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)
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).
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.
This series of posts is intended to complement what I have set out in my book “The Fellowship of the Secret”, the title being an abbreviated form of “the fellowship pertaining to the secret (plan) or mystery hidden in God through the ages” (cf. Eph3:9). That secret plan was somewhat inscrutably revealed by the apostle Paul, appropriately so for it concerned the reason for his calling as thirteenth apostle (Matthias having replaced Judas as #12 by Peter who it should be noted had no real understanding of God’s purposes for the Gentiles until he received a personal revelation – Acts11:5-9;17-18). It was a secret or mystery (Greek: musterion) that pertained to the reconstitution of God’s “Holy Nation” by the establishment of a world-wide Church; something that was a revelation even to the authorities of Heaven (Eph3:10).
The enactment of this hidden strategy effectively subverted Old Testament prophecy, impacting also upon the interpretation of Jesus’ prophetic statements within the “Olivet discourse” (cf. Mt24). It not only explains why the gospel/church age has taken the intricate and protracted course that it has but also why Old Testament prophecy has tended to be interpreted in such an allegorized and spiritualized rather than literal sense. Paul’s intimations are more explicitly affirmed in Romans chapter11, verses11, 12, 15 and 30, but these have typically been taken to be another example of “Paul being Paul” rather than the possibility that he might mean exactly what he wrote concerning gospel salvation being made available to the Gentiles as a result of the Jewish rejection of their Christ. He had warned his fellow Jews in Antioch:
We had to proclaim the Word of God to you first, but since you have rejected it, since you do not think yourselves worthy of eternal life, here and now we turn to the Gentiles (Acts13:46NJB)
The key word being “it” – i.e. Paul was not about to entrust this stupendous invitation to the Gentiles because the Jews had crucified Christ but because they were rejecting the apostles’ message concerning the matter. The crucifixion had been foretold in scriptural prophecy and it led to the Jewish nation forfeiting its promised political peace and security as Jesus had told them (Lk19:42-44NKJV). However, their negative response to the message concerning the risen, ascended Christ had not been foretold and resulted in their forfeiting their status as sole inheritors of the Kingdom.
This is just one of a number of areas in which the great apostle has historically been misunderstood by the Church, which I now understand to be in accordance with the path of discovery set for her. It does not directly affect the ability of the true Apostolic Church to have fulfilled her gospel mission throughout her history; it has however impacted negatively upon her understanding (and therefore teaching) concerning broader providence, i.e. how God regards and will ultimately deal with the vast majority of people who are not a part of that “holy nation and royal priesthood” which is Israel and the Church (Ex19:5, 6 cf. 1Pet2:9).
And here is such an example: typical of
Old Testament prophecy concerning the restoration of the world through Israel
is set out in Micah, a contemporary of Isaiah whose prophecy of a future
earthly reign of Yahweh shares some of the same imagery (cf. Is2:1-4)
And it will come about in the
That the mountain of the house of the Lord
Will be established [a]as the chief of the mountains.
It will be raised above the hills,
And the peoples will stream to it. 2 Many nations will come and say,
“Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord
And to the house of the God of Jacob,
That He may teach us about His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.”
For from Zion will go forth the law,
Even the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 3 And He will judge between many peoples
And render decisions for mighty, [b]distant nations.
Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
And never again will they [c]train for war. 4 Each of them will sit under his vine
And under his fig tree,
With no one to make them afraid,
For the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken [Micah4:1-4NASB]
Such was God’s Israel Project: to
establish a holy nation of kings and priests amongst whom He would personally
reside, initially through His spiritual Presence in the Ark, later through the
physical presence of His Son Emmanuel (God with us). The nations who had
oppressed His people were to be judged, but as outlined in Joel, the Spirit
would be poured out and the good news of the kingdom proclaimed as a witness to
all nations before the final judgement came (Mt24:14). Many Gentiles would come
to Israel’s light and kings to the brightness of her rising (Is60:3NKJV). That
Israel Project was effectively aborted or more strictly deferred as a result of
“the fellowship of the secret”. In Paul’s language, Gentiles were to be grafted
into the good olive tree that is Israel AGAINST THEIR NATURE so as to put the
natural branches to shame and make them jealous (Rom11:11). Yet, Paul affirms,
this is to be a temporary state of affairs, albeit one having lasted a couple
of thousand years to date. It must continue a little longer until the full
complement of Gentiles chosen for the Kingdom has been recruited (Rom11:15,
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to
his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all
Once again Handel’s glorious Messiah echoes through my mind as I contemplate this passage, albeit that the identity of the suffering servant in Isaiah is by no means clear-cut. In Is49:3 I take it to be referring to Israel (as does Paul in Acts13:47) whereas in chapter 53 it would appear valid to associate the reference more definitively with our Lord, both in view of the content of the narrative itself and its utilization by Philip in his witnessing to the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts8:32-33. On that basis this prophecy from an individual’s perspective is the very heart of the Gospel; the good news that “The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal2:20).
Only the Christian will make such an assertion, yet when one pays careful attention to the text of the New Testament one is struck by the fact that Jesus is consistently described as dying as an offering for sin rather than particular individuals. He became sin for us (2Cor5:21); He gave Himself for our sin (Gal1:4); He bore our sinsin His own body on the tree (1Pet2:24); He suffered once for sins (1Pet3:18); the iniquity of us all was laid upon Him (Is53:6). In other words, Scripture presents the matter in terms of sin being punished in Jesus; not the sins of specific individuals or groupings – a statement which I shall shortly qualify.
The need for Christ’s Atonement
By an eternal decree there can be no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood (Heb9:22) and Jesus as God’s Suffering Servant more than satisfied the penalty owed by human sin. He bled and died for the sins of humanity so as to satisfy God’s own eternal Law of Righteousness. Yet that once-for-all atonement per se neither establishes “eternal life” nor abolishes physical death within any universal exchange because that historical event was never intended to rectify the nature of the vessel transmitted from our first parents that the human soul/spirit is to inhabit – what Paul quite deliberately refers to as “somatos tou thanatou toutou” – the body of this death.
It is evident that our sovereign God was quite content that human souls would inhabit such a corrupted vessel or he would have destroyed Adam and Eve at Eden – (they had been warned). Instead He continued to utilize this shamed couple as the procreative fountain-head for humanity (cf. Rom8:20). The fact that the Creator chose this course of action was an astounding act of love on His part (in view of the consequences for the Godhead) but unless you accept what I have been indicating in earlier posts, few reading this will currently see it that way – firstly in view of the resulting deeply troubled human history, and secondly in light of their understanding of the eternal fate of those not of the Christian Faith.
For it is surely a substantial majority that has not been willing or suitably enlightened to be discipled by Christ – to “lose their life in order to find Life” (Mt16:25), putting service to Christ and others first and second in their life. It is a small minority indeed who as the called, faithful and chosen, suffer with Christ in order to be glorified with Him as co-heirs of God’s Kingdom (Rom8:17 cf. Greek). For whilst all people of good will may be justified by an underlying “faith” (evinced by compassion Mt25) through the merits of Christ’s faithfulness [note a] , only the Christian can currently participate in the Life of God (Jn6:54-57) through a mystical communion with His Son.
