He Is Risen!
It goes without saying that the
resurrection is associated in Jewish thought with the coming of the Messiah.
In this regard, Maimonides cites his belief “in the arrival of the Messiah and
the messianic age,” along with “in the resurrection of the dead.”97
Given this orientation, the resurrection of Jesus might be construed as an
earnest of the general resurrection.
In any case, there was member
of the council named Joseph, who had opposed the action taken against
Jesus. He now requested the corpse, so that it could be given a proper burial.
He then laid it in a new tomb, with the intent that it would be anointed once
the Sabbath was over.
On the first day of the week,
women took spices they had prepared and set out for the tomb. They found the
stone guarding its entrance rolled back, and when they entered, they found that
Jesus’ remains had disappeared. While they were wondering what had happened, two
persons in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. “Why do
you look for the living among the dead?” they inquired. “He is not here; he has
risen!” (Luke 24:5-6).
Initially, there was the
announcement. This amounts to a vindication of Jesus’ claim. Accordingly,
Paul wrote concerning “the gospel promised beforehand through his prophets in
the Holy Scriptures, regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a
descendant of David and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with
power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:2-4).
that, the women were enjoined to remember what Jesus had previously
shared concerning his death and resurrection. This was by way of typing loose
ends together. As succintlt expressed, “Christian faith is resurrection faith.”
it was in terms of anticipating what would follow. In particular, that
concerning the outpouring of the Holy Spirt, in preparation for the great
commission to disciple all peoples. This would become explicit shortly.
the disciples were reticent to believe the women’s report. It did not seem to
make any sense to them. “Thus the disciples’ unbelief becomes an aid to belief
for Luke’s readers. By magnifying (their) incredulity, (he) magnified the
miracle. Only the clear and unmistakable appearance of the risen Christ could
have over come such doubt and replaced it with unshakable faith.”98
same day two of the disciples were making their way to the village of Emmaus,
about seven miles from Jerusalem, and were discussing what had recently
transpired. As they were talking, Jesus joined them. They, nevertheless, were
kept from recognizing him. This would allow him the opportunity to inform
them concerning the significance of his death and resurrection.
foolish you are,” Jesus chided them, “and how slow to believe all that the
prophets have spoken. And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he
explained to them what was aid in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”
As they neared their
destination, Jesus appeared intent on proceeding further. But they pointed out
that the day was far spent, and urged him to stay with them. When they had
seated themselves at the table, Jesus took bread, broke it, and gave thanks.
“Then their eyes were opened and the recognized him, and he disappeared from
their sight.” Luke adds no additional clarification, leading to extensive
“Were not our hearts burning
within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
they inquired of one another. They were now able to articulate the presence they
had earlier felt.
After that, they hastily
returned to Jerusalem. There they encountered the Eleven and those assembled
with them. “It is true!” they were told. “The Lore has risen and has appeared to
Simon.” Then they recalled their own experience with the risen Lord.
While they were still sharing
what had transpired, Jesus appeared in their midst. “Peace be with you,” he
greeted them. “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your minds?”
Then he continued to instruct them in the Holy Scriptures, as they bore witness
to his vicarious death and vindicating resurrection.
This, in turn, recalls the
traditional Christian greeting: “He is risen!” Then, in response, “He is risen
* * *
“In my former book,” Luke reflects,
“I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was
taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to his
apostles he had chosen. After his suffering he showed himself to these men and
gave many convincing proofs that he was alive” (Acts 1:1-3). Thus the
ascension appears as a pivotal event in the course of salvation history.
On one occasion, he instructed
them: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift the Father promised, which
you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days
you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
“Lord,” they inquired, “are
you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” This concerned not
only the order of events initiated by the advent of Jesus as the Messiah, but
their personal agenda..
Jesus replied, “It is not for
you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you
will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my
witnessed in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the
earth.” They were thus encouraged to look to the far horizons, and not become
encumbered by partisan concerns.
Afterward, he was taken up
before their every eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. The
transfiguration, the ascension, and the parousia are three successive
manifestations of Jesus’ divine glory. The cloud in each case is to be
understood as the cloud which envelops the glory of God (the shekhinah)—that
cloud which, resting above the Mosaic tabernacle and filling Solomon’s temple,
was the visible token to Israel that the divine glory had taken up residence
there (Exod. 40:34; 1 Kings 8:10-11).99
For greater detail, we turn
to a Pauline commentary. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ
Jesus,” he admonishes his readers.
Who being in the very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself
nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And
being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to
death—even death on the cross. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and give him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every
knee should bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the
glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:5-11).
Thus what is thought to be one of
the most theologically profound passages in Holy Writ serves a decidedly
This involved both the
ketosis/emptying of Christ, and his subsequent exaltation. As for the
former, this required taking human form. Since we take this for granted, it is
difficult to imagine how inhibiting this would have been. In addition, it led to
rejection, suffering, and demise. Accordingly, the divine character was not
compromised but revealed in his exemplary behavior.
