God’s Grace & Suffering, part 3

Peter continues to unpack how God’s grace relates to the suffering Christians experience. In 1 Peter 4.7-19, Peter hones in on what it means to suffer as a Christian, i.e. suffering for the Name of Christ.

Suffering as a Christian (4.7-19)

As Christians suffer they must love & serve their siblings & glorify God by continuing to do good.

7The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.

The end of all things is at hand: Given the Noah reference earlier (3.20), it seems best to understand this as when God makes an end of the wicked who are causing the suffering of these Christians; as in Noah’s day when God brought about “the end of all flesh,” so for the Christians in Asia Minor God would bring an end to all the things they suffer from wicked people. However one interprets this phrase (see Special Study), Peter intended to exhort these Christians to consider the impending judgment which Christ’s coming would bring and live accordingly.

Nowhere does the Bible ever endorse or condone date setting. Rather, the doctrine of the end times is intended to encourage to faithfulness, in a perpetual state of readiness to meet the Lord regardless of when He returns. The Bible also does not advocate for withdrawal from the world into isolation in anticipation of the end. We live in the world as elect exiles; time is short so we must make the most of it. This is the urgency of the imminence of Christ’s return. Also note that there is no call for extraordinary or unusual behavior as we live in light of the end. Peter exhorts us to normal Christian behavior. Indeed, if every day is to be lived in light of the end, then would it not be business as usual for Christians. So pray, love, speak, & serve “in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (verse 11).

Therefore be…your prayers: self-controlled has to do with controlling the thought life so that the body acts in a God-glorifying way. Sober-minded or “watchful” (NKJV) emphasizes the calmness of mind & disposition, settled in mind for the purpose of prayers.

When faced with persecution our recourse is not political activism but prayerful action. This is the first thing Peter invites Christians to do in light of the judgment of God upon the wicked & His deliverance of His people. Clear-headed, serious prayer. Acknowledge His abiding presence & providence, confess shortcomings, express gratitude for mercy & grace, offer up our desires & hearts, intercede on behalf of others, including those persecuting us. Prayer is the first duty & essential work of true religion unto God. Prayer is to religion what breathing is to life. When it hardest to breathe in this life is when we must devote ourselves to serious, sober supplication.

Special Study— “The End of All Things”

Several possibilities for understanding this verse have been offered:

1) Destruction of Jerusalem: Just a few years away, these Christians were living with before God brought judgment upon the Jewish through the Romans. But one must wonder why a predominately Gentile church in Asia Minor would need this information.

2) The End of Time/Last Day: The final judgment when rewards & punishments are meted out. The problem with this view is “at hand” means soon to take place & we are nearly 2,000 years since Peter wrote this.

3) The End of Suffering/Wicked: Christ would bring deliverance from their suffering & the evil surrounding them when He came.

4) The End of Their Lives: Barnes & Barclay make similar points that this could be Peter’s meaning.

8Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

Above all: More than anything else for “the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13.13).

Keep loving…earnestly: Jesus warned that with the coming end of the age “the love of many will grow cold” (Matt 24.12). So Peter reminds these exiles living under empire of the priority of love for their brethren. Keep (pres. Part.) indicates this must be the habitual practice of Christians. Earnestly indicates the intensity of this love, a theme repeated from 1.22.

Once more Peter exhorts Christians to not merely love one another (which we are), but to love one another “earnestly” or intensely. “Fervently” says some translations. This cuts right to the heart of the “love, but don’t like” fallacy of the world. “Well, I know God commands that we ‘love one another,’ but I don’t have to like the person I love.” While it may true that you start here or end up here because of circumstances, through willful obedience to the expressed command of God & by the shaping of our feelings by the Holy Spirit within us, the fervency of our love is impacted and changed. The depth & degree of our love is influenced by God working on our hearts so that we not only love someone objectively (an overarching desire to see Christ formed in them) but also subjectively (a positive disposition toward a person so that you enjoy treating them lovingly).

This “love, but don’t like” lie has a negative impact on Christian fellowship. If “love covers a multitude of sins” but I don’t even like a person, then whatever forgiveness I extend will be given begrudgingly at best. “Where love is lacking,” says Grudem (173), “every word is viewed with suspicion, every action is liable to misunderstanding, and conflicts abound – to Satan’s perverse delight.” Further, when a Christian brother or sister does not even like a person or persons, the suspicions, misunderstands, & conflicts are only further intensified & constant. The absence of a positive disposition toward another (or others) so that you enjoy treating him/her in a loving way is akin to the “root of bitterness” which the writer of Hebrews wrote about – not liking someone will spring up & cause all kinds of problems. If this is true, one who “loves, but does not like” another is “defiled” (Hebrews 12.15). Only God’s grace will enable us to overcome the bitter root of “love, but don’t like” which desires to spoil our relationships with one another.

In marriage, this lie takes an even uglier 10-word turn: “I love you, but I’m not in love with you.” How many marriages have been dealt a death-blow by this worldly double-speak? Or “I fell out of love with him/her.” These kinds of statements are the most unloving things one spouse could say to another. “I have love for him/her, but I’m not in love with him/her.” These are worldly statements that even Christians adopt. Those men & women who have heard these words know just how hurtful & cutting they are. Mourning & lamentation accompany these words. Modern psychology tells us when these words are spoken, the end is near because it is next to impossible to reinvigorate the relationship. But “with God all things are possible.” Only through God can a loveless marriage be redeemed, saved by His grace.

Since love…sins: cf. Proverbs 10.12. Since (Gk hoti) gives the reason for earnest love: this kind of love covers a multitude of sins. Without love, fear, mistrust, & suspicion abound to the devil’s delight.

9Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.

Show hospitality to one another: In light of the present persecution & God’s impending judgment upon the wicked, “offer hospitality” to fellow Christians. Perhaps Peter’s readers were growing weary of hospitality; it happens (Galatians 6.9). So Peter says that one way Christians express earnest love to one another is through the ministry of hospitality—opening our homes, sharing our resources, putting roofs over one another’s heads.

Hospitality has a rich heritage in the Old Testament. Abraham, the father of the faithful, showed hospitality to the three visitors (Genesis 18); Lot showed hospitality to the two angels who came to Sodom (Genesis 19.1-3); Job made sure strangers & travelers had a place to stay (Job 31.32). Hospitality was enjoined upon the Israelites throughout Torah (Exodus 22.21; 23.9; Leviticus 19.33). The kind of fasting which pleases the Lord is when His people “share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house,” i.e. show hospitality (Isaiah 58.7).

Hospitality is a key mark of the Lord’s church (Romans 12.13; 1 Timothy 3.2; 5.10; Titus 1.8; Hebrews 13.12). Indeed, it was a noble, worldwide custom to provide for strangers (e.g. Acts 28.7, Publius on Malta “received us and entertained us hospitably for three days”). The stimulus for showing cheerful hospitality was altogether different for Christians. Religion, philanthropy, philosophical ethics, the threat of punishment in the underworld for inhospitality, & a reward in returned hospitality drove hospitality in the world-at-large. This is contrasted with Christian ethics.

