Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Divine Humility, Divine Greatness

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)
Be “like-minded,” Paul said, and “of one mind.” But it was a particular mind he had in view — the same mindedness, the same attitude that the Messiah, Jesus, showed when He became a man and went to the cross on our behalf.

Jesus is God. He is the Word about whom John the Gospel writer said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). That is how it always was with Him, and how it always will be. Even so, there is something important that happened that changed the world forever. As John went on to say, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

In nature, essence and form, Jesus was, and is, God. But He “did not consider it robbery.” This translation does not make very clear what Paul means. Here are a few other versions that give a better understanding:
  • “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (English Standard Version)
  • “did not consider equality with God something to be robbed {or used to advantage}” (Context Group Version)
  • “did not cling to his prerogatives as God’s equal” (J. B. Phillips’ New Testament in Modern English)
  • “did not think that being equal with God was something to be used for his own benefit” (The Expanded Bible)
  • “did not after weighing the facts, consider it a treasure to be clutched and retained at all hazards” (Wuest, The New Testament: An Expanded Translation)
So Jesus “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant.” The Greek words literally mean that He “emptied Himself.” This does not mean that He in any way ceased to be God in essence or in attribute. It means that He did not cling to His divine prerogatives, but as Phillips says, “stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature.” Or as the Lexham English Bible puts it, He “emptied himself by taking the form of a slave, by becoming in the likeness of people.” Being God did not mean He could not be a servant, and being a servant did not take away one bit of His divinity.

He took on the form of a doulos, a bondservant, a slave. The Greek word doulos views a servant in relationship to his master. Though Jesus is equal to God in His essence, He took on the form of a doulos, to serve the Father and be obedient to Him. Jesus said, “I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me” (John 5:30). The form He took did not make one bit of difference to the essence of His being. He was free to serve and it did not rob Him of anything.

Jesus not only took on the form of a servant, He came in the “likeness” of men. In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). In the LXX (the Septuagint, an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament), the word for “likeness” used there is essentially the same one Paul uses here in Philippians.

There is a beautiful symmetry at work: Man was created according to the likeness of God, and God, in the person of the Son, came in the likeness of men. The Word, who was with God in the beginning, and indeed is God, became flesh and dwelt among us. He was “found in appearance as a man,” or as Weymouth puts it, “being recognized as truly human” (New Testament in Modern Speech).

Jesus “humbled” Himself. In verse 3, Paul said, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit.” The Greek word for “conceit” is kenodoxia, literally, “empty glorying” (which is why some versions translate it as “vainglory”). Now compare that with Jesus, who “emptied” Himself (the Greek word is kenosis) and “humbled” Himself. There is no selfish ambition there, no seeking of reputation, no “empty glorying.” While some of the believers at Philippi were apparently operating in empty pride (that is, pride without cause), there was no such vanity in the Lord Jesus.

Paradoxically, by not holding onto the prerogatives of God at all costs, Jesus was actually manifesting the nature of God. Consider how Wuest translates this passage:
But himself He emptied, himself He made void, having taken the outward expression of a bondslave, which expression comes from and is truly representative of His nature [as deity], entering into a new state of existence, that of mankind. (brackets are Wuest’s)
Becoming a bondservant is not foreign to the nature of God but is representative of His true nature as deity! God is love, John tells us (1 John 4:16), and it is the nature of love to give and to serve. God so loved the world that He gave His Son; the Son so loved the world that He gave Himself. On the night of the Last Supper, Jesus revealed the secret of divine greatness to His disciples:
You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Mark 10:42-45)
This is not about becoming a servant so that we may one day be promoted to greatness. No, becoming a servant is the promotion and serving one another is greatness. It is a perfect reflection of the divine nature.

Having taken the form of a bondservant (in His divinity) and humbled Himself (in His humanity) Jesus became obedient to the Father’s will, even to the point of death. Not just any death, but the most terrifying, most humiliating kind of death — death on a Roman cross. Divine greatness, not to mention divine grace, knows no bounds.

