Those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36 Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection [Luke20:35-36]
Proceeding chapter by chapter through the New Testament I have come to perceive that one does not need to rely on Revelation alone to make a case for pre-millennialism. The apocalyptic passage (ch20:5-6) is explicit concerning a millennial age whereas Jesus’ statement in Luke 20 which was in response to the Sadducees’ attempt to trick Jesus concerning resurrection of the dead at the very least implies there will be two resurrections (as earlier did Jn6:44+54). For, says He, those who are “found worthy” will be resurrected at the end of the current age whereas the Bible is clear enough that everyone is to be resurrected at some stage, worthy or not. Likewise, the righteous, says Jesus, will be “worthy of a place in that age” (Greek: kataxiothentes tou ainos ekeinou tuchein), again supporting the case. In view of what I have come to understand concerning “the fellowship pertaining to the secret plan hidden in God” (previous post) it is no surprise I am a pre-millennialist, albeit not a dogmatic one with regard to the future age’s duration or the precise nature of its activity. But it would follow that matters relating to the Jewish apocalypse that the Old Testament assured God’s first-choice nation their Messiah would undertake for them yet have not (and cannot) be fulfilled by the mission of the Church would be accomplished in the age to come, together with yet more profound matters such as the eradication of evil and reconciliation of nations. The latter is quite impossible whilst Satan and his seed hold sway on Earth, which as both Paul and Peter affirm is to be the case in the current age (1Pet5:8, Eph6:12).
Premillennialism was the predominant view of the ante-Nicene Church. Fathers including Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Hippolytus of Rome, Tertullian, Cyprian, Barnabas and Lactantius and by deduction others whom they had instructed or by whom they had been instructed but had not made their position clear in the writings available. Such were supported initially by Augustine of Hippo together with a good number of his contemporaries inside as well as some breakaway groups outside the Church. It was initially Marcion who challenged the consensus in the second century; he was later clearly shown to be a heretic. The other key influences regarding a millennial age being Augustine (who changed his mind) and Origen of Alexandria (who was inclined to a Platonic spiritualism); these colossi of the Western and Eastern Church ensuring that Millenarian views came to be rejected by the fourth century, reinforced one suspects by the conversion of Roman Emperor Constantine which transformed the Church’s perspective with regard to its relationships with the political structures of the world. More background to why the churches came to reject premillennialism can be found HERE but although it is certainly not my top priority I will endeavour to draw out evidence for such a concept as we proceed through the rest of the New Testament.
41 Now as (Jesus) drew near (to Jerusalem), He saw the city and wept over it, 42 saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, 44 and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” (Luke19:41-44NKJV)
The Jews’ two-stage rejection of Jesus and His Kingdom
Confusion has arisen with regard to the implications of the
rejection of Jesus as Messiah by His people in terms of the apparent subversion
of Old Testament prophecy that, to the mystification of many, Paul refers to a
number of times in his epistles. I have utilized one such reference as the title
of my book: that is where the apostle explains that he had been called in order
to “enlighten everyone concerning THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE SECRET (plan)
known only to God who had created all things through Jesus Christ; (this
mystery or secret) having been hidden through the ages from the authorities of Heaven
is brought to light through the Church, so revealing the multi-faceted nature
of God’s wisdom regarding His purpose for the ages which He accomplished in
The passage from Luke 19 quoted at the top of this post relates to the first of two rejections by the Jews of their Messiah resulting in turn in two subversions to Old Testament prophecy. Paul refers to it as “the mystery (or secret) that has been hidden through the ages even from the authorities of Heaven (Eph3:9). The first subversion is recognized by Christendom but not Jewry whilst the second has not really been understood by either, being the fellowship of the secret; initial incredulity for Christendom, potential Good News for Jewry and great news for the world. I endeavour to unpack what I mean by that statement in my book and little by little within these posts.
As I pointed out in an earlier post, many ordinary Jewish inhabitants of Jerusalem will have welcomed Jesus to their city but their leaders were indignant and already plotting His downfall. This was the first rejection culminating in the crucifixion, and as Jesus stated (Lk19:42) it put paid to the prophecies indicating that the coming of the Messiah would bring an end to Israel’s political and military problems. The promise of peace and security for Jerusalem, evident in much prophecy including the angelic annunciations concerning the birth of Jesus and John Baptist, would not be secured by Jesus in His earthly lifetime, quite the contrary in fact; worse was to come for Israel in about a generation’s time. We should not be so surprised that historically the Jews have not perceived the crucified Nazarene prophet to be their Messiah – for truly, He did not in any substantive sense fulfil the geopolitical promises anticipated of Him in the Old Testament. But Jesus has just explained why that should be the case, at least as far as the current age is concerned (note Lk24:44), and Paul clarifies the matter for the churches in his Ephesians reference to God’s secret plan that (humanly speaking) resulted from the Jews’ rejection of their Messiah.
