The Son of God

I will tell of the decree: YHWH said unto me, “Thou art my son; This day have I begotten thee” (Psalm 2:7).

Israel found itself in a good land that happened to be the crossroads of the ancient Near Eastern world. To that end Israel was surrounded by enemies: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, larger powers yet further away; Philistia, Phoenicia, Aram, Ammon, Moab, Edom, Amalek, Midian who might be a bit smaller but all quite near. Israel wanted a king to lead their armies onto the field (1 Samuel 8:20); as Israel grew in power and prestige in the days of David and Solomon, many among the nations would conspire against Israel and seek its downfall.

Yet Israel had a benefit not available to these other nations: their God YHWH was the One True God. The nations might rage against YHWH and the anointed king of Israel, and seek to break free from Israelite control, yet YHWH laughts at such designs (Psalm 2:1-4). YHWH in His anger will let the nations know of the decree: the king of Israel is God’s chosen man, adopted as a son, and he will have the strength to break the nations and keep them under subjection (Psalm 2:5-9). The kings and the people of the nations would do well to heed wisdom, serve YHWH with fear, and give proper respect to the king of Israel whom He anointed (Psalm 2:10-12).

In the days of the United Monarchy of David and Solomon the second Psalm would have been a triumphant proclamation in Israel, accurately presenting the state of affairs. David and Solomon, both anointed kings, sat on the throne in succession (1 Samuel 16:12-13, 1 Kings 1:39). God loved both men, and in the ancient Near Eastern world kings were understood to have a special relationship with the divine, and could be seen as (adopted) sons of God (1 Samuel 13:14, 2 Samuel 12:24-25). YHWH had given David victory over all his foes and Solomon peace in his days (2 Samuel 8:1-18, 1 Kings 4:20-25). Thus the nations should have heeded YHWH, respected the King of Israel, and bring relevant tribute.

In the days of the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah there were times when the nations were subject to either Israel or Judah but also plenty of instances when the nations rebelled, and often successfully, from Israelite or Judahite rule (e.g. 2 Kings 1:1, 8:20-22). Since Israel and Judah forsook YHWH, YHWH allowed the nations first to rebel, and then despoil, and ultimately destroy both kingdoms (2 Kings 17:1-23, 24:1-25:21). If Israel looked back to the glory days of the past, the second psalm would seem bitter; many looked forward to a day when the nations would learn again that YHWH was God over Israel and they were a force with which to be reckoned.

After the exile Israel understood the second Psalm to be Messianic and waited for YHWH to send His Anointed King to again rule over Israel and the nations. As Israel suffered under the yoke of the Persians, Ptolemies, Seleucids, and Romans in turn, their yearning for the fulfillment of the second Psalm would only grow greater and deeper.

When Jesus of Nazareth ministered among the Israelites there was some excitement about whether He could be the one concerning whom God had spoken. In the end Israelites called Him the “Son of God” in accusation or mockery: He claimed to be so, in their view falsely, and they would only “believe” in Him if He did what they expected their king to do: defeat the Romans and the other nations (cf. Matthew 26:63, 27:40, 43). He did not act according to their expectations, and so they kept looking for another. Within forty years Israel would lose their city and their Temple; they were in a worse place than before. Some in physical Israel still look for the king of the second Psalm to come.

Yet there remained many in Israel, and a growing number among the nations, who confessed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God. Whereas kings like David or Solomon were not actually sons of God, Christians claimed that Jesus was actually the Son of God: God in the flesh, the imprint of the divine character, the fulness of God in bodily form (John 1:1, 14, Colossians 2:9, Hebrews 1:3). They quoted Psalm 2:7 in terms of Jesus (Acts 13:33). In their view the nations did rage against YHWH and His Christ, and one of those nations was physical Israel itself (Acts 4:23-31)! How could this be?

Israel expected the coming King to be like the kings of the past. Yet God was doing something greater with His Son. Previous kings defeated the nations, but the nations were still around and did not give YHWH the glory. Through His Son God overcame the forces of spiritual darkness that empowered the rage of the nations (Ephesians 6:10-18, Colossians 2:14-15, Revelation 12:1-14:20). God granted His Son authority over heaven and earth just as had been promised (Psalm 2:8-9). People near and far from all sorts of nations came to serve the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and to confess His name (Colossians 1:5-6).

Yet how can Jesus be the Son of God? The Apostle Paul focused on the idea that on “this day” God “begat” His Son in Psalm 2:7 and connected it to the resurrection: by raising Jesus from the dead on the third day, God declares Jesus the Son of God in power (Acts 13:30-34, Romans 1:3-4). The Apostle John frequently affirms Jesus as the “only begotten” Son of God (John 1:18, 3:16, 18). In past times many emphasized that Jesus was “begotten not made”: however the Son proceeded from the Father, He was not a created being. Just as humans beget humans but create other things, so God “begets” God, but creates other things. Whether “only begotten” (Greek monogenes) means that the Son is actually begotten of the Father or whether it is a way of speaking of uniqueness in relationship is a matter of discussion and dispute to this day. Regardless Jesus remains God the Word, fully God, co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit, and active in the creation (John 1:1-14).

Israel had some good days with an anointed king, but they did not last, and they would never come in the same way again. God through David was pointing forward to the actual Son of God, manifest in the flesh as Jesus of Nazareth, who would overcome sin and death through His death and resurrection, thus be declared the Son of God in power, and given authority over all the nations for all time. Rome has fallen; so have a hundred other kingdoms; yet Jesus remains Lord. Let us confess that Jesus is the Son of God to the praise of God the Father, put our trust in Him, and be His obedient servants!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Christ Jesus Our Mediator

For there is one God, one mediator also between God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all; the testimony to be borne in its own times (1 Timothy 2:5-6).

When two sides cannot come to an agreement face to face, it is time for the mediator to be brought in. The mediator will act as a bridge, perhaps as a go-between the two parties, or perhaps as a third-party perspective so as to find some means by which both sides can come to an agreement. The goal of the mediator is some sort of agreement, be it reconciliation, restoration, or restitution, leaving both parties satisfied with the result.

Thus Paul, having spoken of God’s desire for all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth, describes the man Christ Jesus as the mediator between the One True God and mankind (1 Timothy 2:5). Paul exhorts Timothy regarding the importance of prayer for all men, especially those in authority, so that Christians might live a tranquil and quiet life in godliness (1 Timothy 2:1-2, 8). Petitions are to be made to God, and we can have sufficient standing before God so as to pray to Him on account of our Mediator, Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:3-7).

