Category Archives: Biblical Theology

Review: Mark (TNTC)

The first commentary on the Gospel of Mark was written in the sixth century, and between “AD 650 and 1000, thirteen major commentaries were written on Matthew, but only four on Mark” (Strauss, 20). Despite the long neglect, much study has been done over Mark’s short Gospel for more than the last century.

Eckhard Schnabel, Professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell and author of Acts (ZECNT), Early Christian Mission (2 volumes), and 40 Questions on the End Times, replaces Alan Cole’s Mark volume in the Tyndale New Testament Commentary (TNTC) series with a Christmas meal—441 pages of commentary on the shortest Gospel. While adding to the growing list of commentaries, Schnabel (who is also the TNTC’s series editor) did not write a commentary of commentaries on Mark. Instead, writing for pastors, students, and laypeople, he comments on the meaning of Mark through theological reflection, historical points of reference, the meanings of words, and the literary development of the characters.

Summary

Schnabel gives very little attention to Markan priority (whether Mark’s Gospel was written first), saying that Markan priority “continues to be plausible,” but that “these questions are more significant for commentaries on the Gospels of Matthew and Luke” (4). Thankfully, Schnabel examines the text and not a possible Markan community behind the text, though he does acknowledge future Mark’s clarifications for Gentile readers (14, 162).

He takes Mark to be the actual author (12), probably writing from Rome for various churches (14) anywhere between 50–64 AD. We don’t know what Mark’s sources are, but if Papias is correct, Mark’s “most significant — and perhaps the only — source” was Peter (18). Mark ends his Gospel at 16.8. Abrupt endings are attested in antiquity, and within the Bible Jonah ends abruptly and Acts ends with Paul still alive and his legal case unresolved. To paraphrase Demetrius (whom Schnabel quotes), some points need to be worked out be the hearers themselves (22-23).

Schnabel disregards William Wrede’s hypothesis of Mark’s “Messianic secret.” If there is nothing messianic about Jesus or his ministry, then there is no explanation for his death, nor is there any explanation as to how his disciples transformed their “unmessianic master into the Messiah after Easter” (25).

Mark does not have a “vendetta” against the disciples (29), but merely gives an “unvarnished” (aka, authentic) look at their pre-resurrection responses to Jesus (30). Nobody imagined a Messiah who would die, and though on occasion Jesus does rebuke the disciples, he often explains himself to them.

Schnabel divines Mark into four pairs of three’s:

  1. The Beginning of the Gospel (1.1–13)
    1. Heading (1.1)
    2. Jesus and John the Baptist (1.2–8)
    3. Jesus declared Son of God and conflict with Satan (1.9–13)
  2. Jesus’ Messianic Authority (1.14–8.21)
    1. The kingdom of God and Jesus’ authority (1.14–3.6)
    2. The Twelve and the kingdom of God (3.7–6.6)
    3. The Mission of Jesus Messiah and the Twelve (6.6–8.21)
  3. Jesus’ Messianic Suffering (8.22–15.47)
    1. The revelation of the Messiah’s suffering (8.22–10.52)
    2. The confrontation in Jerusalem (11.1–13.37)
    3. The suffering and death of Jesus Messiah (14.1–15.47)
  4. Jesus’ Resurrection Announced (16.1–8)
    1. The women at Jesus’ tomb (16.1–5)
    2. The announcement of Jesus’ resurrection (16.6–7)
    3. The reaction of the women (16.8)

Interpretations

4:10–12: Jesus tells parables to conceal the kingdom of God from outsiders. They are intentionally veiled. Many cannot see or hear the kingdom of God in Jesus’ miracles, exorcisms, and through his teachings. Judgement will come because they do not want to truly listen to God (13.1–37). Schnabel interprets through the lens of the kingdom of God that has come in Jesus (1.14–15).

6:49–50: Jesus’ “I am” statement (see also 14.62) is not a declaration of divinity.

7:24–30: Having just taught his disciples about what is clean and unclean (vv. 14–23), Jesus enters “unclean” Gentile territory. Jesus doesn’t “change his mind” when the Syro-Phoenician woman gives the right answer; rather, she passes his test. She (a Gentile “dog”) can eat the crumbs under the table simultaneously while the children (Israel) are eating. Though Jews generally saw dogs as unclean, “dog” (kynarion) here is a pet “present at a meal in the house” (173). This Gentile woman has more spiritual discernment than the Jewish leaders.

8:1–10: Mark is not repeating himself here; this is not the same event as in 6.30–44. Jesus is in Gentile territory (Isa 25.6; 49.6; Acts 1.8; 2.39).

13:24–27: Jesus’ second coming is at a separate, indeterminate time from 13.1–23. Jesus no longer focuses on the city of Jerusalem, the local councils, or even the seasons (winter, v. 18), but on “the sun, the moon, the stars, the clouds, the ends of the earth and the ends of heavens” (330).

