Is Faith An Immediate Gift Of God?

I felt compelled to write on this subject because of the constant abuse of scripture that I hear from certain popular teachers and apologists of the Calvinist persuasion. One of the main offenders is Matt Slick of the CARM organization. In his daily radio program he has many times twisted certain scripture passages in order to affirm that faith is an immediate gift of God to the elect. Other popular figures who teach this same concept are John Piper and John MacArthur. Their belief is that man is incapable of belief because he is born spiritually dead (another false idea that I refute here Spiritual Death – Truth or Myth?) and therefore must first be made spiritually alive. When one has been made alive, by an act of God without any cooperation from the man, the first product of this new life is faith. Some Calvinist expositors are more crass and simply assert that when God is ready for one of his elect to be saved he puts the necessary faith in them. There are typically three main proof texts which are trotted out in order to insure the audience that this is a biblical teaching: Eph. 2:8, Phil. 1:29, and unbelievably John 6:29 (this one is a favorite of Matt Slick in particular). I want to show how each of these passages is distorted by these teachers in order to uphold the presupposition of their systematic theology.

Ephesians 2:8-9

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Here is, in the mind of the Calvinists, the proof text extraordinaire for the idea that faith is a gift of God, which must be bestowed upon a man, apart from anything the man does, rather than an ability and responsibility that all men have. It is easy to see how they derive that concept from this verse, for they read the verse like this:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith. And this faith is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.

But there are serious problems with reading this verse in that manner. Let’s go through them.

1.) The word this in the phrase “and this not from yourselves” is a neuter gender pronoun. In biblical Greek, as in all languages which have grammatical gender, the gender of pronouns must match the gender of the nouns to which they refer. Now the word for faith, in the Greek, pisteos, is a feminine noun. Therefore the first and most formidable objection that can be made against the Calvinist interpretation of this verse is that the grammar is decisively against it. The neuter pronoun this simply cannot be referring to the feminine noun faith.

Now remarkably, some have even tried to simply deny the validity of this evidence, saying that sometimes neuter pronouns can refer to feminine or masculine nouns in Greek. But that is just nonsense! How far will people go to sure-up their pet doctrines? Others take a more nuanced approach to overcoming this evidence. John MacArthur, for example, in the MacArthur New Testament Commentary, asserts that this evidence “poses no problem, however, as long as it is understood that that does not refer precisely to the noun faith but to the act of believing.”  He does not explain how his assertion is arrived at, he simply states it then moves on, and we are supposed to just believe what he says without question. Paul did not speak about the “act of believing“, which MacArthur thinks would be neuter, but he spoke of “faith“, which is indisputably feminine.

John Piper, in a 2013 article on his Desiring God website, states this regarding what the word this refers to in Eph. 2:8:

The question is not settled by the fact that in Greek “this” is singular and neuter, while “grace” and “faith” are both feminine. “This” is just as ambiguous in Greek as it is in English.

What does that even mean? He does not explain; he merely asserts then moves on. But the word this in the Greek (touto) is not ambiguous, it is clearly neuter in gender. There is a feminine form of the pronoun that Paul could have used if he was making this to refer to faith, but he didn’t. In the next section of the article he gives “four pointers to seeing faith as a gift,” the first being:

1. When Paul says “this is not from you, it is the gift of God,” he seems to be referring to the whole process grace-faith-salvation. That may be why “this” is neuter and not feminine.

This brings me to my next point.

2.)  When there is no neuter noun in a sentence to which a neuter pronoun can refer to, then the neuter pronoun is referring to a verb or some action just spoken of in the context. Here are some examples:

  • Matt. 9:28 – “Jesus said to them, ‘Do you believe I am able to do this.'”  This refers to the request of the blind men to be able to see.
  • Matt. 19:26 –  “With men this is impossible, but all things are possible with God.” This refers to rich men being able to enter the kingdom.
  • Luke 1:34 –  “Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be since I am a virgin.’ ” This refers to Mary conceiving a child without sexual intercourse.
  • Luke 10:28 –  “Jesus answered him, ‘You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.’ ”  This refers to loving God and your neighbor.

So because there is no prior neuter noun in Eph. 2:8 for the pronoun this to refer back to, it can only refer back to “you have been saved.” But as you can see from the point made by John Piper, this is not sufficient. He insists it must refer to the whole process of “grace-faith-salvation.” John MacArthur takes a different view. He rejects the idea that this is referring to the whole process, i.e. being saved by grace through faith, because

the adding of ‘and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God’ would be redundant, because grace is defined as an unearned act of God. If salvation is of grace, it has to be an undeserved gift of God.”

MacArthur, as noted earlier, thinks this refers to the “act of believing.” Not only is he wrong on that point but the above quote shows that he also misses the point of what Paul is saying, which leads to my next point.

3.)  Most commentators, especially of the Calvinist persuasion, have failed to pick up on Paul’s use of a common Semitic literary device in Eph. 2:8-9. This device is known as synonymous parallelism. This is when an author will state a proposition and then restate the proposition by the use of nearly synonymous words or phrases. This technique is pervasive throughout the Hebrew scriptures and is illustrated in the following examples:

  • Deut. 32:7 –  “Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you.”
  • 1 Sam. 15:22b –  “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”
  • 1 Kings 12:16b –  “What share do we have in David, what part in Jesse’s son?”
  • Job 34: 10 –  “. . . Far be it from God to do evil, from the Almighty to do wrong. He repays a man for what he has done; he brings upon him what his conduct deserves.”
  • Ps. 33:10-11 –  “The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever; the purposes of his heart through all generations.”
  • Is. 57:1 –  “The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands . . .”

Now lets look again at Eph. 2:8-9 to see how this device helps us to understand the passage.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, so that no one can boast.

The two phrases which are underlined are parallel thoughts i.e. what we receive from God by grace is necessarily the gift of God, and whatever is the gift of God to us necessarily comes to us by grace. Likewise, the two phrases which are not in italics are parallel to each other and express the same thought. What Paul is telling the Ephesians is that what is by grace (and so is the gift of God) cannot be from ourselves ( and so not by our works). The free gift of grace in this sentence is salvation not faith. The phrase through faith is a parenthesis which simply tells us how this free gift is received on our part. This leads me to my final point.

4.)  If we take this to refer to faith then all of the phrases which follow must refer to faith also. So then we would end up with faith being a) not from ourselves b) the gift of God, and c) not of works. Now the problem is with c) not of works. Is Paul really saying that faith is not of works? This makes no sense and is not consistent with Paul’s ideas of grace, faith and works. For example, in Rom. 9:32 he tells us why the Jews of his day did not attain the righteousness they pursued,Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. Here we see that righteousness, i.e. justification before God, is attained by faith and not by works. Later {11:5-6} he says that a remnant of Jews did attain it, a remnant “chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” In Paul’s soteriology, salvation is a free gift of God’s grace received on our part by faith rather than as a result of works {see Rom. 4:1-8; 1 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5-7}. Paul’s point is that salvation must be received by faith rather than come as a reward for our works, in order to maintain it being a gift of grace. Paul never states that the faith by which we receive God’s gift of grace is itself a gift of grace or that this faith is “not of works.” Nor does Paul ever state what Calvinists often assert — that if faith were not a direct gift from God it would be a work on our part. These are problems that Calvinist theology creates and then attempts to solve by philosophical maneuvering.

Therefore, Eph. 2:8-9 in no way supports the Calvinistic concept of faith as a direct gift of God.

Philippians 1:29

“For it has been granted you on behalf of Messiah not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.”

This verse is usually included in a short list of scripture references prooftexting the idea of faith being a gift of God. The list is always short because prooftexts for this doctrine are few and far between. The verses cited in such lists are also ineffectual in establishing the doctrine because other more plausible interpretations can be given for them, as is the case with Phil. 1:29

This passage is often quoted by Matt Slick on his radio show as a proof of the idea that individuals cannot believe in Christ unless God grants or gives them the faith to do so. But, as with other supposed prooftexts, he and other Calvinists are simply missing the point of what Paul is saying here. First of all, Paul’s main point is not that faith is a  gift from God, but that the suffering which the Philippians were undergoing was not surprising or unexpected but rather was something they should have regarded as inevitable.

Paul is writing to a predominately or even wholly Gentile congregation. Philippi was a Roman colony where many retired legionnaires from the Roman army had settled. History tells us that there were few Jews who lived there, so few, in fact, that there were not enough of them to constitute a synagogue. This is why Paul and his companions went out of the city gates of Philippi to the river on the first Sabbath after arriving there, instead of to the local synagogue, as was his normal practice {see Acts 16:13 and 17:2}. It is highly likely that there were no Jewish converts in Philippi. So when Paul writes his letter to the congregation there he is addressing Gentile believers.

This background information helps us to understand Paul’s meaning in Phil. 1:29. Paul is not saying  that faith in Messiah had been granted or given to them as individuals, but that the Gentiles had been granted, along with Jews, the privilege of not only believing in Messiah, but also the privilege to suffer for him. This interpretation is confirmed by two passages in the book of Acts. In chapter 11, after Peter explains to the brothers in Jerusalem how God had called him to preach the gospel to Cornelius, a Roman, and his family and how they were saved in the same way the Jews were, the Jewish brothers praised God and said:

“So then, God has granted even to the Gentiles repentance unto life.”    v. 18

In chapter 14, upon arriving back in Antioch from his first mission to the Gentiles, Paul reported to the congregation there

. . . all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles.    v. 27

We see from these passages that it was to Gentiles, as an ethnic group, that God had granted repentance and opened a door of faith. In other words, before this, only Jews were given the opportunity to repent and believe in Messiah, but now God was granting the Gentiles the same opportunity that the Jews had, i.e. to believe in Messiah for salvation. Therefore, Phil. 1:29 fails as a prooftext for the concept that faith is a direct gift of God.

John 6:29

“Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: that you believe in the one he has sent.”

I don’t think I have ever heard anyone else besides Matt Slick attempt to use this verse as a prooftext for the concept of Faith as a direct gift of God. He usually does so by merely quoting the verse and then stating something to the effect that faith is God’s work in us, as if this is just the obvious meaning of the verse. But is Slick’s take on this passage really all that obvious? I don’t think so. I checked a number of the popular commentaries and could not find any that understood the passage as Slick does, so it can’t be as obvious as he thinks. These commentaries interpreted ‘the work of God‘ in the following ways:

  • the thing that is acceptable to God
  • such work as God will approve
  • not works, but one work that is required
  • this is the work that God requires, that you believe
  • the work most pleasing to God and the foundation of all others: that you believe
  • this is the work which God wills, that you believe
  • faith is put as a moral act or work

Again, no commentary I checked understood that Jesus was saying that our believing was the work of God in us. The context is clear. Jesus tells them in v. 27, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that remains unto everlasting life.” They then respond, “What must we do in order to work the works of God?” It should be clear that what they meant by “the works of God” was not the work that God himself performs, but rather the work that God requires them to perform. Jesus then responds with our text.

So why does Matt Slick think this verse says that our believing is God’s work? Because that is what his theological presupposition dictate that he see in this passage. Slick is simply reading his presupposition into the text. His systematic tells him that faith comes to an individual by an act or work of God within the individual, and so he just reads the verse in a way that fits. This is not exegesis.

Other Considerations

There are two passages in the gospels which I think are detrimental to the theological idea that a person can believe in Messiah only if God enables him to; only if God gives him the faith to believe. In Matt. 8:5-13 Jesus has an encounter with a Roman centurion who displays  a greater faith in him than anyone in Israel. Verse 10 says that Jesus was astonished by the man’s faith. In Mark 6:1-6 Jesus goes to his hometown of Nazareth, where he is not well received. Verse 6 tells us that Jesus was amazed at the unbelief of the people. Now think with me for a moment. If this Calvinistic concept were in fact true, then Jesus would certainly have held it to be true. My question then is this — how could someone who thinks that faith must be given to a person by God, apart from which they could never believe, ever be astonished at someones faith or amazed at someones unbelief? If Jesus held the concept that a man could not believe in him without God bestowing the requisite faith and that unbelief was just the natural state of man, how could he possibly ever be amazed or astonished by a persons faith or lack of it? Wouldn’t he have known that the unbelief of the Nazarenes was just their natural state and that God had obviously not given them the necessary faith? Wouldn’t he had known that the centurion’s faith was not anything he himself had conjured up but that God had obviously granted it to him? Why then the amazement and astonishment of Jesus?

One further consideration. Someone might say, “So what is the big deal if faith is or isn’t a gift from God? Why does it matter?” The answer to that question should be obvious but let me spell it out. If the natural state of man is unbelief and a person can only believe the gospel if God directly implants faith within him, then how could God hold men accountable for their unbelief? This would be tantamount to God judging a blind man for failing to see or a lame man for failing to run. Such a thing would be injustice in God. This conundrum is aggravated even further by the Calvinist doctrine of Irresistible Grace, which teaches that once God has done this work of faith in the heart of a man, that man will believe, yea it is impossible for him to not believe. This eliminates any genuine accountability on the part of unbelievers, who are nevertheless condemned for their unbelief {Mark 16:15; John 3:18, 36; 2 Thess. 2:12}. How can this be true of the God of Scripture, the God of justice and righteousness, equity and fairness? Beware! Lest your theology attribute to God that which is unworthy of his perfection.

Please let me know if this article has been a help to you.

 

 

 

 

 

God And Jesus In Revelation (Part 1)

In this study we will survey the book of Revelation to determine if it teaches or supports, in any way, the doctrines of the Trinity and the deity of Jesus. My plan is to do this in two parts. In this first part we will examine all verses which describe the persons of God and of Jesus and which show a clear distinction between the person of God and the person of Jesus. In Part 2 we will examine all the verses in the book of Revelation typically used as support for either the Trinity or the deity of Christ.

The God

The Revelation uses several specific designations for God which clearly differentiate him from Jesus. First, and most obvious is the God. In every case where the word God (Gr. theos) is used in Revelation, it is accompanied by the definite article (Gr. ho). This was the typical way that NT authors differentiated the use of theos with reference to the true God from it’s use with reference to other than the true God. When the NT authors, all Jews, speak of ho theos they mean the God of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Yahweh {Ex. 3:15}. The very first occurrence of ho theos in Revelation is in verse one and clearly and explicitly distinguishes the God from Jesus:

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which the God gave him . . .

Here we see that the God is said to have given a revelation to someone and that someone is Jesus Christ

Now here is where the trinitarian apologist will play a trick on you. Although the trinitarian believes that God is a three person being, he will rarely, if ever, acknowledge that any single occurrence of ho theos in the NT is actually a reference to this three person being. Instead, they will insist that nearly every occurrence of ho theos is actually a reference to only one of the three persons, namely the Father. Why is this? Because to read ho theos as the Trinity itself would, in most instances, result in an unsatisfactory reading of the text. Take the above verse, for example. If ho theos there were to be taken as the Trinity, then you would end up with this absurdity, from a trinitarian perspective:

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which the Triune God gave him . . .

This would be unacceptable to a trinitarian, since in their view Jesus is supposed to be a member of the Triune God, and this verse would be distinguishing Jesus as a completely different being from the Triune God. Therefore the trinitarian is forced by his presupposition to understand ho theos as something other than the Trinity. Since ho theos in this verse is distinguished from Jesus Christ then there can be only  two other candidates for who ho theos could be, the Father or the Holy Spirit. Now for some reason, trinitarians never seem to insist that ho theos ever is referring to the Holy Spirit. So then we are left with ho theos being a reference  to the Father only, in nearly every occurrence.

Now I agree that ho theos, in nearly every one of it’s occurrences, is indeed a reference to the Father, but I do so for entirely different reasons. I do so because this is explicitly stated in the NT, e.g.

  • John 17:3 –  “. . . that they may know you (Father), the only true God . . .”
  • 1 Cor. 8:6 –  “. . . yet for us (believers) there is but one God, the Father . . .”
  • Eph. 4:6 –  “. . . one God and Father of all, who is over all . . . “
  • Eph. 1:17 –  “. . . [asking] that the God . . . the Father of glory . . .”
  • John 20:17 –  “I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
  • Also every letter of Paul has a salutation which announces a blessing upon the church from “God, our Father” or “God, the Father”

So this is why I understand God in Rev. 1:1 to be the Father, and that this God, who is the Father, is a distinct being from Jesus Christ, to whom this God gives the revelation. Now we see why the trinitarian has to take God here as the Father only, as distinct from the other persons of the Trinity, because there is such a clear distinction being made in the verse between God and Jesus Christ. The trinitarian is in a position where he has to arbitrarily read ho theos as the Father, thereby rendering the clear distinction being made in the verse a distinction between persons within the Trinity, rather than, as the text explicitly presents, a distinction between the being of the God and the being of Jesus Christ.

The next way that the God is identified in this book is by the phrase, found for the first time in 1:4, ‘the one who is, and who was, and who is to come.’ This identifying phrase is found four more times in this book, with variation, at 1:8, 4:8, 11:17 and 16:5 (v.7). In each of it’s occurrences, except for 1:4, it is used in conjunction with another designation for the God, namely ‘the Lord God Almighty.’ Many see the phrase as a sort of paraphrase of the divine name YHWH,  and as expressing eternal self-existence. While it may be probable that the phrase is an interpretation of the name YHWH it is not at all certain that the thought here is of eternal self-existence. The Hebrew mind, as revealed through the Hebrew scriptures, does not appear to have thought of God in such categories as ontology and eternality. Instead, God was portrayed in terms of function and performance within the covenant relationship with his people. When God said “I will be what I will be” (this is likely a better translation of ehyeh asher ehyeh, from Ex. 3:14, rather than the traditional “I am who I am”) it is more probable that he was declaring that he would be to his people whatever the covenant required him to be, rather than making a statement about eternal self-existence. So if  ‘the one who is, and who was, and who is to come‘ is taken to be a restatement of the name YHWH, then we should understand it as saying that he always was, is, and will always be what the covenant promises require him to be.

Once again, as with the title ho theos, the first occurrence of this phrase (1:4) makes a clear distinction between this one and Jesus Christ:

Grace and peace to you from the one who is, and who was, and who is to come . . . and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

It is clear that Jesus Christ is not ‘the one who is . . . ‘, but is distinct from this one. As noted earlier, the next four appearances of this phrase occur in conjunction with this Greek phrase, kyrios ho theos ho pantokrator, which translates literally as Lord, the God, the Almighty. This clearly equates ‘the one who is . . .‘ with ho theos, establishing them as the same being in this book, and distinguishing this one from Jesus Christ.

While the trinitarians’ arbitrary defining of ho theos as God the Father, in distinction from God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, is somewhat understandable, it is hard to see how kyrios ho theos ho pantokrator would not denote the Triune God in their mind. But again, because this one is distinguished from Jesus Christ throughout the book they are forced to see this very full designation for God as referring simply to the Father. This is even harder to understand when we consider the trinitarian penchant for seeing allusions to the Trinity in any appearance of a triple grouping. This appellative phrase contains three titles: kurios, which likely is used here as a stand-in for YHWHho theos = the God; and ho pantokrator = the Almighty. This phrase also appears at 4:8 in connection with the thrice repeated “Holy“. Now most commentators, following the lead of early church fathers, have been wont to see the triple ‘holy’ of Is. 6:3 as an OT allusion to the Trinity, but the same commentators are apparently reluctant to draw the same inference with Rev 4:8. Because the Revelation so clearly distinguishes Lord the God the Almighty from Jesus Christ, the trinitarian is unable to capitalize on the three-fold title and repetition of ‘holy.’

* * *  A word of note here about Rev. 1:8 – There are red-letter editions of some English versions which have these words in red, which tells the reader to take these words as the words of Jesus Christ. But this is completely wrong, as the connection with v. 4 shows. In fact, the verse itself tells us who spoke the words, “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” It does not identify the speaker as Jesus Christ but as ‘Lord the God, the one who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’ We have already seen that Jesus Christ is distinguished from this one. To put these words in red is surely a sign of translation bias.

* * *  As to the meaning of ‘Alpha and Omega‘ and whether or not this appellation is ever applied to Jesus Christ in this book, I will address later in this article.

Him Who Sits On The Throne

In chapter four, the Revelation further identifies the God, the one who was, and who is, and who is to come, by another distinctive phrase. John is given a vision of:

. . . a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian.     vv, 2-3

John sees other beings around the throne, twenty-four elders, on thrones of their own, and four living creatures, who never stop saying day and night:

Holy, holy, holy is Lord (Yahweh) the God, the Almighty, the one who was, and is , and is to come.   v. 8

We are then told that:

Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever.   vv.9-10

Here we see that the one who sits on the throne is identified as ‘ho theos, the one who was . . .’  The anarthrous use of kurios (Lord) in connection with ho theos, in this verse and in 1:8, 11:17 and 16:7, most likely signifies that kurios is being used as a substitute for the tetragrammaton, i.e. YHWH. Therefore, we have the one sitting on the throne identified as Yahweh, the God, the Almighty one, the one who was , and who is, and who is to come. A further descriptor of this one is found in 4:9-10, “the one who lives into the ages of the ages.” The Revelation gives additional information concerning this one who sits on the throne, who is identified as the God, Yahweh. In v. 11, the twenty-four elders are heard to declare:

Worthy are you our Lord and God to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and because of your will they were existing and were created.

So we are getting a fuller portrait of this one as the book progresses. Now we know that this one is the Creator of all things, this one who sits upon the throne.

Now I want to follow this descriptor in it’s subsequent appearances, which will clearly show a distinction between this one and Jesus Christ. In chapter five we see:

 . . . in the right hand of him who sat on the throne, a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals.    v.1

In v. 4 John weeps because no one is found worthy to open the scroll. But then John is told to stop weeping for :

The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and it’s seven seals.

In the very next verse this one is portrayed as “. . . a lamb, as if it had been slain.” That this lamb is identical to Jesus Christ in the Revelation is not doubted by any trinitarian commentator or apologist that I know of, and is verified by 22:16:

I, Jesus, . . . am the root . . . of David . . .

So now, having established that Jesus Christ is the one presented under the image of the lamb, let’s see how he is presented in relation to the one who sits upon the throne.

  1. 5:7 – The lamb comes to the one who sits on the throne and takes the scroll from his right hand, thus establishing these two figures as separate and distinct beings.
  2. 5:9 –  The lamb is said to have purchased men for the God by his blood, therefore he cannot be the God.
  3. 5:13b – The lamb is again differentiated from him who sits on the throne.
  4. 6:16 –  The lamb is distinct from the one on the throne.
  5. 7:10 –  The lamb is distinguished from the one on the throne.

