THE UNITY OF 2nd CENTURY CHURCH

Irenaeus – 2nd century theologian

Irenaeus was a staunch defender of the Christian faith, the essentials of which, according to this man at least, were uniformly understood by all the globally expanding churches having recently been established by the apostles and their immediate successors. In stark contrast to 4th century Augustine, Irenaeus features very positively in my book, since much of what I believe the Spirit has revealed to me accords with his teaching and more importantly that of the churches of his time. Here is a quote from chapter three of my book: 

“This (teaching concerning law and grace) will be a new interpretation to many but it is what it I have been shown and it works: the teaching of Jesus, Paul and the other apostles acquire perfect coherence once the re-interpretations and various linguistic ameliorations presented in this package are taken on board. How do I know that? – simply by reading the New Testament with reference to the Greek, over and over again and observing how it now entirely gels. What many will regard as my novel interpretations actually accord more with that of the Ancient Church, i.e. the teaching of the ante-Nicene fathers; perhaps most clearly in the case of Irenaeus, who was hardly a maverick but a staunch defender of the Faith as it had been received from the apostles. He had personally come under the tutelage of Polycarp who in turn was an immediate disciple of the Apostle John. Not that the other ante-Nicene Fathers contradict my assertions in this area, but second century Irenaeus not only affirms Christ’s filling out of the Decalogue[note 1] but also the purpose and context of gospel salvation within broader providence, the restoration of physical creation at the Parousia, pre-millennialism, a tripartite anthropology, a positive role for natural law, the utilisation of Enoch as an important reference source and the affirmation of an “Elijah” to come. These have been cross-referenced where they occur in the book.

Irenaeus of course was but one man but note what he writes concerning the UNIFORMITY OF ESSENTIAL DOCTRINE WITHIN THE 2ND CENTURY CHURCHES:

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“The Church having received this preaching and this Faith although scattered throughout the whole world yet as if occupying one house carefully preserves it. She also believes these points of doctrine just as if she had one soul and one and the same heart and proclaims and teaches them and hands them down with perfect harmony as if she only possessed one mouth. For the churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain or Gaul. . . But as the sun, that creature of God is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the Truth shines everywhere and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth ” [note 2]

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Irenaeus’ depiction of the 2nd Century churches’ doctrinal uniformity may be  exaggerated but equally it could not have been the case that the essential doctrines concerning the nature of faith and salvation could have UNIFORMLY BEEN IN ERROR given that each of the churches he refers to could trace its origins just two or three generations back to the apostles.

It is not that all the second century churches will have come to agreement through a sublimity of biblical exegesis, it is because a good number of these assemblies will have been FOUNDED AND SUPERINTENDED BY THE GREAT APOSTLE HIMSELF OR HIS DIRECT APPOINTEES. These leaders knew what Paul was talking about because they or their leaders had heard Paul and talked to him; they did not have to rely entirely upon his pastoral epistles that even his fellow apostle Peter observed were “hard to understand” and misunderstood by many (2Pet3:16NKJV). I am not claiming that such an historical affirmation can be provided for ALL the assertions in my book [note 4], for as third century Origen had observed, certain mysteries were left to be explored and resolved over the course of the Church’s pilgrimage. But I say again that cannot apply to the ESSENTIALS OF CHRISTIAN SALVATION which were made clear from the start and have always been adequately set forth within the Apostolic Church in East and West, at least in terms of the “hows” (i.e. what is required for salvation), if not always the “whys” and “wherefores”, such as the context of gospel salvation within broader providence and the nature of man’s future participation with the Godhead, being mysteries destined to be revealed in their due time (cf. Rev10:4-10)”

Excerpt from “Fellowship of the Secret” chapter 3 (Justification and the Faithfulness of Christ)

References:

[1] “Irenaeus against heresies” Book IV chap. 13 (paras 1 and 2)

