JOHN 9 – GOD DOES NOT CONDEMN THE IGNORANT

And Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” 40 Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, “We are not blind too, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains. (Jn9:39-41NASB)

Jesus’ reference to the blind seeing and those who see being made blind is almost certainly a prophetic reference to the contrasting fortunes of Jews and Gentiles. The former’s fortune was to be chosen as God’s special people and provided with the light of Torah – God’s Law for divine worship and humane living. Most Gentiles remained in the dark about the former (divine worship) but were never entirely in the dark concerning the latter. That was in view of “natural law” through which they received an innate sense of right and wrong provided through the spiritual faculty of conscience. As Paul asserted (when rightly translated) many Gentiles although not having the Law did by nature the things contained within it, thus becoming a law for themselves (Rom2:14-15). 

But the main point to be drawn from this passage is the fact that the Man Christ Jesus (and He is the only Person that matters in this context -Jn5:22) will never condemn a person for what he is ignorant of – not least the true Gospel: “If you were blind, you would have no sin…”  In view of historical cultural and religious formation exacerbated by division amongst the churches and the doctrinal confusion resulting from it , the vast majority of people who have ever lived (including some who believe themselves to be Christians) are blind to the Gospel and, unless spiritually aided, can never apprehend the true Faith.

Yet that vital concession to ignorance does not mean that wickedness will go unpunished. For as was better understood and articulated by the earliest Christian writers such as Justin Martyr, Clement, Irenaeus and Origen ( but later rejected by Augustine and some of his contemporaries), through a principle of natural law, those who wilfully and wholeheartedly reject the innate light of reason they have received (Jn1:9), resulting in a total indifference towards the promptings of their conscience and the needs of their fellow man will be condemned to post-mortem punishment (Mt25:31-46).

That teaching of Jesus recorded by Matthew is the definitive passage in the Bible on final judgement yet it is a narrative in which religious faith is not mentioned. Those who have grasped what I have been saying above will already discern why that should be, whilst those who have followed more of my blogs or read my book* should also discern that this concession in no way detracts from the vital role of the Christian Gospel within divine providence and salvation history. For only those who respond to that true Gospel can be saved from what Paul describes as “the body of this death” so as to know Life of an eternal nature, even at the present time in order to serve and worship the living God in spirit and in truth. And in terms of the soul’s eternal destiny, only the disciples of Christ will be spiritually cleansed renewed and prepared to participate in Christ’s glorious reign in the ages to come: “The ones who are to receive royal authority are the saints of the Most High and their kingship will be for ever and ever and ever” (Dan7:18).

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JOHN 8 – CHILDREN OF THE DEVIL

37 “I know that you (unbelieving Jews) are Abraham’s descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. 38 I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father.”39 They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. 40 But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this. 41 You do the deeds of your father.” Then they said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father—God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. 43 Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me. 46 Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? 47 He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.” (Jn8:37-47NKJV)

I indicated in the previous post that there are not two but three soteriological categories resulting in three post-mortem destinies. But there are two primary or archetypal categories of people, both of which are referred to in the above passage. But they are not (in New Testament terms) Christian and non-Christian, but those who are derived from God and those derived from Satan [Greek: ek tou theou (verse 47 above) and  ek tou diabolou (1Jn3:10 cf. Gen3:15). It is also to be noted that whilst the New King James version I have quoted distinguishes between Christ as “proceeding forth” from God (v42) and other people being “of God” (v47), Jesus’ words (translated into Greek by John) make no such distinction: both are ek tou theou meaning derived from (literally “out of”) God – check for yourself on the Biblehub HERE)

Ultimately of course there is one Source for everything and everyone – the Creator God from whom all (even the devil) originated.  Satan is not a rival deity but a corrupted creature, but one who has been temporarily granted extraordinary powers (cf. Lk4:6; Mt13:25,38) including the ownership and control of certain individuals. His adopted children (or seed) are variously described in Scripture as:

i) Twice dead, plucked up by the roots (Jude12)

ii) Having their names removed from the Book of Life (e.g. Rev20:15)

iii) Devoured by Satan (1Pet5:8, cf. Gen4:7)

iv) Those who have forfeited their soul (Mat16:26)

v) Having gone in the way of Cain (Jude11) (cf. 1Jn3:12) or departed from the path of righteousness (OT Wisdom literature)

vi) “Goats” – humans devoid of compassion (Mt25)

vii) Not having retained God’s seed or image (1Jn3:9)

viii) Those who destroy the Earth – the ones to be destroyed at final judgement (Rev11:18)

ix) Those who cause or encourage others to sin: the ensnarers (Mt18:6NKJV)

x) Having had their conscience seared (i.e. it no longer functions) (1Tim4:2)

xi) Devoid of truth (cf. Jn8:44)

xii) Belonging to Satan (Jn8:44)

xiii) Planted by Satan (Mt13:39; 15:13)

xiv) Messengers or agents (not “angels”) of Satan (Mt25:41)

xv) The desolate ones (Dan9:27)

xvi) The servants of Satan (2Cor11:15)

xvii) Vessels fitted for destruction (Rom9)