But the Jew’s role in the crucifixion of their intended Messiah is not per se what resulted in the rejection of their nation as sole inheritors of the Kingdom that Paul is actually referring to in Ephesians 3 and also Romans 11 (vv11-15). Such is affirmed in Acts where the apostle indicates that even after Pentecost it was still the Jewish people’s “day of visitation” and they were still not appreciating it. Paul gave this warning to certain Jews at Antioch:
So be careful! – or
what the prophets say will happen to you: “Cast your eyes around you mockers;
be amazed and perish! For I am doing
something in your own days that you would never believe if you were told of it”
(Acts13:40,41 New Jerusalem Bible)
Note the warning is about what will or might happen to the Jewish nation, not what already had happened. Their day of visitation did not end when they crucified Christ: that event that Jesus referred to as His other baptism had been both divinely planned and prophesied (Acts2:23; Is53:5); what was shortly to occur was undoubtedly planned or foreknown (by God) but never prophesied; it concerns the secret fellowship (or community partnership) “hidden in God” even from earlier prophets; it concerned the establishment of a universal Church. So the second rejection pertained to the fact that so many Jews refused to acknowledge that the resurrection and the miraculous signs associated with the apostles’ teaching were the vindication of Jesus’s earlier claims. They still rejected His Messiah-ship even now that He had been raised to the highest Heavens and empowered His disciples to work miracles in His name. That, in modern parlance is where they finally blew it. They had already blown the prospect of political peace and security through their rejection of Jesus in His lifetime, now something even more radical was at stake: Kingdom inheritance. The very next Sabbath, these same leaders “filled with jealousy” towards the apostles, just as they had been toward Jesus used blasphemies to contradict everything Paul said (v45), which prompted the apostle to add this:
We had to proclaim the
word of God to you (Jews) first, but since you have rejected it, (i.e. the apostle’s message)
since you do not think yourselves worthy
of eternal life, here and now we turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the
Lord commanded us to do when He said “I have made you (Israel) a light to the
nations, so that my salvation may reach the remotest parts of the world”
The prophecy from which Paul quotes (Is49) declares Israel
to be God’s servant, through whom He would manifest His glory (v3) and by whom
He would bring saving enlightenment to the whole world (v6). They as His chosen
people and future heirs of the world (cf. Rom4:13,14) would have come to know
“eternal life”, i.e. an intimate relationship with God and life of an eternal
quality (Jn17:3) through sanctification in Christ blood (Zech13:1); but as the same
prophet foretold this had been prophetically linked with the restoration and
liberation of their nation and holy city through the direct intervention of a
returning messiah, who as well as residing with his people would act as judge
and arbitrator with opposing nations (Is2:4; Mic4:3.) Now, says Paul, as a
result of their rejection, the universal enlightenment would go ahead without
them by means of a newly formed universal assembly founded by their Messiah and
His apostles, none of whom had been drawn from the ranks of the Jewish sacral
hierarchy. Although it is only briefly alluded to in Scripture, the longed-for
national liberation and the re-instatement of Israel to “the Kingdom” would now
have to wait (Acts1:6). After issuing this warning, Paul and Barnabas
symbolically shook the dust from off their feet as they left Antioch (13:51),
just as the disciples had done to towns and homes that rejected the “gospel of
the Kingdom” preached during Christ’s earthly ministry. Shortly afterwards at
Corinth, preaching as usual in the synagogue, certain Jews “turned against
(Paul) and started to insult him”. Paul took his cloak and shook it out in
front of them, saying:
“Your blood be on your
own heads; from now on I will go to the Gentiles with a clear conscience” (Acts18:6 New Jerusalem Bible).