Jesus Christ is the mesites, literally the “go-between,” the Mediator between God and man. Paul speaks explicitly regarding how it came to pass that Jesus is our Mediator: He gave Himself as a ransom for all (1 Timothy 2:6). As Paul has made very clear in other letters, we humans find ourselves separated from God on account of our sin, and no matter how diligently we try, we cannot bridge that gap, because we all have transgressed the law and therefore cannot be justified by it (Romans 2:1-3:22, James 2:9-10). Jesus lived a perfect life and was therefore able to offer Himself as the ransom so as to pay the price of redemption for all of us so that we could be reconciled back to God (Matthew 20:25-28, Romans 5:6-11, 1 Peter 2:18-25). Therefore Jesus is the unique go-between from God to man, since through His sacrifice we can be reconciled back to God and no longer at enmity toward Him (Romans 8:1-10).

Yet Paul also notes another means by which Jesus is the Mediator between God and man: He is the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). By saying Christ Jesus is an anthropos, a human, Paul is not attempting to deny His divinity; in Colossians 2:9 he proclaims that in Jesus the fulness of divinity dwells in bodily form. He is not contradicting the witness of John who speaks of Jesus as the Word made flesh, fully human, fully God (John 1:1-18, 1 John 4:3-4). Indeed, if anything, Paul affirms Jesus’ divinity and humanity in 1 Timothy 2:5: He can be Mediator between God and man because He partakes of the nature of each.

It is also important for us to note the tense Paul uses. He does not speak of Jesus as “having been” man; he tells Timothy that Christ Jesus presently “is” man, ca. 63-64 CE, no less than thirty years after His resurrection and ascension. For that matter, in Colossians 2:9, written only a few years earlier, Paul affirmed that the fulness of deity presently dwells in Jesus in bodily form. It is clear from the Gospel accounts and from Paul’s description of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:20-58 that Jesus’ body was transformed for immortality in the resurrection, yet Paul makes it equally clear that He is still recognizably human in the resurrection body. He remains the Mediator, sharing in the nature of both God and man; He can continue to identify with us in our weaknesses since He experienced temptation but overcame and learned obedience through what He suffered (Hebrews 4:15, 5:8-9). Yet, as God, He was active in the creation and continues to uphold the universe by the word of His power (John 1:1-4, Colossians 1:14-18).

After all, Jesus became our Mediator since He ransomed us through His death and resurrection (1 Timothy 2:6); since God is eternal and immortal and cannot die, it is not as if Jesus’ divine nature perished on the cross, and since His divine nature did not perish, it likewise could not be raised from the dead. As the Son of Man, fully human, Jesus endured suffering and death and obtained victory in the resurrection; therefore, to serve as Mediator on that basis, He would have to remain human, albeit transformed for immortality (1 Corinthians 15:50-57). He reigns as Lord as the “Son of Man,” the Human One, given a kingdom by the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:13-14, Luke 22:67-69, Acts 7:56, Revelation 1:12-18).

There is indeed one God, and one Mediator between God and humans, Jesus Christ the human. It is difficult for us to make sense of how this is possible; then again, it is hard for us to make sense of how God is One in Three, and there are plenty of other divine mysteries, and attempts to smooth out difficulties and make rational sense of them has often led people into all sorts of heresy. We should be thankful that Jesus took on flesh and dwelt among us, giving His life as a ransom for many, overcoming sin and death through His sacrifice and in His resurrection, giving us hope for our own victory over sin and death in the resurrection, and confident that our Lord can always sympathize with us since He has shared in the trials and difficulties of humanity. Let us praise God the Father for His Son and our Mediator the Lord Jesus Christ, and serve Him unto His glory and honor!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Word of Life

That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled, concerning the Word of life (and the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare unto you the life, the eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us) (1 John 1:1-2).

This is not your average introduction to a letter. John is also not your average writer.

John began his first letter, like he began the Gospel he wrote of Jesus’ life, with emphasis on Jesus as the Word of God (John 1:1-18, 1 John 1:1-4). In his Gospel John correlates the activity of Jesus as the Word with the creation, writing John 1:1-5 in parallel with Genesis 1:1-5. John wrote that Gospel so that people would believe that Jesus is the Christ, and through their faith in Him might have life in His name (John 20:31).

John writes his first letter to Christians, his “little children,” those whom he loves in the Lord Jesus (1 John 2:1, 5:21). They have already come to believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. Yet many false teachers seek to lead Christians astray (cf. 1 John 2:18-27, 4:1-3); John feels compelled to begin his letter by reminding his readers why they have good reason to have confidence in the truth of what he says. John can be trusted because he, along with the other Apostles, have experienced the Word of life: they heard Him, saw Him, touched Him, participated in His work, and now bear witness that He is the Lord, the Son of God, who died but was raised again in power, exactly as the Lord Jesus commissioned them (1 John 1:1-2; cf. Matthew 28:18-20, Luke 24:44-49). As they read what he has to say, the early Christians who received this letter could have every confidence in the truth of its message, since its author had personally experienced Jesus as the Word of life.

Over nineteen hundred years later we also can maintain confidence in what John is saying since he has experienced the Word of life manifest in the Lord Jesus. We do well to make sure that our faith and practice are consistent with Apostolic faith and practice, since the Twelve are the unique witnesses and emissaries of the Lord Jesus, having seen Him in life, death, and in the resurrection, a privilege none since have enjoyed. We have no right to add to what has already been revealed by the Apostles regarding the faith; it cannot be rooted in the actual, physical experience of the Lord Jesus (Jude 1:3).

There is much we can gain by seeing how John presents this testimony and witness. The tendency has existed, especially in the Western world, to put a lot of emphasis on doctrines, teachings, and instructions. The Greeks were enamored with philosophy; it would not take long for many to attempt to reduce Christianity down to a system of precepts, principles, and to put the priority on doctrine and the formulation of intellectual systems of thought. Religions around the world feature books of wisdom handed down from wise men or influential instructors of the past. Many times the examples of those instructors do not live up to what they taught. For so many, religion is akin to philosophy: a bunch of abstractions that may not have much to do with real life, an ideal attempting to come to grips with the real.

