Stephen’s martyrdom

I have not quoted Stephen’s address – it is simply too long. How extraordinary that one of the most protracted individual oral addresses in the New Testament is not from an apostle but a deacon. He was one of seven appointed “to serve at tables” so that the apostles could concentrate on prayer and evangelism (Acts6:2). But then God is no respecter of persons or office and may choose to utilize mere “laypersons” to fulfil His purposes when He so chooses.  

Again, it is obvious from the contents of Stephen’s speech that he is addressing Jews. They, he said, were doing just as their fathers did:“Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; 53 you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it” (Acts7:52-53). This thoroughly incensed his audience as a result of which Stephen underwent a glorious death and is rightly revered as a Martyr for Christ. And at the time it was death with which a certain Saul of Tarsus heartily concurred (8:1).


The high priest questioned (the Apostles), 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a [p]cross. 31 He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.” (Acts5:27-32)

Reading through the early chapter of Acts there can be no doubt that Peter was the lead Apostle to the Jews as Paul in his capacity as Apostle to the Gentiles later affirmed (Gal2:7-8). Soon after being miraculously delivered from prison Peter and his fellow apostles were again apprehended by the High Priest (who was associated with the resurrection-denying Sadducees (5:17)) and summoned before the Senate to be questioned as per our text.

The main point I want to bring out from that brief exchange is that the preaching and correspondingly the thousands of early converts continued to be exclusively Jewish (as is also evidenced by the events of chapter 10 to follow). Peter describes Jesus as the One whom God exalted to His right hand to bring repentance to Israel (v31), Note also from the last verse that the Holy Spirit was given to those who obey God, not (as I once understood) in order that one might be enabled to obey God. Such is the order and sequence to be found in the sermons within Acts as we have already observed (2:38).


the miracle that preceded Peter’s sermon (Acts 3)

“Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this (miracle), or why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. 14 But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses. 16 And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all. 17 “And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. 18 But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. 19 Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; 20 and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time of the restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.  22 Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed to everything He says to you. 23 And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ 24 And likewise, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors onward predicted these days25 It is you (Jews) who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ 26 For you primarily, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.” (Acts3:12-26)

Following his sermon on Pentecost, Peter’s second address was in response to peoples’ reactions to the disciples’ healing of the lame man at the temple gate resulting in his exuberant celebration. Again it is clear the apostle is addressing Jews, reminding them that this miracle was not down to them but to the One they had delivered, disowned and had put to death. He had been sent to bless them  “by turning them from their wicked ways” (v26), albeit acknowledging that they had done what they did it in ignorance (v17). In terms of what was now required of them, it was to repent so that their “sins should be wiped away”. Baptism is not explicitly mentioned here but it is in most other sermons, as will have been the expectation that Jesus would come again soon “to restore all things” (v21). Such is how Peter and all the apostles will have regarded “the Second Coming”. He also added that the prophets of old had predicted what was now occurring (in terms of the outpouring of the Spirit) but as we shall see, neither they nor Peter at that point anticipated that these blessings were to come in their fulness upon the Gentiles (cf. Acts11:17-18).


As mentioned in the previous post that one reason Luke’s account of the Acts of the Apostles is of vital interest is that it is effectively the only book in the New Testament which includes apostolic preaching (to the unconverted) as opposed to the pastoral teaching contained in the various epistles. I made the following comments in my first book which I believe still hold true:

Once one reaches the Acts of the Apostles, the crucified and risen Jesus is central to the Good News message. Indeed, Acts is vital in that it indicates how people were called to gospel salvation in terms of what is required of them and once again just as importantly what is not. Examine every sermon in Acts meticulously, including Paul’s and you will note that “justification” for example is mentioned but once (13:38b/39). In the apostolic evangelistic preaching of Acts, people were not brought to salvation by apprehending “justification by faith alone”, or by “renouncing any effort to be righteous and resting in the Saviour’s merits” or “looking to the finished work of Christ and appropriating it to myself” or “believing that Jesus had died for me as an individual” or “praying the prayer of faith, asking Jesus to come into my heart” but simply by acknowledging and believing that Jesus Christ is Lord, turning from their sinful ways and being baptized for cleansing of past sin: nothing more, nothing less (cf. Acts8:36,37 & 17:30).

