Why “Citizenship in Heaven” (Phil. 3:20) is not what you think it means

In this video I demonstrate that the ‘citizenship’ Paul is discussing in Phil. 3:20 is not about one’s Christian hope in the afterlife but rather about loyalties to a particular empire and its ruling savior/lord. Paul summons the Philippian Christians to place their citizenship with Jesus, the true savior and lord, who will descend out of heaven to consummate the empire (kingdom) of God.

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Four Reasons Why Jesus and the Criminal Did Not Enter ‘Paradise’ When They Died (Luke 23:43)

In this short video I demonstrate that, contrary to popular preaching, Jesus and the criminal on the cross did not go to Paradise when they died on Good Friday (Luke 23:43). They both went to the grave (Hades), but Jesus affirmed the repentant criminal that he would indeed be remembered when Jesus returns to consummate the kingdom of God upon the earth.

Please share this video if you think others would benefit from it.

The Rich Man and Lazarus: afterlife or radical reversal?

In this short video I outline some of the key contextual points needed to understand how the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus was used in Luke’s Gospel in order to summon the wealthy Pharisees unto repentance in light of the coming reversal of the kingdom of God’s judgment upon the faithless descendants of Abraham. In the end, I do not think that Luke regarded this parable as a teaching of Jesus about the specifics of the afterlife.

Book Review (part 11: From gospel to Gospel) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

This is the eleventh segment of my recap/review of Dunn’s newest volume Neither Jew nor GreekHaving been distracted with responding to some of the early reviews of my own new book in addition to having to grade final exams/submit grades has placed myblogging on the back burner for awhile, so I apologize about the delays in regard to this ongoing series.

4gospels_writersI have chosen to recap much larger sections of the book (otherwise this will be a two year endeavor).  In this segment I will cover chapter forty-one, which is entitled ‘From gospel to Gospel.’ Dunn begins by reviewing the conclusions established in the first volume of these three-part series, Jesus Remembered. In particular, Dunn notes how it was the impact that Jesus left upon his earliest followers which is the oft-neglected piece of data in explaining the origins of early Christianity. He notes that gospel message preached by the apostles eventually transitioned into the creation and composition of Gospels, i.e., the literary documents recounting the life, teachings, deed, and passion of Jesus Christ.

Dunn observes that the origin of the noun euangelion was derived from the LXX of Isa. 52:7 and 61:1. Paul himself draws upon Isa. 52:7 in Rom. 10.15, and additionally uses the noun to refer to Jesus’ Davidic descent (Rom. 1:1-3; cf. 2 Tim. 2:8), his glory (2 Cor. 4:4), and his death and resurrection. Other evidence, such as Luke’s insistence that Isaiah 61 was used by Jesus to describe his own mission and the natural question which would be posed by those baptized into Christ strongly suggests that the life, teachings, and deeds of Jesus would have been discussed in early Christian circles from an very early stage. Dunn argues that even Paul would have regarded certain aspects of Jesus’ life and mission as integral to the gospel message itself.

The Gospel of Mark seems to be structured around what many scholars have described as a ‘passion narrative with an extended introduction,’ as there are many pointers throughout the story which point forward to Jesus’ death and resurrection. However, Mark 1:1 indicates that the entire message contained within his document is gospel. One note by Dunn is worth citing at this point,

[t]he gospel of Jesus’ passion was the central but not only part of the Gospel of the mission of the Galilean who proclaimed and lived out his message of the kingdom of God.

Matthew and Luke both draw upon Mark for not only his content but also the structure of a passion narrative with an extended introduction. Within the communities associated with Matthew and Luke it seems that Jesus’ teachings was valued as itself ‘gospel’ (and part of their Gospel). Furthermore, the incorporation of Q demonstrates that these teachings of Jesus were valued to the point of assimilating them into the structure already established by Mark (and his depiction of the gospel).

John, which shows no dependence upon any of its Synoptic counterparts, nevertheless appears as a similar passion narrative with an extended introduction. Furthermore, John uses pointers within his narrative to look forward and anticipate Jesus’ passion. Dunn notes that John could have placed the emphasis on aspects such as Jesus’ ability to reveal God and the mysteries of heaven or Jesus bringing the secret meaning of human existence. Others took that approach to John, but he himself chose to stress primarily the execution and resurrection of Jesus (and regularly uses the term “glory” to denotes these two emphases.