A core element of our Lord’s teaching was hospitality toward those who cannot pay you back (Luke 14.12-14) as patterned after the eternal condescending hospitality of God to helpless sinners (Luke 14.16ff). True, Christians have similar reasons for showing hospitality as “outsiders” (e.g. punishment for failure to follow Christ’s commands). However, Christians were to show hospitality not based on a natural sympathy for fellow man (although philanthropy based on love for people is a derivative of “love your neighbor as yourself”) nor for the expectation of reciprocation (“I scratch your back, you scratch mine”), but based upon a theology of hospitality. God through the Son creates a habitable world full of glory & grandeur where we have lodging, food, drink, & plenty that we need, then He invites us to make ourselves at home. Which we do & promptly make a mess of things. Then God through the Son prepares a great banquet where everything we have messed up is put back to order, what we have ruined He has put back to right, & He invites us to come & eat at His table (“taste my banquet,” Luke 14.24). With such an extravagant & generous God how could His people be anything but hospitable? And cheerfully hospitable at that!

Without grumbling: or complaint (NASB) about how hard it is, how much time it is taking, or how much it costs. The Lord loves cheerful hospitality & is Himself one who shows cheerful hospitality to men in their misery (Luke 14.16-24). Cf. Philippians 2.14.

“Without grumbling” or “complaint” (NASB) indicates the Christian is to show hospitality to their brethren with a cheerful disposition. There is to be no secret murmuring in the heart about how difficult it is, how long it is taking, how you wish they would just go, how much they are eating, how you regret ever opening the door or answering the call, or the inconvenience of the whole ordeal. Murmuring robs hospitality of beauty. “Such grumbling is ultimately a complaint against God and his ordering of our circumstances” (Grudem 174). When we grudgingly or unwillingly show hospitality to others, especially to our brethren, we “drive out faith, thanksgiving, and joy.” At a deeper level, when God shows us hospitality, in creation first then in the gospel, He did so without complaint or grumbling. He gladly prepares a world then a table for our enjoyment & His good pleasure.

10As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:

As each has received a gift: The Giver of a gift (Gk charisma) is the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12.8-9). Received (aorist tense) points back to a specific point in the past, i.e. baptism. So at baptism the Holy Spirit gave each of these Christians a spiritual gift.

At the baptistery every Christian in every church is given a spiritual gift from the Holy Spirit that God intends for us to use & develop into a ministry for the church at-large. No one is exempted or overlooked. The purpose of the gifts is not for self-congratulations or mutual back-patting as we congratulate how well we serve to stroke our ego or boost our self-esteem. Rather, the gifts are given for ministry – to serve, edify, strengthen, & help other members in their walk with Christ. This is how we are “good stewards” or use God’s gifts responsibly.

There are five lists of spiritual gifts found in the New Testament. In Romans 12.6-8, the gifts listed are 1) prophecy, 2) service, 3) teaching, 4) exhortation, 5) giving, 6) leadership, 7) mercy showing. In 1 Corinthians 12.8-10, the gifts listed are 1) wisdom, 2) knowledge, 3) faith, 4) healing, 5) miracles, 6) prophecy, 7) distinguishing spirits, 8) languages, 9) interpretation of languages. Later, in 1 Corinthians 12.28-30, the gifts listed are 1) apostles, 2) prophets, 3) teachers, 4) miracles, 5) healing, 6) helping, 7) administrating, 8) languages. In Ephesians 4.11, the gifts listed are 1) apostles, 2) prophets, 3) evangelists, 4) teaching shepherds. In 1 Peter 4.11, the gifts listed are 1) proclamation of God’s message, 2) serving by God’s strength. 1 Corinthians 7.7 could be added which includes celibacy & possibly marriage (called charismata by Paul). No list contains all the gifts & no gift shows up on all the lists.

Use it to serve one another: The purpose of God the Holy Spirit gifting each member of the church is to equip Christians for service to the body (see Ephesians 4.12). Serve (Gk diakonountes) touches both speaking & duty roles of Christian service (v.11). Thus, the service rendered could be counsel, advice, & preaching (speaking) or rendering assistance, help, or aid in menial tasks (duty).

As good…grace: or “the manifold grace of God” (NASB, NKJV). This means there is a rich variety to God’s grace. So also there is a wide variety of spiritual gifts God gives His church by His Spirit. The Christian’s responsibility is to be found as good stewards. That is, Christ needs to find Christians building up others with God’s gifts, not building themselves up.

11whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Functionally, Peter breaks spiritual gifts down into two (2) categories: speaking & serving.

Whoever speaks…of God: The speaking done here includes both the formal setting of public instruction as well as an informal setting of private conversation among saints. Whatever the occasion the speaking should be in accordance with what the oracles of God—Holy Scriptures—say.

Whoever serves…God supplies: The service rendered includes both service on a large scale to many members as well as in a private one-on-one setting among brethren. Whatever the service it must be rendered in accordance to the strength God makes available & provides.

Given that this epistle was for a 1st century audience gifted with the miraculous demonstration of the spiritual gifts, the speaking & serving in view may be miraculous in nature. For us, while the spiritual gifts may not be miraculous, they are nevertheless supernatural (i.e. they are not mere natural abilities). Thus, the Holy Spirit is the originator & enabler of the exercise of each gift. As such, we must be willing participants who yield to the influence of the Holy Spirit so that our speech is God’s speech & our service rendered with God’s strength. In this way, God will get the glory through Christ Jesus.

Breaking this down a bit further, we can see how all spiritual gifts fall under either of these two categories & that all Christians are addressed here. If we speak wisdom or knowledge, it must be wisdom or knowledge which accords with God’s word. If we serve giving or helping, it must be giving or helping which comes from God’s strength. Each gift could be examined in this way, but these suffice to show that all gifts fall under these categories & therefore all Christians addressed.

It should be noted that while Christians are to speak the oracles of God, neither the original audience nor we should view our utterances as part of the revelatory account, i.e. God’s revealed word. Rather, our speech is in accordance with or is in line with the revealed word of God, esp. the gospel. Further, Christians must never rely upon our own power to serve others, but must minister with & in the power God provides. One key way we do this is through prayer where can appeal for & tap into the power of God.

In order…Jesus Christ: This is the grand, glorious purpose in the exercise of spiritual gifts, indeed, in everything that Christians do: God glorified through Christ. As Christians prayerfully await the end of all things, loving one another & showing hospitality while serving & speaking to one another, they make known the wisdom, power, holiness, sovereignty, & riches of the gospel of Christ which produces honor & praise to God the Father.

The guiding principle in the life of every true Christian is the glory of God the Father through Christ the Son. Every sober-minded prayer, every occasion in which we exercise self-control, every sin covered by brotherly affection, every time we open our homes with gladness, every word we speak, every act of service, every breath, everything – it all down to bringing God glory through Jesus Christ.

To Him…ever. Amen: Him seems to refer to Christ. So just as “all things” are “through” & “for” God (Romans 11.36), glory is through & belongs to Christ forever & ever. This is the goal of the cosmos: glory to the Father & to the Son & to the Holy Spirit. Christ also has dominion, which is the power to rule. Indeed, Christ is King of Kings & Lord of Lords. Amen shows Peter’s agreement.

12Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

Beloved: Peter loves these brothers & sisters. The command to love is more than talk for Peter.

Do not…test you: cf. 1.6-7. These Christians may be surprised that God would allow His “chosen people” to endure intense trials & tests, but Peter assures them this is not unusual nor unheard of. In fact, the persecution of the church seems normative & universal (4.17; 5.9). But the fires of persecution would burn off the dross & impurities, as gold in the refiners fire.

As though…to you: Strange is the noun word for surprised which is the same word for the pagan reaction in verse 4 (“they think it strange”). The pagans think it strange Christians do not join in their wicked works & therefore “they malign you;” Christians should not think it strange when pagans return evil for the good they are shown.