Focus Questions
  1. Does it surprise you that servanthood is greatness?
  2. Does it surprise you that servanthood is truly representative of the divine nature?
  3. How does this help you take on the attitude of being a servant for others?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Sized Studies Through the Book of Philippians
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Revealing the Fellowship of the Spirit

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-4)
Paul continues his appeal for unity among the Jesus believers at Philippi. His “if” statements are rhetorical, of course. He already knows the answers and it is Yes on all four counts. God has begun a good work in them and Paul has every confidence that He will bring them on to maturity in Jesus the Messiah. So he gently reminds them of who they are in Jesus and what that means.
  • Consolation in Christ. The Greek word for “consolation” also carries the idea of encouragement and exhortation. Paul wants to encourage and exhort them “in Christ,” that is, on the basis of who they are in the Messiah. Because it is about His purpose, and His body, the church, and it will be His ability that accomplishes whatever needs to be done.
  • Comfort of love. The Greek word for “comfort” has an aspect of both gentleness and persuasiveness. Wuest calls it “tender persuasion” (The New Testament: An Expanded Translation). Paul says of his own ministry, “for the love of Christ compels us” (2 Corinthians 5:14).
  • Fellowship of the Spirit. Every believer receives the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14), who works in us not just as individuals but together as the people of God. He is not many but one, so He joins us all together as one body, the body of Messiah. Paul is always eager for the church to manifest the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
  • Affection and mercy. This “affection” is not superficial. The Greek word used here literally refers to the bowels. Figuratively, and in this context, it is about deep, heart-felt emotion. The word for “mercy” speaks of compassion or sympathy. Paul’s request takes a personal turn here. “If you have any affection for me …”
Weymouth translates the four “if” statements this way: “If then I can appeal to you as the followers of Christ, if there is any persuasive power in love and any common sharing of the Spirit, or if you have any tender-heartedness and compassion …” (The New Testament in Modern Speech).

All of this is preliminary to Paul’s plea, which he now presents: “Fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.”

“Fulfill my joy.” Paul has already expressed the thanks he gives to God, “with joy,” because of their partnership with him in the good news about King Jesus (Philippians 1:3-5). And he rejoices that Jesus is being preached, even by those who do not do it with the best motives (Philippians 1:15-18). His joy is not yet complete, however, because they are lacking in unity.

Here, then, is the meat of Paul’s appeal, the thing that will fill his joy up to the brim: That they will live and function in such a way that will reveal the true unity that they have together in King Jesus, through the Holy Spirit. That they will be “like-minded,” or of one mind. This does not mean that there will not be any diversity of thinking or even that there will not be any disagreements. But it does mean having the same purpose and the same focus. Paul also wants them to show the same love for one another, not making distinction between those with whom they agree and those with whom they disagree, but loving all equally. He wants them to be of “one accord,” literally, of one soul, so that they share the same heartbeat, the same desire, the same motivation.

Paul further elaborates on what all this means: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

Earlier, Paul mentioned some (though not by name) who were preaching the good news about King Jesus out of envy, strife, selfish ambition, and in pretense, making an outward show of it (Philippians 1:15-16). How very ironic! But Paul was thankful that, either way, “whether in pretense or in truth,” Messiah was being preached (Philippians 1:18).

Paul was being gentle then, and still is now even as he exhorts them firmly and directly. Selfish ambition, rivalry and a partisan spirit have no place among them. Nor is there any room for the outward show and empty glory of conceit. Let those be gone for good!

However, there is something that must take their place: Humility (“lowliness of mind”). Each esteeming the other better than, or ahead of, himself. Or as Paul says elsewhere with very similar words, “In honor, giving preference to one another” (Romans 12:10).

Now, this does not mean beating yourself down. And it is not about becoming a doormat and allowing others to run roughshod over you. Nor does it mean that you must ignore your own needs and concerns. But it means becoming a servant, putting others first and looking out for each other as well as for yourself. This will reveal the unity and fellowship we have in the Spirit and show that King Jesus is very real in us.

