Prophetic History

Yet YHWH testified unto Israel, and unto Judah, by every prophet, and every seer, saying, “Turn ye from your evil ways, and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by my servants the prophets.”
Notwithstanding, they would not hear, but hardened their neck, like to the neck of their fathers, who believed not in YHWH their God (2 Kings 17:13-14).

It is said that history is written by the winners. Such is true also of Israel, but for very different reasons.

Some presume that the story of history can be narrated fully and objectively. Such is a fool’s errand; no historical narrative can be comprehensive. History is only ever written for a purpose: whatever story is told has a reason behind it. Perhaps that reason is to set forth the basic timeline of events for a given nation, person, etc; perhaps the story is told with a particular focus, slant, or even bias. Some details will be left out; some details will be emphasized. The later reader may be frustrated by these decisions, wanting to know what has been left unsaid and skeptical regarding that which has been emphasized. And yet, since all retelling of history has a purpose, we do well to understand what the purpose of any specific historical narrative is and reflect upon why it was considered important.

All of this proves especially true with the story of Israel in the days of the kings. 1 and 2 Kings do not read like your average historical narrative about a nation. Some of Israel’s glorious achievements are recounted, but the text mostly focuses on the relative faithfulness (or lack thereof) of the kings to YHWH, certain events which took place during those reigns, especially as they relate to the prophets and the kings. We learn next to nothing regarding some kings; for other kings we have their activities laid out in great detail. The narrative throughout is clearly biased. What are we to make of it?

The Kings author was not shy or secretive about his motivations. Having recounted the fall of the northern Kingdom of Israel at the hands of the Assyrians in 722 BCE, he broke into the narrative with an extended explanation of precisely why Israel, and later Judah, would fall and be exiled (2 Kings 17:7-23). He indicted them for their faithlessness toward YHWH, their idolatry, and their conformity to the other nations. And he made sure everyone knew that Israel under the kings knew better: YHWH had warned them about the consequences of their behaviors through the prophets, and encouraged them to repent and follow YHWH’s commandments, but they did not listen (2 Kings 17:13-14).

This is not your ordinary historical narrative! Not one king comes out as the ideal, shining hero: the Samuel author recounts David’s transgression with Bathsheba and Uriah and its fallout (2 Samuel 11:1-20:26); Solomon’s idolatry on account of his wives is made plain (1 Kings 11:1-8); the failings of the rest of the otherwise faithful kings are not hidden. These are not the boastful proclamations of the kind written for Ramses II, or Sennacherib, or Cyrus; this history of Israel did celebrate their empire in the days of David and Solomon, yet maintained its focus on the transgressions of the nation. Why?

In the Hebrew Bible 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings are part of the nevi’im, the prophets; they are considered the “former” or “historical” prophets. It was therefore never their intention to write the “normal” or “great man” version of Israelite history: for this they referred the reader to the Acts of Solomon and the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel and Judah, works now lost (e.g. 1 Kings 11:41, 14:19, 14:29). Instead, the history they wrote is a prophetic history: telling the story of the kings of Israel and Judah as a warning for the people of God in and after the exile to not follow in the same pattern of disobedience.

We can know this because the final form of 1 and 2 Kings was composed in the days of the exile: they most likely used documentation from the chronicles mentioned above, and YHWH directed them to write the story as they wrote it. 1 and 2 Kings are their own form of lament: in them the transgressions of the fathers are explicitly identified and not justified; the book was written to leave no doubt in the mind of the reader as to why Israel was cast off. All socio-political explanations, of which many can be adduced, ultimately fall short for Israel: yes, they suffered the fate of the other nations, but only because they had abandoned their unique heritage in YHWH and had become just like all the other nations. And YHWH handed them over to their desires.

This story would sustain Israel in faith through very difficult and trying times ahead. The Israelites would only briefly maintain independent rule over their land and would suffer existential threats in persecution. Yet they did not commit idolatry as their fathers did; they had learned the prophetic lesson from their history. They did not yearn for past days or made the past out to be rosy and wonderful; they owned up to the sins of their fathers. Whereas all of the members of other nations would get swept up in Hellenization and abandon their distinctiveness, a remnant of the Jewish people stubbornly maintained confidence in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of their forefathers and endured. Ultimately, the proclamation of YHWH’s great work in Jesus of Nazareth would overtake the Roman Empire and many parts of Mesopotamia; the descendants of the oppressors would end up calling on the name of the God of Israel. Egypt faded; Assyria was destroyed; Babylon was laid low; Persia was overrun; the Macedonians came and went; Rome would collapse; the people of God endured.

In this way the history of Israel was written by the victors: not the people who won the battles or political victories, but those who would perpetuate strong faith in YHWH and His covenant promises to Israel. To “win” meant to preserve the faith; to preserve the faith demanded an honest accounting of how the fathers failed and were cut off by YHWH, and how to serve YHWH faithfully so as to obtain the promised restoration.

The people of God to this day do well to learn from the prophetic history of the kings of Israel. Historical narratives abound which seek to glorify a given philosophy, ideology, nation-state, or some other ideal. These narratives prove very tempting to follow. Yet all such things are inherently flawed; they are creatures of the world, and they go the way of the world (Colossians 2:8-9, 1 John 2:15-17). If the people of God will obtain the victory in Christ, they can only do so by preserving the faith (Jude 1:3, Revelation 12:11); to preserve the faith demands honoring the faithfulness of those who have come before us along with an honest accounting of how we and those before us have failed to uphold the standard of Christ. We must pattern our lives according to the faithful examples of Jesus, the Apostles, and those who have believed on their Word ever since; we must take note of the ways in which those who came before us went in the ways of Israel, hardening their heart, rebelling in various ways, and patterning themselves after the nations, lest we share in the same condemnation.