[2] “Irenaeus against heresies” Book I chap. 10 para 2

[3] The Early Fathers’ writings are available on the internet HERE

[4] “The Fellowship of the Secret” – a free PDF is available HERE

LUKE 16 – THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS

Lazarus comforted by dogs

19 “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. 20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 So it was that the beggar died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.24 “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. 26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’ 27 “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ ” (Luke16:19-31NKJV)

Remarkably, this is effectively the only account we have in Scripture of experience in the afterlife: the account of the rich man and Lazarus, the text of which requires careful attention. It is generally taken to be a parable, although it us unusual for a person to be named (i.e. Lazarus) in such, so many, including the medieval Church, believe Jesus to be referring to real individuals. Although often utilized as such, the narrative is referring neither to Heaven nor Hell but to Hades, the place of the dead. That is an intermediate state between death and resurrection in which, according to Luke’s interpretation of Jesus’ teaching, disembodied spirits are nevertheless conscious and aware of either pain or comfort. They also clearly retain a memory of their past life (“Son, remember that in your lifetime” etc.)

Note carefully, the only stated criterion distinguishing these two men was that one had had a life of ease and comfort whilst the other had been poor and wretched (Lk16:25). It may be deduced (from vv27-31) that the rich man was suffering because of the way he had utilized his wealth; living wantonly whilst failing to show care and compassion for miserable beggars like Lazarus (with whom Jesus personally identifies – Mt25:45), yet no reason is given at all why Lazarus should be comforted after his death other than that he had experienced a life of poverty and sickness (Lk16:25). The redistributive and compensatory aspects of judgement at death are also emphasized in the letter of James who exhorts the oppressive rich to weep and howl for the miseries that are to come upon them (Ja5:1KJV). It is clear from subsequent verses that James is referring to the materially wealthy who obtained their wealth by defrauding and exploiting of the poor. James (as ever) is reflecting the teaching of Christ, who had other words of warning for the well-to-do:

Alas for you who are rich: you are having your consolation now. Alas for you who have plenty to eat now: you shall go hungry.  Alas for you who are laughing now: you shall mourn and weep (Lk6:24,25). 

I now understand this to be partly a question of redistributive justice but that it also relates to the role and necessity of human suffering (salting) explained in the theodicy (chapter seven of my book).

The Law and the Prophets

In pleading for Lazarus to be raised from the dead so as to warn the his five brothers of their impending doom if they do not change their ways, Abraham chides the rich man that as Jews his brothers should be acquainted with “Moses and the Prophets”, an underlying principle of which being the need to care for the needy – loving one’s neighbour as oneself. Those who do not believe that to be at the Law’s heart should take heed to the apostle Paul:  “The entire Law is fulfilled in keeping this one command “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Gal5:14). For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, they are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Rom13:9)

But in a sense who needs the Law to determine these matters? – they are intuitive to every human heart. For as hinted at above and suggested within this parable, the wellbeing of the human spirit when the body dies is not determined by one’s religion or lack of it but by one’s dealings with one’s fellows (likewise the final judgement passage in Matthew25 – note religious faith is nowhere mentioned). However, religious faith and a living relationship with Jesus Christ certainly plays a part in the soul’s eternal destiny, in particular who are to be the co-inheritors with the Lord of Glory at the resurrection of the dead? “Fellowship of the Secret”* explains all, or at least as much as Scripture has revealed.  

LUKE 14 – THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP


Take up YOUR cross

Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it 29 lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? 31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. 33 So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. (Luke14:27-33NKJV)

It may not be the emphasis that comes across from many pulpits these days but Jesus tells His would-be disciples carefully to evaluate the cost of discipleship, like someone intending to build a tower or a king about to go to war. This implies substantially more than obtaining Church membership, receiving a sacrament, making a profession of faith or reciting a prayer; it is the assessment to be made by those who are to enter pilgrimage as a learner of the Christ. And such who are called, chosen and faithful will be those who are ultimately fitted for Kingdom service in eternal partnership with the One before Whom every knee must bow once He is revealed as Lord of all.