This is why John’s emphasis is so important. John does not begin by saying, “we heard Jesus’ instructions.” Instead, he speaks of how he and the other Apostles experienced the Word of life: sure, they heard Him, but they also saw Him, touched Him, and participated in Him (1 John 1:1-3). John does not yet speak of Him as Jesus or Christ; he speaks of Him as the “Word of life.” All of these other religions, philosophies, etc., have focused on a set of written down doctrines and teachings to consider and follow. Christianity is unique in insisting that the message of God was manifest and embodied in Jesus of Nazareth! He did not just say the Word; He was, and is, the Word (John 1:1-18, 1 John 1:1-3)! In Christianity we do not just have many true statements or accurate teachings; we see the teachings lived and practiced by Jesus of Nazareth. No one else–not Abraham, Moses, David, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Buddha, Confucius, or anyone else–has claimed to be the way, the life, the truth, and/or the resurrection (John 11:25, 14:6). Therefore, John is right to make it clear that he did not just hear the correct teachings; he experienced the right teachings. He was not just told how he and others should live; he saw that life lived (John 13:34, 1 John 2:6). Christianity, therefore, is not just a set of abstract principles or doctrines; Christianity is the pursuit of the Life that was in Jesus of Nazareth and given to all who would follow after Him.

It is true that we do not encounter the Lord Jesus as John did, but encounter Him through the written down testimony of the Apostles in the New Testament and through the prophecies of His coming in the Old Testament. If Christianity only involved just another written down story with good ethical principles, it would have no more value than Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, or philosophical works. Yet Christians make the radical claim that the Jesus of whom we read in the New Testament is still alive and reigns as Lord to this very day (Ephesians 3:10-11, Hebrews 13:8). Jesus remains the Word of life, and through His message as revealed in Scripture we can have joint participation with the Apostles who proclaimed that message and with Him in God the Father (1 John 1:3-4). We can share in the Word of Life today, and walk today as He walked, and do His commandments, all through the cleansing and strength which He provides, a claim which no other religion or philosophy can make (Philippians 4:13, Ephesians 6:10-18, 1 John 2:3, 6). The Word of life was with the Father, manifested to us, and returned to the Father, and all to provide all who would believe life, even to this day!

We may not be able to experience the Word of life as John did almost two thousand years ago, but we can still share in that life forever. Let us put our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and take hold of that which is life indeed!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Conformed to the Body of His Glory

[The Lord Jesus Christ] who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself (Philippians 3:21).

The centerpiece of Christianity, the resurrection of Jesus and the hope of the resurrection of all on the final day, has always been a stumbling block in culture. Among the Jews of the first century, some sects like the Sadducees denied the resurrection entirely, while those who did believe in the resurrection envisioned it only in terms of the last day (John 11:24, Acts 23:8). To the Greeks the resurrection was sheer folly (Acts 17:32): while the different philosophical schools among the Greeks had their many differences, all were agreed about the betterment of the soul than the flesh. Philosophers like Plato wished to leave the physical world behind; to them, to be raised from the dead would be more akin to “hell” than “heaven.” One thing was certain to them: the dead stay dead.

Ever since there have been many who have questioned and challenged the resurrection on various grounds, but one of the most pernicious challenges to the resurrection of Jesus involves its over-spiritualization. Many share many of the same doubts as the Greeks regarding the profit in the creation and yearn to live in a purely spiritual state. So it was among the Gnostics in the first and second centuries, suggesting the resurrection was already past, understood only in terms of spiritual enlightenment or regeneration (2 Timothy 2:16-18).

It is true that Paul does speak of baptism as a resurrection in Romans 6:3-7; the soul is dead in sin and is brought back to life in Christ through faith in conversion and discipleship. Yet Paul is quite clear that, for believers, the “spiritual resurrection” has already occurred (note the past tense in Romans 6:3-7), yet there remains a resurrection that has yet to take place (1 Corinthians 15:1-58).

We get some understanding about this resurrection from Paul’s exhortations to the Philippians. Paul has spoken about how he proved willing to consider all the credentials he obtained under the old covenant as garbage to know Christ and the power of His resurrection in order to obtain his own resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:7-11). He insists that he has not yet obtained that resurrection (Philippians 3:12). At the end of this section he declares that our citizenship is in heaven, from which we await the Savior, the Lord Jesus, who will “fashion anew” (Greek metaschematisei, “change the figure of, transform”) the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of His glory (Philippians 3:20-21). This “fashion[ing] anew” and “conform[ity]” to the body of His glory is the bodily resurrection of the believer and his or her transformation for immortality!

We are not told much about Jesus and His resurrected body, but we do know that after He arose from the dead, death had no more power over Him, and he would die no more (Romans 6:8-9). He was recognizably Jesus, able to eat and no phantasm, yet different, able to walk through walls and be in different places at inhuman speeds, indicating transcendence of the space-time continuum (Luke 24:31-43, John 20:19-20). Paul speaks of the transformation in the resurrection of the corruptible and mortal body into an incorruptible and immortal body, the transformation of the body empowered by the breath of life to the body empowered by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 15:35-53). John assures us that even though we do not fully understand what we will be, we know we will be like Jesus on that day (1 John 3:1-3).

Paul, therefore, provides a message of hope for the Christian: Jesus will return one day, and through the power of God, He will raise our bodies from the dead and transform them so as to be just like His glorified, resurrected body. This is part of the ultimate redemption of the creation envisioned by Paul in Romans 8:17-25 and seen in a figure in Revelation 21:1-22:5: a place where futility, decay, corruption, death, violence, suffering, sin, and all evil are no more, where God dwells with man and provides him with eternal comfort and glory. This takes place when the new Jerusalem, the holy city, the Bride, the church, comes down from heaven (Revelation 21:1-4); this redemption is not the rejection and denial of the creation of God, but its restoration to the condition in which God intended it from the beginning, accomplished perhaps through fire (if 2 Peter 3:1-13 maintains primacy) but most assuredly through the power of God. God did not give up on His good creation when it suffered decay and corruption when sin and death entered it; He did not give up on humanity once they sinned against Him. Instead, in Christ, He makes all things new (2 Corinthians 5:17, Revelation 21:5). The old world of sin and death meets its end and the new world of righteousness and glory takes its place (Romans 8:18, 2 Peter 3:13); the old humble body is raised, transformed, and obtains the glory of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:35-53, Philippians 3:21). That will be the final victory over sin and death!