Sometimes when Christians today endure trials & hardship they will question, “Why?” “Why me?” They will lament as though something strange is happening to them. They are surprised that God would allow the trials & testing to come upon them. This is the very opposite reaction we should have according to Peter. No matter how intense the trials or testing may be, nothing strange or unheard of is occurring. In fact, it is par for the course as we live as Christians in the world. It should be expected. Suffering for Christ is a common motif in the New Testament (e.g. John 15.18-21). Darkness hates light, the world hates holiness. When Christians walk with their Father in holy light they become the targets for the hatred of the wicked. Nevertheless, the fires of trials are the testing of our faith.

It should be noted that Peter gives no theodicy, no explanation for the suffering in the world, especially the suffering experienced by Christians. We ask “Why?” Philosophers & theologians have offered answers. However, in Scripture no answer is given as to why an all-powerful, all-kind, all-knowing God would allow His children to endure intense & severe persecution. We are told it is normative & universal (4.17; 5.9). We are told that it is cause for joy as we reveal His glory (4.13, 16). But a detailed theodicy explaining the presence of evil & suffering in the world is not given. One thing is certain: the intense sufferings are not a sign of God’s absence, but of His purifying presence. He is with His people as they suffer.

13But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

But rejoice…Christ’s sufferings: But (Gk alla) indicates a strong contrast. Rather than surprise, these Christians must rejoice. How can a Christian rejoice in “fiery trials”? They share Christ’s sufferings. These are sufferings which are the result of pledging allegiance to Christ (cf. Acts 5.41). The present tense indicates the ongoing habitual practice of both of these: insofar as you keep on suffering with Christ, keep on rejoicing.

Suffering for Christ is a clear indicator that we are Christ’s. To “share His sufferings,” “suffer with Him” are reasons to rejoice because as we experience suffering we are experiencing the presence of Christ. Indeed, we stand in His place as His representatives. Saul of Tarsus was asked, “Why are you persecuting me?” He was breathing murderous threats against the disciples, dragging men & women off to prison for their allegiance to Christ, but it was ultimately Jesus whom Paul was persecuting. So also when we suffer for the Name it is Christ who suffers with us.

That you may…revealed: Lit. “you might rejoice being glad.” This is nearly verbatim from the lips of Jesus regarding the reward for enduring persecution for His Name (Matthew 5.12). The revelation of Christ’s glory is nearly universally assumed to be His future return by commentators. “The promise of future joy, in fact, energizes the joy that will be theirs in the future” (Schreiner). However, glorifying God in Christ’s Name is the present aim & reality of Christians (v.17). Glad-hearted rejoicing occurs when Christians realize that Christ’s glory is being revealed in their suffering.

How we respond to suffering is likewise a clear indicator of whether we truly belong to Christ. Some who claim the name of Christ have turned their back on Him when they experienced even a modicum of pain & suffering. But it does not have to be full blown apostasy; some grumble & murmur, complain about the suffering. But to rejoice in suffering, praising God for the pain…this is foreign to our Western sensibilities.

14If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

If…: In light of present context & overall context of the book, this is better understood as “since.”

You are insulted for Christ’s Name: Insulted is unjustified defamation & reviling. Much of the persecution these Christians faced was verbal abuse (2.12, 15, 23; 3.16).

[You are] blessed: The bliss of God belongs to insulted Christians. “The harsher the reproaches, the sweeter this heavenly verdict” (Lenski).

#blessed. American Christianity says you are blessed if you have a nice place to live, a reliable car, a good job, overachieving kids, and/or things are just going swell all-around. Peter says that the blessed life is one of insult for our devotion & allegiance to Christ. When is the last time someone update their social media with an account of how they were insulted for Jesus’ sake? Most of us would not consider that a blessing. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to realign our values. This is why God has given “the Spirit of God’s glory” to rest upon us – so that we might hold to a proper perspective regarding suffering, pain, persecution, & insult.

The insults Peter refers to are unjustified verbal assaults. When’s the last time someone cussed you out for being a Christian? I’m not talking about them verbally chastising you for being obnoxious with your faith; that might be justified. I’m talking about the backlash that occurs like when The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, an evangelical coalition, released the Nashville Statement in August 2017. With reverence & in humility the coalition issued the statement. The statement was essentially a creedal statement affirming 14 beliefs about human sexuality, all of which are based on Scripture. Evangelical Christians were castigated as hateful bigots, homophobes, &, as one tweet reads, the statement “is the most unchristian piece of garbage I’ve read in a long time.” The (pagan) internet ruthlessly insulted & disrespected Christians who believe what the Bible teaches about marriage being exclusively between a man & woman, human sexuality, & gender.

Another instance: I do not agree with hardly anything that comes out of his mouth, but an example of what we are talking about occurred during & shortly after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. All over social media Joel Osteen & Lakewood Church where he is pastor were being heavily criticized for closing their building due to flooding. Twitter erupted in outrage expressed in less than 140 characters. Memes circulated accusing Osteen of being a money-grabbing selfish religion killer. Quasi-investigative reporters took to the streets with video camera in hand to show that there was no flooding at Lakewood Church. The (pagan) internet insulted this man mercilessly for his “unchristian” behavior.

Because…upon you: cf. Isaiah 11.2. Isaiah’s prophecy has now been fulfilled in Christ & the church. As the Spirit rested upon “the root of Jesse” (Jesus), so He rests upon Christ’s persecuted followers. In contrast with the inglorious insults, Christians have the glorious indwelling Spirit, even the Spirit of God. God’s glorious Spirit who comforts, strengthens, & blesses abides with & in these Christians.

See Isaiah 11.2. The world heaps insults, but the Spirit rests upon us. The world counts us foolish, but we have the Spirit of wisdom. The world counts us dimwitted, but we have the Spirit of understanding. The world counts us ill-informed, but we have the Spirit of counsel. The world counts us weak-minded, but we have the Spirit of might. The world counts us ignorant, but we have the Spirit of knowledge. All of this is ours because we fear & revere God & He delights in resting His Spirit upon us.

15But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.

But let none…as a meddler: cf. 2.19-20; 3.17. Peter’s constant refrain has been that Christians must not suffer for evil, but for good. Peter lists four (4) evils by which men may suffer: murder (premeditated taking of innocent life), theft (taking other people’s property), evildoing (or “criminal” [NIV], general term for bad behavior), & meddling (intruding into other people’s affairs). Christians must not suffer for any of these.

People suffer for evil; they suffer punishment from the justice system as well as the affliction of the conscience, esp. if unrepentant. Suffering deserved as punishment for wrongdoing is inglorious. This is not how Christians are to suffer. Of course Christians should not suffer for serious criminal offenses like murder & theft (both of which are prohibited throughout the Bible) & Peter knows Christian people would never engage in such evildoing, but the temptation to pry into other people’s business is a very real possibility. So he rhetorically sets major violations against something very much in the realm of possibility: annoyingly intruding into other people’s business. This would cause someone to be considered a pest worthy of mistreatment.

Martyr’s complex – some people can turn just about any event into an occasion for suffering. They are the victim of some injustice, even if they are the perpetrator of some offense. It is so easy for people to rationalize deserved punishments as suffering “as a Christian.” Peter addresses this complex here – suffering is neither invented nor is it self-caused for bad behavior. If you live as a Christian, suffering will find you.