History can be told in all sorts of ways; when it is all said and done, the only story which will matter is the story of God reconciling all things to Himself in Jesus, and those who trusted in Him and obtained the resurrection of life. May we prove faithful to God in how we understand the story of the people of God throughout time, trust in the Lord, and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Healing Dirt

When [Jesus] had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and anointed his eyes with the clay, and said unto him,
“Go, wash in the pool of Siloam”
(which is by interpretation, “Sent”). He went away therefore, and washed, and came seeing (John 9:6-7).

“Cleanliness is next to godliness,” or so they say.

Humans put a premium on cleanliness. Every morning most of us go through a series of rituals to divest ourselves of all that is reckoned unclean, put on clean clothes, and attempt to make ourselves look, feel, and smell as clean as possible. For the most part we try to limit our interactions with the “contagion” of dirt and uncleanness: we walk or drive on paved sidewalks and streets, we want food preparation and consumption to take place as cleanly as possible, and we have designated facilities to dispose of those bodily functions we find smelly and unclean. Woe to those who do not observe such cleanliness in habit and ritual; they are quickly socially marginalized.

This obsession with cleanliness goes beyond the realm of physical contagion. People these days want everything to be as “clean” as possible. In attempting to “put our best foot forward” we are tempted to whitewash our image and present to the world only that which is good and aesthetically pleasing and attempt to hide the ugliness, pain, and other unseemly parts of life. We may seek relationships with other people but we want those relationships to remain as “clean” as possible; we would rather not deal with other people’s drama and difficulties, especially if those difficulties may cost us in terms of time, energy, and (by no means!) personal reputation. In such an environment too many just want to pretend that the “dirty” or unclean parts of life are not there; whenever they arise we try to suppress them, medicate them away, or otherwise avoid them. We must always put on the impression that we are clean and have it all put together. No one wants to deal with a mess.

Many times cleanliness is justified religiously. God, after all, is pure and holy, without spot or blemish (Leviticus 19:2, Habakkuk 1:13). In the Law He specified all the ways in which Israel was to remain clean and what to do whenever they were rendered ritually unclean (e.g. Leviticus 11:1-15:33). As God is holy, so Christians are to be holy (1 Peter 1:15-16); Christians should be pure (1 John 3:3). All of these statements are true; God is holy, and wants people to be holy. God’s people should never wallow in the mire of sin and death!

And yet none of us are clean by our own merits; we have all sinned, and have all fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). Our society may have phobias about that which is unclean or dirty but they are part of life. As it is written:

And YHWH God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul (Genesis 2:7).

God is our Creator; He made man in His image, the image of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Genesis 1:26-27). God made all things through the Word; without the Word nothing was made that exists (John 1:1-3). That Word became flesh and dwelt among us as Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:1-14).

Thus God made man from the dust of the ground; the Word was active in thus making man. None of us were there to see exactly how this took place; nevertheless, as humans, we are tempted to envision the event described in Genesis 2:7 as God using His “hands” to make man out of the dust of the ground. In so doing, by necessity, God would have dirt on those “hands,” and even after making man, His “hands” would have been made dirty in the process.

Furthermore, it would be God the Word who would be getting His “hands” dirty, and would again in the Incarnation. Not for nothing does Paul speak of Jesus as the “second Adam”; granted, he does so in order to show how Jesus, through one act of righteousness, could make right all the sins that had come from the one transgression of Adam (Romans 5:12-18) or make comparisons between this body and the body in the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-49). Yet it remains true that Jesus became human, and as humans are dust, so we can say that Jesus took on dirt and dwelt among fellow pieces of dirt (Genesis 3:19, John 1:14). Jesus took on dirt and participated in life with mankind, and that life was invariably dirty. Jesus would have gotten dirty while eating, while relieving Himself, while walking down the road, etc. God Himself participated in man’s dirty condition, although without sin (Hebrews 4:15, 5:7-8)!

Jan Luyken's Jesus 14. Healing of a Man Born Blind. Phillip Medhurst Collection

Jesus became dirt and lived among pieces of dirt in order to make us clean, in a sense, to heal the dirt. Therefore it was entirely natural for Jesus to heal a man born blind by spitting on dirt and covering the man’s eyes with the clay (John 9:1-5), even though it may seem strange to us. The healing was by no means sanitary, yet Jesus uses dirt to heal dirt; as the “hands” of God the Word formed and shaped man out of dirt, so now the hands of Jesus of Nazareth use dirt to heal what had gone wrong with this particular man. Later on Jesus will take on the cross and suffer terribly, get extremely dirty and become an object of horror and shame, and in so doing provide a means of healing and cleanliness for all mankind (John 1:29, 19:30, Ephesians 5:25-27, Titus 3:3-8).

