Monday, April 29, 2013

The Return of King Jesus

Like many others, I often find myself thinking about the workings of the spiritual realm. What's going on up in heaven this instant? Are there angels around me now? What is on today's agenda for King Jesus (not that He is bound to mornings and evenings as we are)? Have you ever wondered about these things? Have you ever asked these questions? I'm almost certain that all of you have striven with your mind's eye to picture and to imagine the dynamics of heaven at one point or another.

However, because we are finite creatures, our thoughts and imaginings of heaven and of Jesus are often plagued by those nagging doubts and questions. As Hebrews 11:1 says so clearly, "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." I know I'm not the only one who has struggled to believe at times. The devil works on all of us all the time, hurling his fiery darts at us when we're unfocused, penetrating and weakening our defenses. 

To have faith in what we cannot see is difficult enough. To have strong, convicting faith in what we cannot see is even more difficult. You know that what I say is true.

On the other hand, I've never met or even seen in person an American president, or any leading politician for that matter, but I've seen many of them on television and therefore "can put a face to the name." Living, earthly kings are tangible to us and the authority of civil law is most certainly tangible to us. We know that if we violate the law of the land in any way, there will be consequences. We've all seen COPS on television. We've all seen people pulled over for speeding and traffic violations. We've all seen murderers and rapists undergo a trial by jury and have known of many who have gone on to face the death penalty for their crimes. We've heard the presidential speeches and interviews.

In other words, it's easy to maintain respect for earthly powers and governments because they are visible and tangible to us.

But even though we may all believe in the fact that Jesus is the King of kings (1 Tim. 6:15) and that we as obedient believers are citizens of His spiritual kingdom (Col. 1:13-14), let's be's difficult in this carnal world to maintain strong, ongoing faith not only in King Jesus, but in the strength of His royal law. Sure, we read about His commandments in the Scriptures, but there's no heavenly task force that beats down our door when we commit a violation. There's no "Angel COPS" television show to remind us of the strength of the law (although that would be really cool). And so it's very easy for religious people to lose sight of the supreme authority of King Jesus...if not immediately, then slowly over time.

Guess what? It is God's will for King Jesus to reign spiritually over His people, and therefore it is God's will for us to maintain faith in the authority of His Son, the King. In other words, God never intended for kingdom citizenship to be easy. We must fight to believe in a King that is invisible to us even as the world offers up visible, tangible pleasure. God will save only those who are humble enough to reject the wisdom of the world in favor of the "foolishness of God" (1 Cor. 1:25)..."that no flesh should glory in His presence" (1 Cor. 1:29). He wants to save only those whose faith will prompt them to give their invisible King greater respect and obeisance than is given to visible governors and kings (Malachi 1:7-9). And again, God is demanding of us the kind of faith that not only believes in Him, but "that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Heb. 11:6).

However, lest we think that it will always be this way, consider with me these few verses:
"Then comes the end, when He delivers the kigndom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death" (1 Cor. 15:24-26).
"Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed - in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall all be changed" (1 Cor. 15:51-52).
"For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth - those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation" (John 5:26-29).
"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (2 Cor. 5:10).
"When the Son of man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand..." (Mt. 25:31-34a).
Can you see in these verses the sequence of events?

One day, at an unknown hour, King Jesus will descend from heaven with a legion of angels. The trumpet will sound and there will be a universal resurrection of the dead and living. All of us will be raised up to face King Jesus in judgment. He will sit on His throne of judgment and will hold each and every one of us accountable to His royal law. As was established in an earlier article, His royal law - the standard by which all of mankind will be judged - is His word (John 12:48) as recorded in the Scriptures.

My point is this: we may not be able to see King Jesus now and His royal decrees may not be tangible to us, but this will change one day. You and I will stand before the glorious King of kings and all of us, even those who rejected and blasphemed His holy name on earth, will prostrate ourselves before Him and confess His name (Phil. 2:9-11). All of our quibbles regarding His authority won't matter anymore. All of the excuses we made and the ways we tried to justify our lawlessness won't help us. The many times we, like Pilate, asked, "What is truth?" (in an effort to diminish His divine authority) will now haunt us and cause us to tremble fearfully before the King whose truth we won't be able to deny anymore.

Dear reader, I am the first one to admit that it's not always easy to believe in an invisible King. And yes, to remain cognizent and reverent of His royal law when the laws of this world and of the flesh are pulling at us so forcefully isn't easy. But we must! This is the battle we're fighting! It is a battle for our minds and our hearts, and like Joshua declared in Joshua 24:15, we must choose whom we will serve!

Will you submit your will to that of King Jesus? Will you stop muddying the waters by asking "What is truth?" Will you become that obedient citizen of the heavenly kingdom by being baptized into HIS church? Will you strive, even today, to do all things by the authority of the King (Col. 3:17)? Please, please, please do so; take these questions seriously. Your eternal soul depends on it!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The King's Authority: Necessary Inference

Jesus is our King and as such, He has all authority in heaven and on earth (Mt. 28:18). His authority (in the form of divine law) has been expressed to us in the New Testament as was proven in a previous article. And yet we understand that we are not obligated to obey every detail of the New Testament. There are, in other words, personal remarks, incidental details and even certain commands which cannot logistically or reasonably be obeyed. So the question is: how do we know which details to obey? 

So far, I've shown that both direct commands and approved examples may carry authoritative weight. We can know this because even Jesus, while He was alive on this earth and subject to the Law of Moses, used both the commands and the examples of the Old Testament to validate or invalidate His own actions (or the actions of others). At the same time, Jesus understood that commands and examples can both be misunderstood and/or abused, and therefore we have to show the same caution that He did in our approach to biblical commands and examples. Which are binding, and which are not? We've considered many principles that will aid us in making these distinctions.

In this article, let's focus on a third means of establishing biblical authority: necessary inference.

First of all, what is necessary inference? There are commands and examples throughout the Scriptures where, although a specific detail is not specified, it is necessarily inferred, or implied. Keep in mind that there is a difference between inferences and necessary inferences. If you walk into my house and see my family eating fried chicken and fixin's at the dining room table, you might infer that I picked up KFC on my way home from work. But is that a necessary inference? Is that conclusion inescapeable? No. Maybe my wife fried the chicken herself (which she is prone to do). However, it is necessarily inferred that someone prepared that chicken, set it out on the table, distributed it to the children, etc.

Some argue that there is "human judgment" involved here. Yes, that's true. But (1) human judgment is employed whenever we read and interpret Scripture, and (2) even though many do not like the phrase, and even though the phrase is not used in the Bible, necessary inference is an unavoidable and common tool of communication, both biblically and conversationally.

Having explained the meaning of necessary inference, let's now see whether or not Jesus used it in His approach to the Law of Moses. I would contend that if Jesus used necessary inference in His interpretation and application of the Old Testament, so also may we use it today.

In Matthew 19:4-6, Jesus responded to the Pharisees' questions about divorce by citing God's original design for marriage as recorded in Genesis 2. Notice Jesus' conclusion in verses 5-6. Because, in a marriage, two have become one flesh, Jesus concluded, "Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man separate." Please notice that God never explicitely stated in Genesis 2 that divorce was wrong, or that a married couple cannot be separated. And so Jesus reached His conclusion, not by appealing to a direct command or approved example, but by necessary inference. He necessarily inferred that when a man and woman are joined in marriage (by God), that we're not to disjoin or break that bond.

At a later date, the Sadducees came to Jesus with a question of their own. Their question pertained to the resurrection of the dead. In Matthew 22:31-32, Jesus said, "But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." Jesus was quoting from Exodus 3:6 but technically, this statement says nothing (explicitely) about the resurrection. Jesus necessarily inferred that because God said, "I am the God of Abraham..." after Abraham was already dead, that therefore Abraham was still alive in some sense. Using necessary inference, Jesus proved that there is indeed an ongoing spiritual existence after physical death.