The two-fold benefits of the Atonement
Making such a distinction between the forensic (pardoning) benefits of the Cross applying to the many and the participatory (cleansing and empowering) benefits applying to the proportionate few who dwell in Christ and He in them (Jn6:56) becomes essential if one is to do justice to God’s magnanimous Plan for the human race without compromising the role of Gospel, Church or Sacrament. For it can still be affirmed that all human salvation has been made possible by Christ’s atoning death, which continues to provide life for the world and individual cleansing for sin (Jn6:51; 1Jn1:7).
a] (Greek: “ek pisteos christou” e.g Rom3:22; Gal2:16; Gal3:22), which more theologians and the more recent bible translators are recognising needs to be distinguished from cognisant faith in Christ (pisteos en Christo e.g. Gal3:26 ) This pivotal distinction is elaborated upon in chapter 3 of my book = a free PDF of which is available HERE
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder. And his name will be called wonderful, counsellor, mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over his kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice, from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. [Isaiah9:5-6NKJV]
A favourite Christmas reading for sure, for most would agree the child referred to is Jesus the Christ. In that sense it might be considered the archetypal Old Testament prophecy – yet it has been quite subverted. It is not that the promised events (Christ’s earthly reign and the defeat of evil) will not occur, they surely will, for “the zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” – but not in the order or sequence stipulated, nor with the expected supporting cast.
This is the mystery of God, His not-so-little
secret (cf. Rev10). This is how Paul explains it, which virtually no one has grasped,
including myself for the first 40 years of my Christian life:
“Unto me (Paul), who is the most inferior of all the saints, was this grace granted that I should preach among the (Gentile) nations, the unsearchable riches of Christ to enlighten all regarding the fellowship of the secret* (plan) hidden in God (the Father) through the ages, who created all things through Jesus Christ – that on account of the Church should now be made known to the sovereignties and authorities in the heavens, the multi-faceted nature of God’s wisdom according to the purpose of the ages made in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph3:8-11 from Greek).
Once Paul’s meaning is grasped everything can fall into place, providing one goes on rightly to interpret the rest of the apostle’s teaching regarding the role of the Law, the economy of grace, the context of justification and the psychological dualism between flesh and spirit that results from the disparate immediate origins of the physical and spiritual components of the human species (separated at death) as a result of the Fall (cf. Rom7:17-25).
I know how some of this is likely to sound to conservative Christians (I was a staunch Calvinist for 25 years), but such a reading resolves many tensions and mysteries within Scripture, the three primary ones being the disparity between OT prophecy and NT reality, and the correspondence between God’s compassionate and equitable nature as the Bible presents it and traditionally perceived eschatology. Thirdly it offers an explanation for evil and suffering as grist to prepare mankind for the glorious destiny and future offices God has in store for those created in His own image, more especially and immediately to faithful disciples of His Son. Having been predestined to be conformed to His image (Rom8:29), it is fitting that His joint-heirs should be perfected through suffering (Heb2:10; cf. 2Tim2:12). Such people long for Christ’s appearing, when He shall in a more substantive sense execute His reign – “to order it and establish it with judgment and justice” within a new heaven and a renewed Earth.
*The phrase from which the title of my book is taken: a free PDF is available HERE
“Parents may not be put to death for their children nor children for their parents, but each must be put to death for his own crime” (Deut24:16)
The Torah is not man’s law but God’s and certain universal principles may be drawn from it. We have already considered the proportional and humanity-focused nature of final judgement; here we see that neither guilt nor righteousness can in its essence be transferred from one person (or Person) to another. That is more clearly and contextually affirmed in Christ’s own teaching on final judgement in Matthew 25. Contrary to the teaching of Augustine and the later Protestant Reformers neither was Adam’s guilt nor Christ’s righteousness imputed in that definitive passage, merely the actions of the individuals being judged (vv31-46). Many will struggle to reconcile that with their particular understanding of the teaching of Paul, a matter I deal with in detail in chapter three of my book**.
