Category Archives: The Gospel of John

The Abrahamic Tipping Point

 

One of the primary areas of disagreement over the interpretation of Scripture is the relationship between the Old and New Covenants and the implications that flow downstream from this,  such as: Israel vs. the Church, infant baptism vs. believer’s baptism, and the Future of ethnic Israel.  The tipping point in each of these debates, and the key to unraveling the continuity/discontinuity issue between the Old and New Covenants, is the meaning and significance of the Abrahamic Covenant.

On the one hand, finding too much continuity between the Old and the New Covenants, results in a continuation of the practices regarding infants, i.e. infant circumcision under the Old is continued under the New by means of the practice of baptism.  Additionally, this view collapses Israel and the Church and sees them as a (near) continuous unit.  On the other hand, finding too much discontinuity between the Old and the New, results in two distinct purposes and plans of redemption for the people of God, namely Israel under the Old Covenant and the Church under the New Covenant .  Historically, the distance between these two views has been approached from a variety of angles with a myriad of different solutions, each of which must reconcile what to do with the Abrahamic Covenant.

Keep in mind, when we are mentioning the Abrahamic Covenant, we are referring to the progressive unfolding of the covenant that God makes with Abraham, which begins in Genesis 12 and is woven throughout Genesis until around Genesis 22.  While there are many passages which one could examine to arrive at a solid conclusion on the issue of how to interpret this covenant, one passage of particular interest occurs in John 8, within the context of Jesus’ dialogue/sermon with the Pharisees and those who claimed to believe in Him.  We pick up the debate in verse 31

31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

Here, the dialogue centers around Jesus’ statement that the truth is freeing.  It’s rather obvious that He is not talking about  being in physical captivity, as the Jews assume, rather He is talking about being enslaved by sin.  The truth, says our Lord, will set one free from this enslavement.  The reply by the Jews assures us that they do not have the ears to hear what Christ is saying, because they immediately state their heritage with Abraham, followed by an affirmation of their physical freedom.

Though He certainly did not have to clarify His statements, our Lord condescends to the Jews misunderstanding with the following

34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

With this, we have a crystallizing statement that Jesus is not talking about physical slavery, rather the slavery to sin.  The contrast in the dialogue is between Jesus’ spiritual analogy of slavery and the Jews physical concept of slavery.  Next, Jesus addresses their claim to Abraham

37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

Jesus affirms the statement that the Jews are the offspring of Abraham.  Remember that their statements were affirming physical realities: 1. We’ve never been enslaved 2. We have Abraham as our Father.  Remember too that Jesus was talking spiritual realities.  In verse 37, He affirms their physical relationship with Abraham, yet in verse 38, He goes back to the spiritual, “you do what you have heard from your father.”  The following verses add clarity

39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” 

Notice again that the Jews assert that Abraham is their father.  Clearly they recognize that in verse 38, Jesus is talking about a different father.  Our Lord’s next statement is the focus of our post and serves to highlight the duality with Abraham

Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did.”

After previously affirming the Jews relationship with Abraham, Jesus (who we may be reminded was Himself a Jew) now questions their relationship with Abraham by focusing on their deeds, or works.  Either Jesus has forgotten what He said earlier or He’s confused right?  What gives?

Well certainly He’s neither.  How can one’s works determine whether or not you have a physical ancestor in Abraham?  Clearly, Jesus is now back to an emphasis on spiritual realities.  The works that Abraham did were the results of the “obedience of faith” (see Genesis 15:6; 22:12, 16-18; Romans 4:3ff; James2:23ff).  Again, Jesus references another father in contrast to Abraham.  Let’s finish out this section of the dialogue and then summarize what we’ve seen

They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.”42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

The above passage is an important conclusion because for the first time we see the Jews finally grasping the spiritual realities that Jesus has been discussing.  They assert that yes, Abraham is their physical ancestor, but God is their true Father.  Jesus immediately debunks this superficial claim by again looking to the fruit in their lives and seeing a lack of love for Himself.  In contrast to their claim of God as their Father, Jesus goes to the heart of the matter by stating they have the devil as their father.

Summarizing then

  • The Jews claim and Jesus affirms their physical relationship with Abraham.
  • Jesus presents a paradigm wherein the Jews do not have a spiritual relationship with Abraham.
  • The Jews claim and Jesus denies their spiritual relationship with God as their Father.
  • Jesus presents a paradigm wherein the Jews have the devil as their spiritual father.

So what does all this contribute towards understanding the Abrahamic covenant?

