Tag Archives: Rikk Watts

Review: God’s Faithful Character (Lectures)

The use of the OT in the NT is a huge topic today in biblical studies. With books like 3 Views[], The Commentary on the NT Use of the OT[], Hay’s Echoes in the Letters of Paul[] (and now the Gospels[]), studies on intertextuality, (Jguo) intertextuality. There are positions on whether the authors are properly using the OT contextually, out of the original context, and now the position that the authors were recreating Israel’s story. Why should we consider what Watts’ has to say? As you may know, I’m taking my M.Div. at SBTS, and I enjoy reading works like these (in my small spare time) so that I can expand my knowledge of the Bible’s depths.

Rikk Watts, who used to teach at Regent College (lectures here), contends that the connection between the OT and the NT is God’s faithful character. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Why is such a dense subject so important?

As you’ll see in the outline below, Watts spends the first two and a half lectures going through the history of interpretation, looking at the views of writings and interpretations from before the time of Jesus and afterwards. While the task may seem arduous, Watts immerses the class through these writings and interpretations so that they may know where we have been and where we are going. Watts affirms that the NT was not written in a bubble, and neither are the ways scholars interpret the Bible today completed in a bubble. There is a history to both, but he is able to draw out how the NT authors use the OT while differing from the other Jewish and Greek writings that encompassed them.

In the rest of the lectures, Watts spends his time showing just how the NT authors showed how God’s character from the OT was the same in the NT. They did more than just interpret the OT in context. They believed that Jesus fulfilled the OT. Just as God worked in the OT, so he will work in the NT. The biblical authors recognized the patterns, and seeing Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s plan, they showed the unity of God’s word through the way they interpreted the text.

Table of Contents

  • Issues, History, and Current Research (Part I)
  • Issues, History, and Current Research (Part II)
  • Issues, History, and Current Research (Part III)
  • First Century Interpretation
  • When Jerusalem Becomes Like the Nations
  • Conjoining Texts
  • Some Striking Divergences
  • God’s Exodus Plan Completed
  • Purpose of the Parables
  • The Law and Faith (Part I)
  • The Law and Faith (Part II)

Watts’ handout is brimming with incredible (and technical) information. The above outline is only the bare-est of bones of the whole class. Each section is filled with information. You can see a brief example in these two posts.

Watts is an incredible, engaging teacher. His application is always spot on and penetrating. He truly cares about Christ and his bride. He is not some ivory tower academic, but he draws his applications to the real world. He desires to show the world a church that loves and follows after Christ as seen through their actions. The handout that comes with the lectures is particularly detailed and wonderfully helpful.

Yet as a course for doctoral students, Watts often travels down a number of rabbit trails. There were many times I didn’t know where we were because the path went on for some time. On occasion, moments after getting back to the text, there was yet another diversion. Sometimes Watts would say, “If only we had time, we could go into this subject,” yet if it weren’t for the tangents he would have had at least some extra time.

In Mark 1:1-3, while talking about Mark’s allusion to Isaiah 40, Exodus 23, and Malachi 3, Watts brings his listeners to John 14 where the disciples asked Jesus to show them the Father. Knowing Jesus means to know the Father, but, though interesting and not entirely irrelevant, in discussing it in the middle of Mark’s content, it was difficult to follow the train of thought.

As a doctoral seminar, I thought there would have been a bigger focus on technical issues and how the NT uses the OT. Application is important, and it must derive from a proper interpretation of God’s word. However, these lectures were difficult to follow.

Recommended?

Teachers especially would benefit from the content found in the first three lectures, and the notes that go with the rest of his lectures would be well served. But the tangents may dissuade many from listening through all of the lectures. I wouldn’t recommend this as someone’s primary resource on understanding the NT’s use of the OT. Watts has written a chapter on Mark’s Gospel in the Commentary on the New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament, and he’s written Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark. These are dense works, and one should be well read in this type of study.

