John the Baptist

Continuing the review of passages that particularly came to my attention during the writing of The Little Book of Providence** we come to Luke 7:

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

When all the people and the tax collectors heard this (Jesus’ acclamation of His herald), THEY ACKNOWLEDGED GOD’S JUSTICE, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and the lawyers REJECTED GOD’S PURPOSE FOR THEMSELVES, not having been baptized by John [vv29-30]

The Man Christ Jesus was foretold to be “despised and rejected by men” (Is53:3); and so He was ultimately, for as the Lord had observed, His people (i.e. the Jews) were like sheep without a shepherd (Mt9:36). For many of their spiritual leaders were ravenous wolves who succeeded in persuading and cajoling the people who a few days earlier had acclaimed their Messiah’s prophetic entrance into Jerusalem to demand His crucifixion.

As the account in Mark made clearer, the chief priests had handed Jesus over to the Roman authorities out of envy and succeeded in stirring up the crowd to call for Barabbas’ release in His place (Mk15:10-11).   But as the verses from Luke 7 quoted above indicate, the Jewish people were not instinctively hateful or derisory towards either Jesus or His herald John. They had “glorified God” after Jesus resurrected the widow’s son at Nain (v16) and “acknowledged God’s justice” at Jesus’ affirmation of John’s greatness as a prophet (v29).

The Jewish leaders on the other hand being the Pharisees, priests and interpreters of the Law “rejected God’s purpose for themselves“, refusing the baptism of repentance offered to them (v30). That “purpose” would have been to take forward the work of the Kingdom, supporting their Messiah as leaders and teachers of the people, but that same Messiah deemed them unfit for purpose and selected His dozen from amongst artisans, fishermen and tax collectors. Yet Jesus went on to insist that those same leaders were still to be obeyed by the people since “they occupied the seat of Moses”, albeit “Do what they say, not what they do” (Mt23:1-3). This affirmed that Jesus did NOT regard Himself at this point as instigating a new religion or else why would He require the people to whom He was ministering to continue to obey their appointed leaders? (The answer pertains to the subject of my earlier book “the Fellowship of the Secret”, i.e. what Paul was alluding to in Eph3:9-11). And it suggests that even the leaders and people of the true Church must take care that they are not to be snubbed by their Master at His return, observing the sentiments behind the herald’s warning recorded in Matthew3:8-9:

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

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Jesus’ teaching of final judgement is dealt with more definitively in Matthew’s account (chapter 25 – considered a few posts ago). Luke, a companion of Paul [note 1] recorded Jesus as teaching that an individual’s status and suffering during their lifetime is taken into account at Judgement, both in his rendering of the Beatitudes and particularly in what is effectively the only account we have of an individuals’ experience in Hell [2]: the account of the rich man and Lazarus, the text of which requires careful attention (Lk16:19-31). The only stated criterion distinguishing these two men was that one had had a life of ease and comfort whilst the other had been poor and wretched (Lk16:25). It may be deduced (from vv27-31) that the rich man was suffering  because of the way he had utilised his wealth; living wantonly whilst failing to show care and compassion for miserable beggars like Lazarus (with whom Jesus personally identifies – Mt25:45), yet no reason is given at all why Lazarus should be comforted after his death other than that he had experienced a life of poverty and sickness (Lk16:25); thus had he been salted (cf. Mk9:49). The redistributive or compensatory aspects of judgement at death are also emphasised in the letter of James who exhorts the oppressive rich to weep and howl for the miseries that are to come upon them (Ja5:1KJV). It is clear from subsequent verses that he is referring to the MATERIALLY wealthy who obtained their wealth by defrauding and exploiting of the poor. James (as ever) is reflecting the teaching of Christ, who also had a word of warning for the well-to-do:

Alas for you who are rich: you are having your consolation now. Alas for you who have plenty to eat now: you shall go hungry. Alas for you who are laughing now: you shall mourn and weep (Luke chapter6 vv24,25).

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


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

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

[3] A free PDF of The Little Book of Providence can be obtained HERE


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

A children’s chorus comes to mind as I read this passage: “the wise man built his house on the rock”.  But what is the rock? “So build your house on the Lord Jesus Christ” concludes the chorus, but Jesus is NOT here referring to Himself as the rock but His teaching. In this instance He is referring to what WE ARE TO DO not what He has done on our behalf. Hence, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord and not do what I say?  HE WHO HEARS THE LORD’S SAYINGS AND DOES THEM IS THE ONE WHO BUILDS ON THE ROCK (v47).