“Meddler” – stay in your lane! While the exact meaning of this word is difficult to nail down because of its rarity (used only here & two other places in 4th & 5th century documents), it seems to be a term describing someone who involves themselves into the affairs of others, inviting themselves into issues not their own. A buttinski. In Spanish, entrementido. Suffering for being a buttinski is beneath a Christian. Stay in your lane!

Notice the company meddlers keep – murders, thieves, criminals! Strange company, right? Well, not really. A meddler can assassinate the character of another; they can rob a person of their good name & reputation; their practice is in line with evildoers. May meddlers be banished from Christ’s church!

16Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.

Yet if…a Christian: Believers “were first called Christians” in Antioch (Acts 11.26), a name which probably originating among the unbelievers. Suffering as a Christian would be to endure persecution as a follower of Christ. It seems this was a term of ridicule rather than respect, a label used for believers by those outside looking in.

Don’t focus on the shame, focus on His Name! The name “Christian” was a derogatory term in Peter’s day. It was the equivalent of “holy roller” or “Bible thumper” today. These are intended to make us feel ashamed, to make us feel bad for being a follower of Christ. Peter is telling us: don’t focus on the shame, focus on His Name. Peter has already told us that the main thing is “that in everything God may glorified through Jesus Christ” (v.11). “Foolish people” will “speak against you as evildoers” (2.12, 15). They will “revile your good behavior,” & cause you to “suffer for doing good” (3.16, 17). “Do good & suffer for it” (2.20). When all this happens glorify God. Focus on His Name & exalt it, confess it, praise it, lift it up, glorify Him.

Let him not be ashamed: Even though society at large treats Christians in an undignified & disgraceful manner, the Christian need not feel shame. Unlike the murderer, thief, evildoer, or meddler, there is nothing shameful in bearing the name of Christ. Rather…

But…in that name: By bearing the name of Christ publicly & bearing whatever reproach society heaped on them, these believers would honor & praise the glorious name of Christ.

Only by “the Spirit of glory…of God” are we able to endure the mistreatment & abuse of the world and find joy in glorifying God in that suffering. The Holy Spirit sanctifies the suffering, if we let Him. The Holy Spirit strengthens us to endure suffering, if we let Him. The Holy Spirit supplies the necessary means to cope with suffering (“the fruit,” Galatians 5.22-23), if we let Him. He is the promised Helper, but we must willingly submit to His direction.

17For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

For…household of God: household of God is the “spiritual house” made of “living stones” “precious” in the sight of God (2.4-5), i.e. the church. While Peter borrows OT allusions (see Ezekiel 9.6; Malachi 3.1-5), his whole meaning is shifted. The judgment of God upon God’s house is not intended to be for condemnation, but for purification, i.e. refinement through trials leading to glorification of God (1.6-7; 2.12; 3.14, 17; 4.16).

How we as Christians view the trials & suffering we endure matters. Notice that it is not “punishment” which begins with the “house (family, NIV) of God” but judgment. Christ has suffered our punishment & therefore when we experience pain & persecution in the world, God is not punishing us for our sins. Christ did that. He endured the wrath of God. Rather, judgment begins from the house of God (lit.); God’s people are the jumping off point, the point of departure for God’s judgment. Seeing we have “ceased from sin” (4.1) He moves on to those who are not His family, that is, “those who do not obey the gospel of God.” Worse affliction will be visited upon the unbeliever, specifically exclusion from the presence of God.

And if…us: There may be a parallel to Jesus’ own description of the judgment which begins with the sheep (saved) & passes onto the goats (lost). Yet even now this judgment has begun.

What will…gospel of God?: those who do not obey the gospel are unbelievers. “All unbelief leads to disobedience” (Schreiner). The order of righteous first then the unrighteous is maintained from Malachi 3.1-5 & through Christ (Matthew 25.31-46). This rhetorical question is answered…

18And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

And “If…saved”: Quoted from Proverbs 11.31. Scripture is offered as proof positive of what Peter is saying: God’s judgment in the end will be worse than any suffering Christians face from unbelievers. In fact, unbelievers will have it worse due to their disobedience. Scarcely does not point to the uncertainty of a Christian’s salvation; rather, the word can also mean “with difficulty.” This echoes the preaching of Paul & Barnabas in Acts 14.22. Salvation is with difficulty because of the suffering, trials, & persecution Christians endure from unbelievers.

“What will…the sinner?”: Ungodly refers to a person who does not love God nor do they worship Him. Sinner is one who scoffs at God’s self-evident laws & violates them. What will become of such individuals? The reader is to supply the obvious answer: they will be lost.

Never underestimate the value of the Word of God in the midst of suffering. Peter quotes Proverbs to help his readers maintain an eternal perspective & to help their theological viewpoint. God is the final Judge, not man. Those opposed to Christians are opposed to Christ & will face the eternal consequences of their rejection of Him. Many Christians will suffer the loss of their work but preserve their soul at the end. Many Christians will be saved “only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3.15). Therefore, “the righteous are scarcely saved.” So it will be worse for “the ungodly & sinner.” We enter by the narrow gate; it snags us, catching at our clothing. Since this is so, the ungodly sinners who refuse to obey God’s gospel & so be saved only have eternal punishment to face.

Taken together, verses 17 & 18 bring clearly & unmistakably the awful terror of the final fate of the wicked. The righteous endure difficulty in this life, but it is with the promise that these are temporary trials of this world. Unbelievers, on the other hand, “can reasonably count on nothing but unmixed misery, everlasting perdition” (Brown 3:175). The reasonable expectation for those who do not obey God’s gospel is eternally worse than anything a Christian would experience in this world. Just as certainly as our entrance into God’s kingdom comes with many trials & suffering, so it is certain that eternal punishment awaits the ungodly sinner. Just as it is God’s will we suffer, so it is God’s will that the wicked be shut out of His presence eternally.

19Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

Therefore…God’s will: those who suffer according to God’s will are Christians who suffer because it is what God has willed. While at first blush this may seem harsh, it is actually intended to bolster faith. The duration & intensity of suffering is under God’s control. What Christians suffer is for their good because it is according to “His good, pleasing, & perfect will” (Romans 12.2).

Suffering according to God’s will means to “share Christ’s sufferings” (13), to be “insulted for the name of Christ” (14), & to glorify God by suffering as a Christian (16). God’s will is not that we suffer as an evildoer (15). Christ’s suffering in the flesh is the model for Christian suffering. Nothing happened to Christ apart from the Father’s sovereignty & love. This means that nothing that befalls us happens independent of God’s sovereignty & love. He is in control of everything. Any suffering we endure is not the result of an uncaring & indifferent universe randomly selecting us for pain. Our suffering is not accidental nor the result of dumb luck. Suffering is not purposeless but purposeful. Our suffering is under the watchful & loving eye of sovereign God. Our suffering is “according to God’s will,” that is “His good, pleasing, & perfect will” (Romans 12.2, NIV).

Entrust…faithful Creator: Just as Jesus entrusted His spirit to His Father at death (Luke 23.46), Christians are to entrust their souls to a faithful Creator for care in this life. That is, we give our souls to God for safekeeping so that no matter what happens in this life, that part of us which lives on after death is kept safe by the power of God (cf. 1.5).

So then Christians should “entrust their souls to a faithful Creator.” God is our Creator – He has created us body & soul. He is the Father of our spirits who saw our unformed substance (Hebrews 12.9; Psalm 139.16) as well as the One who forms our inward parts & knitted us together in our mother’s wombs (Psalm 139.13). Further, in Christ Jesus we are a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5.17). This means we belong to Him body & soul. We are His own possession & God takes care of what is His. Therefore, He is a faithful Creator. Who better to entrust the keeping of our souls than the One who not only crafted them, but also redeemed & saved them? Our lives, even our very souls, are hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3.3).