By the second century, Justin Martyr and others had already begun to regard the term ‘Gospel’ with the four canonical documents. With this understanding, Justin would be strongly suspicious of any other claims to the title ‘Gospel’ which did not line up with what Mark and co. had established. How this played out in the early church’s rejection of other documents is a question with Dunn plans on returning to address later in the book.

Be sure to subscribe for further updates and share if you enjoyed his post! Have a great day.

 

Sharing Salt with Jesus – Acts 1:4

Put-Down-that-SaltshakerThis semester I will be teaching an undergraduate course on the Acts of the Apostles. Since most of my research interests in the past have been in the realm of Gospels, Paul, and apocalyptic, the Acts of the Apostles kind of got placed on the back burner. I can imagine this is the same for many NT folks, unless they did their dissertation on Acts. This has given me the opportunity to get acquainted with much of the theological literature associated with Luke’s second volume. Since my previous studies had already given me an appreciation for history, geography, and the imperial cult, I found my inquiry into the massive Acts to be delightful thus far.

More to the point, Acts begins by both recapping the end of Luke’s Gospel and telling about the transition period between Jesus’ ministry and that belonging to his disciples. In Acts 1:4a, most modern translations state that, “Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem.” The participle synalizomenos (συναλιζόμενος) is, under closer examination, able to be rendered in two different ways. Here are the options:

  1. The verb is synalizo (συν + αλιζw), meaning “with + gather” i.e., gather together. There are no other occurrences of this word in either the NT or the LXX.
  2. The verb is synalizo (συν + αλς), meaning “with + salt” i.e., eat salt with. This would also be the only occurrence of this verb in the NT and LXX. However, I think that the rendering “sharing salt with” was the likely intended meaning of the verb.

Acts 1:1-8 depicts the commission for Jesus’ apostles before he ascends into heaven. During this time, he teaches them about the kingdom of God for forty days (1:3). He also prepares them for reception of the Spirit (1:5). Furthermore, he sets them on their missionary journey which begins from Jerusalem and consummates in Rome (1:8). These themes (kingdom, Spirit, and inclusion of the Gentiles) are eschatologically themed in Jewish messianism. This echos the Last Supper as recorded by Luke in which Jesus “covenants” to his disciples, over a meal, in which they will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Luke 22:28-30). Since Luke has in this passage linked table fellowship with eschatological themes, it opens the possibility that synalizo, used in conjunction with the same themes, also deals with table fellowship (i.e., “sharing salt”).

Furthermore, “salt” is often associated with the covenant and the loyalty required by it within the Hebrew Bible. Leviticus 2:13 informs the Israelites that their grain offerings are to be seasoned with salt “so that they salt of the covenant of your God will not be lacking.” This suggests a close linking of “salt” with the covenant commitment. This can also be observed in Num. 18:19 where the phrase “covenant of salt” appears in proximity to descriptions regarding “perpetual statutes” (haq-olam). The Chronicler also employs this language to describe the covenant made with David to rule over Israel forever, calling this a “covenant of salt” (2 Chron. 13:5). Ezra 4:14 records a letter expressing fidelity of Artaxerxes, illustrating this commitment with the phrase “we are in the service of the palace” (literally: we eat the salt of the palace). Luke uses the noun salt (ἅλας) twice in Luke 14:34 to describe the heightened level of faithfulness with which Jesus requires of his disciples.

In sum, I think it is likely that Luke, in Acts 1:4, intended to convey that Jesus “shared salt” with his disciples, which meant that he shared table fellowship with them as they discussed issues regarding loyalty and commitment to the covenant (such as the kingdom, the Spirit, and the evangelistic mission).

George Ladd on the Necessity of the Gospel of the Kingdom

1950s-george-ladd-picI’ve been reading Matthew’s Gospel devotionally in Greek as a way to warm up my mind for the day. Today I was reading through the interpretation of the parable of the tares (Matt. 13:36-43). This parable identifies the son of man, Jesus, as the sower of the good seed, identified earlier in the chapter as the message about the kingdom of God (Matt. 13:19).

