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.

Rejoicing in the Prize of Glory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special Study – Savior

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

Holding the Faith, part 3

One of the most fantastic lies Satan has convinced religious people of is the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. The belief is summed in this phrase: “Our justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as revealed in the Scriptures alone, to the glory of God alone” (found here). No doubt justification is by faith (Galatians 3.24); just as Abraham was justified by faith so too are we. But justification is by works also (James 2.24); even as Abraham was justified by works so too are we (cf. James 2.21). “Justification…through faith alone” is simply not Biblical. In fact, the only time the phrase “faith alone” is found in Scripture is in James who says that “a person is justified…not by faith alone” (2.24).

Chapter two is dealing with “faith” and holding or having (the) faith (v.1, 14). In fact, while not entirely evident in English, in the original language, James will use the same verb (Gk echo, to have, hold) when presenting the imperative command (v.1) and now in touching on what the obligations of faith are he uses it again (v.14). James’ teaching concerning faith is straightforward: it must be coupled with works. “Faith by itself, it if does not have works, is dead” (v.17). Shocking! No doubt the first century readers would be scandalized by this announcement. Indeed, some (many?) today are likewise incredulous over this. Nevertheless, James is explicit – faith must work or be active.

James 2.14-26 (ESV)
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?
15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,
16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?
17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!
20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?
22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works;
23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.
24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?
26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

The central theme of this section is that holding the faith includes works. To use the language of James, he argues that faith cannot be separated from works. Faith without works is dead faith which is really no faith at all. Once more the shepherd heart of James is on display as he writes to exhort his “brothers.” James begins this section with rhetorical questions: What good is it or is there any advantage to claiming to have or hold the faith but not have works? Can this kind of faith save a person? In other words, can profession without practice save someone? The answer anticipated by James is “no, it cannot.”

James writes to correct his brethren who have swung from one extreme in Judaism to another extreme in Christ. Adam Clarke puts it this way: “As the Jews in general were very strenuous in maintaining the necessity of good works or righteousness in order to justification, wholly neglecting the doctrine of faith, it is not to be wondered at that those who were converted, and saw the absolute necessity of faith in order to their justification, should have gone into the contrary extreme” (emphasis original). As he has been doing so now James does once more to exhort his brethren to not only be hearers of the word but to put that word into practice (cf. James 1.22, 25) and thereby “hold the faith” (2.1). Now James will illustrate this principle several ways for his brethren.

Practical Illustration (v.15-17)

Perhaps indicting his brethren of behavior known to happen when they meet in the synagogue (see v.2), James begins with an illustration from life and practice. The “hypothetical” is of a brother or sister (that is, a fellow Christian) who is clothed scantily (lit. naked) and is on a regular day-to-day basis lacking in nourishment. The example may not be as extreme as it may seem. The early church was composed of many poor people, especially the church in Jerusalem (see Romans 15.26). James is probably pulling from everyday experience for these Christians. It is fitting that in this context of “mercy triumphs over judgment” James would insert this example of showing mercy to the brothers.

Here is a destitute Christian brother or sister. What seems to have been the typical response of those to whom James writes? Merely a word from one brother to another: “Go in peace, be warmed and filled” (v.16). Three imperatives are given which meet none of the needs. “Go in peace” is a common Jewish farewell which Jesus used after healing (Mark 5.34) and forgiving (Luke 7.50). No doubt James readers would make the connection. However, this farewell without meeting the needs of a brother or sister is meaningless. Rather, the imperatives to “warm yourselves and fill yourselves” are given. No food, no clothing; nothing needful for the body. James asks, “What good is that?” It is once again rhetorical – it is no good!

From this example James reasons to the same principle he began this section with: faith without works is dead. A faith that talks but is void of action is of no value or benefit to 1) God, 2) those in need, and 3) the one possessing it.

Theological Argument (v.18-19)

Apparently James anticipates objections to his previous illustration. “Someone” among the recipients might challenge James on this point. This could be a false teacher among the readers. Some scholars say that early antinomian (anti-law) roots might be in place in the church when James is writing. There are some who say James is merely presenting two parties – one who has faith (without works) and another who has works (from faith). Still others say that James is pitting himself against the one who assures “faith only” proponents they are just fine.

It seems best to understand this passage as a strong objection to James’ conclusion (v.17) that faith without works is dead (“But” in the Greek is alla which is stronger than just de). He seems to be lined up with the fellow of verse 16 who has words but no deeds for the destitute brother. This person is “one of you” or from among the church to which James is writing. It is this person (“You”) who is claiming to have faith in light of James’ (“I”) works. We might rework this verse to read: “But some (among you) will say (that) you have faith and I have works.”

James’ reply is swift and cutting (as many of the statements in James are). “Show me your faith without works and I will show you from my works of the faith.” It is interesting that there almost seems to be a contrast between the faith this person claims to possess and “the faith” which James has and charges his brethren to hold to as well. “The faith” will be accompanied by action; the faith of the opponents will be workless.

This kind of faith which talks but does not act may even confess belief in God. Every good Jew would be familiar with the Shema (Deut 6.4) – YHWH is one. James seems to be alluding to this passage with which his Jewish brethren would have been familiar. This person may believe in Jesus, the virgin birth, the inspiration of the Bible, heaven, hell, the final coming of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the church of Christ. All of these doctrines are important and one does well to believe them. That’s what is so dangerous about this faith void of action: it is almost true faith. But in the end, no matter how many doctrines one may affirm and assent to, faith without works is demonic faith. “Even the demons believe – and shudder!” They’re extremely afraid. So terrified that their hair stands on end! Assent to truth is not enough; faith must be coupled with action.

