The Final Promise

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the LORD come. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers; lest I come and smite the earth with a curse (Malachi 4:5-6).

Malachi’s last words provide one last promise and warning to Israel. They comprise the final words of the Old Testament in English; even though they have different placements in Hebrew and Greek, they remain the final words spoken by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for four hundred years. God promises that Elijah will return before the great Day of YHWH comes; he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, or the land will be cursed (Malachi 4:5-6). But why Elijah? And what is this about turning hearts of fathers and children?

Elijah’s story is told primarily in 1 Kings 17:1-2 Kings 2:12. YHWH raised him as a prophet in the dark days of Ahab and Jezebel when Baal service was ascendant. Through Elijah God withheld the rain, raised the dead, contended with the prophets of Baal, displayed God’s power before all Israel, and condemned kings for their malfeasance. Yet Elijah was in despair over Israel’s unfaithfulness; he was sure he alone was left to serve YHWH (1 Kings 19:1-14). Toward the end of his time on earth it did not seem that Elijah was all that successful; Ahab’s family still reigned and Baal service remained popular. Then God took Elijah up to heaven with chariots of fire and gave Elisha a double portion of Elijah’s spirit (1 Kings 2:1-12). In Elisha’s day the victory would be complete: Ahab’s descendants would be executed, Jezebel would die, Baal service would be exterminated, and both YHWH and Elijah His servant would be vindicated (2 Kings 2:13-10:27).

Elijah’s story should inform our understanding of Malachi’s prophecy. Since Elijah did not die, many Israelites no doubt heard Malachi’s prophecy and expected God to send Elijah back down from heaven. In the eyes of Israel, Elijah embodied the prophets; they would understand that Malachi prophesied the return of the prophetic message to Israel before the Day of YHWH came, the great day of expectation of the Messiah and the restoration of Israel as told by all the other prophets. If Israel were to need such a prophetic message, it must mean that at that time many in Israel would again prove unfaithful to God, just as in the days of Elijah, and would need to have their heart returned to YHWH and His purposes, the Law of Moses, and concern for property and inheritance, or God would again have to curse the earth, either with drought, as in the days of Elijah, or perhaps even worse.

Whereas Malachi’s words in Malachi 4:5-6 are the final promise of the end of the Old Testament, the same words represent the first hope and fulfillment of the New Testament. The angel Gabriel visited Zechariah the priest and told him he would have a son in his old age: this son would go in the spirit and power of Elijah, turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient in the wisdom of the just (Luke 1:1-17). In those days many in Israel were despondent: some were tempted to abandon the ways of their fathers and become as Greeks, some considered themselves as sinners who were beyond redemption, and some claimed to be superior to everyone else on account of their holiness and knowledge of the ways of God. Into this environment the son of Zechariah, John the Baptist, came as the prophet proclaiming the coming of the Day of YHWH, proclaiming a message of repentance, exhorting all Israel to turn from their sins and back toward YHWH and His purposes (Luke 3:1-18).

John the Baptist was the Elijah who was to come (Matthew 11:14, 17:10-13/Mark 9:11-15). He would be imprisoned and executed by Herod Antipas, and at the time of his death, it did not seem that he was all that successful (Matthew 14:1-12, Luke 3:19-20). Yet he had baptized one Jesus of Nazareth, whom God attested was the Christ (Matthew 3:13-17/Luke 3:21-22). This Jesus was the Immanuel, God with us, and He brought forth the Day of YHWH, first in His death, resurrection, ascension, and the inauguration of His Kingdom, and then in His vindication as the Son of God as the land of Israel was again cursed with death and destruction with the Roman devastation of Jerusalem in 70 CE (cf. Matthew 1:22-23, 24:1-36, Luke 23:1-24:53, Acts 1:1-2:41). John the Baptist, the one who came according to the final promise of the Old Testament, was the final prophet of the old covenant (Matthew 11:7-14). Yet he saw the embodiment of the hope and sustaining message of the prophets in Jesus of Nazareth. In Jesus God would restore the fortunes of Israel (Acts 3:19-21). In Christ God would reconcile not only all Israel but all mankind to Himself (Ephesians 2:1-18). In Jesus the Christ YHWH came so all Israel and all mankind could have the opportunity to come to a knowledge of the truth, be saved, and look forward to the day of resurrection, to never taste death again, just like Elijah (1 Corinthians 15:20-58). Let us be ever thankful that God proved faithful to His promises, and serve Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God, who fulfilled all the prophets said of Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Doing Righteousness

Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because his seed abideth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is begotten of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother (1 John 3:9-10).