The teaching on how the Christian goes on to grow in the faith and in holiness and participate fully in the life of the Church is provided by the epistles. Of course, none of the apostles’ writings are specifically evangelistic, being pastoral letters written to the churches, but even allowing for this change of genre (evangelistic preaching to pastoral letter) it cannot be the case that what is essential to saving faith could be excluded from all the evangelistic sermons in the Bible and can only be deduced from the Pauline epistles! It is a serious point, and one of many that eventually found me out as a Calvinist Evangelical.  Of course, the Lord’s ethical teaching in the gospels along with the pastoral epistles must be drawn upon to fill out the picture of what it means to commit one’s life to Christ. But in terms of what one is required to believe or emotionally experience to become a Christian, and who within the broader Church are to be regarded as such, nothing can supplement the requirements of initiation as preached in Acts. Likewise, if the gospel as one currently perceives it does not match the heralding angel’s description of “Good News of great joy that shall be to all people” (Lk2:10), be assured one has not yet fully grasped the implications of the birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and coming again of the Lord Jesus Christ. Angelic messages of Good News and great universal joy lead to joyous outcomes for humanity, albeit not necessarily for each individual. Any eschatological depiction that does not reflect that Good News requires revisiting, however revered its formulator may have been.  [Excerpt from “Fellowship of the Secret” chapter one]

In subsequent posts I will be commenting on each of the sermons contained within Acts but perhaps the most important point about aspects of the gospel proclamation which many believers regard as vital to conversion yet are nowhere to be found within the sermons is best verified by the reader carefully going through Luke’s account of the Acts of the Apostles themselves.


Peter addressing the crowd on Pentecost

Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heavenAnd when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language (Acts2:5-6NASB).

The context of this passage is the Day of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit which is undoubtedly the key theme of Acts chapter two. But as has sometimes been the case in this process I find myself drawn to some seemingly inconsequential comments or statements which actually are theologically significant, especially for anyone who wishes to take the Bible seriously and as literally as possible. This is one such passage where Luke comments on the fact that many of the Jews living in Jerusalem were “devout” [Greek=εὐλαβής], which literally  means those who lay  hold on what is good, or in the religious context are God fearing. It should be noted incidentally that the crowd that gathered to whom Peter preached at Pentecost, many of whom were added to the Church were described by Luke predominantly if not exclusively as Jewish. If you have been following and understanding my posts that should no longer surprise you.

In terms of hermeneutics, if one chooses not to take a passage of Scripture literally there needs to be a valid reason. I mention this in the context of Romans chapter eleven, vital to my central thesis, where Paul’s comments in verses 11,12,15 and 30 regarding biblical salvation/Kingdom inheritance being made available to the rest of the world as a result of Jewish unbelief have simply not been given serious credence. Yet there are a few cases in Paul’s writing where a literal interpretation is not intended.  Crucially, in the context of this post, such an example is Romans 3:9-18 where Paul infers that “not one (Jew) is upright, no not one (v10); not one of them does right (v12); their feet are swift to shed blood (v15) and there is no fear of God before their eyes (v18). This, if it were true would certainly contradict our verse from Acts and frankly much else that the Bible portrays concerning the variability of the human condition. Irrespective of their religion the reality is that some people pursue a path of integrity whilst others follow a path of lawlessness. This is reflected in Old Testament wisdom literature with which Paul would be well acquainted. For example Proverbs2:13 speaks of those who leave the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness, and in Paul’s own writing where he refers to those (Gentiles) outside the Law who in response to their consciences do by nature the things contained within it, so becoming a law to themselves. (Rom2:14)

So why is a literal reading not valid in Romans 3, a passage which the Protestant Reformers utilize as a proof narrative to support their doctrine of total depravity? Well, apart from it being an observational absurdity to say that no Jew on the planet ever feared God, with a little investigation and knowledge of Scripture it becomes evident what Paul is doing here. He is linking together passages from the Old Testament in which God’s own people were being chastised.  It is a typically Jewish literary method of critique, and Paul is using it to adduce universal sinfulness, i.e. that all, whether Jew or Gentile are under the reign of sin and death. He is not intimating that it is in everyone’s nature to act in the depraved manner described in these concatenated prophecies, as a careful reading of the rest of Paul’s writings affirms.