Scriptural Argument (v.20-25)

James now turns his reader’s attention to two Scriptural examples to further and finally deliver his point concerning holding the faith. There almost seems to be a sense in which James is carrying on his conversation with his opponent begun in verse 16. He refers to the empty-headed man (“O foolish person,” ESV; “O ignoramus,” NAB). This man is empty because his argument is empty. James asks yet another rhetorical question of him: And do you wish to know that the faith without works is useless (esp. in regards to salvation)? The answer should be “yes”; a “no” would condemn them. James once more puts on display his heart in beseeching his brethren to put aside their unwilling hearts and put on works from faith.

First Example (21-24): James begins with Abraham, the “father” of the faithful. Once more, as is now common in James’ style, he asks a rhetorical question: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?” (ESV) The reply would of necessity be “yes, Abraham was justified by works in this action.” This account from Genesis 22 shows how faith “works together with” works in order to add what is yet lacking in order to render a thing complete (v.22). What is fascinating is that James views Genesis 15.6, which he quotes in verse 23, as somewhat prophetic for he says “the Scripture was fulfilled.” Only when Abraham lays his son on the altar and considers him as good as dead (cf. Heb 11.19) is faith “completed” or “made perfect” (ASV) by his works. So James answers his brethren who had totally internalized faith with no outward manifestation of that faith by essentially asking, “Where’s your sacrifice?”

The language used by James about justification should be noted. Abraham was “justified” by works and righteousness was “counted” to him. Both of these are passive voice verbs. That is, Abraham is being acted upon from without, i.e. by God. While Abraham did works in obedience to God, it is God who does the justifying and the counting. Even the completion of faith is a passive voice verb – while Abraham has faith and puts that faith into action, God does the completing or perfecting of that faith. This seems to be expressed in God’s words to Abraham: “now I know that you fear God” (Gen 22.12). Through the test of Abraham, God made his faith complete.

From this first and brilliant example James concludes, “You see that a man is being justified from works and not from faith only” (v.24). Abraham had been declared righteous in Genesis 15, before he had a son. As a righteous man, he maintained his justified standing by obedience to God in offering up Isaac in Genesis 22. By his obedience to God, Abraham was styled a friend of God, a moniker which remained with him throughout Scripture (2 Chron 20.7; Psa 25.14; Isa 41.8). So James, speaking to his Christian brethren, explains that while they may have been declared righteous at the baptistery, saved people manifest their faith and continue to be justified by God by maintained obedience. If Christians would be friends and remain friends of God (like Abraham), then faith must manifest itself in actions, namely obedience to the word of God.

Second Example (25): As if Abraham’s example was not enough, James turns his readers’ attention to a more unseemly example – Rahab the prostitute. Like Abraham, she was justified by God when she sent the messengers from Israel by another way. Literally, she hurled them out by a different way they came, i.e. they came in the door but had to leave through the window. It is interesting to note that she never lost the title of “prostitute,” even though she was justified. Also, according to Jewish Midrash, Rahab married Joshua and became an ancestor to Jeremiah and Ezekiel. That may be just tradition, but we do know she finds her way into the lineage of Christ (Matt 1.5).

Why Rahab? James has been and will continue to deal with the rich and poor, the elites and the emarginated. This seems to be yet another example of this. If they missed the point in Abraham, they would get it with Rahab. Indeed, the contrast is striking. “Abraham was a Jew, and the father of the chosen nation; Rahab was a heathen woman. Abraham had for many years received a special training in the school of faith; Rahab had enjoyed no training at all. Abraham was a good and pure man; Rahab had lived a loose and sensual life. Yet this degraded Canaanite obtained ‘like precious faith’ with the illustrious patriarch” (Pulpit Commentary 39). She’s part of the faithful. So too those who align themselves with God whoever they may be and whatever their background can likewise find justification from God.

Conclusion

The conclusion of the whole matter is found in the final verse of chapter 2: “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (NASB). This is the point James has been making throughout this epistle thus far. He has exhorted his brethren to be doers of the word (1.22). He has spoken about pure Christian religion (1.27). He has exhorted them concerning holding the faith (2.1), especially in terms of how we treat one another (2.2-7). To love one’s neighbor is a call to put faith into practice (2.8). And now showing mercy to brethren (2.15-16) is used to further drive this point home. To allow faith to expire by not doing the works of God is just like a dead body. There is no life in that faith. But a living faith will be active in actions which promote the will of God.

This is a problem which apparently has plagued the church since the beginning. Toward the end of the first century, the church in Sardis was guilty of failing to couple faith with works. Jesus told them, “Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God” (Rev 3.2, ESV). Church growth experts and statisticians bemoan the fact that the church today is dying. The prescription for the dying church of today is found in the words of James and Jesus. Wake up! And do the justifying works of the kingdom of God!

Holding the Faith, part 1

On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a speech at the Lincoln monument in Washington, D.C. which resonates even to today. “I have a dream…” Luther would exclaim and then proceed to describe his dream for America at large. One aspect of that dream was that his children would not be judged based on race and skin color but that they would be judged “by the content of their character.”