That will have been the context of the resurrection and imperishable crown for which Paul strove and disciplined his body like an athlete so as not to be disqualified (1Cor9:24-27). It requires God’s grace for sure but also personal self-discipline and effort – “Strive to enter (the Kingdom of God) by the narrow gate, for many I say to you will seek to enter and will not be able” says Jesus. The irony is that those who take up the challenge of the gospel and in Paul’s words, “aim for glory and honour and immortality by persevering in good works so as to obtain eternal life” (Rom2:7) will find that as they take the Master’s yoke upon them and learn from Him, He is gentle and lowly of heart, and they will find rest for their souls. Even from an earthly, material perspective, Jesus indicates they will gain “a hundredfold” more than they have sacrificed in service for the Kingdom (Mt19:29). It should also be evident from Jesus’ illustrations and his “narrow gate/broad road” language that this is not to be the destiny of the majority. How such an indication aligns with Scripture’s insistence that God wishes to reconcile all redeemable humanity to Himself is set out in my book*.

*For a free PDF or to purchase the paperback go HERE

LUKE13 – THE PERFECTING OF JESUS

King Herod “the fox”

31 [On that very day some Pharisees came, saying to (Jesus), “Get out and depart from here, for Herod wants to kill You.” 32 And He said to them, “Go tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.’ (Luke13:31-32 NKJV)

As referred to in the previous post, many ordinary Jews delighted in Jesus’ words and actions, but their leaders wanted Him dead or at least out of their hair. They tried to persuade the Teacher and Miracle-worker that if He remained in their territory King Herod would have Him killed.  Jesus’ response is typically direct yet the analogy He uses in describing Herod as a fox is drawn from biblical sources. As in many agricultural circles, the fox does not receive a great press in the Bible. In Song of Solomon (2:15) the writer refers to the foxes that destroy the vines of tender grapes, referring either to problems that might arise within a loving relationship or as some think, more figuratively to false prophets who deceive God’s chosen people often depicted as God’s vineyard (e.g. Isaiah5). The latter is certainly the case in Ezekiel (13:4), Israel’s false prophets being described as “foxes in the desert”. Whatever else they may be foxes are inclined to be devious and destructive.

Yet Jesus is determined and confident that neither Herod nor the often equally devious Pharisees will thwart His purposes or destiny. He vows to continue to heal and cast out demons until the time comes for God’s purposes and indeed He Himself to be perfected (Greek teleioumai). Unlike the New King James Version quoted above some versions translate the last phrase in verse 32 along the lines that Jesus’ work will have been perfected (e.g. ERV), whereas  parsing the Greek text affirms the writer to be indicating that it is Jesus Himself who will be perfected (i.e. made complete for purpose) through His work and by His suffering.

This may present a theological problem to some but seemingly not to the writer to the Hebrews. For He declares that “It was fitting for (Jesus), for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through suffering (Heb2:10NKJV). This speaks of a great mystery which I examine in my book*, pertaining as it does to the purpose of suffering for humanity as a whole within God’s munificent purposes for His creation.

  • The Fellowship of the Secret – a free PDF available HERE

Lk13 SICKNESS & DEATH -SATAN’S DOMAIN

The anatomy of a virus

The Lord then answered (the ruler of the synagogue) and said, e]“Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? 16 So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound—think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” 17 And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him. (Luke 13:15-17NKJV)

The Bible-hub study website comments on this passage “The words imply the belief that there was another source than mere bodily disease for the infirmity–in part, at least, the belief that all disease–or very many forms of it–is directly or indirectly traceable to the power of the Enemy”.

My sentiments exactly, and as the writer to the Hebrews affirms, Satan’s realm and authority extends to death itself (Heb2:14). The biology and outworking of viruses, cancers and the like is ingeniously malevolent. Who or what is behind it? Ultimately our sovereign God is behind everything but in this case some distance removed. For extraordinary as it seems, His arch-enemy and ours has been granted substantial authority in the affairs of this world in the current age, which is why Jesus designated him “archon tou kosmou” – prince of the world order (Jn12:31), in which sickness and death along with what Paul refers to as spiritual wickedness in high places are a present reality (Eph6:12). Contrary to the wishful thinking of some, that is and will continue to be the case until Jesus returns in glory; that in spite of the fact that He has already done everything necessary (through His Passion) to defeat the realm of evil and death, at least in principle (Jn12:31-32). The reason such a regime continues for the present is one of the themes of “The Fellowship of the Secret” (a free PDF is available HERE).