The field, which is understood as the world, seems to be split into two groups of people. I remember reading this great quote from the late George Ladd in his influential book A Theology of the New Testament. I grabbed the book off of my self and quickly accessed the quote, which I think really gets at what Matthew is trying to convey in regard to this important parable:

Here society is divided into two antithetical classes: those who hear and receive the word of the Kingdom and those who either do not know it or reject it. -p.51

Ladd argues that Jesus sees the world at two identifiable groups of persons. On one hand, you have those who have accepted Jesus’ gospel message about the coming kingdom of God. On the other hand, you have, basically, everyone else.

Two thoughts come to mind. First, this does not sound very much like the Jesus of liberal American theology who loves (read: tolerates) everyone. Those who refuse Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom are destined for the furnace of fire. Secondly, I wonder what those churches who have basically no room in their theology for the kingdom of God make of such a parable. If the name of the game is, as I was taught as a young child, spending eternity in heaven feeding grapes to the angels, how does the kingdom of God fit in at all?

Happy hump day.

Romans 13:1-7 and Christian Civil Obedience

church_and_state-1024x617Romans 13:1-7, which insists that the rulers are to be obeyed by their [Christian] subjects, has been used and abused by many different countries over a long period of time. The early colonies used the passage to support slavery and oppression. South Africa used the passage to support Apartheid.  America, in the wake of September 11, used this passage to provoke support of military action against other countries. The so-called “Just War” theory likewise uses this passage as its main weapon (pun intended).

However, if Paul had desired to create, in seven little verses, a Christian theology of Church and State, how would he have responded to the exceptions to such belief? Suppose the Egyptian midwives had not ignored Pharaoh’s edict to kill Israelite males, which allowed Moses to live (Exod. 1:17-21)? They clearly ignored the laws of the land, and God blessed them for it!

Or how about the three Jewish boys who were commanded to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image in Daniel 3? They refused to obey that edict, and God vindicated them because of their fidelity (Dan. 3:18).

The Book of Acts often has the early Apostles refusing to quiet down their personal evangelistic efforts, choosing rather to obey God rather than humans (Acts 4:19; 5:29; 16:21).

The Apocalypse of John envisages the faithful martyrs, who refused to take upon themselves the mark of the beast, vindicated with resurrection and given positions of rulership with Christ (Rev. 20:4).

As we can see, if Rom. 13:1-7 is used to force unquestionable obedience to the governing bodies, then how come so many within the people of God acted contrary to such a theology?

When we look closer at Rom. 13:1-7 we see that Paul has other things in mind than a Christian theology of Church and State. Three things stand out to me which are worthy of comment. First of all, Paul states that the emperor Nero was in authority because of God (13:1). Nero, who thought he was God and who was regularly praised with such divine titles, was, according to Paul, working for the true God. Romans 13:6 even says that the Roman authorities (including Nero) are servants of God. I doubt Nero would have agreed. People served Nero. Paul argues that Nero serves the true God. We can see that Paul is undercutting the claims of the Roman empire by saying that the true God is really in power, despite the exaggerated claims of the Pax Romana.

The second point which comes out in Paul’s theology is his continuation of the typical Jewish understanding that pagan governments are used by the one true God for the furtherance of his divine purposes. This is true of the Assyrians (Isa. 10:5-11), of Cyrus the Persian (Isa. 44:28-45:3), of king Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 27:6-7; Dan. 1:2, 2:21, 37-38), and others. The returning Jewish exiles were to even pray on behalf of pagan kings and their families (Ezra 6:10). God uses pagan empires to bring order and stability to the territories.

Thirdly, the Christians in Rome, to whom Paul was writing, were certainly aware that the former emperor Claudius had expelled the Jews from Rome for riots, likely involving Christ (cf. Acts 18:1-2; Suetonius, Claudius 25:4). Upon the ascension of Nero to the throne, the edict of Claudius was cancelled, allowing the Jews (including Jewish Christians) to return to their respected places of residence and work. The citizens of Rome were upset at the number of additional taxes which they were forced to pay. Tacitus (Annals 13.50-51) remarks that the Roman citizens responded unfavorably to this additional burden of taxation, moving Nero to consider abolishing them. The Senate, however, convinced Nero otherwise. Add in the fact that Jews were exempted from paying some of these taxes and you have a social situation in the Roman churches which could potentially be explosive and divisive (if it wasn’t already). Paul writes that the believers residing therein should keep their heads down, show respect (13:7), pay their taxes (13:6), refuse to revolt (12:19), bless those who curse them (12:14), and let God take vengeance upon their oppressors (12:19).

