Saturday, October 24, 2009

Paul, an Apostle to the Gentiles

Paul was the apostle Jesus sent by the lord Messiah Jesus to preach his message about the coming kingdom of God to the nations [Gentiles]. Paul did not desert his Jewish roots as a result of becoming a follower of the lord Jesus. As a Jew, a fundamental defining mark was his monotheism; and that Paul was a monotheist is perfectly clear from his letters (Rom:16:27; 1 Cor:8:6; 8:4; Rom:3:30; Eph:1:3; 4:6; 1 Tim:1:17; 2:5, etc.). As the apostle sent to the nations [Gentiles], Paul saw his mission to be that of bringing Gentiles into “the commonwealth of Israel” though faith in the lord Messiah Jesus (Eph:2:12); and as a result that they thereby became members of “the Israel of God” (Gal:6:16).

What Paul knew, and we can learn; is that in the OT, God created the world and chose a line of faithful individuals through whom He worked out His plans for mankind. God began to reveal Himself to these persons and through them to the world. He then chose the people of Israel, not because they were a great nation, but precisely because of their insignificance among the nations (Deut:7:7). This exemplifies the way God works, as enunciated in 1 Corinthians 1:27: “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong”.

Jesus summed it up concisely in the words, “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). This is not an ethnically motivated statement, but a statement about spiritual reality, as Jesus said, “My words, they are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63). To understand his words on the level of the flesh is to misunderstand them. The spiritual point of the reference to the Jews as the conduit of God’s salvation is to put into focus the “salvation history” delineated in the Old Testament. “Salvation” and “Jews” are linked in such a way that to be severed from the Jewish “tree” is to be severed from salvation.

In Romans 11 Paul portrays the people of God as an “olive tree” whose roots stretch back in Biblical antiquity to Abraham who constitutes a holy root (Romans 11:16), rooted in a deep relationship with YHVH God. Jews are branches of the “olive tree”, but because of their unbelief some of them were broken off by God (Romans 11:17); but the believing Jews, including Paul and members of the early Jewish Assembly, remain a part of the “olive tree”. The breaking off of the unbelieving “branches”, even if many, did not mean that God had rejected Israel as His people. It was with this very fact that Paul started this portion of his letter: “I ask, then, has God rejected His people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew (Romans 11:1,2). In God’s wisdom and mercy, the braking off of those unbelieving branches created an opening into which believing Gentiles could be grafted into the “olive tree”; this “olive tree” represents the people God has chosen, also called “the elect” (Romans 11:5,7) In this way “through their trespass, salvation has come to the Gentiles [nations] (Romans 11:11).

But with this gracious provision of salvation for the nations [Gentiles] comes a stern warning:

“But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a “wild olive shoot”, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the “olive tree”, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you (Romans 11).

So we see that salvation is portrayed as being grafted into the “olive tree” and drawing spiritual life and nourishment from its root. A branch stays alive only so long as it remains firmly grafted in the “tree”; no branch can survive being cut off from the “tree”. To remain in this “tree” is life; to be cut of from it is death. Jesus, the “deliverer” or “redeemer”, is a essential part of the “tree” (Romans 11:26; Isaiah 59:20); therefore, to be united with the Messiah through faith is another way to explain how one is grafted into the “olive tree”. That is why in John 15:1, Jesus also speaks in terms of a vine and its branches. Grafting is a regular procedure in viticulture; it is YHVH God who grafts in or cuts off, because He is the “vinedresser”: As Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser” (John 15:1). He also warned that unfruitful branches could be cut off and thrown away, “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned” (John 15:6); but “whosoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit” (vs. 5).

What all this means is that to be cut off from the spiritual “olive tree” (or vine, Isaiah 5:1-7) of Israel is to be cut off from salvation, whether he be Jew or Gentile, which is precisely what Paul wars could happen, and has happened to unbelieving Jews:

Romans 11:19-22: Thou wilt say then, Branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. Well; by their unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by your faith. Be not high minded, but fear: for if God spared not the natural branches, neither will He spare you. Behold then the goodness and severity of God: toward them that fell, severity; but toward you, God’s goodness, IF you continue in His goodness: otherwise you also shall be cut off.

On the other hand those Jews who are willing to return to their God will be grafted back into their own “olive tree”.

Romans 11: 23-24: And they also, if they continue not in their unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again. For if thou wast cut out of that which is by nature a wild olive tree, and wast grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree; how much more shall these, which are the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?

Notice these last words, “their own olive tree”, for it was theirs by God’s grace in the first place, although it also becomes the Gentile’s by God’s grace, by their being grafted into it through faith; for it is through faith that we become members of the “Israel of God” (Gal:6:16). When we are grafted into the “olive tree” through faith, then “their olive tree” also becomes our “olive tree”.

Galatians 3:7 Know therefore that they that are of faith, the same are sons of Abraham.

Galatians 3:29 And if you are the Messiah’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed [offspring], heirs according to promise.

Romans 2: 28-29: For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

Romans 4:12: “(The purpose was) to make him (Abraham) the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

Romans 9:6-8: But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel: and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.‘. That means that it is not the children of the flesh that are children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.

Phil:3:3: For we are the real circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and glory in the Messiah Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh:

Can we grasp what the Apostle Paul is saying in all these passages? Is he not declaring that it is through faith that a person becomes a descendant of Abraham, and “heirs according to promise” (Gal:3:29)? It is by faith, not physical descent, that one becomes a child of God. Being a Jew is not a matter of race or religion but “a matter of the heart” (Rom:2:29), so being an Israelite is not a matter of physical descent from Israel; to belong to Israel is a mater of being “children of the promise” (Rom:9:8) through faith. So he tells the Philippians, a proportion of whom were Gentiles, “we are the real circumcision”. “Circumcision” was another word used to describe Jews (Eph:2:11; Col”4:11; Rom:3:30; 4:9, etc.), so Paul is saying to the Philippians, “you and I, we are the real Jews”.

