Fellowship with God is rooted in Jesus’ present ministry

Sometimes we wonder what the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are doing up in heaven right now. Sometimes that actually causes us to miss what the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are doing right now in us. Nevertheless, the Son has a specific ministry He is accomplishing even as you read these words and He is working that on your behalf. In John 5.18-21, we get a glimpse of what the Son is doing in His present ministry at the right hand of God.

18We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.

We know that everyone who has been born of God—”we know” (Gk. Oida) is absolute (positive) knowledge. “Everyone who has been born of God” is perfect passive participle. Past completed action, present continuing results. We were born (baptistery) and stand begotten of God (children).

Does not keep on sinning—present tense verb. The ESV captures the import of the Greek. There is no habitual practice, career of sinning in the child’s of God life.

But he who was born of God—aorist tense participle. The perfect participle “expresses him who came to be, and still continues to be, a son of God. The aorist participle occurs nowhere else in St. John: it expresses him who, without relation to time past or present, is the Son of God” (PC).

Protects him—some mss. do have “keeps himself” with the reflexive pronoun (Gk. Heauton), however, “auton is preferable.” Calvin says, “were any one of us the keeper of our own salvation, it would be a miserable protection.” There is some debate about who the Protector is: God or Christ. One school of thinking is “The One born of God (Christ) keeps him (the Christian).” Another theory is “The one who is born of God, he protects him,” that is, God protects the begotten one. Certainly either would acceptable both theologically, grammatically and contextually

And the evil one does not touch him— “the evil one” is Satan, our adversary who would love nothing less than to rob us of life. But since we are kept or guarded (carefully watched) by Christ/God, he cannot lay a finger on us. We are in the grip of Christ/God and safe from the grasp of Satan.

19We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

We know that we are from God—again, positive, absolute knowledge of whom we are out of/from: God. We who? Apostles may be a little awkward to make work. Christians in general seems best. In addition, John seems to be contrasting Christians who are “out of” God (born) and the “whole world” which is “in” the evil one.

The whole world lies in the power of the evil one—while we are presently “from God,” the whole world “lies” (present, middle/passive) in the grip of Satan. What is pictured is a reclining, with no struggle to be free. Just nicely laying there passively.

20And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

And—one final assertive declaration: whatever philosophy and the world may claim…

We know that the Son of God has come—again, positive, absolute knowledge (Gk. Oida) that Jesus, the Son of God, has come. Present tense of a root that has a perfect sense; hence, KJV “is come” however this is better understood as a perfect tense verb. Therefore, in one sense Jesus has come in the Incarnation. In another, He is still present (“is come”) as He is present in His church.

And has given us understanding—perfect tense; he gave in the past and we continue to posses understanding. “Us” are the people of God, Christians. Some point to the anointing of ch.2. It is the power to know, the capacity for knowing.

So that we may know—Gk. Hina, introduces the purpose of Christ coming and giving us understand: “we may know.” This is gnosko kind of knowledge, that experiential knowledge.

Him who is true—or real, or genuine. As opposed to the false prophets and antichristian spirits (ch.4). John in this epistle has detailed exactly who the real Jesus is in contrast to the false Jesus of the Gnostics.

We are in him who is true—we (Christians) are in the real one presently. So long as Christ is God, the Son of God, came in the flesh, etc. then He is the real Jesus, the Jesus the apostles knew and preached and the only one to be in.

In His Son Jesus Christ—John makes it plain that “him who is true” is Jesus, the Son of God, the Christ. This is the only genuine one among all the imitations and imposters.

He is the true God and eternal life—This same Jesus is also genuine and real God. Every other god is an idol. Every other Christ that the false prophet and antichrists may bring are idols also. In Him (and only in Him) is eternal life (5.12), indeed, He Himself is the embodiment of eternal life (1.2; Jn 14.6).

21Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

People look at v.21 and think “This doesn’t fit” or we’ve only got a portion of the letter of 1 John, the last portion lost over time. However, if you have tracked with John through this entire epistle and understand his true v. false argument, it is exactly where we should end up. The Jesus of history is the “true God.” Any other Jesus preached by Gnostics (or whoever) is a “false god,” or an idol. John’s final admonition to his “little children” is to stay away from the false prophets and antichrists who teach another Jesus, a false god.

Little children—aged John’s favorite affectionate term to describe his audience.