In short, it seems best to regard Rom. 13:1-7 as a passage directly applicable to the pan-ethnic congregations in Rome in the middle of the first century CE. Paul needed to write to their situation and give them advice on how to live at peace with a thoroughly pagan regime while they await the return of Jesus to consummate the eschatological empire of God. It is therefore unlikely that Paul intended every government for the last two thousand years to take the message given to the Roman churches and to apply it to their own situations (which have entirely different social, political, and religious factors involved). Paul told the Philippian congregation that their true citizenship resided in heaven, from which the true lord and savior was to return to subject creation unto himself (Phil. 3:20-21).

Book review – After You Believe by NT Wright – ch. 3

Wright continues to impress me, although I admittedly am finding difficulty putting my feeling aside when I see someone saying the very things that I believe and hold dear. Perhaps it is because Wright says it so much better, much more eloquently, and with more finesse.

Chapter three in After You Believe is all about how Christians are given the vocation to be priests and kings, not only in the age to come, but to be preparing for it even now. Wright starts making his case by looking at what ‘Human’ (Heb. adam) was originally purposed to do in the garden of Eden, which was to rule over God’s creation (Gen. 1:27-31). Wright also points out that Israel was given the task of being a kingdom of priests in Exodus 19:4-6. The entire nation, it seems, was “entrusted with the dual role of royalty and priesthood.”

I have taken passages like Rev. 5:10, where believers are said to be kings and priests who will one day reign over the earth, and have used them to teach that since we will one day be ruling over God’s renewed world, we should be living now in preparation to be kings. What I always left out was the fact that we are also called ‘priests.’ Therefore, our lives are to be sanctified and set apart for God’s service in the present as we anticipate God’s future. A priest typically in the Bible was a figure which stood at the interface between God and his creation:

bringing God’s wise and generous order to the world and giving articulate voice to creation’s glad and grateful praise to its maker.

Wright also points out that the Temple was a microcosm of what God would eventually do, which was  to one day fill the whole world with his glory. Note Hab. 2:14 –

“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” (NASB)

The temple was to be an advanced sign of what God intended to do with and for his creation. Filling the temple with his glory and presence only foreshadowed the reality that would one day be present in all of the renewed creation. This gives the passages in the New Testament which speak of Christian believers as the new Temple of God (1 Cor. 3; 6; 1 Peter 2; various hints within the Gospels, etc.). I never really gave much significance or thought to this temple-motif until Wright made the connection for me. I need to ponder and meditate on this more.

This is how I see the story of ‘Human’ within the narrative of the Scriptures. Adam and Eve were created to rule the world on behalf of God. They sinned and thereby failed at their God-given vocation. Israel was called to be the true people through whom God was to work through his creation (just like Adam was). Yet they also failed in their vocation because they were, as Paul argues, ‘in Adam.’ Jesus comes along, embodying the roles of both Adam and Israel, and succeeds at his vocation. Because of his death and resurrection, believers of all races and social classes can now join in with what ‘Human’ was destined to do. Through water baptism, we can embody the role of priest and king in this world now as we await the day when we will exercise this role in the kingdom of God. Wright puts it so well:

[Jesus] summoned people to follow him and share that story, that community, and that vocation.

Very few Christians at all seem to understand what the Bible sets out as their vocation. The lack of understanding of the kingdom of God and how it integrates into our roles as being ‘Human’ in the way God originally intended only adds to this confusion. It is high time that Christians take seriously their roles as the world’s future rulers and priest and get to living out this vocation in the power of the Spirit.

Chapter four is entitled ‘The Kingdom Coming and the People Prepared.’ Sounds like a good one!

After You Believe – chapter two review

NT Wright’s second chapter of his book After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters is a gold mine of words and ideas meant to bring purpose to our lives which lie between the cross on one hand and the return of Jesus on the other. This chapter, entitled ‘The Transformation of Character,’ digs deeper than the first to help readers understand what character from a Christian perspective is and how it is to be obtained.