Consequently, God highly
exalted him. Not only did he receive the honor do him, but the privilege
associated with it. In particular, the leverage to sustain his associates. Such
as led Paul to affirm “in all things we are more than conquerors through him who
loved us” (Rom. 8:38).
For still greater detail, we
turn to another Pauline text. “To each one of us grace has been given as Christ
apportioned it,” the apostle confidently affirms. “For this is why it say: ‘When
he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men’” (Eph.
4:7-8; cf. Psa. 68:18). Initially, he wants them to appreciate that the reason
persons have various gifts is so that they may edify the fellowship.
By way of confirmation, he
introduces imagery concerning Christ’s ascension. In particular, One may picture
a military leader returned to Jerusalem at the head of his followers, after
routing an enemy army and taking many prisoners. The victorious procession, with
the captives in its train, makes its way up to the temple mount, preceded by
the sacred ark, which symbolizes the invisible presence of the God of Israel. To
him a sacrifice of thanksgiving will be offered when the procession reaches the
temple precincts, and the tribute received from the vanquished foe will be
dedicated to him.100
Of course, the apostle may
have had in mind the return of a victorious Roman general to the acclaim of the
populace, and a sharing of spoils. In either instance, others are calculated to
benefit. In more specific terms, the ascension is pointedly coupled with the
outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and its associated gifts.
* * *
As previously noted, the disciples
were encouraged to anticipate the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. In this
regard, he assured his disciples: “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the
Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of
everything I have said to you” (John 14:24).
“If you loved me, you would
be glad that I am going to the Father,” Jesus continues, “for the Father is
greater than I.” The Father is greater not in an essential but functional
The Father sent Jesus, Jesus did
not send the Father; Jesus goes away to rejoin the Father, the Father does not
come to him. The disciples should be glad that the human being who eats with
them as friend and teacher is not the end in himself, but the Way to God, who is
the beginning and the end of all things.101
When the time of Pentecost
had come, they were all together in one place (cf. Acts 2:1). While
Shavuot/Pentecost was originally a harvest celebration, it came to be associated
with the giving of the Law. The term Pentecost derives from it being
celebrated the fiftieth day after Passover.
“Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled
the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of
fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.” Then all of them were
filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in other tongues—as enabled to
do so. The description is analogical throughout, in that something resembles
something else. On another occasion, Jesus observed: “The wind blows wherever it
pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it
is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
the tongues of fire are variously explained, the reference may have to do
with the sunlight streaming into the place where they were gathered. As such, it
might symbolize that a new day had dawned in salvation history. This impression
would be enhanced by the association of fire with the giving of a covenant.
case, they were all filled with the Spirit. This was for the expressed purpose
that they would disciples all peoples.
not clear from the syntax whether some or all spoke with other tongues,
but the former seems more likely. This could be a reference to other languages,
ecstatic utterance, or some combination of the two. However, since some heard
them speak in their respective dialects, something more or other than ecstatic
utterance would seem necessitated. Incidently, recent studies have shown that
persons experiencing ecstasy sometimes verbalize catches of another language
they have suppressed long ago.
miss the forest for the trees, the symbolism is meant to convey the reversal of
the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel (cf. Gen. 11:1-9). Diverse people
are thereby joined together in a common fellowship, instead of being caught up
in a pretentious enterprise.
looking on were amazed and perplexed. “What does this mean?” they
inquired. But some ridiculed them, saying: “They have had too much wine.”
Then Peter stood up with the
Eleven, and raised his voice to address the crowd. “Fellow Jews and all who live
in Jerusalem,” he commenced in conciliatory fashion. “These men are not drunk as
you suppose. No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:‘In the last days
God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people’” Then, in conclusion, “‘And
everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (cf. Joel 2:28-32).
After this, the apostle
launches into a pronounced Christ-centered discourse. He manages thereby to
point out several salient features:
1. His ministry. This is
described not as a ministry of teaching but (one) of signs, the point being that
God accredited Jesus by them.
2. The crucifixion. Peter
emphasizes that the crucifixion was by the express plan and foreknowledge of
God. He also said that those who were responsible of it were guilty of the sin.
3. The burial. Peter
contrasts Jesus’ burial with David’s, which was permanent. Jesus’ burial was
real but temporary.
4. The resurrection. Peter
deals with the resurrection at length, quoting Psalms 16:8-11 and then
expounding it in verses 29-32.
5. His ascension. The
ascension links the work of Christ to Pentecost (in) the present.
6. Christ’s present ministry.
Pentecost is proof that Jesus Christ is still working.102
When the people heard this,
they inquired: “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Peter resolutely responded:
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the
forgiveness of sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The
promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom
the Lord our God will call.” Then he continued to plead with them, “Save
yourselves from this corrupt generation.” As a result, about three thousand
embraced the fledgling faith.