James, half-brother of Jesus and historically the bishop of Jerusalem, has a dream for the church in the first century which resonates even to the church of the present-day. James’ dream is of a church which does not judge a person because of their riches, rank, or race, but that all Christians would show no partiality toward one another. The Lord Jesus Christ did not show partiality (Luke 20.21) and those who hold their faith in Him will do likewise. Indeed, this is a divine attribute which God calls His people to walk in. James’ Jewish readers would no doubt know Leviticus 19.15: “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.” There is a principle in the word of God of which James reminds his brethren.

James 2.1-7 (ESV)

1 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.
2 For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in,
3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,”
4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
5 Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?
6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court?
7 Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

Once more, James regards his readers as his “brothers.” What is communicated is a sense of family and partnership. “We are in this together.” This, too, is a habitual title used by James for his fellow countrymen and fellow Christians. By physical and spiritual heritage, they are brothers. Once more the shepherd heart of James is seen and he works to correct his brethren’s wrong thinking and practice. James will use “partiality” or “favoritism” (HCSB, NASB, NIV, lit. “receiving the face”) to seemingly tie together the faith one professes and the works which he/she does which we read about towards the end of this chapter. But first, James calls upon his brethren to cease and desist in making distinctions and showing preferential treatment to individuals based on external circumstance – wealth, social class, rank, and/or race.

The Principle (v.1): The focus is on faith in Christ and holding fast that faith. In fact, the imperative in this verse is not “show no partiality” but “hold the faith.” This faith’s object is “our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” (NASB). James here attributes the same Shekinah glory of YHWH God to Jesus. So once more, as was seen in 1.1, James puts Jesus on par with God Almighty. In fact, one scholar says this construction is similar to when Jesus said the He is “the way, the truth, the life.” Hence, James sees the Lord Jesus Christ as simply “the Glory.” Based on the foregoing section which dealt with “pure and undefiled” religion before God, James no doubt is speaking of the Christian religion. Part of the Christian faith is imitating and mimicking the Lord. As He showed no partiality while on earth, so His followers (disciples) show no partiality among men. James now develops this idea with a series of questions for his readers.

Question 1: Haven’t you made gross distinctions? (v.2-4) He begins with a hypothetical situation. Perhaps, though, it was not as hypothetical for these Christians as for us. This may have been something James had seen far too often take place in the synagogue (Gk sunagogen). He had been in far too many meetings with his brethren and had seen this far too often (v.6-7 seems to indicate this is really going on). Here enters a rich man – he has a gold ring on his finger (lit. gold-fingered) and with splendid (lit. bright) clothing all of which indicates his opulence. Then here enters the poor man – no ring and in shabby (lit. filthy) clothes. Both of these men, visitors the same, walk into the synagogue to hear the Law read, to worship, to pray. But how they are treated is very different.

The rich man is given special attention and looked upon with favor. He is given the proverbial “best seat in the house.” This might have been seat near the front, by the rostrum, or even on an elevated place draw great attention to him. The poor man, on the other hand, is treated poorly: he is not offered even a chair but told either “stand over there” or “sit at my feet.” This is degrading and disgraceful! More than that, these Christians have “become judges with evil thoughts.” This is not godly or Christ-like. These evil thoughts have lead to unjust distinctions among men. James’ question is rhetorical then: of course you have done this! Thus, truly Christian behavior must flow from a wholly Christian heart and mind.

Question 2: Hasn’t God made a choice? (v.5) Again, the pathos of James bleeds from the pages of Scripture as he pleads with his “beloved brethren” to “listen!” He then reveals a principle or truth which his readers should have been very familiar with: “has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom”? Again, a rhetorical question: yes, He has. The “poor in the world” seem to be those people who are destitute, without wealth. They stand juxtaposed to the “rich in the world.” By worldly standards, they are poor; before God, they are “rich in faith” which is invaluable and far superior to any worldly good. In addition, they are heirs of the kingdom. Their inheritance is the rule and reign of God in their lives and forever more. This reign of God is a sure promise from God. If anyone loves Him, they become heirs of the rule of God in their lives.

It would seem that this is a reminder to the readers. Perhaps they were a church composed of the poor who had responded to the gospel. So the rebuke is somewhat striking: what if God treated you the way you treat others? Further, there is a blessing attached with the impoverished. Jesus in the sermon on the plain said, “Blessed are the poor, for theirs in the kingdom of God” (Luke 6.20). It is the poor who have the gospel preached to them during the earthly ministry of Jesus (see Matt 11.5). There seems to be a predisposition toward faith in God and Christ if you have not the wealth of the world. My mother says, “When you give a man who has everything Jesus, you’ve given him nothing; when you give a man who has nothing Jesus, you’ve given him everything.” So, why the distinction, brethren? Why are you keeping them from the kingdom when God has made their journey easier or shorter than the rich?

Question 3: Aren’t the rich oppressing you? (v.6) Besides all this, James reminds his brethren of the reality of the situation and the irony of it all. The rich are oppressing these Jewish Christians and putting them in dire straights. The rich are dragging these Jewish Christians off to court to bring slanderous accusations against them. So these are the people they honored while they dishonored and treated shamefully the poor.

