“Law” and “Commandments” in the Gospel of John

“Law” and “Commandments”
in the Gospel of John

Robert D. Brinsmead

Although the term “the Law” and the word “commandment” are often used interchangeably in the Bible, the Gospel of John makes a distinction between them. The expression “the Law” appears fourteen times in the Gospel of John. The word “command” or “commandment” also appears about fourteen times.

It has long been noted that the Gospel of John is a book of controversy. The book depicts a great confrontation between Jesus and the Law, between Christ’s or the Father’s commandment and the Law, between Jesus and Judaism, and between the church and the synagogue. Gutbrod declares that John “has no particular interest in the Law as a possibility for regulating human or even Christian action.He also says that in John “the Law is never used as the rule of Christian conduct for the community. On the other hand, in the book of John Jesus repeatedly urges his disciples to keep his commandments.

In all but one of the fourteen instances in which the term “the Law” appears in the Gospel of John, it is accompanied by the definite article. It is not any law that is referred to; it is always “the Law.” Thus:

For the law was given through Moses.–John 1:17.

Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”–John 1:45.

“The Law,” of course, refers to the Law of Moses. It is the body of teaching revealed to Moses which constituted the foundation for the entire social and religious life and thought of Israel. It is the body of divine revelation given to Moses. In a broader context in the Gospel of John, however,”the Law” refers not only to the five books of Moses but also includes the Psalms and the prophetic books of the Old Testament and, indeed, the entire Old Testament itself. For example: “Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your Law, “I have said you are gods”?'” (John 10:34; cf. Ps. 82:6). And again: “But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.'” (John 15:25; cf. Ps. 35:19; 69:4).

In some Johannine passages the expression “the Law” may refer to the Law of Moses in the sense of a specific commandment. Thus:

“Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?” –John 7:19.

“Now if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath?”–John 7:23.

In still other situations the term “the Law” has the specific meaning of a legal ordinance:

Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?–John 7:51.

But whenever the term “the Law” is used in the Gospel of John, it always refers to the Old Testament Law known as the Jewish Torah. John teaches that this Law of Moses points to Christ. It is a prophecy of Christ. When the Jews confronted Jesus and charged him with breaking the Law by healing on the Sabbath day, they pronounced him a sinner before the Law and then tried to kill him. In doing this, John points out that the Jews were unfaithful to the Law (see John 7:19). Furthermore, John shows that Moses, who was the Law personified, testified of Christ. If the Jews had been faithful to the Law, they would have embraced Jesus as their Messiah and Saviour rather than attempting to kill him (John 7).

John also teaches that the Law not only points to Christ; it is not only a prophecy of Christ; but the Law is replaced or superseded by Jesus Christ. This thought is woven throughout the book of John but is especially presented in the prologue–John 1:1-18:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men ….

No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known. –John 1:1-4, 18, RSV.

Scholars have discovered that this Johannine prologue is derived from a pre-Christian hymn composed by rabbinic poets in praise of the Jewish Torah. The rabbis said that the Torah was the Law, wisdom, word. They said that the Torah was with God from the beginning and was the instrument by which God made the world. It was God’s treasure, his firstborn. The Torah lay in God’s bosom from the beginning. It was full of grace and truth. John deliberately takes this pre-Christian hymn in praise of the Torah and transfers the honor from the Law to Christ. Jesus Christ replaces the Torah; he supersedes it.

Elsewhere in the book of John expressions such as light of the world, water of life, bread of life, good shepherd, way, truth and life, which rabbinic teaching ascribed to the Jewish Law, are now transferred to Jesus Christ. Christ is the One to whom the Law points, the One who is the fulfillment of the Law, the One who now replaces the Law and supersedes the Law as the final revelation of the will of God. Because Christ has now come, the Law cannot have the same value, the same meaning to John or to the Christian community that it has to an unbelieving Jewish community. The revelation of God is no longer in Moses, but the supreme revelation of God has now been given in his Son. For this reason the supreme rule of life to the Christian community cannot be the old Torah; it must be the word that comes directly from God to his Son in the commandments of Jesus.