* * *
The Apostles’ Teaching
Luke’s description of the early
fellowship focuses on the fact that it devoted itself to the apostles’
teaching (cf. Acts 2:42). The remaining features are derivative. In retrospect, “the ecclesiastical
tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to
us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same life-giving
faith, which has been preserved in the church from the apostles until now, and
handed down in truth.”103
According to tradition, it is
said that the one sent is as the one who sends. Jesus told a parable which
graphically illustrates the point. A certain man planted a vineyard, rented it,
and went away on a journey. At harvest time, he sent a servant to collect that
which was due him. But the tenants seized and beat him, sending him away
empty-handed. The owner subsequently sent others, “some of them they beat,
others they killed” (Mark 12:5).
Last of all, he sent his
beloved son—thinking that they would surely show respect to him. Instead, they
observed: “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be
ours.” So they took and killed him, and then cast his body out of the vineyard.
“What then will the owner of
the vineyard do?” Jesus rhetorically inquired. “He will come and kill those
tenants and give the vineyard to others.” Since they failed to show proper
Given this tradition, the
apostles shared several characteristics: They were all commissioned for their
undertaking, and spoke on behalf of the One who commissioned them—like the
vineyard owner in Shaliach tradition. They were twelve in number, symbolizing
the people of God, plus one subsequently called the apostle fo the Gentiles
(Paul). Allowing for this one exception, they were with Jesus from the
beginning—His baptism by John. Special emphasis was given to being a witness to
the Resurrection. They were heralds of the kingdom of God and witnessed signs
and wonders. They presided over the community of faith, and ground its members
in sound teaching.104
The apostolic teaching has
come down to us by way of the New Testament. The entries were thought to be
either composed by an apostle or one closely associated with one. As for the
latter, Luke was a companion of Paul, and Mark was reported to have drawn his
information from Peter. The New Testament, along with its Old Testament
counterpart, were held to be normative for Christian faith and practice.
The church is characterized
as unitary (one), holy, and catholic/universal. As noted
above, these derive from its apostolic foundation. None of these features would
have been genuinely possible apart from the apostles’ teaching, faithfully
They also devoted themselves
“to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” In brief, the
dynamics of Christian fellowship consist of being there for others, allowing
them to be there for us, and a corporate openness to divine initiatives.
Accordingly, “Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others” (1 Cor.
The breaking of bread,
set off from the common meal mentioned later, likely refers to communion. Jesus
commented, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you
drink it, in remembrance of me. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this
cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:25-26).
According to the sage, “More
things are accomplished by prayer than this world realizes.” This is due in
large measure to the fact that God is the answer to our prayers,
regardless of what means he employs. Then, too, he is astonishingly creative in
the matter in which he goes about answering prayer.
“All believers were together
and had everything in common.” Selling their possessions, they gave to anyone as
he or she had need. As we discover from the episode concerning Ananias and
Sapphira, this was on a voluntary basis (cf. Acts 5:1-11).
“Every day they continued to
meet together in the temple courts.” This would vacillate both worship and
“They broke bread in their
homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying
the favor of all the people.” It is said that the common meal provides the
simplest form of a covenant expression, and so should not to be taken lightly.
This was a source of corporate fulfillment, and commended the fellowship to the
“And the Lord added to their
number daily those who were being saved.” “It is the Lord’s prerogative to add
new members to his own community; it is the joyful prerogative of existing
members to welcome to their fellowship those whom he has accepted.”105
So it would appear from the perspective of those resolutely devoted to the
* * *
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus
solemnly declared, “anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.
He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father
(John 14:12). We are thus alerted to the fact that Jesus will continue to
minister through his disciples.
As a result, even greater
things will be accomplished, given Jesus’ intercession and the outpouring of
the Holy Spirit. This is expressly noted in context of an access to the
kingdom. In this regard, Jesus observed: “I am the way and the truth and the
life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” These glad tidings would be
published abroad by Jesus’ followers.
As a matter of record, the
growth of Christianity was astonishing. From what appeared at first to be an
inconsequential Jewish sect, it soon became the dominant faith of those
associated with the Roman Empire. After that, it would achieve virtually
Not to be overlooked, these
greater things also embraced a holistic ministry. As in the case
of Jesus’ public ministry, so also with the continuing labors of his disciples.
Incidently, those who criticize Christians for proselyting often fail to
appreciate this critical feature.
The implications of holistic
ministry seem virtually limitless. For instance, lives are transformed. This, in
turn, recalls the experience of Saul/Paul on the Damascus Road. He had been
consenting to the death of Stephen, the initial Christian martyr. Still obsessed
with stamping out his fledgling fellowship, he secured permission to apprehend
those of the faith in Damascus, and bring them back as prisoners to Jerusalem.
As he neared his destination,
a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground, and heard
a voice inquire of him: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?
“Who are you, Lord?” he
“I am Jesus, whom you are
persecuting,” the voice continued. “Now get up and go into the city, and you
will be told what you must do.” We are thus alerted to the fact that the
persecution of the church was no less an affront to Christ.