We should also note a fact that has seemed to escape the notice of many readers of the Revelation, specifically, that no where in the book is Jesus Christ a.k.a. the Lamb, ever described as him who sits on the throne. As the above passages show he is always someone other than he ‘who sits on the throne.’ Yet a Google search for sermons – The lamb on the throne, does not fail to find a number of sermons and articles with this title. The lyrics of two popular worship songs  by Hillsongs, ‘Lord of Lord’s’ and ‘Worthy is the Lamb’ declare that it is the Lamb who is seated on the throne. This shows the degree of indoctrination that has occurred within the Christian world, for although there is a close relationship between the Lamb and the one who sits on the throne in the Revelation, the plain fact is, the Lamb is never portrayed as the one who is sitting on the throne.

Further Distinctions

Other passages in the book continue to show a differentiation between the God and Jesus Christ. At 11:15 we are told that great voices were heard in heaven saying:

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord (i.e. the God) and of his Christ (i.e. Jesus), and he will reign for ever and ever.

We will come back to this verse shortly, but for now I just want to point out the clear distinction between the God and Jesus Christ. Here the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of two individuals, the God, denominated here as our Lord, and this Lord’s Christ (Gr. christos = Heb. mashiach = anointed one). This recalls the OT precedent of God’s kingdom being ruled by the God, the ultimate, supreme King, in and through his anointed one, the human ruler appointed to represent him on the throne of Israel {see Ps. 2; Ps. 45; Ps. 89:20-29; 1 Chron. 28:5-7; 29:23; 2 Chron. 9:8; 13:4-8}. The language is clear – the anointed king (i.e. the mashiach) belonged to the God, and as his servant he ruled by God’s will. Note the personal possessive pronoun in our verse and in Ps. 2:2 & 6 (his anointed one; my king). It is instructive to see how the apostles understood this concept of Jesus as the Lord’s Messiah. In Acts 4:24-30, in a prayer offered to the God, after quoting Ps 2:1-2, they speak of “your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.” That Jesus belongs to the God as his servant surely communicates the fact of a clear numerical distinction between them. 

And in the same vein as this verse is 12:10:

Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ.

Other verses which establish a clear distinction between the God and Jesus are 14:4, 12; 19:15; 20:4, 6; 21:22, 23; 22:1, 3, 21. As noted earlier, the trinitarian must arbitrarily assign to the God the meaning of the Father and never the meaning the Trinity, because to do so would wreak havoc on his system. So then the trinitarian ends up with a situation where none of the appellations of the Deity in this book ever refer to the Triune being but always to only one of the persons of the Triune being, namely the Father.

Having seen, that from the trinitarian’s perspective, the God can only refer to the Father, we find that the trinitarian then encounters another problem. Throughout the book different created beings refer to this one, who must be the Father alone, as our God. Here is the breakdown:

  • 4:11 – the twenty-four elders
  • 5:10 –  the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures
  • 7:3 –  four angels
  • 7:10 –  a great multitude of people
  • 7:12 –  all the angels
  • 12:10 (2x) –  an unidentified voice in heaven, probably an angel
  • 19:1, 5, 6 –  a great multitude in heaven

Now it is a curious thing that all of these created beings refer to this one, who must be the Father alone, as our God. This would seem to suggest that the God of these created beings is the Father only and not the Triune God. The trinitarian will object and argue that the fact that these beings refer to the Father as our God does not imply that Jesus also is not their God. Now of course, this is just arguing in the absence of any evidence, for no where in this book is Jesus ever referred to as our God by any created being. The objection is based solely on the trinitarian’s presupposition that Jesus is God along with the Father. Not only do all these created beings refer to the Father as their God, but so does Jesus himself in 3:2 & 12:

. . . I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God . . . Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God . . . I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God . . . which is coming down out of heaven from my God.

John also refers to the Father as Jesus’ God at 1:6. In the context of the Revelation this would seem to place Jesus on the creature side of the Creator/creature divide. On top of this, the God himself, who can only be the Father, declares himself to be the God of his people i.e. the overcoming believers. So then, in the Revelation, the Father alone would seem to be the God of believers and Jesus is never said to be the God of the believers.

Finally, it must be stated emphatically that none of the identifying descriptors used in this book to designate the God, including the God itself, is ever used of Jesus Christ. He is never called the God, the Almighty, the one who is, who was, and who is to come, the one who sits on the throne, or Lord God Almighty. While this is true, there are at least a couple of titles which Jesus shares along with the God, which we need to examine.

Shared Titles

Lord

The first shared title we will examine is ‘Lord’ (Gr. kurios). Here is where the trinitarian believes he has solid ground for thinking of Jesus, in the Revelation, and indeed in the rest of the NT, as being God, along with the Father. Their confidence is based on the fact that kurios is the word used in the LXX to translate the tetragrammaton. The NT’s quotations of the OT also use kurios in this way. This, in their mind, amounts to Jesus being explicitly called Yahweh. Therefore, the trinitarian believes he has a rock solid case to regard Jesus as Yahweh, the God, yet as distinct from the Father, who is also Yahweh, the God. Is this reasoning valid? When trinitarian apologists make this case they usually neglect to inform their audience of all the relevant facts, whether purposely or by oversight I do not know. While it is certainly true that kurios is used in both the LXX and the NT as a surrogate word for YHWH, it is merely an assumption on the trinitarians’ part that the application of this title to Jesus in the NT is also being used in that same way.

The misapprehension of the trinitarian apologists is that kurios is used in the NT primarily to denote the divine name. But this is easily shown to be fallacious. Besides being used as a surrogate for YHWH and as a title given to Jesus, kurios, in the NT, as well as in the LXX, is regularly used of men. The use of this word is ambiguous and has a wide range of application. The word denotes one who, having some level of authority, due to status or rank or ownership, is worthy of respect, honor and obedience, in accord with his station. It applied, in both the OT and NT, to husbands, heads of households, land owners, owners of slaves, government officials, kings, agents acting on behalf of a superior, angels, and prophets. Some specific individuals who were so designated include  Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Saul, David, Elijah, and Elisha. In the NT to kurio (the lord) is applied to the Emperor Nero, at Acts 25:26, by the Roman governor of Judea Felix. Different forms of kurios and ho kurios are used in the NT and are translated, according to context, as lord, Lord, the lord, and the Lord. The word ‘lord‘ is typically capitalized when used of God and Jesus and left lower case when referring to others.

Now kurios, when applied to God in the NT,  is often simply a substitute for YHWH, but not always. In some cases it is being used as the translation of the Hebrew word adon or adonai, as the title Lord applied to God. It is always a translation for adon when used of men, and so, it is my contention, that it is never meant as a substitute for YHWH when used of Jesus, but rather simply as the title Lord.

Now lets see how the word kurios is applied to both God and Jesus in the Revelation. It occurs 24 times in the book; 14x it is applied to God, 6x to Jesus, and one ambiguous use (either God or Jesus). Besides these occurrences it is applied 2x to rulers and once to an angel. Now when it is applied to God it is being done so in accordance with established OT designations for God. Since we have no extant manuscripts of the Revelation prior to the middle of the 3rd century we have no way of knowing if the original contained the divine name YHWH or not. The tetragram was still in use in Greek manuscripts of the OT up until the middle of the 2nd century. After this point nearly all LXX manuscripts have substitutions for YHWH. Many believe that because all OT quotations in the NT have kurios in place of YHWH, that this was done because of the LXX reading that way. But the  manuscripts of the LXX that existed at the time the NT was being written did contain the tetragram YHWH, written either in old Hebrew or paleo-Hebrew or in Greek transliteration. So is it possible that at least some of the original NT autographs contained the tetragrammaton? We can’t be certain, but it seems clear that the designations for God in the Revelation are using established substitutions for YHWH, whether these were original to the author or made by later copyists. The best way to determine how kurios is being used is to translate the Greek back into Hebrew. I am taking kurios without the definite article to be a substitute for YHWH (this makes sense because YHWH is God’s personal name and never occurs in the OT with the definite article), and with the article, a translation of adonai. Here is how I see the use of kurios in the Revelation when used of God:

  1. 1:8  – Eng. –  Lord God;  Gr. – kurios ho theos;  Heb. – YHWH elohim – see Gen 2:2-22; 3:3-23; Ps. 68:18; 72:18; 84:11; 1 Chron. 17:16-17; 29:1; Jonah 4:6
  2. 4:8 – Eng. – Lord God Almighty;  Gr. – kurios ho theos ho pantokrator;  Heb. – YHWH eloh(e)(im) seboath – see 2 Sam. 5:10; 1 Kings 19:10, 14; Ps. 59:5; 80:4, 19; 84:8; 89:8; Jer. 5:14; 15:16; 35:17; 38:17; 44:7; Hosea 12:5; Amos 3:13; 4:13; 5:14-16; 6:8, 14
  3. 4:11 – Eng. – our Lord and our God;  Gr. – ho kurios kai ho theos hemon;  Heb. -adownenu welohenu –  see Nehemiah 10:29; 1 Chron. 13:3; 29:13; 2 Chron. 20:7, 12; Neh. 9:32; Dan. 9:15
  4. 11:4 – Eng. – the Lord of the earth;  Gr. – tou kuriou tes ges;  Heb. – adon ha-ares – see Josh. 3:11; Zech. 4:14; Ps. 97:5
  5. 11:15 – Eng. – our Lord;  Gr. – tou kuriou hemon;  Heb. – adownenu – see Ps. 8:1, 9; 147:5
  6. 11:17 – same as 2.
  7. 15:3 –  same as 2.
  8. 15:4 – Eng. – O Lord;  Gr. – kurie;  Heb. – YHWH or adonai
  9. 16:7 –  same as 2.
  10. 18:8 – same as 1.
  11. 19:6 – Eng. – our Lord God Almighty;  Gr. – kurios ho theos hemon ho pantokrator;  Heb. – YHWH elohenu seboath – no precise OT match
  12. 21:22 – Eng. – the Lord God Almighty;  Gr. – ho kurios ho theos ho pantokrator;  Heb. – ha – adon (or adonai) YHWH seboath  –  see Is. 3:1, 15; 10:33; 19:4; 22:5, 12, 14, 15; 28:22;  Jer. 46:10; 49:5; 50:31
  13. 22:5 – same as 1.
  14. 22:6 – Eng. –  the Lord the God … ;  Gr. – ho kurios ho theos;  Heb. – ha-adown (or adonai) elohe –  Num. 16:22; 1 Sam. 17:45; Jer. 32:27

Now here is how I see the use of kurios in relation to Jesus:

  1. 1:10 – Eng. – the day of the Lord;  Gr. – te kuriake hemera;  Heb. – hayyowm ha-adon
  2. 11:8 – Eng. – their Lord;  Gr. – ho kurios auton;  Heb. – adonehem
  3. 17:14 – Eng. – Lord of lords;  Gr. – kurios kurion;  Heb. – adone ha-adonim
  4. 19:16 – same as 3.
  5. 22:20 – Eng. – Come Lord Jesus;  Gr. – erchou kurie Iesou;  Heb. – bow adon Yeshua
  6. 22:21 – Eng. – the Lord Jesus Christ;  Gr. –  tou kuriou Iesou Christou;  Heb. – adon Yeshua hammashiach

The final occurrence of kurios in connection with God or Jesus is at 14:3, which could refer to either. If to God, it should probably be regarded as a surrogate for YHWH; if to Jesus, then in the sense of the Hebrew adon.

*** One final occurrence is at 7:14 and refers to one of the elders before the throne:  Eng. – my lord;  Gr. – kurie mou;  Heb. – adoni.

So what do we learn from this data? We find that when kurios refers to the God it is only sometimes used as a substitute for YHWH; at other times it translates the OT title adon or adonai (adon= lord; adonai is the intensive plural of adoni= my lord). This use is seen in the scriptures referenced under the numbers 3,4,5,12 and 14. We also find that when kurios refers to Jesus it is always a translation of the title adon, used in the OT of kings and rulers, as well as of God. There is never an instance, in the six occurrences of kurios applied to Jesus, where it could be regarded as a substitute for YHWH:

  1. 1:10 – The article before kurios makes it unlikely to be a surrogate for YHWH. The Lord’s day refers either to Sunday, the day the Lord Jesus rose from the dead, or to the day of the Lord Jesus – see 1 Cor. 1:8; 2 Cor. 1:14
  2. 11:8 – Here kurios cannot be a surrogate for YHWH because of the possessive pronoun, i.e. their Lord. In the OT, YHWH, which is the proper name of God, never occurs with a possessive pronoun suffix.
  3. 17:14 – Because the two appearances of kurios are parallel to the two uses of basileus (king) then kurios kurion cannot mean YHWH of lords, but must mean the Lord of lords.
  4. 19:16 – same as above
  5. 22:20 – Come YHWH Jesus would simply not make sense, therefore kurios is simply the title Lord used of Jesus.
  6. 22:21 – same as above

So we find that the divine name YHWH is never applicable to Jesus in the Revelation. But what of the fact that Jesus and the God have the title ‘Lord’ ( adon in the OT) in common; does this necessitate a belief that they are the same being or share the same nature? Absolutely not! The title ‘Lord’ should not be regarded as a divine title that only God can bear. Rather this title, like other titles which God applies to himself, such as king, master, savior, redeemer, father, judge, shepherd and the like, are actually titles common among men. God deigns to take these titles upon himself in order that his covenant people might better understand how he has chosen to relate to them; it is a revelation of the ways he has promised to function or perform toward them in covenant relationship. Of course, when these titles are applied to God they are to be taken in the supreme sense, e.g. he is the supreme Lord and King, the supreme Savior and Redeemer, the supreme Father and Judge, etc.

That Jesus is ‘Lord’ in a lesser sense than the God can be seen in the Revelation by a number of statements predicated of him. In 1:1 God gives the revelation to Jesus. Why could not Jesus simply make these things known to John, through his messenger? Why was it necessary that he first receive the revelation from another, unless the other is his superior, at whose will he serves. At 2:27 Jesus says that he will give to the overcomers authority over the nations, just as his Father (the God) gave him authority. To be given authority to rule implies that the one from whom that authority was received is the greater. Just as Jesus is superior to the overcomers whom he gives authority to, so too must the God be superior to Jesus, to whom he grants authority to rule. So as the overcomers will rule at the behest of their Lord Jesus, so Jesus rules at the behest of his Lord, the God. This same idea is also present at 3:21. In 5:1-8 the God is described as ‘the one who sat on the throne.’ To this one on the throne, Jesus, under the figure of a lamb having been slaughtered, approaches to receive from his hand the seven sealed scroll. This again shows the superiority of the God over Jesus; it is clear that Jesus is in the subordinate position throughout the scene. In 12:10 the relationship between the God and Jesus is expressed in this way:

Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ.

Here Jesus is portrayed as the Christ (i.e. the anointed one) of the God. This is a clear reference to Ps. 2:2 where we read of Yahweh and his anointed one. This anointed one is seen in v.6 to be Yahweh’s appointed king, installed on Zion to rule on his behalf. This clearly places Jesus in the subordinate place under the God Yahweh. The commentary notes on Ps. 2:7 from the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible explains it well:

Kings in David’s genealogical line also held their kingship by divine adoption, celebrated on the coronation day in Ps. 2. The adoption metaphor in Israel was rooted in the special covenant relationship between Yahweh and the Davidic kings, which used terminology similar to that found in other ancient Near Eastern treaties (cf. 89:3-4, 26-27; 2 Sam. 7:14). The great king was designated as “father” and the vassal king was his “son.” In this way of thinking, the Davidic king was the “son” of the great King, Yahweh, who was the “father” (see note on 45:6).

The Alpha And The Omega – The First And The Last

It is claimed by trinitarians that Jesus should be understood, in the Revelation, to be God along with the God who sits on the throne, because they both bear the titles ‘the Alpha and the Omega’ and ‘the First and the Last.’ The assertion is that these are titles of deity, titles only God can bear. From the trinitarian perspective these titles denote eternal existence, which only God has; and so if Jesus bears these titles then he must be regarded as eternal and hence as God.

The flaw in the trinitarian interpretation of these titles is that Scripture itself never defines these titles in that way, so that it is only an assumption on their part that these titles denote eternality. It may sound reasonable but is it true?  Before we look at the proper way to define what these titles mean, I want to point out something else first.

It is not even certain that Jesus is ever referred to as ‘the Alpha and Omega‘ (A-O), though it is clear that he is called ‘the First and the Last‘ (F-L). A-O occurs three times in most English bibles, at 1:8; 21:6; 22:13, and a fourth time in the KJV and a couple of other lesser used versions, at 1:11. The passage at 1:11 is not included in most modern versions simply because of the manuscript evidence in favor of it’s non-inclusion. 1:8 is applying the title to the  “Lord God (i.e. Yahweh elohim), the one who is , who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” We have seen that this one is always differentiated from Jesus in the Revelation. In 21:6 the one speaking is “he who was seated on the throne,” who is the same as the God and is never Jesus. This leaves us with 22:13. Most commentators take this to be the words of Jesus but the context is ambiguous. The speaker within the narrative keeps changing suddenly, sometime without notice. From 22:1-5, John, the narrator, is the speaker. Then in v. 6 the angel who had been showing John the vision speaks. Verse 7 could be taken as the words of the God or perhaps Jesus, but the speaker is not identified. Just because he says, “Behold I am coming soon” does not necessitate that Jesus be the speaker; God ‘coming’ in retributive judgment is a recurring theme in the OT {see 1 Chron. 16:33; Job 37:22; Ps. 50:3; 96:13; 98:9; Is. 30:27; 35:4; 40:10; 62:11; Hosea 10:12; Micah 1:3} and in the Revelation he is repeatedly said to be the one “who is to come.” Next, in v. 8, John identifies himself as the speaker and then the angel as the speaker in vv. 9-11. Then v. 12 repeats the earlier “Behold I am coming soon,” without any indication of a change of speaker. I think we can take vv. 12-15 as spoken by the God, along with v. 7. Verse 16 begins, “I Jesus” in order to identify a new speaker, Jesus. The whole passage could easily and reasonably be interpreted in this way, which would eliminate Jesus from ever being referred to as A-O.

The next point to consider is whether or not A-O and F-L are synonymous. I see no reason to assume a difference in these titles (along with ‘the Beginning and the End‘ in v. 13); I think it can just be taken as a repetition of thought using different words. Jesus is plainly referred to as F-L in 1:17 and 2:8 and this appellation is used of Yahweh in Is. 41:4; 44:6 and 48:12. The fact that Jesus’ sharing of this epithet with Yahweh does not demand that Jesus be ontologically equal to Yahweh is seen in the true meaning of the phrase.

Again, the trinitarians have asserted that the phrase bespeaks eternality, yet when we examine it’s use in the Isaiah passages this meaning is not at all evident. It’s first occurrence is a little different from the two subsequent occurrences, and reads “I am Yahweh, the first and with the last, I am He.” This is said in response to the question “Who has done this and accomplished it, summoning the generations from the beginning.” In this context eternality has nothing to do with the phrase. The things that God has accomplished are set forth in vv. 2-3 and are done within the generations of time. The phrase seems to imply that no one else but Yahweh has done these things; he stands alone as the source of these things.

In v. 44:6 we read, “This is what Yahweh says . . . “I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God except me.”  This idea that Yahweh is the only God is prominent throughout Is. 40-48, along with the theme of Yahweh’s uniqueness as Creator {see 40:18, 25-28; 42:5; 43:1, 7, 10-11; 44:6-7, 24; 45:5, 12, 18, 21-22; 46:9; 48:13}. In 48:12-13 the phrase occurs in connection with Yahweh being the Creator. This may seem at first to imply that the title denotes deity, but a little thought into the matter may reveal an alternative interpretation. One clue is found in 43:10, “Before Me no god was formed nor will there be after me.”  Could this be what the epithet means – God is the first because no god was before him, and he is the last because no god comes after him. In other words he is alone in his category; he is utterly unique in his class. So then ‘the first and the last‘ could be a statement of uniqueness in one’s category. For Yahweh this means that he alone is God, the Creator. One is ‘the first and the last‘ if there is no one else in his category, if none came before or after him.

In Revelation, F-L is applied to Jesus twice, at 1:17 and 2:8 (I am excluding 22:13 because of the ambiguity of who the speaker is and the likelihood that it is the God). In these two passages there is a common theme linked to the epithet which enlightens us as to what the title means for Jesus:

I am the first and the last. I am the living one; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.     1:17-18

These are the words of him who is the first and the last, who died and came to life again.     2:8

Here we see the category in which Jesus is said to be ‘the first and the last‘ – he is the only man to have died and been raised to immortality, i.e. he is the firstborn from the dead {1:5}. Now someone might object that while he is the first to be raised immortal he is most certainly not the last, for many will follow. But the distinctiveness of Jesus is that he is the firstborn from the dead,  i.e. he has been raised from the dead in an exclusive event, in which no other shared. This was part of the mystery of Messiah not understood by the Jews, that he would die and then be the first to be raised to immortality, separate from the future resurrection of the righteous ones. This event puts Jesus in a class by himself and gives him the place of preeminence over all others, making him the pattern to which all others must be conformed {Rom. 8:29; Col. 1:18; 1 Cor. 15:21-22, 48-49}.

Another possible way to understand the epithet in relation to Jesus is that of his unique role within humanity. He is the first of the new race of immortalized humans, the progenitor of the new creation. He is also the last man to occupy a place of federal headship, into which the rest of humanity is subsumed. Adam was the first human to represent humanity and all in him die. Jesus is the second and last man to represent humanity and all in him will live in immortality. He is the last in that, unlike Adam, Jesus will never be superseded by another federal head.

So then the epithet ‘the first and the last‘ does not denote deity or eternal existence as the trinitarian asserts and so is no indication that Jesus is treated as an eternal and divine being in the Revelation.

King Of Kings And Lord Of Lords

Jesus is given this epithet in 17:14 and 19:16.  It is asserted that this title, which Jesus shares with the God, marks him out as YHWH himself. As for the epithet ‘king of kings’, it is never applied to the God in the Revelation nor to YHWH in the Hebrew scriptures. It is applied to the God once, by Paul, in 1 Tim. 6:15. ‘Lord of lords’ is never applied to the God in the Revelation but is in two OT passages, Deut. 10:17 and Ps. 136:3, as well as in 1 Tim. 6:15. Based on this evidence it is asserted that the epithet applied to Jesus marks him out as Yahweh himself. Is this conclusion inevitable? Only if one’s presuppositions are driving their exegesis.