It is significant that the book of John presents the Law as the Law of the Jews. On the lips of Jesus in the Gospel of John, the Law invariably becomes your Law, their Law–namely, the Law of the Jews. Thus:

In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid.–John 8:17.

Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’?”–John 10:34.

“But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’ “–John 15:25.

John puts similar words in the mouth of Pilate, of Nicodemus and of the Jews:

Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”–John 18:31.

“Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?”–John 7:51.

The Jews insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die.”–John 19:7.

From the evidence in the fourth Gospel, Pancaro has concluded that “the Law is quite consistently characterized as ‘the Law of the Jews’.”3 In commenting on this further, Pancaro says that John, writing near the close of the Christian dispensation, reflects the same view of the Law as did Jesus. As John takes the expressions, “your Law,” “their Law,” “our Law,” and places them in the mouth of Jesus, of Nicodemus, of Pilate and of the Jews, “One has the distinct impression of a certain distance–that the Law is being looked upon as associated in some special way with the Jews, that it means more or at least something else to them than it does to Jesus and to the evangelist.4 Therefore, to consider the Law as the revelation of God and the way of life after Christ’s coming means to have misunderstood it or never to have understood it at all.

In John the Law is not used as a rule of life for the Christian community, because Christ, to whom the Law pointed, has come. He has superseded the Law as a revelation of God. All the titles of honor that rabbinic Judaism gave to the Law, John ascribes to the very person of Christ, so that the Law has now become “your Law,” “their Law,” “the Law of Moses,” the Law of the Jews. While the Law is valuable because it has prophetically pointed to Christ, John can no longer value it as a Jew values it. To him devotion to the Law no longer characterizes the children of God. Rather, the Christian community is now characterized by devotion to the Christ.

Christian faith obligates us to do the will of God, not as revealed in the Law, but as revealed in the person of Christ. The revelation that came through Moses was a mediated revelation. It did not come directly from God, because even Moses could not see God. “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” (John 1:18, RSV). Throughout his writings John claims that the revelation through Jesus Christ is superior to Moses because Christ is directly taught of God. He is indeed the Word of God incarnate. In the words of Jesus the will of God which we are obligated to do or to keep is not “the Law”; it is the “command” or the “commandment.”

First, it is the Father’s own command to Jesus to lay down his life for the sheep and then to take it up again:

“No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
John 10:18.

“For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life.”
John 12:49, 50.

“But the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.”
John 14:31.

“If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.”
John 15:10.

Thus, the commandment of the Father that Jesus keeps is not the Law of Moses; it is the commandment to lay down his life, to give his life a ransom for many and then to take it up again.

Second, the word “commandment” has the meaning not only of the Father’s commandment to Jesus, but also of Jesus’ commandment to his disciples:

“A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”John 13:34.

“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” John 14:15.

“Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.” John 14:21.

“If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love.”John 15:10.

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” John 15:12.

“You are my friends if you do what I command.” John 15:14.

Jesus’ command is that we “love each other as I have loved you.” The expression “I have loved you” is what the Father commanded, so that, for the disciples, keeping the commandment is to reflect the love of the Father’s commandment in Christ.

Thus, in summary we recognize that John distinguishes the Law that came through Moses from the commandment that comes through Jesus Christ. John avoids using the term ‘law” or “new law” for the will of God that comes to us through Jesus Christ. Instead, he uses the word “command” or “commandment.” John does not use the expression “law” at all in his epistles or in the book of Revelation. It seems that he abandons the term “law” when trying to express our obligation to do the will of God because of its tendency to become depersonalized and legalistic. Such a connotation cannot do justice to the goal of love to God and neighbor which Jesus set forth as the center of God’s will for his children. It therefore seems desirable to use some term other than “law” to describe God’s will for the Christian life. In John Jesus does not define a new code of regulations for the Christian community. And unlike Paul, John amazingly does not give any detail on Christian ethics. His teaching is deeply spiritual. It is centered in the very person of Christ. John emphasizes that the believer lives out of him who kept the Father’s commandment and that the believer keeps Christ’s command, his commandment, his word by reflecting that same kind of sacrificial love in relation to others.