It remained for Ananias to
put things in perspective. “Brother, Saul,” he consoled him, “the Lord—Jesus,
who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you
may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” After this, Saul was baptized
on profess of his faith, and ministered in their midst. Thus the self-designated
chief of sinners was transformed into the most energetic herald of the
The transformation of life is
coupled with one’s calling. Whether this pertains to a church-related vocation,
or some other. Whether it involves something near at hand, or requires
resettling in some distant land. In any case, it is calculated to make a
In greater detail, it
fostered a high regard for the sanctity of life. “The low value of life among
the Romans was a chocking affront to the early Christians, who came to Rome with
an exalted view of human life. Like their Jewish ancestors, they saw human
beings as the crown of God’s creation.”106
One of the ways that
Christians underscored the sanctity of life was by discouraging infanticide, a
widespread practice at the time. Infant girls were especially vulnerable.
Conversely, Christians were enjoined, “You shall not murder a child by abortion
nor kill that which is born.”107
As a result, they were disposed to rescue the newly born who were exposed to
die, and raise them as their own.
Along a related line,
Christianity fostered a more elevated view of sexuality and the family. Sexual
immorality was so pronounced that the second-century historian Tacitus reported
that a chaste wife was a rarity. In contrast, it was the norm for believers.
The Christian stance was
applauded by some of the pagan authors. They were also quick to point out any
inconsistency. Meanwhile, Christian morality was increasingly serving as a
catalyst in Roman society.
Christian charity also
profoundly differed from the cultural norm. “The early Christian practiced
caritous, as opposed to the liberalitus of the Romans. Caritous
meant giving to relieve the recipient’s economic or physical distress
without expecting anything in return, whereas liberalitus meant given to
pleas the recipient, who later would bestow a favor on the giver.”108
It goes without saying that the former would have been much less selective.
In this regard, Christians
drew upon their Hebrew legacy—which commended the dual ideal of industry and
generosity. Industry first, since one is called upon to be engaged in worthwhile
activity. Generosity second, in that one should be concerned for the welfare of
others. In these and numerous other ways, the Christian set out to accomplish
greater things—by the grace of God and to his glory.
* * *
In graphic terms, there were a lot
of pot holes along the way to the celestial city. Some of these came by
what of affliction from without, and others were self-inflicted. As for the
latter, the church at times seemed to be its own worst enemy.
Although commissioned to
disciple all nations, the early believers appeared reluctant to leave their
familiar environ. No doubt one of the reasons was that they appreciatively
recalled the instances when Jesus was among them. Then, too, the unfamiliar can
be threatening. In any case, persecution intervened to disperse them.
“Those who had been scattered
preached the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:4). For instance, Philip went down
to a city of Samaria, and proclaimed Christ there. When the populace heard his
words, and witnessed the miracles he performed, they listening attentively to
what he had to say. “So there was great joy in that city.” When the apostles in
Jerusalem heard of this, they sent Peter and John to confirm the believers.
However, there was a man
named Simon, who practiced sorcery. He offered to remunerate the apostles
if they provided him with the means to duplicate their activity. After rebuking
him, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching in many of the Samaritan villages
along the way. This was more remarkable given the traditional hostility between
the two peoples.
Meanwhile, Philip was urged
by an angel of the Lord: “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down
from Jerusalem to Gaza.” Along the way, he met an important Ethiopian official,
who was returning from worshiping in Jerusalem. We are to understand from this
that he was a God-fearing Gentile.
Whereupon, he heard the
official reading from the text of Isaiah. “Do you understand what you are
reading?” Philip inquired.
“How can I,” he replied,
“unless someone explains it to me?” Now the passage before him observes: “He was
led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who
can speak of his descendants? But his life was taken from the earth” (cf. Isa.
“Tell me, please,” the
official continued, “who is the prophet speaking about, himself or someone
else?” Whereupon, Philip deftly applied the prophecy to Jesus. This, in turn,
encouraged the inquirer to request baptism.
Since we have already touched
on the experience of Saul/Paul, we turn our attention to Peter. While engaged in
an itinerant ministry, he arrived in Lydda—which was a Judea administrative
center at the time. There he encountered a paralytic, who was afflicted for
eight years. Peter informed him: “Jesus Christ heals you” (9:34). Upon hearing
of his healing, folk turned to the Lord.
There was in Joppa—a village
nearby, a disciple named Tabitha, who “was always doing good and helping
the poor.” About this time, she became sick and died. They laid her reamains in
an upstairs room. Peter asked to be left along with the corpse. Turning toward
the deceased, he commanded her: “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and
Peter helped her to stand erect.
“The range of the apostolic
message has been steadily broadened. Already it has begun to cross the barrier
which separated Jews from Gentiles; now the time has come for that barrier to be
crossed authoritatively by an apostle.”109There was at Caesarea
a man named Cornelius, who was a centurion and God-fearing Gentile. He
gave generously to those in need, and maintained a prayer vigil. One day he had
a vision instructing him to send a delegation to Peter.
About noon the following day,
the apostle fell into a trance. “He saw heaven opened and something like
a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all
kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the
air. Then a voice told him, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat’” (10-13). “The point
to notice is that the contents of the sheet encompassed creatures both clean and
uncles according to the law (Lev. 11). Peter was horrified at (at the
This occurred three times before the delegation made its presence known.