14:35–36: Jesus “does not have inner doubts about the value of his death. Jesus’ prayer to be spared death conveys the excruciating anguish that senses the terrible reality of suffering the judgment of God, dying as a ransom for the many (10:45), shedding his blood to seal the new covenant (14:24), dying as a sin offering (Rom 8:3), becoming the place of God’s atoning presence (Rom 3:25), becoming a curse for us (Gal 3:13) ” (364).

14:51–52: Whoever this young man is, he shows that all have forsaken Jesus. In terror, the young lad would prefer to be shamefully naked and save his own skin than to be caught being with Jesus.

Schnabel provides much good historical and factual information on various people (Pilate, p. 394-95; the Sanhedrin, p. 373), places (Jerusalem, p. 261), and the timing of the Passover (350-51). Some of these details seem a bit much, such as the possible “House of Peter (1.29–31), heights of various mountains in Israel, and how a clay lamp was made in Galilean workshops (4.21). It can make the text seem too busy, and I personally think some of these details would work better as footnotes. Still, his points on why people go “up” to Jerusalem (247), just how the friends could dig their way through the roof of a house (65), or who Barabbas was (400), help make sense of the text. Schnabel is a careful exegete and historian. 

Unfortunately, there are no indices in this volume (or in any of the Old and New Testament series).

Recommended?

I’ve read (chunks of) quite a few Markan commentaries. Schnabel’s volume isn’t going to break new ground, but he is trustworthy when it comes to biblical exegesis and exposition. He keeps the Gospel’s context in view in his theology sections, making sure that he doesn’t interpret something apart from anything else Mark has said, and points to Christ as our one and true Savior whose death ransomed sinners and inaugurated the new covenant. The pastor, student, Bible college teacher, and layperson would be filled with this huge 441 page meal.

Lagniappe

  • Author: Eckhard J. Schnabel
  • Series: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Book 2)
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (June 6, 2017)

But it on Amazon or IVP Academic!

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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The Paraclete

What does “Paraclete” (παράκλητος) mean? In an in-depth look at “the Paraclete” in his commentary on John, Edward Klink says that the term for the Paraclete occurs only five times in the NT, and all five of those occurrences are within John’s writings (14.16, 26; 15.26; 16.7; 1 John 2.1), and the search for an equivalent Hebrew term is a lost cause.1 Klink notes the various ways Paraclete is translated in different translations: “Comforter” (KJV), “Advocate” (NRSV; NEB; JB; NIV), “Counselor” (HCS), and “Helper” (NASB; ESV).

The traditional scholarly opinion has been to see παράκλητος as having a legal or forensic meaning—thus, the term “advocate.” Yet scholars admit that John adds to this meaning by giving the word the connotations of “teacher” and “helper.” To define παράκλητος as “advocate” forces the word into one narrow definition from what John actually means. Some scholars have pushed back against the legal language saying that the term is “better interpreted . . . [for] a prophetic role or office.”2 While the term “‘could appear in legal contexts’ . . . when it did it was used ‘as a supporter or sponsor.’”3 Inevitably translators will have to choose one word as the primary meaning.

Klink, on the other hand, doesn’t translate παράκλητος, but transliterates it as the Paraclete “to avoid limiting or muting aspects of the identity and multifaceted function of the Paraclete that are core to its (his) identity.”4 Instead of looking to a historical or religious background to understand the Paraclete, Klink prefers to look to the foreground. John, and thus, Jesus, is teaching us about the Holy Spirit (John 14.26). He is developing a doctrine for his readers.

“The figure and function of the Holy Spirit cannot be defined by the history of religions, for it requires not only sensitivity to the Gospel’s own multifaceted portrayal but also the foregrounding depiction from the rest of the biblical canon — the primary source for offering a conceptual interpretation of the Spirit’s person and work.”5

In this in-depth section Klink gives three aspects of the Paraclete for his reader to understand ahead of time.

  1. The Paraclete is still to come.

John 14.26: But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

The Holy Spirit comes (proceeds) from both the Father and the Son and will do so soon at a future time. But the Spirit has surely been at work prior to the future point of his coming (cf. 1 Cor 12.3).

“It is significant that the Paraclete can only come when Jesus departs (16:7), for it suggests that his coming is a direct consequence of the saving work of Christ without which he could have no place or function at all. The Paraclete is therefore symptomatic of the era to come in the new covenant and the new life in Christ, the Spiritual life.”6

  1. The Paraclete has a special relationship to the disciples. “Without exception, the functions ascribed to the Spirit are elsewhere in this Gospel assigned to Christ.”7
    ..