A point I made in the previous article on approved examples applies here: no necessary inference stands alone. This should be obvious to us. Any use of necessary inference is rooted in a direct command or approved example of Scripture. To better understand this point and to make this article relevent for us today, consider with me a few examples from the New Testament.

In Matthew 28:19, Jesus said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Notice the command to "Go therefore..." Here's the question: how should we go? The method of travel here isn't specified, is it? Are we therefore paralyzed and incapable of obeying the command to go? Of course not. This is where necessary inference comes in handy. It is necessarily implied - it is inherent within the command - that to "go" we must choose a method of travel. 

Another word that often comes up in discussions like this is expediency. An expedient is something that is "suitable for acheiving a particular end in a given circumstance." Again, with the command in Matthew 28:19 in mind, it is necessarily inferred that to "go" we must choose a method of travel. Expedients would include: walk, jog, run, ride a bike, drive a car, fly a plane, etc. Please note that while we can and must BIND that which is necessarily inferred, we cannot bind a particular expedient. We cannot say, for example, that all Christians MUST ride bicycles as they "go" to spread the gospel.

In 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, Paul commanded the Corinthian church to observe the Lord's Supper. In the Lord's Supper, the fruit of the vine (i.e. the "cup") represents the blood of Christ and the bread represents the body of Christ. It is necessarily inferred in this command that the church must somehow secure these two emblems. That would be an inescapable conclusion. We can't observe the Lord's Supper unless we first secure the grape juice and bread. Expedients would include: buying the emblems, growing/making them ourselves, trading/bartering for them, etc. Are we ever explicitly commanded to secure the emblems? Are we ever plainly told how to do so? No. But without necessary inference - or "common sense" as some say - this command (and so many others) would be rendered null and void.

In Hebrews 10:25, we're told to not forsake "the assembling of ourselves together." In other words, the church assembles regularly and it is our obligation to be there. Of course, we see similar command and examples throughout the New Testament. Clearly, churches are to assemble. It is necessary to infer that we must have a place to assemble. We learn in the book of Acts especially that churches met in a number of places; they met anywhere that they could (e.g. Solomon's porch at the Temple, in homes, upper rooms of homes, schools, etc.). Modern-day expedients would include rented halls, libraries, church-owned buildings, etc. These are all authorized by means of necessary inference.

There are a number of other ways to illustrate this point, but these few examples should suffice. 

Jesus employed necessary inference in His interpretation and application of the Old Testament. The apostles did as well (i.e. Acts 10:34; 1 Cor. 15:27; Eph. 4:8-10). With these examples in mind, and knowing that without necessary inference, we could not obey any of the Scripture's commands, it is clear that this is an appropriate means of establishing biblical authority.

Click here to access the final article in this series.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The King's Authority: Approved Examples

In the last article, which can be accessed here, we began our search for the biblical means of establishing the authority of King Jesus. Again, Jesus is our King and as such, He has all authority in heaven and on earth (Mt. 28:18). His authority (in the form of divine law) has been expressed to us in the New Testament as was proven in a previous article. And yet we understand that we are not obligated to obey every detail of the New Testament. There are, in other words, personal remarks, incidental details and even certain commands which cannot logistically or reasonably be obeyed. So the question is: how do we know which details to obey?
As was shown in the last article, Jesus Himself teaches us (by both example and command) that direct commands are a valid means of establishing biblical authority. In this article, consider with me Jesus' treatment of the approved examples of Scripture.
In Matthew 12, after the Pharisees accused Jesus and His disciples of violating the Sabbath law, Jesus responded by saying, "Have you not read what David did..." (Mt. 12:3) and went on to describe how David's actions (his example) related to their current contention. Granted, Jesus wasn't using David as a positive example in this case, for according to Jesus, what David did "was not lawful" (vs. 4). But still, Jesus made His point by appealing to a Scriptural example. Do such examples aid us in our efforts to distinguish between what God accepts and doesn't accept? Yes!
Also in Matthew 12, Jesus appealed to a number of Old Testament examples to prove the wickedness of the first century Jews. The Ninevites repented at the preaching of Jonah (Mt. 12:41), and the Queen of the South acknowledged the wisdom of Solomon (Mt. 12:42), yet Jesus' contemporaries failed to acknowledge His wisdom. There are clearly things to be learned from the examples and stories of the Bible. As we approach decisions in our own lives, or as we face times of hardship, the examples of the Bible can do much to guide our steps in a way that will more accurately reflect the wisdom and will of God.
Finally, in Matthew 19, when Jesus was confronted about the matter of divorce, He appealed to the example of the first marriage union in Genesis 2. He said, "Have you not read, that He who made them from the beginning made them male and female" (Mt. 19:4). He appealed not to a command regarding the composition or permanancy of marriage, but to an example...and that example carried a lot of weight in His explanation of marriage and divorce.
Did Jesus follow every example from the Old Testament? No. Did he use the plethora of positive examples to govern every detail of His life? No. Did He believe that every example carried with it some kind of authoritative weight? No. Throughout His ministry, Jesus held up Abraham, Moses, David and others as being great examples of faith, but did Jesus imitate their every action and mannerism? No.
With this in mind, there seems to be three different kinds of examples:
  1. Examples of incidental actions
  2. Examples which impart wisdom
  3. Examples which carry authoritative weight
Regarding examples of incidental actions, I'm referring to the irrelevent (incidental) details of these same Scriptural examples to which Jesus referred. Again, He used Jonah's ministry in Nineveh to illustrate His point in Matthew 12, but does that mean that Jesus Himself went through the whole city in one day just as Jonah did (Jonah 3:4)? Did He feel compelled to go to Nineveh to replicate this pattern of behavior, or did He at least follow that example in Jerusalem? No, He didn't. The fact that Jonah walked through the entire city in one day was purely incidental and wasn't intended to become the standard for all prophets and evangelists moving forward.
Likewise, there are a number of New Testament examples that contain equally irrelevent and/or incidental details. We know that the early church sometimes met in "upper rooms" but this doesn't mean that churches today MUST do the same. When Paul obeyed the command of the Great Commission to go into all the world preaching the gospel (Mark 16:15), he walked or sailed to his destinations. Must we walk or sail to our destinations today? Are we thus forbidden from driving, cycling or flying by plane? By no means! Common sense, if nothing else, makes this all very clear.
Regarding examples which impart wisdom, I'm referring to those examples that indirectly relay to us certain spiritual principles but that do not necessarily require strict imitation. In John 8:39-40, Jesus responded to their assertion that they were children of Abraham. He said to them, "If you are Abraham's children, do the deeds of Abraham. But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do." He plainly told them to follow Abraham's example, but He didn't mean that they were to imitate every detail from Abraham's life. He was simply encouraging them to reconsider Abraham's actions of faith, and to imitate, not the actions per se, but the kind of faith that Abraham had.
Likewise, there are a number of New Testament examples that we're not required to strictly obey but that do impart wisdom unto us. In Acts 2-4, we learn that the Christians in Jerusalem sold their properties and possessions, donating their earnings to the needy brethren among them. No one today argues that we must do the same! However, the actions of the Jerusalem church in this matter do teach us to be giving and sacrificial towards our brethren.
Finally, regarding examples which carry authoritative weight, I'm referring to those examples which must be followed or applied to our doctrines and practices today. Jesus used the example of David's unlawful actions in Matthew 12:3-4 to address charges against Him, and in Matthew 19:4-6, Jesus used an example to teach God's will on marriage (and to mandate a certain view of marriage).
How do we determine which examples are authoritative and must be strictly obeyed and/or taught today? I would suggest to you that no such example stands alone but is supported or backed by a direct command of some sort. In other words, there is a command for some activity followed by an example of how that command (or some aspect of that command) is fulfilled. Not only is this true of the two Old Testament examples cited in the previous paragraph, but this is true today.
First of all, there aren't that many examples in the New Testament that we strive to fully imitate today, and even fewer that are controversial. One such example, however, is that of the Lord's Supper observance in Acts 20:7. In fact, this example in Acts 20:7 illustrates all three kinds of examples (listed above). Consider this example with me before we conclude our study.
"And we sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and came to them at Troas within five days; and there we stayed seven days. And on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to depart the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight."
The disciples in Troas waited all week for Sunday to come around. On Sunday, they assembled together for the purpose of "breaking bread." This is a reference to the Lord's Supper, an activity that was not only commanded by Jesus (Matthew 26:26-29) but also by Paul (1 Cor. 11:22-34). In this passage, we find incidental details, details which impart wisdom, and details which must be obeyed today.
The fact that they met in an upper room is incidental. The fact that Paul preached until midnight is invidental. The fact that Eutychus (vs. 9) was sitting in an open window is incidental. The fact that they were burning lamps for light is incidental (vs. 8). It would be foolish to argue that these details are anything more than incidental.
The fact that these disciples listened to preaching is not incidental, but neither is this detail to be strictly obeyed. After all, when Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper, he explained to them what it meant, but He didn't preach to them. Neither does Paul command an accompanying sermon in 1 Corinthians 11:22-34. It is apparent to me that Paul preached to these disciples in Troas simply because they had assembled for spiritual purposes and it was therefore a convenient time to preach. Must we preach a sermon following every observance of the Lord's Supper? I don't believe so? Must we preach until midnight? Certainly not. But is there wisdom in using that assembly as an occasion to preach and study God's word? I think so.
Finally, while so much of this story in Acts 20:7 is either incidental or at least non-binding, there are a few things that I believe must be strictly obeyed. The fact that the Lord's Supper was observed by the church is significant. While individuals partake of the Supper, the greater context of Scripture makes it clear that the Lord's Supper is a collective activity. We don't find first century Christians observing the Lord's Supper individually or separate from the church (again, see 1 Cor. 11). It's also significant that they observed the Lord's Supper on Sunday, the first day of the week. Not only does this teach us that God is pleased with our observing the Lord's Supper on Sunday (we cannot know that He is pleased if/when we observe it any other day), but when compared to passages such as 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, it is easy to see that based on the pattern of Scripture, the first century churches met regularly on Sundays. That detail, in other words, is not merely incidental or suggestive, but mandatory.
So much more could be said about the matter of approved examples, but based on these few points, it is abundantly clear that the divine authority of King Jesus can be properly expressed through the examples of the New Testament. Just as Jesus placed instrinsic value on the examples of the Old Testament, so also must we pour over the examples found in the gospels and especially in Acts as we strive to be the people that God would have us to be.
In my next article, I'd like to make one other point about approved scriptural examples. So stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The King's Authority: Direct Commands