Such is the obedience of faith and our participation in it. Not (as I once tended to express the matter) “resting in the Saviour’s merits” or “looking to the finished work of Christ and applying it to myself, believing that He died for me” or suchlike. That per se is not what makes a man or woman a Christian. And in terms of our participation –

 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS!’ (Matt7:21-23)

 Such people will have imagined they had built their life on the LJC – His name was ever on their lips and He was at the heart of what they perceived to have been their ministry, yet THEIR hearts were far from Him. That is because they disregarded His teaching – unaware they were expected to fulfil what James refers to as “the royal law” – to love one’s neighbour as oneself (Jam2:8). This may appear to some to contradict the teaching of Paul as they understand it, but as I endeavour to show in my book* such is not the case. Once Paul has been rightly understood both he, James, Peter and the rest will be seen to affirm the teaching of the Master, the spiritual Rock that is indeed the Christ (1Cor10:4).



Zacharias initially refused to believe the angel’s message

 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.  And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless (Luke 1:5,6 NKJV)

Continuing into Luke, I am highlighting verses and passages of the New Testament that particularly came to my attention during the preparation of “The Little Book of Providence” (often because I used to believe quite the opposite of what I now understand them to be indicating!) Here we have an example of an individual or in this case a couple regarded as “righteous” in God’s sight. On what basis were they righteous? – According to Luke it was simply that they had faithfully observed the commandments and ordinances they had received as practicing Jews. But perfect they were not – a few verses later Zacharias was rebuked and punished by Arch-Angel Gabriel for his reluctance to believe the good news concerning his wife’s pregnancy.

 But how does Luke’s description concur with what Paul writes in the opening chapters of Romans, especially 3:10 “As it is written there is none righteous, no not one“, etc?  One should observe that he then he goes on to write in reference to the Jews: “there is no fear of God before their eyes” (3:18). Would anyone believe that Paul considered that no Jewish individual had ever feared God?  Acts13:16,26 confirms the contrary; likewise, Luke’s account of righteous Cornelius before his conversion to Christianity, confirming that his prayers and alms giving had been noted by God (Acts10:2,4,22). The apostle in his letter to the Roman churches had been utilising a typically Jewish literary technique, linking together OT scriptural references, in this case to adduce universal sinfulness, i.e. that both Jew and Gentile were under the reign of sin and fall short of God’s glorious holiness (Rom3:23). He was not intimating that it is in the nature of all people to be godless and hateful so as to act in the depraved manner described in those concatenated excerpts, which themselves need to be examined in context. Rather it refers back to Rom1:18 and his assertion that individuals (not all humanity as some translators’ insertion of a comma intimates) who wilfully suppress the truth God has revealed to them in creed or conscience will come under condemnation.

This is not to deny that Paul is indeed in the business of affirming that to keep the law of God perfectly is quite impossible for fallen man – rather he is to submit to “the righteousness of God”, provided through the faithfulness of Christ [pisteos Iesou Christou – often translated “faith in Christ” – Rom3:22] for the benefit of all (including Cornelius) who even before he knew Christ “believed”, i.e.  feared God and did what he knew to be right (cf. Acts10:35). Such “believers” are justified, not on the basis of their law-keeping or accrual of good works but freely through God’s kindly favour (grace) and the faithfulness of Christ, i.e. by the merits of His atoning death which avails for all the scattered children of God. Such people effectively exercise godly fear when they pay heed to the light of Christ provided through the faculty of conscience, being as Paul himself affirms, the law of God written in the heart (Rom2:15; cf. Jn1:9 Greek). These principles are worked out in a more comprehensive manner in chapter three of the book, a free PDF of which is available HERE.


Jesus debating with the scribes

And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebub,” and, “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.”So (Jesus) called them to Himself and said to them in parables: “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end. No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house.“Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation” because they said, “He has an unclean spirit”. (Mark chapter 3 vv23-30)

According to One who should know, the only sin that will not be forgiven either in this age or the next (cf. Matthew’s account 12:22-32) is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The above passage (last phrase) indicates that that relates to knowing or sensing in one’s heart that something is of God working through the Spirit but asserting it to be wicked or satanic, precisely as these scribes did with regard to Jesus’ miracle which they wished to discredit in order to preserve their own status and traditions.  One may well have challenged the working of the Spirit in ignorance, but what is done in ignorance cannot be the unforgivable sin, which is why even blasphemy against Christ can be forgiven but not what is said against the direct working of the Spirit where that is perceived within the conscience. In such cases the Spirit Himself convicts the person of their error yet they are determined to persist with their accusation.