It would have been very easy for early Christians to minimize or spiritualize the resurrection; their message would have been much easier for the nations to accept that way. Yet even though the bodily resurrection was an embarrassment to the Greeks, the early Christians continued to insist on it, rather bearing the insult and shame of such a view rather than to conform to the popular opinion of the day. They knew that the ultimate hope of the Christian is not in the spiritual resurrection which can be obtained now by finding eternal life through trusting in and serving the Lord Jesus Christ; their ultimate hope was the resurrection and transformation of the body and the final victory over sin and death on the last day. Early Christians knew they already had the redemption of the soul, and adopted as children into the family of God (Romans 8:1-16), yet they hoped for the full adoption as children of God in the redemption of the body in the resurrection (Romans 8:17-25). The resurrection of the body was non-negotiable in their eyes, and for good reason: their hope was in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:23); if we do not share in a resurrection like His, we will not be like Him! On the first day of the week after the Passover in 30 CE, the tomb was empty, and the disciples of Jesus saw Him in His resurrected body. They then proclaimed that the day would come when the tomb of believers will also be empty and they will be forever with the Lord in their resurrected, glorified bodies (John 5:28-29, 1 Corinthians 15:20-58, Philippians 3:21)! Yes, we must experience spiritual resurrection, and must do so quickly before the Lord returns. Yet we ought to look forward to the day of the resurrection of the body, as the early Christians did, looking forward to the transformation of the body toward conformity to the glorified body of Christ, when death will be finally vanquished once and for all! Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Christus Victor

Having despoiled the principalities and the powers, [Christ] made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it (Colossians 2:15).

Why did Jesus have to die such a horrendous death?

This question goes beyond a simple matter of, “for the forgiveness of sin” (Matthew 26:28); one can imagine many scenarios in which Jesus still dies for the remission of sin but not in such a terribly grotesque and gruesome way. Why humiliation before the Jewish religious authorities and the Roman governor? Why scourging? Why crucifixion?

The primary way that early Christians made sense of the grotesque and horrendous nature of Jesus’ death was through the concept of Christus Victor, Christ the Victor. This view focuses on the idea that Jesus gains the victory over sin, death, and any and all other principalities through His death and resurrection. This is first seen in Acts 4:24-31 in which the Apostles understand the persecution they receive from the Sanhedrin in terms of Psalm 2:1-2, the opposition of the kings of the nations to God and His Anointed, and making direct application of this as prophecy of Jesus before Herod and Pilate. Paul will go on to explain how Jesus conquered sin and death through His death and resurrection (Romans 8:1-2, 1 Corinthians 15:20-58). John frequently associates “victory,” “overcoming,” and “conquering” with suffering from evils steadfastly and without sin (John 16:33, 1 John 5:4, Revelation 5:5, 12:11). Yet perhaps the clearest statement of Christ the Victor is found in Colossians 2:15 in which Paul declares that Jesus triumphed over the principalities and powers, having despoiled or conquered them.

Who are these principalities and powers? To some extent one can see the existing power structures on earth in them, as Jesus stands before the Jewish religious authorities, then Pilate and Herod, during His trial and period of suffering (Luke 22:47-23:25). Yet Paul will declare that our wrestling is not with flesh and blood in Ephesians 6:12, and in Revelation John “pulls the curtain back,” so to speak, and shows us the real power source for world empires and false religion: Satan the dragon (Revelation 13:1-4, 11-14). While the Jewish religious authorities, Herod, and Pilate act as free moral agents as they indict and execute Jesus of Nazareth, they are influenced and partly motivated by these evil, dark, satanic and demonic powers behind the scenes.

Throughout His ministry Jesus made clear that His opponent was not really Rome nor was His goal the liberation of Israel from Roman oppression: He always understood the Adversary, Satan, as His true opponent, and He did as He did in order to liberate people from the power of darkness and lead them into the Kingdom and rule of God (Matthew 4:1-10, 17, 23, 26:28, Acts 10:38, Colossians 1:13). Early Christians understood that Jesus obtained this victory not with a large army or with great force but by suffering humiliation, degradation, and violence, dying on the cross, and being raised by God in the resurrection with power (Romans 5:6-11, 8:1-2, 1 Corinthians 15:20-57, Revelation 5:1-10). To us this is a strange way of gaining a victory, but the challenge of evil and the forces behind evil are not your average challenge. Evil and the forces of darkness thrive through the forms of violence, devastation, and death that are normally wrought in order to defeat a foe. In this contest, in order to win the victory, Jesus had to endure all that the evil forces could throw at Him. He did: He stood firm and remained steadfast despite unimaginable pain, misery, and suffering of emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual natures. The Evil One and his horde did all they could to Jesus: their human agents conspired against Him, humiliated Him, had Him mistreated and ultimately killed. But He did not give into evil; He did not turn to the forces of darkness; He endured the suffering (Hebrews 5:7-8). That is how He overcame sin, and God granted Him victory over death by raising Him on the third day, never to die again (Romans 6:8-11).

The way Jesus died remains shocking, horrifying, and gruesome to this day. Yet it had to happen as it did, not because Jesus deserved it, but because through His death Jesus was overcoming and triumphing over the powers and principalities of darkness. They did all they could to Him, but He endured. When God raised Him from the dead, Jesus thus entirely despoiled the forces of evil. They could harm Him no more, and He now had full reign over them, and to this day they shudder at the name of Jesus (James 2:19).

Through His victory we can gain victory over sin and death and all the forces of evil arrayed against us (Ephesians 6:10-18, Revelation 12:11). We can endure suffering and thus obtain the crown of victory (Romans 8:17-18, 1 Peter 1:3-9, Revelation 7:9-17). The forces of evil are strong but not as strong as Jesus (1 John 4:4)! Through His gruesome death and powerful resurrection Jesus has gained the victory and now rules as Lord. Let us serve Him always and glorify and honor God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Evil and the Cross

And Pilate, wishing to content the multitude, released unto them Barabbas, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified (Mark 15:15).

An innocent man scourged and crucified. Such terrible evil!

One of the most challenging questions that people face is the problem of evil. If God is so good, holy, and loving, how can He allow people to suffer pain, misery, and evil? The challenge of this question has only intensified as time has gone on and people show even greater cruelty toward one another. People want to know where God was during the Holocaust and in the genocides that have been committed ever since. Many claim to lose whatever faith they had in God on account of the problem of evil.

It is not as if God cannot create a world without any evil: the New Testament teaches that God intends to do so in the future (2 Peter 3:10-13, Revelation 21:1-22:6). If God can create a world without evil, misery, sin, and pain, why did He not do so the first time around?

Many “answers” are provided. Some declare that evil exists as a consequence for sin. It is true that evil often does occur as a consequence of sin, be it the presence of death in the world (Romans 5:12-18), natural disasters (Romans 8:20-22), condemnation (2 Kings 17:7-23, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9), or even the suffering of innocents (Romans 5:12-18). But this does not describe how evil comes into being. Others will then point to free will: God made mankind not as robots but as free moral agents, and for free moral agency to exist, a choice must exist (Isaiah 7:15-16, Ezekiel 18). Yet God certainly knew what the choice would be (Ephesians 3:11): why allow man to make the choice if it would lead to such great misery and pain?