When one accepts the fact that King Jesus has "all authority in heaven and on earth" (Mt. 28:18) and that His authority (in the form of law) is expressed in the New Testament, the next logical question is: how is Christ's authority established?
You see, the New Testament is not a list of positive commands and "thou shalt not's." Of course, there are commands found throughout the New Testament, but in essence, we're reading a series of 27 letters to and narratives about Jesus' ministry and the churches of the first century. To submit to the authority of Christ, must we obey every single detail of the New Testament?
Must we sell all of our possessions and give our profits to the church (Acts 4:32-37)? Must we enter Jewish synagogues every Sabbath to teach the assembled Jews the gospel (Acts 19:8)? Must we meet in an "upper room" as did the disciples in Troas (Acts 20:7)? Does the fact that John was commanded to eat a book mean that we all must eat a book to be obedient to the Lord (Rev. 10:8-9)?
Many other such examples and commands could be cited, but I'm sure you get the point. There are clearly details of the New Testament that we are not required to obey. There are personal remarks made by Jesus to His disciples and by Paul to his associates that cannot and must not be bound on 21st century Christians. And, of course, there are many commands regarding spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 14) that do not have the same meaning today in light of the fact that spiritual gifts have passed away (1 Cor. 13:8-11).
So while the initial question might have seemed inappropriate or unnecessary, it is clearly a crucial question. Again, how is Christ's authority established? Or to put it another way, how do we know which details of the New Testament to obey and which not to obey?
First of all, I believe that if we strive to do all things by the authority of King Jesus (Col. 3:17) and therefore seek to pattern our lives after the New Testament Scriptures as much as we can (Eph. 4:3-5), we'll be the kingdom-citizens that King Jesus wants us to be (2 Tim. 3:16-17). In other words, if we approached all spiritual questions by turning to the New Testament for authority and/or guidance, and if we did so prayerfully and with careful deliberation, I fail to see how and where we'd go wrong. Not only would we be doing things that we know King Jesus accepts, but we'd cut out a lot of the unscriptural activities that many churches today are promoting on the basis of tradition or emotion.
Having said that, because the issue of scriptural authority is so widely misunderstood, let's focus more specifically on the means by which scriptural authority is established. And let's begin by answering the following question: how did Jesus establish scriptural authority (from the Old Testament) while alive on the earth and subject to the old law? We established in the previous article that Jesus used the Old Testament as His guide and obeyed every letter and stroke of the law, but again, by what means did He establish scriptural authority?
In this chapter, let's focus specifically on the direct commands of Scripture...
Jesus obviously believed that the direct commands of the Old Testament were authoritative and binding. In Matthew 4:10, when confronted with the temptation to worship Satan, Jesus responded by appealing to the command to worship the Lord only. He told the rich young ruler to "keep the commandments" and then rattled off a few of the "ten commandments" (Mt. 19:16-19). In Matthew 8:4, He told the cleansed leper to obey the commandment of Moses regarding his obligation to go to the priest and make an offering. When God issues a command through His inspired Scriptures, we must take heed and obey!
However, even though Jesus viewed direct commands of Scripture as authoritative, He was also aware of the fact that commands can be misunderstood, twisted and or abused. The Pharisees, for example, used one command of the old law to negate or nullify another command. They believed in giving gifts and offerings to God (Mt. 15:5-6), but they used this Scriptural concept to negate their obligation to honor their parents (Mt. 15:4). Of course, the Pharisees were very keen on the command to observe the Sabbath, but they were misapplying the Sabbath laws and condemning certain things that were permissible (Mt. 12:1-2, 9-14). In John 8:1-5, the Jews had caught a woman in the act of adultery and reminded Jesus of Moses' instructions to have her stoned. Was this commanded in the Law of Moses? Yes, but the man was equally guilty and subject to stoning...and yet where was he? Jesus knew that they were abusing this command of Scripture to serve their own wicked agenda.
Furthermore, we don't see Jesus building an ark of gopherwood (Gen. 6:14), besieging cities (Josh. 6) or serving in the Temple as a priest. He knew that these commands were given to specific individuals for specific reasons.
Direct commands of Scripture are obviously authoritative, but as we've learned from Jesus, it's very easy to misunderstand, twist and/or misapply scriptural commands. As we approach the commands of the New Testament, we must be equally reverent and careful in our interpretation and application of them.
We must first of all ensure that we understand the command in context. I've always liked the example of Matthew 19:6. This is where Jesus says, "What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate." Here He is talking about marriage, but one might wrongly apply the command to condemn wood-splitting. Think about it ;).
Not only must we consider the written context, we must consider the audience and social/cultural context. Just as Jesus didn't feel the need to obey God's command to build an ark of gopherwood, neither should we feel the need (or bind the need) to obey commands that were specifically given to certain individuals. For example...
  • Jesus commanded His disciples in the Limited Commission to "not enter any of the cities of the Samaritans; but rather, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Mt. 10:5-6). Does this command apply to us? Is it wrong for us to preach the gospel to the Gentiles? Of course not. This command was given to a specific audience, and the greater context of Scripture is clear that WE are commanded to preach the gospel to ALL nations (Mark 16:15).
  • Commands such as "foot washing" (John 13:14) and "holy kisses" (Rom. 16:16) both pertained to cultural practices of that day. It was common to wash the feet of guests and to greet others with a kiss on the cheek (Paul's command was for these kisses to be holy rather than lewd). Not only do we live in a society where neither is practiced, but our society would view both of these practices, especially foot washing, as extremely unusual. I'm reminded of the old law's instructions regarding the tabernacle and how many of those instructions were nullified when the Temple was built by Solomon.
  • Paul's command to Timothy to bring to him his cloak, books and parchments (2 Tim. 4:13), and all the commands to greet certain ones (found at the end of many Pauline epistles) were obviously given to specific individuals for specific reasons.
  • Even the command to take up a collection on Sundays (1 Cor. 16:1-2) was given for a specific reason (i.e. to aid needy saints in Jerusalem, vs. 3). Many churches today have incorrectly assumed that Paul is issuing forth a generic command for a weekly collection. At the same time, this passage does provide us with a God-ordained means of collecting funds and therefore has that benefit. I will say more about this at a later date.
  • The commands in 1 Corinthians 12-14 intended to govern miraculous gifts no longer apply in an age where miraculous gifts have ceased (1 Cor. 13:8-11). There are, even still, many principles that we can draw from these chapters.
As you can see, there are certain commands in the New Testament that we're not obligated to obey or that we cannot obey. Even in some of these areas, we can glean certain principles. However, none of this changes the fact that direct commands of Scripture, when properly understood, do have authoritative value.