Keep yourselves from idols—follow and cling to the true God, Jesus the Christ, the Son of God. Make every effort to stay away from these idols being presented by the Gnostic teachers. The word’s usage outside of the Bible is for watchmen who stood on guard to protect the city during the night. The picture for Christians is clear: be awake, alert, on duty and watchful for the city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem, the church of Christ. Hold fast to the true God and shun the idols the world and philosophy invent.

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The Beatitude of the Steadfast

Thomas Jefferson said, “The goal of life is the avoidance of pain.” I suppose that if Jefferson were to issue a beatitude of his own it would be something akin to, “Blessed is the man who escapes every difficulty and hardship in life.” Jeffersonian Christianity is a far cry from the Christianity James presents in this epistle. James has already shown the paradox of pain: a Christian should rejoice in the midst of trials (vs.2-4). This is contrary to everything within man who would rather escape the trials of life.

James shifts gears in verse 12 to move from trials in which Christians are to rejoice to temptations Christians are to reject. Just as trials (pain) is unavoidable, so too is temptation. So what do we do and who is to blame for temptation? James makes it abundantly clear what Christians are to do when faced with temptation as well as the origin of temptations.

James 1.12-15 (ESV)

12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.
14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.
15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

The Beatitude of the Steadfast (v.12). “Trials” (Gk. peirasmon) has a broad meaning. On the one hand, it carries the meaning of temptation or solicitation to sin (i.e. temptations). On the other hand, it carries the meaning of afflictions from persecution (i.e. trials). These Greek speaking Jewish Christians would have known and identified this. This is important to note since it has bearing upon the present passage. God does allow and cause “trials of various kinds” to come upon His children to test the genuineness of their faith. However, God, who is free from any and every evil thing, does not and cannot tempt His children to sin.

We’ve already seen the exhortation to remain steadfast in trials. The other meaning seems to be in view here: remain steadfast in the midst of temptations. This is a different kind of test which comes upon the child of God not from God but from within (desires) and without (Satan). There is a blessing attached to being steadfast under temptation, namely, a crown of life.

This verse is strikingly similar to the words of Jesus in Revelation 2.10. The point for these Christians and even reaching to Christians today is that faithfulness to God will result in life – eternal life! Note this progression: pressure (or temptation) comes, steadfastness works its full effect, life is bestowed by God. Life is bestowed on the lover of God by the life-giving God. Love for God is the best motivator to steadfastness in temptations. 

Some will fail the testing of their faith; they will give into temptation and sin. There is no blessing attached to failure. Rather, blessing or congratulations is given by God to the one who remains steadfast in temptation. How many give in to the temptation and do not allow steadfastness to finish its work? James, knowing that there would be those who fail the test from the trials, goes on to explain that those who fail have only one person to blame: self.

Theory 1: God made me do it (v.13). This is the excuse, even the heresy, that is as old as time. From the beginning, man has been trying to blame God for temptation and (ultimately) sin. Man is prone to ascribe authorship of temptation to God. Adam tried it in the Garden of Eden: “The woman You gave me…” Do we not even hear this today? “I can’t help it; God made me this way!” James dismisses this theory outright with a firm, “No, He didn’t!” Do not say that “I am being tempted by God.” The participle used here is passive, meaning the temptation is from without, in this case from (Gk. apo) God.

The reason you do not say that is because 1) God cannot be tempted, and 2) God tempts no one. First, God is “untemptable” ( Gk. apeirastos).  We frail children of dust have a difficult time wrapping our minds around this concept since we are constantly bombarded with temptations to sin. Balaam, in his second oracle, best explains this when he says “God is not man” (Num 23.19). God is of an altogether different nature and therefore stands outside of temptation. God’s whole nature is for good (v.16) not evil and thus evil has no appeal to Him.

Second, James says God tempts no man. How can James say that God “tempts” (or tests) no one? Doesn’t he remember Abraham and how God “tempted” (same word as here in Greek) him (Gen 22.1)? Surely he does since he references that well known story in Jewish theology (see 2.21). And if that isn’t enough, the writer of Hebrews says that Abraham was “tested” (same word used here) when he offered up Isaac. What’s the key?

James offers us the explanation in the description of the nature of temptation: when God “tested” Abraham, Abraham was not “lured” or “enticed” with a desire within himself. For it to be a temptation it must stem from the heart of man. Since this test had its origin in God it was a test of obedience for Abraham to God even when faced with the unthinkable. The other thing to consider is who is being informed about obedience in the Abrahamic episode. Does the all-knowing God who declares the end from the beginning need to be informed about obedience or does Abraham need to learn about obedience? And in turn, are we also not informed about obedience when we read this Abrahamic episode? So while God may test men concerning obedience, James can say that God tempts no man because temptation lies in the desires of man.