The point is that the true believer is the real Jew before God, the spiritual Jew whose praise comes from God, not man (Rom:2:29). Becoming a believer is to become a true Israelite, a real Jew! Little wonder that Paul declared that in the Messiah Jesus “there is neither Jew not Greek” (Gal:3:28; Col:3:11) - there are only real Israelites, the true descendants of Abraham (Gal:3:29), the heirs of God’s promises, the chosen people of God, the spiritual Jews! In the Assembly of God there are only spiritual Israelites, all of whom are circumcised in heart (Rom:2:28-29),

Notice the apostle Peter wrote to encourage persecuted believers by reminding them that “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called your out of darkness into His marvellous light (1 Peter 2:9). In this verse the terms applied to Israel in the OT are now applied to the Assembly of God (still largely made up of Jews when 1 Peter was written); what Peter writes echoes a passage like Deuteronomy 7:6: “For you are a people holy to YHVH your God. YHVH you God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Mal:3:17, etc.)

It should be noted that when we speak of “Jewish roots” we are speaking about the rich spiritual heritage made available to us through the Jewish scriptures known to most people as the Old Testament. Knowing now that we are the true Israelites, the real Jews, why would we ever desire to be severed from the “olive tree” into which God has graciously grafted us?

So we see that the question that Paul presented to the Jews of his day was not on whether the Gentiles could become Jews, but on how the transition is made. Paul proclaims that it is through faith in the lord Messiah Jesus. He makes this clear in Ephesians 2:11-13:

Wherefore remember, that once you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called ‘the Un-circumcision’ by that which is called Circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands- remember that you were at that time separate from the Messiah, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in the Messiah Jesus you that once were far off are brought near by the blood of Christ.

In the Messiah Jesus, then, we are no longer “alienated from the people of Israel” (politeias, re. Eph:2:12), but are now members of God’s elect people. “’The Israel of God’ is still God’s covenant people… into whom believing Gentiles are being incorporated” (Dunn, Romans, p.540, re. Rom:9:4). The profound consequence of this incorporation into Israel is the Gentile, who is now a member of “the real circumcision” (Phil:3:3), is no longer a “stranger to the covenant of promise’ (Eph:2:12), but becomes “the Gentile convert entering into Israel’s promised blessings” (Dunn, Romans, p.534, re. Rom:9:4). Everything that God promised Israel becomes ours in the Messiah Jesus (2 Cor:1:20). So Paul could say that in the Messiah Jesus “all things are yours” (1 Cor:3:21), such is the unimaginable riches of our inheritance: “as it is written” ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him’ [Isaiah 64:4]” (1 Cor:2:9); so there is abundant cause to give “thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of he saints in light” (Colossians 1:12).

Let us remember: no branch can survive once it is cut off from the ‘tree” and its “roots” - here we are, of course, speaking about spiritual life and survival. Little wonder that the Gentile church, having separated from its Jewish roots, has strayed into serious doctrinal error, and that error leads to death. It is time to realize this and to head the word of God, “come back to YHVH your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in faithful love, and He relents about inflicting disaster” (Joel 2:13). YHVH, The God of Israel, is not only the God of the Jews but of all who belong to “the Israel of God” (Gal:6:16), God’s spiritual Israel. The true Israelite will aim to love Him wholeheartedly (Mark 12:30, etc) and learn to honour His name, for it is wonderful” (Judg:13:18; Isaiah 28:29, etc.)

Friday, July 24, 2009

The righteousness of God

In the first century in Judea the main points of Jewish beliefs were based upon monotheism, election and eschatology. For the Jews of the period, there was the one God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and there was Israel the chosen people of God; and there was a time coming when Israel would realize all that has been promised through Abraham, the prophets and the lord Jesus their Messiah.

Israel was looking forward to the deliverance which they believed the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had promised; would take place in the future. Their belief in this deliverance was based upon the covenant promise the Lord God made to Abraham. God’s calling out of Abraham was the beginning of His called-out assembly through whom He would undo the lawlessness of Adam and bring about a New Age that would replace the present age. The covenant God made with Abraham was in order that God could though him and his descendants, namely Israel, deliver mankind from the wrath to come and also bring deliverance for the entire creation, now held in bondage as the apostle Paul states. The hope of Israel was for justification, that God would vindicate His people Israel.

Israel was supposed to take the message of deliverance to the whole world, but they failed in their responsibility, and in doing so became a problem that needed to be corrected. How did God deal with the problem of Israel not carrying out their responsibility? He sent His beloved son, to do what Israel had not done; and in doing so; Jesus carried out God’s plan and purpose as representing Israel before God. Through his death and resurrection we have revealed to us God covenant faithfulness - God‘s righteousness, and His doing so though the “seed” who was to receive the promises given to Abraham. The king is representative of his people. So we see that Israel’s vocation is now being achieved through Jesus the Messiah of Israel and those who now believe in him constitute the Israel of God, in the present day, the called-out Assembly of God, the household of God, the Temple of God. So we realize that God is going to put everything right according to His long term plan which He began with Abraham through Abraham’s “seed” Jesus.

The book of Galatians give us an explanation of the covenant God made with Abraham and how it has reached it culmination in Jesus the Messiah, pointing towards to the message of the new creation. In second Corinthians the new covenant leads us to the new creation. Jesus death is the covenant-fulfilling act that leads the Israel of God into the New Age, as new creations in him. In Jesus death, victory is realized over all the evil forces that enslaved humanity, they are now completely defeated.