Click here to access the next article in this series.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Imitating the King

Before Jesus was inaugurated as King over His newly established spiritual kingdom (following His ascension into heaven per Acts 2:33), He lived as a Jewish man bound to the Law of Moses. Galatians 4:4 says that He was "born of a woman, born under the Law." The question is: what was the Son's attitude towards the Law? How did Jesus the man respond to the supreme authority of the Father?

Consider the following texts with me...
"Do not think that I cam to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:17-19).
"Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying, 'The scribes and Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things, and do not do things" (Matthew 23:1-3).
Both of these passages illustrate Christ's overall attitude towards the Law of Moses. It's clear that He absolutely believed in studying and obeying the Law. In fact, as we learn in Matthew 5, He was concerned about every letter and stroke of the Law. Did He encourage people to follow their hearts? No. Did He lessen the scope of the Law's influence and/or application? No. Did He mock those whose goal was to pattern their whole lives after the teachings of Scripture? He did oppose the Pharisees time and again, but He opposed them not because they stringently obeyed the Law, but because...
  1. They missed the heart of the law (Mt. 23:23).
  2. Superceded the Law by binding their own traditions (Mt. 15:1-9).
If Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their strict observance of every jot and tittle of the law (not that they did), then He would have been condemning Himself for as we've already seen, He was 100% in favor of complete and total obedience "to the letter of the law." After all, sin is defined as transgression of the law in places like 1 John 3:4, and because we know that Jesus was "without sin" (Heb. 4:15), we can rest assured that not once did He violate the Scriptures.

Along these same lines, not only was Jesus fully obedient to every letter and stroke of the Law of Moses, when questioned about spiritual matters, He consistently directed people to the Scriptures:
  • When tempted by Satan, Jesus responded all three times by saying, "It is written" (Mt. 4:4, 7, 10). In the second instance, when the devil quoted Scripture himself, Jesus responded with Scripture.
  • When falsely accused by the Pharisees concerning His actions on the Sabbath, Jesus said, "Have you not read what David did...?" (Mt. 12:1-3). And in verse 5, "Or have you not read in the Law...?" 
  • When confronted with the gross traditionalism of the Pharisees in Matthew 15:1-2, Jesus responded by showing them their abuse of Scripture (vs. 3-6). Then He quoted Isaiah (vs. 7-9).
  • When questioned about marriage and divorce, Jesus replied, "Have you not read, that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female?" (Mt. 19:1-4).
  • When the rich young ruler asked him what he had to do to inherit eternal life, He told him to "keep the commandments" (Mt. 19:16-17). When the young ruler asked "which ones," Jesus began to list specific commandments (vs. 18-19).
  • This phrase "have you not read" was used by Jesus on a number of other occasions: Matthew 21:16; 22:31; Mark 12:10. In each case, he responded to religious questions by directing His audience back to the written word.
  • When Jesus encountered a problem at the Temple, He didn't disagree based upon His own private feelings or experiences. Instead, He quoted Scripture (Mt. 21:12-13).
  • When a lawyer asked him what he had to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus responded, "What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?" (Luke 10:25-26).
  • After Jesus healed the leper, He said, "See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest, and present the offering that Moses commanded..." (Mt. 8:4).
  •  During His ministry, He also cited a number of Old Testament stories: Abraham (John 8:40), Moses (Mk. 12:26), David (Mt. 12:3; 22:43), Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (Mt. 12:42), the story of Jonah (Mt. 12:40), Sodom and Gomorrah (Mt. 10:15; Lk. 17:32), the martyred prophets from Abel to Zechariah (Mt. 23:35), as well as the story of Elijah (Mt. 11:14). I'm sure there are others, but these few references confirm that Jesus not only had a thorough knowledge of the Old Testament, but He regularly incorporated His knowledge of the Scriptures into His sermons and conversations with others.
After considering these ten points (in addition to the observations made earlier in this article), ponder the following question with me:

 Aren't we supposed to imitate the example of our Lord, Jesus Christ? 

We're to imitate Jesus' attitude of humility and service (Phil. 2:5). We're to be holy as He is holy (1 Pet. 1:16). And as Paul says in Galatians 2:20, we're to be "crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me."

How did Jesus view the Law? In what way, or to what extent, was He obedient to the written word (the Scriptures)? When faced with religious questions, how did He respond? What was His source of authority, His standard, or pattern for religious life and worship?

It's clear that Jesus, the Son of Man, rejected human innovations, denominations, traditions and perversions and instead advocated obedience to God's revealed will in all things. He exemplified in His life an incredible respect and reverence for the Law. And if we're to be like Him, we MUST do the same. When faced with religious questions, we need to revert to that which has been "written." And like Jesus, we need to be concerned about every letter and stroke of the Law. Like Jesus, we need to pursue such a thorough knowledge of the Bible that it flows out of our mouth in our daily conversations. And like Jesus, we need to understand not only the external requirements of the Law, but the heart of the Law as well!

Jesus is our example. He is our King. And He expects His servants to respect His total authority (Mt. 28:18) just as He, during His earthly ministry, respected His Father's total authority!

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Law or Guide?

There are many Bible students who, upon hearing that we're to pattern our lives after the teachings and examples found in the royal law of King Jesus (i.e. the New Testament), often respond by saying that because the New Testament is not structured like the Jewish Torah (a list of specific, stringent requirements), we must not and cannot argue that it's a pattern or law. Instead, they argue that we ought to view the New Testament merely as a series of 27 books that ought to guide our behavior. According to these people, to scour its pages and to bind specific details is not only an incorrect use of the New Testament, it's downright legalistic and Pharisaical.

How do we respond to such an argument? Has King Jesus indeed made it so that His revealed decrees are hidden in a random collection of "private correspondence" from the first century? Or, does the King of kings expect us to pattern our lives after the New Testament just as God expected the Israelites of old to pattern their lives after the Old Testament?

To put it simply, Paul says in Colossians 3:17 that everything we do in word or deed is to be done in the name of Jesus, or by His authority. So if we're to seek the King's authority (permission) for everything we do, and if (as has been shown in previous articles) the 27 books of the New Testament contain the revealed law of King Jesus, then the answer to the question above is "Yes!" Yes, we must pattern our lives (and our churches) after the revealed will of King Jesus.

But, even though Colossians 3:17 (among other verses, which we'll consider in a later article) provides a simple response to this argument, let's consider the argument further.