 In the field of activity that I’m  concerned with, writing and blogging and of necessity challenging some established Christian teaching (and esteemed teachers) as a result of what I believe the Spirit has shown me, I have to be very careful to pay heed to the dictates of conscience before asserting my ideas or challenging others. But so also does anyone determined to defend a particular theological position or tradition against what they sense might in fact be divine light. If they do sense as much, it is because the Spirit affirms it in their mind and conscience, yet they rebel against it. For the unforgivable sin is a form of intransigence being an unwillingness to be persuaded of the truth by any means. Heretics and false prophets can be sincere but simply mistaken or deluded for which they will no doubt be punished for their presumption, but those who directly revile or obstruct the workings of the Spirit are in still greater danger. Such were these scribes and Pharisees who will have known in their hearts that the Saviour’s acts of compassion and miraculous healing were never the devil’s work, but were determined to malign them for their own ends, wilfully speaking evil of the work of the Spirit.

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Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then Jesus, MOVED WITH COMPASSION, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed. And He strictly warned him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (Mark chapter 1 vv41-44NKJV)

The fearsome Augustine had once insisted that charity should be exercised “in serenity” rather than an emotional empathy. Those who were moved by compassion to help others he believed lacked wisdom. He concluded on the matter: “There is no harm in the word ‘compassionate’ providing there is no passion in the case” [A]. Such stoicism is surely misplaced: it is noble enough for an individual to endure misery without complaint but any who remain unmoved by another’s pain or distress show themselves to be inhumane and spiritually dead. Jesus Christ provided the pattern for genuine stoicism: silent resilience in the face of personal suffering and abuse; yet filled with heartfelt (literally bowel-felt) compassion (Greek: splagchnistheis) towards others who were in need, as with the leper in the quoted passage.

 Neither is Jesus merely reflecting  “the human face of God”: YHWE’s character even as it is revealed in the Old Testament exhibits both passion and compassion; the Father’s nature that we are to emulate (Eph5:1) is thoroughly animated in the face of human wickedness, cruelty, injustice, lies and hypocrisy: He does not exhibit a placid, deistic indifference to these matters but is filled with righteous anger, as was often expressed through His prophets (e.g. Jer6:11). Yet equally He is compassionate towards those who fear Him and who suffer through the wickedness of others, promising to punish the latter firmly and proportionately, recompensing the offended at the expense of the offender (cf. Is59:18KJV). Those who are pained by the suffering of others, far from “lacking wisdom” as Augustine asserted rather show themselves to be truly human by reflecting the definitive quality of the divine, being Agape (1Jn4:7,8).

[A] Augustine – “On the morals of the Catholic Church” chap. 27 (para 53)


“Go therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you” hew (Matthew chapter 28 vv19,20)

Such was the great commission: to relay the teaching of Christ to the nations. If any teaching should arise that should appear to contradict His teaching it is to be rejected – it is not the Gospel but heresy. If therefore one imagines the Apostle Paul to be contradicting the moral or juridical teaching of Christ, then that thirteenth apostle’s writings should be rejected; he should be regarded as an infidel. But as my book endeavours to demonstrate, Paul’s teaching does not in any way contradict  the moral teaching of the Master; the way many have interpreted him is another matter. But he is indeed the thirteenth apostle (Matthias replacing Judas as #12) and there is an aspect of Christ’s teaching as received by the twelve which Paul DOES subvert at the risen Christ’s command: matters pertaining to the constitution of the people of God.

In terms of Paul himself, Jesus will not have indicated there were to be thirteen apostles: He opted for twelve for a reason (cf. Mt19:28). Likewise, the Lord had not explicitly taught  that the Gentiles were to receive the same nature of spiritual blessing as the Jews: it was a shock to everyone; not least Peter (Acts11:17,18). All this relates to the subject of my first book: the fellowship pertaining to the secret (plan) hidden in God (the Father) from the previous age (cf. Eph3:9-12). Paul refers to it as “MY gospel”, being the revelation of a mystery which has been kept secret since the world began” (Rom16:25). Or as he wrote to the Colossian church:

The mystery which has been HIDDEN FROM AGES AND GENERATIONS, but now has been revealed to his saints, to whom God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this MYSTERY AMONG THE GENTILES, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col1:26,27NKJV)

Once the full implications of this mystery are grasped, God’s broader providence towards all people of good will may be perceived. Such should bring joy to many without detracting at all from the preaching of the Good News of the Kingdom, concerning which (as Paul has just indicated) those who are to be glorified with Christ are exclusively His disciples: those who suffer with Him, dwell in Him and are indwelt by Him – Christ in you, the hope of glory (cf. Jn6:56; 2Tim2:12).