One of the most important events in human history was when God raised Jesus from the grave to show forth His covenant faithfulness, His righteousness backing up His plan to save all those who make up His called-out Assembly, and to deliver this world from bondage to freedom in the Messiah Jesus, who will rule as God’s vice-regent seated on David’s throne at Jerusalem when he comes. Jesus resurrection is a guarantee of future liberation from death and corruption for all who are in him and for the entire creation as well. So we understand the long discussion from Galatians 3:1 to 4:1; is about the way in which the promises made to Abraham have been fulfilled in the lord Messiah Jesus, and that in keeping with God’s righteousness - God's covenant faithfulness. As the “seed” of Abraham, Jesus in heir to all the world and those in him are to co-inherit and co-rule with him in the coming New Age. What amazing grace that God recognized those in the Messiah as His children and sends forth the spirit of His son into our heart crying “Abba Father” so we know that we are no longer slaves under bondage to sin, but a son and if a son then an heir of the world through and with the lord Jesus Messiah.

Romans 3:21 - 4:25, explains God’s own righteousness, God’s covenant faithfulness, revealed in the death and resurrection of the lord Jesus the Messiah of the Israel of God. God has always been true to the covenant He made with Abraham, he has dealt with sin and made a way of deliverance for Jews and Gentiles who believe in the one whom He has sent. No wonder Paul says: “for I am not ashamed of the good news message; for it is God’s power for deliverance to all who believe, the Jew first and also the Gentile. For God’s righteousness - God’s covenant faithfulness is revealed in it, from faith to faith, as it is written: “The one who by faith is righteous will live”. God’s covenant faithfulness operates through the faith of Jesus
for the benefit of all those who are faithful to the message of the lord Messiah Jesus [‘from faith to faith’]. So the end result is that if you are a Jew or Gentile, a man or woman “in the Messiah” you are all one in the Messiah Jesus and Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. All this made possible by God’s righteousness, His faithfulness to the covenant promises He made with Abraham. This covenant status we enjoy as a gift of God: it is a dekaiosune ek theou, a ‘righteousness from God’.

Therefore, God’s own righteousness has to do with His covenant faithfulness, not with the status He bestows on His people. We have the status of covenant membership as a gift of God and this gift is given upon faith in the Messiah Jesus and in doing so we live out his message in our lives. So we see that justification has nothing to do with how someone become a Messianic believer; but is a declaration that they are Messianic believers. It is by believing in the lord Jesus as the one whom God has sent and accepting his message as from God and through repentance and baptism entering into a covenant membership as a member of the body of the Messiah Jesus.

The good news message of the Messiah Jesus reveals God’s righteousness, His covenant faithfulness, His dealing with sin in the world through the fulfillment of His covenant in the lord Jesus the Messiah of the Israel of God. So covenant membership is defined not by circumcision, or race, but by holding fast to the faith of Jesus the Messiah. All who believe this good news are the true, sin-forgiven, people of God. God’s purpose in the covenant was to deal with the sin of Adam. Now in the Messiah Jesus that is what He has done, amazing grace. All who believe the good news that Jesus brought are already considered as members of the family of Abraham, with their sins being forgiven. The good news message is about the lordship of the lord Messiah Jesus who works by the spirit of God to bring people into the family of Abraham defined as those who are “in the Messiah” and recognized as having the faith of Jesus, living it out in their lives.

Galatians 3:7: Know therefore that they that are of faith, the same are the sons of Abraham.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

God's Single Plan Through Israel For The World

I find it really amazing that anyone who reads the New Testament [Covenant] doesn't realize that Jesus did not come to start a new religion. Jesus had no intention to found a 'church' because there already was one, namely the congregation of God which consisted of the remnant of Israel. Jesus' intention was therefore to bring reformation to Israel, not to found a different community altogether. He came as "that prophet" mentioned by Moses, who would be like unto him; and as such brought the provisions of the New Covenant to the Israel of his day. The prophecy specifically states that those who would not listen to him would suffer the consequences; in reality be cut off from Israel; and those who accepted the message that he brought, would be recognized as members in the Israel of God, the ecclesia [called-out assembly - congregation]of God.

However, even before Jesus came on the scene in Israel; John the Baptist had begun his ministry as a prophet sent of God announcing an imminent judgment on the nation of Israel, and urging her to repent, warning that her status as YHVH's covenant people would not be enough, to deliver her from the coming disaster. John had told Israel that, if she did not repent, her God would create children for Abraham from the very stones. From one point view, this treated Israel as a whole as if she were pagan, needing to repent as would a proselyte if she wished to be re-included in the people of YHVH.

In first century Judea anyone collecting people in the Jordanian wilderness as John the Baptist did, was symbolically saying: THIS IS THE NEW EXODUS. Anyone coming from a priestly family, as John the Baptist did, offering a baptism for the forgiveness of sins out in the desert, was presenting a clear alternative to the Temple. Anyone inviting those who wished to do so; to pass through an initiatory rite of water baptism; was symbolically saying:


By implication, those who did not join in what John the Baptist was setting forth, and rejected his message and baptism were forfeiting the right to be regarded as the covenant people of God.

The believing remnant of Israel; those who were baptised through the prophetic ministry of John the Baptist retained their status as the Israel of God - YVHV; and they having been so prepared accepted the message that Jesus brought with authority, speaking the words God had given him to proclaim. The result was that this believing remnant who now constituted the true Israel of God, became a part of Jesus "ecclesia", a called-out assembly, the congregation of God, God's household [a term used for Israel]. As with repentance, so with faith: Jesus' call carried the implication that those who followed him, followed his way of being Israel, were the true Israel, whom YHVH was calling into being. That is why Jesus promised the 12 apostles ruler-ship over the 12 tribes of Israel; which includes those Israelites who will live over into the new age; after the coming of Jesus the Messiah; when he comes to sit on the throne of David at Jerusalem as the King of Israel.