Question 4: Aren’t the rich opposing Christ? (v.7) And if personal oppression were not enough, James reminds his brothers that the rich are also speaking evil (i.e. blaspheming) against the name of honor, that is, the name of Jesus. So these Christian slandering, Christ swearing rich people are the very same people these individuals these Jewish Christians were treating honorably all the while the poor fellow is treated shamefully. I believe it is important to note that James is not necessarily condemning the good treatment of the rich. Christians are commanded to “turn the other cheek” when slapped (see Matt 5.39). However, James is using that action to condemn the shameful treatment shown to the poor by his brethren. That is the injustice James seeks to rectify. How are you going to treat those who hate the kingdom better than those who are not far from the kingdom? If you are going to treat the rich well, in likewise manner, treat also the poor well. After all they are elected by God to be rich in faith and enter the kingdom.

The Paradox of Poverty

James 1.9-11

9 Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation,
10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away.
11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

The American Dream has become the accumulation of stuff – cars, houses, and accompanying accoutrements the goes with a lifestyle of luxury. To be rich is to be coveted. This same mentality has crept into the church. Christians horde up for themselves treasures on earth, justifying themselves by saying things like, “God wants me to be happy.” But as Jesus explained while on earth: “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10.23) While this problem may seem new, it is far from it. In fact, James echoes what Jesus taught by asking, “has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom…?” (James 2.5) James writes quite a bit about the relationship between the rich and poor. In 1.9-11, we find yet a third paradox in the Christianity: the poor are exalted, the rich humiliated.

The Paradox of Poverty (1.9-11)

(Several) Someone(s) has said, “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Rich is better!” Contrary to this conventional wisdom, the New Testament presents several warnings concerning the dangers of riches in connection with the Christian faith. Riches can be a snare and destroy one’s faith (cf. 1 Tim 6.9-10, 17). In short, rich is not always better! Building on the context of trials and asking for wisdom concerning those trials, James presents a trial that was all to familiar for the poor saints of the early church: poverty. And the paradox of poverty is seen in James’ positive presentation of pride in poverty.

The Exaltation of the Poor (v.9). James presents the positive case of poverty. The “lowly brother” is the Christian who is low on the socio-economic ladder. He is a poor Christian, destitute perhaps. James presents the paradox: this poor brother is actually in a lofty position. Indeed, when we consider that God has seated us in the heavenly places with Christ (Eph 2.6) we are very exalted! This brother is to “boast” or “glory” in his exaltation. While boasting and bragging concerning oneself are condemned elsewhere in Scripture (even in James, 4.16), to boast in the Lord is an altogether different thing. This is what James is calling for – we are exalted in Christ because of Christ. While the poor Christian brother may not have money, he is “rich in faith.” “True wealth is measured not in money but in faith” (Holloway 37).

So there is actually a blessing which comes with being poor. One who is impoverished is predisposed to faith in Christ. Indeed, it was Jesus who said in the sermon on the plain, “Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6.20). And while we may want to spiritualize that or link it immediately to Matthew 5.3 (“poor in spirit”), it is undeniable that in the context of that sermon on the plain and the greater context of the gospel of Luke, Jesus says what He means and means what He says. Couple this with what He says in Luke 6.24 where He pronounces a woe on the rich and the picture is complete.

The Humiliation of the Plutocrat (v.10). Contrast this poor brother with the rich man in the world. While the poor Christian should boast in his lofty position in Christ, the rich of the world glory in their humiliation. Though rich in the world, they are not rich toward God (see Luke 12.21). And like the enemies of the cross who “glory in their shame” (Phil 3.19), so the rich glory in their humiliated station before God. They are destitute of the favor and fellowship of heaven which is a very low place. “He will pass away.” Not might or may, but will. It is inevitable that the rich man will perish even as the flower dies.

Another way of seeing this rich man in light of the context is as a Christian brother. Here is a rich Christian brother and his trial is that he is rich. And what a trial in light all that Scripture teaches about the dangers of riches. The temptation is to allow his wealth to be a cause for boasting. James says that he ought to glory his humiliation. Boast as one who is a spiritual pauper in need of the riches only Christ can supply. “Let him exult in the grace of Christ which has enabled him to pass through ‘the needle’s eye.’”

The Illustration of the Proposition (v.11). Here’s what it’s like: grass that is scorched by the heat of the sun. Think about a patch of grass under a desert sun. It will wither and die. Here’s what it’s like: a beautiful flower whose beauty fades away. Think about a rose in a vase for several days. These are illustrations taken from the Old Testament (Isa 40.8; cf. 1 Peter 2.24) to show what it’s like for a rich person who’s life is tied up in riches and/or the pursuit of riches and not in God and His word. No matter how vigorous his pursuit of riches more may be, it is ultimately frustrated because he is not in pursuit of God. What a miserable end! Truly the humiliation is evident: all that effort was in vain; his pursuits will be snuffed out as a flame.

If you are a child of God, you are wealthy beyond your wildest dreams with the riches that are unlike the flower that fades or the grass which withers. The riches in Christ are eternal riches. This is a lesson lost on American Christians who are self-sufficient in our abundance. We don’t need God to give us our daily bread; we have several days’ worth of bread laid up in store at the house. When compared to the rest of the world, we must realize that just by living in America puts in the upper echelon of the wealthy in the world. Therefore, the warning from James is for us.

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.