The point I have been making is that there are billions of non-Christians in the world who are none of the above. Children of the devil on the other hand are defined by all of the above in spite of being far from amorphous from a human perspective. Some like Jesus’ opponents in the above passage appear highly respectable , even devoutly religious (albeit they had murderous intentions v40) whilst others may be more obviously amoral, in particular psychopathic like their archetype Cain. All such will be wholly indifferent to truth; all will be wholly devoid of genuine compassion or empathy regardless of whether they appear to act charitably which will only be for show, never from the heart. In a very real sense these people are no longer human for they no longer reflect any thing of God’s moral character but, as Jesus pointed out, that of their father the devil. These are the people who are to be ignominiously removed from the Earth on the Day “when our Lord Jesus Christ shall return to Earth with all His saints” (1Thes3:13), the latter referring to His faithful disciples living at the time and those resurrected having “died in Christ” (1Thes4:16-18)

So when Jesus says “He who is of God hears God’s words”, He is referring to those who were “of God” from birth having been planted by the Father (Mt15:13).  It is not referring to the “saving grace” that some of God’s seed go on to receive in their lifetime through a personal association with Christ. This is indicated in the parable of the wheat and tares, the key verse being Mt13:38 – the field in which the seed is planted represents the world not the Church as so many commentators try to make out. None of the tares “get saved” and become wheat – they were tares from their seeding and remain so because they are not “of God” but planted by the enemy. (All this will make little sense to “traducianists” considered in an earlier post who do not regard the human spirit/soul  as planted by God into every new human life but (effectively) a spiritual entity contained in human sperm, i.e. transmitted from their parents). “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted” (Mt15:13) – this is referring to the tares Jesus had spoken of in His parable recorded by Matthew two chapters earlier. What they will be uprooted from is clearly the Earth where they have resided as indicated above. Such is the immediate fate of those Jesus, Paul and John refer to in general terms as “children of the devil”. They may not always be distinguishable to us, but acknowledging their existence is essential if one is to grasp the length, breadth and height of God’s loving providence, especially as I explain in my book that even these “vessels fitted for destruction” serve an essential part in God’s amazing plan for humanity.

The fact that a category of people are to be removed from the Earth at the Lord’s coming features in the opening verse of the ex-canonical Book of Enoch, written for the benefit of “the elect and righteous who will be living in the time of tribulation when all the wicked and godless are to be removed” (Enoch1 ch1 v1). This is literature that was regarded as inspired and a genuine work of the Patriarch by early Church Fathers such as Clement, Irenaeus, Origen, Augustine and Tertullian, which is hardly surprising since it is directly quoted in the New Testament (Jude14,15). I am clear that it was rightly excluded from the biblical canon, for it was not intended for the churches during their earthly pilgrimage but as stated in its introduction for “the elect and righteous who will be living in the time of tribulation when all the wicked and godless are to be removed”. Enoch and its various prophecies are discussed in more detail in my book, a free PDF of which is available HERE.

RECONCILING ELECTION & FREE WILL

No one is able to come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I shall raise him up on the last day. (Jn6:44)

The doctrines of predestination/election and premillennialism are hinted at in this verse although there are far more substantial and explicit texts to support both which we will come across as we progress through the new Testament. Paul in particular refers on a number of occasions to the fact that Christians are predestined or called according to the purpose of God’s will and that their election was a matter of divine choice, not any foreseen or actual merit on their part. But for what purpose was their calling according to that same Apostle? – it was to establish a people who through self-discipline and applying the resources of celestial grace progressively become conformed to the image of Christ (Rom8:29). Such will become His joint-heirs (no less) provided they “suffer with Him in order to be glorified with Him” (Rom8:17 cf. Greek text). It is not, I suggest, as Augustine first proposed and I for many years believed as a Calvinist – that “the elect” were the proportionately small minority arbitrarily chosen by a deistic divinity to be delivered from eternal misery in Hell. For all things were created through Christ and for Christ and what a sovereign God wants He is bound to get, especially if it were the case that human free will is incapable of choosing or even desiring what is good as Augustine and the later Reformers asserted. Their cosmic horror story is anything but “Good News” and is thankfully contradicted by the Bible as a whole as I am in the business of demonstrating.

Free will?

Predestination may appear to be incompatible with any notion of effectual free will in spiritual matters. Not so if one understands that the bulk of humanity were neither predestined for the glories awaiting Christ’s faithful disciples nor in Paul’s words are mere “vessels of wrath fitted for destruction” (Rom9:22) aka the children of the devil considered in earlier posts. In other words the predestination/free will conundrum can only be resolved by acknowledging three rather than two soteriological categories, the biblical foundation for which is a central theme of my book*. For as our featured verse indicates human free will is indeed  incapable of apprehending the Gospel of Christ unless divinely enabled but it is by nature capable of responding positively to the light Christ has provided to every person (Jn1:9NKJV) being  the principles of  sound reason and humane living operating through the spiritual faculty of conscience – God’s law planted in the heart (Rom2:15) by which all people shall be judged (Mt25:41-46).