Separating the sheep from the goats

“In truth I tell you in so far as you did this (act of kindness) to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me” (cf. Matthew chapter 25  vv31-40)

I have come to recognise Jesus’ teaching here to be the definitive passage on final judgement. In the past I regarded it as an almighty fly in the ointment as far as my particular (Reformed) understanding of gospel salvation was concerned. For a start there is no reference to religious faith or practice whatsoever. What’s more it appears to be teaching justification by works. Actually it isn’t as such, but it would take the forty or so pages of chapter three of my book** to explain exactly how that can be the case and also demonstrate that this teaching is not contradicted by Paul or any other contributor to Scripture. It pertains to the context of justification, gospel salvation and the Church within broader benign providence, which is a central theme of “The Little Book of Providence”. So for blogging purposes I’ll just quote a brief passage from the aforementioned chapter three entitled “Faith and Justification” which may give a clue to the solution:

(Regarding the Matthew 25 passage): “ It will appear to some that Jesus is here teaching justification by works. Rather, Matthew25:31-45 is demonstrating justification through faith with reference to works. No mention is made of how consistently or perfectly the “sheep” showed compassion, they just demonstrated they possessed it and were justified by exercising it regardless of measure. They therefore demonstrated they POSSESSED THE QUALITY called faith whose product is agape, being the essence of true humanity. On the other hand, faith alone if it be merely a passive belief, trust or reliance on someone or something is dead if it does not result in positive action. The “sheep” had not been passive; they showed compassion because they had responded positively to their “heart” motivating them to act in such a way out of sympathy, empathy and to be at peace with themselves. Jesus was thereby affirming that final salvation is not all of grace for fruit must be produced, yet it is entirely DEPENDENT on grace since the “sheep” are accepted by exercising the quality called faith, being an innate faculty provided through common grace, rather than having perfectly fulfilled God’s law or lived a sinless life – that would be justification by works. Thus at the universal level justification is granted on the basis of such common faith, being a positive response to conscience (the light of Christ in the spirit) evinced by compassion, through the kindly favour (grace) by which pardon for sin has been granted to all producing the fruit of faith through the all-sufficient merits of Christ’s atonement.

**Free PDF available HERE

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It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” When his disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Then Peter answered and said to him, “see, we have left all and followed you – so what shall we have?” Jesus said to them, “assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the son of man sits on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first [Matthew19:24-30]

The camel and needle analogy was in the context of Jesus’ preceding encounter with the rich young ruler, who though claiming to have been obedient to the Law since his youth (an assertion that Jesus does not directly challenge), he was unwilling to part with his wealth and follow the Master. Clearly the pursuit of wealth, power and prestige in this life is not compatible with Christian discipleship, yet the irony is that those who are prepared to forsake all for Christ and His kingdom are rewarded with privileges of a like nature that they have not directly coveted as well as the spiritual blessing that they HAVE rightly craved: to know and enjoy God for ever.

The twelve were told that when the Son of man came again, a time Jesus referred to as the regeneration or renaissance (Greek: paliggenesia), they themselves would be enthroned and called to exercise judgement (as indeed shall others – 1Cor6:1-4). The material blessings of life that the elect of God are required to forsake are compensated for a hundred-fold.  Whilst the rich, the mighty and the proud are detracted by the shame of the cross of Christ and the demands of humble cruciform service as his disciples, the humble, the gentle, the poor in spirit and in material possessions who are rich in faith will be the true inheritors of the kingdom and the earth.


Israel – intended to be the vineyard of God

“Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.“Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?”They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.”Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing and it is marvellous in our eyes’? “Therefore I say to you, THE KINGDOM OF GOD WILL BE TAKEN FROM YOU AND GIVEN TO A NATION BEARING THE FRUITS OF IT (Matthew 21:33-43NKJV)

A few verses later, Matthew confirms to whom the wicked vinedressers referred – the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day (v45), and in view of their being supplanted by another “nation” (ethnos), by implication Israel as a whole. “The kingdom of God” would be TAKEN FROM them and GIVEN to a “nation” who would bear fruit. Again this is indicative of what Matthew’s references to the Kingdom of God/Heaven actually refer to: not “individuals going to Heaven when they die”  but the establishment of a divinely ordered people subject to and living in accordance with the heavenly principles Jesus had been outlining; not exclusively for their own benefit but so as to be a blessing for the whole world. The Old Testament had consistently foretold that privileged role to be Israel’s, described by Isaiah as God’s beloved vineyard (Is5).

Jesus as Prophet was now indicating that that was no longer to be the case. This anticipated Paul’s revelation that my first book focussed on, namely that the nation expected to inherit the privileges of the Messianic community had defaulted and were to be replaced by people derived from every nation (cf. Eph3:9,10; Rom11:11-15). His fellow apostle Peter would go on to describe this elect people as “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, GOD’S OWN SPECIAL PEOPLE, to proclaim the praises of Him who called them out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1Pet2:9).  Such is the Church, sometimes described as the kingdom of God in mystery; inaugurated but not yet fully realised on Earth. Nor can it be until the King in Person presents Himself “whom heaven must receive UNTIL the time of the RESTORATION OF ALL THINGS, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets” (Acts3:21).

Exploring the mystery of divine providence