When it comes down to his premise that God’s faithful character is what toes the NT’s use of the OT together, I don’t agree that it is the main idea, but I do think it is one of them. Watts shows how our God is faithful and committed, and it is seen throughout all of the Bible. Our God can and should be trusted to fulfill his promises to those who are in his Son Jesus Christ. Watts guides the student into seeing how in all our ways we should acknowledge God (Prov 3.6a). We are to put our whole weight onto him, for he is faithful to his people. 

Lagniappe

  • Teacher: Rikk Watts
  • School: Regent College
  • Time: 20hr, 47 min

Buy God’s Faithful Character by Rikk Watts

Previous Posts

Disclosure: I received these lectures free from Regent College. 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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When Jerusalem Becomes Like the Nations, Part 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.

NT Context: Matthew’s Structure

According to Watts, Matthew is a combination of elements of Mark’s telling of Isaiah’s new exodus in Christ (mighty deeds, opposition, journey, Jerusalem) and additions which Matthew uses to tell his own (equally true) story.

  • Opening Genealogy and “Birth” Narrative (ch. 1–2)
  • Sermon of the Mount: Blessings (chs. 5–7)
    • Mission (ch. 10)
      • Parables and Division (ch. 13) 
    • The Congregation (ch. 18)
  • Teaching in the Temple and Beyond : Curses (chs. 23–25)
    ww[see my post on chiasms]

Matthew 24:29 lies within a final block of curses and warnings At the end of the curses in Matthew 23, Jesus declares:

  • Behold, your house is left to you desolate” (v. 38).
  • “You will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’” (v. 39; cf. 21:9, 14–17).

In Matthew 24 Jesus gives the “Olivet discourse” and tells about Jerusalem’s destruction. After the disciples ask Jesus a question about the temple and about his return, Jesus responds by warning against deceivers and false signs (vv. 4–8) and exhorting them to stand firm in proclaiming the gospel (vv. 9–14) and to watch for the sign of the abomination of desolation (vv. 15–28). Jesus proclaims Jerusalem’s destruction and the coming of the Son of Man (vv. 29–31), gives a lesson for “this generation” from the fig tree (vv. 32–35), and exhorts the disciples to be watchful because the exact time of his return is unknown (vv. 36–44).

When Jesus comes to the destruction of the Temple, he weaves multiple allusions from Israel’s Scriptures (e.g. Ezek 32:7; Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15; Amos 8:9). The critical allusions are from Isaiah 13:10 and 34:4 (in the LXX).

Isaiah 13:10 in Context

Oracles Concerning the Nations

Isaiah 13:10 belongs to collection of “oracles concerning the nations.” These oracles “are meant to explain to Israel the meaning of various events as evidence of Yahweh’s sovereign control over world affairs and . . . human pretensions.” Isaiah 13:1–14:32 provides the lens for the remaining oracles and is made up of two large units:

  1. the destruction of Babylon presented as the pretentious world city (13:2–22)
  2. a dirge sung over Babylon’s king (14:4b–21).

Isaiah 13

In Isaiah 13:2–5, Yahweh, the Divine Warrior, summons his terrifying war host whom he “consecrated” to execute his anger and to devastate all the earth. “In a following lament, Isaiah describes the eschatological “day of the Lord” as God comes to desolate the earth and destroy sinners from it (v. 9b). The prideful will be laid low, and the judgment will be so severe that humanity will barely survive (v. 12).

The theological significance is expressed through the metaphors of cosmic disorder: Earthquakes, shaken heavens (v. 13), and, in a reversal of Genesis 1:14–18, the sun, moon, and stars, which normally mark the seasons, will be dimmed. This disorder testifies to the extent of Babylon’s wickedness and the depth of Yahweh’s indignation.

As a result of the destruction of Babylon and its king, Israel will be restored from exile and foreigners will be included among its people (14:1; cf. Isa 56–66).

Isaiah 13:10 in Judaism

Isaiah 13:10 is applied to several significant events. The exodus and the drowning of Pharaoh’s army, the Fall and Adam’s loss of status, the day the rebuilding of the temple was hindered, and end of the age.