Such sentiments and interpretations will be alien to many but they would not have been so to 2nd/3rd century Christian theologians such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Origen. Such widely understood principles of natural law, in view of their ubiquity, must have underpinned the gospel message imparted by the apostles and their immediate appointees to the late first and second century churches . These early assemblies’ doctrinal unity was affirmed by Irenaeus (earlier post), and in turn documented by the Church’s first historian Eusebius (AD263-339) who explicitly affirmed a positive role for natural law. Thanks to the resources available in the digital age such vital historical truths can no longer be concealed. Study for yourself (perhaps starting with Eusebius) and you will quickly discern that what I am saying with respect to natural law, judged by so many to be heretical was the prevailing understanding of the churches prior to Augustine’s novel interpretations regarding the consequences of “original sin” based on his particular reading of Paul’s teaching.

So what is original sin?

Original sin is a biblical reality (cf. Rom5:14) but not as Augustine came to understand Paul’s references to “death” as being a damnable state of the soul from birth. Rather it pertains (in Paul’s language) to the “body of this death” referring to the temporary “vessel” or “tent” the soul inhabits as a result of Adam’s demise, the instincts of which war against the nobler instincts of the “inner man”, mind or spirit (Rom7:23). As Paul goes on to affirm the Christian alone is enabled by celestial grace to “possess his own vessel in sanctity and honour” (1Thes4:4). Such I have come to understand is what the Bible actually means by “being saved” or raised to “eternal Life”. As part of God’s redemptive plan for His earthly creation He chose to establish a people to serve and worship the living God in spirit and truth whilst still incarnate: so that His Son’s Church may become like Israel before her “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own special people, to proclaim the praises of Him who called them out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1Pet2:9).

The millennial age

As for a further terrestrial age, that is explicitly referred to in Revelation but it is also indicated by Jesus’ statements in Jn6:44&54 that His faithful disciples shall be raised up on the last day. As the Bible makes perfectly clear everyone is to be raised up eventually so what is the Lord’s point? Surely that only Christ’s faithful disciples shall have a part in the first resurrection that will initiate that age (Rev20:6). Such an age is also a corollary to what I now understand Paul to be saying about the nature of the current epoch in which non-Jews from every nation are being added to the “Israel of God”. Many prophecies and divine promises set out in the Old Testament will remain unfilled until Christ returns in glory with His saints.

  • A free PDF of my e-book can be downloaded HERE

JOHN 6 – FEEDING ON CHRIST

Jesus bemuses His Jewish listeners

51 I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” 52 Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, How can this man give us His flesh to eat?53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. 58 This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” (Jn6:52-58 NASB)

I have chosen the New American Standard Bible’s translation of this passage for unlike some versions it is faithful to what John actually scribed in the Greek language. Some other translations attempt to tone down Jesus’ reference to Himself being food and drink (especially v57: “He who eats Me shall live because of Me”). They prefer we should understand it in a metaphorical or figurative sense of “feeding upon” Christ, as one might feed upon the works of Shakespeare for entertainment or inspiration or feed upon someone’s insecurities: so (they believe) one might figuratively speaking feed upon Christ by reading the Bible or through prayerful contemplation. FACT: Τρώγω utilised in vv56,57 and 58 literally means to gnaw, munch or crunch and as you will see from Bible-hub’s Greek concordance HERE is never used metaphorically in the New Testament. That is what so shocked Jesus’ listeners: “How can this man possibly give us His flesh to eat?” (v52). So those (like myself in the past) who take the bread and wine of the Eucharist to be purely symbolic have a problem, especially in view of verses 54 and 56. Feeding on Christ’s flesh and drinking His blood in the sense that Jesus/John intended determines whether or not one is “in Christ” (v56), whether or not one will be raised at the last day (v54b) and as considered in my last post whether or not one possesses Life of an eternal quality (v54a).

