Lord of hosts (Zechariah 8)

Zechariah uses the same name for God 18 times in one chapter. What was he saying? How does this help us understand Christ and our life in him?


What does it mean to call God the Lord of hosts? What are the hosts under his control? Angels? People? Armies? Israelites? Foreigners? How does this relate to Christ? And what is our role in relation to the Lord of hosts?

Continue reading “Lord of hosts (Zechariah 8)”

Why are the people of earth mourning? (Matthew 24:30-31)

Two pictures combined in one, the reconciliation of heaven and earth.

I thought the gospel was good news. The son of man receiving kingship, backed by angels rather than military forces: isn’t that time for dancing in the streets, celebrating the end of oppression?

Why did Jesus describe the people of earth as mourning? Are they unhappy he’s in charge?

Matthew 24:30-31 (my translation, compare NIV)
30 Then will shine the sign of the son of man in heaven. Then all the tribes of the land will mourn and will see the son of man coming upon the clouds of heaven with power and much grandeur. 31 He will commission his angels with a great trumpet, and they will gather his chosen from the four winds, from one side of the heavens to the other side.

Truth is, we can’t enter a great future without dealing with the pain of the past. Reconciling means facing each other. It starts with facing him: the son of man, the heaven-appointed leader who draws us together in himself.

Jesus composed this word picture by combining two images from Israel’s story. From heaven’s side, authority is taken from the beasts and given to the son of man (Daniel 7). From earth’s side, the people weep as they realize how they’ve treated God (Zechariah 12). Combine the two pictures, and you have the perfect description of Jesus’ ministry: reconciling heaven and earth.

The mourning tribes in Zechariah

Continue reading “Why are the people of earth mourning? (Matthew 24:30-31)”

Coming with the clouds (Matthew 24:30)

Armies give power to emperors, but only one ruler has the backing of the clouds of heaven’s hosts.

“You shall not pass!” That might be your worst fear if you’re facing an exam. You’ll hear it very differently if you recognize the image of Gandalf confronting the balrog in Lord of the Rings. In Matthew 24, Jesus tapped into images familiar to those who were living the Jewish story, images we completely misunderstand if we don’t make the connection.

Here’s an example:

Continue reading “Coming with the clouds (Matthew 24:30)”

Shaking the powers (Matthew 24:29)

The coming of the son of man is the fall of the superstars from where they had no right to be.

Matthew 24:29–30a (my translation)
29 Immediately after the anguish of those days, ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.’ 30 Then will shine the sign of the son of man in heaven …

If you’re now picturing the space/time universe collapsing into a black hole, please know that Jesus wasn’t the picture in Jesus’ mind. The NIV misleads us to think of literal stars by calling them “heavenly bodies,” whereas Jesus was talking about the powers of the heavens (αἱ δυνάμεις τῶν οὐρανῶν) being shaken.

As the quotation marks suggest, Jesus was using imagery from the Old Testament — Isaiah 13 to be specific.

Continue reading “Shaking the powers (Matthew 24:29)”

The authority of stories (Matthew 21)

Jesus’ authority isn’t forced; it’s experienced by living in his story.

The most joyful parade of King Jesus’ life was the day he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey with the crowd acclaiming him as their heaven-sent king: hosanna to the son of David, arriving in the name of the Lord (21:9).

But Jesus’ authority is so different to those who claim power in this world. Last time someone entered Jerusalem in the name of a superpower, it was a Roman general:

Pompey and his army besieged Jerusalem and the Temple, and in the ensuing siege, the city was badly damaged. Aristobulus’ faction was massacred inside the Temple precinct itself, and Pompey himself violated the sanctity of the Temple by entering the Holy of Holies.
— Adam Kolman Marshak, “From Pompey to Hadrian,” in Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 40.

Jesus also went to the temple — not to violate it, but to call the city to honour the seat of God’s reign over the nations. He confronted what was wrong, but Jesus doesn’t pummel the world into submission the way earthly rulers do. He warned his servants of the temptation: You know how the rulers of the nations lord it over them, and their high officials exercise power over them. 26 Not so with you! (Matthew 20:25-26).

Why? For Jesus, authority is God-given, not enforced on people. That’s why his authority arrives slowly: it’s received by revelation (Matthew 16:17). It grows like a little seed (13:31-33), as people discover the humble king coming in the name of the Lord (21:1-9). His authority challenges the existing order that is showy but fruitless (21:12-22). It depends on divine appointment, so he’s not desperate for human recognition (21:23-27).