My other observation on this short passage pertains to the last verse (17). The multitudes, who will predominantly have been Jewish rejoiced in Jesus’ teaching and practice concerning the Sabbath as a day not just for worship and relaxation but for doing good. Their religious leaders on the other hand appeared to understand the latter with regard to the welfare of their own working animals but not their fellow human beings as Jesus so effectively pointed out – to the shame of the leaders  and the delight of the masses. It again highlights that it was primarily the religious leaders of the Jews who facilitated Satan’s plot to destroy the Prince of Life and Glory, albeit as ever, even this was according to “the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts2:23).

LUKE 11 – THE PHARISEES’ HYPOCRISY

And as (Jesus) spoke, a certain Pharisee asked Him to dine with him. So He went in and sat down to eat. 38 When the Pharisee saw it, he marvelled that He had not first washed before dinner. 39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness. 40 “Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also? 41 “But rather give alms of such things as you have; then indeed all things are clean to you. 42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone (Luke 11:37-42NKJV)

More telling words from Jesus as recorded by Luke. As usual I have highlighted the phrases that particularly came to my attention following my renewed perspective on the Bible’s teaching that resulted in writing “The Fellowship of the Secret” *. Previously such passages had confused if not positively contradicted my understanding of the gospel but now they make better sense. In this narrative, the Lord is using the idea of cleaning the inside and outside of dishes to teach that a person’s heart is more important than what appears on the surface–whereas the Pharisees got it the wrong way round, as many people tend to do. Jesus is warning us to be less concerned about “the outside” and give more importance to “the inside” – not least in the practice of religion.

Giving alms to cleanse the soul

Almsgiving in the proper sense means realizing the needs of others and letting them share in one’s own goods. The Greek word for alms (ἐλεημοσύνη) is derived from ἔλεος  meaning compassion or mercy, which implies more than a mechanical act of donating or tithing. It may be a theologically alien concept to many (including myself in the past) that almsgiving can cleanse the soul or cover sin, but not to Jesus Christ (v41) or indeed his lead disciple (cf. 1Pet4:8). The Pharisees had meticulously tithed herbs according to the requirements of Torah but had neglected vastly more important issues: social justice and “the love of God” (v42). I have come to understand the latter phrase as a genitive of origin. It refers not so much to God’s love for us (a fact, but not the context here) or even ours for Him (hopefully true but only half the story); it pertains rather to the impartation of the divine quality of love (cf. Jn17:26) engrafted by the Spirit such that we come to love others more as God loves them (cf. 1Jn2:5).  That is more clearly indicated where John refers a few verses later in that passage to those who are worldly not having “the love of the Father within them” (1Jn2:15). It is in the context of partaking of the divine nature by which we come to possess more of what God possesses, especially holiness aligned with love; God being love and thrice holy.

The Pharisees, or at least the ones Jesus was addressing, were religious for sure, but they failed to grasp the inner meaning and purpose of the religion JHWE had instituted for the good of their souls and the social wellbeing of the people they led: intended to be a pattern for the society of God’s inaugurated kingdom on Earth.

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

LUKE 9 – THE DISCIPLES’ IGNORANCE OF THEIR MESSIAH’S EARTHLY FATE

(Jesus) said to His disciples, “Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.”  But (the disciples) did not understand this statement, and it was concealed from them so that they would not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this statement (Lk9:44-45NASB).