So, in accordance with Like’s account in Acts2, a good number of the Jews will have been devout and God fearing even though they were initially perplexed by the work of the Spirit they were witnessing. Nevertheless, Peter affirmed that they had been responsible for the Messiah’s death and needed to “Repent and  be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and so that they might be “delivered from this perverse generation” (v38-40) . The preaching of Acts is of particular interest being the only apostolic evangelistic preaching (as opposed to pastoral teaching) in the New Testament, so will be examined in subsequent posts.


20 “For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let (Judas’) homestead be made desolate,
And let no one dwell in it’; and ‘Let another man take his office.’ 21 Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us— 22 beginning [c]with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.” 23 So they put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen 25 to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles. (Acts1:20-26NASB]

Jesus had called twelve men to the apostolate, partly for symbolic reasons:

And Jesus said to (His disciples), “Truly I say to you who have followed Me, in the Regeneration when the Son of Man will sit down on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Mt19:28)

The symbolism pertained to the reconstitution of God’s chosen people: the twelve tribes, only two of which had survived at this point. But as our feature passage from Acts affirms, Judas was replaced by Matthias who was added to the eleven faithful apostles to witness to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Saul of Tarsus on the other hand was appointed out of due time (1Cor15:8) having been commissioned by the risen and ascended Christ as the thirteenth faithful apostle now that gospel salvation was to be made available to the Gentile nations. As will be considered in later posts It will become evident that in spite of the Great Commission to baptize and make disciples of all nations, it is not until events recorded in the eleventh chapter of Acts that any of the original twelve fully grasped that anyone who was not a Jew, Samaritan or proselyte could be granted the same gift of salvation as that intended for the Jews.

Paul’s appointment as #13 to be the apostle to the Gentiles is yet another pointer to the fact that God’s salvific Plan for the world as decreed by the Old Testament and initially pursued even by Jesus Himself was that the “Kingdom of God” and gospel salvation as we understand it  was destined for the Jews alone in the current age. The original twelve were appointed as apostles to the Jews and were sent to preach to them exclusively (Mt10:5,6 and especially Mt15:24 – note Jesus is telling His disciples that He had been sent by the Father to minister only to the Jews – He was not addressing the Canaanite woman “to test her faith” as some try to interpret it)  

As for #13 being regarded as “unlucky” I will quote from my first book to close:

– O blessed number, for it signified that Gentiles, against all prophetic predictions were to be granted “eternal life” and have equal status with elect Jews as joint-heirs with Christ in His Kingdom. Paul had indeed been appointed “as a priest in the Good News of God that the offering up of the Gentiles might become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Rom15:16 Young’s Literal).  – Quote from Fellowship of the Secret chapter one

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A theologian with a better grasp than many concerning God’s secret plan for the epoch

So, when (the disciples) had come together, they were asking (Jesus), saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority(Acts1:6-7NASB)

The previous post examined the disciples’ question to the risen Lord concerning the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel; this post examines Jesus’ answer (v7). Firstly, one should note how Jesus did not reply. I suspect many Christians including myself in the past would have expected an answer along the lines: “Of what do you speak? What has ‘restoring the Kingdom to Israel’ to do with the Gospel?” Of course, Jesus said nothing of the sort – what the disciples had asked was a valid enough question as I explained in the previous post. Yet it was “not for them to know the times or epochs” pertaining to such matters. Jesus well knew He was addressing the immediate leaders of the Household of God – a Church to be  “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Eph2:20).  If it were not the apostles’ business to understand these matters, then neither can it be the Church’s prerogative to decree upon the subject. And according to this disclosure the Church (Catholic or otherwise) has barely understood the intrinsic nature and purpose of the current epoch within salvation history. This may appear an outrageous and extraordinary statement to make, but then such has been God’s extraordinary modus operandi (Rev10:7; cf. Rom11:32-33)