So, Jesus confronted Jerusalem’s leaders not with swords but stories. Their authority is a fiction if God has given authority to his Christ.

By what authority are you doing these things? they demanded (21:23). Three stories overturn their authority:

  1. The parable of the two sons challenges their public persona of obedience to the Father, and their presentation of Jesus as the leader of the disobedient (21:28-32).
  2. The parable of the tenants challenges their claim to be God’s managers when they reject the heir (21:33-46).
  3. The parable of the wedding banquet challenges their restrictions on who belongs at the king’s table (22:1-14).

The content of these stories radically overturned their claims to divine authority, but pause to let Jesus’ method sink in. The pen is more powerful than the sword. Swords fall to stories. The word shapes the world. What is comes from God’s decree, Let there be …

God decrees the reign of his anointed, so no other claimants can countermand it. Not the false sons in the vineyard. Not the self-serving managers of the vineyard. Not the unresponsive guests of God’s Providence. The heavenly sovereign manages his earthly realm. He removes the servants who misrepresent him, and raises up his Son.

The good news of the kingdom is embodied in stories. It’s embodied in the incarnate Son. It’s embodied in the people who live in him (the body of Christ), the living stories of his restorative kingship.

Jesus knew. Matthew knew. The world knows through the people who live in his story. That could define everything the church is and does.

Who’s in charge? (Matthew 21:23-27)

Jesus’ authority is at the heart of the gospel.

If Jesus intended to confront Jerusalem’s leaders by overturning the temple, he succeeded. Priests claimed to be God’s representatives. Elders claimed authority over the people. They pushed back against God’s Anointed:

Matthew 21 23 Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?” (NIV)

In Israel, God’s authority was present in three main roles:

Continue reading “Who’s in charge? (Matthew 21:23-27)”

Son of man enthroned (Matthew 19:27-30)

What was Jesus seeing when he envisaged thrones for himself and his disciples?

We recognize the kingdom of God by recognizing Jesus as king. That may not be obvious, because Jesus constantly proclaimed God’s kingship without overtly claiming to be king. Only when heaven had revealed his kingship did Jesus begin to reveal his plan to build the community around his kingship (16:16-19).

In fact, he doesn’t mention his throne until his disciples start to question whether Jesus can deliver what he promised. He floored them by declaring that the powerful would kill him (16:20-22; 17:22-23). He devastated them by describing the wealthy as a humanly impossible problem for his kingdom agenda (19:23-26). They start to wonder if pinning their hopes on Jesus to lead them into the regenerated world was worth it.

Continue reading “Son of man enthroned (Matthew 19:27-30)”

Binding and loosing (Matthew 16:19)

What did Jesus mean by giving us keys to bind and loose?

Attend a Pentecostal prayer meeting, and you may hear someone using the language of binding and loosing. They’re talking about believers taking authority over the devil. Some churches have a prayer team on this task when they meet, to bind evil spirits from interfering.

The language comes from Jesus’ statement:
Matthew 16 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (NIV)

Catholics think Jesus meant forgiving sins or excommunicating people. Charismatics think Jesus was talking about binding and loosing demons. The Reformers thought it was the gospel message that looses people or leaves them bound. What do you think?

Continue reading “Binding and loosing (Matthew 16:19)”

Jesus’ authority as King (podcast) (Matthew 7:21-29)

When Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, the crowds were amazed at his authority. What authority? What was the king expecting of his people? What is he expecting of us?

This podcast (25-minutes) covers the final statements of his most famous sermon, introduced in last week’s podcast.

 

Related posts

 

Matthew 7:21–29 (NIV)
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

Solving the world’s problems

What God is doing is effective: it will transform the world.

You might think it’s always off, but Eurovision really is off this year (2020).

That didn’t stop a Dutch team using a computer to generate a new Eurovision song. They fed it input from previous Eurovision hits and from social commentary site Reddit. Reportedly, it wrote a song “that crescendos as a robotic voice urges listeners to ‘kill the government, kill the system.’”

Artificial Intelligence (AI) doesn’t create those ideas. It reflects what people say. There must be quite a few anarchists reacting to the oppression and systemic injustice in the world for AI to produce that song.