What we have here are titles which were common among men being applied to the God, but obviously in a supreme sense, as noted earlier. Regarding ‘king of kings’ :

In imperial propaganda, the emperor fancied himself ruler of all the other kings of the earth. Babylonian and Persian kings (Ezra 7:12; Ezek. 26:7; Dan. 2:37) used the title “King of kings” and it remained the title of the Parthian ruler in John’s day.
Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible comment on Rev. 17:14

The same work, commenting on the title ‘Lord of lords’ in Deut. 10:17 says:

The title “Lord of kings” appears in a Philistine letter to Pharaoh and also is found as a title in Phoenicia. The exact title “Lord of lords” is present in Assyrian texts, usually occurring before the late kings of Assyria.

These titles were used of kings who expanded their territories and their dominion over other kings, who then became subservient to them. Jesus will indeed be the King and Lord over all other kings and lords of the earth. The titles are applied to the God in the most ultimate sense. We should also pay attention to the fact that in Deut. 10:17 the ‘Lord of lords’ title, when applied to Yahweh, occurs in conjunction with ‘God of gods’ rather than with ‘King of kings.’ Now I find it significant that this ‘God of gods’ title was not employed in the Revelation in reference to Jesus, which the author could have done if he had wanted his readers to understand Jesus to be the God.

In part 2 we will go chapter by chapter and examine all of the passages usually asserted by trinitarians to be proofs of the Trinity and the deity of Jesus.

 

Why John 12:37-41 Is Not A Prooftext For The Deity Of Jesus

One passage of Scripture which Christian apologists often and confidently employ in the defense of the orthodox Christian belief that Jesus is God (i.e. the God of the OT, Yahweh, the God of Israel), is John 12:37-41:

Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: “Lord who has believed our report and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed.” {Is. 53:1} For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah had further said: “He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn — and I would heal them.” {Is. 6:10} Isaiah said these things because he saw [Messiah’s] glory and spoke concerning him.

Apologist James White explains what he believes John intended the readers of his gospel to take away from this:

… what does John mean when he says that Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him? … In verse 38 he quotes from Isaiah 53:1, the great Suffering Servant passage… He then… quotes from Isaiah 6 and the Temple Vision Isaiah received… In this awesome vision Isaiah sees Yahweh (the LORD) sitting upon his throne… The glory of Yahweh fills his sight… John says, These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory and spoke of Him. John has quoted from two passages in Isaiah… Yet, the immediate context refers to the words from Isaiah 6, and there are other reasons we should see the primary reference as the Isaiah 6 passage. John speaks of Isaiah seeing glory. In Isaiah 6:1 the very same term is used of seeing the LORD, and the very term glory appears in verse 3. Even if we connect both passages together, the fact remains that the only way to define what glory Isaiah saw was to refer to the glory of Isaiah 6:3. And the glory was the glory of Yahweh. There is none other whose glory we can connect with Isaiah’s words.

Therefore, if we ask Isaiah, “Whose glory did you see in your vision of the temple?” he would reply, “Yahweh.” But, if we ask the same question of John, “Whose glory did Isaiah see?” he answers with the same answer – only in it’s fullness, “Jesus.” Who, then, was Jesus to John? None other than the eternal God in human flesh, Yahweh.

White’s interpretation of the passage is typical of what one will find from apologetic websites and books. Many, like White, consider this to be an obvious and air-tight conclusion. But I see a number of problems with this approach to the text, problems which I have never seen any apologist address. This interpretation of the passage is rather shallow, not taking into account all of the details of the text or the obvious problems it entails. But this is typical of apologists for the deity of Christ, seeing evidence of that doctrine in places where it just doesn’t exist. So let’s go through the passage and see if White’s interpretation can stand up to closer scrutiny.

The Sheer Absurdity Of It

The first point I wish to make should be obvious, but for some reason it seems to escape the notice of the apologists. On White’s interpretation of the passage, the apostle John is basically using Isaiah 6 as a prooftext, to show that the man, Jesus of Nazareth, is in reality Yahweh himself. John wants his readers to believe that Jesus is Yahweh and presents them with Isaiah 6 as proof of that fact. So let’s take a look at Is. 6:1-5:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw Yahweh seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of hosts.”

Now here is the problem. Observe that the passage is a vision of Yahweh of hosts, a common designation of the God of Israel in the OT. But please note that the passage says nothing about the Messiah to come. To be sure there are many passages in the book of Isaiah which speak about the coming Messiah, for example 9:6-7; 11:1, 10-12; 16:5; 32:1; 42:1-7; 49:1-7; 50:4-9; 52:12-15; 53:1-12: 55:4-5; 61:1-2.  If you read all these passages you will see that when Isaiah speaks of the Messiah to come, whether as a king or as Yahweh’s servant, the Messiah is never confused with Yahweh himself. In fact, it is clear that he is referring to the Messiah in these passages and not to Yahweh. But in Isaiah 6 Isaiah gives no clue whatsoever that he is referring to the Messiah that is to come. If you look at the passage above you will see that there is nothing in those verses that would make any ancient Jew reading it think that Isaiah is referring to the Messiah, and identifying him as Yahweh. If you read the rest of ch. 6 you will not find anything in reference to the Messiah. The passage simply relates a vision that Isaiah saw of Yahweh. Yet we are supposed to believe that John, a Jew, most likely writing to Jews in the dispersion, is pointing to a passage of Scripture which is about Yahweh and which says absolutely nothing concerning the Messiah to come, in order to get these Jews to believe that a man from Nazareth in Galilee is the one who is referred to in the passage. The very idea is absurd on it’s face. According to this view, John could have quoted any passage in the OT that is about Yahweh and then say to his readers, “This passage is about Jesus of Nazareth.” By the same token I can prove that Moses is God – just look at Daniel 7:9. If you object, saying that  Dan. 7:9 says nothing about Moses but is a vision of Yahweh…Aha! you got the point! Why should we credit the apostle John with such an absurdity.

Someone might say in response, “But John is writing under the inspiration of the Spirit  and therefore it is really the Spirit that is applying  Is. 6 to Jesus.” Imagine a 1st century Jew, living somewhere among the nations, and he comes into contact with a scroll written by a Galilean Jew, who is proclaiming that another Galilean Jew, who performed miracles and declared himself the Messiah, was rejected by the Jerusalem leaders and turned over to Rome to be put to death – does he have any idea that the one who wrote this scroll did so by the Spirit of God? No, of course not. John makes no such claim anywhere in his gospel. So when, at a certain part in the story, the author proclaims that this Galilean Jew is actually Yahweh come in the flesh and that he proves this by  reference to Isaiah’s vision of Yahweh sitting on his throne, will he not think that the author of this scroll has lost his mind? Yet this is what the apologists want you to swallow. But just how convincing would it be to a 1st century Jew reading John’s gospel, that he should believe that another fellow Jew is Yahweh himself, based on Is. 6? This objection, by itself, should be sufficient to dissuade us from seeing John 12:37-41 as a prooftext for the deity of Jesus, and to look for an alternative interpretation of the passage.

An Alternative Interpretation

The first point of exegesis I want to deal with is in v. 41. John states that “Isaiah said these things.” What does “these things” refer to? The assumption is that it refers to both quotations from the book of Isaiah. But is this a necessary or indispensable conclusion? From the perspective of the apologists it can refer only to the second quotation, from Is. 6:10. This is necessary for their interpretation to be maintained, so that the glory of Messiah, which John says Isaiah saw, can be equated with the vision of Yahweh in Is. 6:1-5. To further this connection they will also point out that there are certain Greek words that appear in v. 41 which are also present in the Greek version (LXX) of Isaiah 6. These words are eidon (1st person singular) = ‘saw‘, in Is. 6:1, which matches with eiden (3rd person sing.) in v. 41 in John; and ten doxes autou (accusative case) = ‘his glory‘, in Is. 6:1 [the LXX has ‘his glory’ instead of ‘his robe’, as the Hebrew], which matches with ten doxan autou (genitive case) in v. 41 in John.

Now James White thinks this is rather conclusive, for he says, “The use of the same phraseology makes the connection to the Isaiah 6 passage unbreakable.” But this is simply overstating the case. Does the appearance of the words ‘saw‘ and ‘his glory‘ in both passages really establish an unbreakable connection between them? First of all, the connection is not nearly as close as White supposes. John is speaking of a glory which belongs to Messiah, which Isaiah saw, while Isaiah is speaking of seeing Yahweh sitting on a throne and how the house (i.e. the temple) was filled with ‘his glory.’ White’s interpretation is based on an a priori assumption that the glory spoken of in each passage is in reference to the same thing. But if John had in mind a glory that is different than the glory seen in Is. 6:1-5, then the occurrence of the same words ‘saw‘ and ‘his glory‘ would be merely coincidental. I mean how many different ways could one have said ‘his glory’ in Greek? The mere concurrence of the same couple of words between two passages of Scripture does not necessarily equate to an intentional correspondence between them in the mind of the later author.

But why should we assume that the glory John refers to is the same glory that Isaiah refers to? White and other apologists believe that the glory John refers to as belonging to Jesus is a glory which he possessed as God before his incarnation. But does John give any clues elsewhere in his gospel that would throw light on how he views glory in relation to Jesus? At verse 16 in the very chapter in which our text occurs, John says:

At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.

Here John refers to a glory to be given Jesus at a future time. He does the same at 7:39

By this he meant the spirit, which those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

Back in chapter 12, we again see Jesus’ glory spoken of, not as something he possessed in some pre-incarnate existence, but as still future, though very near to fulfillment:

The hour has come for the son of man to be glorified.   John 12:23

There is one passage in John which at first glance seems to support the idea that Jesus possessed a glory before the world came to be:

And now Father, glorify me at your own side with the glory that I had with you before the world came to be  John 17:5

Here it seems like John has Jesus saying that he possessed glory with the Father before the world existed. But since we have already seen that John clearly put Jesus’ glory as something future to the time of his public ministry and even in this very passage Jesus is asking for a glory he did not yet possess, it would be better to interpret the passage in a way consistent with this. The way this is done is by recognizing a common Hebrew concept and an idiom.

First, the Hebrew concept of predestination must be understood. In Hebrew thought, everything that is important in God’s purpose and plan and so predestined, has a kind of pre-existence before it becomes a reality. This pre-existence is not regarded as literal or actual, but only as ideal and in the mind and intention of God. Theologian E. G. Selwyn, in his commentary on 1 Peter wrote: “When the Jew wished to designate something as predestined, he spoke of it as already ‘existing’ in heaven.”

Likewise, theologian Karl-Josef Kuschel, on p.218 of his book Born Before All Time?, wrote: “. . . in the synagogue a particular kind of pre-existence was always associated with the Messiah, but it did not set him apart from other men. This is pre-existence in God’s thought, the ideal pre-existence of the Messiah.”

We see this concept presented in Scripture, for example in 1 Peter 1:20 :

Indeed, [Messiah] was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but was made manifest in these last times.

Messiah was known to God, i.e. in his mind and intention, prior to the creation, but became actual or realized at a certain point in history.

Next, we need to understand the idiom of having something with God. The idea here is that something can be said to be had with God {see Matt. 6:1 where one has a reward with God} when it is God’s purpose to give it at a future time. Again, it is not that the thing actually or literally exists with God, but only that it is something which God has in mind and intends to bestow at some point in time. While the word for ‘with‘ in Greek (para), when used with a pronoun in the dative case, does literally denote being in the presence of one, there is also a metaphorical use which denotes that something is in the mind of one (see Thayer’s Greek Lexicon).

So then we can understand John 17:5 as Jesus asking the Father to now give him the glory that he was predestined to obtain, a glory that was his in prospect, being in the mind and intention of God for him before the world was. This understanding keeps John’s perspective of Jesus’ glory being something which he possessed actually only after his death, consistent through his entire gospel, as well as consistent with other statements in the NT {see Lk. 24:6; Phil. 2:8-11; Heb. 1:3-4; 2:9; 1 Pet. 1:11; Rev. 5:9-12}.

So I ask, could John, in speaking of ‘his glory‘ in 12:41, be referring to that glory which was yet future at that point in the narrative? Of course this is reasonable and plausible. So if we assume this, we then need to ask, “When did Isaiah see Jesus’ glory in this sense?” This brings us back to the question of what John meant when he said, “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.” If ‘these things‘ does not refer to the Is. 6:10 passage then it must be referring to the Is. 53:1 passage, and I believe that to be the case. The immediate context, from 12:37- 12:50, is focused on the unbelief of the Jews. I think it is probable that when John quoted the first passage –

Lord, who has believed our report and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed.

that his mind was taken to another passage in Isaiah (6:10) which spoke of the tendency of the Jews toward unbelief, which he then parenthetically cites. So when he says ‘these things‘ he is referring back to the original citation of Is. 53:1. But I do not think that John intended his readers to only take into account that single verse, but also the whole extended passage of which that verse was the lead off, what we know today as Isaiah 53. We can imagine John, having only a limited amount of writing material, and wanting his readers to think of all of Isaiah 53 without writing out the whole thing, simply writing out the lead verse, intending his Jewish readers to fill in the rest.  This is similar to when Jesus was hanging on the cross and he cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” This, of course, is the first verse of Psalm 22, which, at least partially, speaks of the sufferings that Jesus experienced at his crucifixion, with many of the details of that event coinciding with verses in the Psalm. There can be no doubt that Jesus’ yelling out of these words was intended to bring to the minds of those standing by the whole of the Psalm. In the same way, John’s citing of Is. 53:1 was intended to cause his Jewish readers to consider the extended passage, which so clearly speaks of the Messiah’s rejection and subsequent glory.

But John said that Isaiah said these things (Is 53) because he saw his glory and so spoke concerning him. It is certainly true that Isaiah foretold the Messiah’s glory in a number of places, even if the word ‘glory’ does not appear in the text. For example 4:2; 9:6-7; 11:1-5; 32:17 (LXX); 42:1-7; 49:5-6 (LXX); 52:13-15 (LXX); 53:11-12; 55:4-5. 52:13-15 is especially noteworthy, which reads in the LXX:

Behold, my servant shall understand, and be exalted, and be glorified exceedingly.

This is noteworthy because it occurs just prior to Is. 53 and so fits John’s statement that “Isaiah said these things (i.e. Is 53) because he saw his glory and spoke of him.” 

 Now someone may get hung up on the word ‘saw‘ here, as if it necessitates that Isaiah had to see an actual vision of Jesus’ glory, and then point out how none of the passages I cited above say that Isaiah saw anything.  That John says that Isaiah ‘saw’ Jesus’ glory does not have to mean he literally saw it. Take for example Is. 1:1, which characterizes the whole book of Isaiah’s prophecies as

The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah… saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

Even though the whole book is called ‘the vision’ of Isaiah, the only actual vision recorded in the book is in chapter 6.  The language of ‘seeing’ simply does not have to be taken literally. We see this language repeated in 2:1 and 13:1, neither of which explicitly record any of the subsequent revelation as something which Isaiah literally saw in a vision. We see this same phenomenon with other prophets as well:

  • Amos 1:1 – “The words of Amos . . . which he saw concerning Israel . . .”
  • Micah 1:1 – ” The word of Yahweh that came to Micah . . . which he saw concerning                          Samaria and Jerusalem.”
  • Habakkuk 1:1 – “The oracle which Habakkuk the prophet saw.”

In all of these cases it is clear that the seeing is simply meant to be understood as perceiving by revelation. These prophets perceived future events that would befall certain cities and nations and people etc. In the three passages above, it is clear that their ‘seeing‘ is equal to verbal communication. I also note that the Greek word eiden used by John in 12:41 is used to translate the Hebrew word chazah in the above passages in the LXX and therefore John does not have to be referring to an actual vision which Isaiah literally saw.

Now for the clincher. We note, once again, that John states that “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke concerning (Gr. peri) him.”  White and the other apologists who follow his lead, want us to think John is referring to Is 6. But this does not fit with what John says, for where in Is. 6, after seeing the supposed vision of Jesus’ glory, does Isaiah speak concerning him? This brings us full circle to my first point in this article – Isaiah chapter 6 says nothing at all about the Messiah. It is completely silent “concerning him.” This is the definitive reason why John could not have been referring to Is. 6:10 – it simply says nothing about Jesus. Yet if we take John’s statement, that “Isaiah said these things” to apply to Is. 53:1, and by extension, to the whole of Is. 53, then it certainly fits with his statement that Isaiah “spoke concerning him.” Is. 53 is all about the Messiah.

 

 

The Kingdom Of God (Part 3)

We will now examine those passages in the NT that seem to imply that the kingdom of God is an already present reality in some sense or is a spiritual or internal reality. But before we do that I want to clear up one thing that causes confusion for some.

“Kingdom Of Heaven” vs “Kingdom Of God”

There are some Bible teachers who are promoting the idea that the kingdom of heaven is something different from the kingdom of God. Some understand the ‘kingdom of heaven’ to be a kingdom in heaven i.e. heaven itself, and the ‘kingdom of God’ to be a kingdom on the earth. I want to say most emphatically that this is false, and that it’s falsity can be easily demonstrated. First, we should take note of the fact that only Matthew’s gospel uses the phrase “kingdom of heaven” (31 X); it does not occur in any other place in the NT. Second, we should note that when parallel passages between the synoptic gospels are compared, the two phrases are seen to be synonymous. For example, did Jesus preach two different messages about two different kingdoms {Matt 4:17; Mk. 1:15}? Did he tell two distinct parables of the mustard seed, one regarding the kingdom of heaven and one regarding the kingdom of God {Matt. 13:31-32; Mk. 4:30-32}? There are a number of parallel parables and sayings of Jesus between the synoptic gospels which show that the two phrases are used interchangeably {Matt. 8:11/Lk. 13:28-29; Matt. 10:5-7/ Lk. 9:1-2, 10:8-9; Matt. 11:11/ Lk. 7:28; Matt. 13:11/ Mk. 4:11; Matt. 13:33/Lk. 13:20-21; Matt. 19:13-15/ Mk. 10:13-16; Matt. 19:23-24/Mk. 10:24-25}. Matthew himself clearly uses the two phrases interchangeably in 19:23-24.

Some have suggested that Matthew’s use of ‘heaven‘ instead of ‘God‘ reflects the Jewish reluctance to say or write the word ‘God’ out of reverence for the divine name. But this seems unlikely due to the fact that the word for ‘God’ appears many times in Matthew’s gospel (as it does in the rest of the NT, all of which was written by Jews) and even the phrase “kingdom of God” appears four times {12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43}. The simplest explanation as to why Matthew alone uses the phrase ‘kingdom of heaven‘ is that heaven is being used as a favored metonymy for God.

Based on this data we can conclude that there is no difference between the ‘kingdom of heaven‘ and the ‘kingdom of God‘; the two phrases refer to the same thing. We must understand that Jesus’ teaching as recorded in the gospels is not word for word according to what he actually said. This is evident because Jesus most likely spoke to his Jewish followers and the crowds of Jews in Hebrew and/or Aramaic, yet the gospels are written in Greek. So what we have in the Greek manuscripts are approximate translations of what Jesus said and not his actual words. This is why there can be differences in the wording of Jesus’ sayings between the gospels; they were putting Jesus’ Hebrew or Aramaic words into Greek and there may be more than one way to translate those words. Now it is possible that Jesus used both phrases, interchangeably, and that Matthew favored ‘kingdom of heaven’ knowing that his Jewish readers would understand the metonymy, while the other authors used ‘kingdom of God’ because their intended audience was predominately Gentile and might not understand the metonymy. In other words, if Jesus had actually said ‘kingdom of heaven’ at times, it is perfectly acceptable for Mark and Luke to translate that as ‘kingdom of God’ for that is what it means.

The Kingdom Is At Hand

There are a few passages in which it was proclaimed, first by John , then by Jesus, and then by the disciples of Jesus, that “the kingdom of God is at hand” {Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 10:7; Mark 1:15; Luke 10:9-11}. Those who hold the position that the kingdom is a present reality take these passages to mean that the kingdom of God was established within the period of Jesus’ ministry in the 1st century. This view is apparently bolstered by Mark 1:15:

… Jesus went into Galilee proclaiming the good news of God, “The time has been fulfilled,” he said, “the kingdom of God has drawn near.”

But does these passages necessitate the understanding that the kingdom was established at that time? Not if we understand that the kingdom was presented to that generation of Israel as near fulfillment but was then withdrawn because of unbelief and a failure of the Jewish leadership to recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah. This is what I referred to in Part 1 as the postponement of the kingdom. Ever since God first established human kingship over Israel it was incumbent upon the leadership of Israel to recognize and acknowledge God’s choice of king. We read in 1 Samuel 10 that when God chose Saul as the first king, the prophet Samuel presented him to all the people saying, “Do you see the man Yahweh has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people.” The people then responded, “Long live the king!” {v. 24} But some rejected Saul as the right choice {v. 27}. In chapter 11 we read that the people wanted to put to death the ones who rejected Saul as king {v. 12} and that “all the people went to Gilgal and there they made Saul king before Yahweh…Although Saul had earlier been anointed by Samuel {10:1} and was publicly presented as God’s choice {10:24} it was necessary for Saul to be acknowledged by the people, especially the leaders among them, and for the allegiance of the people to be with Saul.

Later we see a similar thing with David. He was first anointed in private by Samuel {1 Sam. 16:11-13} while Saul was still alive. Later he was anointed as king by the men of Judah over the house of Judah {2 Sam. 2:4}. Then later we are told that

All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron … When all the elders of Israel had come to the king at Hebron, king David made a covenant with them before Yahweh and they anointed David king over Israel.”      2 Sam. 5:1-3

Again we see the necessity of the people, particularly the leaders, recognizing and swearing allegiance to the king of God’s choice.