Theory 2: The Devil made me do it. It was Flip Wilson who popularized this motto in modern times. But in his explanation of the true nature and genesis of sin, James also by implication deals with this theory. While the devil may tempt people, manipulating and distorting our desires through lies, he does not and cannot force someone to sin. This seem to be in back of the words “lured” and “enticed” – Satan can bait the hook and use it, but it is man who bites! Really, though, the lies of the devil are not appealing until man begins to believe them. That’s the point of James – temptation begins with man.

Theory 3: I made me do it (v.14-15). James explains that temptation begins in the heart of man with his own “desires” (Gk. epithumias). Desires can be either good (Phil 1.23) or evil (here, Rom 7.7). The two words used by James to describe this process in temptation carry two different metaphors: “lured” we would recognize as a fishing term, as when a fish is taken from the water with the hook sunk deep in his gullet; “enticed” is a word which is connected with a seductress who would try to seduce a man to illicit sexual conduct. Both of these verbs are passive voice meaning that something is being to us is the luring and enticing. As mentioned above, we’ve bought into the lie presented to us. It’s as old as Eden – “You will not surely die.” The lie is then made our own when the bad thing begins to look good. Then we bite.

As there was a progression toward life (pressure to steadfastness to life) so there is a progression toward death here: desire breeds in the heart of man, he is lured to sin, and death results (desire to sin to death). The language used by James to describe this is quite bold and graphic: the desire which this person has conceives when the will yields to lust rather than yielding to God. This impregnated desire “gives birth” to sin when will and action are coupled and the desire is gratified. The sin grows and matures by repeated indulgence of the desire and then it “brings forth” its own spawn: death. Sin kills, mortifies; if not met with prayerful resistance and the power of God, spiritual death will result.

A Contrast in Joy

The background picture on my computer is a picture of a laughing Jesus. For some, it is a symbol of “offense,” inasmuch as they do not read in Scripture about the Lord laughing; they see it as turning Jesus into “a belly laughing jokester.” Really? Certainly, since Jesus, who was created in all points like as we are, at some point in his life he laughed. Jesus had some sort of sense of humor – he called his two best friends the “sons of thunder,” for crying out loud. At any rate, in Luke 10.17-24, Luke contrasts two very different joys: the joy of the returning seventy and the joy of Jesus.

The Joy of the Seventy

There are many places in Scripture where there is a period of time that lapses between two verses and in Luke 10.16-17 we have one of those occasions. We don’t know how long it was between the time the disciples left and returned, but there was a span of time. I suppose Jesus set a date when he could meet with all fo them at once to review how the trip went. Or he happened to meet them along the way as he was making his rounds to the various places he ahd sent them. Nevertheless, the report is unanimous: these disciples have a joy within them. The Greek word is charis, which is simply “gladness, a state of rejoicing, happiness” (Dictionary of Biblical Language). These men return from their mission glad, happy about the work they have done for the kingdom.

Jesus then lays down the hammer. Mind you, Jesus is not tryng to stop these men from having this joy or put a damper on their victory; on the contrary, I think he rejoices when we overcome the evil one. But he is trying to keep the disciples from allowing this joy to become pride, the very thing that led to Satan’s downfall (cf. 1 Timothy 3.6). It is ok to have joy and rejoice that you have come out of some trial or temptation (cf. James 1.2-4). But take heed lest that joy turn into pride. Jesus says he watched Satan “fall like lightning.” Many people think this refers to the pre-incarnate time when Jesus watched Satan fall from glory (heaven). However, another interpretation is that heaven refers to a position power and Jesus has been watching (Gk. “I was watching,” imperfect tense) as the gospel of the kingdom has been preached Satan’s power flash out like lightning as these disciple’s fulfilled their mission. As these disciples drove out demons, the kingdom of darkness was diminshed and the kingdom of God flourished.

Jesus tells the disciples that they should not so much rejoice that the spirits submi to them but they should rejoice over a greater thing: their names being written in heaven. Indeed, what a grand thought to think that in the registar of heaven, our can name be written and mentioned by God if we are under his reign and rule for our lives. The disciples will do great and grand things like trample serpents (Satan?) and scorpions and not be harmed, but ultimately our joy should come more from the fact that we are known by God in heaven.