Focus Questions
  1. How do you explain the “persuasive power of love”?
  2. What is the difference between humility and being humiliated?
  3. How easy, or difficult, is it for you to put others ahead of yourself? Why do you suppose that is?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Sized Studies Through the Book of Philippians
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Parameters of God’s Millennial Kingdom

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 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, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Matthew 28:18-20)
This passage at the end of the book of Matthew encapsulates the millennial reign of King Jesus the Messiah. At the cross, Jesus disarmed the principalities and powers, the demonic influences that pervert nations and cultures away from God (Colossians 2:15). Their power is now broken and cannot withstand the power and purpose of God in the world. At the resurrection, Jesus became the firstborn from the dead, the firstborn over God’s new creation (Colossians 1:18).

Then, after forty days of teaching His disciples about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3), He came to them and announced, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” This is the language of enthronement, the King receiving His kingdom. The next thing that was about to happen was His ascension to heaven, to His throne at the right hand of the Father,
far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:21-23)
The kingdom of God has come into the world and Jesus the Messiah, God’s Anointed King, has begun His reign. This is what all the Old Testament prophets pointed forward to, the time when God would change the world, rescue His people, Israel, and gather all the nations to know Him. It is the time figuratively represented in Revelation 20 as “a thousand years” (which is why it is called the millennial reign).

The millennial reign has already begun — it began with the ascension of King Jesus to His throne. It will reach its ultimate fulfillment when King Jesus returns at the end of the age. That is when all those who belong to Him will be resurrected, raised bodily from the grave, just as He was. Paul speaks of this in 1 Corinthians 15:
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming. (1 Corinthians 15:20-23)
But what happens next? Some believe that this is when the millennial reign of King Jesus begins. Others believe the newly resurrected are carried off to heaven for seven years while there is great tribulation and terror on earth, after which the resurrected ones will return to earth with King Jesus, and then the millennial reign begins. However, Paul says none of this, and what he does say leaves no room for it. What, then, happens after the return of King Jesus and the resurrection of all those who belong to Him?
Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom 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 Corinthians 15:24-26)
“Then comes the end.” Not seven years of tribulation. Not even the millennial reign — that will have already taken place before the resurrection. But, “the end.” At this point, the millennial kingdom will have reached its fulfillment.

What happens at the end? King Jesus delivers the kingdom to His Father. At that time, every rule and authority and power that opposes God will be completely destroyed. Even death itself will be destroyed, cast into the “lake of fire,” as Revelation 2:14 says.

But what happens in between the beginning of the millennial kingdom, when Jesus ascended to His throne in heaven, and its completion at His return? Jesus rules and reigns, bringing every enemy under His feet. How does He do this? Through His body, the church, all those who belong to Him. For God has not only put all things under His feet — given Him all authority over them — He has also given Him as head over the church, which is His body.

King Jesus has already been given all authority on earth as well as in heaven. We are His body in the world, to exercise His kingdom authority and power on earth. How do we do this? By obeying the commission He gave us: “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, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” That is our job until the end of the age, for Jesus said, “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

These, then, are the parameters of the millennial reign of King Jesus the Messiah. It began with His ascension and all power being given to Him in heaven and on earth. It will reach its completion when He comes again. In between, we, His body, make disciples of all the nations, teaching them to follow Him in everything. When all the nations are discipled and following King Jesus, then the end of the age will come. Heaven and earth will be joined together as one (Revelation 21) and the will of God will be done on earth exactly as it is done in heaven. In the meantime, King Jesus is always with us, assuring the success of His kingdom and the commission He has given us to fulfill.

So, as a friend of mine likes to say, “Be encouraged.”