    • All will know the Paraclete just as the disciples had the privilege of knowing Jesus (14.7, 9).
    • The Paraclete will indwell the disciples and remain with them just as Jesus is to remain in and with the disciples (14.16–17, 20, 23; 15.4–5; 17.23, 26).
    • The Paraclete as the Spirit of truth (14.17; 15.26; 16.13) will teach and guide the disciples into “all the truth” (16.13), just as Jesus is the truth (14.6; cf. 1.14).
    • The Spirit bears witness to Christ (15.26) and glorifies Christ (16.14), just as it is Christ from whom the Paraclete receives what he makes known to the disciples (16.14).8
  1. The Paraclete has a unique role in the world to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (16.8). The world cannot “see” Jesus (5.43; 12.48); the world cannot see the Paraclete. The legal/forensic language comes in to play here because the Paraclete is both witness to Jesus (15.26; 16.14), but he also assists “the disciples in their witness in the world, since his witness takes place through their own.”9 The Paraclete is the Spirit of truth (14.17) who points to the one who is “the way, the truth, and the life; 14.6).

The Mission of the Trinity

There is an extremely close relationship between the Paraclete and Jesus. Not only do they share (some of) the same functions, but Jesus expressly states that the Paraclete is “another Helper” (ἄλλον παράκλητον; 14.16).10 Jesus too was a Paraclete, albeit one different from the Spirit (cf. 1 John 2.1).

Here we see how the Son and the Spirit can belong together (as God) and participate in the same work (the mission of God) and yet be different persons and have different assignments or functions, thus allowing for a distinction in purpose, a unity in function, and an equality in essence. And the relationship among the Trinity is gifted to us by means of the Spirit—the Paraclete, for at his departure (cross, resurrection, ascension) Jesus gives us “a share in his filial relationship with the Father by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.”11

The title Paraclete “refers to the ministerial office of the Trinitarian God in the world, occupied by both the Son of God and the Spirit of God.”12 It refers to both the Spirit of God and to the Son of God, the one who is “the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known,” Jesus Christ (1.18). This Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in him. The Father sends the Spirit to his people in Jesus’s name (14.26). It is in this intimate relationship that believers—people, humans—are included. In fact, Jesus concludes his prayer to the Father by saying “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (17.26). Jesus is in believers, and the love which God shows to his Son is shown to his sons and daughters in Christ.


1 Edward Klink, John (ZECNT), 632.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid., 632-33.

6 Ibid., 633.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 “The adjective ‘another’ (ἄλλον) signifies ‘another of the same kind.’” (634).

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid., 635.


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The Farewell Discourse (John 13-17)

What is Jesus’ farewell discourse and why did John place it in his Gospel? The farewell discourse has a long history of interpretation, and Klink sets out to place this substantial discourse into its proper literary place in John. In his commentary on JohnEdward Klink suggests that there are four substantial monologues in John’s Gospel:

  1. The Identity of (the Son of) God (5:19–47)
  2. The Shepherd and the Sheep (10:1–21)
  3. The Hour has Come (12:20–50)
  4. The Farewell Discourse (13:31–16:33)

All four of these monologues occur during Jesus’ public ministry. The monologues “provide robust insight into the identity of Jesus and the work given to him from the Father.”1 As well, the monologues carry along the plot, “depicting in great detail God’s own argument and explication of his person and work in the world.”2 In one way, the farewell discourse is just another monologue, but Klink argues that the farewell discourse is much more complex than that. It is not a typical monologue. “Like the Gospel as a whole, the farewell discourse employs ‘a composite of various literary forms.’”3

Klink refers to the farewell discourse as “bilingual”— it is a dialect of the testament genre (see below), and it speaks with several other Jewish and Greco-Roman literary idioms.

The Testament

Most scholars agree that the farewell discourse illustrates a common literary pattern called a testament. Testaments are found in the OT in the farewell and blessing of Jacob to his children (Gen 47:29–49:33), Joshua’s farewell to Israel (Josh 22–24), and David’s farewell speech (1 Chr 28–29), and even the book of Deuteronomy.4 We can see a larger use of the testament genre in the intertestamental period with the pseudepigraphical work Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs.

Klink quotes Raymond Brown on the origins of the testament genre: “The common situation is that of a great man who gathers together his followers (his children, his disciples, or the people) on the eve of his death to give them instructions that will help them after his departure.”5 John’s farewell discourse has many parallels with “farewell” speeches, but there is more going on here than just a testament. Klink describes two other “pressures” that distinguish the farewell discourse from the testament genre.

Dynamic Movement

Relying on the observations of Parsenios, Klink notes that the farewell discourse relies on “dynamic movement”:

In the standard testamentary farewell scenes, there are no exits; the speakers typically wait for death to come to them on a deathbed (see e.g., Gen 49:33). In the Fourth Gospel, by contrast, the entire farewell discourse, stretching from 13:1–18:1, is centered around two dynamic exits, that of Judas at 13:30 and that of Jesus, announced at 14:31 and executed at 18:1 . . . . These exits are readily recognizable in ancient drama, however, where exits and entrances profoundly affect narrative development.6

Exits can create a frame around a scene or a specific character (like an inclusio) to emphasize a certain theme or teaching.7

Ancient Consolation

Consolation literature used “therapeutic methods” to console their audience, and usually so because of an impending death. Klink lists three main functions of consolatory literature.