The Joy of Jesus

We teach our children the song “I got the joy, joy, joy down in my heart. Where? Down in my heart…” Well, in this passage (v.21) Jesus has the joy down in his heart and he got it from the Holy Spirit. The NIV says he was “full of joy.” Other translations simply say he “rejoiced,” losing some of the translation. In the Greek it is all one word (egalliasato) and it means to be “extremely joyful, filled with delight,” also “to rejoice exceedingly.” This is a great joy, a lively joy. This word is usually used in reference to the joy a kingdom dweller experiences (cf. Matt 5.12; Luke 1.47; 1 Peter 1.6). Out of this joy, Jesus praises the Father (denoting compassion), the Lord of heaven and earth (denoting his sovreignty). Why? Because of the revelation of God of his grand scheme. “These things” are those things pertaining to the kingdom which the seventy have experienced in their mission. And it was not to the great, the wise, the learned whom God revealed these things to, not those who are “great” by human standards. Instead it is to the “little children.” Paul quotes from the Old Testament to drive this point home when he writes, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate” (1 Cor 1.19). This was all according to the pleasure of God.

To Jesus, God has committed “all things” pertaining to salvation and redemption. Hence, he is on earth to fulfill that grand plan to save man. And there are depths of the Son which the human followers cannot comprehend; only the Father knows them. On the other hand, the same is true of the Father to the Son. But those who are “chosen,” then Christ has revealed the Father to you. This points to the exclusivity of the kingdom; there is bu one way for a person to know the Father and that in Christ. Hence, if you are outside of Christ, you do not know the Father.

In private, Jesus sheds more light on the situation. There were many who sought to see what their eyes saw: prophets and kings. But only in their time has it now been “revealed” (Gk. apokalupsis, from which we get our word “apocalypse”), that is uncovered. Thus, the disciples are “blessed,” enjoying the state of bliss only the gods enjoy. Truly, they were engaged in something special.

How great a blessing for us to read and hear of all this wonderful things Christ has done! He has conquered sin, hell, and the grave in th cross. He has opened up a new and living way which we can enter into. We, like these disciples, are blessed to have all these things and so much more. We can enjoy the joy of our salvation. We can enjoy the joy which the Holy Spirit brings (see 1 Thess 1.6). We can experience the joy of knowing we are known by the Father in heaven. Let us do our best to praise God for what he has done and tell others of the blessed state of a disciple in the kingdom.

The Temptation of Christ

As we broach Luke 4, we should not forget what has just happened in the life of Jesus. He has just visited the Jordan river (hence, 4.1 – “he reutrned from the Jordan”) where the Baptist baptizes him. He has had the endorsement of heaven as the Spirit descends upon him and the Father pronounces that “this (Jesus) is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” And now, filled with the Spirit (more of the Spirit theme in Luke), he is led into the wilderness (see Matt 4.1, cf. Mark 1.12). Riding on what would seem to be a spiritual high, the roller coaster now crests the peak and we head downward into the realm of Satan, the devil, who is going to try, test, and tempt Jesus, the perfect man, to get him to crumble and buckle and forfeit his Sonship and ultimately mankind’s only hope of salvation. Can He do it and withstand the onslaught?

Forty Days of…

Luke tells us that Jesus is out in the wilderness fasting for forty days. I assume that is when the temptation concerning turning stones into bread came – that is, when he was hungry. I like what one commentator wrote on this subject: “Another contrast is the one implied between Jesus as ‘hungry,’ i.e. physically empty, and yet as ‘full of the Spirit.’ Our own experience is usually the reverse.” I think that is a fair assessment – while we are almost always physically full up, we too often are empty spiritually and that is when the temptor loves to pounce. Take note, though, that there is a marked difference between being a “spiritual pauper” and being spiritually empty; one is a state of dependence upon the Father and the other is a state of dependence on something (anything) other than the Father.

But don’t leave verse 2 too quickly; there is something very interesting in the first part. Notice that Jesus was in the wilderness “where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” Literally, the duration of not only the fast but also the tempting was forty days. This is supported by the Greek text which says he was “being tempted” for the forty days. Jesus appears to have gone through forty days of tempting. Why? Jesus is in the wilderness for a specific purpose and that is to become our example. Do not think that this is divine intervention or that Jesus had some kind of uncanny powers that made him resistant to temptation. If this were true, Jesus could not our example and our helper in times of temptation (Heb 2.18; 4.15; 1 Peter 4.1). We all have the opportunity to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passion just as the Savior does in his temptations. We need merely acknowledge the power source we can plug into, namely the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus had the Holy Spirit to empower him to overcome temptation, we have the same promise of the strengthing in the inner man (Eph 3.14-17). God has not left us to our devices to overcome sin and temptation but has left us his Spirit to teach us how to live and think and to give us hope and help us in weakness (see Rom 8). Indeed, Jesus teaches us the necessity of depending not on human means but on the divine power source God has given to each Christian.