It’s a theme I constantly refer to for in my experience many, including those who regard themselves as Bible-believing Christians, are unaware of its significance. For a key to unravelling the mystery of God’s providential intentions towards His earthly creation (cf. Rev10) and the historical errors concerning it is to recognize that even Jesus’ closest disciples were not aware that their Messiah was destined to die and be resurrected (see also Lk18:33-34 & Mt16:22; 17:22-23). It re-affirms the point made in my earlier post concerning the “gospel of the kingdom” and the fact that that particular mission statement cannot have incorporated any soteriology pertaining to the Cross.

Of course the apostolic writers and the churches founded by them have rightly focused on the latter, but such could not have been contained within “this gospel of the Kingdom” that Jesus was referring to in the Olivet discourse (Mt24:14 Greek), for that same “gospel” had been preached by His disciples (Mt10:7-8) whom Matthew and Luke affirm were at the time clueless concerning their Master’s future Passion or its purpose.

This simple incontrovertible observation has radical implications: it nullifies the fearsome Augustine’s proposal that people in Old Testament times were condemned to Hell except they had “believed in the incarnation, passion and resurrection of Christ as a future event” [a].  Nor, referring back to Genesis could righteous Abel have been “anticipating the Passion” when he sacrificed an animal whilst his brother offered the dregs of his fruit harvest. Cain happened to be a fruit farmer, Abel tended livestock (Gen4:2); but comparing scripture with scripture the key point is that Abel’s offering had been accepted because his works were righteous; Cain AND his offering were rejected because his works were evil (1Jn3:11,12). The one was a child of God, so feared His Creator (i.e. had faith) and did what he knew to be right, the other was described by the apostle John as wicked and satanic (Greek:ek tou ponerou), derived from the Evil One (1Jn3:12). Cain as the first man to be born of woman was the archetype of what Jesus, John and Paul refer to as children of the devil, whom, to put it mildly, are to be ignominiously dealt with at Christ’s coming (cf. Rom9:21,22; 2Thes1:8; Mt13:49; Mt15:13; ref: Enoch1:1). Similarly, Abel will not have “got saved” by anticipating Calvary, for I say again, even Christ’s disciples were ignorant of His future Passion or its purpose. Rather, Abel was justified within the eluded universal covenant of life (explained in FOTS* ch.2).

So the Cain and Abel story is primarily concerned with the reprobation of the elder brother, who showed himself to be a God-hating homicidal maniac. He became “cursed from the earth” (Gen4:11 – note the “NOW”) and alienated from God’s loving care (Gen4:14 – note “THIS DAY”), i.e. his reprobation was affirmed after killing his brother and was not directly related to his offering (cf. the mystery of evil – FOTS* ch.6).

Thankfully, Cain’s fate is not the fate of man by nature, for man is “in Adam”, not Cain. Natural man’s condition is nevertheless perilous, for his God-given soul/spirit (that which returns to God at death) inherits what Paul refers to as “the body of this death” (somatos tou thanatou toutou Rom7:24) from his parents, ultimately from Adam. Paul’s “this” (toutou) is important as it refers to the “death” Paul is describing in the passage (Rom7:14-24), i.e. what the person he was depicting was currently experiencing; not the fact that he was mortal or was “to go to hell when he dies” as many understand the matter. As a result of such Pauline anthropological dualism (which Augustine dismissed, partly as a result of his wariness concerning the heretical  cosmic dualism expounded by Manes), most people by nature aspire to do good and genuinely admire noble qualities such as compassion, generosity, bravery and integrity in others. Indeed, in view of his conscience (which fails to function in the likes of Cain), fallen man exhibits by nature some of the qualities prescribed in God’s Law becoming a law for himself (Rom2:14,15 cf. Greek). At the same, there is within man another law or guiding principle “within his members” (i.e. his physical senses as processed through the brain) “warring against the law in his mind (the conscience Rom2:15), bringing him into captivity to the law of sin (concupiscence) which is in his members (Rom7:22-24). Such is the nature of “original sin” or Pauline “death”, and unless remedied, it radically damages the relationship with God for which man was created – hence the Passion, hence the Gospel.