Peter rightly understood this
as a mandate for him to accompany the delegation to Cornelius’ home, where a
large number of people had gathered. “I know realize how true it is that God
does not show favoritism,” the apostle subsequently concluded, “but accepts men
from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”
While he was still speaking
the Holy Spirit came upon the assembly. Consequently, the circumcised believers
were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on
Gentiles. Thus the apostolic narrative continues to unfold, with marked success
and not a few pot holes.
* * *
As previously observed, the task
entrusted to the followers of Jesus was to disciple all peoples. This was in a
manner similar to that of a teacher, who mentors his or her students. In this
regard, by striving for excellence.
This, in turn, brings to mind
Timothy—a youthful companion of the apostle Paul. Getting a running start, there
as a disagreement between Paul and Barnabas as to whether to include Mark in a
second missionary itinerary (cf. Acts 15:36-41).
Paul, believing that Mark’s
departure from Perga during their former journey was unjustified, and probably
reckoning that it revealed some defect of character which made him unsuitable
for such work, refused point-blank to take him again. Barnabas probably
discerned promising qualities in his young cousin which could be developed under
his care rather than under Paul’s.111
In any case, the issue involved the
nurture of a disciple.
Unable to reconcile their
differences, Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, while Paul chose Silas to
accompany him. The latter made their way to Lystra, where a disciple named
Timothy lived. His mother was a Jewish believer, while his father was a
Greek. He was held in high regard by his fellow believers, encouraging Paul to
take him with them. Accordingly, he had him circumcised, lest he offend the Jews
living in the area.
“As they traveled from town
to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in
Jerusalem, for the people to obey.” This concerned certain practices thought
unacceptable for righteous Gentiles, while not unnecessarily burdening them. “So
the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers” (16:5).
This success bore witness to the wisdom of nurturing disciples in keeping with
their cultural orientation, rather than imposing an alien alternative.
Sometime later, Paul and his
companions made their way to Berea. “Now the Bereans were of more noble
character than were the Thessalonians, for their received the message with
greater eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said
was true” (17:11). As a result, many believed—both Jews and Gentiles.
However, certain of the
opposition arrived from Thessalonica, agitating the crowds and stirring them
up. Whereupon, the brothers escorted Paul to Athens, and left with
instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible. It remained
for his companions to strengthen the believes as best they could, before taking
Upon arriving at Corinth, the
apostle enjoyed the hospitality of Claudius and his wife Priscilla, while
practicing their common trade. “Rabbis were expected to learn and practice a
trade, and Paul must have been glad for this in later life as he worked to
support his ministry. Perhaps the shop became the center of evangelsim during
the week and the synagogue the same on the Sabbath.”112
In any case, when Silas and
Timothy arrived, “Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to
the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.” This likely implies that his associates
brought support from the churches, so that he could refrain working and give
himself fully to the ministry.
Paul eventually made his way
to Ephesus. There the apostle labored over an extended period. As a result, “the
word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.” Whereupon, he determined to
go up to Jerusalem, after which he hoped to visit Rome. “He sent two of his
helper, Timothy and Erasmus to Macedonia, while he stayed in the province of
Asia a little longer.” This, in turn, recalls the saying: “One has achieved his
purpose when no longer necessary.”
In the course of his
ministry, Paul also found occasion to nurture Timothy by way of correspondence.
In one instance, he admonished his youthful colleague: “Don’t let anyone look
down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in
speech, in life, in love, in faith and purity” (1 Time. 4:12). Rather than
looking down on him because of his youth, they were to be encouraged to
look up to him as a result of his virtue.
Furthermore, “Do your best to
present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be
ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). “The basis
for his not being ashamed, again in contrast to the false teachers, it that he
correctly handles the word of truth The word correctly orders is a metaphor that
literally means ‘to cut straight.’”113
Thus nurture is richly rewarded.
* * *
Running the Race
The imagery of running a race is
highly suggestive. For instance, it reminds one of the importance of being in
good condition. This is coupled with appropriate preparation, and over an
extended period of time.
Then, too, it is critical to
get a good start. In this regard, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and
when he is old he will not turn from it” (Prov. 22:6). Even so, one must
maintain a relentless pace. Gil Dodds, characterized as the flying parson,
achieved notoriety by distancing himself from the pack, since he had little in
the way of a kick to finish the race. By the time he reached the home stretch,
the race was usually as good as won.
Finally, one must finish
strong. Do not hold anything back, but surge toward the finish line. This is in
anticipation of the sense of accomplishment, and the acclaim of those looking
on. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one get the
prize?” Paul rhetorically inquires. “Run in such a way as to get the prize.
Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get
a crown that crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will
last forever” (1 Cor. 9:24-25).
In greater detail, one
engaged in the Olympic Games was required to go into ten months of strict
training and was subject to disqualification if he failed to do so. Paul now
apples that figure to their—and his—situation. In their case it will mean not
simply forgoing some rights for the sake of others (as in 8:7-13), but also
forgoing some things altogether because they are inherently incompatible with
the Christian contest (10:14-22).114
By way of illustration,
“‘Everything is permissible for me’—but not everything is beneficial.