We humans put such a premium on cleanliness because of our great shame and disappointment at what is unclean about us, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. We do not become clean because of how well we clean ourselves or how well we try to suppress that which is unclean about us from public view. We can only be made clean through humble faith in Jesus who became dirt and got extremely dirty so that we could be healed and cleansed. He did this not because we were clean and thus deserved a relationship but while we were extremely filthy and unclean (Romans 5:6-11). God was not forced to deal with us in our impurity, defilement, and uncleanness; He could have abandoned us to our own fate. Yet, in love, He chose to get His hands dirty so we could get clean. If we would honor God and reflect Jesus to others we must not presume to be so sanitary and clean so as to have nothing to do with all the dirt out there; far from it! If we would be as Jesus we must work to heal dirt, to love people and seek their best interest no matter how dirty they are, no matter how ugly their problems, no matter how many times they may try and fail, no matter how well or poorly we can relate to their challenges and difficulties. We are not to do such things because they deserve it, because they do not. We do it because we have received that grace from God, were cleansed even though we did not deserve it, and want to reflect the God who gets dirty in order to heal and restore mankind. Let us follow the Lord Jesus, find cleansing in Him, and accomplish His purposes in the world!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Blessed Are the Righteous

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the wicked / nor standeth in the way of sinners / nor sitteth in the seat of scoffers:
But his delight is in the law of YHWH / and on his law doth he meditate day and night.
And he shall be like a tree planted by the streams of water / that bringeth forth its fruit in its season / whose leaf also doth not wither / and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
The wicked are not so:
But are like the chaff / which the wind driveth away.
Therefore the wicked shall not stand in the judgment / nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
For YHWH knoweth the way of the righteous / but the way of the wicked shall perish (Psalm 1:1-6).

You certainly cannot judge the book of Psalms by its cover.

The book of Psalms features so many wonderful songs and prayers praising YHWH and extolling His greatness while also giving voice to the pain, suffering, distress, and questions of the people of God. Yet the book begins with a psalm which would not be out of place in the book of Proverbs.

Psalm 1:1-6 is without a doubt a wisdom psalm, well crafted with sharp and vivid imagery. The Psalmist pronounces blessings on the righteous: he does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers (Psalm 1:1). Notice how the Psalmist intensifies the imagery: walking / standing / sitting would denote ever greater comfort and association, and wicked / sinners / scoffers features a progression from bad to worse! Instead the righteous delights in the law (Hebrew torah) of YHWH, and meditates upon it day and night (Psalm 1:2). He has taken the way of YHWH, not the way of sinners.

The Psalmist then describes the righteous in terms of a tree planted by a river (Psalm 1:3). In a semi-arid or arid climate like Israel, riverbanks are one of the few places where water will be found in dry times. Thus a tree planted by the river will produce fruit, will not wither, but will prosper, and so it will be with the righteous (Psalm 1:3).

Tree by River Dee - geograph.org.uk - 792040

The poetic flow of the psalm is sharply interrupted in Psalm 1:4, and for good reason: whereas the righteous prosper, it will not be so with the wicked! The Psalmist compares the wicked to chaff, the cases or straw of grains which provide no nutrition and are left to blow in the wind as worthless (Psalm 1:4).

The Psalmist assures us that the wicked will not stand in the judgment or in the “congregation of the righteous” (Psalm 1:5). YHWH knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish (Psalm 1:6). Thus Psalm 1 is a pure exhortation to wisdom, representing “proverbial orthodoxy” to the full: blessings and prosperity come to the righteous, but the wicked will perish.

Psalms 1 and 2 have no superscription; throughout time they have been understood as the “introduction” to the Psalms. This means that Psalm 1:1-6 was deliberately placed here as the beginning of the Psalter. Why should we expect the Psalms to begin with such a message, especially since the message of many of the psalms would challenge this “proverbial orthodoxy”?

Perhaps that is the very reason God directed the Psalter to begin the collection with Psalm 1. The world of the Psalms is full of sacrifices, kings, glory to YHWH, but also pain, suffering, doubt, and questions. The Psalmist grapples with the prosperity of the wicked and the struggles of the righteous. The Psalmist tries to make sense of a world in which the people of God suffer under the rule of pagan overseers. And yet Psalm 1:1-6 remains.

Psalm 1:1-6 reminds the reader, singer, or prayer of the Psalms of the two ways, the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked, and of their ends. It always goes best with the righteous: if not in this life, then in the next one. The Psalms in many ways must begin with a full exhortation to righteousness so as to remind Israel that sacrifice alone has never been and is not sufficient to please God. Likewise, Psalm 1:1-6 in many ways serves as an anchor for the whole Psalter: no matter how bad it gets, no matter how terrible it looks, it goes better for the righteous than it will for the wicked. In a world where Israel might be tempted to see too much grey God wants to remind them of the black and white.

We do well to recognize the value of Psalm 1:1-6. If we take it absolutely and expect the righteous to always prosper in this life and the wicked to always perish in this life we will be disappointed; as with all wisdom literature we must understand that many times the author is telling us the way things ought to be and will be when the Lord returns. On the other hand we can easily get discouraged when we see the complications in life, the seeming prosperity of the wicked, and the trials which accompany standing for righteousness. Psalm 1 reminds us of the way things should be, the way things stand before God, and that in the end the righteous will be the ones who are planted by the river and will prosper. The wicked will not endure!

Blessings still attend to those who seek to follow God’s instruction; they will prosper before God. We do well stand firm in God in Christ, as a tree planted by the water, and not be moved!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Most Holy Tomb

But Mary was standing without at the tomb weeping: so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she beholdeth two angels in white sitting, one at the head, and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain (John 20:11-12).

Sometimes God illustrates profound truths with momentary events. If you pass by too quickly you will miss it!

We are not informed of precisely how Mary Magdalene processed the events transpiring before her on that momentous Sunday morning. She is distraught, weeping, no doubt attempting to make sense of what she was seeing: His body was gone, and therefore, where had it been taken (John 20:1-13)? She had first gone to the tomb, ran back to inform Peter and John of its emptiness, and had come back again (John 20:1-11). As she looks in again, she sees two angels; John indicates one was seated where Jesus’ head had lain, and the other where His feet had been placed (John 20:12). In John’s account, they simply ask her why she was crying; she answered but we hear nothing more of the angels, for Mary then turns and encounters Jesus as the Risen Lord (John 20:13-16). She saw the angels, no doubt, but did she believe that their existence and placement there had any significance?

