What further testimony do we need?

One of the chief ways Biblical Christianity is unlike other philosophies and world religions is that it does not merely teach us how to be free of “the bad guy.” It tells us that we are the bad guy. This isn’t simply because of our limited natures, our lack of knowledge, or our being at the mercy of some other bigger bad guy. No, this is because we have chosen to like ourselves more than God. The Apostle Paul writes, “although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful” (Rom. 1:21). And this is especially true of Good Friday. The religious leaders of Israel were not simply upset with Jesus for who he claimed to be. It was not as if they simply didn’t believe him. No, they actually recognized who Jesus was. They knew, deep within themselves, that he was the messiah. And they hated him for it.

As soon as it was day, the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, came together and led Him into their council, saying,  “If You are the Christ, tell us.”

But He said to them, “If I tell you, you will by no means believe. And if I also ask you,you will by no means answer Me or let Me go. Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God.”

Then they all said, “Are You then the Son of God?”

So He said to them, “You rightly say that I am.”

And they said, “What further testimony do we need? For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth.”

(Luke 22:66-71)

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“He found them sleeping from sorrow”

One of the most prevalent misconceptions that people have about the gospels is that the disciples of Jesus were dummies. They’re always misunderstanding things, coming to the wrong conclusions, and even showing moral failure. But this isn’t true at all. When the disciples misunderstand things, it isn’t because they are dummies. It is because the situation was mysterious and the teaching of Jesus was challenging. When the disciples exhibit moral failure, it is because the situation was difficult and nearly-overwhelming. The disciples were fallible men, to be sure, but they were men who had been trained by Jesus and walked with him for three years. They would have been impressive to us. And we need to remember this when we read about them falling asleep in Gethsemane:

When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow. Then He said to them, “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.” (Lk. 22:45-46)

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A Season for War

The primary ascension text from the psalms comes from Psalm 110:1.  “The Lord says to my Lord: Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.”  The Psalm continues with the restoration of the Melchizedekian priesthood, and the worship of the people of God.  Melchizedek was, you will recall, a priest and a king.  But the Psalm concludes with a statement about the Lord shattering kings and judging the nations.  Indeed, he fills up the land with corpses, according to David.

It doesn’t get any better when Pentecost comes around.  Sure, the Spirit gives us good miracles like prophecy and visions.  But He also turns the sun to darkness and the moon to blood.  If you cry out you will be saved, it is true, but don’t forget that this is in the context of bloodshed.  Joel 3 continues the same line of thought as chapter 2, and it is all about war.

Proclaim this among the nations: Consecrate for war; stir up the mighty men.  Let all the men of war draw near; let them come up.

Joel 3:9

It doesn’t look good.  The prophet has critiqued the Gentiles for selling God’s people and the treasures of the temple.  That payment is about to returned upon their own head.  But then something surprising happens:

Beat your plowshares into swords,
and your pruning hooks into spears;
let the weak say, “I am a warrior.”Hasten and come,
all you surrounding nations,
and gather yourselves there.
Bring down your warriors, O LORD. 12Let the nations stir themselves up
and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat;
for there I will sit to judge
all the surrounding nations.

Put in the sickle,
for the harvest is ripe.
Go in, tread,
for the winepress is full.
The vats overflow,
for their evil is great.

Multitudes, multitudes,
in the valley of decision!
For the day of the LORD is near
in the valley of decision.
The sun and the moon are darkened,
and the stars withdraw their shining.

The LORD roars from Zion,
and utters his voice from Jerusalem,
and the heavens and the earth quake.
But the LORD is a refuge to his people,
a stronghold to the people of Israel.

There’s a strange mix of fear and gladness.  The warriors show up for a fight, but they end up turning their weapons into farming tools.  But the LORD is still roaring.  We’re taking refuge, though there’s still a storm coming.

Joel ends his prophecy with good news for Israel, but there’s also warfare all the way.  “Egypt shall become a desolation and Edom a desolate wilderness.”  We could allegorize this and ask, “What’s the Edom in your life?” but the original is pretty clear.  The enemies of Israel are vanquished.  God takes vengeance.

When Peter says that Joel’s prophecy is fulfilled in Acts 2, you have to bring in all of this with it.  The end of the world is here.  The Book of Revelation unfolds throughout the Acts of the Apostles.

And I suppose it is still doing so in the life of the Church now.  Paul says that we fight the very powers of the air.  Angel war, or something.  Thankfully, Paul also tells us that this means we can’t use sticks, clubs, swords, guns, machetes, or voting booths.  We’ve to to get out our other weapons.

So Pentecost is about war.  Get out your flaming swords and get to it.  Oh, but by the by, you will most likely get killed in the process.  A few times, actually.  But that’s the way it goes.

Child Sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible

You shall not delay to offer from the fullness of your harvest and from the outflow of your presses. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to me.  You shall do the same with your oxen and with your sheep: seven days it shall be with its mother; on the eighth day you shall give it to me.

~ Exodus 22:29-30

Jon Levenson argues, in his The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son, that this passage shows that Yahweh actually did require human sacrifice, specifically that of the Hebrew firstborns.  This was a commemoration of the original passover, of course, and Levenson goes on to explain that Israel as a nation was God’s own firstborn son, also to be sacrificed.

The various animal sacrifices were all substitutes, with the animal representing the one who brought it.  Through the sacrificial system, Israel continued to live the life of Isaac.