The principle is that because God’s word underlies the good order of creation and its times and seasons (Gen 1; Jer 33:25–26) the withdrawal of that order, expressed in part through the cessation of the heavenly lights, is God’s judgment on idolatrous nations (Isa 24:23; Ezek 30:3–4, 18; Joel 3:15) and Israel (Isa 5:25, 30; Jer 4.23–28; Joel 2:10) . . . often in contexts where God uses one nation to carry out his judgment on another (Isa 13.10–13; 34:4; Hab 3:6–11).”

This means that, according to Judaism, the sun and moon fail as a result of God’s judgment of humanity. Torah was God’s agent at creation and sustains it, and creation was made for Israel. Israel’s failure to keep Torah results in the failure of the lights of heaven, and, to them, eclipses were bad omens which prefigured suffering. Israel holds a unique status, and her destruction by the nations would lead to the dissolution of the heavens and earth.

Conclusion

If Israel’s destruction “by the nations would lead to the dissolution of the heavens and earth” back then, then her destruction by Rome will “lead to the dissolution of the heavens and earth” in the future, only now, like Babylon, Jerusalem has become “the pretentious world city” (13:2–22).

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Review Lecture, ‘Mark’ by Rikk Watts

Rikk Watts is a full-time teacher at Regent College, and is known for his work on the Gospel of Mark and his book Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark. He wrote the 100,000 word contribution on Mark to Carson and Beale’s Commentary on the NT Use of the OT [CNTUOT] and will be replacing Lane’s volume on Mark in the NICNT series. And word on the street says Watts is writing two books: Jesus and the Mighty Deeds of Yahweh (lecture here) and Heaven on Earth: an Introduction to the Christian Vision.

This is the second of Watts’ lectures that I’ve been able to review (see my review on Isaiah). This time I wanted to learn about Mark from one of the experts. I’ve been interested in Mark’s Gospel ever since I co-taught it at CCBC York in 2014. Ever since then I’ve stocked up on a number of commentaries, anticipating when Watts’ volume will see the light of day. I had the pleasure of partnering with Lindsay Kennedy (see his review of Watts’ class lectures here) in one of his Mark classes last fall and I found Watts to be extremely helpful in understanding Mark’s message.

Mark

As I’ve mentioned before, in his book Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark, Watts opens up Scripture to the reader to see how Mark wrote his Gospel around Jesus’ fulfilling of (can you guess?) Isaiah’s Second Exodus. While I have yet to read INEM, Watts’ contribution to Carson and Beale’s CNTUOT convinced me to his position. His contribution is packed full of both grammatical and theological information, which seems like Watts is full of “heady” information about God and his Word. Yet listening to Watts’ is an entirely different experience. While his genius still comes out, his application comes straight from the principles of the text.

What relevance does a 2,000 year old Gospel have for us today? To pray like Jesus we must live sacrificial lives where we pick up our crosses to serve humbly (9.28; 10.45). I am to cut off that which causes me to sin. How do I see other people and how do I treat them? Do I humiliate them? Do I regard them as nothing? Or do I give them the most importance? Watts application cuts to the quick, and it’s the kind of application we need. Watts proves that a deep study and understanding of the Bible and a heartfelt relationship with God are not mutually exclusive.

Watts looks at Mark’s Gospel as being both a masterful work of literature. He is aware of how words and phrases are used throughout Mark. A “marketplace” seems like such an obscure word, but Watts sees that Jesus, the true Shepherd (6.34) and glorious Lord who walks on water (6.48), heals the sick in a marketplace (6.56). It was in the first exodus where Israel found out they were supposed to be holy, and here, following the New Exodus theme, Jesus teaches the marketplace Pharisees (7.4) about true holiness. He is the healing glorious Lord, and those who follow him are both holy and to live holy lives that honor him.