When David was near death, knowing that God had chosen his son Solomon to succeed him as king, he gathered together all of the leaders of Israel to Jerusalem and recounted to them how God had chosen him to be king and informed them of God’s choice of Solomon to succeed him {1 Chron. 28:1-7}. Although Solomon had earlier been anointed to succeed David {1 Kings 1:28-40} it was now necessary for all the leaders of Israel to recognize Solomon as God’s choice and to pledge their allegiance to him. And so we read:

They ate and drank with great joy in the presence of Yahweh that day. Then they made Solomon son of David king a second time, anointing him as ruler … So Solomon sat on the throne of Yahweh as king in place of his father David. He prospered and all Israel obeyed him. All the leaders and the mighty men, as well as all of king David’s sons, pledged their strength in subjection to king Solomon.             1 Chron. 29:22-24

Thus a pattern had been set for the installment as king of the one whom God had chosen. Saul, David and Solomon were the only kings to rule over all of Israel, God’s kingdom. After Solomon’s death, because of his idolatry, God took away the kingdom from the house of David leaving only Judah under his rule {1 Kings 11:31-39}. Later, the prophets foretold  the restoration of the kingdom of Israel under the rule of a final king from the house of David, as we saw in Part 1 of this study. This is the kingdom that was proclaimed by John and Jesus as having drawn near to Israel. Yet the establishment of that kingdom was contingent upon the reception and acknowledgement of, and the pledging of allegiance to, the chosen and anointed one from the line of David, Jesus of Nazareth, by the leadership in Jerusalem. The gospels record the virulent opposition and ultimate rejection of Jesus as God’s choice for king by the High Priest, chief priests, the elders and teachers of the Law, and ultimately the people. They accused him of being in league with Satan and of blasphemy; they plotted together to kill him; they turned him over to the Roman procurator and proclaimed him worthy of death; and when Pilate was inclined to free him they aroused the crowd to clamor for his death. The attitude of the Jerusalem leadership is dramatically represented in one of Jesus’ parables by a group of disloyal subjects of a king who declared, “We are determined that this man not reign as king over us” {see Lk. 19:11-14}. In another parable these leaders are depicted as wicked tenants who, upon seeing the landowners son, said, “This is the heir. Come let’s kill him and take his inheritance” {Matt. 21:38-39}.

When I speak of the postponement of the kingdom I do not intend to imply that God was caught off guard or that he does not have a specific plan that is being carried out in his own timing. But God, foreknowing the rejection of Messiah by the leadership of that generation, wrote into the plan, as it were, the postponement of the kingdom. The rejection of Yahweh’s anointed one was foretold in the prophetic word {Is. 53:2-3; Ps. 22:6-8}, but this did not preclude the presentation of the kingdom to that generation. The proclamation of the kingdom as near, Messiah’s rejection and death, and the postponement of the kingdom, all had to play out in real time. Jesus himself told his disciples what was going to happen before he would establish the kingdom:

The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the son of man, but you will not see it … the son of man in his day will be like the lightning which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.  Lk. 17:22-25 {See also Mk. 8:31; 9:12; Lk. 20:17}

Hence, there is no conflict between the fact that Jesus proclaimed the kingdom as having drawn near (perfect indicative active of eggizo = to come near, to approach) and the fact that the kingdom was not then established. Neither does Jesus’ proclamation of the nearness of the kingdom necessitate the kingdom’s establishment in that generation.

Entering The Kingdom

There are a number of passages which speak of people entering or not entering the kingdom of God which give the impression that entering the kingdom is something that one does now in this present age, thus implying that the kingdom is a present reality that can be experienced now. The phrase ‘enter the kingdom‘ appears 16 times in the NT in these verses: Matt. 5:20; 7:21; 18:3; 19:23-24; 23:13; Mark 9:47; 10:15; 10:23-25; Lk. 18:17, 24-25; Jn. 3:5; Acts 14:22. So how are we to understand these statements given the evidence we have already seen that the kingdom is a literal, physical reality to be experienced only in the future after the return of Messiah and the resurrection of the dead (see the list of twenty passages in Part 2)? Either Jesus and the apostles were presenting two distinct kingdoms, one which is present now in an invisible way and one which shall come in the future in a visible way, or this language of entering the kingdom must be taken in a figurative rather than a literal sense. I believe the second option is preferable. So when theses verses speak of someone entering the kingdom it is speaking proleptically of that which will be actually experienced only in the age to come.

Whether or not one will have a share in the coming kingdom of God is something that must be settled in this present age before the kingdom actually manifests. To speak of one as entering the kingdom, i.e. in this present age, is to say that they have secured for themselves a place in the future kingdom. It is tantamount to being saved, i.e. coming to know the one true God and his chosen one, Jesus the Messiah {Jn. 17:3}. When one turns to God in repentance and pledges loyalty to Jesus as Lord {Acts 20:21; Rom. 10:9-10} then he is said to be saved. But again, this is proleptic speech, for no one  actually experiences salvation until the return of Jesus {Rom. 2:5-10; 5:10; 8:22-25; 13:11; 1 Thess. 5:8-9; Heb. 9:28; 1 Pet. 1:5,9; Jude 1:21}. What actually happens to one when he ‘gets saved‘ is that his sins are forgiven and he is reconciled to God (this may also be express as being justified) and receives the holy spirit as a down payment on the salvation which is to come. At that instant he receives the hope of salvation or everlasting life and is in a state of waiting, having been rendered fit or qualified to participate in the future inheritance of the holy ones {Col 1:12-13}. Such a one can be said, proleptically, to have entered the kingdom.

Another sense in which it could be said that one enters the kingdom now, even though he does not literally or concretely experience the kingdom now, is to view it as a transfer of ones citizenship, and thus ones loyalty, from the kingdom of this world to the kingdom of God and his Messiah. Though he remains physically in this world he no longer belongs to it and his loyalties are no longer toward it. He begins to live according to his new loyalties even while still existing in enemy territory. He enters the kingdom in his heart long before he ever literally and physically enters it.

Is The Kingdom Of God Within Us?

The idea that the kingdom of God is a present reality, only internal and invisible rather than a visible, external reality, is derived from only one verse of Scripture:

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”         Luke 17:20-21  NIV

Based on this verse alone, it is easy to see why someone might be inclined to understand the kingdom as a present internal reality. What is not as easy to see is why someone would believe that, in light of the abundance of Scriptures which present the kingdom of God as a literal, visible, concrete reality, in which we will physically participate. So does this passage contradict the other passages?

The first thing we need to look at is what Jesus means by “the kingdom does not come with careful observation.” This verse is translated in various ways by the different versions, usually in a way that makes Jesus contradict himself:

  • “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed.”   ESV
  • “The kingdom of God is not coming with something observable.”       CSB
  • “The kingdom of God is not coming with a visible display.”                   ISV
  • “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed.”           NAS  NET

The problem with all of these translations is that they contradict what Jesus says elsewhere in the same gospel of Luke. In chapter 21 Jesus tells his disciples of the signs which will occur just prior to the establishment of the kingdom {vv.25-28} and encourages them with these words:

“When these things begin to take place, look up and lift up your heads, because your (i.e. Israel’s) redemption is drawing near… Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”    vv. 28 &31

Other versions attempt to avoid the apparent contradiction, such as the NIV quoted above. Jesus may be referring to some among the Pharisees who were wont to speculate on the times and seasons regarding the coming of the kingdom rather than that there would be no visible or observable manifestation of the kingdom. This is more in keeping with the fact that Jesus is answering a question regarding the timing of the kingdom’s arrival. Perhaps these Pharisees asked him this to see if he agreed with their speculations. Jesus’ answer points out the fact that the kingdom’s arrival cannot be mapped out based on a scrupulous observation of the times and seasons in relation to the prophetic utterances.

Jesus then goes on to make the enigmatic statement “the kingdom of God is within you.” Most recent versions and many recent commentators, seeking to escape another difficulty, prefer to translate the phrase as “the kingdom of God is in your midst.” The commentators tell us that the kingdom was in their midst or among them in that the king was in their midst, and where the king is, the kingdom is. But this is silly. The presence of the king does not necessitate the presence of the kingdom. The reason they prefer this translation is not because they do not believe that the kingdom was an already present reality at that time or that it is a spiritual, invisible kingdom, but because they see a difficulty with the fact that Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees, who are infamous in the gospels for their vehement opposition to Jesus. They do not see how Jesus could say to the Pharisees in particular “the kingdom is within you.” In other words, they don’t have a problem with the kingdom being an internal reality in believers, just not in the Pharisees, who are deemed for the most part to be unbelievers. While “in your midst” is an acceptable translation of the Greek adverb entos, the reasoning behind it’s use is still faulty.

One of the principal errors made in the interpretation of Jesus’ teachings is to see Jesus as the founder of the Christian religion and his teachings as his instruction to Christians. Perhaps it has never dawned on you before, but when Jesus was traveling throughout Galilee and Judea proclaiming the nearness of the kingdom and calling men to repentance, the Christian religion did not yet exist and there were no Christians for Jesus to teach. To read the gospels in this way is anachronism at it’s worst; it is to ignore the historical and cultural context in which the gospel narratives are set. First of all, Jesus had come only to the Jewish people {Matt. 15:24; 10:5-6; Acts 3:24-26} and never preached or taught the word of God to Gentiles. He was regarded as a Jewish rabbi and his teaching methods resembled that of other rabbis of the day. All of his disciples, as well as his larger audience, were all Jews. All of his teaching was grounded in the Hebrew Scriptures. So if we are to ever correctly understand Jesus’ words we must understand them within the historical and cultural context in which they were given. We must seek to understand them the way his first hearers would have understood them.

With this in mind, what might be a better way to take Jesus’ words “the kingdom of God is within you.” First, we can reject the idea that he meant that the kingdom is an invisible, internal, and spiritual concept, for no 1st century Jew would have understood him that way. But someone will say, “Well perhaps Jesus was correcting their wrong view of the kingdom.” The problem with that is that we can find plenty of Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God that fits perfectly with the view of the kingdom which is derived from the prophetic writings, that of the literal, physical, restored kingdom of Israel (i.e the Hebraic view). Now I agree with the translators who translate the word as “in your midst,” that if Jesus were speaking to the Pharisees as individuals that he would certainly not be telling them that the kingdom was inside of each of them individually. And if he were speaking this about believers then why didn’t he say, “The kingdom of God is inside those who believe?” It is, therefore, more likely that the “you” in the phrase “the kingdom of God is within you” is referring to the nation or people of Israel rather than to either the Pharisees to whom he was speaking or to believers in general. Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees but not as Pharisees, but as embodying the nation. The kingdom would not come from the outside, so that any Jew would have to tell another Jew, “Here it is” or “There it is.” The kingdom would arise from within the nation and people, and being contingent, would arise only upon their repentance and acceptance of Jesus as the Messianic king. When Jesus spoke these words the establishment of the kingdom was still a possibility for that generation, at least theoretically. It was within them to bring it about by meeting the conditions of repentance and faith.

Kingdom Of God = Heaven

There are passages which lead some people to think that ‘the kingdom of God‘ is synonymous with ‘heaven.’

1 Cor. 15:50 –  I declare to you brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, neither does that which decays inherit that which will never decay. 

Some imagine that Paul is saying that we cannot go to heaven with these flesh and blood bodies, which must be replaced with spiritual bodies {v. 44}. But as we have seen in Part 1, the kingdom is a literal, physical kingdom on this earth and is never equated with heaven. Now because this kingdom is described in the prophetic word as an everlasting kingdom {1 Chron. 17:13-14; Is. 9:7; Dan. 7:18, 27; Micah 4:6-8; Lk. 1:32-33} it is necessary that those who shall be co-rulers in this kingdom with Messiah also be immortal beings.

Now I do believe that there will be mortal people who inhabit the earth during the kingdom age, but this does not necessarily contradict what Paul says here. There are two senses in which one can inherit the kingdom: as a ruler or as a subject. This only makes sense, for if believers are to rule with Messiah who will they be ruling over? It is only necessary for the rulers of the kingdom to be immortal and not the subjects. Paul’s statement has only the rulers in mind, obviously.

John 18:36 –  “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is not from here.”

Does Jesus mean that his kingdom is spiritual, or perhaps in heaven? We have seen that the kingdom of God = the kingdom of Messiah = the kingdom of Israel and that Jesus will sit on the throne of David {Lk. 1:32-33}. So how could he be saying that his kingdom is in heaven or is some kind of spiritual reality? The problem here stems from a misunderstanding of what the phrase “of this world” means. This has been wrongly interpreted to mean ‘my kingdom is not in this world.’ But this is clearly not what Jesus means. First of all, to be not of this world cannot mean to ‘not be a part of the created order‘ for then the apostles would not be a part of the created order {see Jn. 17:14-16}.

The Greek word kosmos (world) has a wide range of meaning, even quite contrary meanings. This is best illustrated by these two passages from John:

“For in this way God loved the world, that he gave his only son …”   John 3:16

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”   1 John 2:15

We can see from these two verses that kosmos cannot mean the same thing in both. Among the Greeks the word had the following meanings: Orderly arrangement, an ordered system, government, ornamentation, the whole created order (universe), and the earth. In the NT the word seems to have evolved to include in it’s range of meaning: humanity in general, humanity in opposition to God. John seems to me to have one meaning of the word which is peculiar to his gospel – the Jewish nation, people, and religious system, the then current Jewish polity. This meaning can be seen in the following passages: 1:10; 3:17,19; 7:4,7; 8:12; 8:26; 9:5; 9:39; 10:36; 12:19, 31, 46-47; 14:22, 27, 30-31; 15:19; 16:8, 11, 20; 17:6, 9, 14-23, 25; 18:20, 36-37. While for some of these verses this meaning may be disputed, most are rather evident.

So what I think Jesus was saying was, “Hey Pilate, don’t worry, my kingdom is not coming forth from this current Jewish state. If it were, my officers would have fought to prevent me from being delivered to the Jews. But at this time my kingdom is not from hence.” Understood in this way, this verse supports the concept of the postponement of the literal Davidic kingdom.

2 Tim. 4:18 –  The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom …    NIV

Is Paul saying that the Lord will bring him safely into heaven upon his death? That is highly unlikely given Paul’s emphasis on the hope of the appearing of Messiah and the resurrection {Rom. 8:17-25; 1 Cor. 15:12-28, 46-55; 2 Cor. 5:1-5; Phil. 3:10-11, 20-21; Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 1:9-10; 4:13-17; 2 Thess. 1;10; 1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 4:1; Titus 2:13}. There is no reason to doubt that Paul had retained in his thinking the Hebraic view of the kingdom rather than having replaced it with the Platonic view of a spiritual kingdom located in the heavens.

The slant of the translators can have an impact on how a verse is read. The phrase “will bring me safely” is represented by a single word in the Greek, sosei, the future indicative active form of the word sozo which means to save, to deliver, to preserve, to heal. Though the NIV’s translation is acceptable, it reflects the theological bias of the translators and/or editors. The commentary note on this verse in the 1985 NIV Study Bible says this: “heavenly kingdom. Heaven itself.” Since they believed Paul was speaking of going to heaven upon his death they translated the verse accordingly. But other versions offer alternative translations:

  • KJV, Douay Rheims  –  “will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom.
  • Jubilee Bible 2000, ISR –  “will save me for his heavenly kingdom.”
  • ASV, ERS –  “will save me unto his heavenly kingdom.”
  • Darby’s Translation, WEB –  “will preserve me for his heavenly kingdom.”
  • Webster’s Translation –  “will preserve me to his heavenly kingdom.”

These versions better convey the theology of Paul. Paul clearly expects to die soon {4:6-8} and is affirming his confidence that the Lord will strengthen him at his upcoming trial, as he he did at his first defense, so that he will maintain his faith in and witness for Messiah and not fall to the temptation to deny the Lord to save his own life. That he and his converts would remain faithful to the end was Paul’s constant goal {1 Cor. 1:8; 9:24-27; Phil. 3:7-14; Col. 1:22-23; 1Thess. 4:13; 2 Tim. 2:11-12}. This is also taught throughout the NT {Matt. 10:21-22, 32-33, 39; 24:12-13; Heb. 3:6, 12-14; 6:11-12; 10:35-39; James 1:12; 2 Pet. 1:10-11; 1 John 2:24-25; Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 25-28; 3:5, 11-12, 21; 12:11}. Paul’s expectation was that, after his death, his next conscious experience would be at the resurrection where he would be given entrance into the kingdom. That he calls it “his heavenly kingdom” should not be construed to be a reference to heaven itself; the adjective does not necessitate that what is being spoken of is or ever has been actually in heaven, but denotes rather that God is the source and authority behind it {see Matt. 21:23-26; 1 Cor. 15:48; Heb. 3:1; 6:4; 11:13-16}.

 

Passages Which Seem To Imply The Kingdom Had Begun With Jesus’ Ministry

Matt. 12:28/Lk. 11:20“But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God (Lk. – finger of God), then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

At first glance this seems to imply that the kingdom had already begun. But can something be said to have come upon someone without it actually or literally having taken place yet? Yes, I believe so. The above underlined phrase does mean, in it’s literal sense, that the thing in question has arrived or come. But there is also a figurative use of the phrase which uses it proleptically. In the LXX of the book of Daniel we find the same Greek phrase phthano epi at 4:24:

“… this is the interpretation of it, O king, and it is a decree of the Most high, which has come upon my lord the king.”

King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that disturbed him greatly. Daniel was called upon to interpret the dream which turned out to be a prophecy of judgment upon the king. In the above verse Daniel speaks of the content of the dream as having already come upon the king, yet we are told in vv. 28-29 that it did not literally take place until twelve months later.

Another example is found in 1 Thess. 2:16, which speaks of the Jerusalem leadership’s opposition to the gospel message which Paul proclaimed to the Gentiles. Paul says:

… they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them unto the end.

While it may be possible that some form of temporal wrath had come upon these men it is more likely that Paul is referring to the final wrath which is now stored up against them {see Rom. 2:5-9}. Yet Paul speaks of this wrath as having already come upon them, perhaps to express it’s certainty.

Jesus’ statement could be taken literally to say that the kingdom had already come but in light of the many passages which militate against that notion {e.g. Matt. 6: 10; 8:11-12; 13:34; 19:16-30; 25:34; Lk. 13:22-30; Acts 1:6-7} it is best to understand it figuratively, to be saying that “the kingdom is right at the door if you would but acknowledge me as the king.”

Matt. 5:3 & 10 –  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven … 
 “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Matt. 19:14 –  “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

These passages do not require that the kingdom was a present reality when Jesus spoke these words or that it is even now a present reality. These passages are simply describing the kind of persons who will inherit the kingdom in the age to come. Those with the manifest characteristics set forth by Jesus in the beatitudes are the kind of people to whom the kingdom belongs and who will therefore participate in it when it arrives. Also, each beatitude describes a characteristic of persons in this present age followed by a promise of what they will receive in the kingdom, which is theirs in the age to come. Now note the third beatitude – the meek shall inherit the earth/land. This fits well with the literal, physical, Hebraic view of the kingdom but not with other views, such as that the kingdom is spiritual or internal or is heaven itself.

Matt. 11:12 –  “From the days of John the baptizer until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.”   NIV

This verse is fraught with difficulties, but these difficulties are aided by a wrong view of the kingdom. One problem is that the Greek word biazetai can be taken as either a passive or middle voice. The middle voice would mean that the kingdom is forcefully advancing as the NIV indicates. The passive would mean that the kingdom is being subjected to violence or seized by violence. Some of the old expositors, who did not grasp the Hebraic view and the postponement of the kingdom, see it as the middle voice, and hence that the kingdom was forcefully progressing forward, i.e. growing and expanding. Others of the older expositors take it as passive in the positive sense that the kingdom was being taken by violence i.e. the people (the violent ones) were ardently and eagerly forcing their way into it. But they take this view because they believe that the kingdom was established at that time. In other words, one’s view of the kingdom is going to determine how one reads this verse.

Another way to understand the passive voice is that the kingdom is being subjected to violence, i.e. that the establishment of the kingdom is being met with violent opposition. This is reflected in the translation “the kingdom of heaven suffers violence” found in KJV, ESV, NASV, HCSB, NET, ERV, and ASV. Thayer, in his lexicon, states that this “agrees neither with the time when Christ spoke the words, nor with the context.” But that is a rather inane conclusion, for if one understands the Hebraic view of the kingdom and it’s postponement, due to the failure of the Jewish leaders to acknowledge Jesus as the appointed king, then “the kingdom is being subjected to violence” does indeed agree with the timing and the context of Jesus’ words. What Jesus would then be saying is this: “Since the days of John the establishment of the kingdom of heaven has met with violent opposition (the Jerusalem leadership had not responded positively to John’s message and at the time of Jesus’ words John was in prison, having been arrested by Herod) and the violent ones (the Jerusalem leadership) are snatching it away (i.e. are the cause of it’s ultimate non establishment).” The context that follows bears out this interpretation. In vv. 16-19 Jesus speaks of how both John and himself have met with opposition from the leadership. This view is also confirmed by Jesus’ parable in Matt. 21 where the Jewish leaders are depicted as wicked tenants who conspire to kill the son (the chosen son of David) of the landowner that they may take his inheritance (the kingdom).

It is also possible to maintain the Hebraic view of the kingdom even if the verb is translated as a middle voice and would read, “the kingdom of heaven is forcefully advancing.” In this case Jesus would be saying that since the days of John the kingdom was forcefully moving toward being established because many ‘sinners’ were indeed repenting {see Matt. 21:31-32}, but violent ones (the Jewish leadership) were snatching it away from the people (by opposing the appointed heir to the throne).

Matt. 16:19 –  “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on the earth will be what has been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on the earth will be what has been loosed in heaven.”

The medieval portrayal of Peter standing at the gate of heaven with the keys, allowing or disallowing entrance to individuals, is, of course, ludicrous. It is important to note that the phrase is not “the keys to the kingdom of heaven” but “of the kingdom of heaven.” The keys are not for locking and unlocking the entrance to heaven or even to the kingdom in the age to come. The keys, rather, are the authority to enact and enforce the decisions of heaven in the earth (or possibly ‘the land‘ i.e. of Israel) in the kingdom age. Peter, along with the other eleven apostles, will be given such authority in the kingdom {Matt. 19:28; Lk. 22:30}. The error of church fathers of the past and of those today who follow their lead, is to think that the kingdom was established in the first century and hence the keys were given at that time. This eventually led to the establishment of the papacy of Rome with all of it’s inherent evils.

Lk. 9:27/Mk. 9:1 –  “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God [come with power].”   {see also Matt.16:28}

Presumably Jesus was speaking to his twelve apostles when he said this. That would mean that at least two, but less than twelve, of them would “see the kingdom of God” before they died. But does this require that the kingdom was actually established in their lifetime? First off, the words, taken literally would mean that the kingdom was not established during the ministry of Jesus, since all of the apostles, except Judas, lived on even after Jesus’ ascension. If some would not taste death before seeing  the kingdom of God then this means that some would taste death before seeing the kingdom come. This eliminates the possibility that the kingdom could have already come during Jesus’ ministry. But, if the words are taken literally, this would also mean that the kingdom had to have come at some point before all twelve apostles died. So it would have had to come sometime between 30 AD, when Jesus ascended to heaven, and when at least ten of the twelve disciples had died. You can see the problem if we take Jesus’ words literally.