The above is not to say that Adam’s guilt and Christ’s perfection do not impact upon humanity; nothing could be further from the truth. The former has resulted in an inherent deprivation of spiritual life and physical mortality whilst the Latter provides the ultimate remedy for both, not as a direct result of the Life itself but through its expenditure. Likewise, Adam’s guilt was not imputed to mankind but it resulted in “original sin” by which each human invariably inherits what Paul refers to as “the body of this death” (Greek: somatos tou thanatou toutou) – this death being the current experience of the concupiscent “law within the bodily members” processed through the physical brain revolting against the law (and light) that God has implanted within the human psyche that we refer to as conscience (Rom2:15; 7:23). That in turn results in “dead works” of the flesh that prevent the natural man from fulfilling the ultimate purpose of human life: to know and serve the living God in spirit and truth (Heb9.14). Likewise again, the perfect life, selfless death and sacramental body and blood of the Righteous One enables His personal disciples to be forgiven, cleansed and renewed so as to become “free indeed” to participate in the divine life even whilst in mortal flesh (Jn8:36).
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As far as the Old Testament age was concerned, the race of Israel was intended to have been a light to the Gentile nations, living as a holy nation faithful to Yahweh, whose name and Law would become honoured amongst other nations:
“Look, as Yahweh my God commanded me (Moses), I have taught you laws and customs for you to observe in the country in which you are to take possession. Keep them and put them into practice and other peoples will admire your wisdom and prudence. Once they know what all these laws are, they will exclaim “No other people is as wise and prudent as this great nation (Israel)” (Deut4:5,6).
Some readers will be aghast at Moses’ statement: the Law (Torah) actually to be practiced so that the world would come to admire Israel and her Law??. Yes indeed, that was the intention. The witness of Israel being faithful to the Law provided through Moses was meant to have been a light for the gentiles: the rest of the world’s “preparation for the Gospel” i.e. their future submission to the Lordship of King Jesus when He eventually came to do exactly what John Baptist expected Him to do: destroy the enemies and oppressors of God’s people and judge the whole world, i.e. put it to rights. Then, supported by the Jewish Nation (the sons of the Kingdom – Mt8:12), He would establish God’s Kingdom on Earth, reconciling other nations to God and each other by inculcating a way of peace along the lines of Isaiah2:4.
It didn’t pan out that way and St Paul explains why (if only he were understood). It’s not the Old Testament being hyper-allegorical, it’s the outworking of Paul’s revelation – the mystery concerning God’s plans for the Gentile nations that I set out in chapter one of The Little Book of Providence – available at the links below:
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Wherever in scripture punishment for human sin is quantified, it is typically specified at double the offence; a principle applied quite literally in the Law of Moses for all manner of theft (e.g. Ex22:4,7,9). Likewise in the Prophets, God’s rebellious people are said to pay double for their sins (Is40:2, Jer16:18) as at the universal level do the wicked (Jer17:18, Rev18:6). “Double” need not be taken literally in the latter cases but it is indicative of proportional punishment, which by definition must be finte, for nX≠∞ (where n is the multiple and X is the offence). Even so, thinking back through human history and applying such a principle it is no surprise that Jesus said of a few: “it had been better for them if they had never been born”, especially those who through megalomania or merciless psychopathy have brought untold misery to numerous lives, for they will pay a heavy price. They will not suffer because of any deficiency or “limit” to Christ’s atonement; nor, it should be noted, is final punishment presented in the gospels in terms of offences against God but against humanity (Mt25:41-46). Why? – because God makes full allowance for ignorance; man’s knowledge of the Divine Glory is at the very best incomplete, especially for the majority who have not received a faithful account of the Gospel. But there is less excuse with regard to dealings with our fellow man, for the requirement to be caring and compassionate is intuitive (Mt25 again), being discerned through the faculty of conscience, by which (to the astonishment of many) Paul asserts that many without the Law do, however feebly, the one thing required to fulfil its purpose (Rom2:14,15; Rom13:8; Gal5:14).
One can take it from Christ Himself that punishment will be proportional. Human sin will be dealt with in accordance with the criteria stipulated by the Judge who is Himself a Man (Jn5:22), applying standards that could hardly be fairer (Mt6:14; 7:2). Of course, with our God there is forgiveness a plenty, but retributive post-mortem proportional punishment and exclusion from the blessings of God’s future Kingdom for some is a biblically inescapable reality [note 1]. It will be seen to be right and just and indeed necessary, once a new heaven and earth is established under Christ with His saints, in which righteousness shall dwell (2Pet3:13).