  1. With the knowledge that the beloved speaker will be departing, a replacement is offered to the remaining group. It is through this replacement “the departed figure remains present. In John the replacement is ‘another paraclete’ (14:16), who is the functional presence of Jesus for his disciples (14:18 – 21).”8
  2. The sorrow that would come from such a loss (e.g., think of the sudden loss of a parent, spouse, child, or friend) is preempted because it is predicted beforehand. Because of this the disciples can prepare themselves for their future loss of Jesus. “In John the departure of Jesus and the trials to follow are clearly articulated and explained (15:18 – 16:4).”
  3. Those who are left (i.e., the disciples) are encouraged to remain faithful since the pain of grief can lead one to give up hope and abandon one’s task. “In John the disciples of Jesus are exhorted to remain and bear fruit (15:1 – 16).”9

Not only does the farewell discourse proper (13:31 – 16:33) offer all three of these consolatory elements, but befitting ancient consolation even further, the entire farewell section of the Gospel (13:1–17:26) also contains the opening context of a symbolic meal (13:1–30) and a closing “prayer of departure” (17:1 – 26).10

The Reason for the Farewell Discourse

By the time Jesus gives his farewell discourse, his public ministry has ended. He “gathers his intimate disciples around a symbolic meal and instructs them for the last time concerning his person and work and their corporate identity and work as his disciples.”11 Jesus will soon be leaving. He will be beaten, mocked, and crucified, but he knows he will be resurrected and will ascend to the Father. “Jesus addresses their questions and fears, but he also exhorts them to stay the course, which involves remaining in him by the Spirit.”12 With his death on the horizon, “Jesus uses the farewell discourse to explain what is to come and where he must go.”13

Although he will be gone, Jesus explains his departure in two ways.

1. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the only way to the Father, and in his absence he prepares a place for his disciples (14.3–6). He provides the route—the path—they will take by pouring out his Spirit upon them to walk in the way of the Lord—to die to themselves and serve others. He leaves so that the disciples can eternally be with the Christ and the Father whom no one has ever seen.

2. Jesus’ absence “allows him to be more fully present with his disciples (14:18; 16:7).”14

Only after his departure will he and the Father come and make their home with them (14:23), enabling the disciples to do greater works (14:12), to pray effectively by the use of his name (14:13–14; 16:23–24), and to be intimately united with him (15:1–11), having his peace (14:27) and sharing in his suffering (15:18–21) and ultimately his victory (16:33).15

The future is bright, though it must first be darkened. What is to come is good and necessary. It is part of God’s plan and mission to the whole world (Gen 12.1–3). The farewell discourse is given to guide Jesus’ disciples through the dark skies of Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, and death to his post-resurrection appearance and after his ascension to the Father. There will be a “new dispensation of God and his people,” which will now include Gentiles into the one who is the true vine (John 15:1).16

Outline for the Farewell Discourse

The discourse proper consists of six significant and developing thematic statements by Jesus . . . that are framed by what is functionally a prologue (13:31–38) and an epilogue (16:25–33).

The Farewell Discourse (13.1–17.26)

A. Introduction: The Love of Jesus (13.1–30)

B. The Farewell Discourse (13.31–16.33)

Prologue (13.31–38)

STATEMENT 1: “I Am the Way and the Truth and the Life” (14.1–14)

STATEMENT 2: “I Will Give You the Paraclete” (14.15–31)

STATEMENT 3: “I Am the True Vine” (15.1–17)

STATEMENT 4: “I Have Also Experienced the Hate of the World” (15.18–27)

STATEMENT 5: “I Will Empower You by the Paraclete” (16.1–15)

STATEMENT 6: “I Will Turn Your Grief into Joy” (16.16–24)

Epilogue (16.25–33)

C. Conclusion: The Prayer of Jesus (17.1–26)


1 Klink, 58.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid., 571.

4 “The entire book of Deuteronomy can rightly be described as Moses’s farewell speeches to Israel” (571). Both Deuteronomy and John demonstrate their respective covenants “between God and his people (Deuteronomy, the old covenant; John, the new covenant)” (571).

5 Ibid., 572.

6 Ibid.

7 Judas’ exit in John 13:30 signals “that what follows is the beginning of the farewell discourse, with its conclusion signaled again when Jesus himself exits at 18:1” (572).