…while doing good: How does a Christian show that they are trusting God? By continuing to do good. They do not stop doing good. Acts of loving service & mercy. This not merely a duty, but a privilege rendered not only to other people, but ultimately to God. Retaliation may be the response from the flesh. By God’s glorious Spirit who rests upon us (v.14) we resist that impulse so that we may do good to all men. Doing good is a common refrain in this epistle (2.15, 20; 3.6, 11, 17).

“So you see, the Lord knows how to rescue godly people from their trials, even while keeping the wicked under punishment until the day of final judgment.”
(2 Peter 2:9, NLT)

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The Most Quoted Psalm – Psalm 110

Several passages from the Old Testament are quoted or alluded to in the New Testament, some of them more than once (e.g. “The just shall live by faith” – Rom 1.17; Gal 3.11; Heb 10.38). But there is no passage in the Old Testament quoted or alluded to more in the NT as Psalm 110. Far & away it is the most quoted Psalm. Why? It seems because it contains the epitome of the gospel: the coronation of Christ as King-Priest. Also contained here are core doctrinal principles: 1) Godhead/Trinity (v.1); 2) Suffering as priest poured out (v.4); 3) Resurrection (v.7); 4) Completed work (5-6); 5) Ascension (1, sit at my right hand); 6) Church (v.3); 7) Final judgment (1b); 8) Eternal life (v.4, “forever”).

The Lord (Jesus) is our king-priest according to the ancient oath of God. How can Christ be priest AND King? Psalm 110 provides clarity which would have been odd esp. to a Jew. Without doubt, as the superscription states, this is “a psalm of David.” So here is King David writing about the King-Priest: YHWH’s Lord.

The Kingdom (1-3)

 

1The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand…”

Christ’s Place (1a): YHWH speaks to adonai, which means David heard YWHH speak to Christ. Notice “right hand” which is the seat of power, dominion, dignity. YHWH tells Him to “sit” because His work is over and YHWH will fight for Him. The whole Godhead is involved here: Father speaks to the Son & the Holy Spirit permits David to hear this holy conversation and then enables him to record it in sacred writ. “What is man that thou shouldst impart thy secrets unto him” (Spurgeon).

Note: Verse 1 is the most quoted and alluded to OT verse in the NT – Mt 22.44; 26.64; Mk 13.36; 14.62; 16.19; Lk 20.42-43; 22.69; Acts 2.34-35; 5.31; 7.55-56; Rom 8.34; 1 Cor 15.25; Eph 1.20; Col 3.1; Heb 1.3, 13; 8.1; 10.12-13; 12.2; 1 Pt 3.22 – 24 verses in the NT quote or allude to this single OT verse.

“…until I make your enemies your footstool.”

2The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter.

Christ’s Power (1b-2a): “scepter” is a typical description in Scripture for power & authority. How powerful? Enemies are made His footstool, viz. He puts His boot on their necks/throats, a common ANE practice. Think about when the victor puts his foot on the chest of his opponent in victory, arms extended overhead.

Rule in the midst of your enemies!

Christian Proclamation (2b): “Rule!” Even David the King cries out for the reign of Messiah. Don’t we pray for this? “Thy kingdom come.” Esp. when tragedy strikes we need this: though your enemies are many, rule!

3Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours.

Christ’s People (3): “Willing” – that is, willingness is a key characteristic of the people of God. Indeed, willingness is the essence of holiness; Christ’s people must be willing to believe Him, love Him & others, obey Him, live in holiness, die to sin, crucify the flesh, abide in God’s will, suffer for Christ’s cause. All of this and more is how we offer ourselves freely to Christ.

The Priesthood (4)

Note: This is the 2nd most quoted or alluded to OT verse in the NT: John 12.24; Heb 5.6, 10; 6.20; 7.3, 17, 21 (7 times).

4The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”

According to the Law: No king could be priest nor any priest a king under the Law. They came from different tribes (Judah – king, Levi – priest). Yet Christ is a king-priest! How?

According to the Lord: This is no ordinary priesthood. First, it is after the order of Melchizedek, a somewhat obscure figure from Gen 14 was king of Salem (proto-Jerusalem) as well as priest of God Most High. Second, this is not like the priests under the Law who served for just a few years or even had a lifetime appointment; this is “forever.” Third, notice that this is an ancient oath “sworn” by God and He will not back off. It’s a done deal.

Christ is both Sovereign (king) & Savior (priest) – He fights for us and forgives our sins. But notice His ultimate victory which closes this Psalm…

God’s Ultimate Victory (5-7)

5The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.

6He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth.

Wrath (5-6):  Kings, nations, chiefs who oppose the progress of the gospel are shattered, turned to corpses. First, is it any wonder that Israel anticipated an earthly king? This is a song from their song book which is undoubtedly messianic (no king fits the bill here save Messiah). So they sing this for centuries about a king who would turn the nations to corpses, Who exercises universal might. Second, if God can get the kings who oppose Him (and He does, see Acts 12.22 and every other king historically which has opposed the Bible & Christianity), then no one who opposes the gospel is safe. Meaning: Fall in line with YHWH and things will go well!

7He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head.

Refreshment (7): After a long day of exhausting spiritual work, the Lord drinks from “the brook by the way.” Pictured here is the pause in pursuit of an enemy, similar to Gideon & his band who were “exhausted yet pursuing” (Jud 8.4). So here is Adonai (the Lord), pausing at the brook and being refreshed to continue the pursuit. But some day, the pursuit will cease…

Now all this prefigures the end, cf. 1 Corinthians 15.23-28 where this text is alluded to (see v.25). At present we do not see all things in subjection (Heb 2.8). Here is God’s ultimate & final victory over death & evil, esp. v.28. Then, when all things are subjected to Him, God will be all in all.

Verse 1 is either quoted or alluded 24 times in the NT. If I may, that’s one for every hour of the day to remind us constantly that Christ is STILL on the throne. Verse 7 is referenced 7 times, once for each day of the week to remind us Christ’s atoning work is complete. One day He will get up & come back and finally & fully deal with every foe including death.

The Two Ways – Psalm 1

The Road Not Taken

By Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 

Then too the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

 

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.


Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” is the poetic idea of what Psalm 1 is depicting. Jesus likewise spoke of two gates, two ways, two trees & two types of fruit, two houses, & two foundations (cf Mt 7.13-27, esp. 13-14). What are the two ways before every person? Psalm 1 is actually the first full expression of this idea in the Bible. It is clear, concise, and yet carefully crafted…

The Godly (1-3)

The blessing of delighting in God & His Word.

1Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

Purity before God (1): Maintaining purity before God is contingent upon the way in which you walk. 1) The Wicked Way: Notice the progression – from walking to standing to sitting. There is even progression in the company – the wicked (or ungodly) are those who have no fear of God before their eyes and are perpetually restless in their self-will; the sinners are those who indulge in open sin; the scoffers are those who ridicule religion and laugh at those who fear God. Said another way, the wicked/ungodly are unconcerned with religion, even apathetic; sinners have a particular way of transgressing (i.e. drunkards, etc.); scoffers have brought an end to all religious & moral impulse in themselves (“he is a believer in all unbelief”). The progression goes from forgetting about God (“wicked”), to habitual violation of God’s commands (“sinners”), to becoming a professor & promoter of sin to others (“scoffers”).  2) The Righteous Way: The righteous person will avoid all this progression down the pathway of wickedness. Instead, a) He will walk in the council of YHWH; b) He will stand in the way of God; c) He will sit at the feet of the Almighty.