It is remedied in the present (albeit for a minority) by responding to that gospel and experiencing sacramental participation with Christ (Jn6:55-57). By such means of grace allied with corporal discipline (1Cor9:27), those who are called, chosen and faithful are “saved” from the corrupting influences of their disordered senses, becoming “free indeed to serve the living God” even whilst inhabiting Paul’s “body of death”; their souls being progressively healed so as to be fitted to share an immediate and right royal inheritance with the Son of God when He comes to establish His eternal Kingdom (cf. Rom8:17-23).  As Paul jubilantly referred to this mystery, for the Christian it becomes a case of“Christ in you, the hope of glory!” (Col1:26,27NKJV)

[a] Augustine: “Against two letters of the Pelagians” Book III Chap. 11 

* i.e. The Fellowship of the Secret – free PDF HERE

LUKE 7 – JESUS AND HIS HERALD JOHN: REVERED BY ORDINARY JEWS; SNUBBED BY THEIR LEADERS


Continuing the review of passages that particularly came to my attention during the writing of “The Fellowship of the Secret” * –

Then fear came upon all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen up among us”; and, “God has visited His people.”   And this report about Him went throughout all Judea and all the surrounding region [vv16-17 NKJV].

When all the people and the tax collectors heard this (Jesus’ acclamation of His herald), they acknowledged God’s justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John [vv29-30NASB]

The Man Christ Jesus was foretold to be “despised and rejected by men” (Is53:3); and so He was ultimately, for as the Lord had observed, His people (i.e. the Jews) were like sheep without a shepherd (Mt9:36). For many of their spiritual leaders were ravenous wolves who succeeded in persuading and cajoling the people who a few days earlier had acclaimed their Messiah’s prophetic entrance into Jerusalem to demand His crucifixion. As the account in Mark makes clearer, the chief priests had handed Jesus over to the Roman authorities out of envy and succeeded in stirring up the crowd to call for Barabbas’ release in His place (Mk15:10-11).

  But as the verses from Luke 7 quoted above indicate, the Jewish people were not instinctively hateful or derisory towards either Jesus or His herald John. They had “glorified God” after Jesus resurrected the widow’s son at Nain (v16) and “acknowledged God’s justice” at Jesus’ affirmation of John’s greatness as a prophet (v29). Their leaders on the other hand being many (not all) of the Pharisees, priests and interpreters of the Law “rejected God’s purpose for themselves“, refusing the baptism of repentance offered to them (v30). That “purpose” would have been to take forward the work of the Kingdom, supporting their Messiah as leaders and teachers of the people, but that same Messiah deemed them unfit for purpose and selected His dozen from amongst artisans, fishermen and tax collectors. Yet Jesus went on to insist that those same leaders were still to be obeyed by the people since “they occupied the seat of Moses”, albeit “Do what they say, not what they do” (Mt23:1-3).

This affirmed that Jesus did not regard Himself at this point as “instigating a new religion”, or else why would He require the people to whom He was ministering to continue to obey their appointed leaders? (The answer pertains to the subject of my book*, i.e. what Paul was alluding to in Eph3:9-11). And it suggests that even the princes and people of the true Church should take care that they are not to be snubbed by their Master at His return, observing the sentiments behind the herald’s warning recorded in Matthew3:8-9:

So bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I (John) say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these very stones!

  • A free PDF is available HERE

LUKE 6 – REDISTRIBITIVE JUSTICE

“Woe to you who are rich! you have already received your consolation. Woe to you who are full! You shall hunger. WOE TO YOU THAT LAUGH NOW! YOU SHALL MOURN AND WEEP.”

Jesus’ teaching of final judgement is dealt with more definitively in Matthew’s account (chapter 25 – considered a few posts ago). Luke, a companion of Paul [note 1] recorded Jesus as teaching that an individual’s status and suffering during their lifetime is taken into account at Judgement, both in his rendering of the Beatitudes and particularly in what is effectively the only account we have of an individuals’ experience in Hell [note 2]: the account of the rich man and Lazarus, the text of which requires careful attention (Lk16:19-31).