The problem of evil is also addressed in “apocalyptic” parts of the Bible, such as Daniel 7-12, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Ephesians 6:12, and Revelation 12:9-12. While God maintains overall control of the universe, this world is currently beset by evil cosmic forces, which God will destroy on the last day (Revelation 19-20). While this may explain why God does not necessarily act to stop evil today, it still does not help us understand where these evil forces came from.

Ultimately we come to the answer provided in Job and Ecclesiastes: we humans cannot really know, and it is emptiness to consider the question (Job 38:1-42:6, Ecclesiastes 8:14, 16-17). When many people hear this, they want to protest. How can God “abandon” us without an answer to such a pressing question? What good is the Bible if it does not answer our most difficult question?

Yet maybe the problem is not with the Bible or its answers, but instead with the question itself. Why do people want to know where evil came from, anyway? We humans often believe that if we have knowledge about something, we can gain power over it. This worked with technology and science, so why not evil? The challenge is that even if we were given a most satisfying answer to the problem of evil, it would not make evil any less miserable or painful.

Evil is too challenging and complicated to be so easily dismissed. The problem is more with us: we do not want to really come face to face with the challenge evil presents. Evil pervades everything: we all have committed evil (Romans 3:9-23), and evil or at least the potential of evil exists in every person, corporation, organization, society, and government. When we are confronted with evil, we try to argue our way out of it, legislate it away, or avoid the issue. Yet none of those “solutions” ever works. We cannot, by our own devices, remove evil.

Furthermore, consider the basic message of the New Testament. God the Father told Peter, James, and John that Jesus was “His beloved Son” (Matthew 17:5). We know that Jesus prayed to God in the garden, imploring His Father to remove the evil that He would soon face (Matthew 26:39). We know that the Father heard Him (Hebrews 5:7). Therefore, if God could have somehow removed the problem of evil, or could make it irrelevant, without causing His Son to suffer such terrible pain and anguish, would He not have done so? The very fact that the New Testament teaches that the Son of God had to suffer evil demonstrates that the problem of evil cannot be answered by a philosophical argument. Asking why evil exists provides no benefit; instead, we must consider what God has done about the problem of evil.

The Bible makes it very clear that God deals with the problem of evil through Jesus’ death on the cross. God the Son was willing to take on flesh and to learn humiliation and obedience through suffering (Philippians 2:5-11, Hebrews 5:8). God handles the problem of evil in His own person!

Consider from the Gospel accounts all of the forms of evil that Jesus experiences on the day of His death. He experiences the evils of physical suffering in His scourging and crucifixion (Mark 15:15, Luke 23:33). He suffers political, social, and religious evils by the very “chosen people of God” who should have welcomed Him (Luke 22:63-71, 23:21). Further political evil comes from Pilate and Herod, enemies united in the downfall of Jesus (Luke 23:12). Since Jesus suffers evil without committing sin, He suffers the great moral evil of injustice (cf. Isaiah 53, 1 Peter 2:20-24). He suffers mental, emotional, and spiritual evil through the mockery, taunting, and temptations of the people and the Evil One behind them (Mark 15:29-32, Luke 4:13, 23:32-38).

Political, social, religious, moral, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual evil: Jesus experienced the full vent of such evils while enduring the cross. All the powers of evil threw all they had against the Son of God. He exhausted all their power in His death and resurrection, and He gained the victory over evil and its forces (Romans 8:2, 1 Corinthians 15:1-20).

The Bible does not provide an answer to the question of why evil exists, but God has definitively acted against evil through Jesus’ death on the cross. For whatever reason, evil cannot be willed away in this world. Instead, we must defeat evil. The only way that we can defeat evil is through the blood of Jesus the Lamb of God and our being willing to suffer as He did (Revelation 12:11, Romans 8:17). If evil stares us in the face and we cannot understand how God would allow evil to exist in the world, let us turn our face toward the cross, and see that God was willing to give His most precious Son in order to defeat evil. Let us follow Jesus’ example that was given for us and learn obedience through suffering evil unjustly (Hebrews 5:8, 1 Peter 2:20-24). Our hope of glorious salvation is dependent on God’s defeat of evil on the cross and our victory through Him (Revelation 12:11). Let us praise God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus: The Way, the Truth, and the Life

Thomas saith unto him, “Lord, we know not whither thou goest; how know we the way?”
Jesus saith unto him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no one cometh unto the Father, but by me. If ye had known me, ye would have known my Father also: from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him” (John 14:5-7).

Sometimes it is all a matter of emphasis.

John 14:6 is a famous Scripture, and rightly so: in it Jesus neatly encapsulates the essential claim He makes as the Son of God: He is the way, the truth, and the life, and the only way to the Father is through Him. When discussing this Scripture we often emphasize “the”: Jesus is THE way, THE truth, and THE life. This is well and good: since the fulness of Godhead dwells in Jesus bodily, and He is the exact imprint of the divine nature, He truly is the embodiment of God and all God is (John 1:1, 14, 18, Colossians 2:9, Hebrews 1:3). In our day and age the claim seems arrogant but is really the necessary conclusion: if God is life, love, holiness, and truth, and Jesus is God embodied, then He is the way, the truth, and the life, since anything can only be true if it is consistent with Him and His purposes.

But Jesus is not making this statement in a vacuum. He is speaking to His disciples and is trying to encourage them. He encourages them to believe in God and in Him, trusting that He is going away to prepare a place for them and will return to receive them to Himself (John 14:1-3). He assures them that they know the way to where He goes (John 14:4). This sounds strange to the disciples: Thomas speaks up, confessing that they do not know where Jesus is going, and therefore, how can they know the way (John 14:5)? Jesus tells them: I AM the way, and the truth, and the life (John 14:6). He will go on to show them how they have seen the Father through Him since the Father has spoken and worked through Him (John 14:7-11). The Spirit will come to assist them; if they love Jesus, they will do His commandments (John 14:12-19). Therefore, the disciples really do know the way: they have lived with Jesus, they have seen Jesus teach and work, and it is now for them to follow after Jesus and think, act, and feel like Jesus!

So yes, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. But it is also true, as Jesus says, that I am the way, the truth, and the life.