Righteousness and sin are always at odds. You cannot hold to one and court the other; you cannot be fully devoted to one while having affection for the other. John wants his fellow Christians to be very clear on this.

The context of 1 John 3:1-10 is the same as that of 1 John 2:18-29: John is greatly concerned about the “antichrists” who would lead Christians astray. John sets out boundary markers to both assure Christians of their standing before God while making sharp and stark distinctions between them and their opponents. The impetus in 1 John 2:18-27 involved doctrines and teachings: Christians could have assurance in their standing before God by holding firm to the message they heard from the beginning and remaining strong in the instruction provided through the Spirit. Those who confessed the truth of God in Christ as revealed to the Apostles by the Spirit from the beginning remained in God in Christ; those who denied Jesus as the Incarnate Christ, the Son of God, were antichrists (1 John 2:18-24).

John does begin a slight shift in 1 John 2:29 that informs 1 John 3:1-10: doctrine is one means by which one can have either assurance or warning, but the practice of righteousness is another such marker. John fleshes this out in 1 John 3:1-10, particularly in 1 John 3:4-10. Those who sin do lawlessness, and Jesus became flesh in order to take away such sin, and in Him there was no sin (1 John 3:4-5). The contrast is set: those who are in Christ and begotten of God do not sin but do righteousness, and those who do not know God in Christ but are of the devil persist in sin and do not love their brethren (1 John 3:4-10).

John speaks in very black and white terms; unsurprisingly, many have taken his messages out of context, interpreting them in the most absolute terms, and have caused confusion, disharmony, and inserted contradiction into Scripture by so doing. One who has read all of 1 John until this point can see the tension and challenge inherent in John’s strong language: did John not say in 1 John 1:8 that those who say they (presently) have no sin deceive themselves, and the truth is not in them? Did he not speak of the need for confession of sin in 1 John 1:9? What of 1 John 2:1, where “if we sin” we have an advocate before the Father in Jesus Christ the righteous? How can John in one verse allow for the possibility of Christians sinning, or declaring that Christians presently struggle with sin, and yet a few verses later say that true Christians will not sin at all?

We can make sense of what John says first by considering those against whom he speaks and then by considering what he might mean by his language. Those whom John characterizes as “antichrists” are at least docetists if not incipient Gnostics. Docetists believed that Jesus was not actually human but only seemed to be human (from Greek dokeo, “to seem”). In their view, God would never humiliate Himself to the point of taking on flesh; to accept such a view would deny the incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:12-20), and such is why John denounces this view with such force in 1 John 2:18-3:10. Perhaps their docetism was part of incipient Gnosticism, a view which would become popular in later centuries. The Gnostics were docetic and believed they had special, secret knowledge of the “story within the story” in the Bible. In either case, many times adherents of such views would either start out in Christianity and depart from it or would visit Christian assemblies, perhaps attempt to join with the Christians, and seem to be one of the Christians, but only in order to get a chance to speak privately with individual Christians in an attempt to lead them astray from the faith (cf. 1 John 2:19, 26). Such is why John emphasizes the need to hold to the message Christians heard from the beginning (1 John 2:24), but it also is why John must emphasize righteousness (1 John 2:29-3:10). Throughout the New Testament, one consistent condemnation of false teachers involves their attempt to satisfy desires of the flesh through the proclamation and substance of their messages (Philippians 3:18-19, 1 Timothy 6:3-6, Titus 1:10-14, 2 Peter 2:1-20, Jude 1:3-16). Whereas Jesus in His life and death practiced and exhorted toward righteousness, and the Apostles sought to proclaim and practice righteousness, these antichrists would use their proclamations and practice to practice greed, sexual immorality, and a host of other sins, and justified themselves on account of the fact that the flesh was irrelevant, to be destroyed in death, and the spiritual realm was all that was important. Little wonder then why John emphasized the resurrection of life as the foundation of hope that leads to purity and holiness in 1 John 3:2-3: when you understand that God is about redemption and reconciliation, you will seek to be pure and holy even in the flesh so as to be like Him. In terms of the language used, some modern versions do well to flesh out what John means by “doeth sin”: “making a practice of sinning.” The difference is not between people who never sin versus sin a little or a lot; the contrast is between those who continually or repeatedly sin versus those who do not have such a practice. In so doing we can reconcile 1 John 3:9-10 with 1 John 1:8-9, 2:1: Christians are not to continue in unrepentant sin and must not make sin a habit, but when they stumble in their walk with Christ, they can confess that stumble and be forgiven so as to continue to pursue righteousness in Christ.