First of all, are the two laws really that different? Sure, you're going to notice some differences if you compare Leviticus with Acts, or Deuteronomy with Revelation, but really, the two testaments are not that different. You see, the Jews did not only view the first five books of the Old Testament (the penteteuch) as their law; they viewed the entire Old Testament as inspired and authoritative. Jesus Himself made this very clear during His ministry:
  • When challenged on His treatment of the Sabbath, Jesus cited, not the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, but a story from 1 Samuel 21 (Mt. 12:1-5).
  • When questioned about Moses' teachings on divorce, Jesus referenced God's original design for marriage found, not in Deuteronomy 24, but in the historical record of Genesis 1-2. Just as Genesis served as an inspired, authoritative guide for the Jews of old, the book of Acts (a book recounting the history of the church in the first century) serves as a guide for the church today. To say that a book structured as an historical narrative cannot convey law is clearly a misnomer. Books such as Genesis (for the Jews) and Acts (for the Christians) reveal, if nothing else, what is acceptable and pleasing to God.
  • In John 10:34, Jesus said, "Has it not been written in your law, 'I said, you are gods.'" Here he was quoting, not the Penteteuch, but Psalm 82:6. Again, in John 12:34, the Jews quoted psalms, referring to it as "the Law." According to Jesus and the Jews both, the book of psalms was a book of law to which the Jews of old were bound.
Are the two "laws" (the Law of Moses and the Law of King Jesus) really that different in the way they're each structured? Not really. Again, the Law of Moses encompassed more than just the lists of "thou shalt nots" in Exodus-Deuteronomy; books such as Genesis, 1 Samuel and Psalms were also viewed as being valid sources of law. 

Likewise, not only can we derive law from the historical books of the New Testament such as the Gospels and Acts, we actually DO find lists of "thou shalt nots" as well. Matthew 5-7, Ephesians 4-5 and 1 Thessalonians 5 (among others) illustrate this point as each text conveys in a matter-of-fact way specific behaviors that are condemned and others that are commanded.

Having said that, am I suggesting that the two laws are spitting images of one another? Of course not. I'm simply pointing out that the royal law of King Jesus (i.e. the inspired apostolic writings that comprise the New Testament) is similar in its basic structure as the law of the Old Testament - both contain lists of commands as well as historical narratives, prophesies and poetry/parables, ALL of which impart law.

The difference between the two laws has more to do with degree, purpose and results.

Regarding degree, a simple scan of the Penteteuch compared with any book of the New Testament reveals that the old law (of Moses) was exponentially more stringent. Peter told the Judaizing teachers in Acts 15:10, "Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear." By way of contrast, Paul says regarding the royal law of King Jesus that it is our "reasonable service" (Rom. 12:1-2). Yes, we must be transformed and we must be holy, but even still, God is not asking too much of us! Again, in Galatians 5:1-4, Paul contrasts the Old Testament "yoke of slavery" and the "freedom" offered in the New Testament.

Does freedom (or liberty) necessitate a total absence of law? Of course not. When we gained our independence from England on July 4, 1776 and become a "free country," we did not become a lawless country. We are a country of great freedom and liberty only when compared to the unbearable, stringent governments of countries like England. In other words, as Christians, we can have liberty in Christ while also being bound to a law. James 1:27 refers to the "royal law" (2:8) as a "law of liberty."

Regarding purpose, the Law of Moses was a temporary law that was intended to "shut up all men under sin" (Gal. 3:19-22) until "the fulness of time came" at which point "God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law" (Gal. 4:4). Like the "Articles of Confederation" in the infant days of America, the old law was only intended to provide a temporary fix until the real deal came along. When Christ came, He fulfilled and thus abolished the old law, breaking down all barriers, and instituting a law that offers true unity and fellowship with God (Eph. 2:14-16).

Regarding results, Hebrews 9-10 contrast the two covenants. As the inspired writer says in Hebrews 10:4, it was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats (i.e. the Old Testament sacrifices) to provide true atonement. The blood of Christ, however, can provide complete and total redemption; this message is taught throughout the book of Hebrews.

Now imagine being bound to a law that had no lasting purpose and could offer no direct reward and to make matters worse, was burdensome and very, very demanding. I'm reminded of the person who is forced to work a minimum-wage job just to "get by" all the while pursuing an education in hopes of one day having a meaningful, satisfying career. Can you see the contrast? Both the minimum-wage job (presently) and the career (future) require work, but one job is going to be a burden and the other a joy. Moreover, not only will the career be more rewarding and enjoyable, it'll likely offer greater pay for less work. This is a great way to view the two covenants.

Just as God gave the Jews of old a law (i.e. the Old Testament), so also has King Jesus given His subjects a law (i.e. the New Testament). These historical documents and letters (to churches) may not be consistently structured like the book of Leviticus, but all 27 New Testament books convey to us the royal law of King Jesus. With this in mind, we must scour the pages of the New Testament, applying this royal "law of liberty" to our lives that we might be obedient citizens in the kingdom of our Lord.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Eternal Decrees

As was shown in the last article, titled The King's Proclamation, the apostolic writings that comprise the New Testament reflect the royal law of King Jesus. By way of review:
  • Jesus taught "kingdom law" throughout His ministry (e.g. Mt. 4:17) and later commented that His words will be the standard by which we are judged (John 12:48).
  • When Jesus ascended to heaven to be seated at the right hand of God to reign as King (Acts 2:33), He sent the Holy Spirit to the apostles not only to remind them of His teachings, but to guide them into "all truth" (John 16:12-13).
  • These apostles both spoke and penned through the Spirit the inspired words of Christ that we might read and understand the King's will (Eph. 4:3-5).
It's important for us to remember that the apostolic writings reflect "kingdom law." Not only did the apostles and prophets record the will of King Jesus (John 14:26; 16:13), and not only did they write to citizens of the kingdom (Col. 1:13-14; Rev. 1:9), but we cannot separate Christianity or even the church (local and universal) from the kingdom. To say that there is no connection is to say that we as kingdom-citizens are not kingdom-citizens while functioning together as a local church. Furthermore, to say that the local church does not fall under the jurisdiction of King Jesus is not only untenable, it forces us to conclude that there are no boundaries whatsoever for the church. After all, if the church is not under Jesus' jurisdiction, then it is outside the bounds of the royal law...which then means that anything goes. Again, this is untenable.

However, there is a question that is naturally raised from this points...

Even if we accept that the apostolic writings reflect the will of King Jesus, does that mean that those same apostolic writings are equally binding upon Christians and churches whom these letters were not directly written? I've heard some say that when we're reading the books of the New Testament, we're reading someone else's mail. Paul wrote the Ephesian letter to the church located in Ephesus. The books of 1-2 Corinthians were letters written by Paul to the church in Corinth. Even the book of James, though not written to one church in particular, was written to "the twelve tribes who [were] dispersed abroad" (James 1:1). We're not members of the Ephesian or Corinthian churches. We're not a first century Christian slave-owner named Philemon. I know a guy named Theophilus, but he's not the same Theophilus to whom Luke wrote the books of Luke and Acts. So can we take these 27 books (of the New Testament) and apply them to our own lives today?

There's no question that these were personal letters to specific churches and individuals. We see, especially at the ends of these books, personal remarks made by the writers to the recipients. And yes, we absolutely have to take this into account. When Paul told Timothy to "bring the cloak...and the books" to him which he had left at Troas (2 Tim. 4:13), we're not to interpret that to mean that we're to travel to Troas to find Paul's cloak and books. When Paul asked the saints in Rome to help Phoeba in her work (Rom. 16:1-2), that doesn't mean that we're to locate and assist her as well. I could cite many, many other examples, but I'm sure you get the point.

Were these 27 epistles written to us? Not directly. But as many have commented, while they weren't written to us, they were written for us, and yes, we ARE to study and apply the principles and commands of these epistles to our lives today. In other words, as citizens of the kingdom, if we want to please the king, we must submit to His will as it's been recorded in the New Testament. This is true for our own personal conduct, and as I've already explained, this is true for the local church.