Now the amazing news, the mystery Paul reveals is that Gentiles have been grafted in to the Israel of God by a new and living way; and that way is through belief in the lord Jesus the Messiah of Israel whom God sent to bring them into fellowship with Himself and to become a part of the Israel of God.

In Paul's allegory in Romans 11:17-24 the olive tree represents the people of God. The cultivated olive (kallielaios)is Israel, from which some of the branches were broken off (Jews who rejected Jesus as their Messiah, and so lost their place as God's people), while shoots of a wild-olive (agrielaios) tree were grafted in their place (the inclusion of Gentiles in the people of God). So we see the stock remains the same; it is only in the branches that changes occur. So Israel, the people of God, is a continuous entity (OT use of the olive is a symbol for Israel), but its membership is subject borth to the exclusion of native Israelites and the inclusion of the alien stock of Gentile believers. It is interesting that in ancient horitculture the grafting in of wild olive branches to a cultivated olive tree was a devise used to rejuvenate an otherwise unproductive cultivated olive tree.

We see in Jesus the embodiment of the remnant of the Israel of God and when we come to be in him we are automatically included as members of his body and as a result seen of God as a part of the Israel of God. In Israel [Jesus] there is salvation - deliverance in every sense of the word. We, as members of the body of the Messiah, are Messianic believers and as such recognize Jesus as the coming King of Israel; who will take his place on the throne of David in Jerusalem upon his triumphant return; and we will co-rule and co-reign with him as spiritual Israelites ruling over the physical nation of Israel with the 12 apostles ruling over the 12 tribes of physical Israel, and eventually that will include rule over all the world, as the nations come up to Jerusalem to keep the feast [Tabernacles - ingathering, Zech:14].

If we are not now and will not be a part of the Israel of God, why the future Temple? why is Jesus seated on the throne of David as the King of Israel? why are the 12 apostles to rule over the 12 tribes of Israel; are they different that ourselves as believers? Perhaps if the early "ecclesia - church - assembly" had not given up recognizing Jesus death during the Passover season this knowledge would not have been lost.

It's time to recognize that we are as believers, individually part of the Israel of God ("the stock remains the same"), and as a result Jesus is indeed our Messiah, God's anointed King of Israel, to whom we belong and he is the head of the "ecclesia", the congregation of God, the household of God [all terms that relate to Israel],

Listen to how Peter talks about those who make up the Israel of God:

1 Peter 2:4: So as you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but chosen and priceless in God's sight, you yourselves, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood and to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus the Messiah.

For it says in 1 Peter 2:6-8: "Look, I lay in Zion a stone, a chosen and priceless cornerstone, and whoever believes in him will never be put to shame." So you who believe see his value, but for those who do not believe, the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, and a stumbling-stone and a rock to trip over. They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

verses 9-10: But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, A HOLY NATION [THE ISRAEL OF GOD], a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. You once were not a people [not a part of the Israel of God], but now you are God's people [Israel has always been known as the people of God, even now to this day]. You were shown no mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Indeed we have been shown mercy to be included in the Israel of God because of the sacrifice of the lord Messiah of Israel, Jesus. Those of physical Israel who rejected Jesus; God's sent one; who brought the message about the coming Kingdom of God; and the revelation of the New Covenant as THAT prophet; that was ratified by his shed blood on the tree, are as a result, no longer considered to be a part of the Israel of God; even though they can claim natural descent from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Gentiles, on the other hand who accept the message of the Messiah of Israel, and believe in him as the one whom God has sent, are now considered in God's sight as members of the Israel of God; and have the opportunity to do now what Israel did not do as they should have done; to proclaim the message of the living God to all the world, and show forth to the world what blessings evolve from living according to God's revelation given through His son and to anticipate the coming Kingdom of God under the ruler-ship of His son and our saviour the lord Messiah Jesus.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Mistake Which Outdoes All Mistakes!

Here is a piece of simple misinformation copied without examination by Bible commentator after commentator. It occurs in commentaries on Psalm 110:1, a verse which wins the prize for being the most often cited passage from the Old Testament in the New. Psalm 110:1 is likely (I hope soon) to have its day of fame. It is going to expose a colossal, long-held misunderstanding about the relationship of the one God to His unique son Jesus.

Psalm 110:1 is an inspired oracle about the Messiah, who since the ascension is sitting at the chief position next to God in the universe. Jesus loved this verse and so did the New Testament writers. They allude to it some 23 times. It is of massive significance in describing who Jesus is. Because its testimony is in direct contradiction to the traditional belief that Jesus is “God the Son,” it has suffered miserably at the hands of commentators, who by some extraordinary means actually misinform the public about the crucial Hebrew word for the second “lord” of Psalm 110:1.

Reformer Martin Luther was right to point out that Psalm 110 is “the chief psalm of our dear Lord Jesus Christ, in which his person, his resurrection, ascension and whole Kingdom are clearly and powerfully set forth.”

The Psalm begins by announcing a solemn divine oracle. Jesus quoted this Psalm as vital spiritual information. He referred to David as here “speaking in the spirit” (Mat:22:43; Mark 12:36): “The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at My right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’”

Of such fundamental importance was this proposition that it provided a New Testament proof text for defining the Divine Plan and Jesus’ relationship to his Father. It appears in the New Testament over and over again. What does this oracle reveal to us? This verse has been an embarrassment to “received” traditional views of Jesus as “God the Son.” Psalm 110:1 in fact completely eliminates any such idea.