Notes and References

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.

  1. W. Gutbrod, art. “The Law in the New Testament,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, tr. and ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1967), 4:1082-83.
  2. Ibid., p. 1084.
  3. Severino Pancaro, The Law in the Fourth Gospel: The Torah and the Gospel, Moses and Jesus, Judaism and Christianity According to John (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1975), p. 517.
  4. Ibid., p. 519.

Radical Grace Versus Lordship Salvation

Radical Grace Versus Lordship Salvation

“That is the devil getting at us.  He always sends errors into the world in pairs – pairs of opposites.  And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse.  You see why, of course?  He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one.  But do not let us be fooled.  We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors.  We have no other concern than that with either of them.” C.S. Lewis

Recently it has been brought to my attention, that there is a new war raging among the evangelicals in the religious world of America. The two parties in this debate are those that call their teaching “radical grace” and the other is referred to as “Lordship salvation”.  After making a quick survey of this debate, I think the whole thing falls into the area of wrangling about words and lining up behind men instead of Christ.  To this writer, it sounds like the Corinthian church of America is fighting over who is most spiritual and who is the greatest in the kingdom of God.

What does the Bible say about this question?  Well, here’s the rub; the Bible does not make any distinction nor does it contrast salvation by grace or salvation by accepting the Lordship of Jesus. However, if we go to Paul’s definition of a Christian, he seems to put the emphasis on  accepting the Lordship of Jesus.

“If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (Rom 10:9-10).   If you were to make a survey of the sermons in the book of Acts, this emphasis seems to be supported (Acts 2:22-38, 10:34-43).

Why would anyone believe that Jesus died for their sin unless they had already accepted that he was the living (resurrected) Son of God and Lord of heaven and earth?  Accepting his Lordship always comes before accepting him as Savior.  However, let us not try to separate the inside of the skin from the outside of it, lest we kill the patient.

The part of this debate that both sides fail to take into consideration, is the audience that Paul and the other biblical writers are speaking to and the needs of the audience.

In his epistles, Paul is often addressing problems in the local church. He is not writing a doctrinal dissertation on theological issues.  It seems that biblical writers would often emphasize a certain aspect of the gospel that would meet the needs of their audience; or the author would address a problem in the local churches.  They surely would not have pitted one aspect of the gospel against another, which to me is pure madness.

For example, in the book of Romans Paul is trying to explain to Jewish believers that no one can be justified before God by the works of the Mosaic Law.  At that time, Jewish believers thought that you had to believe in Christ and keep certain aspects of the Law of Moses.  Paul’s whole letter was written in great detail to show the Jewish Christians that salvation was absolutely through Christ and had nothing to do with Judaism.  Therefore the book of Romans (or for that matter any of the writings of Paul) had nothing to do with the controversy between the radical grace movement and the so-called Lordship salvation response.

The Bible teaches that we are saved by grace through faith. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so no man can boast” (Eph 2:8-9).  The question is what is the faith that saves?  It is obvious, that not all who believe are saved, for the devil believes there is a God and is not saved.  So, what exactly is saving faith?  I personally believe that it is a faith that accepts Jesus the Christ as Savior and Lord.  It is a faith that trusts in His grace and submits to His Lordship.  How can the two be separated?  In scripture, faith is a dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ that encompasses trusting God’s promises and obeying his word.

What kind of ‘works’ is Paul referring to in the above passage “not by works”?  They are the works that go along with adherence to the Mosaic Law or more specifically the works of religion, rituals plainly performed in order to earn salvation.  Surely, the Apostle Paul does not mean the commandments and teachings of Jesus Christ. Failure to strive to keep the commandments of Christ would seem to indicate a lack of true faith.

In Romans 1:5 the apostle Paul speaks of an obedience of faith or the obedience that comes from faith.  The book of Romans is a book that talks about two kinds of obedience, one that comes through hand me down tradition with the pressure of religious conformity and second, the obedience that comes from trusting in Christ.  Whether or not an action will fall into the category of good works done for salvation totally depends on the attitude of the person performing them.  If you do something thinking you are going to earn your salvation or in some way obligate God to save you through doing it, you are doing good works to be saved.  These actions are worthless in regards to salvation, though they may be beneficial in helping others.  If you do good works because you believe it is the will of God for you in Christ, or out love for Christ, God will reward you for it (Heb 11:6).

“Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”  “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” (Rev 14:13).

Brothers we can have confidence that He will reward our labors of love and our works of faith. “We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in  our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 1: 3).

 

 

 

Loving the World (matrix)

Loving the World (matrix)

 “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For everything in the world-the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does-comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”  1 John 2:15-17

In the above Scripture, the apostle John tells Christians that they are not to love the world or anything in the world.  The question is, what does he mean by the word world?  In the Scriptures, the word world is used in a number of different ways.  It is used to refer to the earth, that is, the planet on which we live.  It is used to refer to the people that live on the earth as in “God so loved the world that he gave his only son.”

However, in the above passage, the apostle is not talking about the physical earth or the people that live on it.  He is talking about a system of thought that controls the people of the earth.  There is nothing strange in this language, for we ourselves use a similar metaphor for the way people think.  We often talk about the spirit of the age.  We understand when we use this expression that we are talking about a worldview that controls people’s thinking during a certain period of time.  It is a system of thought or way of looking at things which is controlled by a force that is a larger than the individual and even the group.  It is like a corporate consciousness that controls the thinking of the majority of men.  It is the matrix.  The outward form of this system or matrix changes from time to time, but at its root it is the same.

The system of the world takes its outward form in belief systems that men create–systems like ideologies, religions, economic systems, and political systems.  These systems blind men to the truth of God.  When a man puts his faith in Jesus, God then open his eyes so he can see the system of the matrix that controls the thinking of the world.  At the same time, his eyes are opened so he can see the kingdom of God.

What has this to do with political parties?  Jesus told His disciples that there were many things that they were not ready to hear because they could not bear it.  What I’m about to say, many of you may not be able to bear.  Political parties are a part of the system of this world, which are part of the matrix.  The apostle Paul in the book of Galatians 5:19-20 tells Christians that parties or factions are the work of the flesh (matrix) and those who participate in that spirit will not inherit the kingdom of God.  What is so wrong with a party spirit?  Do you remember the movie “The Matrix”?  It is a story of small groups of people who are able to see the reality of the world while the majority of men are blinded by a force called the matrix.  Let’s look at a little of the story line.

Morpheus talking to Neo:  “Let me tell you why you’re here.  You’re here because you know something.  What you know, you can’t explain.  But you feel it.  You’ve felt it your entire life; that there’s something wrong with the world.  You don’t know what it is.  But it’s there–like a splinter in your mind–driving you mad.  It is this feeling that has brought you to me.”

Neo:  “The matrix?”

Morpheus:  “Do you want to know what it is?  The matrix is everywhere. It is all around us–even now, in this very room.  You can see it when you look out your window, or when you turn on your television.  You can feel it when you go to work, or when you go to church, or when you pay your taxes.  It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”

Neo:  “What truth?”

Morpheus:  “That you are a slave, Neo.  Like everyone else, you were born into bondage–born inside a prison that you cannot smell, taste, or touch.  A prison for your mind.  Unfortunately, no one can be told what the matrix is.  You have to see it for yourself.  This is your last chance.  After this, there is no turning back.  (In his left hand, Morpheus shows a blue pill.)  You take the blue pill and the story ends.  You awake in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.  (A red pill is shown in his other hand.)  You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.  (Neo reaches for the pill).  Remember, all I am offering is the truth–nothing more.”

Neo takes the red pill and swallows it with a glass of water.

The knowledge that I spoke about above which you might not be able to bear, is that your political party is a part of the matrix.  If you cannot see this, it is a good clue that you are in the matrix and don’t know it.  If you put it in the words of Jesus, “You have eyes that don’t see and you have ears that don’t hear.”  The good news of the Gospel is that you still have time to take the red pill.  You still have time to wake up and receive the kingdom of God as a little child.  “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15).  How does a child receive the kingdom?  First of all, he receives without presuppositions that blind him to the truth.  Secondly, he receives it in humility, for it is pride that keeps a person from seeing the matrix and the kingdom of God.  How do you become a little child?  An old sage told me that the only way to find truth is to drop all your beliefs.  I guess that is just another way of saying that you must become like a little child.