So can we be sure what Jesus really meant by eating His flesh and drinking His blood? I have already shown it cannot be passed off as purely figurative, but nor can it be absolutely literal in the sense of “Here I am, take and eat Me like a bunch of cannibals”. There is obviously a mystical element, but in some meaningful sense the flesh of the Son of Man must be consumed and His blood drunk. Neither does the process have to be explained scientifically anymore than the feeding of the 5000 from a few loaves and fishes can be explained scientifically: it simply cannot – such is the nature of miracles and the work of the Holy Spirit. But I adduce in my book that from these words of Jesus recorded by John and crucially from the evidence we have from the writings of the earliest Christian writers, some of whom were the immediate successors or students of the twelve disciples, the understanding was that the bread and wine they consumed at the Eucharist (at the least) contained or actually became the flesh and blood of Christ. Quoting from my book:

 “Moving backwards from the fourth century, Cyril of Jerusalem  understood the Eucharist to be the means by which a Christian may become “concorporeal and consanguineous with Christ30; Clement (3rd century) declared: Those who partake (of the Eucharist) are sanctified in body and soul; by the will of the Father, man is mystically united to the Spirit and to the Word31From the 2nd century, Justin Martyr speaks of the bread and wine offered at the altar asthat from which our blood and flesh are nourished through its transformation, which is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh32. From the end of the first century, St Ignatius having been tutored by the apostle John refers to the heretics of his day: they abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ who suffered for our sins. Those who speak against this gift of God incur death”33a the bread of the altar being “the medicine of immortality and the antidote to death33b. In terms of the Eucharist as sacrifice, Augustine, thoroughly orthodox in this area regarded the Mass as the highest and true sacrifice…, Christ being at the same time Priest and Victim”34. Even in the oldest post-Biblical authentic writing available (the Didache c. xiv approx. AD96), the “breaking of bread” is referred to as a sacrifice and is explicitly related with the prophecy in Malachi (1:11) to the pure offering with incense being offered by the Gentiles. The Malachi prophecy was understood by the early Fathers to be foretelling the universal and perpetuated daily sacrifice35 to be provided under the New Dispensation. Moving to the present day, the Eastern Orthodox Church whom we have observed was a relatively stable element in the sixteenth century debacle has historically regarded the Divine Liturgy asthe awesome sacrifice entrusted to the Church to be re-enacted and given to the faithful for the nourishment of their faith and forgiveness of their sins36.

These essential matters were never intended to be delineated from Scripture alone but were part of the sacred Tradition passed on from the apostles to their successors within the Church, being the sole depository of apostolic doctrine and the pillar and ground of the truth (1Tim3:15).

[Quote from “Fellowship of the Secret” – Chapter One]

References:

30. Cyril of Jerusalem: Mystagogical Catechesis IV,3

31. Clement: “The instructor of children” – “Faith of the early Fathers” Vol 1:410 (W Jurgens)

32. St Justin Martyr – Apologies, chap. 66

33a)  St Ignatius: Letter to Smyrnaeans chap. 7;   b) Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians chap. 20 both utilizing the “shorter version” deemed as more reliable

34. Augustine: De Civitate Dei  Book X chap. 20

35. Cyprian (A.D.200-258)  Epistle 53 para 3 – affirms daily sacrifice of Eucharist 

36. Greek Orthodox Arch-Diocese of America – Fundamental Teachings

JOHN 4 THE SAMARITAN WOMAN

Then the woman of Samaria said to (Jesus), “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. 10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? 12 Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?” 13 Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” . . . 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. (Jn4:9-24NKJV)

The two themes I want out to draw out from this passage have been underlined (vv14+22). The first concerns the nature of “eternal life” and what the Bible means by it. Many understand it to refer to “going to heaven when you die” which is absolutely not the case albeit those who possess it will do just that. But not only they, for as this passage makes clear “eternal life” is a gift of God that was not available until the Word of God became incarnate. It pertains to a state of being not a heavenly destination: “the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” For “this is eternal life, that they might know You the only true God and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (Jn17:3). Eternal life pertains to experiencing a living relationship with Jesus Christ whilst still incarnate – a privilege offered to the Christian alone. That is not to say it does not impact upon one’s eternal destiny for it prepares those who possess it jointly to inherit with Christ “an exceeding and eternal weight of glory”, a concept currently beyond human comprehension (2Cor4:17).

Those who do not possess this divine gift (the vast majority of humanity) are described by Paul as being “dead”, inhabiting as they do “the body of this death” considered in the previous post. Their souls will not be delivered from this condition until their spirit is freed at death: “Then the dust will return to the Earth as it was and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Eccles12:7). In the meantime, though most (not all) aspire to live worthy lives, like Paul before his conversion “I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Rom7:23). That is the nature of the spiritual death Paul was referring to – not “damnation” (which pertains to those who are dead in the Pauline sense in body and spirit – Jude1:12) but the concupiscent instincts of the flesh conspiring with the more noble instincts of the “inner man” resulting in an inability to serve and worship God “in spirit and in truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him” (v23). For that to happen individuals need to be “saved” from the ravages of their earthly vessel, Paul’s “body of this death”. Those predestined to do so are chosen “not on the basis of any works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Tit3:5).