Peter provides one of the many examples of the quotation of our verse. In his epoch-making sermon in Acts 2 Peter explained that the Hebrew Bible had predicted the elevation of Jesus to the supreme position in the universe next to God his Father. This happened at the ascension, and the words of Peter inform us of the status achieved by Jesus at the ascension. “For it was not David who ascended to heaven, but David himself said, ‘The LORD said to my lord, “Sit at My right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ Therefore let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:34-36). The reaction of Peter’s audience was suitably dramatic. They took the Apostle’s words with utmost seriousness: “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, ‘What are we to do, brothers?’” (2:37).

It would be desirable for contemporary audiences to be as touched, if not outraged, by the constant misuse of this verse by tradition-bound commentary. Walk into a Christian bookstore and treat yourself to a perusal of one of the many commentaries available, both new and old. Here is one example among many I found recently: “Ps. 110:1, ‘The Lord said to my Lord’ describes a conversation between God the Father and God the Son.”

This is a complete falsehood, as we shall show!

The Jews as custodians of the Hebrew Bible are rightly insulted by the suggestion that there are two who are God, the one talking to the other! There is only one who is God. God never speaks to God. That would not be monotheism. And monotheism, belief that God is one and not more, is the absolute criterion of truth for us all.

The proof of the rudimentary fact that God is not speaking to God is found in the language of Psalm 110:1. But first another example of misinformation, this time from the 1000-page Commentary on Matthew by William Hendrikson: “In this Psalm David is making a distinction between YHVH (Jehovah) and Adonai - YHVH, then, is addressing David’s Adonai; or, if one prefers, God is speaking to the Mediator. He is promising the Mediator such pre-eminence, power, authority and majesty as would be proper only for One who, as to his person, from all eternity, was, is now, and forever will be God” (p.812, emphasis added).

This statement contains a major error of fact. The text does not say that YHVH is addressing David’s ADONAI! The word in the Hebrew text is not Adonai at all. Adonai is indeed the word (all 449 times) for the Lord God, that is, the supreme God of Israel. But the inspired word in this Psalm, found in all the originals, is not Adonai; it is adoni. There is a vast difference between these two words. Adonai is indeed God, the Lord. Adoni, by contrast, never refers (in all 195 occurrences) to the Lord God. It refers always to a human, that is, non-Deity superior (or occasionally to an angel). Adoni is never a title of Deity. It tells us always that the “lord” in question is someone who is not God, but a human superior.

Here then in this marvelous Psalm we have a brilliant definition of the status of the son of God, Jesus the Messiah. He is not Adonai (Lord God) but “my lord - adoni,” the Messiah. The word provided by the Scripture which Jesus described as inspired and which he used to silence all counter arguments (Mat:22:46) is the Hebrew word for “lord - adoni” which never designates God! This verse was alluded to massively in the New Testament, and Peter used it to define and demonstrate the status of Jesus at the right hand of the Father: he is the uniquely elevated human lord (Acts 2:36), but not a second GOD! The text should put an end to the centuries of dispute about who Jesus the Messiah really is. He is not God (which would make two Gods) but the one and only Lord Messiah, the man Christ Jesus, as Paul said in 1 Timothy 2:5, reflecting the information provided by Psalm 110:1.

Jesus is referred to as the lord Messiah over 100 times in the New Testament. He is called Messiah or the Messiah 516 times. That should be enough to convince us about who he really is. He is the “our lord” of the ancient prayer “maranatha” (1 Cor:6:22).

I would ask the reader to ponder the extraordinary fact, without parallel in the history of Bible commentary, that the actual word for the second “lord” in our verse has been constantly misreported by those expounding the Bible. The error is very, very common. It actually appeared in the margin of Acts 2:34 in editions of the NASU Bible, where the note reads: “The Hebrew word in Psalm 110:1 is Adonai.” But it is not. And the fact can be checked by anyone consulting the original. (Strong’s does not show this distinction.)

Standard authorities are in no doubt at all about the immense significance of the difference between the forms of the Hebrew word for “lord.” The Hebrew text makes a clear-cut and consistent distinction between the one supreme Lord God and human (occasionally angelic) “lords.” The Hebrew text wants us to know exactly who is the LORD GOD (Adonai) and who is a human superior (adoni, my lord).

Every student of the Bible should know that when the personal name of the One God appears in English translations, the word is printed in English (in many versions) as LORD (all capitals). This tells us that behind the LORD (nearly 7000 times) lies the Hebrew word YHVH or Yahweh (sometimes pronounced Jehovah, though this is almost certainly not accurate). Another significant editorial policy is to write Lord (capital “L” but lower-case “ord”) when the Hebrew word is Adonai (= the Lord God, the supreme Lord). But when in the Hebrew text we have the word adoni (pronounced in Hebrew “adonee”) then many English translations have the word “lord” (lower-case “l”). For example, Sarah (Gen:18:12) referred to Abraham her husband as “adoni,” my lord, not Adonai (the Lord God)!

That distinction between the Lord God and a human lord or superior is faithfully reflected by the English Lord (capital L), as distinct from lord (lower-case l). However, when translators arrived at Psalm 110:1, they broke their own rules and wrote the second “lord” (adoni) as Lord (with capital). You will find this misleading inconsistency in the King James, NIV and many other versions. The Roman Catholic Bible most accurately kept a lower-case “l” on the second “lord” telling us that the word was “adoni” (= my human, not Deity lord) and not Adonai, the Lord
God. The Revised Version of 1881 (the first correction of the KJV of 1611) wrote “lord” and thus emended the KJV mistake.