Even though we must resist making John’s language absolute, we still must come to grips with the force of his words in terms of our lives as Christians. John is sharply and starkly re-stating Jesus’ principle regarding false teachers in Matthew 7:15-20: by their fruits you shall know them. If doctrines lead to righteousness, they likely are true (although even in this case we must be hesitant to speak in absolute terms, for many people do a lot of righteous things yet believe very different things about the nature of God in Christ). But if the people who promote a teaching persist in sin, or the doctrines themselves justify persistence in sin, then they are clearly false and of the Evil One. It is easy to always project this concern onto others; after all, we believe we teach the truth and are in the right, yet who would ever honestly claim to be a false teacher? We must first consider ourselves: do people know we are Christians by how we speak and act? Are we producing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24)? We may intend to practice righteousness, and that intention may be well and good, but a big difference remains between intending to do righteousness yet persisting in sin and actually doing righteousness and thus avoiding sin. We might attempt to take solace in the idea that we have the true teachings, but John’s words should expose that assurance as a lie: it has never been enough to just know the truth, but it must be practiced. To not practice the truth you know is sin (James 4:17); you have no excuse. We know we are children of God when we do the things we know are true!

Many good-hearted, sincere, and conscientious Christians read 1 John 3:9-10 and are pricked in heart, concerned they may not be good enough to be the children of God. Such people most likely have the least to fear; a heart so tender to God’s message remains open to all He says and seeks to accomplish them. We must remember that John writes these things to assure Christians that they remain in Christ when they hold to the Gospel as proclaimed from the beginning and practice righteousness, not to upset their faith. Yet we must be doing righteousness; just knowing it is never enough. Let us demonstrate that we are born of God by practicing righteousness, assured that we will be known by God, Jesus, and those around us by the fruit expressed in our words and deeds!

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

The Immanuel Sign

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, when he knoweth to refuse the evil, and choose the good. For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land whose two kings thou abhorrest shall be forsaken” (Isaiah 7:14-16).

The Kingdom of Judah seemed to be in deep trouble.

Around 735 BCE, faced with the ascendant power of Assyria to the north, Rezin king of Aram and Pekah king of Israel solidified their alliance and not so subtly suggested to Ahaz king of Judah that he should join their league. Ahaz resisted, and Rezin and Pekah retaliated by invading Judah and fighting against Jerusalem, intending to depose Ahaz and install a more compliant pretender on the throne (ca. 735-732 BCE, sometimes called the “Syro-Ephraimitic War”; Isaiah 7:1-6). Just before the invasion, when Judah was told of the confederation, they were terrified: Israel was likely stronger than Judah, let alone a Syro-Ephramitic alliance against Judah. How could Judah stand (cf. Isaiah 7:2)?

In the midst of this trial YHWH God of Israel sends a message to Ahaz through His prophet Isaiah. YHWH knew the plans of Aram and Israel and wanted to assure Ahaz that nothing would come of it (Isaiah 7:7). Within 65 years YHWH would see to it that there would be nothing left of Ephraim in Israel (Isaiah 7:8). All Ahaz needed to do was to do nothing, put his confidence in YHWH, and all would be well (Isaiah 7:9).

Yet Ahaz is famous (or infamous?) in Scripture for not putting his trust in YHWH but instead into the gods of other nations and what seemed like intelligent foreign policy (cf. 2 Kings 16:1-20). Now, it seemed, he was facing an existential threat to not only his own life but to the throne of David and Jerusalem itself. To do nothing while his adversaries encircled him and destroyed him? It seemed preposterous!

YHWH wishes to give a sign to Ahaz so that he can have confidence in the word He delivered through Isaiah (Isaiah 7:10-11); Ahaz, attempting to appear humble and pious, demurred (Isaiah 7:12). In so doing he wearies YHWH (Isaiah 7:13), yet the Lord will give a sign regardless: a woman will conceive a child, bear a son, called Immanuel (“God with us”; Isaiah 7:14). Before he knows how to choose good and refuse evil, likely within eight to fifteen years of his birth, he will eat butter and honey, signs of prosperity, for the land of Aram and Israel will be forsaken by that time (Isaiah 7:15-16). The danger will pass away if only Ahaz would just sit tight and trust in YHWH for deliverance.