Watts also looks at Mark’s Gospel as being a historical document about the true living Son of God. And because these characters are real and situations tense, Watts uses this understanding to explain why Jesus does what he does. For example, in Mark 14 Jesus sends two disciples to find a man carrying a jar of water (which would be rare). They are to follow him and talk to him about something “the Teacher” has said. Watts believes it is pre-arranged (the room would already be furnished and ready, v15), and given that Jesus is a wanted man (the Jewish leaders were trying to trap him in Mark 12), it makes sense that Jesus would work in the shadows. He still had to have one last meal with his disciples before he picked up his cross.

Watts believes the Gospel of Mark was written by Mark, before 70 AD. Unlike his Isaiah class, Watts’ doesn’t delve much into the views of other scholars, and when he does his discussion is brief. That being said, he doesn’t always finish class where he intends and often runs out of time only to have to catch up in the next class. He always makes it work out well, but I was disappointed with his treatment of Mark 13. It’s an extremely difficult passage for many Christians and scholars, and I was hoping to hear a thorough (as far as is possible in a classroom setting) of Mark 13. Watts reads all of Mark 13 as having to do with 70 AD, and I especially wanted to hear about 13.26 (“And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory”). Instead, because of the way Watts spaced out the other classes, Mark 13 had to be split between two classes (Lectures 11 and 12) with both parts being rushed.

Though not a major downside, I was disappointed that the Mark lectures didn’t come with a handout like the Isaiah lectures did. The Isaiah handout PDF was 96 pages long. The Mark handout PDF is only 4 pages long (with a little bit extra on page 5). The handout for Isaiah helped hold my attention during the lectures as I was able to follow along while giving me plenty to look up after the lectures were finished. Since the lectures are not a book, it is difficult to go search and find the right spot where Watts speaks on a particular text. And since there is no handout, I would suggest that you take notes while listening to his lectures (though in my opinion, you should be taking notes anyway).

Conclusion

If I could ever recommend lectures on Mark, it would be ones taught by Rikk Watts. Watts certainly has a solid understanding of the Gospel of Mark. He is a biblical scholar who considers deeply both the biblical text, its teaching on God and his gracious character, and its application to our lives. Even though he rabbit trails a bit, Watts gives you plenty of good information to think about, and one can hear that he really loves the Lord. Watts studies God’s word and uses the Bible’s theology to shape his views on life so that he can teach us how we are to live before and serve our holy, loving, and glorious God.

Lagniappe

  • Speaker: Rikk Watts
  • Date: Winter 2014
  • Length: 27h 17m
  • Product ID: RGDL4404S

Previous Posts

  1. Was the Rich Young Man Really ‘Almost’ Righteous?
  2. Our Response to Parables

Outline

  1. Introduction; Prologue: Mark 1.1-13
  2. Prologue: Mark 1.1-13
  3. Mark 1.14-45
  4. Mark 1.2-3.35
  5. Mark 4.1-5.43
  6. Mark 6
  7. Mark 7.1-8.21
  8. Mark 8.22-9.13
  9. Mark 9.2-50
  10. Mark 10
  11. Mark 11.1-13.31
  12. Mark 13.32-16.8

Video

Classes

(Sometimes these are on discount at certain times of the year. Along with these Watts has quite a few free lectures). 

[Special thanks to Regent College for allowing me to review this class!]

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Our Response to Parables

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been listening to Rikk Watts’ lectures on the Gospel of Mark. Watts is well-versed in Mark’s Gospel, and he’s currently writing a commentary on Mark in the NICNT series.

When it comes to the parables, there is a wide range of views on what Jesus was trying to convey. What is a parable? Is it pure allegory? Is there only one meaning? Are there multiple meanings? Many think that parables are an “earthly story with a heavenly meaning,” but that places too much of a dichotomy in Jesus’ words as if he had a Gnostic ideal where we were to shed our earthly self to reach our heavenly life.