‘Everything is permissible for me’—but I will not be mastered by anything” (1
Cor. 6:12). Everything is permissible seems to be a catch phrase of
uncertain derivation. It could have come by way of Paul’s insistence that the
Gentiles were not obligated to embrace Jewish restrictions, or the libertine
spirit of the populace.
In any case, it was not to be
used to excuse any practice thought detrimental to the pursuit of spiritual
excellence. This, moreover, recalls one of my mother’s favorite sayings:
“Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” This encouraged we siblings to
establish good priorities and resolve in seeing them through to completion.
As the time of the apostle’s
departure was drawing near, he realistically reflected: “I have fought the good
fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store
for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will
award to me on that day—and not only for me, but also to all who have longed for
his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).
These three assertions give
the impression of finality. Paul has completed his earthly journey. In greater
detail, I have fought the fight is variously accounted for: as an
athletic context, a military engagement, or in a more general sense of struggle.
I have finished the course recalls his earlier admonition in this regard.
“I have kept the faith has been understood by
some writers to refer to the athlete’s promise to keep the rules, or to the
military man’s oath of fidelity (cf. Calvin). Since the apostle has urged his
lieutenants many times to guard the deposit, it is possible that the same
metaphor of a steward is here in mind.”115
While it seems likely that
the crown of righteousness recalls the wreaths of honor awarded in the
athletic games, some differ to the reward bestowed by magistrates upon the
completion of faithful service. In either case, righteousness receives
its due reward.
While the apostle focuses on
his own anticipated demise, he allows that each will approach that juncture
sooner or later. Moreover, death is not the end, since we must give an account
of our stewardship to lives before the Almighty. All things considered, we are
well-advised to run well.
* * *
Qualifications aside, there is
merit to the observation that Christian are more drawn by the future than driven
by the past. For instance, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in
the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see
the Day approaching” (Heb,. 10:25).
The appeal takes on urgency
in the light of the impending appearing of the Lord in glory. This is enhanced
by the imposing task as yet incomplete, the limited resources available, and the
precarious nature of the times. The rationale makes explicit that the gathering
is meant as a means of reciprocal encouragement, rather than simply personal
We turn to Paul’s
Thessalonian correspondence for a more extended discussion Questions had arisen
concerning the nature of Christ’s appearing, and especially what would become of
those who had passed on during the interim.
“Brothers,” the apostle
solicitously greets his readers, “we do not want you to be ignorant about those
who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have not hope” (1 Thess.
4:13). The assumption is that they have not been thoroughly informed. It goes
without saying that to fall asleep is an euphemistic way of alluding to
“Paul is not saying that
Christians never grieve; they have sorrows like other people (cf. Phil. 2:27).
But they sorrow as those who have an abiding hope.”116
Then, too, it is not that others are utterly lacking in hope concerning the
afterlife, but are bereft of the Christian’s assurance.
believe that Jesus dies and rose again,” the apostle continues, “and so we
believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.
According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who
are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have
so is a reminder that
Jesus’ resurrection serves as an earnest. Because he lives, we shall also live.
Apart from this, our hopes resemble whistling in the dark.
Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of
an archangel and with the trumpet call of God.” This consists of military
imagery, especially pertinent since the region accommodated those who had
retired from participation in the armed services.
Assuredly, “the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still
alive and are left will be caught up together with in the clouds, to meet the
Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” In Christ is
the apostle’s signature expression: it or its equivalent being said to occur 165
times in his extensive correspondence.
It may be significant that (his)
first use of in Christ appears in a corporate setting. He pointedly
observes, “I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ”
(Gal. 1:22). This is also subtle reminder that there were churches scattered
elsewhere. Such as would give expression to a variety of cultural preferences.
Then, in turn, as an evidence that God delights in constructive diversity—as
over against a drab uniformity.117
Consequently, “comfort one another with these words.” In this regard, lay hold
of the practical implications of their faith. Then, in so doing, to bear a
faithful witness to those lacking their blessed hope.
brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write you, for you know very
well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (5:1). It
will be in an unexpected fashion, allowing for no last minute preparations.
Moreover, at a time when further delay would serve no constructive purpose (cf.
1 Peter 3:9).
“But since we belong to the
day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and
the hope of salvation as a helmet.” This allusion to armor carries on the
military metaphor, introduced earlier.
“Therefore encourage one
another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” This appears as
a corporate endeavor, in the light of the Lord’s appearing. Paul also commends
them for already being engaged in this pursuit.
“Now we ask you, brothers, to
respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who
admonish you. Hold them in highest regard in love because of their work”
(4:12-23). As a result, so that their ministry mighty would be maximized.
“Live in peace with each
other.” This appears coupled with the previous injunction, with the implication
that persons should assume responsibility of one another, and not leave it
solely up to their leaders. To live in peace implies that they should
attempt to work through the issues that arise, and foster creative resolutions.