Consider with me the following points which confirm the aforementioned conclusion (that the New Testament writings are applicable today and should govern our behavior):
  • First of all, even though these epistles were written to specific churches, it was always God's plan for these epistles to be distributed, read, and obeyed by a much broader audience. In Colossians 4:16, Paul said this to the church in Colosse: "And when this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea." Historically, we know that this is exactly what all the early churches (who received letters) did. They would make copies and distribute them to all the churches. And they did this, not of their own volition, but because it was commanded.
  • Even though different letters were written to different churches, that doesn't change the fact that there was a consistent pattern in the first century. We learn in 1 Corinthians 4:6-7 that the things which were "written" were to be the standard of unity, and later, in verse 17, Paul indicates that he taught the same things in every church. Paul referred to unity of practice among the "churches of God" in 1 Corinthians 11:16). Paul gave the same orders to multiple churches (1 Cor. 16:1-2; Eph. 5:19 --> Col. 3:16). The apostle Peter, writing to certain churches in a region (1 Pet. 1:1; 2 Pet. 3:1), made reference to the writings of Paul as if Paul's writings were more than mere personal letters; they were intended to be understood and followed by all (2 Pet. 3:15-16). Based on these few verses (and there are others), the New Testament epistles represent and convey a unity of doctrine and opposed to detached, personal letters of correspondence that we're abusing by reading and applying today.
  • We know that it was always God's plan for His will to be recorded. The prophets of the Old Testament went to great lengths to copy and preserve the books of the Old Testament. When King Josiah was presented with the scrolls of the Law of Moses, he tore his clothes upon realizing that they had not obeyed these commandments (1 Kin. 22:8-13). Likewise, Jesus believed that the Law of Moses, though 1,400 years old at the time, was still a valid source of law and governance. He repeatedly pointed the Jews back to that which had been written those many years ago (Mt. 12:3, 5; 19:4; 22:31, et al). Not only do we see King Jesus ordering, through the Holy Spirit, that His decrees be recorded, but we see the Christians of the first century treating these writings with the same care and reverence that the Jews of old exemplified in their treatement of the Old Testament. They made copies. They distributed these copies. They patterned their lives after these apostolic teachings.
  • In 2 Timothy 3:15-17, Paul reminds Timothy of the "sacred writings" (vs. 15) by which he had been trained as a young man. Here, he is probably referring to the Old Testament. After all, even though he was a Christian, he had been raised in a Jewish home. However, Paul goes on to say in verse 16 that "ALL Scripture" is inspired and intended to complete or perfect us before God (vs. 17). The written words define which works are "good." Now, the Old Testament writings were/are no longer binding because they had been nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14-16). Therefore, Paul here must be referring - or at least he is including - the inspired writings of the apostles and first century prophets which were even then being broadly distributed. What makes us complete before God and serves as the standard of "good works?" The written word!
  • Finally, the word of God is said to be "imperishable" and "abiding" (1 Pet. 1:22-25). Even though flowers and grass will die, God's word will not die. I take this to mean that God's word - the divine decrees of King Jesus - would be and have been preserved. God's providence - not a Catholic council - has ensured the preservation of the apostolic writings. Why would God see to the preservation of these 27 books? Obviously, He intends for us to use them.
I'm sure MUCH more could be said, but this article is already long enough, and these few points suffice in making the point that the 27 books of the New Testament, though written to specific churches and individuals in the first century, ARE for us today. The New Testament serves as the only tangible standard, and we must read and obey these ancient writings.

Having said that, I agree that we must read these books in context. We must understand that they were not written directly to us, but that they're for us. It's vital that we read them as the apostles intended for them to be read and that we consider the original audience.

But here's what I know. Jesus Christ is our King and Judge (John 5:29), and we will be judged by the standard of His words (John 12:48). As we all prepare for that great day, we must seek in every way to obey the apostolic writings which, through the process of inspiration, reflect the royal decrees - the eternal decrees - of King Jesus.

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Friday, April 5, 2013

The King's Proclamation

"I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep His commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ's appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power" (1 Tim. 6:13-16).
There are three points that I'd like to emphasize in this passage as we begin the fourth chapter of this study of authority. To make it easy, I've underlined these points above.

First of all, Jesus Christ is presently reigning as King. In fact, He is the King of kings; that is, He is the highest authority (except for God the Father, 1 Cor. 11:3). As I've stressed in previous chapters, Jesus is reigning from heaven over His spiritual kingdom (John 18:36-37), which is the church (Mt. 16:18-19; Acts 2:33, 47). 

Secondly, we are to honor Jesus as our King (1 Tim. 6:16). Christians are those who, through faith and obedience, have been granted citizenship in the kingdom (Phil. 3:20-21) and therefore have agreed to be in subjection to King Jesus. We must not only value Him as our Savior, we must honor and reverence Him as our King.

And finally, we honor King Jesus by "[keeping] His commandments without spot." In other words, we must comprehend, embrace and totally obey His law. Those who accept the fact that there are commands to be obeyed and yet who reject the notion that there is a law are mincing words. 

Having reviewed these basic points, the question that will be addressed in this chapter is: what is the law that King Jesus has bound upon us? By what medium or in what sense has this royal law been expressed tangibly to the citizens of the kingdom of Christ?

To put it simply, the law of Christ is expressed in the written words of the New Testament. But don't take my word for it. Let's show why this is true.

Throughout the three years of Jesus' ministry, He taught that the kingdom of heaven was at hand (Matthew 4:17). Of course, the establishment of His kingdom would necessitate a new covenant, or law. We see in the famous Sermon on the Mount that Jesus was instituting many changes. While they were accustomed to their own laws and traditions (including the Law of Moses), Jesus changed the expectations and raised the bar (Matthew 5-7). In John 12:48, He boldly asserted that the words of Moses would no longer be the standard. Specifically, He said, "He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges Him - the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day." 

After three years of preaching and teaching His law, Jesus took His apostles aside in what's often called the "Upper Room Discourse" (John 14-16). He spoke these last words to the apostles all the while trying to warn and prepare them for the changes that were coming. Notice the following two statements from this private conversation with the apostles:
"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 things that I said to you" (John 14:26).
"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth has come, He will guide you into ALL truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come" (John 16:12-13).
Jesus was going to be crucified and murdered for the sins of the world, and even though He would spend forty days with the apostles following His resurrection, their time together had basically come to an end. But they weren't going to be alone. Jesus was going to send the Holy Spirit to the apostles not only to comfort them in His absence, but to empower them (by inspiration) to know the complete will of Christ - not only the things He had taught while on earth, but additional teachings. Jesus put it succinctly when He said that they would be guided into "all truth."

But would the apostles, upon receiving this knowledge (i.e. law), squirrel it away and keep it to themselves? No! Through the apostles, the Holy Spirit would "convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment" (John 16:7-8). Just prior to His ascension, Jesus reminded them of this point: "...and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you (the apostles, ch) are witnesses of these things. Beyond, I send the Promise of My Father (the Holy Spirit) unto you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high." We see the parallel account in Acts 1:4-8, and as I'm sure you know, this was fulfilled on Pentecost in Jerusalem when the apostles were baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4) and empowered to preach "all truth" to the world, beginning with the Jews.

So beginning on Pentecost, the apostles "had" the Holy Spirit...why? For the purpose of inspiration and revelation as seen in John 14-16. Of course, we see throughout the book of Acts that the apostles SPOKE the will and word of God to countless churches and audiences.

But did the apostles only convey the Law of Christ orally? No! Notice the following statement in 2 Thessalonians 2:15: "Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions (teachings, ch) which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle." An epistle is a letter. And so Paul affirmed that the Law of Christ was not only spoken, it was written (i.e. Scripture).