It would be difficult to believe that this I am has no theological undertones. In John 8:58, Jesus declares that before Abraham was born, I am, and the Jews picked up stones to stone Him for blasphemy (John 8:59). I am is the name which God gives to Moses to tell the people of Israel in Exodus 3:13-15; the Divine Name YHWH (likely pronounced Yahweh) is a nominal form of I am and means “The Existent One” or “The One Who Is.” Jesus says that if you have seen Him you have seen the Father; He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6-7). Jesus is YHWH just as the Father is YHWH! As God, He most certainly is the way, the truth, and the life.

In many ways this declaration is the type of statement on which the entire Christian religion is built. Christianity is based upon the Person of Jesus and the “good news,” the Gospel, of His life, death, resurrection, ascension, lordship, and ultimate return (Acts 2:36, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8). So much of Christianity is tied up within Jesus as a Person: the Gospel is superior to all which came before it because God has now spoken to us through His Son (Hebrews 1:3). Law codes had existed for years; in Jesus we have truth embodied, walking around, teaching, doing, serving (John 1:14, 18). Little wonder, then, that Paul encourages Christians to imitate him as he imitated Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1), and how after saying that we know that we know Jesus if we do His commandments, John says that we know we abide in Jesus if we walk as He walked (1 John 2:3-6).

We do well to remember that Jesus says that He, Jesus, is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Yes, the Scriptures have been inspired by God, and we do well to know them and to use them to guide our thoughts, feelings, and deeds (cf. 2 Timothy 3:15-17), but we must remember that even the Scriptures confess that they are written so that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing in Him we may have life in His name (John 20:31). The Scriptures are the way by which we learn about Jesus, the Way. The Scriptures tell us the truth about Jesus, the Truth. Through Scripture we are directed to Jesus, the Life. They provide the means to the end and are not the end in and of themselves. One can know the Scriptures from cover to cover, but if that knowledge does not lead to trust and confidence in Jesus the Way, the Truth, and the Life, then it is all in vain, and will not save (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).

The Bible testifies to the truth that Jesus is Lord, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the only Way to the Father. The Bible is not Lord; Jesus is Lord. As we seek to understand the truth of God in Jesus as revealed in Scripture, and as we affirm our faith in Jesus as the exclusive way to the Father, let us keep in mind that we are serving an actual Person, fully God and fully man, and it is that Person, Jesus, who embodies the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Let us pattern our lives after Jesus, abide in Him, and be saved!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Exclusivity of Christ

Jesus saith unto him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no one cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).

The story is told of six blind men who were asked to determine what an elephant looked like by feeling different parts of the elephant’s body. The blind man who feels a leg says the elephant is like a pillar; the one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope; the one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a tree branch; the one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a hand fan; the one who feels the belly says the elephant is like a wall; and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a solid pipe. It is then explained to the six blind men how they were all correct inasmuch as each touched a different part of the elephant. Yet, if each asserted that the elephant was only the part which they touched, they would be inaccurate and incorrect.

This story is often told in order to suggest that truth can be stated and understood in different ways. On a purely human level, this is true: we see as through a mirror dimly, our perspective is often distorted, and especially when it comes to different people experiencing the same event or issue, the truth is generally somewhere in the middle (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12, Proverbs 18:17). Yet, in our pluralistic society, this story of the blind men and the elephant is used to suggest that such is true of all religions and all viewpoints: none of them have a monopoly on the truth, but each emphasizes different aspects of truth. To suggest that one religion maintains the truth is seen as intolerant, exclusivist, and a product of a bygone, arrogant era.

In reality, claims of inclusion and exclusion, “tolerance” and “intolerance,” are as old as mankind. The ancient Greeks and Romans were quite inclusivist and “tolerant” in religion, identifying many of the gods of different nations with their own gods as well as accepting and believing in the gods of the nations which could not be so easily associated with one of their own. Their inclusivism is illustrated by the Athenian altar to the unknown god, providing sacrifice to any and all god(s) not identified lest they feel neglected and cause distress among the people (cf. Acts 17:23). Such “inclusivism” was in fact the norm of the ancient world; anyone who would assert their god or religion as having an exclusive hold on truth would be considered highly suspect.

Perhaps the most prominent such group were the Jews. Their insistence on their God as being the only god and their refusal to conform to the standards of the people around them was always an issue: at best, they were tolerated on the basis of the antiquity of their customs, and at worst, they experienced persecution and suffering, even death, for holding firm to their beliefs.

Jesus of Nazareth came into this world at this time. He lived as a Jew throughout His life, fulfilling the Law (cf. Matthew 5:17-18). He not only affirmed the exclusivity of the God of Israel but even took it one step further: He, Jesus of Nazareth, as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, was the only way to God the Father (John 14:6). His early followers did not seek to compromise this belief or water it down in any way: they affirmed that Jesus was the only way to salvation before religious authorities (Acts 4:12), and declared how Jesus was Lord to all who would listen. Christian exclusivism was not looked upon kindly in the Roman world; even though Christian apologists attempted to “antiquate” their belief system by associating it with Judaism and the Old Testament, many Romans believed Christianity to be a novel and dangerous superstition, suggesting that Christians were atheists since they denied the existence of all gods but their own.

We should not be deceived, therefore, into thinking that the conflict between “exclusivism” and “inclusivism” is new. Yet how can Christians be so confident that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the only way to the Father and to salvation?

This claim is not meant to be understood arrogantly or as sheer presumption, nor does it suggest that all other religions have no element of truth to them. The claim is instead rooted in a proper understanding of Jesus. According to the Bible, Jesus of Nazareth maintained the fulness of the Godhead in bodily form (Colossians 2:9). To have seen Jesus was to have seen the Father: the character of the Father was manifest in Jesus, and Jesus is the exact imprint of the divine nature (John 1:18, 14:9-11, Hebrews 1:3). The Bible upholds Jesus as the ultimate Example for mankind, the One whom all others should emulate and follow (1 Corinthians 11:1, 1 John 2:6). This, by the way, is the one aspect of Jesus which few deny: His goodness, His excellent character, and the quality of His teaching.

If Jesus is the ideal Man, having taught and done all things well, and He represents the exact imprint of the nature of God and set forth the fulness of God, what truth is lacking in Jesus? If religion exists in order to provide us with a better understanding of the divine and its nature, what could surpass the divine taking on flesh and dwelling among us? If God is one, and Jesus is the embodiment of God (Deuteronomy 6:4-6, John 1:1, 14), from what other source could we gain a better understanding of God or what is true?