The RSV and NRSV followed suit and correctly wrote “lord.” BBE (Basic Bible in English) and the Jewish Publication Society also rightly provided us with the truth about that second “lord” by writing it with lower case “l.”

The difference between God and man is the most significant of all distinctions, and it is carefully and precisely given us in Psalm 110:1, which the New Testament uses universally to define the status of Jesus in relation to God. Jesus is the human being, the “man Messiah” (1 Tim. 2:5) at God’s right hand. This fact, which Satan does not like and wants to suppress, tells us of the amazing position God has granted to a sinless, virginally begotten man, Son of God (Luke 1:35), installed at the right hand of God’s own throne in heaven. Jesus of course will leave that position and come back to the earth at his future coming to take up his position on the throne of David in Jerusalem (Luke 1:32, etc.).

There is only one who is God, the Creator of all things, in the Bible. He is the Father, indeed the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus the Messiah” (Rom:15:6; 2 Cor:1:3; Eph:1:3; 1 Pet:1:3). Paul put it this way: “There is to us [Christians] one God, the Father” (1 Cor:8:6). Paul went on to add that we also recognize “one Lord Jesus the Messiah.” But that lord Jesus the Messiah is not the Lord God! He is the lord Messiah and was announced with this title when the angels told the shepherds, “Today in the city of David there has been born for you a savior who is the lord Messiah” (Luke 2:11, literally the “Messiah lord”; cp. Col:3:24; Rom:16:18). Luke adds a few verses later that Jesus can also rightly be called “the Lord’s Messiah” (2:26). He is the Messiah who belongs to the LORD GOD. When the two blind men appealed to Jesus to have their sight restored, they touchingly addressed him as “lord, son of David” (Mat:20:31) and even the pagan, Canaanite woman pleaded with Jesus to help her with her demonized daughter. She expressed her faith in the true Messiah as “lord, son of David” (Mat:15:22).

Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, was thrilled to greet Mary when she was pregnant with Jesus. She rejoiced that she was in the company of “the mother of my lord” (Luke 1:43). She meant of course not “the mother of God,” but the mother of my lord, the Messiah. This was the “my lord” of Psalm 110:1 (adoni). A ghastly twist was given to the Christian faith when later Bible readers began to speak of “the mother of God.” (I heard a Catholic priest say that God had asked Mary to be His mother!) This is standard language in the Roman Catholic system, but Protestants equally speak of Jesus as being God! For some illogical reason they balk at the
idea that Mary is the “mother of God.” But why should they? Constantly one hears that “Jesus is God.” Mary ought really then to be called the “mother of God” in the Protestant system. Readers ought to ponder this interesting fact. But most importantly they should ponder deeply the distressing and amazing fact that Bibles and Bible commentaries have in many cases not permitted you to know that Jesus in Psalm 110:1 is not Adonai, the LORD GOD, but adoni,
my lord, the human Messiah.

All the centuries of strife and confused argumentation which eventually led to the “creeds” could have been avoided if the adoni (“my lord” of Ps. 110:1) had been recognized as the perfect definition of the Messiah not as Lord God, but as Lord Messiah.

Currently the battle over the identity of Jesus continues and Psalm 110:1 is not being recognized as the appropriate corrective to centuries of misunderstanding. It is not uncommon for the following kind of comment to appear on Paul’s classic monotheistic statement in 1 Corinthians 8:6. Paul tells us that “there is one God, the Father…and one Lord Jesus the Messiah.”

Astonishingly the Oxford Bible Commentary has this to say: “The Jewish Shema (‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our GOD is one LORD,’ Deut. 6:4 and affirmed by Jesus in Mark 12:29) is here split apart into a statement about GOD THE LORD, the Creator of the world and the goal of salvation, and a matching statement about the Lord, now taken to be Jesus Christ, the medium of creation and redemption. The way in which Paul reads them both out of the Jewish declaration of monotheism is suggestive of the ways in which Christian theology will struggle to define Jesus the Messiah’s exalted status without falling into ditheism [belief in two Gods]” (p. 1121).

The Shema is “split apart”?! The Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4 and of Jesus in Mark 12:29 has now been supplemented and expanded to include two who are God? This is precisely what Paul does not mean. He carefully distinguishes the ONE GOD, who is the Father, from the one Lord Jesus Messiah. The Messiah is not the One God, and the difference between them is exactly the difference declared 1000 years earlier by Psalm 110:1 in which as we have seen YHVH speaks to the Messiah in a prophetic oracle, and defines the Messiah not as the Lord God but as the human lord Messiah, adoni.

Tampering with the biblical creed (splitting it apart) which defines God as the Father of Jesus is unwise. If Psalm 110:1 had been fully recognized instead of being widely misrepresented in regard to the actual Hebrew words of the text, centuries of argumentation could have been avoided and today the great “monotheistic” religions would have common ground, rather than being hopelessly at odds over who and how many God is (Jews, Christians and Muslims).

There is a simple message here: Instead of the brain-breaking difficulties and infinitely complex vocabulary of Trinitarianism, Jesus offers us an easier burden. He affirmed the great unitarian creed of Israel (Mark 12:29) as did Paul (1 Cor:8:4-6). The astonishing new fact since the ascension is that there is a glorified, immortalized son of God, a human being by origin (Mat:1:18, 20; Lk:1:35), whom God has honoured by taking him to be with Him at His throne of the universe. Jesus, the lord Messiah, son of God is now waiting to return to this planet. He remains at the right hand of God until he is given the signal to come back to the earth. He will then inaugurate the long prayed-for Kingdom. With the saints of all the ages he will supervise the first ever successful world government. We need that day!