8 Ibid., 573.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.

11 Klink, 574.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid.

14 Klink, 575.

15 Ibid.

16 Ibid.


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The Word Was God

Where did John get the idea to call Jesus the Word (logos)? While there are some links to both Jewish and Greek ideas which John is playing off of, Michael Heiser, in his new book The Bible Unfiltered, says that John is working off of Aramaic translations of the Old Testament. Why Aramaic? By Jesus’ time, “Aramaic was the Jewish people’s native language” (166). While the Septuagint is what we call the Greek Old Testament translation, the Aramaic translations are called Targums. So because they spoke Aramaic, the Jews would have been very familiar with the Targums. Targum Onqelos, the Aramaic version of the Pentateuch, “was sanctioned by Jewish religious authorities for use in the synagogue” (166). Heiser gives two examples to show how the Targums portray God as the “Word” (memra).

The second examples he gives, which I will show first, comes from Targum Neofiti Genesis 3.8:

English Standard Version ……..Targum Neofiti

And they heard the sound……….And they heard the sound
of the Lord God….….….….……….of the Word (memra) of the Lord God
walking in the garden……………..walking in the garden

Heiser says that “memra is used hundreds of times in the Targums to describe God, often in passages where the language presumes God is present in physical, human form” (167). Using “Word” in this way so early in the Targum will evoke this idea of a physically present God later on in other instances.

This is not too difficult to believe, for this kind of physicality is present in the Hebrew scriptures.

Genesis 15:1, After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

Genesis 15:4,  And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.”

1 Samuel 3:21, And the Lord appeared again at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord (cf. 15:10; 2 Sam 7:4; 1 Kgs 6:11; 13:20).

Jeremiah 1:4, Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying… (cf. 1.11, 13; 2.1).

Although in many of these instances the word of the Lord could “come” through a prophet of the Lord, although that seems less likely to be the case in Genesis 15, 1 Samuel 3, and throughout Jeremiah.

The next example comes from Targum Neofiti Numbers 14.11:

English Standard Version ………………..

And the Lord said to Moses,
“How long will this people despise me?
And how long will they not believe
in me,
in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?

Targum Neofiti

And the Lord said to Moses,
“How long will they not believe
in the name of my Word
in spite of all the signs of my miracles that I have done among them?”

In Targum Neofiti, the Lord refers to himself with the Aramaic term memra, “my Word.” John may be referencing Numbers 14.11 in John 1.14, “the Word became flesh.” Why would John do this? John “does this because the translations he had heard so many times in the synagogue had taught him that God was the Word—the memra—and he believed Jesus was God” (167). This becomes more plausible when we look at John 12.36–37, which seems to echo Numbers 14.11 again.

When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him.

How did God perform signs among his people? Both Yahweh, the Word, and Jesus, the Word, performed signs, and yet his people did not believe them.

God walking about in a physical (albeit, veiled) manner wouldn’t have been shocking to the Jews reading John’s gospel (cf. Gen 18.1). However the Word was Jesus, the Son of God, the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament, the second eternal person of the divine Godhead. “The Word of the Old Testament had been made flesh (John 1:14) and walked among us” (168).

For more on the Angel of the Lord as the pre-incarnate Jesus read here:


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The “Firstborn” Enrolled in Mount Zion with the Consuming Fire (Heb 12.18-29)

For the last year and a half my small group has been going through the book of Hebrews. Last week we were in 12.18–29, a passage about the better Mount to which we as Christians have come. There is an interesting phrase in v.23 about the “assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven” which I want to expand on here along with how we can dwell in the midst of the God who is a “consuming fire.” 

18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. 

25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

The Firstborn

Who are these firstborn? It’s possible the Jewish readers would have thought of Psalm 87, which reads,

On the holy mount stands the city he founded; 

the Lord loves the gates of Zion 

more than all the dwelling places of Jacob… 

.

Among those who know me I mention Rahab [Egypt; cf. Ezek 32.2] and Babylon; 
behold, Philistia and Tyre, with Cush— 

“This one was born there,” they say. 

And of Zion it shall be said, 

“This one and that one were born in her”; 

for the Most High himself will establish her. 

The Lord records as he registers the peoples, 

“This one was born there.” Selah…

In Psalm 87, the Lord has founded a city, and it stands on his holy mount. He “loves the gates of Zion,” where the mount is. In the OT, God is said to dwell on Mount Zion.1 God’s giving birth certificates to foreigners and saying they are born in Zion!2 These foreigners are Israel’s enemies, but because they know Yahweh they are registered citizens. These are Gentiles, which includes myself and most of my readers. We are children of the Jerusalem from above,3 and we are citizens of the kingdom of God.4

Just prior to this, the author of Hebrews warned his congregation not to be like Esau, who was also a firstborn. The Hebrews should not imitate Esau because he was “sexually immoral,” “unholy,” and “sold his birthright for a single meal.” DeSilva says Esau “is not the master of his passions but their slave, and thus a degraded and sorry figure.”5 Esau the firstborn gave up his birthright for one, single, temporary meal, but Abel, though not a firstborn, was killed for doing what was right (by his firstborn brother, whom you also shouldn’t imitate).6 The author praises his congregation in 10.34 for joyfully accepting the plundering of their property, because they knew they had a better possession and an already-abiding one.