The only stated criterion distinguishing these two men was that one had had a life of ease and comfort whilst the other had been poor and wretched (Lk16:25). It may be deduced (from vv27-31) that the rich man was suffering because of the way he had utilized his wealth; living wantonly whilst failing to show care and compassion for miserable beggars like Lazarus (with whom Jesus personally identifies – Mt25:45), yet no reason is given at all why Lazarus should be comforted after his death other than that he had experienced a life of poverty and sickness (Lk16:25); thus had he been salted (cf. Mk9:49). The redistributive or compensatory aspects of judgement at death are also emphasized in the letter of James who exhorts the oppressive rich to weep and howl for the miseries that are to come upon them (Ja5:1KJV). It is clear from subsequent verses that he is referring to the materially wealthy who obtained their wealth by defrauding and exploiting of the poor. James (as ever) is reflecting the teaching of Christ, who also had a word of warning for the well-to-do:


Alas for you who are rich: you are having your consolation now. Alas for you who have plenty to eat now: you shall go hungry. Alas for you who are laughing now: you shall mourn and weep (Lk6:24,25).

I now understand this to be partly a question of redistributive justice but that it also relates to the role and necessity of human suffering (salting) explained in the theodicy (chapter seven of my book [3]). For sure, Luke’s interpretation of Jesus’ teaching needs to be taken alongside Matthew’s emphasis on more spiritual and moral qualities (Mt5): poverty of spirit, hunger for righteousness, kindness, compassion and purity. For a lousy crook may be poor but is hardly fitted to be a prince in God’s Kingdom. So life experience, moral and spiritual integrity, and especially how one has treated the poor with whom Christ personally identifies (Mt25) will determine how one fares after death, and also when Christ’s kingdom is consummated, resulting in a change of fortunes for many (cf. Mk10:31).

Notes

[1] Some biblical scholars question whether the author of Luke-Acts could possibly be the Luke referred to as Paul’s companion in three of his letters; partly in view of seeming differences in the account of Paul’s conversion and subsequent events (Acts9:1-31 cf. Gal1:17-24); more particularly in view of their understanding that Luke’s theology was different to Paul’s, whereas I am in the business of demonstrating that Paul’s theology (once properly understood) does not contradict that of any other contributors to Scripture.

[2] strictly “Hades” being the place of the dead, an intermediate state between death and resurrection in which, according to Luke’s interpretation of Jesus’ teaching, disembodied spirits are nevertheless conscious and aware of either pain or comfort.

[3] A free PDF available HERE

LUKE 6 – CHRIST’S TEACHING: FOUNDATION FOR LIFE

“But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say? Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like:   He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock. But he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately it fell. And the ruin of that house was great.” (Luke 6:46-49)

A children’s chorus comes to mind as I read this passage: The wise man built his house on the rock HEAR CHORUS. But what is the rock? “So build your house on the Lord Jesus Christ” concludes the chorus, but Jesus is not here referring to Himself as the rock but His teaching. He is referring to what we are to do, not passively resting upon what He has done on our behalf. Hence, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord and not do what I say?  He who hears the Lord’s sayings and does them is the one who builds on the rock (v47).

Such is the obedience of faith and our active participation in it. Similarly, back in Matthew – “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’  Such people will have imagined they had built their life on the LJC – His name was ever on their lips and He was at the heart of what they perceived to have been their ministry, yet their hearts were far from Him. That may well have been because they were unaware they were expected to fulfil what James refers to as “the royal law” – to love one’s neighbour as oneself (Jam2:8).

This will appear to some to contradict the teaching of Paul but I endeavour to show in my book* that such is not the case. Once Paul has been rightly understood both he, James, Peter and the rest will be seen to affirm the teaching of the Master, the spiritual Rock which in Paul’s allusion is indeed referring to Christ Himself (1Cor10:4).

*A free PDF is available HERE 

Exploring the mystery of divine providence