Friday, October 19, 2012

Follow the One Who Knows

On his deathbed, Mohammed confessed that he did not know where he would go or what God would do to him. On the night before He was crucified, Jesus said, “I go to My Father” and “In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”

I would rather follow someone who knows where He is going than someone who does not.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Growing Presence of the Kingdom

Many Christians expect the kingdom of God to come in all at once, lickety split, full and complete. That was the expectation the Jews had in Jesus’ day. They were looking for Messiah to come as a king who would immediately triumphant over the nations, but He came as a suffering servant and was nailed to the cross. For them, a crucified Messiah was no messiah at all, just a contradiction in terms.

The disciples also appeared to initially have had the same expectation. After the resurrection, Jesus spent 40 days teaching them about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3 — that would seem to be a misplaced priority if the kingdom was not mean for this present time). Then before He ascended to His throne in heaven, they asked, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). They wanted it to be full and complete and all at once.

However, look at how Jesus answered them. He did not say Yes and He did not say No. But He said, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” (Acts 1:7). In other words, the timing of kingdom completion is for the Father to know, so Jesus did not answer in terms of when it would come. Instead, I believe He answered in terms of how it would come:
But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
The Holy Spirit would come upon them, and when that happened they would be taking the testimony about Jesus the Messiah into all the world. The significance of the word “Messiah” is that it identifies Jesus as God’s “Anointed” King (see Psalm 2). The Holy Spirit was part of the Old Testament expectation concerning God’s coming kingdom, and this expectation was fulfilled when the Holy Spirit came upon the them at Pentecost, and He remains on the church even today. That by itself is enough to establish that the kingdom of God has come and is now present in the world.

In Matthew’s account, Jesus came to the disciples and declared, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). Then He sent them out to make disciples of all nations. The fact that Jesus has already been given all authority on earth is another thing that by itself establishes that the kingdom of God has truly begun. Couple that with the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the church, and we have a very powerful combination indicating that the kingdom is now is now present in the world.

We are in the kingdom and the kingdom is in us. The kingdom is present in the world inasmuch as the Spirit-baptized church is in the world. The kingdom is now present but it has not yet come in all its fullness — that will not happen until King Jesus returns. But it has most certainly begun, and it continues to grow and advance day by day. We are presently living in between the times of its inauguration in the world (when King Jesus ascended to His throne) and its full manifestation (when King Jesus returns). That is why Paul refers to Him, even now in this present age, as Messiah and King. That is also why Peter refers to us, the Church, as a “royal” priesthood, the priests of the King.

I recently posted about the growing presence of the kingdom of God in the world, “Carrying the Kingdom.” Someone asked how I could speak of the kingdom as advancing. It did not seem to him that the kingdom is growing and things are getting better, but that things are getting worse. However, I think the world is in a much better condition since the cross, the resurrection and the ascension of King Jesus to His throne.

For example, in addition to many wonderful technical advances, which make life considerably easier for a large and growing portion of the world, there have also been tremendous advances in medicine and the healing arts — many people are living longer, healthier lives today than in the past. The world is also a much more civilized place than it was centuries ago. Though there are places where we can still find barbarity, it is not as prevalent as it used to be.

Much of this improvement has been because of the influence of Christianity, the Church and the gospel of Jesus Christ. A number of years ago, D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe wrote a book called What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? It talks about the pervasive and amazing influence the gospel has had in the world. You can preview the book a bit at Amazon. Even just perusing the chapter titles will give you an pretty good idea of how the world is a much better place because the kingdom of God has come. I also recommend a recent book by Christian sociologist Bradley R. E. Wright, Upside: Surprising GOOD NEWS About the State of Our World — the title speaks for itself.

Though there is much trouble in the Middle East with the Arab states, and has been for well over two thousand years, there have recently been hundreds of thousands of Muslims who have come to Christ there, with thousands of new churches planted in Muslim countries, many of them even in the more difficult Muslim communities. Jerry Trousdale has written a book about it called called, Miraculous Movements: How Hundreds of Thousands of Muslims Are Falling in Love with Jesus.

Evangelism is exploding in many parts of the world and among many different groups. It has been estimated that the church in China is growing by about 20,000 new believers each day. Plus another 20,000 new believers in Africa.