Jesus’ blood, which sanctifies us,7 speaks a better word than Abel’s. Both Cockerill and deSilva say that Abel’s blood (rightly) cried out for vengeance,8 but Christ’s blood provides salvation from judgment. The Firstborn became a curse for us, and his blood purifies our consciences to serve the living God, who gives salvation to all peoples, both Jew and Gentile. Yet to those who reject Christ (which too many of the Hebrews were close to doing), vengeance is the Lord’s, and he will judge his people.9

The author ends this section by saying “our God is a consuming fire.” In 12.18–29, Mount Zion has been contrasted with Mount Sinai. Israel came to a place of “blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest.”10 The people were fearful, even Moses trembled at Sinai.11 How can we stand at Mount Zion with a God who is a consuming fire? How can we live in the new creation, the New Jerusalem, with a burning fireball (Isa 30.27–30)?

A Consuming Fire

The Old Testament helps us out on that question. Isaiah 33.14 says,

“The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling has seized the godless: ‘Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?’”

Verse 15 gives us the answer:

“He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly, who despises the gain of oppressions, who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe, who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed and shuts his eyes from looking on evil.”

Similar to Isaiah 33.14, Psalm 15.1 asks,

“O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?”

and Psalm 24.3 asks,

“Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?”

They both provide a similar answer—one who has clean hands, a pure heart, who is blameless, and speaks what is right. This is the King who embodied the Law of the Lord. He would “dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”12 This King is Jesus who fulfilled the Law.13 This king ascended to God’s abode and poured out his Spirit onto his people.14 It is there, at the right hand of God, where Jesus, the firstborn, sits and rules.15

To those in Christ who fulfilled the Law, we fulfill the law when we love God and our neighbor. Then we can walk through fire and not be burned “and the flame shall not consume you.”16 But to those who reject Christ, “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”17

Jesus was crucified outside the camp.18 There he bore our sins and became a festering curse—for us. The author of Hebrews tells us that we are to “go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.”19 Christ was shameful before the world’s eyes, and we are to join Christ and be shameful in their eyes too. Just as he despised their shame, so we are to despise it too. They do not have all the facts. In an ironic twist it is there with Christ where we receive the most honor. Through the shed blood of Christ we become children of God.20

The more we are dishonored in the eyes of the world because of Christ the more we are honored in the eyes of our living God, who dwells on Mount Zion, the lasting, eternal city to come, and is already here, with the innumerable angels, with the registered and enrolled firstborn citizens, and with Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant whereby we know that his blood washes away our sin and purifies our consciences. Be content with what you have, for that God is with us.21

.


1 Pss 2:6; 74:2; Isa 8:18; Joel 3:17; Gareth Lee Cockerill, Hebrews, 651.

2 Isaiah 49.6.

3 Galatians 4.26.

4 Philippians 3:20.

5 David A deSilva. Perseverance in Gratitude: Hebrews, 461.

6 Hebrews 11.4.

7 Hebrews 13.12.

8 Genesis 4:10.

9 Hebrews 10.30.

10 Hebrews 12.18.

11 Hebrews 10.21; cf. Deuteronomy 9.19.

12 Psalm 23.6.

13 Matthew 5.17; Luke 4.21; Romans 8.4; 13.8, 10; Galatians 5.14; James 2.8.

14 Acts 2.33.

15 Hebrews 1.3, 6, 8–9, 13.

16 Isaiah 43.2.

17 Hebrews 10.30.

18 Hebrews 13.12.

19 Hebrews 13.13.

20 Hebrews 2.10–14. Note the words “children” and “brothers.”

21 Hebrews 13.5.

If you hate footnotes, forgive me. I am a footnote hoarder.

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Review: The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant

Discussions on the atonement are never-ending, and it’s only getting harder to keep up. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but where ought one start? Michael Gorman, author of numerous books (Reading Revelation Responsibly, Becoming the Gospel, Inhabiting the Cruciform God, Apostle of the Crucified Lord, etc), has written “a (not so) new model of the atonement.” This model argues for

a more comprehensive, integrated, participatory, communal, and missional model than any of the major models in the tradition. It overcomes the inherent rift in many interpretations of the atonement between the benefits  of Jesus’ death and the practices of participatory discipleship  that his death both enables and demands. I contend throughout the book that in the New Testament the death of Jesus is not only the source , but also the shape , of salvation. It therefore also determines the shape of the community—the community of the new covenant—that benefits from and participates in Jesus’ saving death. (4)

Throughout the book, Gorman presents connections between Christ’s atonement, the new covenant inaugurated by his blood, and the way the church community participates in his death and suffering while looking forward to the day of resurrection. One of Gorman’s focuses is how Christ’s new-creational people participate in faithfulness, love, and peace (4).