The Apostle Paul of course was not amongst the disciples Jesus was addressing in Acts 1, and it was to him that the risen Lord provided new insights concerning this matter which the late-appointed apostle (and I) refer to as “the fellowship (or dispensation1) pertaining to the secret plan hidden in God” (Eph3:9; cf. Col1:26-27 & Rom11:11,12,15,30). As I have to keep repeating, very few if any theologians have grasped what Paul is talking about here, namely that the dispensation of grace to the Gentiles (resulting in eternal life and a glorious inheritance) was unknown to the Old Testament prophets as well as the celestial principalities and powers before it was revealed through St Paul. [Some may have grasped that much but not the wondrous providential implications of the fact that fulness of salvation resulting in eternal life was not “Plan A” for non-Jews in the current dispensation]. One who at least took a step towards grasping the matter was St John Chrysostom (AD349-407). Chrysostom utilized the Alexandrian NU-textual variant “dispensation” for the key verse rather than “fellowship”, and the former equally makes sense in the context. This mysterious or secret dispensation Chrysostom recognized had not simply “come to pass” but had now been manifested through the establishment of the Church2. He goes on to write in his commentary:

“For this is the gospel: ‘It is He that shall save His people’ – but (note) not a word about the Gentiles. That which concerns the Gentiles the Spirit reveals; that they were called indeed the angels knew, but that it was the same privileges as Israel, yea, even to sit upon the throne of God, who would ever have expected this? Who would ever have believed it? – (for it had) been hidden in God 3

And by “hidden in God”, Chrysostom was referring to the Father, as does Paul. The apostle’s references to God always and only refer to the Father (cf. 1Cor11:3)– which brings me to the third point.

The monarchical status of God the Father

 “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority (Acts1:7NASB)

I mentioned Paul’s insistence on the Father’s monarchical status, but of course Christ Himself insists upon it in this verse, Jn14:28 and especially in our context Mk13:32). Likewise, none of the apostolic writers deny the fact that there is but one God, the Father, of Whom are all things, and one Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom are all things (1Cor8:6). Many of the ante-Nicene Fathers were later judged to have “tended to subordinationism”; rather I suggest they were being faithful to Scripture and reflecting the Tradition that the churches had more recently received in person from the apostles. I have made a point of utilizing only the language of Scripture when referring to God, His Son and Spirit. Hopefully, my recent post on John chapter 1 made it abundantly clear that I acknowledge Jesus Christ, unlike any other man, to be utterly divine, the One through Whom all things were created.

Nevertheless, to grasp concepts relating to the “secret plan hidden in God from the previous age” (and indeed FROM all pre-Pauline prophets e.g. Mt10:23) it is essential to acknowledge the monarchical status of the Father,  and especially His Son’s insistence that His Father alone orders the timing and duration of the epochs.


1. Textual variant in original manuscripts οἰκονομία=administration or dispensation rather than κοινωνία=fellowship. For example, NKJV translates as “fellowship”, NASB as administration

2. Chrysostom’s Homily VI and VII on Ephesians covering Eph3:5-11)

 3.  Chrysostom’s Homily VII on Eph3:8-11 (my highlighting)


So, when (the disciples) had come together, they were asking (Jesus), saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority(Acts1:6-7)

And so to Acts, and here is another short, relatively obscure piece of biblical narrative that is packed with theological implication – all of it vital to understanding God’s Plan of Loving Goodness set out in the Little Book of Providence (free PDF HERE)

There are three significant points, the two from verse 7 I will leave till the next post. In verse 6, Jesus’ closest disciples rightly understood that a part of God’s plan was to “restore the Kingdom to Israel”. This alludes to a key aspect of what I have been endeavouring to communicate, namely that  the Kingdom of God (or in Matthew’s language “the Kingdom of Heaven”) that Christian disciples enter upon has nothing to do with who is going to heaven when they die but is the establishment of a new order on Earth run on heavenly principles. That Kingdom is being inaugurated in the present age but will not be fully established until Christ returns in glory. In terms of the disciples’ query Paul would later disclose that it had been determined that many Jewish hearts would be hardened to the gospel until the full complement of Gentiles elected to the Kingdom had been recruited (Rom11:25-26).