In the story of the matrix, Morpheus told Neo that he, Morpheus, had nothing to offer but the truth.  Jesus told His disciples that all they would have is trouble:  “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  You will find that to preach that people ought to wake up, tends to make them angry.  They would rather stay asleep, even if they’re living a nightmare.  Pride does funny things to people.

In conclusion, let me give you some ideas that may help you to wake up.  First of all, get rid of all parties that you belong to.  This means all political parties, religious parties, and ideological parties.  Stop thinking of yourself as a conservative or liberal, but rather as an independent thinker.  Begin thinking of yourself as a Christian only, but not the only Christian.  Become an independent, politically and religiously.  All of this will help you to change your thinking and allow you to see clearly “for as a man thinks in his heart so is he.”  If you are independent you will begin to think like an independent and if God gives you the grace, you may get outside the matrix and see the kingdom of God.  By the way, it will take a miracle (see John 3:5,6).

Scared to Death

Scared to Death

“Never miss an oppertunity to take advanage of crisis”

Rahm Emanual

I don’t know about my readers, but I am sick and tired of being scared to death by our government.  Over the last 60 years our government has tried to keep the American people in a state of fear.  In the 50s it was the threat of communism taking over the world.  In the late 50s, it was the threat of nuclear war.  I remember being told to go into the hallway of our school and sit with my back against the wall with my head between my knees to protect me from the building collapsing because of a nuclear explosion.  Today we would probably call that child abuse.

We were also told that the earth was becoming so overpopulated that people would soon not have enough food to eat[1]. Again, in the 60s, we were told that communism was going to sweep the world and we would have to stop it in some obscure place called Vietnam.  That time around, the government literally scared about 55,000 of us to death in that needless war.[2]  Then in the 70s, we were told that a new Ice Age was coming and that North America would probably be engulfed by glaciers.    It’s no wonder that the young people went  a little crazy in the 60s and 70s.  Could it be that they were scared crazy by our government?

In more recent times it’s been pandemics, epidemics, and catastrophes of all kinds, none of which have come to pass.  Do you remember the computer glitch of 2000 when we were told that when the clocks changed from 1999 to the year 2000 the computers were going to fail and time would stop?  That one was a good job creator!  I had a professional friend who bought into that scary false prediction, cashed in his retirement, and lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.  By the way don’t forget those weapons of mass destruction.

Now that I’m a young old man, these jerks are still trying to scare me to death.  They’re still using the fear of communism, but that is waning because a growing number of them are communist.  Recently they used the fear of another Great Depression to get a whole lot of money from us.  Now they’re telling us that the world is heating up and going to melt if we do not give them more of our money.  On top of all of this, they are also telling me that if I get sick, I will not have access to medical care and that I might die.  They assure me if I give them more of my money they will take care of me, of course I will still die.  Well, I’m not buying it.  I’m done listening to Chicken Little telling me that the sky is falling and the world is coming to an end.  One thing about the real Chicken Little, though he went around screaming that the world was coming to an end, he never offered to save the people for a price like our government and its experts always do.  I don’t know about you, but I find all this fear mongering despicable, and I believe that there’s something that we can do about it.  We can fire them all!  “Never miss an opportunity to take advantage of a crisis”. That’s code for never miss an opportunity to scare people to death so you can get more of their money and stay in power.

A word from the Lord, “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.” (1 Peter 3:14-15).[3]

[1] This fear was use to promote the legalization of abortion. Resulting in the death of about 40 million infants.

[2] The democratic governments of the world seem to be usually wrong about who the real enemies are. Before World War II they were telling us that Hitler was no threat when it was obvious he was preparing for war.

[3] The fear of God removes all other fears and sets you free from fear and anxiety.