Jesus the Jew

You (Samaritans) worship what you do not know; WE know what WE worship, for salvation is from the Jews” In case anyone should be in doubt the Man Christ Jesus regarded Himself as a Jew: “We (Jews) know what we worship”. Jesus was the Jewish Messiah who came “to save His people from their sins” (Mt1:21) – “His people” being the Jews. Others might be pardoned (i.e. saved from the punishment their sins deserved) but that is not what this particular verse is saying – it is speaking of deliverance from the power of sin. Many may “go to Heaven when they die” but under Plan A only the Jews were to be saved in the gospel sense that I have been describing above. This is to all intents and purposes spelt out by Paul himself in Romans 11 (vv11,12,15 and 30) if only the apostle were believed and taken at his word! He summarises the situation in Eph3:8-11, the “fellowship of the secret (plan)” passage that my book focusses on as well as in the following passage from Colossians:  “The secret which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but NOW has been revealed to His saints to whom God willed to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery AMONG THE GENTILES which is Christ in you, the hope of glory  (Col1:26-27).

In terms of salvation history this is the age of the universal church offering salvation to Jew and Gentile alike – but that was not the published plan set out in the Old Testament as Paul has just confirmed (“the secret (plan) which has been hidden from ages and from generations). When the full implications of this mystery are grasped it has profound implications to broader providence. It is also able to resolve numerous scriptural and doctrinal tensions as hopefully I demonstrate in my book (freely available as a PDF HERE).

JOHN1 NATHANAEL, A MAN WITHOUT GUILE

Jesus sees Nathanael under the fig tree

What is striking as one reads carefully through the gospel accounts is Jesus’ contrasting attitude towards the people He encountered, all of whom were to one degree or another sinful. It might astonish many that in calling His disciples there is little if any reference to their sinfulness. He did not ask His disciples to “acknowledge their lost estate”, simply to follow Him (Mt4:19).  Yet these were ordinary working men. Yes, Simon Peter was conscious of his own unworthiness when he became aware of his Lord’s divinity (Lk5:8), but Jesus’s only recorded comment concerning the moral state of His new recruits was a positive one and that concerned Nathanael: “Behold, an Israelite indeed in whom there is no guile”. This cynical joker was by no means perfect (Jn1:46) but those who are perfect such as the incarnate Word, look for the good in people and love and praise them for it (Mk10:19-23).

This reinforces what I was writing about in an earlier blog concerning God’s character and His regard for fallen human beings; in particular whether He ever has a positive regard towards their character or behaviour. Jesus acted towards Nathanael like the good-hearted magnanimous Man that He was yet at the same time we can be sure He acts and thinks like God the Father, being “the exact expression of God’s substance” (Heb1:3). But can such a comparison with the Father be made to Jesus during His earthly ministry? Seemingly so: “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (Jn14:9): the key phrase being “have I been with you so long?” – Jesus is not the compassionate face of God, He is the perfect reflection (Greek: eikon) of God ‘s character as a whole even during His earthly ministry, albeit the true effulgence of His glory was only revealed to a few of His disciples at His transfiguration . And it is to be the God-Man Jesus who will judge humanity “for the Father judges no man but has committed all judgment to the Son (Jn5:22).

As for Christ’s intelligible justice, He assures us He will apply standards we can well understand: “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Mt7:2). As Matthew also affirmed Christ is benevolent towards those who are benevolent to others – all shall enter His heavenly Kingdom regardless of their indiscretions for which He paid the price on His cross: “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did (this act of kindness) to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Mt25:40).

But then, as that same passage affirms, there are the “goats”, or as they are referred to elsewhere “the children of the devil” – Satan’s seed (see earlier post). Part of my task is to demonstrate from Scripture that such a description and the fate associated with these people is not referring to the vast swathe of humanity not predestined  to be those, who through a faith that is given and drawn by the Father come to a personal knowledge of Christ in advance of His Apocalypse (cf. Jn6:44; Eph1:11,12; Rev1:7).

JOHN1:16 – GRACE FOR GRACE?

“Doctor of Grace”?
ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ πληρώματος αὐτοῦ ἡμεῖς πάντες ἐλάβομεν καὶ χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος   -   John1:16 (original text)

Once again it has been necessary to set out the verse as John wrote it, and for the usual reason: variable translations. The (New) King James Version is again on the money:  “And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace“.

The Greek preposition ἀντὶ can mean a number of things, “upon” not being one of them, yet that is how most modern versions of the Bible render the verse, i.e. as grace upon grace in the sense one would say blessings upon blessings – more of the same. But that is something the preposition  ἀντὶ would never portray. ἀντὶ expresses the idea of substitution or replacement – in this case one form (or source) of grace replacing or enriching another, not more and more of the same commodity; that sense would utilize the preposition ἐπί (upon). Again, expertise in biblical Greek is not required, the matter can be ascertained in this page from Biblehub carefully observing the 17 occurrences of ἀντὶ in the Bible and comparing it  with the use of ἐπί (HERE). You will observe that only in this verse has the preposition been translated in the sense of more of the same. Arguably the NIV has the clearest rendering: Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. Even that is ambiguous: ἀντὶ is more typically used as in 1Peter3:9 – “Do not render evil FOR evil”, i.e. one person’s evil replacing another – clearly a different meaning from “Do not render evil upon evil” which would entirely miss the point of the teaching.

