LUKE 16 – THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS

Lazarus comforted by dogs

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

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

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

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

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

The Law and the Prophets

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

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

THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP

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 it29 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*.

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LUKE13 – THE PERFECTING OF JESUS

King Herod “the fox”

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

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

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

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

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

Lk13 SICKNESS & DEATH -SATAN’S DOMAIN

The anatomy of a virus

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

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

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

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

LUKE 11 – THE PHARISEES’ HYPOCRISY

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

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

Giving alms to cleanse the soul

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

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

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JONAH – RELUCTANT PROPHET; SOUND THEOLOGIAN

]

“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; “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

MICAH 4 – ISRAEL’S INTENDED ROLE AS LIGHT OF THE WORLD AFFIRMED


Emblem of Israel

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.
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.
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.
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).

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Related posts: Restoring  the kingdom to Israel  &  Isaiah: all to be well for Israel  &  Solomon's prayer for Israel  &  Israel light of the world  &  Israel light of nations

ISAIAH 53 – THE SUFFERING SERVANT


George F. Handel

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  (Is53:6)

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 sins in 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).

Note

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

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Related post: The good shepherd

ISAIAH CH.9 GOD’S SON HAS COME; HIS EARTHLY REIGN IS AWAITED

Gospel annunciation to the shepherds

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

ISRAEL LIGHT FOR THE GENTILES

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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A book exploring the mystery of divine providence

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