Humans in their limitations can only see parts of the truth; human religion, therefore, will suffer from the same deficiency. No human religion can express the totality of truth, a reality implicitly confessed by those who seek to be inclusive and pluralistic. Six blind men touching different parts of the elephant will come to different conclusions, but the elephant remains the elephant. Different religions and belief systems fumble and stumble toward the truth, and each may grasp at some aspects of the truth, but the truth remains the truth. If Jesus is God in the flesh, then Jesus is truth. All other belief systems and ideologies must be subjected to Him as the ultimate expression of what is real and what is true (cf. Colossians 2:1-9)!

Those who recognize and value authentic items dispense with any copies or forgeries, and so it is with the truth. Jesus is God in the flesh, the Truth embodied; who or what else can compare to Him? If He is God in the flesh, why would we turn to any other belief system to find truth when the truth is standing before us in Christ? Such is exclusivistic; truth is exclusivist by its very nature. Such is deemed as “intolerant”; so truth must be reckoned against what is not true.

Yes, in life, we are finite, imperfect creatures, and we will only be able to understand a finite amount regarding the truth. Yet the truth remains the truth whether we discern it, believe it, accept it, or not. The Bible claims that Jesus, as God in the flesh, is the embodiment of Truth; we either accept this or reject it. We do well to stand firm in the truth by declaring that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the way to the Father and salvation, even if that claim does not sit well with others. Let us establish Jesus as Lord of our lives and live to glorify and honor Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Theology While Suffering

Thou, O LORD, abidest for ever; Thy throne is from generation to generation. Wherefore dost thou forget us for ever, And forsake us so long time? Turn thou us unto thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned; Renew our days as of old. But thou hast utterly rejected us; Thou art very wroth against us (Lamentations 5:19-22).

The impact of the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple by the Babylonians, along with the exile to Babylon, upon the people of God can hardly be overstated. These events would completely rattle every aspect of the common theology and worldview of the day. In the ancient Near East, blessings and conquest meant your god was happy with you; plagues and defeat meant your god was angry with you. And yet here Judah experiences plague, pestilence, violence, complete devastation, and even exile, which to many would have meant as much a separation from the god of their land as much as it mean separation from their country. Formerly, even when things looked bad, the Temple of YHWH in Jerusalem remained; now, even that was gone. The complete humiliation of Judah posed major theological challenges: if YHWH is the God of Israel, how could YHWH allow these things to happen? Was YHWH powerless against the Babylonians and their god Marduk? If YHWH is punishing us, why does He do so in ways that give the other nations reason to blaspheme His name and thoroughly disrespect Him? How can YHWH be our God and care for us when we have been brought so very low?

God provided a lot of warnings to the people beforehand through the prophets; God would again speak to the people to comfort and encourage them after the events took place. There is less written from and about those actually experiencing the event and its immediate aftermath: some of the psalms seem to come from this period (e.g. Psalm 44), and we get some indication of events from the book of Jeremiah (cf. Jeremiah 39:1-44:30). Yet it is the voice of Lamentations which provides a moving and visceral response to these tragic events. The author of Lamentations describes what happens, and understands why the tragedy was necessary. Nevertheless, the author wrestles with the pain, suffering, misery, and the question of God’s presence and concern for His people.

The book of Lamentations is a masterpiece. Its author, over its first four chapters, expresses the pain, anguish, and distress of Jerusalem and its people, and does so using acrostic patterns (each verse or couplet of verses begins with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet). Yet it is in the fifth chapter that the author breaks out of the convention and pours out his soul before God. He pleads for God to see their reproach and describes their humiliation (Lamentations 5:1-18). Yet, in all this, he remains convinced of God’s existence and authority (Lamentations 5:19). He wants to know for how long YHWH will continue to turn away from His people and abandon them to their humiliation; he asks YHWH to turn back to His people so His people will turn back to Him and all may be renewed (Lamentations 5:20-21). The author recognizes the present distress, and concludes with his understanding of the situation: YHWH has rejected His people and remains angry with them (Lamentations 5:22).

It comes as no surprise that Lamentations is not one of the more popular books of the Bible: it is not a happy book. Lamentations is full of the types of things which we humans generally seek to avoid: pain, distress, misery, suffering, and the attempt to try to make some sense out of why it happened and where God is in the midst of the pain. We know that there might be a time when we might experience something of the sort, but we certainly do not look forward to it. We would rather continue to live as we are living, seek to focus on the happier parts of life, hope we avoid as much suffering as we can, and trust that if suffering comes we will somehow find a way through it.

But then moments of suffering come. Perhaps we will be fortunate and be able to endure them without too much distress. But what will become of us if we experience a time of intense suffering far beyond anything we might have imagined? Doubts and fears will arise. Hope might be extinguished; despair may turn to cynicism. The confidence held in one’s view of God and how one looks at the world might be strongly shaken. Many in such a condition, even if they recover physically, never do so emotionally and spiritually.

This is why it is important to understand the value of strong theology even in the midst of suffering, or perhaps even on account of suffering. We can see this from the author of Lamentations. He has seen and experienced terrible evils which most of us can only imagine with dread and terror, terrible things done by the pagan nations against the people of God, and yet his faith is firm and resolute. He recognizes that God remains sovereign and in control. He has perceived that God is angry with His people and punished them and he does not seek to find fault with God because of it. He is able to maintain the hope that God will turn back toward His people and renew them as of old.

When we do not maintain that strong theology while suffering, we will be tempted to fall away. The same distress which the author of Lamentations rightly understands to be God’s chastening is understood by others as the consequence of turning away from the Queen of Heaven (cf. Jeremiah 44:15-19). While many Jews remained faithful to God in Babylon, we will never know how many others could not handle all the distress and pain and the challenge to their worldview and just assimilated into Babylonian culture, assuming that since the Babylonians were successful, their gods and perspective were clearly right, and their former belief in YHWH was wrong. Such people have been made invisible historically, no doubt swept up in every successive change of empire and belief in Mesopotamia. They attached themselves to the way of the world; their fate will be as the world.