There are obvious theological motivations for translating the verse as most versions have, namely the post-Augustinian perspective that man by nature is devoid of any grace or God-given enlightenment until and unless he receives the celestial variety via conversion to the Christian faith. My previous post indicates why that is not the case. It requires an understanding that a part of man, even in his fallen state, is received directly from God/Christ – that spiritual part which survives the body and brain at death and returns to its Creator:  “Then the dust will return to the Earth as it was and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Eccles12:7). What God provides is rarely if ever devoid of grace, albeit “the exceedingly abundant grace which is in Christ Jesus” (1Tim1:14) is required for those who are to be saved from the ravages of “the body of this death” whilst still incarnate (previous post) so as to be fitted for the glory that awaits them as joint-heirs of Christ. I am contesting that this is what the Bible and Paul in particular actually mean by “being saved” rather than “going to Heaven when you die” (cf. Mt25:31-46; Lk16:25). I am aware that such proof texting is quite inadequate to make the case – a fuller, more coherent analysis is set out in my book, but note also the witness of the earliest Church Fathers (see NOTE below).

As to what the Bible actually means by grace – more often than not it is referring to God’s favour and kindness towards human beings, but also His enabling power to do what pleases Him. The issue in this context is whether man by nature has any of that commodity such that he is ever able to please God by his actions. The majority of Christians since the time of the Pelagian controversy (4th/5th century) would answer a resounding “NO” as did I for the first 25 or so years of my Christian life, but now my response is more positive. That is not wishful thinking on my part but, humanly speaking, the result of my biblical and (very) early Church history studies, not to mention 50+ years as an adult observing my fellow human beings. I say “humanly speaking” for the new understanding came during what I believe to be a week-long extraordinary encounter with the Holy Spirit that I testify to in my book.

And applying some simple reasoning: does not a true Christian have the mind of Christ? (1Cor2:16) – what pleases him or her in the behaviour of others pleases Christ and His Father. But surely, some will say, “You or I may delight in the noble or compassionate exploits or well-spent life of a non-Christian who leaves the world a better place than he or she found it, but God is different – He is infinitely more holy than we are.” How true – but if you think being more holy means being less tolerant of sin and human weakness, less compassionate, less magnanimous indeed less gracious than man at his best, you haven’t begun to understand the nature of holiness or indeed the Nature of the God whom Scripture defines as love personified (1John4:8) – and  then goes on to  define love itself (1Cor13).

We can also learn from the testimony of the Christian writers of the 2nd and 3rd century who were not wholly dependent on biblical exegesis but in some cases had received the Faith from the apostles themselves or their immediate appointees. In particular Irenaeus, Justyn Martyr and the Church historian Eusebius affirm my positive view of natural law and the tripartite nature of man (comprising body soul and spirit) – concepts which Augustine came to reject [see NOTE below]. But most importantly as far as I’m concerned is the testimony of Scripture as a whole as I endeavour to demonstrate in these blogs and have set out more coherently in my book, a free PDF of which is available HERE.

NOTE

[1] The major theologian of the second century Irenaeus recognised that God in His providence is present with all “who attend to moral discipline, paying heed to the natural precepts of the law by which man can be justified” [“Irenaeus against heresies” Book IV chap 13 para 1]. In a previous post I show how Irenaeus gave witness to the unity of essential doctrine within the second century churches. These were clearly not just his own views but the understanding of the churches as a whole. From the same period Justin Martyr spoke of God’s benevolence towards those who walk uprightly and in accordance with right reason ; “a God who accepts those who imitate His own qualities of temperance, fairness and philanthropy and who exercise their free will in choosing what is pleasing to Him” [first apology of Justin chaps. 43 & 46]. Such a perspective on free will and a role for natural law is affirmed by the witness of Eusebius (AD260-340). Known as the Father of Church History, Eusebius documented the succession of the earliest Christian communities in East and West, commenting on the faithfulness (or otherwise) of some of their bishops, providing in the process an invaluable perspective on the doctrinal understanding of his time. In view of his own perspective on the matter, Eusebius indicates that natural law was subsumed within the theological/anthropological perspective of the early Church:
“The Creator of all things has impressed a natural law upon the soul of every man, as an assistant and ally in his conduct, pointing out to him the right way by this law; but, by the free liberty with which he is endowed, making the choice of what is best worthy of praise and acceptance, because he has acted rightly, not by force, but from his own free-will, when he had it in his power to act otherwise, As, again, making him who chooses what is worst, deserving of blame and punishment, as having by his own motion neglected the natural law, and becoming the origin and fountain of wickedness, and misusing himself, not from any extraneous necessity, but from free will and judgment. The fault is in him who chooses, not in God. For God has not made nature or the substance of the soul bad; for he who is good can make nothing but what is good”. [quotation from “The Christian Examiner”, Volume One, published by James Miller, 1824 Edition, p. 66 – my highlighting]. These early Christian viewpoints and no doubt my own own will appear arcane if not positively heretical to many Christians these days. As I trace in my book, I believe one man is primarily responsible for this ancient seismic shift in doctrinal understanding particularly in the West – Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (AD354-430), aka “the Doctor of Grace”, or from my perspective, Sustainer of the Providential Mysteries.


