest morsels. Old men were beaten if they clung to any food (War 5.10.3). Josephus also records a horrific tale of a mother named Mary, a prominent woman who was daily taken advantage of by the soldiers in Jerusalem; any food she had they came and stole. One day, she had had enough and took her child, killed it, roasted it and ate half before the soldiers came. They smelled the stench and came in, hungry for anything. She uncovered the rest of her meal and these soldiers, in shock and sickness, left this woman alone (War 6.3.4). Again, I wonder if Jesus knew…

This was going to be a horror like never before. News of this would be all over the earth causing distress as God poured forth His fierce anger on “this people.” Verse 24, in the briefest of statements, sums up the carnage: many would be killed, many taken captive to “all nations,” and Jerusalem would no longer be the Jews possession. Josephus tallies the final number of the slaughtered at around 1.1 million people and another 97,000 taken captive. The nations would walk on or over. In other words, Jerusalem, the holy city, would be made common. But isn’t that the message to the Jews – God is telling them in this act, “I don’t live here anymore.” Indeed, in the church age God makes his dwelling with men (cf. Rev 21.3). Its a massive message to Jewish Christians and to Jews that this city, this temple is no longer the sole place of the presence of God. Isn’t that how this conversation got started? The disciples pointed out the temple’s beauty and Jesus uses that say, “There’s coming a time when this will no longer be important, in fact God is going to hand it over to the nations so they can walk all over it to try to get that point across.”

Scholars want to spend so much time on the last part of v.24: “until the time of the Gentiles (or nations) are fulfilled” (ESV). They say that points to 1900 years in the future when the Jews become a nation again and when Jerusalem is theirs again. Ugh. Actually, it seems like Jesus is pointing to the fact that even though the nations (Romans) would walk all over Jerusalem, eventually their time will run out too. They have a purpose to accomplish, a very dubious purpose, but once it is fulfilled, God will punish them, too. History bears this out: Rome loses steam and eventually collapses (it limps along until the 1400s in the East but it is effectively over by the 400s) and the Muslims take over Jerusalem…then back and forth with the Crusades…then the Turks…then the British…my point is that scholars prove too much with their explanations.

The next sign is in v.25 which presents a unique difficulty. Some want to take the first part of this verse and say its literal but the second part of the verse is figurative (of the Romans). Others shove it into the future as yet to happen (that comes from the faulty interpretation of v.24 mentioned above.) However, v.24 runs right into v.25 and seems to be Jesus borrowing from the language of the prophets to communicate a sobering message to his followers. I think verses 25-27 are highly figurative (prophetic) language used by Jesus to say, “Something terrible is about to happen.” In Matthew 24.29, more detail is given about the moon and sun will not give their light and stars will fall out the sky. This is the language of the prophets (see Joel 2.10, 31; 3.15 – these passages are said to be fulfilled in Acts 2.16ff. Peter, an inspired apostle, says that what Joel prophecied was taking place in what he and the rest of the twelve were doing).

The whole earth will be in turmoil because of the sea and roaring waves. The sea in propehcy usually refers to nations, so in this case it would seem the Romans are causing the people of earth (the Jewish world?) to be in a state of total calamity and worry. Fear and foreboding enter the hearts of the Jewish people because of what is happening to the Jewish world. Truly, what must have the Jewish heart thought of all this! All three gospels record about the shaking of the heavens. In other words, this is going to rock the world of the Jew. There will be nothing solid, nothing firm for them to grab hold of. All this to mark the coming of the Son of Man. This is a term found in the Old Testament in Daniel 7.13-14 who is given the same attributes and authority as the Ancient of Days. Folks, this is Jesus, the glorified Christ who has taken his position with the Father on the throne, coming in judgment on the Jews. He had power, indeed, the same power as Jehovah God. He has great glory, indeed, the glory he suspended so he could dwell among us. And he is coming on the clouds. In prophecy, clouds are the war wagons of God (see Deut 33.26; Psa 104.3; Isa 19.1, and cf. Psa 18.7-12; 97.2). When we think of clouds, we think nice little puffs of water vapor; but when used in prophecy and poetry concerning the judgment of God, they are a terrible sight. Think dark clouds, black clouds, ready to burst with rain. Here is Jehovah God and the Son of Man when they come in judgment on men. It is a powerful sight and a glorious sight.

The Appearing Deliverer

Jesus tells his disciples that when they see all this (these signs signalling the coming of the Son of Man in judgment upon Jerusalem), stand tall.  Straighten up and raise your heads. What’s implied is that they were bowed down, both body and head. And certainly with the sorrow and turmoil, heartache and heartbreak they would be down cast. But Jesus says there will be a time to rejoice as the deliverer, the redeemer has come. They can now look up “because your redemption is drawing near.” What does that mean?

First, redemption is a buying back. It carries the meaning of rescue by ransom; that is, a price is paid and a slave is set free. So it is deliverance (of some kind) that is drawing near. Second, redemption from what? Most want to shove this into the future and say it is the second coming of Jesus – that will be the full realization of redemption. I believe this is contextually dishonest. Jesus has been talking about a very specfic event (the coming destruction of Jerusalem) to a very specific audience (his disciples, the Twelve). To rip this statement from its given context and somehow apply it to a yet future event is an injustice to the text. No, Jesus says, “your redemption is drawing near” speaking specifically to those Twelve disciples standing before Him. Jesus is specfically talking about the deliverance of the Twelve (indeed, those who would also believe based on them, i.e. the Church) from the bitter and constant hostility of the Jews. Previous to AD 70, Christianity’s spread is somewhat slow, hindered by the constant persecution from the Jews. But following AD 70, Christianity faces next to no resistance from the Jewish crowd and growth is far more rapid. Therefore, Jesus’ words to his disciples are words to bolster their faith as well. Although the end is coming for the Jewish order, the deliverance of the Christian order is ready to be right at the door.