Levenson also argues that, according to Paul, Jesus becomes the new Isaac, and the Church, following after Israel’s older example, now lives the life of Isaac:

Now if Jesus is the true Isaac, and the Church is the body of Jesus, it follows as night the day that the Church, when it turns its attention to Genesis, must see itself in the role of Isaac, that is, as the promised son of the freeborn woman who, with God’s full endorsement, demands nothing less than the expulsion of the rival claimant to her husband’s estate.  (217)

Levenson, interested as he is in Christian-Jewish relations, focuses on Paul’s emphasis that the Church supersedes the old people of Isaac, yet we could also dwell on the simple fact of the Church as ongoing sacrifice.  As the beloved son, we all must be killed and given to God.

We are the children to be sacrificed on behalf of the world and all creation.

The Chariot of Israel

“My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!”

Elisha shouted this out in 2 Kings 2: 12 when Elijah was being taken up in the fiery chariot.  The question that ought to come up in our minds, though it often doesn’t, is “How did he know what this was?”

Is there another reference to “the chariot of Israel” in the Bible?  This would be the primary verse.  I’ve heard others point to the fiery angels in Ezekiel 1 who seem to move with a wheel.  This is not totally clear though, and it isn’t explicit in Ezekiel 1.  We’d need to know what the chariot is first in order to see it there.

So is there another place to find the chariot?

The only other reference to “the chariot” is in 1 Chronicles 28.  This is a section describing temple furniture.  It says:

16 And by weight he gave gold for the tables of the showbread, for each table, and silver for the tables of silver; 17 also pure gold for the forks, the basins, the pitchers of pure gold, and the golden bowls—he gave gold by weight for every bowl; and for the silver bowls, silver by weight for every bowl; 18 and refined gold by weight for the altar of incense, and for the construction of the chariot, that is, the gold cherubim that spread their wings and overshadowed the ark of the covenant of the LORD.

So, the chariot is the piece of furniture that covers the ark of the covenant and would be used for carrying it.  It has gold cherubim that spread their wings over the ark.  More can be found in Exodus 25:10-22.   Here we see that the Lord would meet with his people atop the chariot.  He would speak to his people from the mercy seat, between the cherubim.  In 2 Samuel 6:2 we even read that the Lord dwells between the cherubim.

And so when Elisha sees a fiery chariot, with angels presumably, carrying Elijah up to heaven, he sees the chariot.  He recognizes it from the temple.  Elijah was being taken up in the ark of the covenant’s own covering.

He was being taken up in the reality, of which the temple furniture only served as a sign.

The extra neat part of all of this is that we are not told that this piece of furniture is called the chariot until the book of Chronicles, which was the last book written in the Old Testament.  The piece of furniture existed, but we, living today, don’t know that until we get to Chronicles.  So we learn that you have to use a stream-of-consciousness hermeneutic.  =)

This is the same way the New Testament works though.  It tells us all about the Old Testament, and it isn’t just making up a new way to read.  Rather, it is explaining to us about what was there all along.

Apostolic Preaching and the Psalter

Peter and Paul repeatedly show that Jesus was foretold in the Old Testament.  This vindicates his claim to be the messiah and son of God, and it shows that he is the fulfillment of Israel.  It shows that those who follow Jesus Christ are the Israel of God, trusting in the messiah.

It is important that we keep in mind what this style of reading the Bible is supposed to accomplish.  Typology and “narrative” are not meant to simply entertain us or communicate to “visual learners.”  Neither is the main point to exhort us to imitate the various characters, as appropriate as that sometimes may be.  The real goal of typology is to show us God’s over-arching story and Jesus’ role in it.  Through Adam, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, and Ezekiel, God was writing one story.  Every verse of the Bible is about Jesus Christ and his mission.  He is the goal of all things, summing up God’s activity, and we as the body of Christ are God’s one people. 

We also see our own guilt in the Old Testament, as we were once of the raging nations.  We were once enslaved, and now our Moses, our Joshua, our David, our Messiah- Jesus Christ- has lead us out of that slavery. 

Now as we continue as God’s priestly people, we place our trust in this messiah and take comfort in his future coming.  We know that God is setting all things right, and even when we are oppressed and our enemies surround us, we know that our savior will come.  He will judge the nations.  He will smash the teeth of our enemies.  He will keep us safe through the valley of the shadow of death. 

Indeed, the Lord is in His holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven;
His eyes behold, his eyelids test the sons of men.
The Lord tests the righteous,
But the wicked and the one who loves violence His soul hates.
Upon the wicked He will rain coals;
Fire and brimstone and a burning wind shall be the portion of their cup.
For the Lord is righteous, He loves righteousness;
His countenance beholds the upright.

Take comfort beloved, for the gospel of Christ has revealed the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.  Live by faith, and the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. 

Believing the Promise

Saying “postmillennialism is the gospel” strikes many as an exaggerated rhetorical statement.  And on some levels it may be.  However, the basic sentiment that goes by the term “postmillennialism” today is that all of the nations of the world will be made holy prior to the consummation of the current time-space situation ie. before Jesus comes back.

In other words, the gospel message is that in Abraham’s seed, Jesus Christ, all of the nations will be blessed.

This is what Abraham was called to believe in, and it is what the apostles preached all throughout the book of Acts.  What the New Perspective on Paul has sometimes failed to do is connect the Jew and Gentile relations in Pauline literature with the larger Old Testament promises.

It was always God’s plan to have a glorified creation.  This is, after all, why he created Eve.  The fact that God did not abandon his creation is testified to in the incarnation, and the fact that He will not discard his creation and start anew is testified to in the resurrection of Jesus.

And so away with invisible remnant religions!  Away with anti-cultural quietists!    Away with forensomonism!

Give us back the gospel!