Last Supper with Jesus, pt. 2

There is much darkness and gloom brooding over this tiny band. But it will get much darker as Jesus will draw their attention to a betrayer among them. In Luke 22.21-30, Jesus turns his attention to disciples and their future. For one, his future is bleak as he will betray the Son of Man. His name is Judas. Jesus turns His attention to this sad topic.

The Disloyalty of a Disciple

Right on the heels of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus tells his band of followers there is a betrayer among them. There are some who contend that these verses (v.21-22) have been transposed and should come before v.19. Even if that be the case, the truth of Jesus’ words is not affected. There is a betrayer among them, even sitting at the table with them. And it is interesting, that even while Judas is sitting there at the table with Jesus, he is betraying Him. Jesus explains why it must be so in v.22: “For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined…” The path Jesus has been on (and even at this point is on) has lead Him to this point and will terminate in the cross. This path “has been determined” for Him. By whom, we may ask? The answer is God. Elsewhere is the writing of Luke he talks about how it was according to the “definite plan and foreknowledge of God” which Jesus went to the cross (Acts 2.23). This plan to save man was formed in the mind from before time began, even in eternity. Then, through His Son, He worked that plan to its conclusion. 

So then Judas’ freewill was violated in that he was “forced,” as it were, to betray Jesus? No. Jesus points to the responsibility of the betrayer in the rest of v.22: “but woe to that man by he is betrayed” (ESV).  Writes Leon Morris, “The fact that God overrules the evil that bad people do as he brings his purposes to pass does not make them any less evil. They remain responsible people.” Hence, Jesus’ words are not meant to be vindictive but words filled with grief and hurt that his betrayer is a friend. It would seem Judas has covered his tracks so well that none of the disciples caught on to what he was doing. The disciples collectively begin to question one another concerning who it was going to be.

The Dispute among the Disciples

It would seem this continued questioning led to an argument among the disciples. Think about it: here are several men who are all pointing the finger of accusation at one another. “Was it you?” “No but I think it was Peter.” I heard that! How dare you accuse me! Besides it was probably James or John.” “Who do you think you are accusing us?” And on it went until there was a full blown argument. At some point, the discussion turned toward greatness: “Why I would never betray Jesus. Think of what a great disciple I am.” “Well, I’m an even greater disciple than you!” “Yeah, well I’m the greatest of all!” Their like children and it makes me wonder if Jesus ever just rolled His eyes before calling a time out (as he does here).

It is interesting that the word used for their dispute literally means “love of strife” (Gk. philoneikia). It carries the idea that the topic of greatness was always a topic ready for dispute and argument among these men. In fact, elsewhere in Scriputre we find record of this very same discussion among these same men (Matt 20.20-24; Mark 9.34; 10.37-41). And this not the first time Luke has recorded a dispute arose over the exact same thing (cf. 9.46). They seem to constantly be seeking the primacy and preeminence. Again, it was a topic they were eager to dispute.

So Jesus remind them about true greatness in the kingdom of God (v.25-27). As if His demonstration of servant leadership earlier in the evening was not enough (see John 13.1ff), He now imparts more teaching on the nature of servant leadership. He draws their attention to the Gentiles and their practice. Those in authority are called “benefactors” or a person who helps people subject to him. In the world, its all about getting credit for what they have done. Indeed, the word Jesus uses (Gk. euergetai) was the name of one of the Ptolomies of Egypt (Ptolomy Euergetes). But in the kingdom of God, its different. “Not so among you.” The first part of the explanation in v.26 sounds similar to Jesus in Luke 9.48 about children. The next part is similar to teaching found elsewhere in the gospels: “the leader [among you become] as one who serves.” The message was unmistakable especially when coupled with the object lesson given before the meal with the feet washing. Jesus, their leader, had become their servant.

And if they missed it there, Jesus reiterates it once more and in specific language (v.27; cf. Matt 20.28)). Naturally, the thinking would be that the one dining at the table was greater than the one serving. And yet Jesus was one who came and served them. Again, the John 13 feet washing has clear ties to this in Luke. In these statements, Jesus effectually puts to rest any dispute they may have had. Also, their love for this dispute ought to be put away. This is not proper kingdom citizen discussion. Greatness in the kingdom is only found in serving.

The Domain of the Apostles

There is some honor, though, which Jesus wishes to impart to His disciples on this occasion. He explains that they have been with Him through his “trials” (or temptations). They had been with Him throughout the many hardships of His ministry here on earth. They had been with Him when rejected in Samaria. They had been there when He was ridiculed by the leaders. They knew He had no place to lay His head. They knew it because they were there. So he “assigns” them “a kingdom.” What’s Jesus saying? His time, His life is drawing near to its end. He is setting His affairs in order. This is the meaning behind the word “assign.” This is langauge used (in those days) for a will. He is assigning his possessions (in this case the kingdom assigned to Him from the Father) to His followers. They will be the ones who carry on His work when He has ascended back to the Father.

As discussed before, a kingdom is primarily defined not as territory or land but as a dominion, rule, reign. Hence, Christ’s kingdom would be administered by them. All of them. Not just Peter (tenet of the Catholic Church) but all of them would collectively proclaim and propagate the kingdom of Christ. Because of their work in this regard, they would “eat and drink at my table in the kingdom” and “sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” The former expression I believe captures the fellowship aspect. The latter seems to touch on the follow-ship aspect. First, as citizens of the kingdom and as those who reveal the kingdom in their teaching, the apostles would enjoy fellowship with Christ. Indeed, those who hold to the teachings of the apostles can themselves find fellowship with Christ and God.