Every Gospel account has some angelic presence at the tomb. Matthew speaks of one angel rolling the stone away and proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 28:2-7). Mark speaks of him as a young man in a white robe sitting on the right side; he also proclaims the resurrection of Jesus (Mark 16:5-7). Luke describes two men in dazzling apparel standing by the women also proclaiming Jesus as Risen (Luke 24:4-10). Therefore, it is only from John’s account that we see two angels sitting where Jesus’ head and feet had lain, simply asking Mary Magdalene a question, knowing that soon enough she will find her soul’s delight.

At this moment many rush to harmonize in an attempt to defend the historical integrity of the Gospel narratives. Yet we do well to contemplate why John highlights these particular details. The narrative could have continued without significant violence had Mary just run into the “gardener” after Peter and John left. Why, therefore, does John point out that Mary saw the two angels? And why is he so specific about where they sat?

The Evangelists, particularly John, only provide the details they want you to know. And John very much wants us to understand the significance of those angels and why they sat as they did. It is written in Exodus 25:18-22:

And thou shalt make two cherubim of gold; of beaten work shalt thou make them, at the two ends of the mercy-seat. And make one cherub at the one end, and one cherub at the other end: of one piece with the mercy-seat shall ye make the cherubim on the two ends thereof. And the cherubim shall spread out their wings on high, covering the mercy-seat with their wings, with their faces one to another; toward the mercy-seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. And thou shalt put the mercy-seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee. And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy-seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel.

As all good Israelites would know, God commanded Moses and Israel to build Him first a Tabernacle, and in the Most Holy Place in that Tabernacle would rest the Ark of the Covenant containing the two tablets of the Ten Commandments, a powerful sign of the covenant between God and Israel. On top of that Ark was the “mercy-seat,” and the mercy-seat was flanked on either side by cherubim. The mercy-seat is where God placed His presence and spoke to Moses; the mercy-seat is also where Aaron would bring the blood of the sacrifice to make atonement for himself and Israel (Leviticus 16:11-16). When Solomon built the Temple he built cherubim on both sides of the Most Holy Place for the same purpose (1 Kings 6:23-28).

John had already pointed out how Jesus spoke of His Body as a Temple (John 2:18-22). And here in the resurrection John hints at imagery fleshed out fully by the Hebrew author in Hebrews 9:1-28: in Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, He embodies the Tabernacle/Temple service and thus provides the ultimate atonement. Just as the cherubim were placed on the two ends of the mercy-seat on the Ark of the Covenant, so the two angels sit on the slab on which the body of Jesus was laid. The empty tomb is now the Most Holy Place; where His body had lain represents a new mercy-seat, the place where God Incarnate would soon again speak with Mary (John 20:12-16). The angels declare the rock slab where the body of Jesus was placed as the new place of atonement where the holy sacrifice of God rested.

The spiritual implications of this association are staggering. If the tomb is as the Most Holy Place, and the slab upon which Jesus was lain as the mercy-seat, we have further associations between Jesus and the most holy sin-offering described in Leviticus 6:26-29. Far from being unclean or defiled because of bearing sin, and far from being separated from God, Jesus’ body, as the perfect sacrifice for sins, is most holy, bringing cleansing and sanctifying its location (Hebrews 10:5-10). The timing remains significant: the Most Holy Place is not reckoned as the cross or even the upper room but the empty tomb. John is not denying the need nor the efficacy of the cross as is evident in John 1:29, 3:14-15; nevertheless, John is demonstrating that Jesus’ atonement cannot be disassociated from His resurrection. Jesus’ death and resurrection allow for our atonement; He gave His life for sin but received it again in power from God (1 Corinthians 15:12-19, Hebrews 9:11-28). Both of these come together in the empty tomb: the angels sitting where His body, sacrificed for our sin, had lain, and yet the tomb is empty because He is risen. Thus it was the Most Holy Place; the Most Holy Place is now embodied in Christ (John 2:20-22, Hebrews 9:1-14).

And there remains the typology of the Ark of the Covenant and the mercy-seat. The Ark of the Covenant was the sign of the covenant, the repository of the Law by which Israel would be governed; the mercy-seat is where God would meet Moses and Israel, maintain His presence, and upon which the blood of the sin offering would be presented on the Day of Atonement (Exodus 25:18-22, Leviticus 16:11-16). And so it is with Jesus: He is God in the flesh, the image of the invisible God, Mediator between God and man (Colossians 1:15, 2:9, 1 Timothy 2:5). He gave His life as a ransom for sin (Matthew 20:28). God was present in Him and spoke through Him to us (Matthew 1:18-25, Hebrews 1:1-3). That empty tomb is our Ark of the Covenant, both a reminder of where Jesus’ dead body lay, killed for our sin, yet was raised in power, gaining the victory over the forces of evil, sin, and death, the ground of our hope for both forgiveness of sin and ultimate victory over sin and death (Romans 8:1-3, 1 Corinthians 15:20-58).