2but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

Pleasure in God’s Law (2a): He loves it! Consider also, just how little of God’s word David had when he wrote this: Pentateuch and a few Psalms. Today we have the complete written word of God; how much more should we prize this volume and think deeply on it!

Pondering on God’s Law (2b): He carries the law of God with him in his mind all day & all night; turning it over, ruminating, musing, thinking. He treats Scripture like hard candy, savoring it all day,, not a candy bar quickly devoured.

3He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

Picture (3): Not planted by chance or self; the righteous are “planted” by the Father, rooted in Christ (Col 2.7), by these flowing streams of living water (cf. Jn 7.38-39). He is the One who establishes us so we are fruit-bearing evergreens. “Prospers”: Adversity, yes, however, it is the best life there is.

Not long ago I was visiting with a member who had recently repented and rededicated himself to the Lord. He shared with me that “When I do things His way, life is good.” “How about that?” I replied. How about that indeed!

The Godless (4-6)

The fate of those who neither know God nor follow after His ways.

4The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Worthless: Chaff was the dead, worthless stuff which came off the grain. So the wicked are like chaff, carried away. The contrast is sharp: the righteous are planted firmly by God whereas the wicked are blown away. By the way, these are the novices of evil (wicked), the first phase of spiritual degradation; if this is their fate, how much worse will it be for the sinners and scoffers.

5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

Judgment: “The judgment” here seems to be the final judgment by God on the last day. Of course, no one will be standing because “every knee will bow” but here the inability to stand is connected to their guilt. Sinners will be cast out of the presence of the saints (i.e. heaven, though how much David knew about that is not known). And scoffers…are not mentioned, probably because if the wicked & sinners are not going to make it, there is no need to mention the scoffers.

Charles Spurgeon says, “Every church had one devil in it.” Weeds grow up with the wheat (cf Matt 13.24-30; 37-43). But there is coming a day when the “congregation of the righteous” will be purged, the weeds will be burned, but the wheat goes into the barn. May God grant that we find our place there!

6for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

Known: “Knows” carries the idea of constant awareness. No one is going to game God who has marched down the way of the wicked nor will anyone be forgotten who has tread the way of the righteous. God is constantly watching over the way of the righteous; Yea, though we walk thru the shadow of death!

Application

Purity & Pleasure: Some may lay hold of the purity of verse 1 and avoid the path of the wicked, avoid sin. But do you delight in God’s word as verse 2 says? This beatitude (“Blessed,” v.1) is two-fold: purity & pleasure in pondering God’s word. Do you love God’s word? Do you seek to be alone with your Bible to read & study?

Meditate: Mentally chew the cud, like what a cow does. Get the sweetness & virtue out to nourish the soul & grow. This is hard candy, not a candy bar; it is a sucker, not a Snickers. Constant meditation upon God’s word has always characterized God’s people. It should characterize us today!

Fruit-Bearing Evergreens: In seasons of doubt we bear the fruit of faith; in seasons of worry, we bear the fruit of contentment; in seasons of trial, we bear the fruit of patience; in seasons of temptation, we bear the fruit of dependence on God. We bear fruit in its season!

Theme: This Psalm sets the tone for all the Psalms. The theme contained in this Psalm is found through the Psalms. No matter how bad it is, the righteous are known by God and the wicked perish. “Yeah, but it is really bad, Lord!” He says, “I got you!” God defends the Godly & destroys the godless.

The rest of the Psalms serve as exposition of this principle. But we have before us two portraits with the unspoken question looming: Which are we? Are we the righteous one which knows God, knows God’s law, and is known by God? Or are we the wicked, useless, with only impending destruction awaiting?

Rejoicing in Prayer to God

After the customary introduction (verses 1-2), Paul begins to pour forth a description of his prayer life (1.3-11).

The Joy of Praise (1.3-6)

Paul explains how partnership in the gospel of grace produced thanksgiving in his prayers.

3I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,

I thank my God…of you: characteristic of all of Paul’s epistles (except Galatians, 1 Timothy, & Titus) Paul begins with thanksgiving. This thanksgiving is especially warm and earnest since no could of doubt darkened the apostle’s confidence in the Philippians. Paul could have remembered Philippi for the hostility faced there (beating and imprisonment); perhaps that is on his mind too. But in spite of that, he offers thanks (Gk eucharisto, gratitude for blessings and benefits) to God upon every memory of the Philippian church.

4always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,

Always in every prayer of mine for you all: prayer is literally “supplication” (Gk deesei) which carries the meaning of petition, entreaty, or request. Thus, every time Paul hits his knees to make petition to God he always remembers his Philippian brethren. Note the repetition of “all” with “you” throughout the letter; Paul is declaring his love for all of these brethren, refusing to recognize any divisions which may exist among these Christians.

Making my prayer with joy: Joy is a key word in this epistle. Suffice to say that making petition to God is a joy to Paul. It causes his heart to dance.

Note: Paul’s supplications are continual (present tense participle and “always”) and comprehensive (“for you all” embraces the whole fellowship).

5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.

Because of your partnership in the gospel: here is the reason for Paul constantly thanking and petitioning God—the fellowship (Gk koinonia, a sharing of common objects) of Philippian church in the gospel. Their faith in Christ (which would bring them into fellowship with God, Christ, the whole Christian church including Paul) manifested itself and was embodied in their generous contribution to the apostolic ministry of Paul. As the “real circumcision” (3.3) they knew the what counted was “faith working through love” (cf. Gal 5.6).

From the first day until now: cf. 4.15, “in the beginning of the gospel.” Since the establishment of the church in Philippi (when they first put their faith in Christ) they have been willing to contribute to Paul’s work. Faith prompted action right from the first.

6And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

And I am sure of this: perfect tense participle—Paul came to know and continues to know

That He who began a good work in you: God is “He who began” this “good work.” “Began” is an aorist tense verb (snapshot) pointing these Christians back to the very beginning of their Christian life: baptism. It is at baptism that God begins the good work of redemption.

Will bring it…Jesus Christ: In view here is the day of judgment, that final day. It is on that day when God finishes the good work of human redemption. This brings into view the scope of God’s good work: it is not individualistic but holistic. “Each brick in the wall only then attains its destination and goal, and fulfils its purpose, when the whole building has been completed and is dedicated” (Muller 42).

The Joy of Passion (1.7-8)

The Philippians’ partaking of the grace of God with Paul promoted powerful feelings in him.

7It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.

It is right…in my heart: the confidence that Paul experiences (v.5) is founded upon good reason. “I hold (or have) you in my heart” is idiomatic of Paul’s affection for this church based on his “feeling” (or lit. concern) for these brethren.

For you are all partakers with me of grace: Lit. the Philippians (every last one of them) are “joint-fellowshipers” in God’s grace with Paul through their sympathy and support.

Both…of the gospel: whether in prison or proclamation, the Philippians were (seemingly) right there with Paul even though they were separated by time and space (“Pauline paradox”).

8For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

For God is my witness:Let God take the witness stand and testify to this fact. Almost as though he can’t find words to express his affection for these brethren so he calls on He who knows the hearts of all men and is the righteous Judge to testify to how he feels.