In these and other ways, the
apostle encourages them to live with the prospect of the Lord’s return. They
were not to be discouraged by others nor deterred by adverse circumstances—since
it is God’s pleasure to make all things work together for good concerning those
who are devoted to him, and called according to his gracious purposes (cf. Rom.
8:28). Whereupon, the apostle appropriately concludes with a benediction.
* * *
(peace, well-being) is an illusive
commodity. As such, it brings to mind the occasion when the then British prime
minister Neville Chamberlain returned from signing the Munic Pact with Germany,
enthusiastically declaring “peace in our time.” The following year Germany
acquired additional territory, making the pact null and void. This led to an
invasion of Poland, inviting the intervention of England and France—thus
precipitating World War II.
It goes without saying that
the peace alluded to in this context falls critically short of the
shalom promised in Holy Writ. The latter implies a situation where God’s
righteousness is realized, along with its attendant blessings. Or as I like to
characterize it, when the train runs on time, every time.
Now John was on the island of
Patmos when he received a vision concerning things to come. The ensuing account
attempts “to defend the vital presence and participation of a good and sovereign
Lord God in a world where the everyday experience is full of human misery and
social injustice.”118In greater detail,
God’s benevolence is expressed by way of the exaltation of Christ, the on-going
ministry of the Christian fellowship, and the anticipation of shalom. It is the
last of these features that especially draws our attention at this time.
saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had
passed away, and there was no longer any sea” (Rev. 21:1). “We know that the
whole creation has been groaning as in the pain of childbirth right up to the
present moment,” Paul allows (Rom. 8:22). The imagery of travail is indeed apt,
since all creation suffers the fall-out from man’s defection.
Moreover, since the sufferings of the present shrink in comparison with the
blessings to come. This, in turn, recalls a memorable story I have cited on
other occasions. It seems that a group of devout Jews were lamenting the
destruction of their beloved temple, when one was rejoicing. When asked how he
could rejoice at so tragic an event, he replied: “If the destruction of the
temple can solicit such anguish, imagine the joy associated with its
restoration!” The story speaks for itself.
the new heaven and earth will differ from the former one, it picks up
some of its imagery from paradise. In particular, John was shown the river of
the water of life, flowing down the middle of the great street of the city.
“On each side or the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of
fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the
healing of the nations” (22:2).
omission of a sea likely recalls its turbulence, and related threat. In any
case, “The entire presentation stretches the limits of human vocabulary and
thought to emphasize the glorious reality of God dwelling among his people. As
the new covenant is superior to and replaces the old (Heb. 8:7-13), so the new
heaven and earth provide a setting for the new and eternal state.”119
Then, too, a new Jerusalem
descends from heaven—“prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband”
(21:2). Whereupon, a loud voice from the throne announces: “Now the dwelling of
God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God
himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from this
eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old
order of things has passed away.” While the adjectives new and holy
are calculated to distance the coming situation from the present, the
reference to Jerusalem provides a needed continuity: as the place
designated for worship of the Lord God, where Jesus gave his life a ransom, and
where the Holy Spirit was poured out.
Reconciliation has been
achieved, allowing the Lord to dwell among his formerly estranged creatures.
They will bask in his presence. He will wipe away their tears, much as would a
solicitous parent comfort a child who injured him or herself. The things which
have plagued our former existence will be absent.
Since this is portrayed as a
corporate experience, we would gather that it extends to our relationships with
one another. All that has hindered our association will be set aside. We will be
free to serve, and be served.
The circumstances will be
conducive to the realization of our potential. “I am come that they may have
life, and have it to the full,” Jesus assured those listening to his words. His
intent will now be satisfied without reservation.
“These words are trustworthy
and true,” the angel confidently assured John (22:6). They are more certain than
all we take for granted. When this has come to pass, The Hound of Heaven
will cease his chase, but not a moment before. May it be so!
* * *
1. Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1-15, p. 77.
2. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, XXI, 1.
3. Derek Kidner, Genesis, p. 71.
4. John Hartley, Genesis, p. 83.
5. Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, II, xxi.
6. Harley, op. cit., p. 102.
7. Gleason Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, p. 77.
8. Victor Hamilton, The Book of Genesis Chapters 1-17, p. 350.
9. Harley, op. cit., p. 125.
10. Milton Steinberg, Basic Judaism, p. 19.
11. Robert Seltzer, Jewish People, Jewish Thought, p. 197.
12. Leland Ryden, How to Read the Bible As Literature, p. 178.
13. Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, vol. 3, p. 941.