In fact, the apostles placed great emphasis on their writings in that they expected their writings to be the standard of Law. Pay close attention to Ephesians 3:3-5...
" that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets."
First of all, we learn that it was God's plan for the apostles, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to record His will. In 2 Peter 1:20-21, we learn that these apostles wrote "as they were moved by the Holy Spirit." In other words, they penned exactly what the Lord wanted them to pen.

Secondly, we learn that these words were written for Christians to read and understand. These New Testament books were not written for recreational purposes, but for instructive purposes.

We weren't there to hear Jesus and/or the apostles preach, but we do have 27 books penned by these apostles and prophets who wrote by divine inspiration the words and will of God. These written words comprise the law of Christ to which Christians are bound...
"...that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other" (1 Cor. 4:6).
"If anyone things himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write are the commandments of the Lord" (1 Cor. 14:37).
"For we are not writing any other things to you than what you read or understand. Now I trust you will understand, even to the end" (2 Cor. 1:13). This proves that the apostolic writings were intended to serve as our guide until the return of Christ.
Also consider 2 Pet. 3:1; 1 John 1:4; 2:1; 2:7-8 and Revelation 1:11, 19.
In conclusion, the apostolic writings found in the New Testament constitute the divine law of King Jesus. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the apostles conveyed "all truth" to the world; it is by these inspired words that we will all be judged. These words were publically preached in the first century, but they were also recorded for us in the form of Scripture (the New Testament) that we might know the King's decrees, serve Him fully, and prepare ourselves for Judgment.

There are some additional questions that arise here. Lord willing, I'll address them in the next article in this series which can be accessed by clicking here.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Royal Decrees

Kingship and authority go hand in hand. In other words, a king without authority is no king at all. The visible, tangible symbol of the king's authority is law, which is defined by Merriam-Webster as "a rule of conduct or action prescribed or formally recognized as binding or enforced by a controlling authority." The authority - in this case, the king - establishes his dominance and control by placing his subjects under some kind of "rule of conduct." Without an expressed form of law, the king's authority is intangible and meaningless. Of course, it's not only a matter of binding a law upon the citizenry; as the definition above from Merriam-Webster states, that law must also be enforced. Otherwise, the king's authority is a mere facade. Right? Right!

I've established in the previous two articles that Jesus Christ is currently reigning as King over His kingdom (John 18:36-37; Acts 2:33; 1 Tim. 6:15). The kingdom is the church (Mt. 16:18-19) and consists of Christians (Col. 1:13-14). In light of these undeniable facts, we as Christians must view Christ, not only as our Savior, but as our King. And as such, He has authority over our lives...which necessarily means that He binds upon us a law and will enforce that law!

More and more Christians are failing to make these connections. More and more Christians are growing increasingly irritated at the mere mention that there may be a "law" to which we are bound. I've witnessed conversations where certain ones have implies that the New Testament makes no mention of a law. They act as if this is the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament; in the days of Moses and David, the Jews were bound to a strict law, but we today are saved by "grace alone through faith alone."
But again, if Jesus Christ is currently reigning as our King, then there must be a law. Otherwise, what did He mean when He told the apostles in Matthew 28:18, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth"?

Now, when pressed, many of those who deny the existence of "Christian law" will admit that we as Christians must serve Christ; they'll admit that He has all authority over us. They will agree that there are commands in the New Testament and that we must obey those commands.

According to what standard do we serve Christ? In what tangible way does Christ express His authority over us? In what tangible way do we express our submission to His rule? And is it possible to be bound to certain commands (found in the New Testament) all the while not being subject to any law?

Here's my observation...

These religious people who question the existence of a law or only doing so because they don't like the extent to which some of us stress law. For example, they don't like how we are so strict in our view of the worship of the church, the works of the church and the organization of the church; they believe that we ought to be more tolerant of diversity in these church matters. They don't like the way that some of us may stress a very particular path to salvation; they believe that we ought not be so "judgmental" or "narrow-minded." And so in an effort to debunk such a strict hermeneutic, they deny the existence of law altogether.

And yet they still want to argue that Christians must bear the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), that we must do good in the world (James 1:27), that we must express our love for Christ by worshiping Him (Heb. 13:15), that we must pray and study and be spiritually-minded (Rom. 12:1-2). By what standard can we reject certain revealed truths but demand others?

And so what it amounts to is not a rejection of law altogether, but a rejection of law selectively. They will not and cannot usurp the authority of Christ in matters of personal conduct, but they do reject the notion that Christ has express His authority over church conduct.

Listen, Christ has been given ALL authority (Mt. 28:18). His authority is tangibly expressed in the form of a law. The very definition of "sin" in 1 John 3:4 is the transgression of that law, and specifically, the law, or doctrine, of Christ (2 John 9). As Christians, we're commanded to do all things in His name, or by His authority (Col. 3:17).

So as we begin this series of studies, let's get this straight: no one can reasonably reject the notion that Christ is our King, and no one can reasonably object to the notion that He has expressed His royal authority over us by giving us a law. And because the kingdom and church are the same, or at least irrevocably interconnected, we cannot say that church conduct is somehow left up to us. To put it simply, as Christians, we must become subservient to Christ in all matters of religious practice.

This begs the question: what constitutes the law or doctrine of Christ? In other words, even if we accept that there is a law, for Christ is our King, how can we identify the tenets of that law? This is a great question that we'll begin to answer in our next article which you can access by clicking here.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Crown of Thorns

There's a reason that the Jews of the first century expected the Messiah to take the form of a powerful and mighty King who would free them from the tyranny of Rome. In Psalm 2, it was prophesied that God would install His King upon Zion, His holy mountain (vs. 6). The prophet Isaiah foretold by inspiration that a descendant of David would restore and rebuild the kingdom (Is. 11:1). The Hebrew captive, Daniel, while serving the pagan king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, announced that following a succession of earthly kingdoms, "the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left to another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever" (Dan. 2:44). In Zechariah 14:9, it was prophesied that "the Lord will be king over all the earth" and that "Jerusalem will dwell in security."

However, not only did the prophecies describe a messianic king, the "buzz" surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ confirmed this concept of the Messiah. Yes, Mary was told to name her child Jesus for the reason that He would save His people from their sins (Mt. 1:21), but in Luke's account, we know that Gabriel also said, "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end" (Luke 1:33). Following His birth, the wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews" (Mt. 2:2).

Thirty years later, after the buzz had dissipated, John came along to prepare the way for Christ's ministry. His message was, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mt. 3:2). The first recorded words of Jesus' personal ministry were, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mt. 4:17). Jesus Himself told His apostles that He would give them "the keys of the kingdom of heaven" (Mt. 16:19). He was embraced as the triumphant King by the same Jews who would soon cry out "crucify Him, crucify Him" (Mt. 21:1-9). And as we noticed in the first chapter, Pontius Pilate, having heard the rumors that Jesus was the alleged King of the Jews, asked Him about His alleged kingdom and kingship. Jesus affirmed in that brief dialogue that He was a King (John 18:37).

What happened next?

I'm sure you know that even though Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent, He gave the Jews what they wanted: Jesus on the cross. Ironically, they pressed into His scalp a "crown of thorns" and posted a sign on His cross that read "Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews" (Jn. 19:19).

Following such a gruesome and tortuous end, His followers (including the apostles) were no doubt disappointed and dejected. They had devoted three years of their lives to this man, with the belief that He was the promised Messiah...the glorious King prophesied of old. But their King had failed and their expectations had been dashed.

We know, of course, that Jesus conquered death and on the first day of the week was resurrected from the dead leaving behind an empty tomb. Many see the death, burial and resurrection of Christ as the pivotal events in God's plan to save man, which is absolutely true, and yet, ironically, many of these same people believe that Jesus failed in His mission to set up the kingdom.

Even the apostles, despite their excitement following Jesus' resurrection, asked their risen Master, "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). In their eyes, He had risen triumphantly from the grave, not to validate His former claims or to provide justifcation (Rom. 4:25) or to pave the way for our own future bodily resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20-23), but to finally accomplish what He had originally intended to accomplish: the destruction of Rome and the reestablishment of the physical kingdom of Israel!