Unfortunately, many of us in church don’t think of sin like that. I think of sin as my faults, the ones for which I need forgiveness, because that’s how I get saved. We lose the world-transforming power of the gospel when we reduce it to a story about me and how I can get my forgiveness. Sin isn’t just a problem in each individual. It’s the oppressive power that dominates the world, causing all the wars, all the social devastation, all the problems the anarchists react to.

Jesus acknowledged the oppressive power of sin, but offered a very different solution. The problem with “kill the government, kill the system” is that it adds fuel to the fire, feeding the cycle of violence. Jesus’ radical idea was to replace the cycle of violence (the power of sin) with God’s reign.

Jesus took no sword to Caesar. He took the cross from Caesar. Continue reading “Solving the world’s problems”

Fear of Christ? (Ephesians 5:21)

Is he scary?

Fear of Christ is a phrase found just once (Ephesians 5:21). It’s the generic word for fear (phobos). Many translations render it as “reverence” or “respect”, but that isn’t strong enough. In a kingdom perspective, fear of Christ displaces every fear.

Continue reading “Fear of Christ? (Ephesians 5:21)”

Does God authorize governments? (Romans 13:1-7)

We can’t talk about the kingdom of God without considering how the power of the church relates to the power of the state.

Open Romans 13:1-7.

Does Romans 13 decree the divine right of kings? It has been used that way for centuries. Even today, the royal coat of arms of the UK rests on such a claim: Dieu et mon droit, literally God and my right!

Does Romans 13 authorize war? Many interpreters have claimed that it does, so we’ll address this question in our next post.

Good exegesis starts with Paul’s context, not ours. The power claims in Romans 13 do not originate with Paul. He knew that Roman emperors laid claim to divine right to rule. This tradition dates way back to previous pagan empires, and is found all over the world.

But Paul was a Jew, writing from a Hebrew worldview. In that framework, Paul’s words in Romans 13 are not strange at all. In Romans 9:17, he quotes the Hebrew claim that God raised up even the Pharaoh of the exodus for his purposes.

In fact, a case can be made that Romans is a new Exodus story — a story of God liberating the earth from its oppressive rulers: Continue reading “Does God authorize governments? (Romans 13:1-7)”

Seventh plague: God’s big purpose (Exodus 9:13-35)

Open Exodus 9:13-35.

Hail falls from the heavens. Egypt’s proud rulers run for cover like everyone else. With lightening striking all around them, Egypt’s rulers are powerless before the one who reigns from heaven.

But God’s aim is not to strike Pharaoh dead: Continue reading “Seventh plague: God’s big purpose (Exodus 9:13-35)”

How does Jesus become king? (Matthew 13:53-58)

How does Jesus receive the kingship if people don’t give it to him?

Open Matthew 13:53-58.

Jesus taught like an artist. His word pictures lift us above the human conflicts to a plateau where we can see what the earth was meant to be — a place of peace, responsive to heaven’s government.

This is future, yet it’s already here in the present. Jesus has re-sowed God’s world, and some seeds are heading toward harvest. Sure, there are weeds in God’s field, but there’s wheat as well. The mustard seed is growing. The leaven is permeating the dough. People trade other dreams for God’s reign. The net is in the water, and God will sort the good from the bad.

God’s reign is here. Only the good that God intended will last.

Jesus’ kingdom vision was inspiring, but was it credible? Compared to Herod or Caesar, what kind of king was Jesus of Nazareth?

Continue reading “How does Jesus become king? (Matthew 13:53-58)”

Why woe? (Matthew 11:20-24)

Why did Jesus announce woes on towns like Capernaum?

Open Matthew 11:20-24.

Many of us skip over the bits where Jesus announces woes. We prefer the blessings. But please don’t play ostrich here. It’s important. The bits we don’t understand are friends that can open our eyes to fresh ways of seeing. Continue reading “Why woe? (Matthew 11:20-24)”

Why did Jesus appoint 12 apostles? (Matthew 10:1)

The appointment of 12 apostles to Jesus’ government marks a significant step towards the restoration of God’s kingship over the earth.

Open Matthew 10:1.

Appointing twelve leaders would have had special significance in Jesus’ culture. Israel found their identity in the twelve tribes descended from Jacob. But Israel had been scattered all over the ancient world “like sheep without a shepherd” (9:36). The king felt an urgency to gather such a great harvest. He instructed his followers to entreat the harvest owner to appoint workers (9:38). Then he commissioned them: twelve Jewish men entrusted with the authority of the king, foundation stones for re-forming Israel. Continue reading “Why did Jesus appoint 12 apostles? (Matthew 10:1)”

Do you recognize the king’s authority? (Matthew 9:32-34)

Don’t miss the authority of the servant king.