14. Harley, op. cit., pp. 132-133.
15. Ibid., pp. 156-157.
16. John Walton & Victor Matthew, Genesis-Deuteronomy, p. 49.
17. R. Murphy and E. Huwiler, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Son of Songs, p. 18.
18. Walton & Matthews, op. cit., p. 51.
19. Harley, op. cit., p. 227.
20. Ibid., p. 251.
21. Ibid., p., 252.
22. Walton & Matthews, op. cit., p. 59.
23. Ibid., p. 61.
24. Harley, op. cit., p. 278.
25. Ibid., p. 310.
26. Kidner, op. cit., p. 189.
27. Walton & Matthews, op. cit., p. 79.
28. Hartley, op. cit., p. 367.
29. Walton & Matthews, op. cit., p. 87.
30. R. Alan Cole, Exodus, p. 64.
31. Walton & Matthews, op. cit., pp. 91-92.
32. Yechiel Eckstein, How Firm a Foundation, p. 76.
33. Morris Inch, Saga of the Spirit, p. 13.
34. Morris Inch, Scripture As Story, p. 35.
35. Walter Kaiser Jr. Toward Old Testament Ethics, p. 85.
36. J. Carl Laney, Baker’s Concise Bible Atlas, p. 48.
37. R. K. Harrison, Numbers, p. 212.
38. Morris Inch, Two Mosaic Motifs, p. 47.
39. John Bimson (ed.), Baker’s Encyclopedia of Bible Places, p. 179.
40. J. Harris, C. Brown, and M. Moore, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, p. 25.
41. Richard Hess, Joshua, pp. 104-105.
42. Archer, op. cit., p. 158.
43. J. Harris, et. al., p. 54.
44. Ibid., p. 61.
45. Hess, op. cit., p. 196.
46. E. John Hamlin, Joshua: Inheriting the Land, p. 110.
47. Arthur Cundall & Leon Morris, Judges & Ruth, p. 82.
48. Ibid., p. 113.
49. Joyce Baldwin, 1 & 2 Samuel, p. 63.
50. Ibid., p. 85.
51. Mary Evans, 1 and 2 Samuel, p. 50.
52. Baldwin, op. cit., p. 115.
53. Ibid., p. 122.
54. Evans, op. cit., p. 81.
56. Baldwin, op. cit., p. 127.
57. George Robinson, Essential Judaism, p. 283.
58. Gnana Robinson, 1 & 2 Samuel: Let Us Be Like the Nations, p. 159.
59. Morris Inch, Devotions With David: A Christian Legacy, p. 58.
60. Iain Proven, 1 and 2 Kings, p. 50.
61. Charles Pfeiffer, Old Testament History, p. 301.
62. Abraham Herschel, The Prophets, p. 4.
63. Ibid., p. 10.
64. Ibid., p. 61.
65. Russell Dilday, 1, 2 Kings, p. 482.
66. Ibid., pp. 485-486.
67. Ibid., p. 486.
68. Inch, Scripture As Story, p. 85.
69. Ralph Klein, Israel in Exile: A Theological Interpretation, p. 3.
70. Mark Roberts, Exra, Nehemiah, Esther, p. 83.
71. Derek Kidner, Ezra & Nehemiah, p. 72.
72. John Bright, A History of Israel, p. 417.
73. Pfeiffer, op. cit., p. 564.
74. Joyce Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, p. 252.
75. Joel Green, Luke, p. 113.
76. Oscar Brooks, The Drama of Decision: Baptism in the New Testament, p. 31.
77. Green, op. cit., p. 126.
78. Maimonides, Thirteen Principles of the Faith, 12th principle.
79. Craig Evans, Luke, p. 38.
80. Robinson, op. cit., p. 146.
81. Green, op. cit., p. 154.
82. Infancy, XV, 7.
83. Robert Mounce, Matthew, p. 25.
84. Robert Stein, Luke, p. 146.
85. Louis Feldman and Meyer Reinhold, Jewish Life and Thought among Greeks and Romans, p. 68.
86. Craig Evans, op. cit., p. 72.
87. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, p. 491.
88. Daniel Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 76.
89. Mounce, op. cit., p. 41.
90. Ibid., p. 139.
91. Morris Inch, “Manifestation of the Spirit,” The Living and Active Word of God (Inch and Youngblood, eds.), p. 149.
92. Morris Inch, Exhortations of Jesus According to Matthew and Up From the Depths, p. 9.
93. Stein, op. cit., p. 277.
94. Ibid., p. 280.
95. George Knight, Isaiah 40-55: Servant Theology, p. 170.
96. Lee Strobel, The Case For Christ, p. 198.
97. Maimonides, op. cit., 12th and 13th principles.
98. Stein, op. cit., p. 606.
99. F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, p. 38.
100. F. F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, p. 341.
101. J. Ramsay Michaels, John, p. 269.
102. James Montgomery Boise, Acts, pp. 51-52.
103. Irenaeus, op. cit., III, 3.
104. Morris Inch, 12 Who Changed the World, p. 5.
105. Bruce, The Books of Acts, p. 73.
106. Alvin Schmidt, Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization, p. 46.
107. Didarche, 2.
108. Schmidt, op. cit., p. 126.
109. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, p. 201.
110. David Williams, The Book of Acts, pp. 187-188.
111. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, pp. 301-302.
112. Williams, op. cit., p. 314.
113. Gordon Fee, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, p. 252.
114. Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, pp. 436-437.
115. Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles, p. 115.
116. Leon Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, p. 136.
117. Morris Inch, In Christ & On Track, p. 1.
118. Robert Wall, Revelation, p. 18.
119. Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation, pp. 380-381.
* * *
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* * *