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Righteousness of God

The Righteousness of God

The purpose of the covenant, in the Hebrew Bible, was never simply that the Creator wanted to have Israel as a special people, irrespective of the fate of the rest of the world. The purpose of the covenant was that, through this means, the Creator would address and save His entire world. The call of Abraham was designed to undo the sin of Adam. But, as the exile made clear, Israel needed redeeming; the messenger needed a message of salvation - deliverance. The people with the solution had become part of the problem.

Most first-century Jews did not believe the exile had ended. The Temple had not been rebuilt properly; the Messiah had not yet arrived; the general resurrection had not occurred; the Torah was not being observed perfectly; the Gentiles were not flocking in to hear the word of the Lord on Mount Zion. Until these things had happened, god's purpose and promises had not come to pass. The Jewish eschatological hope was hope for justification, for God to vindicate His people at last.

Paul had imagined that YHVH would vindicate Israel after her suffering at the hand of the pagans. Instead He had vindicated Jesus [the representative man of Israel] after his suffering at the hand of the pagans. The resurrection demarcated Jesus as the true Messiah, the true bearer of Israel's God - sent destiny. So if Jesus was the Messiah, and his death and resurrection really were the decisive heaven-sent defeat of sin and death and vindication of the people of YHVH, then this means that the Age to Come had already begun, had already been inaugurated, even though the Present Age, the time of sin, rebellion and wickedness, was still proceeding apace.

The death and resurrection of Jesus were themselves the great eschatological event, revealing god's covenant faithfulness, His way of putting the world to rights: the word for 'reveal' is apokalypso, from which we get 'apocalypse'. Paul realized that he was already living in the time of the end, even though the previous dimension of time was still carrying on all around him. The Present Age and the Age to Come overlapped and he was liberated in the middle, liberated to serve God in a new way, with a new knowledge to which he had before been blind to. If the Age to Come had arrived, if the resurrection had already begun to take place, then this was the time when the Gentiles were to come in.
Saul's vision on the road to Damascus equipped him with an entirely new perspective, though one which kept its roots firm and deep within his previous covenantal theology. Israel's destiny had been summed up and achieved in Jesus the Messiah. The Age to Come had been inaugurated. Saul himself was summoned to be its agent. He was to declare to the pagan world that YHVH, the God of Israel, was the one true God of the whole world, and that in Jesus of Nazareth He had overcome evil and was creating a new world in which justice and peace would reign supreme. He was now to be a herald of the king. What never changed was his utter and unswerving loyalty to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who made promises to Abraham, the God who gave the law, and the God who spoke through the prophets, including THAT PROPHET JESUS. Paul proclaimed that when YHVH set up His own king as the true ruler, His true earthly representative, all other kingdom would be confronted with their rightful overlord. Paul knew that because of Jewish monotheism that there can be 'no king but God'. The proclamation of the good news message about the coming Kingdom of God is an authoritative summons to obedience, in Paul's case, to what he calls 'the obedience of faith', because Jesus is lord.

The announcement of the 'crucified Messiah' is the key to everything because it declares to the rulers of this age that their time is up; had they realized what was going on, 'they would not have crucified the lord of glory' (1 Cor:1:18 2:8). The death of Jesus, seen as the culmination of his great act of obedience, is the means whereby the reign of sin and death is replaced with the reign of grace and righteousness (Rom:5:12-21). The good news included the announcement of a royal victory

When we ask how it was that Jesus' cruel death was the decisive victory over the powers, sin and death included, Paul at once replies: because it was the fulfilment of God's promise that through Abraham and his 'seed' [Jesus] He would undo the evil in the world. God established His covenant with Abraham in the first place for this precise purpose.

Paul's exposition of God's faithfulness to His covenant (in technical language, His 'righteousness'), is explained in terms of the fulfilment of the promises to Abraham (Rom: 3:21 - 4:25), and then explored in terms of the undoing of Adam's sin (5:12-21) and ultimately of the liberation of the whole creation (8:17-25). In Galatians the full exposition of the covenant with Abraham, and how it has reached its dramatic climax in Jesus the Messiah, points ahead to the message of 'new creation' (6:15). In 2 Corinthians, similarly, new covenant (chapter 3) leads to new creation (chapter 5). And always the fulfilment focuses on the death of Jesus, the covenant-fulfilling act, the moment when God executed judicial sentence on sin itself (Roma:3:24-26; 8:3), the moment when God's astonishing love was unveiled in all its glory (Rom:5:6-11; 8:31-39). When Paul declared that 'the Messiah died for our sins according to the scriptures' this is the beginning of his official summary of 'the gospel' in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, he means that the entire scriptural story, the great drama of God's dealings with Israel, came together when the young Jew from Nazareth was nailed up by the Romans and left to die. The shameful death of Jesus was the centre and starting-point of what 'the gospel' was all about. It was the fulfilment of the Isianic message. It was the proclamation of the ultimate royal victory. It was the Jewish message of good news for the world. Without the resurrection of Jesus, the crucifixion carries no gospel, no announcement of royal victory over the rebellious creation, when the forces that have enslaved humans and the world are defeated once and for all. Since Jesus had defeated sin, death could not hold him. His resurrection from the dead meant he indeed had dealt with sin on the cross - in other words, that God through His son Jesus had achieved at last what He had promised to Abraham and the prophets. As far as Paul was concerned, the most important eschatological event, through which the living God had unveiled (apocalypsed) His plan to save the whole cosmos, had occurred when Jesus rose from the dead! God's righteousness is vindicated.