Ahaz does not put his trust in YHWH. Rezin and Pekah invade Judah and besiege Jerusalem yet prove unable to overcome it (2 Kings 16:5-6). In distress Ahaz ends up beseeching the agent YHWH intended to use to judge Aram and Israel, Assyria, but does so at a high cost: he collected the gold and silver in the Temple and his own palace to give to Tiglath-pileser III king of Assyria and became a vassal of Assyria (2 Kings 16:7-8). Yet Tiglath-pileser III king of Assyria did not really need inducement to attack Aram and Israel; he would have likely done so without Ahaz’s appeal. In 732 BCE, Tiglath-pileser invaded Aram and Israel, exiled the inhabitants of Damascus and killed Rezin, then invaded Israel and made all of the land save for Ephraim part of his own empire (cf. 2 Kings 15:29, 16:9). About ten years later, in 722/721 BCE, Sennacherib king of Assyria finished the task by overcoming the defenses of Samaria and fully conquering the northern Kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 17:1-6). A child conceived in 735 BCE and born in 734 BCE would have been about 12 or 13 in 722/721 BCE, at the age of knowing to choose the good and refuse evil. YHWH made sure that the Immanuel sign was accomplished in its own time, but Ahaz’s foolish action cost Judah dearly. Had Ahaz listened to YHWH and done nothing, his foes would be gone and his (relative) independence would be maintained. Yet he voluntarily submitted to Assyria as a vassal; when his son Hezekiah rebelled against Sennacherib king of Assyria and stopped paying tribute, the full force of Assyria was unleashed against Judah, leading to the destruction of the walled cities of Judah save for Jerusalem (ca. 701 BCE; 2 Kings 18:7, 13-19:37). Ahaz sought a worldly way to maintain his throne and his head; it nearly cost his son both. They only obtained deliverance because God was with them.

Over the next seven hundred years there were many times when the Jews could have easily doubted the idea that God was with them: Babylon accomplished what Assyria sought to do, the people were exiled, returned to the land, remained under foreign domination, and experienced intense persecution at the hands of pagan oppressors for maintaining their confidence in YHWH their God. Yet through all of this the people hoped for the ultimate fulfillment of the Immanuel sign: the Child born of a virgin who would truly represent Immanuel, God with us, and He was born in a most humble way to a Galilean peasant girl in Bethlehem (Matthew 1:21-25, Luke 2:4-20). Yet again the people of Israel were beset with foes that seemed to threaten their very existence, but the time for their concerns had passed. The sign was no longer that the child would see prosperity and the destruction of the national foes of Judah by the age of 15; the Child Himself is the sign, for He is Jesus, the Immanuel, God in the flesh (John 1:1, 14). He came in the flesh to overcome the enemy of all mankind, to deliver them from sin and death, if they would only put their trust in Him to that end and stand firm (Acts 2:14-38, Romans 5:6-11, 8:1-10). By persevering to the end, Jesus obtains the Kingdom promised to the descendants of David, an everlasting Kingdom, and He serves as its Lord (Daniel 2:44, Colossians 1:13).

God was with Judah: He provided the sign of the child who would be able to enjoy peace and security at 15, and it came to pass. YHWH was able to defend and protect Judah without Ahaz needing to go compromise himself through the pursuit of what passed for human wisdom and sensible foreign policy. The cost of Ahaz’s foolishness was high, but God remained faithful to Hezekiah and preserved a remnant of Judah. Yet YHWH’s presence among His people was only ultimately demonstrated through the embodiment of the Word in Jesus of Nazareth, and it is through Him that God provides the ultimate deliverance for all mankind. We can only obtain that deliverance by trusting in Him and doing what He says; attempting to establish the fulfillment of the promise through what passes for worldly wisdom is foolhardy and can only postpone the ultimate end and danger we all face. Let us be thankful for the Immanuel sign, and unlike Ahaz, let us put our full confidence in God and seek to serve Him and glorify His name through His Son Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Confession

But [Jesus] held his peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, and saith unto him, “Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?”
And Jesus said, “I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:61-62).

It was one of the only things He said, but it was all they needed.