In the Beginning…

We must first ask the question, “Why did Jesus speak in parables anyway? What purpose did they serve?” The first use of “parable” in Mark is in 3.23, “And [Jesus] called them to him and said to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan?’” Jesus poses this question against the Jerusalem leaders who believed that the miracles he performed were really the works of Satan.

In Isaiah 6 (esp. vv8-13), Isaiah’s call initiates the judgment that the people have brought on themselves (Isa 1-5). Because they have rejected Yahweh, Isaiah’s preaching would cause the hearts of Israel to be hard. In Mark, the Jerusalem leaders have called judgment upon themselves by grouping the actions of the Messiah with that of Beelzebul, the prince of demons.

Sowing the Word

In Mark 4 Jesus begins with the Parable of the Sower, which contained themes that would likely have been familiar to his audience. 4 Ezra 9.26-37 (a pseudepigraphical work) speaks about Yahweh sowing the law after the first exodus out of Egypt. The Jewish fathers received the Law from Yahweh, but they didn’t follow it. As a result, they went into judgment and exile (2 Kings 24-25) which would require a second exodus (Isa 40-55).

Watts argues that Mark shapes his Gospel around Isaiah’s second exodus, and here the words of Jesus, Yahweh in human form, are having the same affect as they did in the book of Isaiah. Those who reject Jesus will end up in exile (Mk 13) and judgment (Mt 25).

Listen!

In Mark 4.3, at the beginning of the Parable of the Sower, Jesus says, “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow.”

Watts points out that Jesus doesn’t say “Listen!” often. The critical point is that you must listen, and if you don’t understand how this works, then you won’t understand how the others work (v13).

According to Watts, the point of the parables is: (1) to reveal the mystery of the Kingdom, and (2) to reveal the nature of JC’s hearers’ hearts. This is what the whole Gospel of Mark is doing. Mark is teaching his readers about the promised kingdom of God which is coming through the Son of Man (Dan 7.13-14, 15-27), and you are being shown whether or not you care as you read Mark’s Gospel. In reading and listening to his Gospel, Watts contends that we are being put on trial. How will we respond to Mark every time we read his Gospel?

The response to Jesus’ parables passes judgment on the hearers (e.g., David’s response to Nathan’s parable [2 Sam 12], Israel’s response to Isaiah’s vineyard parable [Isa 5]). Starting from the Garden of Eden, Israel has a long history of thinking they are better than they really are. They say, “I’ll trust God… as long as it makes sense.” Adam and Eve didn’t think God’s word made much sense when it came time to take their test (Gen 3.1-6). The same goes for Israel immediately after the Exodus (Ex 32.1).

However in Mark’s Gospel no one understands Jesus! Jesus doesn’t make sense. Even his disciples have trouble understanding him, yet they still follow him despite they’re lack of understanding. The only way to deal with your arrogance and self-reliance is to follow Jesus even when he doesn’t make sense.

Idolatry and Hard-Hearts

The nations ask, “Where is their God?” (Ps 115.2). And we reply, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Ps 115.3). “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Ps 135.6). Those who turn to and follow after lifeless idols become ones who cannot see, hear, nor speak.

Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.

They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.

They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.

They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.

Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them.

(Ps. 115.4-8; cf. 135.15-18)

Rather than following lifeless idols and becoming like them, we follow the one who does whatever he pleases. We can be like him. He gave us his word for us to know and to use wisdom so that we may live in a way that glorifies him. Humans are made in the image of God, but when we worship idols, we lose our humanity. We lose our ability to perceive and know how to live.

Watts calls Christianity the true humanism. It is only by being Christians, by trusting in Jesus as our Savior, that we can be who we were truly created to be.

Parables take away our security blankets. Parables show us what we really think about Jesus and his message.

Previous Posts

  1. Was the Rich Young Man Really ‘Almost’ Righteous?
  2. Review Lecture on ‘Mark’ 

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Was The Rich Young Man Really ‘Almost’ Righteous?