The solution is simply to understand these words as referring to the transfiguration. We can understand Jesus to have meant, “Some are standing here who will not taste death before they get a glimpse of the kingdom of God coming with power.” All three synoptic gospels record the transfiguration immediately after these words of Jesus are recorded. Jesus took three of the twelve with him up on the mountain where, in a vision, they caught a glimpse of the majesty that shall be his when the kingdom comes with power. That this was the significance of the transfiguration vision is confirmed by Peter himself, one of the three who witnessed it:

We did not imitate cleverly invented stories when we declared to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Messiah, but we were spectators of his (future) majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the majestic glory, saying, “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.       2 Peter 1:16-18

Romans 14:17 –  For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

This seems to imply that the kingdom is already a reality and that it is spiritual in nature rather than a literal, physical and material kingdom. I do not think that Paul meant that there is no eating and drinking associated with the kingdom as if there is no physical or material quality to the kingdom, especially in light of Matthew 8:11 and Luke 22:15-18. This should be understood in the same way as Jesus’ statement in John 6:27, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures unto life everlasting.” Now no one would imagine that this statement should be taken at face value, for that would mean that we should not work for the material food we eat, a thought that is foreign to the rest of Scripture, but that we should work for spiritual food. Obviously, what Jesus means is that we should not make the pursuit of material food the main object of life; there is something of much greater importance we must be concerned with. This is a Semitic idiom in which one aspect of a thing is negated to lay stress on another aspect which is of greater importance. So while there will be eating and drinking in the kingdom of God, this is not the main thing of importance about the kingdom. Rather righteousness, peace and joy in the spirit will be the hallmarks of the kingdom. Therefore, in this age, as we are preparing for the kingdom age to come, it behooves us to emphasize and be about the more important ethical elements of the kingdom and not major on the minors.

Col. 1:12-13 –  … giving thanks to the Father, the one qualifying you for participation in the inheritance belonging to the holy ones in the light. He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and has transferred us to the kingdom of the son of his love.

This passage makes it appear that we are already in the kingdom, and so some make the kingdom in this passage equivalent to the church. But if anything in this passage is to be equated with the church it is the word hagios which means ‘holy ones.‘ The inheritance spoken of in v. 12 is the kingdom in which we will physically participate in the age to come. That we have already been transferred to this kingdom is, once again, Paul’s use of proleptic language, wherein that which is ideally in the mind of God is spoken of as already a fact. There is certainly the sense in which our allegiance and loyalties have now been transferred from the former dominion of darkness to the kingdom of the son, for which we wait. Even now, in this present age, we should seek to manifest in our lives those ethical and spiritual principles which shall be the hallmark of the coming kingdom.

1 Thess. 2:12 –  … live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. 

The kingdom into which God calls us is just as future to us as is the glory to which he calls us. The glory to which we are called is only our hope in this present age {Rom. 5:2; 8:18-25; Col. 1:27}, not a present reality. Likewise, the kingdom is our future hope for which we eagerly wait. Once again, the fact that we shall inherit the kingdom should affect the way we live now.

Hebrews 12:28 –  Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe…

The present participle should not be read to imply that the kingdom is being received by believers now. We often use present participles to speak of actions which are yet future. I might say to my wife who questions me as to why I am taking the luggage out of the closet,  “Since we are going on vacation I am checking to make sure the luggage is in working order.” This would not mean that we were at the time I said it, actually on our way to our vacation destination; in fact our vacation could still be two weeks out. Likewise, the meaning of the present participle in our passage should be understood like this: “Therefore, since we stand to receive a kingdom …”

Final Note

If there are any other passages that I did not address in this post, that you would like me to comment on, please let me know in either the comment section or by email. Thankyou!

 

The Kingdom Of God (Part 2)

We will continue our study of the kingdom of God working from the Hebraic concept which we established from the Hebrew Scriptures, i.e. the kingdom of God = the restored kingdom of Israel = the restored kingdom of David. Since the Hebrew prophets so clearly predicted, by the Spirit of God, the restoration of this kingdom under a final and ideal descendant of David, and since the NT declares Jesus of Nazareth to be this descendant, it behooves us to ask the questions, “Is Jesus presently reigning as king?” and “Are we presently living in the kingdom age?” Most Christians would answer yes to these questions, believing that the kingdom of God was indeed put into effect at the time of Jesus’ life on earth and has been a present reality in the world since then. Most would  also believe that Jesus has been reigning as king for the past two thousand years.

What I will present in this article will be so contradictory to what is commonly believed on this subject that most will not be able to receive it. I ask that the reader carefully weigh everything by the Scriptures and be convinced only by the Scriptures.

Seated At The Right Hand Of God – Psalm 110

It is directly stated at least twelve times in the NT (not including parallel passages in the gospels and depending on whether Mk. 16: 19 is original) that Jesus is in some way at ‘the right hand‘ of God. Eight of the twelve passages say that he is “seated” at God’s right hand, two simply say “at” the right hand of God, and two that he was “exalted to” the right hand of God {Matt.26:64 [with Mk. 14:62 & Lk. 22:69]; Mk. 16:19; Acts 2:33; 5:31; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet. 3:22}. Two of these verses {Heb. 8:1 & 12:2} state that Jesus “sat down at the right hand of the throne of [God].”

What we want to determine is just exactly what these authors intended their readers to understand by this terminology. Were they referring simply to the physical location of Jesus or does this terminology infer something more than that? It is evident that they derived this language from one specific passage in the Hebrew Bible – Psalm 110:1 – so we will need to take a look at that Psalm. The Psalm begins:

Yahweh declares to my lord: “Sit at my right hand while I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”

It is clear that the authors of the passages noted above, believed Jesus to be the one referred to in this verse as “my lord.” But this does not mean that the Psalm was meant exclusively of Jesus. Many scholars point out that, notwithstanding it’s NT application to Jesus, the words, in their original context, refer to the reigning king of Israel. Jewish scholars offer various candidates for who it might be referring to, such as David or Solomon. I don’t think it was meant to refer to any specific individual king but was a psalm extolling the high position of the king, Yahweh’s anointed one. It should be understood as an idealistic depiction of the king in the same vein as Psalms 2, 45 and 72. The psalm is not necessarily a prophetic depiction of the future coming Messiah ( i.e. from the standpoint of the author of the psalm), but would, of course, apply to him as Yahweh’s anointed one.

The circumstances in which the psalm was written are unknown and so anything said on that subject is pure conjecture. I can envision David composing this song while in Saul’s service {see 1 Sam.16:14-23} and then later it was employed, along with his many other psalms, by the Levitical singers in the Temple {see 2 Chron. 29:25-30}. It may have been used at the coronations of kings in David’s line, where Yahweh, as it were, is inviting the newly appointed king to share His rule with Him over God’s people, as His vicegerent.

In ANE and ancient Egyptian literature and art, gods and kings are depicted as placing at their right side those whom they intend to reign on their behalf (e.g. the Egyptian king Horemheb is depicted in art as seated at the right side of the god Horus). To be seated at the right side of a deity or king is symbolic of being given the highest place of honor and authority under that deity or king. The image of being ‘seated’ denotes a position of ruling i.e. as from a throne. That this is meant to be understood metaphorically can be seen by the fact that when persons are presented in Scripture as literally and physically sitting at the right hand of the king it does not necessarily signify a ruling position, but simply a place of honor {see 1 Kings 1:19; Ps. 45:9}. Therefore, one can be said to be ‘seated at the right side‘ of another without having to be to be literally and physically seated at the right side of that one, and that this designates rulership under the authority of that one.  And this is precisely what was said of the reigning Davidic king, not only in Psalm 110, but also in Ps. 80:17:

“[O God of hosts] … may your hand be upon the man at your right hand, upon the son of man you have established for yourself.”

Most commentators take this verse as a reiteration of v. 15, which clearly refers to the nation of Israel, which is spoken of under the figures of a vine and a son, two metaphors seen elsewhere {see vv. 8-11; Jer. 2:21; Ex. 4:22; Hosea 11:1}. Verse 17 need not be a restatement of v. 15 and should not be taken so since Israel is never referred to under the figure of a man or a son of man at God’s right hand, in fact, to my knowledge, Israel is never likened to a man at all. Israel, though, is presented under the figure of a women, even an unfaithful wife {see Hosea 2}.

The psalmist refers first to the nation in v. 15 and then to the leader of the nation, the king, in v. 17. Of those commentators that do see this as a reference to the king, most regard it as prophetic of Jesus, because in the NT Jesus alone is said to be seated at God’s right hand. But this is circular reasoning. It is better to understand the NT image of Jesus at the right hand of God as based upon the status and position of the Davidic king as seen in both Ps. 110 and 80.

Also relevant to the metaphor of  the king as “sitting at the right hand of God” is Psalm 45, another Psalm praising the exalted status of the Davidic king. While it does not use the same terminology it does make a remarkable statement concerning the one anointed by God to be king in his place:

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness, therefore God, your God, has anointed you above your companions with the oil of gladness.”    Ps. 45:6-7

In this verse the king seems to be addressed as God. If this is true no one should get upset, for it would certainly be calling him God in a representational sense i.e. as the one who sits on God’s throne and rules for him {see 1 Chron. 29:23; 2 Chron. 9:8}, and not in an ontological sense. If this is the sense of the verse then it shows the close relationship between Yahweh and his anointed one that is suggested by the metaphor of ‘sitting at the right hand of God.’

But another possible way to understand the passage is to see a sudden shift by the psalmist from addressing the king in vv. 2-5 to addressing God in v. 6, and then back to the king in vv. 7-9. This kind of shifting back and forth occurs frequently in the Psalms and even occurs a few more times in this psalm. In vv. 10-12, the queen is addressed; vv. 13 -15 then shift from addressing the queen to speaking about her; vv. 16-17 then shift back to addressing the king. If this is correct and God is being addressed in v. 6 then it would be saying that the throne on which the king sits is God’s throne. This would also be in line with the two passages noted in the previous paragraph, which present the Davidic king as Yahweh’s vicegerent.

One other passage that deserves note is Zech. 13:7 which reads:

“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is my associate,” declares Yahweh of hosts. “Strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered… “

What man was the associate of Yahweh? The Hebrew term amith denotes one who is close, a companion. The word is translated in various ways by different versions:

  • NIV – “the man who is close to me”
  • ESV – “the man who stands next to me”
  • JPS Tanakh – “the man who is near unto Me”
  • ISR 1998 – “the man who is my companion”
  • HCSB – “the man who is my associate”

The answer to who this man is is in the text; Yahweh calls him, “My shepherd.” The shepherd motif is used consistently for the king throughout Scripture, e.g. 2 Sam. 5:2; 7:7-8; 24:17; Ps. 78:71-72; Ezek. 34:23; 37:24; Micah 5:2-4; Matt. 2:6. The Davidic king is God’s associate in ruling over His kingdom in that he rules for God as his representative. The king is the visible expression of Yahweh’s invisible rule. This is what is denoted in the idea of being seated at the right hand of God.

In the NT Jesus is portrayed as the final and ideal Davidic king who will rule over God’s kingdom forever. This is done by applying to him the same language applied to the Davidic king in the OT, especially the being at God’s right hand language, as we have already seen, but also the shepherd language {see John 10:11,14,16; Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 2:25; 5:4; Rev. 7:17}. Besides this, all of the major OT passages which present Yahweh’s anointed one (i.e. the king) as ‘son’ and as ‘ruler of God’s kingdom’ are applied to Jesus in the NT {see Acts 4:25-26; 13:33; Heb. 1:5[Ps. 2:1-9] _ Heb. 1:8-9[Ps. 45:6-7] _ Lk. 1:32-33; Heb. 1:5b[2 Sam. 7:12-16] _ Acts 2:33-36; Heb. 1:3,13[Ps. 110:1]}.

Whose Throne Does Jesus Sit On? 

Luke 1:31-33 – “You will be with child and give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” 

Rev. 3:21 – “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.

So what are we to make of these statements? On what throne does Jesus sit – David’s, the Father’s, or his own? We must first understand that the word ‘throne‘ is simply a metonymy for the authority and/or the right by which one rules. These verses are not referring to the literal, ornately decorated chair that a king sits in when conducting royal business. The throne is the symbol of one’s kingship.

So in the passages above, are we meant to understand that Jesus has three thrones or three different kingdoms over which he rules? Of course not! What we learn is that the kingdom Jesus rules over can be called the kingdom of David, the kingdom of God (his Father) and his own kingdom. In part 1 we saw this same concept applied to Solomon. He was said to sit on David’s throne {1 Kings 2:12}, on Yahweh’s throne {1 Chron. 29:23}, and on his own throne {1 Kings 1:37}. Each one of these is equivalent to being at the right hand of God.

Now I am going to say some things which may be shocking to the ears of many. Pertinent to the question of whether or not the kingdom of God is at present a concrete reality in the earth is a correct understanding of the throne to which the Messiah would be destined. Most Christians today and indeed for many centuries, have understood Jesus’ ascension into heaven and his being seated at the right hand of God to mean that Jesus is ruling over the universe as God. This may be the popular view but is it correct? Even premillennialists, who believe that Jesus must return in the future to reign from the throne of David over the house of Israel, hold that Jesus is ruling presently in this sense. But this is due to the mistaken belief that Jesus is ontologically synonymous with God. In general, Christians think that because Jesus is said to have sat down with his Father on His throne or to be seated at the right hand of God, Jesus is therefore ruling as God along with the Father. But one glaring question then stands out to me – is the throne of David in heaven and is the throne of David the throne of the universal rule of God as creator?

Let us be clear on this matter. The NT explicitly and unambiguously says of Jesus:

The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob (Israel) forever; his kingdom will never end.    Lk. 1:32b-33

It seems to me that this statement must be taken at face value as literal, while statements about Jesus being at the right hand of God and sitting on his Father’s throne are ambiguous, being metaphorical language. Of course, these passages could mean that he is reigning in heaven as God but do not have to be interpreted that way for them to make sense. If one holds the belief that Jesus is God then it is inevitable that he will see these passages in that light. But if this is true then how does it square with the passage quoted above and with the OT depiction of Messiah upon which this promise is based.

That the Hebrew Scriptures predicate of the coming Messiah that he will reign on David’s throne, over the kingdom of Israel, is easily ascertained by a simple reading of the relevant passages:

“He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom (i.e. Israel), to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”   Is. 9:7

“… out of you (Bethlehem) shall come forth one to reign for me in Israel… ” Micah 5:2

“… I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah… I will raise up to David a branch of righteousness and he shall reign as king…”      Jer. 23:5

“Your (i.e. David’s) house and your kingdom (i.e. Israel) will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.    2 Sam. 7:16

“I will place over them (Israel) one shepherd, my servant David (metonymy for Messiah), and he will tend them… I will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them.   Ezek. 34:23-24

“In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it – one from the house of David – one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness.”     Is. 16:5

“In that day… they (i.e. the Israelites) will serve Yahweh their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.”     Jer. 30:9

“I will take the Israelites out of the nations.. I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over them… they will be my people and I will be their God. My servant David (i.e. Messiah) will be king over them… ”       Ezek. 37:21-24

If the kingdom of Messiah is involved with the restored kingdom of Israel and his reign is a continuation of the Davidic dynasty, then his kingdom and his rule is not to be carried out from a heavenly location, but on this earth. Is the throne of David located in heaven? I do not think that such an idea can be substantiated from either the OT or the NT. That the ‘throne of David‘ is synonymous with the ‘throne of Yahweh‘ as per 1 Chron. 29:23, does not mean that Messiah rules from heaven as God the creator, but rather that he is destined to rule over that particular kingdom which belongs to Yahweh in a special way, distinct from all other kingdoms of the earth, and which has been entrusted to the house of David forever. Therefore, I must emphatically declare that our Lord Jesus is not at this present time reigning as king.

This necessarily raises the question, “If the kingdom has not already been inaugurated and Jesus the Messiah is not yet reigning, then why does the language of the NT seem to suggest otherwise?” All the statements about Jesus being at the right hand of God use present tense verbs to express this thought, and all passages which speak of his being exalted are in the past tense.

Already / Not Yet

In 1964, with the release of George E. Ladd’s  Jesus And The Kingdom, the world of American Evangelicalism was introduced to the concept of  already/not yet concerning the kingdom of God. Ladd believed that the only way to reconcile the tension between passages which seemed to portray the kingdom as a present reality and those which seemed to place it in the future was to accept both as true. Ladd saw the already aspect as God’s rule in the lives of believers who have submitted to Christ’s lordship, and the not yet aspect as the eschatological manifestation of God’s rule in the material cosmos. While I am a premillennialist I do not agree with Ladd’s assessment of the kingdom. He appears to have almost completely missed the biblical Hebraic understanding which I laid out in part 1 – that of the the restored kingdom of Israel under the rule of a final Davidic king in accordance with the the covenant God made with David and with the promises of God in the prophetic scriptures. So while I don’t find his already/not yet concept satisfactory with regard to the kingdom, I do think it could help resolve the tension between Jesus’ being already exalted and seated at God’s right hand and the fact that he is not yet reigning.

If we understand the ‘seated at the right hand of God‘ language as a metaphor of exaltation to a position of rulership over God’s kingdom rather than a reference to the present, physical location of Jesus, then it is not difficult to conceive of him being chosen, anointed, made immortal, and already, in the plan and purpose of God, exalted to the position of king, but not yet actually exercising that rule at the present time. I believe we should regard this language about Jesus as proleptic in nature. Merriam-Webster.com defines prolepsis as the representation or assumption of a future act or development as if presently existing or accomplished. This is not just some fanciful attempt to justify a position but is a real rhetorical device used repeatedly in the Bible. Scripture portrays God himself as using this rhetorical device. When God wanted to encourage Abram in his faith in God’s promise to give him a son he spoke to Abram saying:

“No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, because I have made you a father of many nations.”     Gen. 17:5

How could God tell Abram, “I have made you a father of many nations” when as yet Abram wasn’t even the father of one nation. Could it be because from God’s perspective it was already in his plan and purpose. The fact that it would not become a concrete reality in the real world until many centuries later did not prevent God from speaking of it as if it were a present reality. The apostle Paul picked up on this, recognizing that this is just the way God sometimes speaks:

As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God whom he believed … the God who is calling things not existing as if existing.        Rom. 4:17

There are a number of examples of prolepsis in the NT; here are a few:

  • In God’s plan all things have been placed under Messiah’s feet {Eph. 1:22}, although this is clearly not a present concrete reality { 1 Cor.25-28}.
  • Believers are said to be raised with Messiah and seated with him (a position of ruling) {Eph. 2:6}, yet we are not now experiencing that but only awaiting it {Heb. 2:6-8; Rom. 8:22-25; 2 Tim. 2:11-12; Rev. 5:10; 2:26-27; 3:21}.
  • Believers are spoken of, in the plan of God, as already glorified {Rom. 8:30} yet we are still awaiting it to become a reality {Rom. 8:17-18; 2 Cor. 4:17-18}.
  • The resurrection body is something that we are said to have, obviously in the predetermined plan of God {2 Cor. 5:1}, yet we are still awaiting it to become a concrete reality {Rom. 8:18-25; Phil. 3:20-21}.
  • In God’s plan the authority structures of the new creation have already been created in Messiah {Col. 1:16}, yet this is still, from our standpoint, only a future reality {Eph. 1:9-10}.
  • Jesus spoke of the glory that was not even yet his experientially as having already been given to him and that he in turn had already given to his disciples {John 17:22,24}.

The point of proleptic speech is to convey the idea that the future action or development being spoken of is as good as done, i.e. nothing can stop it from happening. All of the examples of prolepsis above speak of things which are predestined by God to be in the age to come, as if they already exist. There is a sense in which Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of God already, and even though that language denotes rulership it does not necessitate that he is presently exercising that rule.

Why The Ascension?

I do not believe that Jesus’ ascension into heaven is synonymous with his being seated at the right hand of God. I suspect most Christians picture Jesus ascending into heaven and literally taking a seat at God’s right hand to assist him in running the universe. But this is pure mythology. Only four of the twelve verses I listed earlier connect the ascension of Jesus with his being at the right hand of God. Since I understand the language ositting at God’s right hand as figurative of being given authority to rule on God’s behalf over his kingdom, and that this language also applied to the Davidic kings who reigned over Israel in the past, obviously then I don’t believe it was necessary that Jesus ascend into heaven in order to obtain this status. I see the ascension of Jesus as serving two purposes:

  1. It serves as a symbolic but visible representation of his exalted status. What better way to assure the followers of Jesus that this is the man chosen by God, from among David’s descendants, to rule forever over his kingdom. The ascension, along with his resurrection, mark him out as the chosen one {Acts 2:29-36; 1Pet. 3:21-22}.
  2. It removes the resurrected and immortal Jesus from the earth while he waits for the appointed time for his reign to begin {Acts 1:6-7; 3:19-21; Heb. 10:12-13}. Since the kingdom was postponed and a time was set in the future for his reign to begin, he could not remain on earth as an immortal man during the interim. Nearly two thousands years have passed since Jesus was raised from the dead. If he had remained on earth what would he have been doing all this time while awaiting the time which the Father has set by his own authority?

If The Kingdom Is Now Then Why…?

The most obvious problem with the kingdom now view espoused by both postmillenialists and amillenialists (as well as by premillenialists who hold the already/not yet view) is that Jesus, our Lord, is not currently reigning as king over the house of Jacob from the throne of David {Lk. 1:33}. The concept that Jesus somehow established the kingdom of God at his first appearing, in a spiritual and invisible sense, is one of the main things that have kept Jews from accepting Jesus as the prophesied Messiah for the past 1700 years. To declare that Jesus fulfilled all Scripture and established the kingdom on earth at his first appearing is to lose any connection whatsoever with the covenants of promise made to the Hebrew patriarchs and with the prophetic word. This is just laughable to Jews. The only Scriptures fulfilled by Jesus at his first appearing are those which foretold his rejection by the Jews, his suffering and death, and his resurrection. No prophecy concerning his rule over the restored house of Israel from the throne of David has ever been fulfilled to date. The Gentile Christian church has put a huge stumbling block before the Jewish people by insisting that Jesus has already fulfilled these prophecies (in a non-literal sense in the church), established the kingdom of God, and is currently reigning over it; rather than declaring to them that because he was rejected by their fathers in the first century, the kingdom age was postponed, and that it is incumbent upon them to repent and acknowledge Jesus as their Messiah in order to speed his return and the dawning of the kingdom age {Acts 3:13-23}. If Jesus does not return to literally fulfill the promises made by covenant with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David then he never has been, is not now, nor ever can be the Messiah of Yahweh.