The reference is quick and fleeting and might be easily missed, yet it provides a glorious key of understanding, wonderfully illustrating how Jesus embodies the story and thus the hope of Israel. The empty tomb was, for a moment, the Most Holy Place; the slab of rock where Jesus lay the mercy-seat. Yet He is Risen, and is the embodiment of the covenant, its atonement, and its holiness. Let us serve the Risen Lord Jesus Christ and find atonement and redemption in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Dismemberment

“And if thy right eye causeth thee to stumble, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not thy whole body be cast into hell. And if thy right hand causeth thee to stumble, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not thy whole body go into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30).

If anyone were not yet stunned and shocked by Jesus’ words they certainly would have been by now.

Jesus makes this startling declaration in Matthew 5:29-30 in the midst of what is popularly called the Sermon on the Mount. Since Matthew 5:21 He has been making a comparison and contrast between what the Israelites “had heard” in the Law of Moses and its bare minimum standard of righteousness and what “I say to you,” expressing God’s higher standard of righteousness, the one beyond that of the scribes and Pharisees (cf. Matthew 5:17-20). He first compared and contrasted the command to not kill with the higher standard of not only not hating but even seeking reconciliation and terms of peace (Matthew 5:20-26). Most recently Jesus began contrasting what the Law said about adultery with the higher standard of not even looking upon a woman with lustful intent (Matthew 5:27-28). Then He starts talking about personal dismemberment: if the right eye or hand causes a person to stumble, they should remove them, for it is better for one part of the body to perish rather than the whole to be cast into the Gehenna of fire (Matthew 5:29-30)!

Jesus’ illustration here in Matthew 5:29-30 has been one of the most abused and distorted of all the things He said and did. Some people have gone to the extreme of actually blinding themselves or chopping off their hands. Others use this passage to mock Christians in their devotion to God, declaring that if they really took Jesus literally and seriously, they should be dismembering themselves! Is Jesus serious here? Should people really dismember themselves in order to avoid hellfire?

Let none be deceived: Jesus is not actually suggesting that His followers should dismember themselves. While there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust, and the unjust will be cast into the lake of fire, actually tearing out the eye or cutting off the hand will not effectively help a believer avoid stumbling and temptation (cf. John 5:28-29, Revelation 20:11-15). Paul puts the challenge well in Colossians 2:20-23: asceticism does not intrinsically help us avoid the indulgences of the flesh. Furthermore, neither our right eye nor our right hand cause us to stumble; they are but servants of the mind, and the stumbling into sin which would occur is on account of the mind and its decisions (James 1:13-15). A blind man or armless man can still stumble into lust.

So if Jesus does not actually intend for anyone to dismember themselves, why does He speak as He does in Matthew 5:29-30? He speaks so as to shock people. He speaks so as to make clear the severity of stumbling and the temptations of sin. Does the right eye, on its own volition, compel us to lust and covet and thus sin? No, but it is easy to give into the temptation to look upon a woman to lust and to do so frequently. Does the right hand, on its own volition, lead us to take what is not ours? No, but once we have seen with our eyes and have lusted in our hearts it is much easier to reach out and grab what is not for us to have.

These are easy sins to have. Lust has become no less of a problem 2,000 years later; modern man has no lack of opportunity to commit adultery in his or her heart. We are becoming too easily sexually desensitized; what once was recognized as sexual deviance is far too often becoming acceptable or even the norm, and many forms of sexual behavior once generally deemed sinful is being accepted and normalized as well. Pornography and romance novels abound as channels of escape. “Hookup culture” provides easier access to opportunities for sexual behavior. To stand firm for sexual purity and holiness requires profound effort from both men and women, husbands and wives; it is always far easier to give into lusts and desires just like everyone else.

Yet sexual sin has always been easy to pursue; such is why Paul must speak of it constantly (e.g. 1 Corinthians 6:9-20, Galatians 5:19, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8). And in His own way Jesus is also trying to make this clear in Matthew 5:29-30 by setting forth the severity of the consequences of giving in and following the prevalent sexual currents of society. Lusting might be easy; it might seem fun; yet it condemns the whole body to Gehenna, a vivid illustration of hell based upon the burning trash heap outside the walls of Jerusalem. If it would be better for us to dismember ourselves than to find ourselves cast into Gehenna, then we really need to take these challenges, temptations, and causes of stumbling very seriously!

One thing is for certain: few if any have forgotten Jesus’ exhortation in Matthew 5:29-30. It is a very memorable illustration! We should not miss the point: no, Jesus does not want us to dismember ourselves, but Jesus says what He does as He does for very good reasons, and we should not so downplay a literal application that we diminish the force of the illustration. Sin comes with serious consequences, and lust and other sexual sins are certainly no exception. If it is better to pluck out our eye than to give into looking at a woman with lustful intent, then we should recognize how important it is to make the decision to keep our thoughts pure. If it would be better to chop off our hand than to reach out to take what is not ours, then we should certainly understand how important it is to make the decision to be blameless in our interaction with our fellow men and women. Let us strive to serve the Lord Jesus and avoid Gehenna!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Alienation

Wherefore remember, that once ye, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called Circumcision, in the flesh, made by hands; that ye were at that time separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:11-12).

To many loneliness and alienation is a fate worse than death. Who really wants to be entirely alone?