How I yearn for you all: Paul has a love for all of these brethren (every last one).

With the affection of Christ Jesus: or the “tender-mercies” – lit. the inward parts. The viscera or inward ward parts were considered the seat of emotional life. “He is so united with Christ that he feels with the heart of Christ, he loves with the love of Christ” (Pulpit Commentary 3). “Paul was willing to suffer for them as Jesus had suffered for them” (Lipscomb 160).  He desperately desired to see Christ formed more fully in them—so he prays.

The Joy of Petition (1.9-11)

The following is prayer to the God of glory poured out of Paul for the Philippian’s love, knowledge, discernment, and righteousness so that they be more Christ-like.

9And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment,

And this is my prayer: Gk. proseuchomai, the common word for prayer (speaking to God). The present tense indicates this was Paul’s habitual practice in prayer, his continual prayer.

That your love may abound more and more: Even as Paul’s love abounds. Love is objective—it is the overarching desire to see Christ in others. They presently have this; Paul wants that desire to overflow from these brethren all the more. Literally, Paul wants their love to Christ, His church, one another, and the lost to keep on overflowing, “a perpetual flood of love.”

With knowledge and all discernment: lit. in full knowledge (Gk. epignosis) and all (spiritual) perception, the latter of which can be cultivated (see Heb 5.14). The word used for “knowledge” is stronger than the usual word for knowledge (Gk gnosis) and denotes a deeper, more advanced knowledge of God and His ways which comes from Christ (cf. Col 2.3), Who fills us with it (cf. Col 1.9). “Discernment” has to do with (right) judgment and moral discrimination (NIV depth of insight) which will guard love. “The love of believers must accordingly be able to know rightly and to sense clearly and to distinguish correctly” (Muller 46). Why? Verse 10…

10so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,

So that you may approve what is excellent: involved in the idea of approval is to examine and test a thing to determine if it is good or worthwhile. Coupled with the notion of things which excel, Paul prays that the deep knowledge and spiritual perception involved in love will enable these Christians to distinguish between good and evil, but even more what is good, better, and best.

And so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ: Present tense, continue to be pure and blameless. Pure (NKJV sincere) is literally “unmixed, unsullied” and is a rare word in the NT (only other usage is 2 Pt 3.1). Originally it meant to test something by the light of day—held up to the light the object would be seen to be pure, unstained, or clear. When held up to the light of the Son Christians ought to be unmixed and unsullied by the world having pursued that which is excellent. Adam Clark best explains blameless when he writes, “Neither offending God nor your neighbour (sic); neither being stumbled yourselves, nor the cause of stumbling to others.” The day of Christ is that Great Day when all shall be judged at the final coming of Christ.

11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Filled with…through Jesus Christ: “Filled” is a perfect passive participle—passive for it is God who fills and perfect tense means they were filled (past completed action) and continue to be full (present continuing results). These Christians were made full and stand full of the fruit of righteousness. “The fruit of righteousness is sanctification, which springs from justification, and manifests itself in holy living” (Caffin 4). Simultaneously in view is 1) that right standing before God attained for us through Christ and 2) the evidence of such relationship through morally upright living (a life empowered by Christ, see John 15.4-5).

To the glory and praise of God: everything that Paul prays for these Christians is aimed at this sole and solemn purpose: God’s glory and praise. Compare Jesus’ desire (John 15.8). God is honored and praised when Christians by His grace seek to live like Christ.

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 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.3

Many people base their salvation upon a thread of Scriptures pertaining to “faith-only” and usually tie it together with the present account in Luke 23.39-43, the thief on the cross. Usually, their contention is that the thief was saved because of his faith and accepted Jesus as his personal Savior. Therefore, all a person needs to do today to be saved is put their faith in Jesus. Unfortunately, this one example of a man saved under the old covenant just prior to the death of Jesus does not square with what Scripture says about salvation under the new covenant. Nor is it consistent with every example of a person being saved by the apostolic preaching. Therefore, a person desiring to know what they must do to be saved (a common question in the New Testament book of Acts also authored by Luke) must look elsewhere for that answer.

Why then does Luke include this unique incident of a contrite criminal? To confuse millions of Bible readers about how one obtains salvation? Nay, verily. Instead, Luke includes this incident to make a striking contrast. Those who are reviling Him, be it the Jewish authorities, the Roman soldiers, or the other criminal are calling on Jesus to “save himself” (v.35, 37, 39). It seems Luke highlights the fact that the cross is for the salvation of others, indeed, all of mankind (A theme of Luke’s; cf. 1.79; 2.31-32 7.1-10, esp.v.9). Further, Jesus is fulfilling His mission in providing salvation through the cross from the emarginated in society, even the prisoners and ciminals (cf. 1.52; 4.18-19; 7.22-23). This passage was not written to explain to people what they must do to be saved; it is written to show that Jesus never lost sight of the mission of Messiah even during the agony of the crucifixion.

All the voices are yelling, “Save yourself.” That’s not the point. The point is that Jesus through His substitutionary death on the cross is saving others. Even in this moment of His greatest weakness, as it were, He is accomplishing His greatest work: salvation for all mankind.

The Reviling

Many believe that both of the criminals began their final moments on their respective crosses by railing at the Son of God, joining in with the rest of those who mocked Jesus. This much can be gleaned from the parallel accounts (Matt 27.44; Mark 15.32). However, Luke records that one of the thieves had a change of heart, repentance. Key figures in church history such as Athanasius, Origen, Hilary, Chrysostrom, Theophylact, and Euthymius have held much the same view. Both of these thieves had crucified near Jesus, presumably equidistant and therefore were equally near Jesus. Both no doubt heard Jesus’ various sayings and had beheld His unjust suffering those six hours on the cross. Both were wicked men in need of salvation. Both were suffering acute pain and quickly approaching death. Both had equal opportunity to respond to the Messiah. Yet only one has a change of heart.

The one criminal is railing at Jesus, heaping up further insults on the Son of God. The tense of this verb indicates that this is something he kept on doing, as if he were continuing his activities which began at the first on the cross. The word itself is a form of the word for which we get “blasphemy.” This gives us an idea of the insults and slander which this man was speaking to Jesus. Part of the blasphemy is recorded by Luke: “Are you not the Christ?” This is a rhetorical question, the criminal expecting an affirmative answer. Of course you are the Christ and therefore you should be able to save yourself and us.

The Rebuke

“But the other rebuked him.” In this action, we see this criminal’s repentance which will be dealt with more in detail in a moment. But he rebukes his fellow criminal: “Do you not fear God?” God, the just judge; shortly these men will stand before the throne of God and give an account for what they have done. It is interesting that the thief then says their punishment is them “receiving the due reward of our deeds.” In other words, this is justice, which the thief says in v.41. Hence, he connects God and justice in nearly the same breath. God is a God of justice, pouring out His judgment on nations in history and at the end will justly judge each man. This criminal says it is God’s justice that they hang on their crosses, but Jesus is different: He “has done nothing wrong.” Here is a critical theological point: as Jesus hangs on the cross, the One who knew no sin becomes sin on our behalf (2 Cor 5.21). He is taking upon Himself the just judgment of God. In other words, God is justly judging our sins, meting out in due measure His wrath, punishing our sins through the vicarious sacrifice of Jesus.