The disciples had also rightly understood that Old Testament prophecy indicated that God’s chosen race of Israel who had been tutored by the Law and perfected by a Messiah sent specifically to minister to them (Mt15:24; cf. Mt10:5-7) were the ones being prepared for royal service within God’s Kingdom. The Old Testament prophets had foretold that it would be the  Jews who would lead the rest of the world into a knowledge of the Truth so that they might become citizens of the new, divinely ordered society: “ Many Gentiles “would come to Israel’s light and their kings to the brightness of her rising (Is60:3). At such a time “ten men from different nations will grasp the garment of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you (Zech8:23). Such was the expectation but as Jesus had warned “the kingdom of God will be taken from you (Jews) and given to a “nation” bearing the fruits of it (Mt21:33-43NKJV). That “nation” would be the universal Church. As Paul would affirm, that was entirely new revelation “hidden in God” from the previous age (Col1:26-27). A universal church rather than the Jewish nation was to become the “royal priesthood of God” (1Pet2:9 cf. Ex19:6).

Once such a context for the Christian elect and the Jews as God’s chosen nation before them has been grasped it will be appreciated that such are not an exclusive remnant to be delivered from Hell as so many have believed, but God’s human agents of healing for the world. As for the age to come, Jesus’ faithful disciples shall as a corporate entity be married to the Lord of Glory. But as is typical of the human ceremony that prefigures it, a vast many more guests shall also be invited to the Wedding. Then, having praised God for His benevolence and His Son’s saving work on their behalf, those guests will rejoice to be citizens of the Kingdom prepared for all who have shown they are capable of loving God and their fellow man. That will have been evinced by the love and compassion they unwittingly had shown in their earthly life to Jesus as Son of Man, representing as He did, the neediest of their brethren (Mt25:37-40).


And this is eternal life, that they might know You the only true God and Jesus Christ whom You have sent (John17:3) 

As considered in earlier posts, refences to “death” in the New Testament particularly by Paul rarely if ever refers to “damnation” or even physical mortality, but to an absence of what is being considered in this post: αἰώνιος ζωὴ.  That is usually translated as “eternal life”, which likewise is NOT referring to “going to Heaven when you die” as has traditionally been understood. The Bible Gateway provides the following helpful comments regarding what first century Greek writers (such as the apostles) would mean by αἰώνιος:

“aiṓnios does NOT focus on the future per se, but rather on the quality of the age it relates to. Thus, believers live in “eternal life” right now, experiencing this quality of God’s life now as a present possession. (Note the Greek present tense of having eternal life in Jn 3:36, 5:24, 6:47; cf. Ro 6:23.)]”

[Bible Gateway HELPS word studies – my highlighting]

In other words, references to “eternal life” or “life” in the New Testament relate to a present experience of Life with a capital “L” as a result of being in a living relationship with God through a personal knowledge of Jesus Christ, as should be clear from our featured verse (Jn17:3).  Note also the following references:

 “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has (present tense) eternal life, and (also) I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn6:54)

And: “No murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1Jn3:15)