If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you may remember my series on Rikk Watts’ lectures on Isaiah. Rikk Watts, NT lecturer at Regent College, is currently writing a commentary on Mark in the NICNT series. The focus of his dissertation was on Mark’s use of Isaiah’s second exodus (Isa 40-55; 56-66). Now I’ve been listening to Watts’ lectures on Mark, and when Watts taught on the rich young man in Mark 10, he took a different perspective from what I’ve always heard.

Growing up I’ve only heard one perspective on the rich young man. He was rich, he was young, and he was self-righteous. He didn’t really keep the whole Law. He simply wanted to pull-one over on Jesus, or at least he was so deceived he really thought he had kept the whole law. Yet Jesus sees straight through his facade. Knowing the young man is covetous and greedy, Jesus tells him that he must sell his belongings, those things that keep the rich man from Jesus, and follow Jesus so that he will have eternal life.

The Other Way

But Watts doesn’t think that’s what’s happening at all. Instead, Watts sees Mark presenting the rich young man in a positive light.

The rich young man “knelt before” Jesus and calls him “Good teacher” (v17). He’s not a scumbag. He believes that Jesus can tell him how he can have eternal life. And Jesus asks, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (v18). His answer to the rich man to follow him (and not Torah) implies that he is equating himself with Yahweh.

Jesus points first to the law and gives a list of commandments that the rich man should know: don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, don’t defraud, do honor your parents. But the rich man has kept all of these from his youth. While this sounds farfetched, Paul says that when it came to “righteousness under the law,” he was “blameless” (Phil 3.6b). This doesn’t mean Paul nor the rich man were perfect, but that they were faithful to God by keeping to the Jewish laws and sacrifices.

Good, You Lack One Thing

In verse 21, Mark doesn’t say, And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lie.’” Instead, Jesus says, “You lack one thing; go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” For the rabbis, “lacking nothing” was the mark of a truly righteous man. Jesus doesn’t require anyone else in Mark to do this. Why is this?

People can tell the difference between someone who wealthy and righteous and someone who is wealthy and rotten. For the Jews, keeping the law and having money was a genuine sign that someone was righteous. Watts believes this guy is being told to let go of his reliance on both Torah and all of the brownie points (material wealth) that testify to his being a truly righteous man from a Jewish point of view. He “kept the law and has shekels in the bank to prove it” (Watts, Lecture 10).

Watts says that if the rich young man really was selfish, the disciples would say, “Well, we know why he isn’t getting in. He’s selfish!“ They know about the oppressive wealthy (10.42), but here they are surprised! If this man has kept the law, he has money, but he can’t gain eternal life, what on earth can the disciples do?

But Many Who Are First…

But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (v31). This rich man, who is first in everyone’s eyes, is now last because he refuses to follow the one who is greater than the Torah, Jesus Christ. But the disciples, who were low in everyone’s else’s eyes, and who would become lower because they followed the one who would be crucified, will be first.

But how can this be? They are not the best disciples. They do not understand Jesus’ teachings (4.10). They’re hearts are hard (6.52). They care little about those whom Jesus cares much about (6.36-37). They do not yet understand (8.21), and Peter rebukes his Teacher (8.32). They can not cast out a demon (9.18), and they do not pray with a heart of humility (9.29). They all want to be on the top (9.34).

The disciples will have eternal life so long as they follow and listen to the Beloved Son of God (Mk 9.7) who was crucified for our sins (15.39) and was risen from the dead (16.6).

“With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (v27).

Previous Posts

  1. Our Response to Parables
  2. Review Lecture on ‘Mark’ 

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Filed under Biblical Studies, Jesus and the Gospels, Mark

III. Gold Nuggets in Isaiah

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Following the Golden Nugget series on Watt’s Isaiah class, here is part three with a few more nuggets of information.

Parables of Hardness

If you’ve seen my posts on Virginity in Isaiah, Isaiah is told to preach so that people don’t see, hear, do (Isa 6.9-10). Afterward he gives King Ahaz a parable, and KA rejects God’s word (7.12-13). Then, upon rejecting God, God’s judgment will come upon Ahaz and Judah (see my previous posts for more info).