Open Matthew 9:32-34.

Jesus is doing something unique. He’s demonstrating his kingship before his people even acknowledge him as king. That’s not how it’s usually done.

Politicians work the other way around. “Put us in power,” they say, “and we’ll fix everything.” It’s an ancient technique. 3000 years ago, David’s son Absalom wanted to be king, and this is how he went about it:

2 Samuel 15:3–4 (ESV)
3 Absalom would say to him, “See, your claims are good and right, but there is no man designated by the king to hear you.” 4 Then Absalom would say, “Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.”

Jesus isn’t seeking people’s approval so he can become their king. He sees himself as the divinely appointed king, so he uses his regal authority to remove every form of oppression from his people. Just look at his track record:

Continue reading “Do you recognize the king’s authority? (Matthew 9:32-34)”

Jesus’ authority on earth (Matthew 9:2-8)

When Jesus healed and forgave sins, was he showing his deity or his human authority?

Open Matthew 9:2-8.

Matthew 9:2-8 (my translation)
2 Look, they presented him with a paralysed person restricted to a stretcher. Having seen their trust, Jesus said to the paraplegic, “Be encouraged, child, your sins are revoked.” 3 Look, some of the Bible scholars said among themselves, “He’s blaspheming!”
4 Seeing how they were thinking, he said, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? 5 What’s easier? To say, ‘Your sins are revoked’ or to say ‘Get up and walk’? 6 So you can know that the son of man has authority on the earth to revoke sins,” he says to the paralysed person, “Get up, pick up your stretcher, and head off home.” 7 Having been raised up, he went off home. 8 When the crowds saw it, they were overawed and honoured the God who gave such authority to people.

When Jesus finally mentions someone’s sin in the New Testament, it’s to revoke it. The Bible scholars (scribes) weren’t happy. Jesus revoking sins? They can’t let him do that! They need to drag him down into the morass of human sin too. He’s a sinner, they say, a blasphemer.

Blasphemy isn’t just saying a naughty word against God; it’s demeaning our sovereign’s authority, often by making a claim to that authority. When Assyria attacked Jerusalem in King Hezekiah’s day, the Assyrian general claimed to be more powerful than Israel’s God. He claimed God had given him authority to take Jerusalem (2 Kings 18:25, 35). Isaiah denounced his claim as blasphemy (2 Kings 19:6, 22 NIV). When the scribes label Jesus as a blasphemer, they reject his claim to speak and act on earth on behalf of Israel’s sovereign God. Continue reading “Jesus’ authority on earth (Matthew 9:2-8)”

What if people don’t want Jesus as king? (Matthew 8:28-34)

Can the Jewish Messiah save the world? What if people won’t submit to him?

GalileeFromGolanHeights_20170513_171959
Looking across the Sea of Galilee from the Golan Heights

Open Matthew 8:28-34.

Matthew is proclaiming Jesus’ kingship. His people are surprised at his authority (7:21-29). His authority extends to outcasts (8:1-4), officers of their oppressor’s army (8:5-13), even beyond the borders of the land to the turbulent sea (8:23-27).

What about the land across the sea ruled by non-Jews? Does Jesus authority extend there? What if they don’t want him as their king?

Continue reading “What if people don’t want Jesus as king? (Matthew 8:28-34)”

When your life is threatened (Matthew 8:23-27)

When so much is out of control, can Jesus restore this unruly world?

Open Matthew 8:23-27.

Matthew 8:23-27 (my translation)
23 As he boarded the boat, his students followed him. 24 And look! The sea became severely agitated so the boat dipped into the waves, but he was sleeping. 25 They came and roused him saying, “Lord, save us! We’re perishing.” 26 He says to them, “Why are you fearful, trusting so little?” Then, rising up, he told off the winds and the sea. It settled to a great calm. 27 The people were astonished saying, “What kind of person is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”

What kind of person indeed! In the ancient world, the sea was outside the boundaries of the nations, beyond human control. Matthew’s point is that Jesus has authority over the natural world, even the parts that are unruly and unruled. Continue reading “When your life is threatened (Matthew 8:23-27)”