These also confirm that eternal life (literally age-life) is something to be experienced now. It should be noted that even the sinless Saviour asserted that He “lived by the Father” (Jn6:57) in the same way “those who eat Me shall live by Me (same verse).  That should make clear that “eternal life” as Jesus, Paul and others speak of it cannot refer to avoiding perdition or going to Heaven  for these were hardly issues for Jesus Himself, yet even Helived by the Father”. It relates to a present empowering relationship with the divine; “death” being the deprivation of such. Similarly when Jesus says of those who hear His voice and follow Him: “I give to them αἰώνιος ζωὴ and they shall never perish”, He is not being tautological (unnecessarily repetitive): Life pertaining to the age, which the Christian possess but others do not, is one thing; “never perishing” i.e. living forever is another, albeit the one results in the other. Such an understanding will be important when we get to Acts and Paul’s revelation concerning the Gentiles’  unexpected inheritance and the fact that they also were to receive “eternal life”, which was something of a surprise even to the Apostle Peter:  

I (Peter) realized then that God was giving (the Gentiles) the identical gift He gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ; and who was I to stand in God’s way? This account satisfied them, and they gave glory to God, saying “God has clearly granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life (Acts11:17-10)

It pertains to the fellowship of the secret (plan) hidden in God (cf. Eph3:9), being the subject of my first book, some recent blogs with more to follow shortly.


Show us the Father and it will suffice us”, pleaded Philip. “Have I been with you so long and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John14:9).

This is yet another statement of Jesus recorded by John that knocks some traditional theological assumptions on their head – namely the notion epitomized by the likes of Augustine and Calvin that God’s nature is incomprehensible to human reason. Such gentlemen needed to assert as much to support their version of the Good News, namely that to pay for Adam’s disobedience, God determined that the majority of human souls should be destined for eternal misery, apart from the proportionally few who would be enabled to apprehend God’s mercy as it is to be found in Christ. Apart from making “εὐαγγέλιον” (Good News) something of a misnomer, such a narrow and fatalistic narrative needed to be squared with the biblical assertion that the Creator is Love personified (1Jn4:8), a God who describes Himself as tender and compassionate (Ex34:6). To reconcile such, God’s qualities of love, justice and compassion would need to be radically different in nature from our own, or indeed how such qualities are defined in Scripture (e.g. 1Cor13:4). To say that God is love personified but that in the context of the Godhead, “love” means something quite different is surely perverse, but it is the only way such theology can be made to work.

For the psalmist proclaims,All the earth shall worship You and shall sing unto You; they shall sing to Your glorious name” (Ps66:4). The likes of Augustine, Calvin and Luther have ensured that such could never happen. They assert instead that human beings are unable to worship the God of the Bible as they perceive Him because of the depth of their innate depravity and the sheer unknowability of the divine nature. Truly, this distorts both the munificence of the Creator and the underlying goodness of those made in His image.  Such long-held misconceptions will turn bitter in the stomach once the sweetness of God’s true providential intentions has been sampled by the many (cf. Rev10:10).

So, briefly, how does this statement of Jesus support the points made above? Paraphrasing the dialogue a little: “Lord, we have got to know You and we love You with all our hearts – but we need to see and understand the Father so that we may love Him with all our strength as the first commandment requires  us to do”. “Oh Philip, Philip –Have I not been with you these past three years – truly I tell you: if you have seen Me you have seen the Father”.    The key point is that in responding to Philip Jesus is referring to His person and nature as revealed during His earthly ministry. He is indicating that the incarnated Jesus and His Father have the same nature. For Jesus had never been the “compassionate face of God”, He was the very image (eikon) of God: the incarnate Word. The Son did not die to save us from His Father, as effectively these medieval theologies infer. As considered in the previous post Jesus died as a sacrifice for sin and to save us from Satan’s control as well as from the malign influence of the intellectual vessel that the soul inhabits whilst in mortal flesh (Rom7:24-25; 1Thes4:4).

Of course, the Father dwells in a “light that no man can approach, whom no man has seen nor can see” (1Tim6:16). Yet man can know communion with the Godhead even now through the Son and the Spirit who are equally holy yet communicable. Apart from which man’s destiny is not to be “lost in God” but to resume his existence as a physical entity in union with the Man who is God’s true Son. “For in Him dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily and (man) is complete in Him – the Head of all principality and power” (Col2:9-10).

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Exploring the mystery of divine providence