Second, we see that for following Christ and even enduring the same trials and temptations as Jesus, they will have unique authority in the kingdom. Some say this judgment the apostles have is done by their teaching. Others say it is like when Ninevah and the queen of Sheba condemned the Jews in times past, so will the apostles in the kingdom dispensation (present time). Still others say the apostles will sit as co-judges with Christ in the judgment. Again, others say the apostles will have special preeminence in the kingdom after the second coming. According to H. Leo Boles, “There may be some truth in all of these positions.” What we know is that the sitting on thrones the apostles will do was yet future when Christ spoke these words. How far into the future is uncertain. But it would be a reality should the apostles remain faithful. In this author’s opinion, this is something that took place in the first century when the apostles proclaimed the kingdom of God and people began to enter into the rule and reign of God. When men and women began to bow the knee to Christ and accepted the rule of God in their lives from the throne of their heart, that is when the apostles began to judge Israel. And by their continued disobedience to the gospel, those Jews who refused entrance into the kingdom were condemned even while they lived.

Last Supper with Jesus, pt. 1

As the days speed by in the life of Jesus, we come ever closer to His final hour. Judas has agreed to betray Him (read here) and clock is ticking. But before He departs from this world, He has some final instruction and institutions He will impart to His disciples. Most Christians are familiar with this passage (Luke 22.7-23) because of the scene in which Jesus introduces and institutes the Lord’s Supper. However, there is a lot of theological significance in back of this meal and roots that stretch into the Old Testament.

The Mission for the Upper Room

We’ve seen how in v.1 the Feast of Unleavened Bread was drawing nigh. Now the day of Unleavened Bread has arrived. Most scholars agree this was a day when the Jewish purged their houses of all leaven in preparation for the feast which lasted about seven days (cf. 2 Chron 30.22). It was also on this day that the Passover lamb was to be sacrficed and then the meal (supper) was also eaten. It should be noted that there is a distinction between the Passover meal (one night in which the lamb was slaughtered at twilight, see Exodus 12.6) and the entire Feast of Unleavened Bread (which lasted for seven days, see Exodus 12.18). This is an important to make in order to understand the harmony in the Gospel accounts.

Nevertheless, it was on this day (most authorities say Thursday), Jesus sends Peter and John on a mission to “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we might eat it.” Some commentators say Jesus is here eating the meal in anticipation of his death; this will be one final supper with his disciples. Certainly a possiblity. However, as we move deeper into to the chapter, we do see there is new significance attached to the Passover. Indeed, Jesus takes what these Jews had always known and attaches new meaning to these symbols.

The two disciples ask Jesus where they were to prepare the meal to which Jesus in essence replies, “Follow the man with the jar.” This man would lead to the large upper room where they could eat the supper and also Jesus could impart some final instruction and teaching (He is the Teacher, v.11) to the disciples (John 13-16). Peter and John do what Jesus says and find everything just He said they would (v.13) and so prepared the Passover.

The Meal in the Upper Room

At last, the hour comes when it is time for Jesus to recline at the table and eat this meal with His apostles (v.14). Jesus tells them that he has “earnestly desired to eat this Passover” with them before His suffering. It would seem this is Jesus, knowing His time had come (John 13.1), had a great desire to eat this meal with them. This almost seems like an explanation of why they are doing what they are doing. Of course, while this meal looked back to the great deliverance that God brought for Israel when leaving Egypt, this same meal pointed forward to an even greater deliverance, an even greater exodus (see Luke 9.31) which Jesus would lead in bringing many people out of bondage to sin. This was effected by his sacrifice on the cross, that is, His suffering which is merely hourse away. Others have said there are other reason for the Lord’s earnest desire. One is that these were His dear friends which He was about to leave. Another is that He is their divine Master or Teacher who is delivering His “last lecture.” And also, Jesus is the Founder of the greatest religion on this occassion He sought to transform this memorial supper to have Kingdom significance.

Jesus further explains that He will not eat this meal again “until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (v.16). This same idea seems to be restated in v.18: “I will not drink the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Jesus has been preaching the kingdom since the beginning of His ministry (see Matthew 4.17; Luke 4.43). As discussed before, the kingdom of God is the rule or reign of God. Elsewhere in Scripture, you will find that the kingdom of God has always existed and always will exist  and is over everything (Psa 22.28; 145.13; et al.). What does Jesus mean, then, when He speaks of the kingdom’s coming being yet future? This has to do with the entrance of men and women into that everlasting kingdom when they humbly bow the knee to the King of Kings and become citizens of the kingdom. While every man, woman, and child lives under the cosmic sovereign rule of God, not all are citizens of kingdom with the King ruling from the throne of their hearts. Those people who submit their will to the will of God and obey the decrees of the King simultaneously become part of the body of Christ, the church. Hence, the church is composed of kingdom subjects or citizens. One cannot properly speak of being a citizen of the kingdom, a subject to the King, and not be a member of Christ’s church. It is in the church, among His subjects, that Christ dines with His subjects in communion, the Lord’s Supper.