One thing we should note when it comes to the temptations is that when Satan tempts Jesus and says “If you are the Son of God…” he is not making a doubtful conjecture. Satan knows this is God’s Son. A better English translation would be “Since you are the Son of God…” which is literally what Satan is saying in the Greek. This is positive affirmation from the spiritual realm, even the kingdom of darkness, concerning the identity of Jesus.

The First Temptation

The scene with the stones to bread temptation is always first in the records we have. Why this one first? Why record this one? I’m not sure but I can venture a guess. As was demonstrated by the Greek, Jesus has been tempted by Satan for forty days, so how many temptations there were, we don’t know. But we do know, based on the temptations we have recorded, they were temptations fit for the Son of God, the Messiah. It would seem that these temptations are recorded because the gospel writers saw fit to record them and the other temptations (if there were other temptations and I would say there were) did not need to be recorded.

This temptation attacks his divine ability. Jesus, as the Son of God, has the ability to turn these stones into bread simply pulling away his humanity and revealing his divinity. But to exercise this ability to would be to negate his humanity and also demonstrate that his dependence is not in the Father but in himself. God’s will is not for him use his powers for himself in a selfish way but to learn dependence upon the Father, thereby teaching mankind the same thing. “When God wants me to eat, he will feed me.” As one commentator wrote, “The issue, therefore, is not one of allurement to perverted self-gratification but a challenge to act apart from faithful dependence on God.”

Jesus does not mince words words nor are many words necessary. He quotes Scripture. Jesus is in the wilderness to fasting, demonstrating dependence on God and drawing closer to God in the process. He is focused on God. But Satan is trying to divert his focus, get him off track. Satan will do the same thing to us today. We should be striving to draw closer to God, focusing on God, but the devil is going to use whatever he can (food, drink, TV, etc.) to get our focus off of God and on something else. We would do well to learn from the Lord how to stay focused on God.

The Second Temptation

Having attacked the body, now Satan is going to attack the ego and esteem of Jesus. But he still appealing to human side of Jesus. Satan is saying, “I can make you king.” The cross can be bypassed if Jesus will but heed Satan and worship him. But inn the process, human salvation and redemption will be lost at the same time. Also, there is coming a time when “all authority in heaven and on earth will be given to Jesus.” The Messiah must suffer and die before he can “enter his glory” (see Luke 24.26).

Jesus has his priorities straight: God first. God is the only one man should worhsip and all other worship to anyone or anything else is wrong. Jesus is going to make God’s will first in his life in all he does. Our example has taught us yet again concerning our priorities and what should take precedence. Is it our will first or God’s will?

The Third Temptation

The last recorded temptation of Jesus in this episode is the temptation to “test” the Lord. There is a difference between tempt and test. When Jesus is tempted, it is Satan appealing to his humanity to disobey the word of God. He will use any means he can, even misusing Scripture, to make someone fall. God does not do this. But people can test God by provoking him through unreasonable demands contrary to faith. When the Scribes or Pharisees or Sadduccees test Jesus, this is what they are doing – it is in reality a sign of “unbelief, masquerading as extraordinary faith” (Liefeld, Luke, 865). Thayer says it this way, “to tempt God by exhibitions of distrust, as though they wished to try whether he is not justly distrusted…to challenge him, as it were, to give proof of his perfections” (Thayer 498). This is what Satan wants from Jesus and Jesus hits the root of the weeds of Satan. God has already addressed this in the past with Israel.

If Jesus were do this, being at the highest point of the temple, there would no doubt have been people to see him exercise this great feat. But this would have produced a glory that Jesus does not want. He wants the glory to come from the Father because of his obedience and trust in Him. We too have the same warning of not tempting or testing the Lord, specifically Christ (see 1 Cor 10.9). God has already exhibited his goodness and perfection and we have no need to distrust Him nor his faithfulness. The question is really will we be faithful?

All this temptation from Satan took place and then he left for a time. Satan was not inactive during this time; perhaps he was behind the Pharisees and Sadduccees and Scribes as they tested Jesus. He did ask to sift Simon as wheat (Luke 22.31) and entered Judas. So Satan was at work and will always be at work against the church in some form or fashion. Learn from the Lord, draw close to God and store up His word in your heart so that when the fiery darts of Satan come you will be equipped to extinguish them.