We have a pattern: Parables -> Don’t Listen? -> Judgment

In Mark 4.3, upon telling his first parable here, Jesus commands the people to “Listen!” Jesus then speaks about “hearing” 8 times, and Mark gives an extra ninth at the end of the chapter. Those who don’t listen will be judged. After this Jesus cleanses the “ritually unclean”: a demon possessed tomb raider, a hemorrhaging woman, and raises a dead girl. In Mark 7 Jesus is confronted by some too-much-hand-sanitizer Pharisees who have a bone to pick with his disciples’ washing habits.

Jesus responds by saying, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men” (7.6, quoting Is 29.13).

Paul, in 2 Cor 3.14 speaks about the minds of the Israelites being hardened against God.  The only other use of pōroō (‘hardened’) by Paul is in Rom 11.7-8, “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened (“pōroō”), as it is written, [and quoting Is 29.10-12 and Deut 29.2-4] “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.” Israel denied God in the days of Moses, in the days of the prophets, and in the days of Jesus. God poured out a spirit of stupor on them so that they would be hardened.

The sealed book in Isa 29 is the Law of Moses, and it is veiled (Ex 34; 2 Cor 3). The people don’t understand the real meaning of the Law, or of God’s Commands, or of his Promises, because they don’t have Faith (2 Cor 3.14-15). When the Law is read in the synagogue, the true meaning remains hidden.

All throughout Mark Jesus has been teaching “not Sabbath keeping, but people keeping” (Watts). In Isa 1.11, the people are “kissing butt.” They’re brown-nosers (as a kid I always wondered where this phrase came from. It really shouldn’t take too long to figure out). They’ve intensified their religious activity. They’re praying more and giving more sacrifices. But the Lord is tired of it. Perhaps they should be caring for people more.

Jesus comes to Jerusalem in Mark 11. His authority is challenged in the end of Mark 11 and throughout Mark 12. When we arrive at the story of the widow, “If anything condemns the Temple, it’s that” (Watts). Here we have a magnificently wealthy center of worship, fantastic offerings, and yet the people don’t notice the widow. They aren’t loving their neighbour. They don’t “see” (in the sense of understanding and acting in love) that she is poor and in need of their help. They’d rather defer to the rich. And yet she gives more than the rest of them, for she trusts God. Unlike the rest, she isn’t showing off (Matt 6.1-4).

Isa 1.3 reads, “The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” Dumb beasts can’t read or write, but they know food. Israel does not know who provides life, nor does the rest of unbelieving humanity (1 Cor 1.19, quoting Isa 29.14; 1 Cor 2.9, quoting Isa 64.4).

A Double Portion

Isaiah 40:2 says, “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”

That sounds pretty harsh. Yet to gain some insight into this we need to look at other biblical passages. Amos 3.2 speaks of Israel’s special status, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” Israel is called God’s “firstborn son” in Exodus 4.22.

Of the firstborn Deuteronomy 21.17 says, “But he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the firstfruits of his strength. The right of the firstborn is his.” As Israel is Yahweh’s firstborn son, they are receiving the double portion of all of their sins.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Isaiah 61:7 says about those who mourn in Zion (61.3), “Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy.”

Jesus quotes Isa 61.1-2a in Luke 4.18-19. Jesus is the true firstborn Son who does what the other firstborn’s (Adam, Israel).could not do. He brings the good news to the poor by dying for the,. He proclaims liberty to the captives. He gives to those who mourn in Zion a double portion of everlasting joy. He is the one who lived perfectly. It is in him that believers will receive a double portion of everlasting joy (Isa 35.10; 51.11).


Come back tomorrow for one more nugget on Isaiah 5, the song of the vineyard, and the vineyard in the New Testament.

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Filed under Biblical Studies, Biblical Theology, Isaiah, Jesus and the Gospels, Mark