JOHN1 – CHRIST ENLIGHTENS EVERY SOUL

Ἦν τὸ φῶς τὸ ἀληθινόν ὃ φωτίζει πάντα ἄνθρωπον ἐρχόμενον εἰς τὸν κόσμον

This supplements my previous post about Christ as the incarnate Logos …. But why have I quoted the verse in the original Greek? Because that is what John actually wrote and regrettably it is often poorly translated, particularly in more modern versions of the Bible. An example of a valid translation is as follows:

 That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world (New King James Version)

Other suitable translations are provided in the King James Version, 1599 Geneva, Vulgate (in unambiguous Latin!), Wycliffe, Douay-Rheims, indeed any translation that links “coming into the world” with “every man” rather than with Christ or the Light. Most modern versions have re-jigged the translation so that it means something quite different. Typical of such is the New American Standard Bible which reads:

There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.

Whilst Biblical Greek can be ambiguous in view of the word ordering and lack of punctuation, in this case we can be quite specific, thanks to the parsing of the word ἐρχόμενον meaning (in this instance) “coming”. More precisely ἐρχόμενον  is a present participle in the middle or passive voice but the key point is it is accusative in case; that is it pertains to the object of the sentence not the subject, the subject being “that or “there” as the NASB has it, referring to “the Light” – the object being “every man”. I am not relying on my Greek studies at Bible college 20 years ago for this analysis, that is distinctly rusty, but if you go to the Greek interlinear HERE  it does most of the hard work for you –  providing you have some understanding of English grammar (verbs, participles, cases, tenses etc.)

 Yet no one is denying that the true Light in persona has indeed come into the world, least of all gospel-writer John – he affirms it a couple of chapters later where he writes: “And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (Jn3:19). This time the verb “to come” is in the perfect tense (i.e. a completed action) indicative mood and active voice. But Jn1:9 refers to the fact that Christ has (to a degree) enlightened the soul/spirit of every human being entering the world. That should be no surprise, at least for those (creationists) who accept that the soul is provided by God, not in some way transmitted from its parents, a doctrine known as traducianism  – follow link for the background to the doctrine. For all things were created through Christ and for Christ and there can be no created entity that is more important to God than that which has been created in His own image such as the human soul. So why should not the Cosmic Christ through Whom all things were created not wish innately to enlighten all men (cf. 1Tim2:4), knowing as He does that only a minority would come to know Christ in person or receive a faithful account concerning Himself, His Truth and His Life?

You can judge for yourself (via the above link) but I suggest the concept of traducianism opposes both reason and Scripture – the idea that that which is pure spirit and immortal can be derived from human sperm. And as Thomas Aquinas expressed it –  “the human soul has activities beyond the capacity of matter and the existence of these activities shows that the human soul is both immaterial and immortal—but not independent of God’s causality.” The Roman Catholic Church has long taught that “every spiritual soul is created immediately by God – it is not “produced” by the parents, and also it is immortal..” – to which I concur, but the problem for the creationist is how and why would God  (through Christ) re-create something that is inherently evil if that is what one believes the human soul to be?

There is a solution and it is provided by the Apostle Paul if only he were better understood. It pertains to what he describes as “the body of this death” (somatos tou thanatou toutou Rom7:24) which the soul inhabits during its earthly existence. Now that fleshly part of man is progenerated from our human parents, ultimately from Adam. It is not directly created by God – Adam (ultimately Satan as tempter) is responsible for it, not God. God creates what is holy – man unavoidably procreates what is unholy and the two are combined resulting in the form of moral dualism that Paul expresses in Rom7:15-25, desiring in his innermost being to do what is lawful and right but constantly opposed by his fleshly senses – unless and until he is aided by the grace of the Gospel.

Paul does indeed affirm that through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned (Rom5:12); and likewise “just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life” (1Cor15:22). But these texts are not making the case for traducianism: the source of the problem is not man’s soul, which has been created and enlightened by Christ and is governed by the conscience; it is the procreated intellectual vessel (i.e. body and brain) that it temporally inhabits that causes man to sin. “O wretched man that I am; who can deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God it is through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom7:25). And for the Christian that deliverance has already begun, such that in Paul’s words he or she is given the spiritual resources to “possess his own vessel in sanctification and honour” (1Thes4:4).