The Cultural War

download (1)The Cultural War

Is there a cultural war going on?  The answer is yes.  It is a war between good and evil, darkness and light, righteousness and unrighteousness.  It is a war that has gone on since the beginning of human history.  This battle is depicted in the Biblical story of Cain and Abel and has continued as a theme throughout the entire history of mankind.  What we are seeing today is only an intensification of a war which has been going on behind the scenes for a long time in our culture.

What has caused the intensification of this war?  I think we can answer this by asking and answering another question.  Why have Americans been able to live together for so long with less conflict?  To answer this, it will be helpful to look at the founding fathers.  The founding fathers of our country were a mixture of religious and not so religious men, but they had some very important things in common.  They were all very moral men and shared the same value system.  Their shared value system and their respect for one another and the work which they were doing seemed to be enough to bind them together in unity and purpose.

When we analyze the founders we see a mix of high humanists and Christians.  The high humanists seemed to be men of faith, though not always completely Christian in their theology; yet they seemed to share the high morality of their Christian brothers.  However, like their Christian brothers, they often failed to live up to the virtues they espoused.  All seemed to have a great respect for the moral teachings of Jesus Christ.

The question then is:  What has changed?  I do not believe that Christian morality is much different today than it was at the beginning of our country.  If anything, it is less rigid and less dogmatic.  I think the problem comes when we look at the humanists of our nation today.  I would say that it would be safe to say that there are far fewer high humanists today than there were at the beginning of our nation.  Today many humanists have embraced a hedonism which borders on a low paganism more than a high humanism.  They have embraced a morality that cannot be accepted by Christians, and they have embraced a profane view of the world that leaves no room for a divinity or a people who believe in one.  In essence, they have declared war on religion and Christian morality.

Moreover, compared to previous times there are many more militant atheists who seem to have as their goal to marginalize religion in our culture.  They are continuously and openly attacking religion at every turn, claiming that our culture is a secular culture and that it was the intent of the founding fathers to create a secular nation.  (Of course, they call their attacks civil liberty).  If it is true that the founders wanted a secular culture, why did the founders talk so much about the deity, and why did they pass down so many religious symbols in and out of the public square?  If it was the intent of the fathers to create a secular nation, why didn’t they simply state it?  Only ONE president has ever said that America was a secular nation.  Guess who?  Obama.  However, to be fair to President Obama, he just may be right.  Our country is moving away from its religious roots at an alarming rate.  Of course, to some it may not be alarming, depending on one’s view of religion and one’s world view.  It will be interesting to see if  a nation whose roots are deep in religion will be able to remain free and prosper if cut off from those roots.

At this point in our history, I think it’s a tossup as to who will win this cultural war.  The humanists have control of the majority of the universities, the major media, and the public schools.  The traditionalists and the conservatives have control of talk radio and the home school movement.  They are writing far more books and still have the majority of churches supporting them.  It will be interesting to see what happens in the next decade.  You might have noticed that I left God out of the equation. If you bring Him in to the equation it sure raises a lot more questions. LD

The Centrality of The Resurrection Part III

The Centrality of The Resurrection

Part III

 In part two of our series on the centrality of the Resurrection we saw how the apostle Peter used the Resurrection as the centrality of his argument for the Lordship of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:1-38).  As we move on in the book of Acts to the third chapter, we find the apostle Peter and John speaking the message of Christ to a multitude of people.

However, before looking at that sermon we need to talk a little bit about the miraculous.  It seems that modern man has a hard time believing in the miraculous.  The question is, why?  I think one of the reasons is because that modern men compare modern-day miracles with those in the Bible, thinking that they are the same.  The reason for this is their lack of scriptural knowledge and the assumption that the word miracle is used today as it was in biblical times.  When you begin to study the subject of miracles in the Bible, especially in the New Testament, you begin to see a clear distinction between modern-day miracles and the miracles of the Bible. The clearest distinctions are is that in the New Testament the miracles which were attributed to Jesus were never questioned as to their authenticity, as miracles are today.  The closest thing to challenging the miracles of Jesus was when the religious leaders made the charge that he performed miracles through the power of the devil and not God. However their accusations, in this there was no denial that he was not performing miracles.  Another difference was that the miracles done by Jesus and the apostles were complete. There were no partial healings and the majority of the miracles were done in public. I mean that they were wonders that were accomplished right before your eyes.  They were not vague demonstrations of the miraculous like curing an unseen cancer or tumor, nor could they be explained by the natural healing processes.