Throughout the New Testament, faith, as a practice, is about faithfulness even to the point of suffering and death; love, as a practice, has a distinctive, Christlike shape of siding with the weak and eschewing domination in favor of service; and hope, as a practice, means living peaceably (which includes nonviolently) and making peace. Thus the summary triad “faithfulness, love, and peace” is appropriate. (4-5)

Gorman isn’t concerned to interact with other interpretations of the atonement, nor with the “mechanics” of the atonement or the atonement theories. Rather than diving into how it works, Gorman wants to portray what it does in the lives of believers. Gorman claims, “The New Testament is much more concerned about what Jesus’ death does for and to humanity than how it does it.” (5).

Outline

  • Chapters one overviews the lack of the “new covenant” theme in traditional and recent discussions of the atonement. Gorman puts forth that new covenant texts and themes had a farther-reaching effect that many scholars give credit, and that the new covenant is the atonements umbrella theme.

The preceding chapters explore the ways Christ’s death both effected and affected the new covenant.

  • Chapters 2 and 3 bring together the cross and the new covenant by surveying the NT books, revealing how we participate in Christ’s death through baptism.
  • Participating in Christ’s death means a different way of living for the Christian. Chapter four examines faithfulness to God, chapter 5—loving others, and chapters 6 and 7—peacemaking—what the covenant does and how it shows up in our communities.
  • Chapter 8 is Gorman’s conclusion. “The cross shapes each of these aspects of Christian thought and life, weaving them together into a comprehensive and integrated whole” (209). The new covenant’s effects are multi-dimensional; Gorman views this new covenantal model as the umbrella model which houses the other “penultimate” models. There is no “one” view, as many of them emphasize different aspects of the atonement. Though I would think of it more as a hierarchy, with some (penal substitution) deserving greater (and not lesser) emphasis than others.

Gorman argues for a kind of theosis, saying that the Christian life/community is a “transformative, communal participation in the life of God as the new covenant people of God” (68). Belief in Jesus is not merely an intellectual assent. Instead, “his story will become [our] story” (87). We live out his story daily. In writing about Revelation 1.5-6, Gorman says, “Those liberated from sin by Jesus’ death (the cross as the source of salvation) are now shaped into faithful witnesses, even to the point of suffering and death (the cross as the shape of salvation)” (103). John reminds the churches that he is their brother and fellow participant in both the tribulation and the kingdom (Rev 1.9).

The Spoiled Milk

Gorman has helpful comments about the new covenant and a supersessionist/anti-Judaism belief. He says, “the idea of a new covenant does not make sense except, first of all, as a category of Jewish identity and theology” (23). This promise was given to the Jewish people first, and the Gentiles were allowed to be grafted in (Rom 11). Gentile Christians must not forget the Jewish origins of Christianity (i.e., Jesus was a Jew). However, in some places Gorman seems to downplay the “newness” of the new covenant (23, 214). There is no need to disparage the “old covenant,” but Paul said that the old one has been abolished and done away with (see here) because the glory of the new is so much better (2 Cor 3.7–11). Though, perhaps I have simply misunderstood Dr. Gorman’s arguments.

Recommended?

Whether or not one agrees with all Gorman has said here, this book is an excellent resource for those who are interested in the new covenant, the atonement, and the outflow of new-covenant living (peace, faithfulness, love). We were once an enemy of God, and he has now made peace with us so that we can be his eternally adopted children. Should that not play out in our own lives? This would be beneficial required reading in seminary classrooms, for students, for pastors, and for teachers. This would make a good pair with Adam Johnson’s Atonement: A Guide for the Perplexed, which surveys the many atonement models and looks at how they emphasize a true aspect of Christ’s work.

Lagniappe

  • Paperback: 292 pages
  • Publisher: James Clarke/Lutterworth (June 30, 2014)
  • Language: English

Buy it from Amazon or James Clarke/Lutterworth

Disclosure: I received this book free from Lutterworth/James Clarke. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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When Jerusalem Becomes Like the Nations, Part 2

1

“The Day of the Lord” by George Martin

I’ve been listening to more of Rikk Watts’ lectures, this time on the NT use of the OT. Here he argues that the main connection between the two testaments (or “covenants”) is God’s faithful character. Before I put out my review, I wanted to write up a summary of one of the texts he looks at in his lectures. This is on the use of Isaiah 13:10 and 34:4 in Matthew 24:29. I will be splitting this into two parts, with Isaiah 34.4 being examined next time.

The Use of Isaiah 13:10 and 34:4 in Matthew 24:29

Isaiah 13:10

For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising, and the moon will not shed its light.

Isaiah 34:4

All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall, as leaves fall from the vine, like leaves falling from the fig tree.