At the heart of 'God's righteousness ' is His covenant with Abraham/Israel, the covenant through which He will address and solve the problem of evil in and for the whole world.

We can say: "Enter not into judgment with your servant, O Lord, for in your sight shall no man living be justified" (Psalm 14:3)

If and when God does act to vindicate his people, his people will then, metaphorically speaking, have the status of 'righteousness'. God's own righteousness is His covenant faithfulness, because of which he will vindicate Israel, and bestow upon her the status of 'righteous', as the vindicated or acquitted defendant.

God has renewed His covenant, and has done so with a community in which Jews and Gentiles belong together, in which the badge of circumcision is irrelevant.

God has been true to His covenant, which always aimed to deal with the sin of the world; He has kept His promises; He has dealt with sin on the stake; He has done so impartially, making a way of salvation for Jew and Gentile alike; and He now, as the righteous judge, helps and saves the helpless who cast themselves on His mercy. What God has done in the Messiah Jesus was all along the meaning and intention behind the promises made to Abraham in Genesis 15, the great covenant chapter in which God promised him a worldwide family characterized by faith. Romans 3:21 - 4:25 as a whole expounds and celebrates God's own righteousness, God's covenant faithfulness, revealed, unveiled, in the great apocalyptic events of the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. Paul declared that the 'righteousness of God' had been revealed in the gospel of Jesus the Messiah, the gospel which declares that God has one way of salvation - deliverance for Jew and Gentile alike. The gospel, he says, reveals or unveils God's own righteousness, His covenant faithfulness, which operates through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah for the benefit of all those who in turn are faith (from faith to faith). In other words, when Paul announces that Jesus the Messiah is lord, he is in that very act and announcement unveiling before the world the great news that the one god of all the world has been true to His word, has dealt decisively with the evil that has invaded His creation, and is now restoring justice, peace and truth.

In Galatians 3 is a lengthy exposition of the family of Abraham, focused initially on the covenant chapter, Genesis 15, and moving though various other covenantal passages, not least from Deuteronomy 27. In discussing Abraham, Paul is not simply producing a powerful string of proof texts. He is going back to the actual subject, which is not how individual, Abraham then and the Galatians now, come to faith (as we say), but rather the question of who belongs to Abraham's family. This is clear in Gal;3:29, where the conclusion of the argument is not 'if you are Abraham's family, you are in the Messiah', but the other way around. God established the family of Abraham. Paul reaffirms it. What matter is who belongs to it. Paul says that all those in the Messiah Jesus belong, whatever their racial background. When two people share in the faith of Jesus, they can share table-fellowship, no matter what their ancestry. All this made possible by the 'stake' which is the redeeming turning-point of history. Through the stake, 'the world is crucified to me, and I to the world,' so that now 'neither circumcision nor uncircumcision matters; what matter is new creation (6:14-16). This is covenant language. 1 Corinthians 1:30 declares that 'it is by God's doing that you are in the Messiah Jesus'.... It is we who are 'the circumcision' - we, who worship God in spirit, who boast in the lord Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh.

So, the covenant status we now enjoy as followers of the Messiah Jesus, is the gift of God; it is a dikaiosune ek theou, a 'righteousness from God'. God's own righteousness has to do with his on covenant faithfulness, not with the status He bestows on His people. What we have is the status of covenant membership; it is the gift of God, not something acquired in any way by ourselves; and this gift is bestowed upon faith. At that moment that we come to accept Jesus as the one sent from God we become members of Abraham's family,

Paul's conception of how people are drawn into salvation starts with the preaching of the gospel, continues with the work of the Spirit in and through that preaching, and the effect of the Spirit's work on the hearts of the hearers, and concludes with the coming to birth of faith, and entry into the family through baptism. No one can say "Jesus is lord" except by the holy spirit (1 Cor:12:3). When that confession is made, God declares that person, who believes the gospel, is thereby marked out as being within the true covenant family. Justification is not how someone becomes a follower of Jesus, it is the declaration that they have become a Messianic believer (Christian). Our obligation now is to regard Jesus as our Saviour and thus to receive covenant membership in God's people as a gift. When Paul preached the gospel he did not mean 'justification by faith' he meant the message about the soon coming Kingdom of God, the royal announcement of Jesus the Messiah as lord, and soon coming King of kings and Lord of lords.

The gospel - the announcement of the coming kingdom of God and the lordship of Jesus the Messiah reveals God's righteousness, His covenant faithfulness, His dealing with the sin of the world through the fulfilment of His covenant in the lord Jesus the Messiah.. He has done all this righteously, that is, impartially. He has dealt with sin, and rescued the helpless. He has thereby fulfilled His promises.

The point is: who will be vindicated, resurrected, shown to be the covenant people, on the last day? those who will be vindicated on the last day are those in whose hearts and lives God will have written His law, His Torah. God has now done in the lord Jesus by His spirit what the law could not do. God has now revealed His righteousness, His covenant faithfulness, through the faithfulness of the true Jew, the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.

The gospel - not 'justification by faith', but the message of Jesus - thus reveals the righteousness, that is, the covenant faithfulness, of God.

God's purpose in the covenant was to deal with the sin of Adam. Now, in the Messiah Jesus, that is exactly what He has done, and those who believe the gospel of Jesus are already demarcated as members of the true family of Abraham, with their sins being forgiven. The badge of membership, the thing because of which one can tell in the present who is within the eschatological covenant people, is of course faith, the confession that Jesus is lord and the belief that God raised him from the dead (Rom:10:9). It is faith in the gospel message of Jesus, the announcement of the true God through His son as defined in and through Jesus the Messiah.

All quotes will be from N.T. Wright's book: "What Saint Paul Really Said", and edited in places by myself.