Right? Wrong!

You see, Jesus didn't fail. His death on the cross wasn't "Plan B." As John the Baptist had said over three years earlier, Jesus had come, not to lead Israel against Rome in some physical war, but to be that sacrificial "Lamb of God" who would take away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29).

This is why the crown of thorns was so emblematic.

Jesus came to suffer and die for our sins. The same Isaiah who prophesied a messianic king (Isaiah 11) also revealed that this messianic king would be "pierced for our transgressions" (Isaiah 53). In other words, He came, not to conquer with a sword, but with the sword of His mouth (Rev. 19:15), not to destroy Rome and the other Gentile nations, but to be "destroyed" by them that He might save them (Gen. 12:3).

What's the point in all of this? And how does this relate to our current study of authority?

The majority of religious people today fail to recognize the power and authority that Jesus currently possesses. They worship a failed King who is currently fulfilling the role of our Savior until He can return to finally become our King. We hear folks talk about the future "millennial reign of Christ on earth." The implication is that He isn't reigning now. Again, He's our Savior - He provides us with so many spiritual benefits - but He isn't our King. At least not yet.

Did Jesus fail? At first, the apostles thought He had.

Notice, however, that these same apostles, once endowed with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit just ten days later - these same men who, all along, had totally misunderstood the mission of Christ - now preached to thousands of Jews that the same Jesus they had crucified had been "exalted to the right hand of God" (Acts 2:33).

Daniel confirmed the timing of Jesus' inauguration. In his "vision of the four beasts" in Daniel 7, He prophesied that during the days of the Roman empire, the "Son of Man" would be given dominion and a kingdom when "He came up to the Ancient of Days" (vs. 13-14). In other words, when Jesus ascended into heaven, it was then that His reign as King began.

Interestingly enough, on the same day that Peter introduced King Jesus to the world (in his Pentecost sermon), three thousand were baptized (Ac. 2:41) and the "Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved" (vs. 47). The kingdom - King Jesus ruling over His people - is equated with the church - those called out of the world into the kingdom. Jesus Himself equated the two in Matthew 16:18-19. In Colossians 1:13-14, saints are called citizens of the kingdom, but in verse 18, King Jesus is simultaneously called the "Head" of the church. In Revelation 1:9, John, in writing to the seven churches in Asia, said that he was their brother and "fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom."

And so we first of all learn that the same Jesus who died for your sins that you might be saved is also the heavenly King demanding your obeisance. He didn't fail. His kingdom isn't yet future. He is reigning now, and if you want the salvation He offers, you must submit to His rule. In the next chapter, we'll finally begin to define the royal law instituted by King Jesus.

But secondly (and this is crucial), we have to understand and embrace, not only the present rule of King Jesus, but also the medium through which He rules: the church. In other words, the kingdom is equated with the church, or body of Christ. Those who wish to separate the kingship of Jesus (over His kingdom) from the Headship of Jesus (over His church) are sorely mistaken.

In what sense is Jesus our King? How can we identify His "royal law?"

Many want to focus on the words written in red. Others want to distinguish between passages that pertain directly to the kingdom and passages that have to do with the church, as if the former are essential and the latter are incidental. But the undeniable point is this: every decree of Christ, whether to individuals or to churches, are decrees of the King and as such constitute royal law.

Beginning in the next chapter, I'll elaborate upon this point. Click here to access the next chapter.

Monday, April 1, 2013

King Jesus

In John 18, the Holy Spirit grants us access into one of the most interesting conversations of Scripture. Here, we find the captured Christ conversing with Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea. In spite of himself, Pilate was both perplexed and entraced by Jesus. It's as if he knew that there was something very special about Jesus, and yet his flesh (intellect, will, sinful-self) prevented him from fully seeing the truth. Like King Agrippa in Acts 26:28, I get the impression that Pilate was "almost persuaded." Almost, but lost!

It was this spirit of perplexity and wonder that prompted Pilate to ask Jesus about the rumors floating around Jerusalem that He claimed to be a king. Jesus answered, "You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice (John 18:37). Not only does Jesus here affirm that He is a King, He boldly proclaims what is already inherent in kingship, that as King, He possesses the standard of truth (law). He came to proclaim that truth and makes the point in the latter part of verse 37 that all who embrace Him will necessarily embrace His standard of truth.

Again, this shouldn't come as a surprise to us for this is what kings do; kingship and authority go hand in hand. What earthly king wouldn't proclaim and uphold some form of law? None. What earthly king would reign over an intangible, lawless mass of people? None. Without the implementation and enforcement of law there can be no proper king. Otherwise, he is just a man - perhaps a good man - but just a man who is equal in authority with every other man.

Jesus does identify Himself as our brother, our friend and our Savior, among other more positive terms of endearment, but He also identifies Himself as our King. And as our King, we are subject to His rule...and to His standard of truth.

Upon hearing these words in John 18:37, Pilate understood the implications of Jesus' claim. Did he order one of his soldiers to strike Jesus? No. Did he rebuke Jesus? Not really. Even though these words were technically treasonous, Pilate, again, was oddly perplexed by this man who had allegedly performed miracles for years throughout the land of Israel and whose spirit was governed both by unparalleled peace and confidence. His response, though simple and direct, reveals to us Pilate's inner-struggle. "What is truth?" he asked rhetorically in verse 38. In other words, Pilate rejected - albeit weakly - Jesus' authority and therefore His kingship. But He rejected Jesus' authority by merely casting doubt on the nature of truth itself.

This conversation between Pilate and Jesus is a microcosm of a greater conversation taking place between religious people today. Folks today are asking, "What is truth?" Some are disputing the reality of divine law. Others question the intended purpose of the New Testament: is it a pattern for our conduct today or merely a narrative of the events of the first century that has no real authoritative value or purpose? How do we establish biblical authority? How should we approach the "silence" of the Scriptures? These and other questions are being heavily debated within churches, between churches and on Social Media websites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Unfortunately, religious people are trending away from an acceptance of Scriptural authority, choosing instead to embrace what many call the "new hermeneutic." The argument is that there is no law or pattern to which Christians are bound. More emphasis is being placed on sincerity and zeal and less on obedience. We're being encouraged to be more tolerant of diversity in matters of doctrine and worship. Both overtly and covertly, Jesus' authority and kingship are being challenged more amd more.

This should come as no surprise to any of us, for Psalm 2 predicted that this would happen. In Psalm 2:1-3, the nations are portrayed as plotting against the plan of God; they're working to undermine not only God's plan, but the authority of King Jesus. And yet God laughs at them (vs. 4) because, despite their efforts, the King was placed upon the holy hill of Zion as a sign of victory (vs. 6). Jesus is reigning as King (Acts 2:33; 1 Cor. 15:24-25; Col. 1:13-14; 1 Tim. 6:15). He has all authority and power (Matthew 28:18). And yet despite the wisdom of God's plan and the undeniable authority of His Son, Jesus Christ, Psalm 2 describes the ongoing failure of men to totally subject themselves to His authority.

"What is truth?"

It's not that this isn't a valid question; it is! But I'm afraid that, like Pilate, the folks who ask (or imply) this question are often only seeking to muddy the waters in their subtle effort to undermine the authority of the King. And like the "nations" and "people" of Psalm 2, there are even religious people who rage and plot against the Lord by undermining and weakening His authoritative power. And that, dear reader, is quite serious! Again, when we challenge the authority of the King, we're challenging the King Himself.

Throughout the month of April, I'd like to elaborate on this issue of divine authority. What is truth? How do we establish biblical authority? These are questions that are especially relevent today. I hope that you'll follow this series of articles and that your life will come more and more into alignment with the will of the King...that King being Jesus Christ.

Click here to access the next article in this series.