Matthew 24:29

Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

Outline

Part 1

  • NT Context
  • Isaiah 13:10 in Context
  • Isaiah 13:10 in Judaism

Part 2

  • Isaiah 34:4 in Context
  • Isaiah 34:4 in Judaism
  • Isaiah 13:10 and 34:4 in Matthew 24:29
  • Theological Use

It should be noted that I have summarized Watts’ words and have at points touched up the grammar (since these are notes were for class use). Rather than giving endless quotation marks, just know that this is all from Watts, and if something doesn’t make sense, that blame rests on me.

Having looked at the use of Isaiah 13:10 in Matthew 24:29 in my last post, now we’ll look at what Dr. Watts has to say about Jesus’ use of Isaiah 34:4 in the same verse.

Isaiah 34:4 in Context

Isaiah 34:4 belongs to the larger section of Isaiah 28–35. In Isa 28–33, woes are brought against Assyria for their earlier attack on Jerusalem. Isa 34–35 forms a bridge between the divine judgment on the nations’ arrogance in Isa 13-23 and the new exodus return from exile which dominates the second half of the book.

Isaiah 34:1–4 summons the nations to God’s court to hear the sentence of their coming dreadful slaughter (epitomized in Edom’s fate). Verse 4 portrays the cosmic scale of that destruction through the description of heavenly disintegration as the stars rot away and the skies roll up like shrunken parchment.

The carnage moves to earth where the remainder of the oracle presents the disturbing image of Yahweh’s blood-soaked sword slaughtering Edom’s leaders and people in an unparalleled glut of sacrifice (vv. 5–7), rendering it like Sodom (vv. 9–10), an eternal pre-creation chaos (vv. 10–11, 17), depopulated and inherited only by wild animals.

As in Isaiah 13–14, this leads to a vision of Israel’s salvation where Yahweh leads his once blind, deaf, mute, and lame, but now healed people in glorious procession through a new creational blossoming desert to Zion (Isa 35).

Isaiah 34:4 in Judaism

Isa 34:4 is applied to several significant events: the replacement of the old creation with the new, the resurrection citing Hos 6:2, and the eschatological judgment of the wicked. Edom, blamed in 1 Esdras 4:45 for the burning of the Temple during the Babylonian invasion, later becomes a standard reference to Rome in some of the rabbinical literature.

Isaiah 13:10 and 34:4 in Matthew

The prophetic symbolism indicates the significance of the event. The cosmic language is consistent with the widely held Jewish belief that the Temple stood at the centre of creation. As early as Amos, cosmic chaos was seen to be the consequence of Israel’s not keeping Torah.

Jesus’ sharply criticized Israel’s leadership for failing to keep God’s instructions. Consistent with Jewish tradition of Isaiah 13, Jesus’ allusion would suggest that this event is of the same order as the Fall, the destruction of Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea, the interference with the Temple’s rebuilding, and the end of days. The world as it was is coming to an end.

What’s more shocking is that these images were normally applied to two of Israel’s enemies, Edom and Babylon, nations which epitomized idolatrous and arrogant hostility toward God. But for Jesus, Israel’s “Antiochan” (Dan 12) leadership hijacked God’s vineyard and perverted Jerusalem’s role (e.g. Isa 2:2-5; Ezek 5:5). They transformed it into an Edom-like traitor and a Babylon-like world-city which sought to challenge God’s sovereignty. Both of these nations participated in the Temple’s previous destruction, and Israel had become just like them. And so, Jerusalem itself comes under a similar judgment.

However, in both instances God’s judgment was closely connected with Israel’s new exodus redemption. Isaiah 13–14 anticipates the inclusion of aliens (14:1; cf. Isa 56:7 in Matt 21:13). Isa 34–35’s combination of vineyard imagery and the return in Yahweh’s train of the newly healed blind one’s to Zion is echoed in Jesus’ vineyard parable (Matt 21:33-46) and the healing of the blind (20:29–34; 21:14).

Theological Use

By seeking to resist God’s work in Jesus and by betraying him to the Romans, the hostile Jerusalem has joined the arrogant and idolatrous cities of the world.

Since God’s character is unchanging, Jerusalem’s fate will be no different from all other idolatrous, tyrannical cities. Its demise marks God’s eschatological cosmic intervention against “the earth” and the beginning of the new creation with a newly restored temple-people with whom he will dwell constituting its new center.


Clearly there’s a lot going on here, but as we can see, Jesus knew his Bible, and while Israel had the Old Testament, many of them clearly did not know it well enough to be changed by it. Because of their desire for their own righteousness apart from Christ’s, and because of their desire to put to death God’s own Son, which they succeeded in, Jesus declares that they will be left desolate. And they were. Rome came in and sacked them. These were real people, with real families, real schools, and real economies. And they lost it all because they rejected the Christ, the Son of God.

Rikk Watts’ lectured at Regent College. You can check out his lectures here!

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