There is great deal more that could be said on this subject and it has been in “The Fellowship of the Secret”, a free PDF of which is available HERE

JOHN1 – JESUS THE INCARNATED “LOGOS”

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 nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not [a]comprehend it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. (Jn1:1-8NKJV)

Profound and mysterious as the opening of John’s gospel may appear there are some essential truths that can be drawn from it, perhaps the most important being its irrefutable witness to the full divinity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The reference to John the Baptist’s witness to the Light (vv6-7) confirms that the “Word” (Greek: Logos) is that very Person who “became incarnate of the virgin Mary and was made man”. I emphasize “full divinity” for whether we realize it or not every true Christian “partakes of the divine nature” (2Pet1:4), yet none (I hope) would claim to be  “in the beginning with God”, of His very essence and the One through Whom all things were created as John declares “the Word” to be.

This is important for other Scriptures are less clear concerning Jesu’s divinity. God’s people in the Old Testament did not generally expect their future messiah to be divine, even though arguably such is indicated by the titles the prophet Isaiah ascribed to Him – “God with us” (7:14), “Mighty God” (9:6), etc. As for Jesus Himself, He goes out of His way to emphasize that He is subject to His Father (Jn14:28) and that is the case even after His resurrection and ascension to Glory (Acts1:7). Likewise, the apostle Paul: “For I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1Cor11:3). And concerning Christ’s Kingdom: “Now when all things are made subject to (Christ), then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all” (1Cor15:28).

Such passages emphasize the Monarchical status of God the Father, they are not saying the Son is not equally divine. But there is clearly an order, not to mention a great deal of mystery concerning the economy of the Godhead. An awareness of such is necessary to appreciate aspects of what Paul is teaching concerning “the fellowship of the secret (plan) hidden in God” (Eph3:9) that my book* focusses on. Yet this must be done without ever losing sight of the absolute and uniquely divine heritage possessed by the One who condescends to regard His all-too-human followers as His own kith and kin: “for both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren (Heb2:11). What a mind-blowing privilege it is to be numbered within such a family.

  • A free PDF of the e-book is available HERE

LUKE 24 – OT PROPHECIES YET TO BE FULFILLED

Jesus endeavouring to enlighten His disciples

Then (Jesus) said to (His disciples) “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” (Luke24:44NKJV)

Jesus’ words were in response to His disciples’ confusion and misgivings concerning their Lord’s suffering, death and resurrection. Yet as He pointed out to them, everything that the Law and Prophets foretold concerning the Messiah must be fulfilled at some point, the only question is when? There is no indication from Jesus Himself that He had any intention of subverting Old Testament prophecy “to fulfil His Own and Israel’s mission in an entirely unexpected way” as at least one renowned theologian has proposed (N T Wright) [note 1] .  At His arrest Jesus had challenged Peter who was trying to defend his Master by force of arms, “But how then could Scripture be fulfilled that said it must happen this way? (Mt26:54). Jesus’s arrest and execution mustn’t just happen, it must happen “this way”, as prophesied. So, on the political front, if the prophets Isaiah and Micah had inferred that the coming Messiah would personally arbitrate with people and nations to bring an end to human warfare (Is2:3-4; Mic4:3), then that is what Jesus expected at some point to be doing. Whilst the Church can pray for peace, preach peace and work for peace, there can be no lasting peace on Earth or universal justice until Satan’s seed are removed and his structures of unrighteousness are destroyed from the Earth, which is to be the task of angels (Mt13:41).

 In the meantime, we look out of our window and observe the world becoming ever more dangerous and ever more secular as the end of the gospel age approaches. And that in spite of the Church, without whose salt and light things would no doubt be far worse. Yet according to Oxfam, the richest one percent of the world’s population own more than the rest of the world put together: the world is not currently in any executive sense under the government of Christ and His people. Isaiah had foretold that the Son who had been born of Mary would “establish (His government) with judgement and justice” (Is9:7). Neither has Our Lord’s judgement been received nor His justice practiced by the world’s authorities in the current age. What one currently can perceive is the Church as the mystical Body of Christ, or at least that part of it that understands it has any socio-political mandate, doing all within its power to renew humanity along Kingdom principles. But we are two thousand years into that process and the kosmos (world order) is as much under the Wicked One’s influence as it ever has been (cf. 1Jn5:19). Satan has been granted a continued jurisdiction (cf. Eph2:2) and has a particular hold over “the sons of disobedience” (same verse). That would not be the case in the messianic age, during which time the arch-fiend would be bound and out of harm’s way (Rev20:2), as will those who have become his accursed agents (Mt25:41 cf. Greek). The full realization of God’s Kingdom on Earth anticipated in the Old Testament has been deferred, in Paul’s language, “until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in” (Rom11:25). That deferment is something “the Law and the Prophets” never anticipated, pertaining as it does to “the fellowship of the secret (plan) hidden in God from the previous age” (cf. Eph3:9) – the secret or mystery (Greek: musterion)  that I endeavour to unravel in my book, a free PDF of which is available HERE

Note

  1. “What St Paul Really Said” – N T Wright

Exploring the mystery of divine providence