Let me summarize the difference by pointing out that in the first century Jesus and the apostles proved their words by their miracles.  Today, men try to prove their miracles by their words.  Because of this, their words seemed to be somewhat hollow and lacking a ring of truth. Why the difference?  The difference is seen in their purpose.  Modern day miracles, if that is the right word to refer to them by, seem to be for the purpose of comforting the afflicted.  Now there’s nothing wrong with comforting the sick and afflicted.  However, I do not believe that comforting the afflicted was the main purpose of the miracles of Jesus and the apostles.  Their miracles were performed to confirm their authority and the authority of their message.  The writer of the book of Hebrews infers this when he says, “This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (Heb 2:3-4).  Here the writer says that the apostles confirmed their witness of the Lordship of Jesus to the early church and the world by their miracles.

In the gospel of Mark chapter, two we find the story of Jesus healing a paralyzed man who could not walk.  However, when the man was brought to Jesus for healing, Jesus told him that his sins were forgiven.  The story tells us that some of the lawyers of the law who were sitting there heard statement and challenged his authority to forgive sins.  In response to their challenge Jesus said to them “but that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins… he said to the paralytic.  I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” When the onlookers saw the man get up and walk the Bible says that they were all amazed, and they praised God, saying, we have never seen anything like this!  Here again, we see the same pattern.  The miracles were done to establish the authority of the speaker; in this case it was Christ.

Why do we not have miracle workers today like Jesus and the apostles?  Well, it’s quite obvious; Jesus went back to heaven and the apostles and those that were given  the gift of working affirmation miracles died out.  The early fathers of the Church in the second century seem to indicate that in their lifetime, there were fewer and fewer authoritative and verification miracles.  This seems to indicate that these kinds of miracles were limited to the first century and the early part of the second century.  This is in keeping with the fact that God, throughout history, has been a God that hides himself and only reveals himself miraculously in certain periods of time, and to special people (Isa 45:15).  When the kingdom draws close, and is present in certain people, then the miraculous becomes more frequent.  Jesus said the kingdom of God is near, and he also said that the kingdom was present in him. The word ‘kingdom’ is a symbol that stands for the authority and rule of God. So Jesus was saying that the rule and authority of God were present in Him, and his authority and power were being confirmed by the miracles that he performed.

Some may be asking why are verification miracles not happening today?  Let me give you a number of answers which may explain why we don’t see these kinds of miracles today. Any one of the explanations is sufficient to answer the question. It could be that a lack of true faith mighty be a hindrance to God working miracles today, just as it was sometimes in the first century.  Jesus said a “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But, none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah”.  Many have misunderstood the words of Jesus in this passage believing that Jesus was talking about the actual resurrection.  However, if that was the case he would be contradicting himself, because the resurrection was the miracle of miracles.  What he was talking about was that the only thing which the people of that faithless generation would see is the presence of the son of God.  In other words, you cannot kill the truth, for God will resurrect it.  Even as he rescued Jonah from the ocean, He rescued his son from the grave.  Today we have a similar situation; we live in an adulterous unbelieving generation.  The only sign unbelievers will receive is the presence of the Son of Man, in his Body, called the Church.

It is also self-evident to those that know the overall context of the Scriptures and the history of God’s people that God never intended for his people to live on a mike and toast diet of miracles.  The Scriptures are clear that we live by faith not by sight.  Those who are constantly looking for miracles are immature and carnal, they need to grow up and learn how to live by faith.  The history of God’s people demonstrates that there had always been long periods of time where there were no miracles (Judges 6:13).  In fact, if miracles were commonplace and frequent they would no longer be miracles.  The word miracle itself means something that is out of the ordinary and supernatural. When you make miracles normal or daily you destroy the meaning of the word.