If the kingdom of God became a reality in the earth nearly two thousand years ago then why aren’t the prophesied effects of that kingdom evident in the world? One of the foremost characteristics of the Messianic kingdom is worldwide cessation of war { Is. 2:4; 9:7; 11:6-7; Micah 4:3; Zech. 9:9-10}. Yet from the first century until today there has never been a time when there was not war or conflict somewhere in the world. Even worse than that is the fact that over the centuries many wars have been fought in the name of Christ. Someone will say that the establishment of this peace is to be progressive rather than abrupt, but could the kingdom of God be a present reality in the earth for two thousand years without any discernible change in this regard. One might even say that things have progressed in the opposite direction with the invention of weapons of mass destruction. When the kingdom does come we will recognize it by the absence of weapons of war.

Another characteristic of the Messianic kingdom which is inconspicuous in the world today is universal justice and righteousness {Ps. 45:6-7; Is. 9:7; 11:1-5; 16:5; 32:1; 42:1-4; Jer. 23:5-6}. The kingdom of Messiah will be distinguished for it’s rule of justice, unlike the present governments of the world which are all corrupt at some level. Presently, the rule of the day is injustice and unrighteousness, as it has been down through history. The prophetic picture cannot be made to fit some spiritual sense in which justice and righteousness is prevailing; justice is failing on every level of society and government today. It is only when their is one universal king and one universal law established in the earth that the justice and righteousness depicted in the prophets’ words will prevail in the earth {Acts 17:31}.

Our Present Sufferings

The NT clearly depicts the present time as one of rejection and suffering for those who follow Messiah and await his return {Matt. 10:22; John 15:18-19; Acts 14:22; Rom. 5:1-5; 8:17-25; 2 Cor. 1:3-7; 4:7-12, 16-18; Phil. 3:10; 1 Thess. 3:2-4; 1 Tim. 3:12; Heb. 10:32-39; 1 Pet.4:12-19; 5:9-10; Rev. 1:9}. But this is entirely inconsistent with the idea that the kingdom of God has already been established. The NT portrays the kingdom age as one in which the people of God will reign with Messiah. This privilege will be given to those who endure this present suffering and rejection and remain faithful to Messiah {Rev. 2:2:26-27; 3:21; 1:9; 20:4; 2Tim. 2:12-13; Acts 14:22; Matt. 5:10-12; 19:28-29}. The kingdom age is linked with the appearing of Messiah {2 Tim. 4:1; 2Pet. 1:10-11; Matt. 25:31, 34; Luke 21:31; 22:29-30} and therefore we are not now reigning. If Messiah is not yet reigning, as I have presented in this study, then neither are we. How can we be presently reigning with Messiah when Messiah himself is not yet reigning. This present age is not our time of reigning and of glory, but of our rejection by this world and our suffering with Messiah, i.e. participating in his rejection and suffering. We in the West sometimes forget that believers all around the world are suffering greatly for their faith in Jesus and have been for centuries. The seeds of persecution have begun to grow in Western civilization as well in recent decades.

Not only do we, as Messiah’s followers, suffer on account of our faith in him, but we also suffer the same ills of society as our fellow unbelieving neighbors. We are subject to the corruption within governments, suffering because of the failures and irresponsibility of our leaders. We suffer due to economic collapses brought about by fiscal mismanagement and natural disasters and war. We also suffer from the same communicable diseases and health issues brought about by the toxins in our food and water supplies. We suffer injustice from the court systems and by unjust laws. Is this the kingdom of God? Is Messiah currently reigning over this mess? All of this shows that we are not reigning with Jesus in this present age and so ipso facto Jesus is not now reigning.

The Kingdom Is Yet Future

It is true that the NT contains some statements that put the kingdom of God into the future while there are others that seem to imply that the kingdom of God was begun while Jesus was on earth and so is a present reality.  There are also passages which might suggest that the kingdom is an internal or spiritual reality, and hence invisible, in contradistinction to the concept of a literal and tangible kingdom which I have presented. This spiritual understanding of the kingdom goes hand in hand with the idea that the kingdom is now. In Part 3 we will examine the passages which seem to imply this concept. For now, here is a list of passages which clearly place the kingdom at a future time:

  1. Matt. 6:10 – Jesus taught his disciples to pray that God’s kingdom would come, clearly implying that it was not yet being experienced.
  2. Matt. 7:21-23 – Here Jesus associates entering the kingdom with “that day” which seems to be the time of future judgment.
  3. Matt. 8:11-12 – Many Gentiles will have a place in the kingdom with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, which implies the resurrection of these patriarchs and places the kingdom age at that time.
  4. Matt. 13:36-43 – This parable seems to place the kingdom in the future at the end of this age when Messiah returns.
  5. Matt. 16:28 – If some who were standing there at that time would not see death before they saw the kingdom of God, then that means some standing there did die without ever seeing the kingdom.
  6. Matt. 18:1-4 – Verse 3 implies that the disciples had not as yet entered the kingdom of God.
  7. Matt. 19:16-30 – This whole pericope equates having eternal life with entering the kingdom and places it “at the renewal of all things, when the son of man sits on of glory.” See vv. 16, 17, 23-24, 28-29.
  8. Matt. 20:20-23 – Again the kingdom seems to be future.
  9. Matt. 25:31-34 – The kingdom is what we will inherit when the “son of man comes in his glory.”
  10. Matt. 26:29 {Lk. 22:15-18} – Future orientation.
  11. Luke 13:24-28 – Again, the kingdom is placed after the resurrection of the dead.
  12. Like 22:30 – Future orientation.
  13. Acts 1:6-7 – Apparently the kingdom had not yet begun.
  14. Acts 14:22 – Apparently they had not yet entered the kingdom.
  15. 1 Cor. 6:9-10 – The kingdom is what we inherit in the future.
  16. 1 Cor. 15:50-54 – Places our inheriting the kingdom after the resurrection.
  17. 2 Thess. 1:4-10 – Places kingdom at the end of this age when Jesus returns.
  18. Hebrews 12:28 – Future orientation.
  19. 2 Peter 1:11 – Future orientation.
  20. Rev. 11:15-18 & 12:10 – Future orientation.

These passages are in accord with the OT concept of the kingdom which I have presented in Part 1 – the literal, restored kingdom of Israel under the rule of the final chosen descendant of David, Jesus of Nazareth.

One Final Note

Although I have presented the kingdom of God as synonymous with the kingdom of Israel I do not limit it’s extent to that nation alone. The Hebrew word for kingdom can denote more than just an individual nation. It can also denote what we call today an empire. An empire is formed when one particular nation extends it’s authority over other nations bringing them under the rule of it’s own king. Historians speak of the Egyptian, Babylonian, and Roman empires because these countries expanded their dominion beyond the borders of their own nation and brought other countries into submission to them. The kingdom of God should most definitely be thought of in this way. Although this kingdom is associated with the restored nation of Israel it is not confined to that nation alone; the kingdom of God will surely be a world-wide empire, bringing all the nations of the world under the dominion of God’s appointed ruler, our Lord Jesus.  Amen , come Lord Jesus!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Kingdom Of God (Part 1)

Of all the Biblical concepts discussed among Christians, preached from pulpits, and taught in Sunday School classes, I find the subject of the Kingdom of God to be one of the most elusive. The very words conjure up in the minds of many a sense of mystery and mystique. For most of my Christian life I have been hard pressed to define the Kingdom of God in a simple and coherent way, and I suppose the same is true for many others.

After having looked on line to see how different ministries and denominations define the Kingdom of God, I have to say that there is much confusion on the subject and much misinformation being promulgated, even by well-respected and highly visible sources. Many understand the Kingdom of God (KOG) as strictly a spiritual reality, described as the rule of God in our hearts or the spiritual rule of Christ in believers. One website described it as “when you are under his lordship and he is in control of your life.” Both the Catholic and the Orthodox church define the KOG as the Church itself. Some see the religion of Christianity as the KOG, so that the spread of the Christian religion is the spread of the KOG. Others speak of the KOG as involving different aspects, from God’s universal reign over his creation to the present reign of Christ in heaven to the future rule of Christ on earth. Most speak of the KOG as a present reality, some as a future reality, and some as encompassing both ideas, which has become known as the already but not yet view.

With so many conflicting ideas of the KOG being promoted how can we know for sure what the Bible means when it speaks of the KOG. One thing that I noticed as I perused the different understandings of the KOG on-line, is that most, if not all, attempted to define the KOG by looking to the New Testament only, particularly the gospels. We do not have to go far into Matthew’s gospel, the first book of the NT, before we encounter John, who comes proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Because the KOG is such a prominent theme in the gospels it seems intuitive to look there for it’s meaning. But I think that this a mistake. Although much is said about the KOG in the NT, I don’t believe it is actually defined anywhere in it. Jesus’ kingdom parables often liken some aspect of the KOG to something else but without really defining the KOG. For example, the parable of the hidden treasure in Matt. 13:44 expresses the unsurpassed value of obtaining a place in the KOG, but without defining the KOG. It seems to me that the NT simply assumes a prior knowledge of the KOG among it’s intended audience. This is certainly true in the case of John the baptizer and Jesus, who both began their respective ministries proclaiming the nearness of the KOG. It is nowhere recorded that they had to instruct their hearers of a new KOG concept, hitherto unheard of. Instead, it is recorded that they declared the KOG as if they expected their hearers to immediately know what they were referring to. In other words, the NT begins with the assumption that there is already an understanding among the Israelites (the original audience of John’s and Jesus’ message) of the KOG, and that it was that KOG which was near at hand. The question that must be asked is what would a first century Israelite have understood the KOG to be and from where would they have attained that understanding.

The Hebraic Perspective

In answer to the above question, as to where the 1st century Israelite would have gained his understanding of the KOG, the only reasonable answer is from the Hebrew Scriptures. Now this should be obvious to all, seeing that the Hebrew Scriptures are the foundation upon which the teaching of Jesus and the apostles is grounded, but sadly it is not. So thoroughly has the religion of Christianity dissociated the followers of Jesus from the Hebraic foundation of the faith once delivered to the saints, that today, for most Christians, it would not even be in their thought process to look to the OT to define the KOG as proclaimed in the NT. This sad state of affairs commenced many centuries ago when early Gentile church fathers, from the 2nd century onward, began to divorce the faith from it’s Hebrew roots. The historical event of Jesus’ birth, ministry, death and resurrection and ascension began to be interpreted through a Greek mindset and the NT documents understood from a Hellenistic perspective, so that over time the whole orientation of the faith of Jesus and his apostles was shifted away from it’s Hebrew mooring. The OT scriptures were then reinterpreted to fit this shift in thinking. Through the Greek influenced allegorical method of interpretation, the concept of the KOG was completely divested of it’s original meaning (found in the OT) and made to conform to the pattern of Greek thought which had become the predominant way of thinking among church leaders.

To escape this Hellenistic way of viewing the KOG we must read the Hebrew Scriptures with different eyes, the eyes of the ancient Israelite rather than the eyes of early Greek and Latin church fathers. The KOG cannot be divorced from the cultural and historical setting in which it was first revealed if we hope to arrive at a truly biblical understanding. With this as our fundamental and guiding principle, let’s examine the Hebrew Scriptures to see what we can learn.

Kingdom Of God In The OT

Here are all of the verses which reference a kingdom which in some way belongs to God:

  1. Ex. 19:6 –  ” … you (Israel) will be for me a kingdom …”
  2. 1 Chron. 17:14 –  “I will set him (David’s son) over … my kingdom forever …”
  3. 1 Chron. 28:5 –  “… he has chosen… Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of Yahweh over Israel.”
  4. 1 Chron. 29:11 – “Yours, O Yahweh, is the kingdom: you are exalted as head over all.”
  5. 2 Chron. 13:8 – “And now you plan to resist the kingdom of Yahweh, which is in the hands of David’s descendants.”
  6. Ps. 103:19 – “Yahweh in heaven has established his throne and his kingdom rules over all.”
  7. Ps. 145: 11-13 – “They will tell of the glory of your kingdom… that all men may know of the glorious majesty of his kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom… “
  8. Dan. 2:44 – “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom… “
  9. Dan. 4:3 – “His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom… “
  10. Dan. 4:34 – “His dominion an everlasting dominion; his kingdom from generation to generation.”
  11. Dan. 7:27 – “… His (the Most High) kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.”
  12. Obadiah 1:21 –  “Saviors will come to Mount Zion… and the kingdom will be Yahweh’s.”

I find possibly two, and only two, distinct concepts of the KOG in the Hebrew Bible. The first passage in this list is the first mention of a kingdom in relation to God and establishes the primary idea of the KOG in the Hebrew Bible – the KOG is synonymous with the nation of Israel. In the context God says, “… out of all the nations you (Israel) will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom…” The idea of the nation of Israel as the kingdom of God is also expressed in the fact that Yahweh is presented in the Hebrew Bible as Israel’s king. This is seen clearly in 1 Samuel when the Israelites demand a human king to rule over them like the other nations. Yahweh spoke to Samuel:

Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.      1 Sam. 8:7

Later, Samuel addresses the people:

… you said to me, “No, we want a king to rule over us” even though Yahweh your God was your king. Now here is the king you have chosen, the one you asked for; see Yahweh has set a king over you.    1 Sam. 12:12-13

The kingship of Yahweh over Israel is confirmed by the following passages: Ex. 15:18; Num. 23:21; Ps. 10:16; 24:8,10; 29:10; 47:2; 98:6; 99:1-4; Is. 6:5; 33:22; 41:21; 43:15; 44:6. Although God rules over all things, he has chosen a nation over which he reigns in a unique sense. The realm and the people over which a king rules is his kingdom; hence Israel is the kingdom of God. This is the predominant idea of the KOG in the OT.

I said that there are possibly two concepts of the KOG in the OT. The second concept is that God reigns over everything that he has created. Out of the above list of kingdom verses, the only ones that refer to this universal reign of God are # 6, 9 and 10, and possibly 4, although a case could be made for it referring to Israel. Of the list, # 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 12 and possibly 4, clearly have reference to Israel. I firmly believe that the remaining verses, #8 and 11, refer to the eschatological kingdom of Israel, though some would likely refer them to the concept of a spiritual kingdom of Christ, i.e. Christ presently reigning through the gospel or through the universal Church.

The Theocratic Kingdom Of Israel

As noted above, Yahweh was the king over the nation of Israel, making Israel the kingdom of Yahweh. For the first 400 yrs. or so after the exodus from Egypt, Israel had no human king; it was a purely theocratic kingdom i.e. God alone was their ruler. God, as king, had given the nation his law and the people were bound to him and his law by covenant. There were leaders (Moses and Joshua) and judges (Gideon, Samson, etc.) whom God raised up to carry out his theocratic will on behalf of the nation, but these never were considered true kings in the sense seen among the other nations.

When God eventually established a human king {see 1 Sam. 8-12} over Israel, it was still regarded as a theocracy, for the king simply became the representative of Yahweh’s kingship, ruling for Yahweh and on his behalf. The nation was still to regard Yahweh as their ultimate king and the king of Israel was not to be an autocrat, but was to rule in submission to Yahweh and his law {Deut. 17:14-20; 1 Sam. 12:13-15}. In fact, the throne of the king was regarded as the throne of Yahweh {compare 1 Chron. 29:23 with 1 Kings 2:12; also 2 Chron. 9:8}. A close relationship was to be maintained between the king and God’s prophets, who brought the word of Yahweh to the king and gave him God’s instructions and direction for the nation {see 2 Sam. 7:1-4 as an example; this should also put Prov. 21:1 in a different light}.

The kingdom of Israel is referred to as both the kingdom of the king who is reigning and the kingdom of Yahweh. In 2 Sam. 7:11-16, when Yahweh sent the prophet Nathan to David, he made this covenant with him:

“… Yahweh declares to you that Yahweh himself will establish a house for you… I will raise up your seed… and I will establish his kingdom… I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever… Your house and your kingdom will endure before me forever; your throne will be established forever.”

However, when the inspired chronicler recorded this promise of God to David he made a slight adjustment:

“I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever.”     1 Chron. 17:14

What we discover from this is that the kingdom of David and his descendants is synonymous with the kingdom of God. We see this stated again in 2 Chron. 13:5,8:

Don’t you know that Yahweh, the God of Israel, has given the sovereignty over Israel to David and his descendants forever.

And now you plan to resist the kingdom of Yahweh which is in the hands of the descendants of David.

So then, we are able to determine that the kingdom of God = the kingdom of Israel = the kingdom of David and his descendants. Additionally, the throne of Israel = the throne of David = the throne of Yahweh {see 1 Kings 8:20; 1 Chron. 29:23; 1 Kings 2:12}. Therefore, the throne and kingdom of Israel belong to Yahweh their true king, and he has given them into the hands of David and his descendants forever {see Ps. 89:3-4, 18-37}.

The Fall Of The Kingdom

The fall of the kingdom of God is, of course, based on the above analysis, inextricably tied to the fall of the house of David. Since the KOG was in the hands of the house of David, the fall of his dynasty was the fall of the KOG. The downfall of the house of David began with Yahweh’s judgment upon King Solomon:

So Yahweh said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees… I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of your father David, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”            1 Kings 11:11-14

This was fulfilled when all Israel, except for Judah and Benjamin, rebelled against Solomon’s son Rehoboam and made Jeroboam their king. Thus the kingdom of Israel was divided into the northern and southern kingdoms, with the house of David maintaining the rule over the southern kingdom. All of the kings of the northern kingdom did evil in the eyes of Yahweh until he brought the Assyrian army to devastate the cities and towns of Israel and take the people into exile. The Davidic kings in the southern kingdom were a mixed bag – some rebelled against God and others were faithful to God. After the fall of the northern kingdom the southern kingdom remained for about another 110 yrs. During that time eight descendants of David reigned. Of the eight, six did evil in the eyes of Yahweh, leading the people into idolatry. This led to the exile of the people of Judah and Benjamin to Babylon and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Davidic dynasty. Psalm 89 provides a vivid picture of the fall of the house of David. After describing the choice of Yahweh to exalt David and his seed to sit on the throne of the kingdom of Yahweh by an irrevocable covenant, the psalmist laments the fall of the house of David in his day with these words:

38. But you have cast off, you have despised, you have been angry with your anointed one (Heb. mashiach = Messiah). 39. You have spurned the covenant with your servant, you have dishonored his crown to the ground. 40. You have broken down all his walls, you have appointed his strongholds to destruction. 41. All who pass by the way plunder him; he has become a reproach to his neighbors. 42. You have exalted the right hand of his adversaries; you have caused all his enemies to rejoice. 43. Furthermore, you have turned back the edge of his sword; you have not supported him in battle. 44. You have put an end to his splendor; you have hurled his throne to the ground. 45. You have shortened the days of his youth; you have wrapped shame around him… 49. Where O Lord is the former covenant mercy which you swore to David in your faithfulness. 50. Remember O Lord the reproach of your servant… 51. … your enemies O Yahweh… have mocked the footsteps of your anointed one.

Ever since the fall of the house of David and the exile of the people of Israel into the nations of the world, the kingdom people of God have been ruled over by other kingdoms i.e. Gentile world powers. This sad state of affairs was foretold by such prophets as Isaiah, Hosea, Amos and Micah about 100 yrs. before it came to pass.

So the question must be asked, “Has God  forever annulled the covenant he made with David, that his line and throne would endure forever?” May it never be! Hear the word of Yahweh:

“If his sons forsake my law and do not follow my statutes, if they violate my decrees and fail to keep my commands, I will punish their sin with the rod, their iniquity with flogging; but I will not take my love from him, nor will I betray my faithfulness. I will not violate my covenant or alter what my lips have uttered. Once have I sworn by my holiness – I will not lie to David – his (dynastic) offspring will continue perpetually and his throne remain before me like the sun. Like the moon it shall be established forever and as the witness in the sky, it is sure.   Psalm 89:30-37

The certainty of God’s promise to David became the hope of the post-exilic Israelites, who, on the basis of this covenant, looked for the day when the kingdom would be restored once again to the house of David.

The Kingdom Promise And Hope

The same prophets who spoke the word of Yahweh concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, the downfall of the Davidic dynasty, and the dispersion of God’s people, also foretold of a future and final restoration of the kingdom of Israel under the final and ideal descendant of David, Yahweh’s anointed one. The prophetic picture that was painted by the words of the prophets became the impetus for the messianic hope of the Israelite people after their return to the land from Babylonian captivity. Now let’s look at some of these prophetic utterances:

“For the sons of Israel shall remain many days without king or prince, and without sacrifice or altar, without ephod or idols. Afterwards the sons of Israel shall return and seek Yahweh their God and David their king. They shall be in awe on account of Yahweh and his goodness in the end of those days.”    Hosea 3:4-5

“At that time, I will erect (again) the tent of David which has fallen down. I will close up the breaches in it’s walls and will raise up it’s ruins and rebuild it as in days of old…  I will bring back the captives, my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the cities which were desolated and shall live in them…  I will plant Israel in their own land never again will they be uprooted from the land that I have given them,” says Yahweh your God.        Amos 9:11, 14-15

“At that time,” says Yahweh, “I will gather the limping one and I will assemble the exiled one, even the one I have afflicted. I will make the limping one a remnant and the exiled one a strong nation. And so Yahweh will reign as king over them from that time and even until forever. As for you, O tower of the flock, O hill of the daughter of Zion (i.e. the citadel of David), to you shall come the rule, even the former kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.”      Micah 4:6-8

“For now she gathers her troops, O daughter of troops; he has laid a siege against us. They will strike the ruling one of Israel on the cheek with a rod. But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though insignificant you have come to be among the thousands of Judah, out of you shall come forth one to reign for me in Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times… He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of Yahweh, in the majesty of the name of Yahweh his God. And they (the Israelites) shall remain (in the land), for at that time he shall be great, even unto the ends of the earth. And he shall accomplish this peace.”    Micah 5:1-2,4

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress… the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…  You have enlarged the nation, you have increased her joy. They rejoice before you like the joy in the time of harvest… you have shattered the yoke of his burden and the rod of his back, the rod of his oppressor. Every warriors boot used in marching and every garment rolled in blood will become fuel for the burning fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders… for an increase of the rule and of peace without end, for the sake of the throne of David and his kingdom, to establish the rule and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from that time forward and even unto forever. The zeal of Yahweh of hosts will accomplish this.       Is. 9:1-7

“The days are coming,” declares Yahweh, “when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will raise up a righteous branch for David and he shall reign as king and he shall act wisely and accomplish justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be liberated and Jerusalem will dwell in security and this is the name by which he will be called YAHWEH IS OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”     Jer. 23:5-6

After the return of the Babylonian exiles to the land of Israel in the 5th century B.C., still under the dominion of the Medo-Persian, then the Grecian, then the Roman Empires, the people lived with the expectation of the restoration of the kingdom of Israel under the reign of a descendant of David. There was not unanimity of thought on the details as to how it would all play out, but that it would happen was the nearly universal belief. We see this expectation clearly expressed in the Jewish apocryphal and pseudopigraphic literature of the intertestamental period, such as the Psalms of Solomon, 1 Enoch and 2 Esdras. We even see this hope explicitly expressed in the NT {see Lk. 1:30-33, 67-75; 2:25, 38; 23:50-51; 24:21; Acts 1:6; 3:20-21; 26:6-7}. By the time of the coming of John the baptizer on the scene, messianic expectations had waned, with only a remnant still maintaining a living hope within themselves. Yet everyone knew what the prophecies declared. When John came proclaiming that the kingdom of God was imminent what should we suppose his hearers to have understood him to be referring to.