The Repentance

There are a number of reasons put forth by scholars as to why this criminal did repent. J. C. Ryle in his Expository Thoughts on the Gospels lists several of the reasons scholarship has put forth as to why this was: “Some say, as Bengel, that he was a Gentile; and some as Scott, that he was a Jew. – Some thin, as Suarez, that he had heard our Lord preach, and seen Him work miracles at some former period. – Some think, as Euthymius, that he had heard our Lord’s answers to Pilate, and been struck by them and so learned to believe in our Lord’s kingdom. – Some think, as Stier, that he was struck by the title put over our Lord’s head on the cross. – Some think, as Theophylact, that he was pricked to the heart by hearing our Lord’s prayer for His enemies, and by seeing our Lord’s patience under suffering.” Ryle accurately notes: “All these are purely conjectural ideas.” Luke records precious little concerning what they dying man thinks of Jesus and why he repents. But it would seem to be based upon his knowledge of the innocent man hanging before him that he makes a request.

The Request

What did this criminal know about Jesus? The criminal knows Jesus’ identity. “Jesus.” The name itself means “salvation.” And here is a criminal, nearing death, conscious of need for freedom from the great sins on his record and he turns to Jesus for salvation. This implies this man was familiar with the fact that Jesus could do something about his sins. Perhaps word had even reached the ears of this criminal that there is a man who forgives sins: Jesus of Nazareth.Some later manuscripts add the word “Lord” after “Jesus” but this seems to be an interpolation added later. The criminal knows Jesus’ intelligence. “Remember me” is the criminal’s plea. This implies this man is aware of Jesus ability to grant him divine favor, even the favor of a just God. He also seems to have some idea that Jesus will know him in the after and identify as a person who died in faith. The criminal knows Jesus’ instruction. “Your kingdom,” that is Jesus’ kingdom. Now it could be argued that the criminal knew Jesus had claimed to be a king because on a placard above the cross was written “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” in three languages. But inferred is the man’s knowledge of the Messianic kingdom and Jesus coming “into” His kingdom, that is His rule and reign as the church’s cosmic sovereign ruler. Implied also is the Lordship of Jesus, ruling over His kingdom. Again, perhaps word of the Messiah has reached the ears of this criminal and kingdom thoughts have been planted as seeds finally sprouting vines of faith.

The Reward

Because of the faith this criminal manifests, Jesus has a rewarding declaration for him: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Truly” is “amen” in the Greek. “So be it.” “You” is emphatic; “you, even you.” “Today” for some reason is tricky with many scholars but means, simply, “today.” Not tomorrow, next week, or two thousand years yet future from when Jesus spoke these words. “Before the sun yet scorching the their tortured bodies set” (Pulpit). “Paradise” –  This is the only occasion Jesus speaks of the resting place for the righteous in this language. It conjured up, for the Jews, thoughts of perfect Eden before the fall and “Abraham’s bosom” which we have seen Jesus use earlier in Luke (16.22). It probably refers to the place where God dwells (see 2 Cor 12.4) but if nothing else, it points to a splendid place of bliss and the pleasure of fellowship with God.

Again, this is not an account to point to establish doctrine concerning salvation for people under the new covenant. Luke deals with that in his next volume Acts. What we should take away from this account is that indeed Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and has the ability to forgive sins, something we have seen Him do earlier in Luke (5.20; 7.48). Here is a pentient criminal whom Jesus uses to once more demonstrate His authority and power.

Jesus Interrogated

In his commentary on Mark, Burton Coffman suggests that there are six mockings of Jesus: 1) by the High Priest’s servants, 2) by Herod Antipas, 3) by the soldiers of the Roman garrison, 4) by the general public, 5) by the priests and scribes, 6) by the two crucifed thieves (see Coffman’s Commentary on Mark 15.16). There can be no doubt our Savior endure much ridicule and reviling as the our of His death draws near. In Luke 22.63-71, we find one of these times of mocking as well as a beating which Jesus endures at this time by those men who have custody of Him. He is asked three questions during this time.

Question 1: Who is striking you?

The first of these questions in in verse 63-65 where Jesus is mocked “as they beat him.” He is blindfolded and struck presumably about the face, although the text is no specfic. These men who are holding Jesus are probably Jewish, no doubt officers of the temple guard (v.4). Their cruelty knows no bounds and their hatred is on clear display. As the beating continues, with their mocks and blasphemies, their railings, they pose a question: “Who is it that struck you?” This is a sick and twisted game these Jews are playing with Jesus. “Prophesy” they demand. Indeed, He is a prophet, but these men are blinded to this, caught in their devious desires of degrading the Son of God.

Here we see a defining characteristic of Jesus and a quality He exhorted for His disciples to have: meekness. Meekness is not weakness; it is strength and power under control. Most illustrations focus on a wild horse that is broken or a Corvette driving the speed limit. Here is Jesus, the cosmic sovereign Creator of the universe refusing to fight back, refusing to zap these cruel men out of His universe or blast them out of existence. Here is true meekness. See, a broken wild horse will buck when you stick an ice pick in its neck; but the Son of God will take three “ice picks” (probably more like railroad spikes) in His flesh before this is finished.

Question 2: Are you the Christ?

From the cudgelling to the courtroom, Jesus is taken once again before the Jewish authorities. Early daylight is dawning as the assembly of the elders came together. This group is composed of the elders of the people, the chief priests and scribes. Collectively, these three comprise the Sanhedrin. Roman rule had striped them of their ability to carry out captial punishment, hence, their bringing Jesus before Pilate (23.1-5). Here, in their secret council meeting, they ask Jesus the second question: “Are you the Christ?” This question has political implications inasmuch as this is a claim to Messianic royalty.

Jesus answers their question with a statement (v.67b-69). “If I tell you, you will no believe.” You who have seen my life, heard my teachings, and seen the works and signs, even if I tell you, you will not believe. “If I ask you, you will not answer.” In essence Jesus is saying they’ve made up their mind and determined that no matter what He answers, affirmative or negative, they will put Him to death. Verse 69, though, is basically an answer in and of itself: this is a direct claim to divine glory. To sit at the right hand of the power of God as the Son of Man is that special claim to be vested with the same absolute dominion as Him who sits on the throne. And these men knew what these words from Jesus meant, there was no mistaking it: Jesus has claimed to be the Messiah.

Question 3: Are you the Son of God?

So there is one final question they have which really builds on what they have been asking. “All” of them ask, insist that Jesus answer this last question: “Are you the Son of God, then?” “Then” because they understood the preceeding verses as a Messianic claim. But this is a good question which every person must ask and answer: Is Jesus the Son of God? When you weigh the evidence, not only the claims Jesus made but eh miracles he performed to back up His word; when you look upon the love, compassion, mercy, and grace of this man; when you consider the brilliant clarity of His teachings and the authority with which He taught; when you examine the purity of His life and conduct while on earth; when you look fully into narrative recorded in the pages of the New Testament, what do you say about Jesus? Is He the Son of God?

Jesus says, “You say that I am.” This is not a sophomoric, smart-aleck response from Jesus; Coffman says the force of this is “Yes, at last you have seen the point of what I am saying!” It was a statement used often by rabbis when the one who is interrogated accepts his own affirmation of the question put to him. It is as plain an assertion of Jesus that He is divine as any in Scripture. Indeed, verse 71 shows that the Sanhedrin understood the import of Jesus’ words: they had sufficient evidence against to make their ruling – death. “We have heard it ourselves from his own lips.” In their minds, He is guilty of blasphemy and worthy of death. But again, they have no power to execute men since this has been taken from them by Rome. So if they would put Jesus to death, they must seek a Roman execution. Enter Pontius Pilate.

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.