In the context of this dialogue, Jesus presents a duality with respect to Abraham, that he has BOTH physical AND spiritual descendants.  The physical covenant with Abraham was marked by circumcision.  The “spiritual covenant” more properly called the Covenant of Grace, was marked by faith and obedience, the evidence of a circumcised heart.  All of Abraham’s descendants were to be marked by physical circumcision, remarkably, this included both Ishmael and Isaac, as well as the servants in Abraham’s house.  All of Abraham’s spiritual descendants are marked with heart circumcision.

17th Century Baptist, Nehemiah Coxe summarizes this duality in Abraham with the following words,

“Abraham is to be considered in a double capacity: he is the father of all true believers and the father and root of the Israelite nation.”

While the physical and the spiritual seed of Abraham at times had overlap, as in Isaac not Ishmael and Jacob not Esau, and the promises to Abraham, both physical and spiritual had overlap, nevertheless recognizing and maintaing this duality is critical to understanding the relationship between the Old and New Covenants.

One final note for consideration, both the seed and the promises given to Abraham are fulfilled in Christ, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.” Galatians 3:16  This fulfillment in Christ reaches its pinnacle through His death on the cross, shedding His own blood for the inauguration of the New Covenant*, see Luke 22:20; Hebrews 8:6-13.

 

 

(*essentially this is the fulfillment of the Covenant of Grace that we mentioned earlier).

 

Sheep Beaters

Our Lord uses the imagery of sheep to refer to His people, a reference that is used throughout Scripture.  In turn, He as our Great Shepherd leads us into green pastures and beside still waters.  The picture of a sheep is not a flattering one.  Largely ignorant, defenseless, and prone to wander, these adjectives often combine to leave the sheep exposed to predators, such as lions and bears who sought out the sheep of the young shepherd David or wolves, whom Paul promised would soon inhabit the Church at Ephesus from within.  Even with the natural imagery of David and the spiritual ascription by Paul, a more striking, sinister description is given in Ezekiel 34, that of unfaithful shepherds.  Why do I say this is worse?  Because sheep can spot a lion or bear and while a wolf in sheep’s clothing, spiritually speaking, could certainly wreak havoc on a flock, it would seem to pale in comparison to a flock that followed an unfaithful, uncaring, inattentive shepherd.  Each of those predators listed above can harm the sheep, but an unfaithful shepherd can harm the flock and leave the gate open for those predators to enter in.  Note the passage from Ezekiel below:

“The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. 4 The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. 6 My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.

7 “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8 As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10 Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.”

Summarizing:

  1. Unfaithful shepherds do not feed the flock of God (vs. 2)
  2. Unfaithful shepherds use the flock of God for their own benefit (vs. 3)
  3. Unfaithful shepherds butcher the flock of God (vs. 3)
  4. Unfaithful shepherds fail to care for the flock of God (vs. 4)
  5. Unfaithful shepherds fail to protect the flock of God (vs. 5)
  6. Unfaithful shepherds fail to shepherd the flock of God (vs. 5)
  7. Unfaithful shepherds beat the flock of God (vs. 4-5)

With this brief synopsis of the indictments levied by God against the unfaithful shepherds of Israel, there is one particular phrase that caught my attention, “with force and harshness you have ruled them.” Ezekiel 34:4 The summation of all that God has to say with regard to unfaithful shepherds culminates with this indictment, “You have ruled my sheep forcefully and harshly” resulting in a scattering of the flock and causing them to be open prey for the predators.  Instead of shepherds, God finds sheep beaters.

Though in context, this passage deals specifically with Israel and her unfaithful leaders, is there an application that can be drawn from it for today regarding 1. The presence of unfaithful shepherds today and 2. God’s attitude towards those who unfaithfully shepherd His sheep?  The answer to the question of modern application would seem to be a resounding yes on both points.  In Acts 20:28 the Apostle Paul instructs the leaders of the Church at Ephesus to “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” While the ESV translates the phrase above “to care for the church of God” the NASB, more appropriately translates it, “to shepherd the church of God.”  This is to be preferred because of the imagery Paul uses earlier in the verse as he refers to God’s church as His “flock.”  Likewise in 1 Peter 5:1-5 we read,

“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight,not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you;not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

In Peter’s language you can nearly hear the OT background of Ezekiel’s record of God’s indictment against unfaithful shepherds.  Finally, Jude refers to ungodly people who have crept in unnoticed as “shepherds feeding themselves” (Jude 1:12) again likely drawing on the imagery of Ezekiel 34.

The application to be drawn from these passages is that unfaithful shepherds have been in the Church (of Israel – QAHAL Israel) and unfaithful shepherds are currently in the Church (Christ’s NT Church) and God’s warning, objection, and accusation against these unfaithful leaders remains a constant.