Note 1: References in the New Testament to punishment being “eternal” are derived from English and Latin translations of the Greek word “aionos” (Strong’s G166) which means age-enduring. For example, according to Revelation the Beast and False Prophet shall be punished for longer “aionas ton aionon (literally “ages of ages” or multiple ages -Rev20:10). All this is considered in more detail in my book, The Little Book of Providence:
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I am in the process of working through the Old Testament and highlighting the areas where God’s broader providence is indicated but not generally perceived. In doing so I must not fall into the typical proof-texting trap of being selective – drawing on the passages that support the emphasis I am endeavouring to put across whilst ignoring narratives that might appear to contradict the fundamental principles I wish to impart, being that God is Love personified and is impartial and fair to all. In Paul’s language, when it comes to judgement, God is “no respecter of persons” in spite of what he might appear to be writing in Romans 9 with regard to Isaac and Rebecca’s twin boys. Frankly, the apostle’s own proof-texting in verse 13, dare I say it, is somewhat inventive – he is taking Malachi out of context. [If the apostle actually understood himself to be “composing scripture” rather than preparing pastoral letters, I’m sure he would have given more consideration to how his words were likely to be interpreted centuries later – likewise verse 16, so beloved by Augustinians and Calvinists]. Here Paul is quoting from Malachi where God speaking through the prophet declares that although Esau, patriarch of Edom was Isaac (Israel’s) brother he hated Esau (i.e. Edom) BECAUSE HE WAS INDIGNANT AT THAT NATION’S WICKEDNESS (1:4). But Paul uses that quote to imply that God hated the hairy little infant in Rebecca’s womb even before it was born. That indeed may have been the case in view of God’s foreknowledge of his character though the context of Malachi was the wickedness of the nation that would be Esau’s inheritance as the prophet makes clear.
The point Paul wished to impart was that God’s choice, i.e. His elective grace was not based on a person’s virtue but His sovereign will. That is absolutely the case, but as I say that was not the aspect that God wished to get across to His people through His prophet in Malachi 1. Yet this principle of election by grace alone does not in the least impugn God’s impartiality or equity providing the nature and purpose of such election is properly understood. God’s choice is not referring to whom is arbitrarily to be delivered from eternal punishment (which as His Son makes quite clear is determined by faith evinced by works of compassion – Mt25); election or predestination pertains to who are to be His chosen nation and royal priesthood, the faithful of whom are destined for betrothal to His own Son. Confusion also arises from Paul’s references in this context to God “showing mercy” to whom He so chooses. Again that is not referring to final judgement (the same general criteria will apply to all albeit allowance is made for ignorance and incapacity); rather the mercy refers to deliverance IN THE PRESENT from “the body of this death” which the Christian alone can experience through the purging of his sin, empowerment to live a holy life and a restored relationship with His Creator providing joy and hope for the future. That is mercy indeed and it is quite underserved on the recipient’s part. It also can pertain (as in Paul’s example of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in Romans 9) to how God chooses to deal with the profoundly wicked or seriously misguided (Saul of Tarsus had been the latter); He may show mercy as in Paul’s case or harden the heart further as with the Pharaoh. But even here, Paul makes the point that God had shown mercy towards him because he did what he did in ignorance (1Tim1:13).
Reviewing the lives and destinies of Jacob and Esau as
individuals, the former was something of a crafty, cheating deceiver whilst the
latter had despised his birth-right and gone on to choose Canaanite brides in
defiance of his parents’ wishes. Yet these two flawed brothers are finally
depicted together (illustration) showing an extraordinary degree of mutual
respect and deference to each other (chapter 33) and later to their father
Isaac (who actually favoured Esau), attending to his burial together as Isaac
and Ishmael had done with their father Abraham.
and Esau’s reconciliation – Rubens (1624) courtesy Wikipedia