Wright points out that character is not something which initially comes natural. It is something which has to be worked at, developed, nurtured, and expanded. Speaking another language never is easy after the first lesson or class. Neither will someone proficiently play an instrument after only one week’s worth of instruction. The same is true, Wright argues, with Christian character (or virtue as he likes to call it). When I read this and started to reflect on it, it really hit me how much I don’t typically think this way. If there is an area of my Christian life which is not ‘up to par’ per se, then I usually make an excuse that “it is only for the elite,” or I simply tell myself that I will “work on that” (which generally never happens). I find encouragement in what Wright says about the effort and practice needed to develop mature Christian virtue. I do think that this needs to occur within the Christian community, not as an individual effort done in one’s private life.

I enjoyed one of the examples of how ‘practicing’ can actually look like something extremely difficult just came to pass. Wright tells of a South African golf player who responded to a critic who labeled him as “lucky.” His response was, “I’ve noticed that the harder I practice the luckier I get.” What Wright means here is that the more we place into developing our Christian virtues, the more natural it will look and seem (not that our goal is to “impress” others).

One of Wright’s goals with this book is to get believers to think longer and harder about virtues, especially within the correct theological framework of the kingdom of God. I like how he words it here:

Romantic ethics, or the existentialism which insists on authenticity or (in that sense) freedom as the only real mark of genuine humanness, or the popular version of all this I have alluded to above, tries to get in advance, and without paying the true price, what virtue offers further down the road, and at the cost of genuine moral thought, decision, and effort… we urgently need to recapture the New Testament’s vision of a genuinely “good” human life as a life of character formed by God’s promised future, as a life with that future-shaped character lived within the ongoing story of God’s people, and with that, a freshly worked notion of virtue.

Wright criticizes some of the greatest Christian thinkers for their failure to inquire of the New Testament as to its position on what virtue and character should look like. Both Augustine and Aquinas are called out in this endeavor. Since both held to theologies which ignored the future kingdom of God upon the earth, I would think that this criticism is fairly placed.

Wright asks, rhetorically, what the Christian goal is. He draws out a three pronged answer which I believe 99% of Christians today would agree with…and then Wright knocks it down as the wrong way of thinking:

  1. The goal is the final bliss of heaven, away from this life of space, time and matter.
  2. This goal is achieved for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus, which we cling to by faith.
  3. Christian living in the present consists of anticipating the disembodied, “eternal” state through the practice of a detached spirituality and the avoidance of “worldly” contamination.

He then offers his counterproposal, which I 100% agree with and would add a hearty “Amen” to:

  1. The goal is the new haven and new earth, with human beings raised from the dead to be the renewed rulers and priests.
  2. This goal is achieved through the kingdom-establishing work of Jesus and the Spirit, which we grasp by faith, participate in by baptism, and live out in love.
  3. Christian living in the present consists of anticipating this ultimate reality through the Spirit-led, habit-forming, truly human practice of faith, hope, and love, sustaining Christians in their calling to worship God and reflect his glory into the world.

Wright concluded by saying that the goal we have is not an escapist to heaven but rather God’s kingdom of restorative justice and healing joy, coming upon the whole creation. The next chapter is entitled ‘Priests and Rulers.’ Stay tuned for an update.

“Allow me to sit on your right or left, Jesus”

21 And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.”

 22 But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to Him, “We are able.”

 23 He said to them, “My cup you shall drink; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.” -Matt. 20:21-23

 I really like this exchange. The mother of James and John comes to Jesus and asks that her two sons get to sit on his left and right side. Since Jesus is one day going to rule the world from Jerusalem, these must be pretty good seats (50 yards line good).

Jesus does not say that their kingdom theology is wrong. What he does try to convey to his disciples is that his ministry is not about ruling now. He has a job to do. He has a vocation to live. He has a mission to fulfill. Jesus, being the embodiment of obedient Israel, has to take upon himself the cup of God’s wrath on order to deal with the problem of sin and death.

The discussion of God’s wrath was going on in our Sunday School class this morning. Yet in thinking of this, I connected the passage above with one which I never saw the link before today. Let me know what you think:

37 And above His head they put up the charge against Him which read, “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”

 38 At that time two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left. -Matt. 27:37-38

 

Any comments or suggestions? I could be totally off on this, but the connection seems very attractive to me.