As Paul writes to the Ephesians (and if Ephesians is an encyclical letter, which is plausible, to other congregations of Christians as well), after describing the initial condition of all mankind and how God has acted in Christ to provide salvation (Ephesians 2:1-10), he then turns specifically to the Gentile Christians, of whom there were likely many in Ephesus and Asia Minor, and spoke of how God reconciled Gentiles with Jews, the people of God, to make one new body of God’s people in Christ (Ephesians 2:11-18). As with his description of salvation, so with his description of the in-gathering of the Gentiles: he first describes the condition of the Gentiles before they found reconciliation in Christ in Ephesians 2:11-12, and it is not a pretty picture. They were the “uncircumcision,” used in derogatory ways (e.g. 2 Samuel 1:20). They were separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, having no part of the nation of the people of God; they were strangers, or outsiders, not sharing in the covenant of promise given to Abraham and maintained through Isaac and Israel (Genesis 12:1-50:12). Therefore they found themselves with no hope of resurrection or reconciliation and without God, the source of light and life, in the world (Ephesians 2:12). People of the nations (“Gentiles” meaning “nations”) found themselves in quite a distressing and difficult place: they were out there alienated from God, His people, and therefore all that is good and holy.

Almost two thousand years later we all find ourselves, at some point, in this condition; when we live in sin we are separated from God (Isaiah 59:2), have no hope in the resurrection but a fearful expectation of judgment (Romans 2:6-11, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9, Hebrews 10:26-31), and at a fundamental level find ourselves alienated from the people of God (1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 1 Peter 4:3-5). Is that any way to live or seek to maintain existence?

Modern life and culture have only exacerbated man’s condition of alienation. In the past, for better or for worse, people most frequently spent most of their lives within a few miles of where they were born; everyone knew everybody, and quite often, everybody’s business. It was not that long ago when neighbors actually knew one another and looked out for one another; neighborhood children would play with each other and grow up together. People had to interact with each other when traveling and while shopping. These days many extended families are spread across the country or even the world; many move frequently; technology develops ways to function without interaction. If anything our fellow man becomes a matter of irritation: those other cars on the road leading to traffic delays; other shoppers who are in the way or taking too long at the register. Even the Internet with its great promise of connecting people around the world easily leads to alienation when people choose electronic contact over personal contact. We may have new and better toys, yet they have come at the expense of our relationships with one another. Why are we surprised, then, when so many people are depressed, anxious, and feel quite alone and alienated from their fellow man?

Despite the popular myths of society man was not made to be fully independent and alone. Humans were made in the image of God who is Three in One, One in relational unity (Genesis 1:26-27, John 17:20-23). As humans we need connection with God and with fellow human beings in order to live and thrive! Such is why Paul does not stop with the story at Ephesians 2:12 any more than he did in Ephesians 2:3; the great news of Jesus Christ is that all who were once alienated from God and His people can now be reconciled through the blood shed by Jesus, and we can share in the hope of resurrection and life together with God and one another for eternity through Jesus’ resurrection (Ephesians 2:1-18, Revelation 21:1-22:6). Thanks to Jesus we do not have to suffer from alienation any more. Through Him we can be reconciled to God (Romans 5:6-11). Then we can become the people of God and share in that work and community together (Acts 2:42-47, 1 John 1:7)!

Sadly there are times and places when and where Christians feel alienated and alone. Perhaps they work in difficult places. Perhaps their congregation is not fostering a strong sense of community within itself. Perhaps the Christian has not proven willing to open up so as to be part of the larger group, afraid of getting hurt or burned for the first time or yet again. Perhaps the Christian or the members of the church have believed a bit too much in the American myth of complete independence and self-sufficiency. Regardless of the reason, this ought not be, for how can the people of the God who is One in relational unity survive and thrive when living in alienation, isolation, and loneliness?

The church, as Christ’s body, must reflect the will of its Head, the Author and Finisher of its faith and practice (Ephesians 5:25-32, Hebrews 12:2); as Jesus is One with the Father and the Spirit, so He wills for us to be one with one another in His body (John 17:20-23). Such is why He said that His “mother and brothers” are those who do the will of His Father, privileging the spiritual relationship over all others (Matthew 12:46-50). Such is why Paul exhorts Christians to prefer one another in honor, expecting the members of the body of Christ to have the same care for one another (Romans 12:10, 1 Corinthians 12:24-25). Therefore, building strong relationships and community within the local congregation is not an optional work, but crucial for the spiritual health of all involved. It will not always be pretty; relationships never are. It will require a lot of growth and change on the part of many, yet that is exactly what we are to experience while in this life (1 Peter 1:3-9).

A group of people professing Christ but as alienated from one another as they are from the rest of the people with whom they interact in the world does not reflect the will of God in Christ for His body, and the people of the world know that. Why bother being associated with a group of people who have as little to do with one another as the people they already know, especially when that association comes with additional levels of guilt and shame? When the church looks like the world, then the church has failed. But when people of the world see Christians love each other, care for each other, strengthening the relationships with each other, are there for one another in good times and bad, and that Christians are therefore able to draw strength from one another and are built up in their faith, just as God expects in John 13:34-35, Ephesians 4:11-16, they can see how radically different that is from the alienation present in the world, and all of a sudden being part of the people of God becomes a much more attractive proposition! The orphan can find a family; the introvert can find acceptance; the one who feels like they are always failing find support; and all who are part of the group live in the confidence that whatever may come they have the people of God to hold them up and sustain them no matter what!

Deep down we are all very scared of being alone. Christ has redeemed us from that fear; are we willing to trust in Him and make it a reality for ourselves and our fellow people of God?

Ethan R. Longhenry

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

Called Out of Egypt

When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1).

Israel had been quite unfaithful to God, serving other gods and acting immorally. Through Hosea God has been appealing to Israel to repent and change their ways lest judgment break out against them. Many illustrations have been used, including Hosea embodying God’s experience through his own faithless wife Gomer (Hosea 1:1-3:5). God has made His legal case against Israel (Hosea 4:1-19). He would heal them and redeem them, yet they would not be healed or redeemed (Hosea 6:1-3, 7:1, 13-16). He has chastised Israel for playing the whore (Hosea 2:1-23, 9:1-4). And now, beginning in Hosea 11:1, God uses a tender description for Israel, that of His son.