Times of suffering will come. Our faith will be tested as through fire (1 Peter 1:3-9). Perhaps our sufferings will be manifestations of God’s discipline (cf. Hebrews 12:4-11). Perhaps our suffering will come on account of our trust in God in Christ (cf. Luke 6:22-23). Or maybe our suffering will not come with an explicit reason; it will just be. That suffering may be so severe as to shake our confidence in everything which we used to believe was true. How will we respond to such distress and calamity? Will we be able to maintain our confidence in God and His goodness toward His people? Will we find a way to maintain our hope despite our distress and pain? At that time we will perhaps gain a better appreciation for the message of Lamentations, and seek to take refuge in the same hope which sustained the author of Lamentations even when it seemed that there was no hope left. Let us stand firm in God and trust in Him in good times and in bad, when suffering or well, and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Light of the World

“Ye are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a lamp, and put it under the bushel, but on the stand; and it shineth unto all that are in the house. Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

Light and darkness represent a familiar contrast in Scripture. God is the light, representing all which is good, holy, true, and righteous (John 1:1-5, 1 John 1:5). Darkness, as the absence of light, is the absence of what is good, holy, true, and righteous, and therefore represents evil, sin, unholiness, ungodliness, and unrighteousness (1 Thessalonians 5:1-10, 1 John 1:5-10). This imagery is often extended to people on the basis of their identification and conduct: those who seek after God and His righteousness and holiness are considered part of the light, while those who do not seek God but seek their own interests are considered in darkness (Ephesians 5:7-14, 1 John 1:5-10). Light and darkness also have their representative works (cf. Ephesians 5:9, 11). The early Christians exhort one another to walk in the light, participate in the light, and turn away from the darkness and avoid it (Ephesians 5:3-11, 1 John 1:5-10). Jesus understands this imagery and uses it for full effect in Matthew 5:14-16, but toward a slightly different end.

As with salt in Matthew 5:13, so with light in Matthew 5:14: Jesus declares, without a hint of doubt or qualification, that the disciples are the light of the world. Jesus is not providing blanket approval for anything and everything the disciples will think, feel, or act; He is not attempting to deny the temptation for the disciples to act in darkness, and in a parallel declaration in Luke 11:33-36, will warn about the dangers of the eye and the body being full of darkness. Jesus is in no way seeking to contradict the way the imagery of light and darkness has been used throughout the Scriptures. In Matthew 5:14-16 Jesus takes for granted how His disciples will seek to walk in the light and pursue God and His righteousness. Therefore, they are the light of the world.

But what does that mean? Jesus follows up with another declaration: a city set on a hill cannot be hidden (Matthew 5:14). Most cities in the ancient world were built on a hill or accessible mountain for defensive purposes: if an enemy attacked, the defenders of the city would maintain the higher ground and maintain a slight advantage. A city set in the heights has the advantage of seeing the surrounding territory for some distance, but this also means that people in the surrounding territory can always see the city as well. One cannot camouflage a city on a hill!

Jesus then returns to the imagery of light with an example in the negative: no one lights a lamp and puts it under a bushel (Matthew 5:15). “Bushel” is the Greek modios, a dry unit of measure of grain, often translated as “basket” under the assumption that Jesus uses the term to describe that into which a bushel of grain is placed. The point, made in Mark 4:21-23 as well, is clear enough: if it is sufficiently dark to need to light a lamp, it makes no sense to put the lamp under a bushel and hide or cover the light. Instead, the lamp is placed on a stand to illuminate the whole house (Matthew 5:15).

This entire series of illustrations leads up to Jesus’ explanatory conclusion in Matthew 5:16: as the light of the world, the disciples should let their light shine before others so they can see the good works done and thus give glory to God the Father.

Jesus therefore uses the images of light and a city on a hill to describe the “public” nature inherent in following Jesus. If we are in the light as Jesus is the light, our thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and actions will be conformed to Jesus and reflect righteousness and holiness. As light shines in darkness, so our faith must be evident to all men.

Holiness and righteousness cannot be hidden, covered up, or kept private: a holy and righteous life, by its very nature, will be clear and evident to everyone who interacts with it. Followers of Jesus who reflect His light are the light of the world, a city set on a hill: they cannot be hidden or camouflaged. And that is the point: just like a lamp lit and hidden is next to useless, so is a Christian who seeks to hide his Christianity.

Jesus’ exhortations are quite appropriate for us today. While superficial profession of Christianity remains popular in our culture, firm adherence in following Jesus and His truth are not. We are often tempted to downplay our faith and the role it plays in our lives. Religion makes a lot of people very uncomfortable; our secular society puts a lot of pressure on Christians to “play nice” and not seek to offend or trouble anyone by proclaiming the life, death, and resurrection of Christ in word and deed. Nevertheless, we must obey God, not men (cf. Acts 5:29), and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus ought to so completely transform us that we cannot help but talk about it and live transformed lives because of it. That faith cannot be hidden any more than a city on a hill or light in the darkness.

It has always been a challenge to be the light in a world full of darkness (cf. John 1:5); this is not just a modern phenomenon. Christians are always under immense pressure to compromise their faith and “turn on the dimmer switch,” so to speak, regarding their light. Nevertheless, when we truly shine as the light of God in Christ, people will see our good works, and they will have reason to give glory to God the Father. Even in these dark days many people appreciate the blessings which come from Christians reflecting Jesus. People still appreciate knowing that others love them and care for them. People still appreciate it when others do good things for them. Even if people disagree with Christianity, there remains respect for people who maintain convictions, as long as they live by them.

And such is the warning within Jesus’ exhortation. Yes, His disciples are to be the light of the world, a city set on a hill. But that means there can be no hiding. Just as the people around us are given reason to give God glory when we reflect Christ toward them, they are also given reason to blaspheme when we fail to reflect Christ and act little differently from anyone else despite professing to follow Jesus. If the light of the world acts like the darkness, what hope remains for the world?

Christianity has never been nor can it become merely a private affair. Christianity cannot hide in the shadows; such places are for all those forces opposed to Christianity! Our faith, if it is truly alive and reflecting Jesus, will not just change our lives, but has the capacity to draw all around us toward Jesus as well. Neither Christians nor the church were ever called to “circle the wagons” and retreat into some private, “safe” Christian sphere, withdrawn from the world. You might be able to hide in a desert cave or a rural commune, but Jesus never described believers like that. His people are the light of the world, a city set on a hill. Christianity is supposed to be practiced in the sight of others, for the benefit of others even if it sometimes poses challenges or causes difficulties in our lives.

The Christian life is like living in a glass house, open to the eyes of everyone. There is a lot of pressure in that to conform to the world and to compromise the standards of Jesus; there is also a lot of pressure to try to cover up the windows and retreat into private spirituality. Yet, to this day, people put lamps on stands to give light throughout a room or a house, and so it must be with us and our faith. It will be uncomfortable at times, and it will involve a lot of pressure, but we are called to practice our Christianity everywhere and before everyone. We are called to reflect Jesus in the public sphere. Let us so live to give reason for others to glorify God in Christ, and shine as lights in the world!

Ethan R. Longhenry