What then are we to conclude about unfaithful shepherds in Christ’s Church today that are guilty of one or all of those indictments mentioned above?

  1. They exist and operate today much like they have done throughout the history of the Church.
  2. They have always operated out of selfish motivation and personal ambition to suit the desires of their own flesh.
  3. They operate under the title of “shepherd” which they wrongly assume grants them authority to treat the sheep however they see fit.  It is difficult therefore, to imagine any scenario where this title is one granted by the Holy Spirit and not assumed by the will or plans of man.
  4. They fail to follow the pattern of the Great Shepherd, who not only cares for His sheep, but has laid down His life for them.
  5. They have been marked out long ago for condemnation.

Jesus instructs us in John 10:1-5 of how His sheep are to respond to unfaithful, false, shepherds,

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.

And again,

7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

Christ’s sheep will not follow the voice of an unfaithful shepherd, a voice that is as a stranger to them.  In fact, not only will they choose not to follow, but they will flee from him (John 10:5).  The motivation of the hireling or unfaithful shepherd is clear, self-centered and self-seeking, leaving the sheep as prey for the predator.  Just because someone has assumed the title or role of pastor/shepherd does not automatically mean they are faithful.  Consequently, sheep are not obligated in any way to follow him.

For more on the relationship of Ezekiel 34 and John 10 see here: http://voiceoftruthblog.com/shepherds-feed-the-sheep

And here: http://voiceoftruthblog.com/sermon-of-the-week-12512-i-am-the-good-shepherd

Jacob’s Ladder – The Messiah Jesus Christ

A fascinating, yet often confused element to understanding the Bible is the way that the New Testament uses, quotes, or otherwise alludes to the Old Testament.  We’ve seen it in several recent posts, specifically the Apostle John’s quotation by John the Baptist concerning the name Lamb of God, which is packed full of Old Testament nuances, ascribed to Christ.  We needn’t move far from this passage in John 1 before we encounter another strong, clear example of the NT use of the OT, this time from our Lord Jesus Christ.

In John 1:43-51, we find a passage describing the calling of Nathaniel in what might otherwise be an overlooked detail.  However, as is always the case in Scripture, there is much more for us to glean.  Notice the following observations from the passage:

  • Phillips recognition of the promised Messiah (vs. 45)
  • The basis for his recognition is the OT, i.e. “Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote” (vs. 45)
  • Nathaniel’s hesitation to believe without seeing (vs. 46)
  • Jesus’ observation of Nathaniel’s character (vs. 47)
    • Note the contrast with Nathaniel’s statement in vs. 46
  • Nathaniel’s encounter with the Lord (vs. 48-49)
    • He believes
  • Jesus’ promise of better things to come (vs. 50)
  • Angel’s ascending and descending on the Son of Man (vs. 51)
    • A clear reference to the OT, Genesis 28:12

With these general observations made, there are really two that I want to focus on.  First is Philip’s recognition of Jesus in verse 45 and his statement on the expectation of the Old Testament.  When Philip says to Nathaniel, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” what are we to make of this?  Where is he referring to in the OT?  When we read the OT or hear it preached are our thoughts immediately transferred to Christ?  Should they be?

Jesus uses similar language when He meets with His disciples after His death and resurrection.  In Luke 24:27 we read, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself “ and again in Luke 24:44-47 “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

With this in mind, we can see clearly that the OT anticipation of the coming Messiah was fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ and we can better understand that all of the Old Testament types, shadows, and allusions were pointing toward Him.

Which brings us to the second observation, the reference to Genesis 28:12.  Note the passage from Genesis 28 in context:

10 Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. 12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

18 So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, 21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, 22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”

jacobsladderThis fascinating vision given to Jacob becomes the object upon which Christ draws attention in the passage from John 1.  Jesus asserts that we are not to expect an actual ladder to be constructed from heaven and earth, that was the mistake of those who built the Tower of Babal in Genesis 11 (likely contrasted here in Genesis 28).  Instead, He takes this vision of Jacob and applies it directly to Himself, as a pathway upon which angels will ascend and descend.

Christ is the fulfillment of the OT type seen in Jacob’s dream.  He, and He alone, is the bridge, or ladder, between God and man (or heaven and earth as it were).  Upon Him, i.e. through His person and work, do angel’s ascend and descend as a picture of the access to God the Father that Christ has provided through His life, death, and resurrection.  “…No one comes unto the Father except through me.” John 14:6 It is by way of Christ and no other that access can be granted to God.  He is the only “way, truth, and life.”  Jesus is the better and true ladder of Jacob’s vision, where the glory of the holy God condescends to meet with sinful man.