Were The Jews Wrong In Their Expectation?

One of the main objections which Jews have had for the past two thousands years to Jesus being the promised Messiah is that the kingdom was not restored to Israel under his kingship. This fact must have also disturbed the early Gentile Christians who had to answer the charge that their Christ was seemingly a fraud. The prophecies foretold a Davidic king who would liberate Israel from her enemies, gather the exiles and reunite the divided kingdom into one, and reign over the house of Israel forever. Jesus of Nazareth obviously did not fulfill any of this but rather was put to death by the Romans at the instigation of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. How did early Christians explain this discrepancy? The main answer is that the OT prophecies concerning Israel were spiritualized to refer to the Christian church rather than to Israel and the promises of a restored kingdom of Israel were allegorized to refer to the newly formed Christian religion [As an example, Jerome, in his note on Is. 11:10-16 tells us how we should interpret these prophetic promises: “Let the wise and Christian reader take this rule for prophetical promises, that those things which the Jews… hold to be going to take place carnally, we should teach to have already taken place spiritually… “].  But were the early church fathers correct in this way of understanding the picture which the prophetic scriptures had painted? I categorically deny the validity of their hermeneutic.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven (or God) is at hand.”   Matt. 4:17 {see also Mark 1:14-15}

With this proclamation the public ministry of Jesus of Nazareth began. But I ask again, “What did the Israelites hearing these words think Jesus was referring to?” They could only have thought that the kingdom of Israel, formerly in the hands of David’s descendants, but then in a fallen state, was about to be restored according to the promises of Yahweh recorded in the prophets. Now if Jesus had meant something other than what was promised, some invisible or spiritualized kingdom heretofore unheard of, then his failure to make this plain to his hearers would surely be a dereliction of duty on his part. And if the expectation of the Jews for a son of David to be raised up to deliver the Israelites from Gentile domination and to rule over the restored kingdom of Israel was misguided, then we can only conclude that Yahweh himself had deceived them, couching within the plain meaning of the promises some hidden and supposedly more lofty sense not readily accessible to the common reader. I contend that the Jews were not in error regarding their expectation, having derived their hope from the Scriptures themselves.

But if this is true then how should we account for the fact that this restored kingdom which was ‘at hand‘ then, did not appear at that time or at any time during the intervening centuries?

The Preparation For The Restoration Of The Kingdom

Before I answer that question we must look into how the LORD went about preparing his people for the fulfillment of those precious promises. The promises themselves along with the faithfulness of God were the ground of their hope to be sure. But it was the discipline of Yahweh upon the nation which evoked such a longing for the fulfillment. Only in the restored kingdom would Israel finally be at peace with both their God and the Gentile nations. In fact, in that kingdom they would be exalted above all the nations and God would live among them as in days of old. But ever since the dispersion of the southern kingdom under the Babylonians Israel had been subject to the rule of other lords instead of Yahweh. Even after many of the exiles returned to the land of Israel in 538 B.C. and the Temple and Jerusalem were rebuilt, the Davidic throne was never restored and the nation remained subject to foreign powers, first Persia, then Greece, then Rome, which was ruling over Israel at the time of Jesus. Living under the oppression of these Gentile powers would have one of two effects upon the nation – either it would produce an intense longing and a fervent seeking of God for the fulfillment of his promise, or it would induce a despondency and a turning away from God. The discipline that they were under was a test of their worthiness to receive the promises. Unfortunately, by the time of the early first century, the hope had soured for most Jews living in the land. The Roman oppression was cruel and life was hard and God seemed distant and unconcerned with their plight. As a result many in the land had grown cold in their  love for God and hardened in heart.

The ministry of John the baptizer played an important role at this point in Israel’s history. As a prophet raised up by God, his unique role was to prepare a people who would be ready for the restoration of the kingdom {Lk. 1:17}. This he would do by proclaiming the nearness of the kingdom, thus revivifying the ancient hope in their hearts, and by calling them to repentance, i.e. to return to Yahweh. This was necessary not only because of the spiritual condition of the people at this time, but also because of the way that God had raised up the Messiah, the promised son of David.

He grew up the son of poor parents from an obscure family, in an obscure and insignificant village in Galilee. According to an obscure prophecy “he had no outward form or majesty that [they] should regard him, nothing in his appearance that [they] should desire him” as their king. The Lord God had seen fit to make the chosen one from the line of David come on the scene in a humble manner rather than in all of the outward trappings of a royal son destined for the throne. This was also to test the faithfulness of the people. Because the Messiah would appear on the scene in an unexpected manner, it was essential that each Israelite be personally spiritually attuned to God. Only those who could be taught by God would know the true identity of Jesus and only those whose hearts were turned to God would be prepared to listen and learn {John 6:45}. This is the true significance of certain passages in John’s gospel which Reformed exegetes have wrongly employed as proof of their peculiar doctrines of Total Depravity, Unconditional Election and and Irresistible Grace. That no one could acknowledge Jesus as the Chosen One apart from God’s intervention is obvious due to the fact of his humble manner of life, his lack of any “outward form or majesty that [they] should regard him” as the promised Messiah. But this does not necessitate the Reformed position that God had unconditionally pre-selected in eternity past the precise individuals whom he would reveal the truth to. If that were the case then John’s ministry was unnecessary. John’s ministry was preparatory in nature i.e. by confession of sins and genuine repentance (turning of the heart to God) individual Israelites were made ready to be taught by God i.e. to hear and learn from him that Jesus was indeed the promised son of David, even though he didn’t look the part outwardly. This fact also accounts for why the Jewish leaders for the most part were blind to who Jesus was for they had rejected John’s ministry, refusing to repent and be baptized { Lk. 7:29-30, 33; 20:3-7}.

We can see this being worked out in the lives of Jesus’ disciples. In the first chapter of the gospel of John we find some of those who would later be chosen as Jesus’ close associates (the Twelve) in Bethany. We learn later that these men were Galileans. So what were these Galileans doing in Bethany? I propose that when the news of the appearing of a prophet, preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins, had reached the villages of Galilee, these men went to hear this prophet for themselves. I also propose that these men were cut to the heart by John’s message and were baptized by him, turning their hearts back to God. It is even stated that at least two of them had become disciples of John {Jn. 1:35-40}. The account of Nathaniel’s first encounter with Jesus is instructive {1:45-49}. We see Nathaniel, based solely on Jesus saying that he saw him under the fig tree, conclude that Jesus was indeed the promised son of God, the king of Israel (please note that ‘son of God‘ as well as ‘Messiah‘ denotes the fact that Jesus is the descendant of David chosen to rule over the restored kingdom of Israel – see 1 Chron. 28:5-7). But how could Nathaniel have known the true identity of Jesus with so little to go on? His heart had been so thoroughly turned to God under John’s preaching that he was able to hear and learn from God the true identity of this man Jesus. Later, we see a similar thing with Peter, who in answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?”, declares, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” In response Jesus says:

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.”      Matt. 16:17

The fact that Jesus of Nazareth was considered to be the descendant of David chosen by God to rule over the restored kingdom of Israel as it’s king, is a predominate theme of the gospels, though this fact has been diminished by the false belief that the titles son of God, Christ and son of man are meant to denote a divine Savior from sin and nothing more. That Jesus was considered by the authors of the gospels to be the literal heir to the throne of David and that they wished their readers to regard him as such is proved by the following verses: Matt. 1:1; 2:1-2; 21:4-11; 25:31-40; 27:11, 27-29, 37-43; Mark 11:9-10; 15:2,17-19, 26, 31-32; Luke 1:30-33, 68-69; 19:11-27, 37-38; 23:1-3, 35-39; John 1:49-50; 6:15; 12:12-15; 18:33-37; 19:1-3, 7, 12, 14-15, 19-21.

Jesus himself did not openly declare himself as Israel’s king. The people regarded him as an itinerant rabbi or a miracle-working prophet. But to come to the conviction that he was the chosen son of David was something that had to be revealed to each one  individually, and only those whose hearts were turned to God would receive that revelation. The fact that Jesus was not received as the long awaited king by the Jewish leaders and the mass of the population only confirms the unrepentant condition of their hearts toward God. This condition of hardness of heart would result in the postponement of the promised kingdom.

The Kingdom Postponed

After the ministry of John was removed from the scene there was still a period in which Israelites who did not turn to God under John’s message could do so under the proclamation of the same message by Jesus. While many ‘sinners’ did so, the religious leaders remained obstinate. There seems to me to be a definite turning point in the ministry of Jesus, when the unbelief of the leadership and of the multitudes reached a critical point of no return. From that point on Jesus knew that the kingdom would not be established at that time but would be denied to that generation and that his ministry would end in his death at the instigation of the Jerusalem leaders. The turning point seems to be after Jesus sent out the twelve apostles and then the seventy disciples, both groups proclaiming the same message as John and Jesus, “The kingdom of God is near” {Matt.10:7; Lk. 10:9}. After this we have Jesus denouncing certain cities in which he had performed most of his miracles, for failing to turn to God in genuine repentance {Matt. 11:20-24}. We then have the account of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had been sent by the Jerusalem council {Mk. 3:22}, declaring that Jesus was in league with Beelzebub, the prince of demons. They said this precisely because the people were considering whether Jesus could be the long awaited chosen son of David {Matt. 12:23-24}. Not only did the Jewish leaders not believe but they were actively working to prevent the people also from believing.

We then come to the enigmatic statement of Jesus in Matt. 12:43-45, which in my mind is an allegory of Israel’s spiritual condition at that time. The nation having been delivered from the spirit of idolatry by the Babylonian captivity, failed upon their return to the land to occupy their house with a sincere and fervent devotion to their God, and hence were now, in that generation, becoming worse than their fathers of that former generation.

After this Jesus began to speak to the people in parables. It is explicitly stated that this was done because

“The mystery of the kingdom of God has been given to you (the disciples). But to those on the outside everything is being done in parables, so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding, otherwise they might turn and be forgiven.’ ”     Mark 4:11-12

The point seems to be that because they refused to repent up to this point the people were to be left to themselves in their own self imposed ignorance, unable to hear and learn from the Father.

Soon afterward Jesus is rejected in his own home town of Nazareth {Matt. 13:53-58}. Within a short span of time after this he begins to speak to his disciples of his need to go to Jerusalem where he will suffer and  be put to death and then resurrected {Matt. 16:31; 17:22-23; 20:18-19}. This left his disciples confused; if this man was the promised son of David raised up by God to restore the kingdom to Israel then why was he talking about being killed? They did not understand {Lk. 18:34}.

At one point, speaking as the destined son of David, Jesus said:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together… but you were not willing. Look, your house (the Davidic dynasty) is being left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”     Luke 13:34-35

In this passage, the house is taken by the majority of commentators to refer to the temple, while the rest see it as Jerusalem itself. But the verb aphietai = left is a present tense indicative which implies a present condition of the house being left in place, i.e a state of desolation. So then the house, being in a state of desolation, is being left in that condition. Since neither the temple nor Jerusalem were at that time in a desolate state the house must be referring to something else which was then in a desolate state, which I propose to be the house or dynasty of David. Because of the close association of the house of David with Jerusalem {see Ps. 122:3-5; Jer. 17:19-25; 22:1-5; Zech. 12:7-12; 13:1}, it being the capital city of the kingdom of Israel from where the Davidic kings ruled, the house or dynasty of David is here termed the your house i.e. the house belonging to Jerusalem.

Later, as he approached Jerusalem and saw the city he wept over it, saying:

“If you, even you, had only known in this day the things leading to peace, but now they are hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”        Luke 19:41-44

The peace that Jesus refers to here can only be a reference to that shalom (complete well-being, safety and security and prosperity) which is to be a characteristic mark of the restored kingdom of Israel, according to the prophetic promises. Jesus here is certainly implying that this shalom could have been their’s had they been spiritually attuned through repentance. It is clear that by this point in the narrative the imminency of the restoration of the kingdom to Israel has been removed due to the unworthiness of that generation. Jesus also tells a number of parables which certainly imply a delay in the kingdom’s restoration – Matt. 21:33-43; 22:1-14; 25:1-13, 14-30.

The Solution

So then, the answer to the question as to how we should account for the failure of the kingdom, which Jesus proclaimed as near, to have been realized at that time, if we understand that kingdom to be the restored kingdom of Israel under the rule of a final son of David, is this – the establishment of this kingdom was contingent upon the Jerusalem leadership and the majority of Israelites acknowledging and confessing allegiance to the chosen son of David, Jesus of Nazareth. John was sent prior to Messiah’s appearance for the express purpose of calling the people to repentance in order that they might be in a prepared spiritual condition to be taught by God that this Jesus of Nazareth was indeed this long awaited King. The kingdom of David which would have been restored then, if the hearts of the people had been turned to God, was postponed, the king himself being removed from Israel, and is awaiting the appointed time for the fulfillment of those promises.

Further Confirmation

This is confirmed by the fact that later in his ministry Jesus not only began to talk about his impending death but about a coming of the son of man in the future {Matt. 24:30-31, 36-39; 25:31-34; 26:64}. In the Jewish mind of that time the coming of the son of man would most certainly be connected to the restoration of the kingdom of Israel based on the prophecy of Daniel 7. Everything points to a non-establishment of the proclaimed kingdom at that time and a future fulfillment of the promises.

This view of the kingdom is confirmed by statements in the book of Acts, of which the first and most important is Acts 1:6-7. Let’s get the setting first from verse three:

After his suffering, he (i.e. Jesus) showed himself alive to these men (i.e. the apostles) with many convincing proofs. He appeared to them during a forty day period speaking about the kingdom of God.

Then we are told in verses six and seven, that presumably on the final day of that forty day period, just before his ascension:

When they met together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the father has fixed by his own authority.

Now the popular commentaries really drop the ball here. Because the kingdom of God is so widely, yet mistakenly, viewed as a spiritual and invisible kingdom, or taken to be the church or Christianity itself, the commentators all declare the apostles to be in error in their conception of the KOG at that point in time. They speak of the apostles as still apparently having a ‘Jewish’ or ‘carnal’ or ‘worldly’ conception of the kingdom. But how can a conception of the kingdom which is derived from the Hebrew Scriptures and from promises given with solemn oath be considered ‘carnal’ or ‘worldly’? That their conception was ‘Jewish’ I admit, but why this would be an error I cannot see. These commentators want us to believe that Jesus’ own hand-picked disciples, with whom he spent time, over a forty day period after his resurrection, speaking about the kingdom of God, would at the end of that period be ignorant of the nature of that kingdom; but that Gentile church fathers of a later period would have a more accurate perception of the true nature of the KOG. I find this thinking not credible at all. The fact that they had been privy to the resurrected son of David’s personal talks about the KOG should assure us that they knew well the true nature of the KOG. Also, Jesus does not rebuke them for ‘carnal’ thinking, like he was wont to do {see Lk. 24:25-27; Jn. 14:9}, but simply informed them that the precise timing was not for them to know.

Some of the commentators suggest that they were still thinking ‘carnally’ then because they had not yet received the Spirit, which was to illumine their minds. But we see the apostle Peter in chapter 3, after having received the Spirit, still promoting the same supposedly ‘carnal’ idea of the kingdom to his fellow Israelites:

“Repent then, and turn back (to God), so that your sins may be blotted out, so that the times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord (God), and that he might send the Messiah, the one who has been appointed for you, Jesus. For heaven must receive him until the times of the restoration of all things of which God spoke long ago by the mouth of his prophets.     Acts 3:19-21

We note here a couple of things. The restoration of all things of which God had spoke in the prophets must refer to the restoration of the kingdom of Israel and the fallen throne of David, for this is what is foretold in the prophets. But if the kingdom is synonymous with a newly founded Christian religion, formerly unknown, then how could it be called a restoration, for the word signifies a return to a former condition. If the kingdom is the newly formed church then there is no former condition to which it must be returned. Next, we observe that this foretold restoration is still contingent upon the repentance of the people of Israel. This is shown by the use of the Greek disjunctive particle an in verse 20 along with subjunctive verbs. Peter is not expressing doubt as to the fulfillment of the promises but only of the timing, which we have already seen, he was not privy to. Also, we note that Jesus, the one appointed to rule this restored kingdom has been removed from this earthly scene and will remain so until the time is ripe for the restoration.

The apostle Paul also maintained this same supposedly ‘carnal’ perception of the kingdom. In his defense before king Agrippa he declared:

“And now, it is because of an expectation of the promise which God made to our fathers that I am on trial today, the promise which our twelve tribes are hoping to arrive at as they are earnestly worshiping night and day. It is because of this hope that the Jews are accusing me, O king.”      Acts 26:6-7

Observe here that Paul’s expectation is the same as that of the Israelites, an expectation based upon the promise of God made to Israel. This promise can only be that of the restored kingdom and throne of David, ruled over by a final descendant of David. The only point of contention between Paul and his fellow Jews who were opposing him is whether or not Jesus of Nazareth was this promised son of David. Paul declared that Jesus was indeed the chosen son of David and that the proof of this is the fact that God had raised him from the dead {see v.8}. If Paul had held the conception of the kingdom of God which became prevalent among early church fathers and is still the predominate  view, could he have equated his hope with that of the Jews, whom the church fathers accused of having a ‘carnal‘ hope? Also the fact that Paul speaks of this hope or expectation shows that it was not yet a present reality but was still a future thing {Rom. 8:24-25}.

Conclusion

Let’s review what we have learned.

  • Differing and conflicting views of the KOG have caused confusion and uncertainty as to the true nature of it.
  • The predominate idea that the kingdom is an invisible or spiritual kingdom established at the time of Jesus’ appearance is the inherited belief of early Gentile church fathers who demeaned the Hebraic conception as ‘Jewish’ and ‘carnal’.
  • The Hebrew scriptures declare the KOG to be the theocratic kingdom of Israel which was given into the hands of David and his descendants by an everlasting covenant. This covenant makes the KOG = to the kingdom of Israel = to the kingdom of David and the throne of David = to the throne of Yahweh
  • This kingdom was removed from the scene with the fall of the Davidic dynasty and the dispersion of the nation of Israel into the nations of the world.
  • God promised, through the prophets, to restore the people back to the land, and to restore the throne of David and the theocratic kingdom which belongs to it
  • God raised up John to make the people ready for the restoration of the kingdom by repentance. This was necessary because God had determined to raise up the Messiah from obscurity without any outward indications of his true identity, which could only be known by revelation, which was given to those whose hearts were prepared by repentance.
  • John and Jesus proclaimed the nearness of the restored kingdom of God which was promised in the prophets.
  • Because the Jerusalem leaders and the majority of the people failed to repent they were unable to hear and learn from the Father and so acknowledge Jesus as the promised son of David, resulting in the postponement of the restoration till a future indeterminate time.
  • This answers the objection of the Jews who deny Jesus is the promised Messiah because he did not restore the kingdom to Israel.
  • After Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, the apostles still maintained the same conception of the kingdom which is found in the prophets and is termed ‘carnal’ by early church fathers and modern commentators.

In part 2 we will examine the popular idea that the kingdom was indeed established in the 1st century and has been a reality in the earth even to this day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Binitarianism In The OT – Truth Or Myth (Part 2)

I will pick up where we left off in the last post, examining the specific passages Dr. Heiser presented in his lecture. Here is the link to the video: Two Powers of the Godhead. We pick it up at the time mark 24:37

1.) Judges 2:1-4 –  Malak YHWH went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to your forefathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.” When malak YHWH had spoken these things to all the Israelites, the people wept aloud …

Heiser tries to make hay out of the fact that the agent of Yahweh here speaks in the first person as Yahweh. Heiser’s conclusion is that this malak of Yahweh is Yahweh, i.e. the second Yahweh, the visible one. That is why he speaks in the first person, because he is Yahweh. Heiser then gives (from mark 25:52- 26:29) a paraphrase of what the agent said but really takes some liberties; in fact, much of what he includes in his paraphrase is not even implicit in the text. Let me point out a few problems with Heiser’s interpretation .

First, as I noted in Part 1 of this study, the OT phrase malak YHWH’  does not designate one specific, special entity, much less one who shares Yahweh’s nature. I once again point you to the article where I demonstrate the validity of this statement, which I encourage you to read if you have not done so already:  Pre-incarnate Appearances Of The Son Of God In The OT – Truth Or Myth (Part 1)  I will note here that the LXX has ‘an angel of the Lord‘ at Judges 2:1, as does the 1985 JPS Tanakh. The fact that ‘malak YHWH‘ should be understood as indefinite, is in itself sufficient to disprove Heiser’s understanding of the passage. Heiser needs this ‘angel’ to be the same as the angel of Ex. 23:20, whom he regards as the visible Yahweh, in distinction from the invisible Yahweh.