Sons were to give glory and honor to their parents; if they did, they would live long in the land God gave them (Exodus 20:12). Yet Israel, as God’s son, did not give Him appropriate honor, instead sacrificing to the Baals and to other gods (Hosea 11:2). God lifted Israel up, sustained him, but he rebelled against his Father (Hosea 11:3-4). Therefore, for a time, God will reject His son Israel, handing him over to Assyrian captivity, and to the sword (Hosea 11:5-6). Yet God takes no pleasure in this judgment; He has too much compassion on His son Israel to turn him into another Sodom or Gomorrah, Admah or Zeboiim (Hosea 11:8; cf. Genesis 14:1-3, 19:1-29). Even though He will judge them, He will have compassion on them, and will restore them to Him (Hosea 11:9-11).

This is one of the few times in the Old Testament in which God identifies Himself in terms of a Father, and Israel as a son. The Israelites would understand this description: they expected honor from their children by virtue of having given them life and sustaining them in their youth. God desires the same honor out of Israel, since He called Israel out of Egypt and rescued them with a strong hand when they were dependent and had no other to protect them (cf. Exodus 1:1-15:21). Likewise, God’s tender care for Israel was like that of a father for his son, never wanting to have to chastise, judge, or condemn, and ever looking for the opportunity to forgive, show compassion, grace, and mercy (Hosea 11:8-9). And God’s appeal to His people Israel is frequently rooted in His original saving act, redeeming them from bondage in Egypt, the basis upon which Israel was to know that YHWH is God of Israel and God of all (Exodus 20:1-2).

Unfortunately, Hosea’s words fell upon deaf ears. Israel refused to repent and turn back to YHWH their God; within a generation of Hosea’s prophecy, the condemnation spoken of in Hosea 11:5-6 had come to pass, the Kingdom of Israel ceased to exist as a political entity, and the people of Israel began to suffer exile in Assyria (2 Kings 17:1-24). Within another 140 years, Judah would experience the same fate at the hands of Babylon (2 Kings 25:1-21). Yet God did have compassion upon His people Israel; in 539 BCE, Cyrus king of Persia overthrew the Babylonian Empire and encouraged the Jewish people to return to Judah and to restore Jerusalem and the Temple (Ezra 1:1-4). Israel was back in its land, but Israel did not truly feel free. They suffered under imperial authority: the Persians, then the Ptolemies and Seleucid Macedonians, and then the Romans. Israel continued to experience bondage, yet now in their own land!

This situation was acutely felt during the days of the Romans. The Romans had established Herod, a half-Idumean, or Edomite, as a client king to handle Israel (cf. Matthew 2:1). He was well-known for his building projects and his largesse, but all of that was only possible because of the harsh taxation he imposed upon Israel. He was always concerned about threats to his rule; three of his sons, Alexander, Aristobulus, and Antipater, were all killed for conspiracy, true or alleged; one of his final acts involved a slaughter of babies in Bethlehem in an attempt to extirpate Israel’s Messiah (Matthew 2:1-8, 16-18). Herod certainly seemed to be as cruel to Israel as Pharaoh was. And while Herod had tried to eliminate the Messiah, the Father of the Messiah had looked out for Him, and told His mother and step-father to flee to Egypt to deliver Him from Herod (Matthew 2:13-14). After Herod’s death, God called the step-father and mother of the Messiah back since the danger, for a time, had passed; they went to Nazareth of Galilee, ruled by a different descendant of Herod, Herod Antipas (Matthew 2:19-23, Luke 3:1). This would not be the last run-in between a scion of Herod and the Messiah of God; yet it provided the means by which the prophecy had been fulfilled:

And he arose and took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt; and was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt did I call my son” (Matthew 2:14-15).

Matthew’s reference to Hosea 11:1 might seem puzzling to some readers; as we have seen above, in context, Hosea is speaking about Israel as God’s son, lamenting how Israel has not been faithful as a son. Hosea speaks of Israel’s exodus from Egypt out of bondage and slavery; Jesus, the Messiah, went to Egypt for protection against a Pharaoh-like ruler, and was returning to Israel. Is Matthew just proof-texting, desperate to find any and all linkages between the Old Testament and Jesus?

The difficulty is only on the surface, for the association between Jesus the Messiah and Israel runs deep. In Hosea’s imagery, Israel is God’s son, expected to be faithful and to serve the Father in all respects, yet proves disobedient, either through outright rebellion or through heartless obedience (e.g. Luke 15:11-32). God brought Israel out of Egypt to be His special possession, yet they just wanted to be like all the other nations (e.g. 1 Samuel 8:1-18). Jesus is the ultimate Son of the Father, fully obedient, glorifying and honoring the Father in all He does (Matthew 26:39, John 5:19-20). And while it may seem like the identification of Jesus’ sojourn in Egypt with Hosea 11:1 might be a stretch, it serves an important aspect in Jesus’ story as the embodiment of Israel: as Israel started in Canaan, sojourned in Egypt, was tempted in the wilderness, entered the land, was exiled, yet was restored, so Jesus begins in the land, sojourns in Egypt, was tempted in the wilderness, ministered in the land, died, and was raised again in power, able to now be the fulfillment of all of God’s plans and intentions for Israel (Luke 24:41-50, Acts 1:1-8, 3:18-26)!