There is still much left to do, of course, but there is a lot that has already been accomplished that has changed the world for the better. I believe that the commission Jesus gave the disciples in Matthew 28:18-20 will not fail but will be fulfilled, that all the nations of the world will become disciples of King Jesus.

The kingdom of God has come into the world, is present today and continues to increase and advance. Be encouraged, Jesus is Lord over all and His kingdom is increasing everyday.

(See also The Gradual Kingdom)

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Gradual Kingdom

Some Christians believe that the kingdom of God is not for now but for a later time, and that when it comes, it will come suddenly. But the New Testament speaks of it in a very different way. Jesus came preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). He was announcing the good news that the kingdom of God had now come into the world. And it has never left.

Now let’s take a look at the nature of the kingdom, whether it comes suddenly, as some people think, or gradually. In keeping with the way Jesus began His ministry, the parables He taught are mostly about the kingdom of God. The parables in Matthew 13 are explicitly about the kingdom, and in them we can see something of how it comes.
The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared.

So the servants of the owner came and said to him, “Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?”

He said to them, “An enemy has done this.”

The servants said to him, “Do you want us then to go and gather them up?”

But he said, “No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Matthew 13:24-30)
First, notice that the kingdom is likened to a seed that is sown. That is a very good indication that the kingdom of God comes gradually because that is the nature of a seed. No one sows a seed and expects it to sprout immediately into a full-grown plant. That happens over time.

Notice also that in this parable the man sowed seed and then he slept. The day passed into night and the man went to bed. “While he slept” his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. The presence of “while” indicates the passage of time.

Then, when the grain sprouted and the crop began to come up, the tares also appeared. This did not happen immediately but gradually, as is the manner of seeds. They do not suddenly shoot up as full-grown plants. They sprout and then they continue to develop. The problem here was that the tares were also sprouting. The servants came to the master and wanted to rip the tares out of the ground. But the master did not permit them to do that because he did not want the wheat to be damaged in the process.

Now look at what the master said: “Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest, I will say to the reapers” (v. 30). There is a process of growth and a period of waiting between the time the seed sprouts and the time of harvest comes. It is not all at once but happens gradually, over time. That is exactly how it is with the kingdom of God, because this is a parable that is explicitly about the kingdom.

Another brief parable follows in Matthew 13:31-32: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”

Here again, the kingdom is likened to a seed. Again notice that there is a process of growth, indicated by the words “when it is grown.” This shows the passage of time. Also, note that it “becomes” a tree. It is not sown as a tree but as a seed. However, as it grows, at some point it develops into the form of a tree, and one day becomes large enough to host the birds of the air. This is how it is with the kingdom of God. It began as a seed and has been gradually growing up into a tree that is large enough for the nations of the world to come and find a home.

A third, very brief parable follows, but this time the kingdom is likened to leaven. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened” (v. 33). Here again, we see that the kingdom comes gradually, just as leaven gradually works its way throughout the dough until the whole lump is completely leavened. This does not happen instantly but gradually.

In Mark 4, we find another “seed” parable about the kingdom: “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come” (Mark 4:26-29).

The man sows the seed, but it does not immediately sprout into a plant ready for harvest. It is the season of sowing, not of reaping. Days and nights pass. The seed sprouts and then grows (the man does not know how it happens, he just sows the seed). Note the progression — first, the blade, then the head, then after that the full grain, then the grain ripens, and then it is ready for harvest. It all happens gradually, not all at once. That is what the kingdom of God is like. It does not come suddenly but gradually: first the blade, then the head, then the full grain in the head, then the grain ripens and it is ready for harvest.

The kingdom of God has already been sown in the earth, and though we cannot say exactly where we are in the process, it is clear that we are not yet at harvest time — that will not come until the end of this present age when King Jesus returns. All we know is that we are living somewhere in between the season of sowing the kingdom and the season when it is fully ripened and ready for harvest. That is, we are in the season when the kingdom grows and increases. It happens gradually, not suddenly.