It was really a show trial; the final decision had already been reached, and it was only a matter of formality when it came to how to get there. The Jewish religious authorities had conspired to have Jesus arrested and fully intended to hand Him over to the Roman authorities for execution (cf. Mark 14:1-2). The trial was not going well; the testimony of the witnesses were not only false but did not even agree (Mark 14:55-59). Jesus had not answered His accusers, and the time came when the High Priest again asked Him whether He was the Christ, the Son of the Blessed (Mark 14:60-61). Jesus then gave His confession, and it was all they needed: He said He was, and that they would see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming with the clouds of heaven (Mark 14:62). All of a sudden they had everything they needed; the High Priest rent his clothes, indicating mourning and shame on account of the “blasphemy” just heard, and they all summarily condemned Jesus to death for what He had said (Mark 14:63-64). The next morning He was delivered over to Pilate; He was dead that evening (Mark 15:1-39).

Jesus was right, of course. On the third day God raised Him with power; forty days later Jesus ascended to the Father, exalted and given all authority, and as long as the religious authorities remained authorities they had to reckon with the sect of the Nazarene (cf. Mark 16:1-8, Acts 1:1-5:42). The religious authorities thought they were doing God’s will, and they were, but just not as they had thought or had expected (cf. Acts 2:23-24, 3:13-17); in attempting to eliminate Jesus’ threat to their existence, they unwittingly accomplished the very mechanism by which God would redeem mankind, rescue many from Israel, and ultimately to seal the condemnation of all they treasured in Jerusalem (Matthew 24:1-36, Romans 5:6-11).

Thus we understand that Jesus made His confession knowing quite well that it would be the basis of the charge of blasphemy and for His execution. And yet He says everything He says in that confession for good reason: it has been, in fact, one of the primary means by which He has attempted to make clear who He is and what He is doing throughout His ministry.

Jesus’ confession is saturated with prophetic references. And of all the various prophecies regarding the Christ, He focuses on Daniel’s vision in Daniel 7:13-14 in terms of Psalm 110:1: the “one like a son of man” receiving dominion, glory, and a kingdom from the Ancient of Days, thus sitting at the right hand of God, the right hand of power. Thus here, toward the end of His life, we are given the key to understanding what He has been saying throughout His life: His self-description as “Son of Man.”

Jesus also provides the key to understand what will happen: He will reign over His Kingdom (Colossians 1:13). His Kingdom will not be like any other in history: it has no capital, no defined physical boundaries, no army with physical weapons. It certainly was not about re-establishing the Davidic monarchy in Jerusalem and overthrowing the Romans as the Jews had fervently hoped! Instead, it is as Daniel saw in Daniel 7:27: the Kingdom of the Son of Man is an everlasting Kingdom, and all dominions will serve and obey Him.

So it is that Jesus confesses before Pilate the good confession that His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36-37). Christ’s Kingdom is spiritual, able to encompass people of all nations (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11). It has one ruler perpetually: Jesus of Nazareth, raised from the dead, ruling from heaven (Matthew 28:18, Hebrews 13:8). Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess His name, thus saying what He declared before the religious authorities whether they affirmed it in life or not (Philippians 2:9-11).

Throughout His life Jesus proclaimed the coming Kingdom of God (Matthew 4:17). He is its Ruler; we are His subjects. As Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, God has made Him both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36); it is incumbent upon us to heed His word and do what He says (1 John 2:3-6). Will we affirm Jesus’ confession in our own lives, recognizing that He is the Christ, and sits at the right hand of Power, and then act like it? Or will our confession come too late and with great bitterness?

Ethan R. Longhenry

Distorting Scripture

And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given to him, wrote unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; wherein are some things hard to be understood, which the ignorant and unstedfast wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction (2 Peter 3:15-16).

As Peter is concluding his letter, describing what will happen at the end of time and exhorting Christians to understand that God is not “slow” or “delayed” but patient and longsuffering toward us so that we might repent and be saved (2 Peter 3:1-15a), he goes out of his way to show that Paul had also written to them regarding “these things” (2 Peter 3:15b-16). Peter says they are written according to the wisdom given to him, and that some things are hard to understand. These difficult matters are “distorted” (Greek streblousin, “to torture, wrest,” thus, to pervert) by those who are “ignorant” (Greek amatheis, unschooled or unlearned) and “unstable” (Greek asteriktoi, unfixed, vacillating, unsteadfast; used also in 2 Peter 2:14; these three Greek terms used only in these instances in 2 Peter in the New Testament). Peter then encourages those Christians to whom he writes to beware lest they also get carried away with the error of the lawless and fall from their own steadfastness, but should instead grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus (2 Peter 3:17-18).