At this point, Jesus takes a cup and tells His disciples, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves.” Scholars call this “the cup of blessing” which was to be drank after the Passover lamb had been eaten. H. Leo Boles in his commentary on Luke writes, “A cup was passed at different intervals; they would eat for a while, then pass the large cup or vessel that contained the wine, and each one would fill his cup, and as they drank, different scriptures would be recited.” By His actions and words, it would seem Jesus is writing the final chapter of the Passover as the Jews knew. There is yet a Passover lamb, indeed, the spotless Lamb of God who was to be sacrificed for the remission of sins (Matt 26.28): Jesus the Christ.

Then Jesus, in the midst of the Passover meal, takes these symbols and attaches new meaning to them. First, he takes the bread and gives thanks for it. The bread Jesus calls His body. It should be noted that there is a textual issue in v.19b-20. You will note that some Bibles have a footnote which reads something like, “Some manuscripts omit, in whole or in part, verse 19b-20”; so reads the ESV. While this is true, only one of the earliest Greek manuscripts omits it and Justin Martyr (early church apologist) accepted these words are part of Luke’s account (c.150 AD). Other later manuscripts may have omitted them because of the issue with Jesus taking the cup first, then the bread. Nevertheless, Jesus txplains His body is given for “you.” Contextually, Jesus is speaking to His twelve apostles. This is the same language used in v.20 when Jesus is speaking of the cup and the fruit of the vine: it is poured out for “you.” Again, contextually, this is spoken for His apostles. However, in Matthew’s account Jesus speaks of the blood being poured for “many” (Matt 26.28). Which is it? Yes. Both. Christ came to be the Savior of the world (John 4.42; 1 John 4.14),, which includes His apostles and everyone else who might coem to Him by faith.

There has been much discussion around the statements of Jesus “This is my body” and “This is my blood” (Matt 26.28). Is this to be taken literal? Usually, those who interpret this passage as literal will run to John 6.55 which says “My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” However, that is dishonest to the Synoptic Gospel accounts of the Lord’s Supper and rips John 6.55 from its context where Jesus is speaking about fellowship with Him (and ultimately with God); merely read the next verse (John 6.56, “…abides in me…” is fellowship language). So, are these statements literal? Or are they to be understood as figurative? That is, the bread Jesus takes and breaks signifies His body and the fruit of the vine in the cup signifies the blood of Christ. Jesus is not advocating cannibalism. In fact, in early church history, the church was accused of cannibalism and they argued against that erroneous rumor. There are similar statements found in Scripture: “The seven good are seven years” (Gen 41.26); “the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom” (Matt 13.38); “Hagar is mout Sinai” (Gal 4.25). All of these former things signify the latter. Jesus employs the same metaphorical language when instituting the Lord’s Supper. This point is driven home further in Luke’s account where Jesus says, “This cup…is the new covenant in my blood.” So is the cup literally the new covenant, some kind of holy grail? Nay, verily. But what’s in the cup bears significance touching the new covenant. No, these statements of Jesus should not be understood as literal.

One final note: “Do this in remembrance of me.” I believe it is significant that Jesus does not say “in remembrance of my death.” Jesus says “in remembrance of me.” Certainly His death is of vital importance to the Christian and His death is a part of His life. But it would seem that Jesus wants us to remember His entire life. Don’t misunderstand; the death of Christ on the cross is of vital importance to every Christian. But just as important, and to a degree more important, is the resurrection, the miracles, the virgin birth, the sinless life, and everything else contained in the gospel accounts.

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.

The Rich, Young Ruler

My regular routine for Sunday afternoon following Sunday morning worship is to turn on the television and watch televangelists. *gasp* Yes, although I usually give them a bad wrap, I have to admit that I get some pretty good illustrations from them and every once-in-a-while they will say something worth writing down and keeping. Mind you, though, I have to wade through a load of garbage to get that gem. At any rate, although I should be used to it, I am always astounded by what comes out of these guys mouths. For example, just yesterday, one of these guys was saying how God does not want you poor and the reason this particular preacher “ain’t po’ no mo'” is because he began living his life according to the bible. Hmm…and in addition, he told everyone in the audience (a rather large crowd) that he doesn’t like being all alone on his mountain and told everyone they too can be rich by following what God says.

Now understand this: I do not think there is anything wrong with money. In fact, the Bible says Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were wealthy in cattle, gold, and silver. But to me, this kind of preaching demonstrates the gross sin of the love of money. It was this attitude which Jesus condemned in the Pharisees (Luke 16.14) and I believe Jesus addresses this same topic again in Luke 16.18-30 with the rich ruler.

The Dramtic Dialogue with the Rich Ruler

A Hasty Query. Matthew tells us this rich ruler was “young” (Mt 19.20) and Mark tells us that he came running up to Jesus and knelt before him. He calls Jesus “Good teacher.” From what I can gather, this was not a term in regular useage among rabbis during Jesus’ time. In fact, as Jesus will point out, the reason it was not in use was because “good” was a term reserved for God (see Psalms 25.8, 106.1). So, did the youth in his haste make a mistake? I mean, Jesus has to set him straight right? More in minute.

Let’s examine the ruler’s question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” It’s a good question, no doubt a question many people were asking themselves and even today continue to ask. But the question for us, of course, is, “Is there really anything I can do which will cause me to inherit eternal life?” In actuallity, eternal life is not earned by us but instead is a free gift from God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6.23).