The seed has been sown and the kingdom has begun in the world, though it may not always seem that way to us. However, regardless of how things may appear to us at any given moment, the truth remains that it has already begun and continues to grow and increase, because that is what taught. What we observe in the world must eventually line up with the truth of the Word.

So, whatever we might read in the daily newspapers or see on CNN or Fox News, it does not at all disprove what Jesus taught in His parables. It does not mean that the “seed” of the kingdom has not yet been sown or that the “wheat” is not yet present and growing in the world. It only shows that harvest time has not yet come and that the tares are still growing along with the wheat.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

NEW BOOK! ~ The Focus of Our Faith

My new book is out, a study in Paul's letter to the Jesus believers at Colosse. It is available in paperback through our ministry and at Amazon. It is also available in Kindle, epub and PDF formats. You can preview a bit of it at the Kindle link below. The format is the same as my current series of posts on Paul's letter to the Jesus believers at Philippi.

The Focus of Our Faith: Paul’s Letter to the Jesus Believers at Colosse
(Bite-Sized Studies Through the Book of Colossians)
by Jeff Doles
Walking Barefoot Ministries
ISBN 978-0-9823536-3-9(Paperback)
Preview with Amazon's "Look Inside"
5.5 x 8.5 in., 162 pages
$9.99 USD

Also available at Amazon
eBook formats: Kindle | PDF | ePub ~ $3.99


Focus is important. The better your focus, the more clearly you can see. But it is important that your focus be on the right thing because your direction will follow your focus. When your focus is clear and on the right thing, then you will be heading in the right direction.

The gospel of our faith is the good news that the kingdom of God has come and Jesus is the Messiah, God’s anointed King. He is the focus of our faith — not only the One upon whom we fix our attention but also the One through whom we view the whole world, to see more clearly and understand God’s purpose with greater wisdom. That is what Paul’s letter to the Jesus believers at Colosse is about. This book is a study of that letter. In it you will learn about:

  • The blessing and inheritance God has for you
  • The divine power trio: faith, hope and love
  • A walk that is worthy, a life that is pleasing and fruitful
  • Knowing God more and more
  • How all things hold together
  • Where all divine fullness dwells
  • The reconciliation of heaven and earth
  • The good news of God’s pleasure
  • The revelation of divine glory in you
  • Being rooted and built up in Jesus
  • The powers that have been disarmed
  • Living from a higher realm
  • The Word that qualifies us
  • Clothes for your new life
  • New life at home and in the community of faith
  • The spiral of watchful, thankful prayer
  • Walking in wisdom
These are “bite-size” studies to help guide you through Paul’s letter, a little at a time. At the end of each study are focus questions to help you think further about the truths Paul brings. They are open-ended questions to allow for maximum personal reflection and group discussion.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Kingdom Narrative of the Gospel

The Gospel According to Mark tells us that the Lord Jesus came “preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God” (Mark 1:14). I believe there is only one gospel and that it is the announcement that the kingdom of God has come, and Jesus is the one God has anointed to be King. Someone asked me, then, how I would share the gospel of the kingdom of God with a 24-year old at a Starbucks.

In such a conversation, I might look for it to go somewhat along these lines: I would listen to whatever he has to say. Sooner or later, he will talk about how messed up things are. It will probably not take too long for him to get to that — he’s a 24-year-old. He is not thinking about the next life, he is thinking about how messed up this life is. That will most likely be the point of his greatest concern and lead to the point of his greatest need.

That’s when we can discuss the nature of the world, and I will point out that God did not create it for the mess that we see, but that God created the world, and us, to reflect His glory and goodness. That’s what Genesis 1 is about. In the beginning, God — who exists as Father, Son and Holy Spirit — created the heavens and the earth, and it was all good. Then He said, “Let Us make man in Our image and according to Our likeness … and let them have dominion over all the earth.” We were meant to bear the image of God, to be His “icon” in the world — to show off His goodness all over creation and bring all of creation into alignment with the splendor of heaven.