As Jesus is God’s Son, the true Israel of God can surround Him in His Kingdom, and receive the promised inheritance and restoration (Acts 3:18-26, Hebrews 7:12-9:27). Israel would not find deliverance from their bondage through military power, through rebellion against Rome, or through any political or “secular” means; they tried it in 68-70 CE and saw their city and Temple destroyed again just as in the days of their forefathers (fulfilling Matthew 24:1-36). Yet God’s compassion remained for His people: those who would follow His Son could receive adoption as sons and daughters of God, co-heirs of eternal life and glory in the resurrection of life (Romans 8:11-25).

God loved His son; that is why He first called Israel out of Egyptian bondage, and then He called Jesus out from Egypt to return to the land of Israel in order to call all people out of the bondage to sin and death (Romans 8:1-10). Let us find deliverance and rescue through Jesus of Nazareth and obtain the promises and inheritance which come through restoration to God!

ELDV

A Den of Robbers

Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit. Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods that ye have not known, and come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered;’ that ye may do all these abominations? Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” saith the LORD (Jeremiah 7:8-11).

The people of Judah were about to learn the disastrous consequences of their misplaced confidence.

For generations the people of Israel had served all sorts of gods. Yes, the prophets persistently warned them against serving the gods of the nations, and to avoid their practices abhorrent to YHWH, yet they were still in the land of Israel, a Davidic king was on the throne, and in their minds, YHWH would most assuredly glorify His name against the nations. After all, in the days of Hezekiah, did YHWH not deliver Jerusalem from the hand of the king of Assyria? If YHWH protected His city, His house, and His people from the Assyrians, He would surely do the same from the Babylonians. The people of Judah looked to the existence of the Temple as their refuge and protection from danger; such was their confidence in YHWH.

The people of Judah had good reason to trust in YHWH, but they really did not trust in YHWH, for they did not pursue after Him alone. Even when they did not introduce abominations into the Temple itself, they still practiced abominations, but then expected to find refuge and forgiveness in the Temple of YHWH. Thus God sent Jeremiah to warn the people regarding the folly of their position: just because YHWH delivered Jerusalem in the days of Hezekiah does not mean that He will do the same again. The people of Judah treat the Temple as thieves treat their den: they may not commit terrible sins there, but they seek refuge there from the sins they commit elsewhere, and perhaps even seek to enjoy comfort from the fruit of their iniquity there. When the place where YHWH and His name are to be glorified becomes a place where the people of God seek YHWH’s protection despite not trusting in Him alone, that place becomes a stumbling block. Within a generation the city of YHWH was cast down, His house destroyed, and His people led away to Babylon. It pained YHWH to see it, yet Israel gave Him no recourse: they abused God’s concern for them and treated it as license to continue as they always had been.

The Jews of the first century CE would learn the same lesson. As Jeremiah warned the people of Judah regarding the imminent demise of the first Temple, so Jesus warned the Jews regarding the imminent demise of the second: as He entered Jerusalem in triumph, He ritually cleansed the Temple, and in so doing declared that the people had made YHWH’s house of prayer into a den of robbers (Matthew 21:12-16, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46). No doubt Jesus has some concern regarding how the money-changers exploited the people and how such profiteering in the Temple did make it an actual den of robbers. Yet Jesus’ allusion to Jeremiah’s words would not have been lost on the Temple authorities, the Sadducees and chief priests, who perceived Jesus’ threat to the entire Temple establishment and thus their center of power, and they proved pivotal in engineering the conspiracy which led to Jesus’ death (cf. Luke 19:47-48). Nevertheless, Jesus’ witness was appropriate: many of the Jews had seen how their ancestors had overthrown the rule of the pagan Seleucids and were convinced that they could do the same against the Romans. Their confidence remained in the Temple and how YHWH would not allow the pagan Romans to overthrow that Temple. Yet in the process they rejected Jesus their Messiah and followed after those who taught lies, and within a generation of Jesus’ death Jerusalem was again destroyed and the Temple razed to the ground, never to be built again.

The logic used by the people of Israel is always tempting: YHWH is our God, YHWH is forgiving, YHWH will get glory over His enemies, so YHWH will protect His people no matter what. It is true that YHWH is God, that YHWH loves His people, and always proves faithful (cf. Romans 8:1-39), but YHWH is also holy, righteous, just, and does not provide cover for persistent sin (Hebrews 10:26-31, 1 Peter 1:16-17)! God’s judgment begins with His own household (1 Peter 4:17-19), and we do well to learn that lesson.

There is no longer a physical Temple, but God’s presence remains among His people, individually and collectively, through the presence of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:14-16, 6:19-20, 1 Peter 2:3-5). How shall we treat the place where God maintains His presence? God expects the body and the church to be holy places, used in sanctification for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Ephesians 4:11-16, 5:23-33). Yet we are tempted to turn them into dens of robbers, a place where we seek refuge from the consequences of our sinful behavior without any real intent to reform or change. We must not be deceived, for God sees all. If we treat the body or the church as a den of robbers, God knows it, even if we deceive other Christians or, God forbid, other Christians participate in the same forms of darkness with us. Retribution may not be immediate, but retribution will come, and it will be swift and severe.

The Israelites persistently trusted more in God’s willingness to overlook their faults so as to uphold His name and His glory than to actually repent and reform themselves, and for it they twice watched all they held holy and sacred defamed, defiled, and destroyed. We do well to learn from them and turn aside from such folly. Let us not consider our bodies or the church as a den of robbers, seeking refuge from the consequences of sinful behavior without needing repentance, but instead turn and be holy as God is holy to His glory and honor forevermore!

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