A Heavy Reply. First, Jesus addresses what the man has called him: “Good teacher.” He says God alone is good. Well, that we knew…but dig deeper here. Jesus is teaching this young man a lesson about who He is. The implication is that Jesus himself is God inasmuch as He contains divine qualities. Its as if Jesus is saying, “If you’re going to call me ‘good,’ at least understand what you are truly saying.” And dig a little deeper: the good God who can bestow eternal life to this young man is standing before him! If he truly understood the meaning of this statement from Jesus, instead of seeking self-glorification (which he does in a moment), he would beg for mercy and forgiveness.

Jesus’s response gets heavier in v.20: He answers the young man’s request for a list of things to do and not do. It is simply a reiteration of the Law. “Do not commit adultery” – so do honor marriage. “Do not murder” – so do honor life. “Do not steal” – so do honor other people’s property and merchandise. “Do no bear false witness” – so do love truth. “Honor your father and mother” – do not dishonor or harm them.

A Haughty Retort. As mentioned above, when Jesus implies his divinity in v.19, this young man should have been quick to humble himself. Instead, once he hears that he has been fulfilling the Law and earning his eternal life by his good works, you can almost see him coming out of his skin with excitement. He’s been doing these things. *phew* nothing new to add! But he fails to understand that there is something deeper at the heart of the Law which he has missed. This young man himself is not “good” – he has fallen short of God’s goodness by missing God’s standard.

A Hard Request. It was at the unabashed statement of self-righteousness that Jesus makes this difficult request of the rich young man. Jesus tells the man he still lacks one thing: “sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” What Jesus is getting at is that there is one thing that is hindering this man from truly having eternal life: a love for money. Rather than leave everything and follow Jesus (as his Twelve had done, v.28, cf. Mt 19.27), he simply will not (cannot?) do this most difficult deed. Hence, he forfeits the eternal blessings of heaven for the momentary riches of earth. How many today do the same thing? Their greed for more stuff, their trust in their 401k and retirement plans…they have more faith in the dollar signs and stock markets of the world than in Christ. And when told what they need to do to have treasure in heaven, the true treasure, they leave sad becasue the price tag is too high.

The Deflated Discussion with Flabbergasted Followers

The rich young ruler is not the only one leaves the dialogue with sadness. This scene of a man who is more in love with his money and stuff leaving breaks the Lord’s heart also. But as sad as the Lord is and as heartborken he is over this one man, notice something very important: Jesus does not go after him. You almost expect him to run after the boy and embrase, and plead with him to come back. If it were a parent, you would expect the parent to try and bargain with the boy: “What will it take for you to come back?” Here’s the thing: Jesus Christ is Lord. As Lord he will not accept discipleship on just any terms; he demands true discipleship to be on His terms!

A Sad Remark. I imagine the following discussion between Jesus and “those who heard” him was deflated in that this sad scene has played out in front of everyone. This rich, young ruler does not want to commit and perform what is necessary in order to obtain true treasure; rather he is satisfied with the fleeting riches of earth. He does not have eternal life! And with these emotions filling our Lord he explains the situation: its hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. In fact, its downright impossible!

In v.25, Jesus says it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. A couple of interpretations have been erroneously postulated. For example, some say Jesus is talking about a camel squeezing down through a small gate; the camel would have to get on its knees and then just bearly make it through this gate. Other say the word for camel (Gk. kamelon) should be the word for cable (Gk. kamilon). Hence, it is a cable through the eye of a needle. Well, why can’t it be a cable through the small gate…then, we can remove the impossiblity completely, right?

A Shocked Petition. The key to understanding v.25 is in the people’s question which is “Who can be saved?” The recognize the impossibility of Jesus’ illustration: there is no way a camel can fit through the eye of needle (literally). It is impossible. Also, tied up in this question is the people’s understanding of how God works. To them, wealth is equated with the favor of God. This is not unlike our televangelist friends who preach “health and wealth.” The problem with this is that Jesus sent this rich man away still in a lost state. Hence, if the wealthy, who are supposed to have the favor of God, cannot get into the kingdom, who can?

Jesus answers this peition by explaining that with man, it is impossible for an camel to go through the eye of a needle and for a rich to be saved.m But with God…and we have seen this idea of all things being possible with God previously in Luke (see 1.37). Just as it is impossible for a virgin to conceive and give birth, so also it is impossible for a rich man to enter heaven and camels to go through the eyes of needles. But when you add to all those equations God, suddenly the thing that seemed impossible now has the power necessary to accomplish it. Hence, Mary becomes pregnant and births Jesus, camels can start fitting through the eyes of needles, and rich people can enter into salvation.

A Sober Reminder. Ever eager, Peter wants to remind the Lord (and everyone else hearing) just what he and his Eleven friends have done. But I can’t help but think that as Peter is making this statement, it is really sinking in just how much each of the Twelve have sacrificed to follow Jesus. This rich, young ruler is a sober reminder that if anything gets between a disciple and Jesus, he will depart Jesus in a sad state.

But Jesus issues a blessing. To those who would leave everything and follow Jesus, whether wife, brother, children, whatever, they will get much more in return in this life and that which is to come. Once more, as seen elsewhere in Luke (ch.14), Jesus is trying to impress on us the importance of placing him before all other things in life. But when we love him fully, 100% we get a wonderful return in our investment: “every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus” (Eph 1.3-4). Not only, we exchange this worry-filled life, complete with sin and death for eternal life with God and Christ.