However, man rebelled against God and decided to do things his own way. He disconnected from the life and goodness and glory of God, and that’s when everything hit the fan. Even creation itself got messed up, because man had dominion over it and now man was messed up himself. It affected us all, which is why the Bible says that “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

But God immediately had a plan to rescue mankind from this mess and restore creation. It began with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the book of Genesis. God created a nation from them, Israel, to bring forth this rescue into the world, to every nation and people. But even the nation God created got messed up. So God promised that He would raise up a King from out of this nation who would rescue it and all the other nations of the world. This is the Messiah, which means “Anointed One.” And this is what the Old Testament is about — God promised through His prophets that this Messiah would come and set everything right in the world. The Messiah would bring the kingdom of God into the world and would Himself be King.

This is where the New Testament begins, where the promise begins to be fulfilled. The Son of God, who created the world, came into the world. He became flesh and dwelt among us to get personal with us. His name is Jesus and He is the Messiah God promised, the one God anointed to be King.

Jesus came preaching the gospel, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come. Return to God and believe the good news.” He taught us about the kingdom. [This would be a good place to talk about the nature of the kingdom, for example, in the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount, the parables of Jesus, and the healing ministry of Jesus.]

Jesus said that whoever would trust in Him would enter into “eternal life,” which is the life of God’s kingdom both now and forever. And He said that if we seek this kingdom — the rule and reign of God to set everything right — and make it our priority in everything, everything else would be taken care of.

Now, Jesus was not unopposed in this. The enemy of God, who fooled man away in the first place, was desperate to stop God’s destiny for the world. Sometimes he is called “satan,” sometimes “the devil.” And there are a number of what the Bible calls “principalities and powers,” the demonic forces and influences that stand behind every oppressive regime, government and expression of evil in the world.

But they were no match for God and no match for His Messiah. The great conflict took place at the cross, where Jesus the Messiah not only dealt with our sin and our sinfulness, He disarmed the “principalities and powers.” Through His death, He broke the power of the one who has the power of death (that is, the devil). Three days later, God raised Messiah from the dead. He is called the “firstborn from the dead” and the “firstborn over all creation.” With the principalities and powers disarmed, and Messiah raised from the dead, new creation has begun, and all who belong to Messiah, through faith in Him, are part of that new creation. Jesus’ resurrection is the guarantee that all who belong to Him will also be raised from the dead when He returns.

The kingdom of God has come to set things right in this broken world, and Jesus is the King. All authority in heaven and on earth belongs now to Him, and He sent His disciples out to tell the whole world, to teach all the nations all that Jesus taught them. But the world is still messed up in many ways because the kingdom is a work in progress. Jesus told parables about how the kingdom starts small and grows big. One day it will be here in all its fullness, when King Jesus returns. It has already begun but is not yet done, and we are living in between the times.

God’s purpose is to gather everything in heaven and on earth together as one and reconcile all things to Himself through King Jesus. And King Jesus is calling the whole world to become a part of His kingdom, to trust in Him and walk in His ways.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Gehenna, Hades and Hell

Lately I've been thinking about hell. There are two different Greek words translated as “hell” in the New Testament: gehenna and hades. Gehenna is used a dozen times in the New Testament and, with the exception of James 3:6, is found only in the Synoptic Gospels (i.e., Matthew, Mark and Luke), on the lips of the Lord Jesus. It is the term that is associated with fire. For example, in Mark 9:43-44, we read this brief description (which is similarly repeated two more times in verses 45-48):
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell [gehenna], into the fire that shall never be quenched — where “Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9:43-44)
Gehenna is also the term associated with destruction. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus said, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [gehenna].” Notice that it is not just the body that is destroyed in gehenna, but the soul as well. This is the destruction of the entire being.