Peter’s affirmation of Paul and his writings is quite important: it represents a strong challenge those who seek to find discontinuity and inconsistency between Peter and Paul, making much of Galatians 2:11-14. Peter affirms that he and Paul have taught the same things; not only that, but Peter proves willing to cite Paul’s writing as further confirmation of the things which he is teaching, giving great credibility and honor to Paul’s writings. Paul is not an outlier in Christian theology and thought: Peter makes that clear.

What are “these things” to which Peter refers (cf. 2 Peter 3:16)? Perhaps Peter refers to “salvation,” the nearest concept (cf. 2 Peter 3:15): Paul has much to say about the nature of salvation in terms of election, grace, faith, obedience, etc., throughout his writings. Yet “these things” are plural, and the final section of the letter, 2 Peter 3:1-15a, has focused on Jesus’ return, the end of time, and the Lord’s patience, another theme regarding which Paul has many things to say (cf. Romans 2:4-11, 8:17-25, 1 Corinthians 15:1-58, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:10, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-2:12, among others). Peter’s letter has also featured encouragement through testimony and warnings about false teachers, other themes which feature in Paul’s writings (cf. Galatians 1:6-2:10, 1 Timothy 4:1-4, 6:3-10, 2 Timothy 2:14-19, 4:3-4, although the parallels are stronger between 2 Peter 2:1-22 and Jude 1:3-23). Peter, therefore, likely has Paul’s warnings about false teachers and particularly discussions of the end of time in mind.

While the tone of the passage is negative in many ways, we can derive positive encouragement from it. Some things in Paul’s teachings are hard to understand: yet many things are more easily understood, and even though some parts may be difficult, it is not impossible to understand them. Yes, the unlearned and unstable distort the Scriptures: but we can be learned and stable, and handle the Scriptures properly (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15, 2 Peter 3:14-15). The Scriptures can be understood; we can gain encouragement from them. We can learn of God’s will and purpose for us.

Yet the focus is undoubtedly on the negative in 2 Peter 3:16: the unlearned and unstable distort and pervert not just what Paul writes but also other parts of Scripture. We do well to consider these matters so that we may not be guilty of them!

Peter warns about the “unlearned” distorting Scripture. “Unlearned” is not synonymous with “a lack of formal or higher education”; Peter himself is reckoned as one without formal education and a common man in Acts 4:13. One can have many degrees in higher education and still be “unlearned” or at least “unstable”; one may not have a lot of formal education but be wise in the Scriptures. Yet Peter’s warning is apt: many people, even good-intentioned people, end up distorting Scripture because they are not familiar with much of the story. Many false doctrines have begun and spread because men with less than stellar understanding of Scripture began teaching what made sense to them and refused to accept correction from those with better understanding of what God has made known through Scripture. We must remember that the sum of God’s word is truth (Psalm 119:160); many times people will focus on some passages or statements in Scripture to the detriment and neglect of others and come out with unbalanced, unhealthy teachings. These days many teachings of Scripture are discussed and attempted to be applied without any consideration of or respect given to their original contexts: this is a particularly relevant concern in light of 2 Peter 3:15-16 and discussions of the “end of time” (apocalypticism or eschatology), when many seek to understand apocalyptic images purely in terms of the present day, as if Ezekiel, Daniel, and John were talking specifically and directly about the early twenty-first century.

Peter also shows concern regarding the “unstable” distorting Scripture. Some perhaps are “unstable” because they are “unlearned”; nevertheless, one could be “learned” yet “unstable.” Few persons prove more dangerous in a congregation than one who has great Scriptural knowledge but is seriously lacking in practicing the message of Scripture and developing in maturity. They are “puffed up” by knowledge, and do not “build up” in love (1 Corinthians 8:1). There is a vast difference between an academic understanding of Christianity and a practical, “full-of-faith” understanding of Christianity. The practice of Christianity leads to proper understanding of love, humility, grace, mercy, and compassion; an academic understanding of Christianity often leads to presumption, pride, division, and often perversion of and departure from the message of Scripture when people begin to think they “know better” than that which has been revealed. So it was with the Gnostics in the first centuries after Christ; so it is to this day.

Peter affirms that Scripture can be understood, but warns that it can be misunderstood and distorted. Let us take Peter’s warning to heart: none of us are “above” or “below” distorting Scripture, however intentional or unintentional. Let us instead continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, derive encouragement from Scripture, and do all things for God’s glory and honor!

Ethan R. Longhenry