We also need to remember that miracles were signs to the unbelieving people of God, not to unbelievers in general. Signs and miracles were to confirm the word not to people in general, but mainly to the Jewish nation (I Cor. 14:18-25).  The apostles and the prophets of the first-century church confirmed the word to the nation of Israel by signs and wonders and miracles.  If this is true, then their purpose has been fulfilled, and in being fulfilled they are no longer needed for that purpose.

¶When the apostle Paul spoke to the Greek philosophers in Athens he did not work any miracles to confirm his word, but rather, he reasoned with them from their own authors and personally bore witness to his experience with Jesus (Acts 19:23-41).  I believe this is evidence that the confirmation miracles were mainly for believers (mainly Jews) and not for Gentiles.  However, there are exceptions for example; the story of Cornelius in the book of Acts in the 10th and 11th chapters.  But even there Cornelius was a Gentile convert to Judaism and was a believer before he heard the gospel. Then there is a man who was crippled from birth listening to Paul preach at Lystra in the Book of Acts.  Even there it says that the crippled man  had faith; he was not an unbeliever (Acts 14:9).  In that chapter of Acts, we may see the reason for God limiting signs to believers.  It is clear from this particular chapter that pagans were prone to worship those who were performing the miracles.  So working miracles for unbelievers would’ve been confusing for them and counterproductive in the preaching of the Gospel (Acts 14:11-18).  In contrast, the Jewish people understood the purpose of miracles, that purpose was to confirm God’s word (Deut. 18:21, 22). In fact, the Jews expected anyone claiming to be speaking for God to prove their words by miracles. Paul said that “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified:” (1 Cor. 1:22). Paul understood that the power of God is not in the miraculous or human reason but rather in the gospel of Jesus Christ. A  lesson that sign seeking Christians need to learn.

This raises the question; does God need to confirm his word to every person in every generation to create faith?  No.  The main purpose of the signs, wonders and miracles were to confirm and establish a body of knowledge that God’s people would look to as authoritative. That body of knowledge was formed by God through his providence by creating the New Testament Scriptures through the work of Christ, his apostles and the Holy Spirit.  The Scriptures have forever been confirmed to the believer and are sufficient to create faith in those that are truly seeking God (John 20:30, 31).  The reason for this is because Jesus put his Spirit in his word and when one believes the word, the Spirit is imparted to them by the word of God.  The spirit that is born by the word creates the life of God. Jesus said, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63 also note 1Tim 3:16).

In the Gospel of Luke we have a further confirmation of what I have been articulating. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, you have the rich man asking father Abraham to send Lazarus back to his five brother’s  that they might become believers. He seemed to think that a miracle of someone coming back from the dead would persuade them to believe.  Abraham responded by saying to him that “they have Moses and the prophets” in other words, the Scriptures.  However, the rich man continued to insist that they would believe if a dead man appeared to them.  In response, Abraham tells the rich man, “if they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:27-31).  This appears to confirm what I’ve been saying; that miracles in themselves do not create faith and  their purpose never has been to create faith.  Their purpose was to confirm the word of God’s and create a body of knowledge for future generations to believe through all time.

It is interesting to note that all miracles spoken about happening after the death of the apostles and prophets of the first-century church are worked by the antichrist and the false prophet spoken about in the books of First Thessalonians and the book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ (2 Thess. 2:9-11, Rev 16:13-14).  This alone should cause people to be skeptical about modern-day miracles and the men who claim to perform them.

All this has been said about miracles, to demonstrate the fact that an intelligent person can question and not believe in the so-called signs and miracles of modern-day religion, and still believe in the miracle of the Resurrection and other New Testament miracles. It is also important to know that the author believes that God is still actively working in his creation, healing the sick and comforting the afflicted. However, His work today is hidden and can only be seen with the eyes of faith. In this way, God confirms his existence and faithfulness to the faithful and hides himself from the unbelievers. Our ancestors called this the providence of God and believed that God was absolutely in control, but worked behind the veil to accomplish his will. 

To be continued

Heb 2:1-4

 We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.  For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.  God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.