At the end of the book of Isaiah, we read an interesting description of what happens at the end. It is about what happens when God’s glory has been declared to all the nations and He makes the new heavens and the new earth (Isaiah 66:22).
“All flesh shall come to worship before Me,” says the Lord. “And they shall go forth and look upon the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” (Isaiah 66:23-24)
This portrays what will happen to the wicked dead. They are corpses. There is no life in them at all. Notice, “their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched,” the same description we read about gehenna in Mark 9. The fire cannot be quenched and the worm does not die. In other words, nothing can stop them from consuming the wicked dead completely. This is total destruction.

When Jesus uses the word gehenna, He is not talking about a literal burning, with a literal worm or a literal fire, but it conveys to us the destruction that awaits those who do evil and do not repent. They are consumed by the “fire.” That is gehenna — fire and destruction.

The other word translated as “hell” is the word hades. It is found 11 times in the New Testament. It is also found in the LXX (the Septuagint, the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament), over 60 times, where it translates sheol, the Hebrew word for “hell” and “the grave.” It speaks of the place of the dead.

That is how it is used in the New Testament. For example, when Jesus said, “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” It is not speaking of hell-fire and final destruction but of the grave. Not even death itself can stop the church, because there is coming a resurrection of the righteous — Jesus Himself is the “firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18). Speaking of Jesus’ resurrection and how it guarantees the resurrection of all who belong to Him, Paul exclaims, “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?”

At Pentecost, when Peter stood to preach, he declared the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Quoting from Psalm 16, he said, “For You will not leave my soul in Hades, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption [decay]” (Acts 2:27). Then Peter speaks of the “prophet” (David) who wrote that, “He, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption” (Acts 2:31).

There is also this very interesting passage near the end of the book of Revelation.
The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:13-15)
This is the end of chapter 20. The very next thing we read, in Revelation 20:1, is this: “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” This is very much like what we read at the end of Isaiah. God makes the new heavens and the new earth, and then we read of the destruction of the wicked — by fire.

In the end, death and hades will be thrown into the “lake of fire.” Remember that fire is associated with gehenna, not with hades. It appears, then, that this “lake of fire” corresponds to gehenna. Hades, the place of the dead, will be thrown into what we might call gehenna, where both body and soul are destroyed. As Isaiah 66:23-24 portrays for us the total destruction of the wicked, I believe that in the same way, Revelation 20:13-15 portrays for us the total destruction of death and hades as well. “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?”

Monday, October 1, 2012

All Authority to the God-Man

Someone asked how Jesus could be “given” all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). Did He not, as God, always possess that authority?

We need to remember that Jesus is fully human as well as fully divine. He is the God-man. In His divinity, He has always existed, without beginning or end, as the Son of God. But His human nature had a beginning in time and space. John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1-2, 14).

Now notice, in Matthew 28:18, that Jesus said that all authority “has been given” to Him in heaven and on earth. This indicates that there was a time when that was not so. That is, as the God-man, He did not always possess all authority in heaven and earth. In His divinity, Yes, but in His humanity, No.

In Philippians 2, we see something else that was given to Him. Because of the cross, and through the resurrection, Jesus the Messiah has been “given” the “name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

Paul is really saying the same thing here that Jesus said in Matthew 28:18. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him; the highest name has been given to Him, so that all in heaven and on earth must bow before Him and confess that He is Lord.

Notice also, that this is not authority yet to be given, or a name yet to be given. In both places, the word for “given” is in the aorist tense, signifying completed action, a done deal. All this fulfills a very important prophecy in Daniel 7:13-14:
I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.
Here we see the prophetic significance of the phrase by which Jesus often referred to Himself, “the Son of Man.” It does not mean merely that Jesus is human, but it identifies Him as the divinely chosen man, who was to be given full authority over the earth. Compare this passage also with how the Lord’s Prayer ends: “Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.”

So it is not simply as God that Jesus has been given these things. It is as the God-man, because of the great victory He won on the cross over sin and death and the principalities and powers, and by the vindication He received when God raised Him from the dead. Here is a breath-taking realization: The One who rules and reigns over heaven and earth is fully human as well as fully divine.