One is bound to ask why Paul’s conscience would not have been clear (literally: clean) if he had brought this gospel to the Gentiles and the Jews hadn’t rejected his message: wasn’t his message of salvation intended for all? Well, yes and no: “for as a result of the Jews’ rejection, salvation has come to the Gentiles to provoke them to jealousy” (cf. Rom11:11). I had previously understood this to be merely a question of order, but there would no logical reason for such if the privileges of Kingdom service and the eternal life pertaining to it were from the time of Pentecost being offered to the world; apart from which the apostles would have been quite clear in their minds about the matter, which they certainly were not, with the obvious exception of the lately-commissioned Saul of Tarsus. Apart from which, Paul writing to the Romans is adamant: salvation came to the Gentiles as a result of the Jews’ rejection; it was not a question of protocol or order. For as I am seeking to explain there is salvation and there is SALVATION. The latter was earmarked for the Jews alone in Old Testament prophecy but was to be made available to the nations through Paul’s revelation of what in short-hand I refer to as “the fellowship of the secret”. “Salvation” as foretold for the Gentile nations meant one would be enlightened, pardoned in the name of Jesus if one acknowledged Him as Lord, leading to acceptance as a subject in God’s Kingdom, for all who call on the name of the Lord would be saved (i.e. spared perdition). SALVATION on the other hand was to be born again by water and Spirit, delivered from corruption by means of sanctification in the blood appointed for sprinkling provided through Calvary (Heb12:24 cf. Greek) resulting in interior communion with Christ, eternal life, participation in God’s royal priesthood and a joint-inheritance with the Son of God, no-less. Once this mystery is grasped it has wondrous implications to broader providence. This is explained more fully in my book*, along with how such a concept can be reconciled with the rest of the Bible’s teaching.
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).
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
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.
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 would be 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 weigh up the cost of discipleship and 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 that aligns with Scripture’s insistence that God intends to reconcile all redeemable humanity to Himself is set out in my book*.
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
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.
“Why should I (the Lord) not be concerned for Nineveh, the great city, in which are more than 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, to say nothing of all the animals? (the concluding verse of Jonah – 4:11New Jerusalem Bible)
“I knew this would happen”, complained Jonah the prophet after Israel’s enemy had been spared; “I knew You were a tender, compassionate God, slow to anger rich in faithful love, who relents about inflicting disaster. I’m so miserable I just want to die” (cf. Jon4:2,3). Unlike certain revered Christian theologians, Jonah understood the nature of his God very well: compassionate to all, tender hearted, slow to anger, and from Jonah’s perspective disturbingly likely to show mercy towards the ignorant and irreligious Ninevites whom God recognised “could not tell their right hand from their left” – providing of course they repented. Much to the prophet’s chagrin, they did just that. Jonah had feared as much from the start, which is ultimately why he found himself in the belly of a whale. Fanciful as the narrative may sound it received affirmation of the highest order in the gospels by Jesus, no less (Mt12:39-41).
The God Jonah so accurately describes is the One I have come to know in recent years, especially since the encounter with the Spirit that led to the book** that these posts seek to complement by drawing out sequentially from the Old Testament indicators of God’s thoroughly intelligible and loving nature, equitable justice and munificent providence. It is all so different from the God I first encountered 50 years ago as a young and zealously “Reformed” Evangelical – the God of Augustine, Luther and Calvin. Awesome and dreadful though such a God was, He could not from any human perspective (however enlightened) be regarded as tender and loving BY NATURE or fair to all; rather (I then understood) He was merciful and exceedingly gracious towards the proportional few; the majority being understood to be destined at birth for eternal misery, in Augustine’s words “to demonstrate what should have been due to all”. I have been shown that such cosmic horror has nothing whatsoever to do with the Gospel (cf. Lk2:10); nor indeed has the equally unbiblical concept that all will be well for everyone, as I make clear in my book and earlier posts with regard to those (from my life experience the minority) who go in the way of Cain and become devoid of that marker which defines those who retain the image of God, being agape (Mt25:45; 1Jn4:7).
The key point from this particular post is that the true God of Israel has precisely the nature that Jonah depicts, but whilst the prophet for over-zealously patriotic reasons was inclined to be miserable about it, I for one am thankful and delighted. So should all people of good will be, especially those privileged and challenged to be called into the service of His Son, “to whom God has made known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col1:27; cf. Jn6:56).
**The Little Book of Providence – free PDF available HERE
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).
OT prophecy subverted
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).
An example from Micah 4
And here is such an example: typical of Old Testament prophecy concerning the restoration of the world through Israel is set out in Micah 4, 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 last days 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 –Micah 4 vv1-4
God’s Israel project
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, 25).
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