Now of course, the fact that this malak speaks as Yahweh in the first person, gives Heiser confidence that he is reading the text right. But does this fact necessitate that the malak be Yahweh himself? Absolutely not! As I showed in Part 1, both human and non-human agents of Yahweh can and have spoken for Yahweh in the first person, even without the customary formula ‘thus says Yahweh.’ While it is true that it is predominately non-human agents who speak like this, human agents have been known to do so also. I gave two examples where Moses does this – Deut. 11:14-15 and 29:6. Other biblical prophets have done the same and the practice is seen in other ANE literature. The fact that a mouthpiece of Yahweh, i.e. a prophet, speaks for God in the first person is not a reason to regard the mouthpiece as Yahweh himself. This should be self-evident. God says of prophets that he would put his word in their mouth and that what they speak are his words {Deut. 18:18-19}. Alternatively, non-human agents of Yahweh sometimes use the formula “declares Yahweh” as in Gen. 22:15 and Zech. 3:6.

The error that many make is that, in passages where it is not obviously a human agent, it is just assumed that malak YHWH is a reference to a non-human agent i.e. an angel from heaven. But this is not necessarily the case. We have already seen, in Part 1, that both prophets and priests are designated as malak YHWH {see Haggai 1:13; Malachi 1:7}. I believe there are a number of passages where malak YHWH is better understood as a human agent, even if it is not explicit in the text. This passage in Judges 2 is one of them.  I am not alone in this assessment. The Targums translate the verse as “a prophet with a message from Yahweh.” Various rabbis also interpret the malak YHWH in Judges 2:1 as a human prophet, some as Joshua, some as Phinehas. It is also noteworthy that the LXX and the Peshitto both have in the text here the prophetic formula “thus says the Lord,” which certainly removes the possibility of this malak being Yahweh .

There are a couple of problems with the ‘angelic’ view. Heavenly agents are never seen in Scripture appearing to and addressing the whole community. Heiser makes it seem like this ‘angel’ was living among the Israelites in human form and that all the Israelites knew who he was, but this is highly unlikely seeing that the text no where states this; it is simply assumed by Heiser. God seems to have always addressed the community through his prophets or priests, while celestial agents seem to appear to individuals only. Another problem is that the text says that this malakwent up from Gilgal to Bokim.” Was this ‘angel’ living in Gilgal? Various explanations of this phrase have been offered by commentators who take this angel to be a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ but none of them amount to anything or are even worth mentioning. The simplest explanation is that the phrase describes the movement from the place of residence of this malak to another location in order to deliver Yahweh’s message. All that can be said is that this phrase fits better with the view that this was a human agent of Yahweh rather than a heavenly being.

2.) Gen. 31:10-13 –  “It came to pass at the time of the breeding of the flock, in a dream I lifted up my eyes and saw, and behold the rams which mated with the flock were streaked, speckled and spotted. And in the dream malak YHWH said to me, ‘Jacob.’ and I said, ‘Here I am.’ And he said to me, ‘Look up and see … I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me …’ “

After reading this passage, Heiser asks his audience. “How much clearer can it be?” He thinks that it is clear that the angel of Yahweh just is the God of Bethel, i.e. the God who appeared to Jacob in a dream at Bethel, who identified himself as Yahweh {see Gen. 28:11-15}. Why does he think this? He thinks it based on 1.) the fact that the angel speaks for God in the first person and 2.) the belief that the designation malak YHWH refers to that one specific entity whom he calls the second Yahweh. The second point has never been proved by Heiser and is simply assumed based on his theological presuppositions. Again, I point to the article noted above, which will hopefully disabuse you of the mistaken notion that ‘the angel of Yahweh‘ is a designation for one specific individual angel, one who shares a special ontological relationship to Yahweh. The first point has already been addressed – the agent of Yahweh speaks as Yahweh because he represents Yahweh, not because he is Yahweh.

3.) Gen. 48:14-16 – “But Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on Ephraim’s head … And he blessed Joseph saying, ‘The God in whose ways my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked; the God who has shepherded me continually, even to this day; the malak who has redeemed me from all calamity; may he bless these boys.’ “

Heiser says that this is his favorite passage in the OT and that it is “just too cool for words.” He points out that the final clause is singular, “May he bless…”  He then says this:

“If the writer had wanted to make sure you didn’t misread the text – that there’s more than one, that we need to keep the angel and God separate – he could have done so right here, but he doesn’t. You can’t fuse the two any tighter than this …”

So what is Heiser saying here, that the angel and God are the same person or the same being or are numerically one? He doesn’t clarify but we know what he thinks because of his presuppositions which keep showing up in his exegesis. He thinks that even though the angel is distinct from God yet he is the same as God, just like Christians talk about Jesus. So we are supposed to understand then that the early Christians readily accepted Jesus as Yahweh because the OT Scriptures all along have taught that one God consists of multiple persons. But is this really the necessary interpretation of this passage? You will notice thus far that Heiser never offers any alternative plausible interpretations to these passages, as scholars usually do. He simply tells you what he wants you to see in the passage as if it is just the obvious meaning.

First of all, if the two are being so fused together, why assume that there are actually two distinct entities, rather than just one? In other words, Heiser no doubt would say that this angel is none other than the pre-incarnate Son of God, as distinct from God the Father. But why assume that? Why not assume that the angel just is God the Father appearing in visible form? Why does Heiser assume that the angel is a ‘christophany’ rather than a ‘theophany’ ? Heiser’s understanding of the passage may be predicating more than he might really want to say. It seems like his line of reasoning might lead to a modalist reading of the passage i.e. there is only one entity who manifests in differing modes. Indeed, whether he realizes it or not, at times Heiser sounds modalistic when speaking about the Trinity.

Is there another way to understand this text without resorting to the assumption of multiplicity in the one God? Yes, I believe so. What if the singular verb bless refers only to God, even though both God and an agent of God are mentioned by Jacob? This, I believe, is exactly the case. There are two possible ways to get there. The first is to understand Jacob really wanting to say, “the God who has delivered me from all calamity” but not wanting the two young boys he is blessing to misunderstand him and think that God himself was personally following Jacob around throughout his life delivering him from every calamity. Jacob knows that God’s protection of him was carried out by means of a supernatural agent who God assigned to him, so he acknowledges the agent, for the sake of the boys, but credits God for the actions of the agent. Now Scripture has no problem with giving Yahweh the credit for the things done by his commissioned agents. For example, in 2 Chron. 32 Sennacherib, the Assyrian king, has invaded Judah and is threatening to attack Jerusalem. King Hezekiah cries out to Yahweh {v. 20} and Yahweh sends a malak who destroys the Assyrian army in one night {v. 21}. Yet v. 22 says explicitly, “And so Yahweh saved Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib king of Assyria …” We see that God gets the credit for what his agent accomplished on his behalf, even though the agent is acknowledged. We see the same thing in Judges 2:16 & 18:

“And Yahweh raised up judges and they delivered them (Israel) …”

“When Yahweh raised up judges for them, he was with the judge and he saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived.”

Again we see, the agents (the judges) are acknowledged, but Yahweh gets the ultimate credit for what they did.

A second option would be to see the mention of the malak as something done by the final editor of the text, which may have originally read “the God who delivered me …” The change would have been made for the same reason mentioned above i.e. the final editor (perhaps Ezra) knew that this deliverance by God was accomplished by an assigned agent, and wanted the reader to understand this. Heiser often speaks of ‘the final editor’ of the text of the Pentateuch, pointing out those passages where he believes we can discern his hand. I am not surprised that Heiser doesn’t suggest this as a possible way to understand this text since he just wants to make the text fit into his theological paradigm.

4.) Judges 6:11-23

Heiser makes much out of the fact that there is a switching back and forth by the author between ‘the angel of Yahweh‘ and Yahweh. He states, “they are both in the same scene, but they’re both mixed and separated … they are both him; he is him, he’s not him, but he’s still him. It’s kind of like how we talk about Jesus. Jesus is but isn’t God. He is God because he’s the same essence, but he’s not the Father.” What is clear is that Heiser’s presuppositions are driving his interpretation of the passage. All I can say to this is “move along folks, there nothing to see here at all.”

Once again Heiser fails to inform his audience of other interpretational options that fit better with the cultural setting than does the fourth century C.E. christology that he is trying to cram into this tenth century B.C. or earlier text. As I stated in the first part of this study, I am incredulous of Heiser’s seeming unawareness of the concept of agency within the cultural milieu of the ANE. How can a scholar in the field of ANE studies be ignorant of this? I can only surmise that he doesn’t mention it because it would weaken his ‘there must be two Yahwehs‘ interpretation of the passage. I offered these quotes before in a previous article, but at the risk of being redundant I offer them again now:

“In the ancient world direct communication between important parties was a rarity. Diplomatic and political exchange usually required the use of an intermediary, a function that our ambassadors exercise today. The messenger who served as the intermediary was a fully vested representative of the party he represented. He spoke for that party and with the authority of that party. He was accorded the same treatment as that party would enjoy were he there in person. While this was standard protocol, there was no confusion about the person’s identity.

This explains how the angel in this chapter [Gen. 16] can comfortably use the first person to convey what God will do (16:10). When official words are spoken by the representative, everyone understands that he is not speaking for himself, but is merely conveying the words, opinions, policies, and decisions of his liege. So in Ugarit literature, when Baal sends messengers to Mot, the messengers use first person forms of speech. E.T. Mullen concludes that such usage ‘signify that the messengers not only are envoys of the god, but actually embody the power of their sender.’ ”    John Walton, in his commentary on Genesis in the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary

And this one by Aubrey R. Johnson in The One and the Many In the Israelite Conception of God:

“In Hebrew thought a patriarch’s personality extended through his entire household … in a specialized sense, when the patriarch, as lord of his household, deputized his trusted servant as his malak (his messenger or angel), the man was endowed with the authority and resources of his lord, to represent him fully and transact business in his name. In Semitic thought this messenger-representative was conceived of as being personally — and in his very words — the presence of the sender.”

Heiser and others simply make this and similar texts to be saying more than is warranted. The fact that vv. 11, 12, 20, 21, & 22 identify the mysterious figure as ‘a malak of Yahweh‘ and vv. 14 & 16 seem to call him Yahweh, does not mean that this should even be considered a theophany, much less a christophany.  The simpliest way to understand the text is that the author is attributing the action and words of the malak to Yahweh himself, since the malak is there in Yahweh’s stead, representing him before Gideon. If you read the passage carefully you will notice that at first Gideon has no idea who this man is (this malak obviously looked like an ordinary man). In v. 12 the malak speaks of Yahweh in the third person. Gideon then refers to Yahweh in the third person in v. 13. Then comes v. 14:

“And Yahweh turned to him and said, ‘Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you.’ “

 Does this mean that the malak is Yahweh?  Heiser reads his theology into the text and concludes he is one of multiple persons within the being of Yahweh. But the text says nothing of the sort. If you are going to take the text in the most literal sense then you would just take the malak to be Yahweh himself, i.e. a theophany. But this is not even necessary. The author calls the malak ‘Yahweh’ here because the words he speaks at this point are Yahweh’s words and he speaks them in the first person as Yahweh. The author probably felt the awkwardness of writing, “And the malak of Yahweh turned to him and said, ‘… Am I not sending you.'” The author understands the malak’s words to be the promise of Yahweh to be with Gideon, and so he inserts Yahweh in the text here and in vv. 16 & 18, instead of  ‘the malak of Yahweh.’

Now it is at v. 14, when the man speaks as Yahweh in the first person, that Gideon realizes that, at the least, this man is a prophet of Yahweh. Gideon never refers to the man as Yahweh or as the malak of Yahweh, he simply calls him my lord (Heb. adoni), which here is a common term of respect. It is only the author who inserts Yahweh into the scene. In v. 16 the malak again speaks a word of promise to Gideon as Yahweh, in the first person. Gideon now surmises that God has sent this man and is speaking to him through the man, but he’s not exactly certain, so he asks:

“If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that you are speaking to me.”

It is only after the malak miraculously causes fire to consume Gideon’s offering that he realizes that this is an angel sent by Yahweh (v. 22), and he exclaims, “Alas Lord Yahweh! because I have seen an angel of Yahweh face to face.” The phrase ‘angel of Yahweh’, which appears twice in verse 22, does not have to be rendered definite, as demonstrated by the ISR, YLT and the 1985 JPS Tanakh versions. Once the angel left Gideon’s sight we are told that Yahweh said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.” Heiser again tries to use this to show the mysteriousness of the encounter, as if it is difficult to know who is who and who is speaking, is it God or is it the angel. Heiser uses these theatrics to seek to solidify in the audience’s mind the distinction yet oneness of the angel and Yahweh. Now we do not know if the angel vanished suddenly from sight, as most versions say, because the Hebrew word  halak in v. 21 does not connote a sudden vanishing. The word simply means to come, to go, to walk. In the other 58 occurrences of this verb, in the same form, it never means a sudden vanishing. So it could be that the angel simply walked away out of Gideon’s sight. It is possible that as the angel was walking away he said the words recorded in v. 23, and that once again, the author of the book records it as Yahweh speaking because the angel was speaking on Yahweh’s behalf.

So this very plausible and very reasonable explanation of the text removes the supposed mystery and confusion as to who is speaking throughout the narrative – it is Yahweh’s agent. The author records it as if Yahweh were speaking because the agent is speaking Yahweh’s word in His stead. This explanation also removes the absurdity of proposing two Yahwehs, which contradicts Deut. 6:4.

5.) Genesis 15:1 –  After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
      1 Sam. 3 –  1. The boy Samuel was ministering to Yahweh in the presence of Eli. And the word of Yahweh was rare in those days; there was no vision bursting through.
7. Now Samuel had not yet come to know (i.e. by direct experience) Yahweh. The word of Yahweh was not yet revealed to him.  8. Yahweh called Samuel …  10. Yahweh came and stood and called as before, “Samuel! Samuel!”  21. And Yahweh appeared again and again in Shiloh, for in Shiloh Yahweh revealed himself to Samuel in (i.e. by means of) the word of Yahweh.
      Jer. 1 –   4. The word of Yahweh came to me saying …  6. Then I said, “Ah Lord Yahweh …”  9. Then Yahweh reached out his hand and touched my mouth and Yahweh said to me, “Behold I have put my word in your mouth.”

Heiser’s interpretation of these verses is, in my opinion, rather farcical. He thinks that ‘the word of Yahweh‘ is an actual personal entity, the same entity known as ‘the angel of Yahweh‘. Heiser believes this entity is the second Yahweh figure which he thinks the Hebrew Scriptures speak of. In Heiser’s theology this second Yahweh figure is the visible Yahweh, the embodied one, while the original Yahweh remains invisible (I don’t know if ‘the original Yahweh’ is the right language or not for the invisible one, since Heiser never refers to him in his distinction from the visible Yahweh. He merely refers to the invisible one as Yahweh and the visible one as the second Yahweh). Remember that Heiser thinks these two Yahweh’s are at the same time distinct and yet the same being. So in Heiser’s scheme ‘the word of Yahweh‘ is a distinct personage from Yahweh and yet is Yahweh. And he thinks the three passages above prove this. Let’s see if he’s right.

Heiser’s contention is that ‘the word of Yahweh‘ cannot be referring to verbal communication alone because there seems to be a visual and even tactile experience being had by Abram, Samuel and Jeremiah. This is supposed to be evidence that ‘the word of Yahweh‘ is a literal personage, i.e. Yahweh embodied. But I fail to see how the fact that something visual was going on proves that ‘the word of Yahweh‘ is a personal being. The biblical phrase “the word of Yahweh came to me” (or to some specifically named person), contrary to Heiser’s objections, simply means something like “Yahweh communicated his message to me.” This can be easily proved by 1 Sam. 4:1, where the exact same phrase is used of Samuel:

And the word of Samuel came to all Israel.

Now no one, including Heiser himself, would make the ridiculous claim that there was a second Samuel, who was distinct from and yet the same being as Samuel, who appeared to all Israel. The phrase simply means that Samuel communicated his message to all Israel. And this is what the phrase means in relation to Yahweh. Heiser’s error here is that he is confusing the visual and tactile experience of the prophet with being the ‘word of Yahweh‘ rather than with being the method by which Yahweh communicated his word to the prophet. Although God may have several ways by which he communicated his word to his prophets, he did have one predominant method of doing so:

(Yahweh) said, “Listen to my words: When a prophet of Yahweh is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams.”    Numbers 12:6

So pervasive was this method in it’s use by God in communicating with the prophets, that even in the passages where it is not explicitly stated that the prophet is having a vision, it should be assumed, unless the text explicitly states that another method was employed, such as an angel bringing a message to the prophet. In the passages presented by Heiser as proof texts for his assertion we can see that the method God is using in each case, to communicate his word, is a vision. The Gen. 15:1 passage states it explicitly and should be read: “After these things Yahweh communicated his word to Abram in a vision.” It was by means of a vision that Yahweh communicated his word to Abram; in this case a word of promise. Now let’s define just what a vision is.

I will show that visions are not actual occurrences taking place in the real world and in real time, but rather are audiovisual events occurring only in the mind of the visionary while in an altered state of consciousness. This is evident first of all by noting the biblical counterpart of visions – dreams. Visions are experienced by a person while awake, whereas dreams are experienced while asleep. But they both function the same way. Now it is evident that what is being seen in a dream is not real, and so it is with visions also. When a person is in a visionary state he seems to lose all awareness of the real world around him and sees and hears only what is occurring in his mind, which can seem to him as real as the real world. That the images seen in a vision are not real or actual objects can be deduced from biblical examples of visions. Furthermore, it does not appear that the images seen in a vision are being seen with the physical eyes, but only in the mind’s eye.  For example, Daniel relates a vision he had, found in ch. 8 of his book, of which he says:

In my vision I saw myself in the citadel of Susa in the province of Elam. In the vision I was beside the Ulai Canal. I looked up and there before was a ram with two horns, standing beside the canal …          vv. 2-3

Daniel, in a vision, sees himself somewhere else other than where he actually is. Daniel himself is an actor in the vision. If this event were a real time event then he would not have described seeing himself in the vision. Daniel then sees a ram and then a goat and describes the things he sees in relation to these animals. Are the ram and the goat actual real time living creatures? Not at all. It is obvious from vv. 9-12 that the things happening in the vision are not happening in real time in the real world.

In Zechariah chs. 1-6 the prophet relates one long vision that he experienced. In this vision he sees many things – a man riding a red horse; four horns; four craftsman; a solid gold lampstand; a flying scroll, thirty feet long and fifteen feet wide; a measuring basket with a woman inside; four chariots coming out from between two mountains of bronze. None of these things were actually, physically there. If someone would have come along and encountered Zechariah while he was having this vision would they have seen all these things too? No. They probably would have simply found the prophet sitting there in a trance-like state, all the while Zechariah is experiencing all these things in his mind.

Ezekiel chs. 8-11 describe one long vision in which the prophet, who is in Babylon, is taken to Jerusalem in the spirit and he sees many fantastic things. The pericope starts out telling us:

In the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day, while I was sitting in my house, and the elders of Judah were sitting before me, the hand of Lord Yahweh came upon me there.        8:1

The pericope then ends, in 11:24-25, with these words:

The Spirit lifted me up and brought me (back) to the exiles in Babylon in the vision given by the spirit of Yahweh. Then the vision I had seen went up from me and I told the exiles everything Yahweh had shown me.

In Acts 10 Luke relates how Peter had a vision while praying up on the roof of the house of Simon the tanner. V. 10 state that a trance came upon him and in this trance he sees a large sheet being let down out of the sky by it’s four corners. The sheet is filled with  all kinds of unclean animals. Again I ask, could anyone else see this sheet coming down out of heaven? There must have been other people around, but no one saw it because it wasn’t really happening in the real world, only in Peter’s mind. Later, in Acts 12, Peter is arrested and put in prison. During the night an angel comes to him and frees him from his chains and leads him out of the prison. Luke then (v.9) tells us something important for our understanding of how visions operate:

Peter followed him (the angel) out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision.

Peter thought he was seeing himself being set free from prison a vision and so did not realize it was actually happening in real time. Only after the angel left him and he “came to himself” did he know it actually happened. This tells us that those having visions did not regard them as actual real time, real world events, but only images played out in the mind.

Now back to Heiser’s proof texts. Heiser seems to have no clue about the true nature of visions. He seems to think they are real time events. He seems to think that the word ‘vision’ in both Gen. 15:1 and 1 Sam. 3:1 implies that what is being seen is an actual, physical being that could be seen by anyone there. But if we remember these two facts: 1. visions were the primary means used by God to communicate his word and to reveal himself to a person, and 2. visions are not real time, real world events, but only audiovisual events experienced in the mind which is in an altered state, then it becomes apparent what is happening in these three passages. We have already seen that Abram was having a vision, as the text says. As for the account of Samuel’s encounter with Yahweh in 1 Sam. 3, we are told in v.15 that what Samuel experienced was a vision (Heb. mar’ah – this is the word used in Num. 12:6).  In v. 21, yes, Yahweh continued to appear in Shiloh to Samuel in visions, not as an actual embodied entity known as ‘the word of Yahweh‘, who would come to him. Dr. Heiser says that the end of verse 21 can be translated either “by the word of Yahweh” or “as the word of Yahweh.” This is completely misleading. The preposition prefixed to the word ‘word’ is be  and means ‘in‘ or ‘by‘, but never ‘as‘. The phrase can be paraphrased as “for Yahweh revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word Yahweh communicated.”

In Jer. 1 it is not explicitly stated that Jeremiah is having a vision, but this can be assumed based on Num. 12:6. Thus the phrase “the word of Yahweh came to me” should be understood as “Yahweh communicated his message to me in a vision.” The fact that Jeremiah says, in v. 9, that “Yahweh reached out his hand and touched my mouth” is better understood as Yahweh appearing in a vision, in the form of a man, rather than that Yahweh actually appeared to Jeremiah in an embodied state, as Heiser takes it, so that Jeremiah was not actually seeing with his physical eyes an actual being who was actually Yahweh. Dr. Heiser states emphatically that this verse presents to us the “embodied word in the Old Testament.” Sorry, but he is simply wrong. That Jeremiah was having a vision is confirmed by vv. 11-14, where he sees both an almond tree branch and a boiling pot tilting away from the north. Again I ask, could these objects be seen by anyone who might happen by? These were merely mental images being played on the screen of Jeremiah’s mind, as was the appearance of Yahweh in the form of a man. It is further confirmed that the phrase ‘the word of Yahweh‘ in this passage is not referring to an actual embodied entity, by the fact that the phrase is repeated three times in the same pericope. If this supposed entity showed up in v.4 then why does he have to show up again in vv. 11 & 13? Isn’t he already in the scene? The repetition of the phrase only makes sense if the phrase refers to different words or messages being communicated to the prophet in the course of the vision.

For further arguments that ‘the word of Yahweh‘ is not referring to a personal entity but rather to God’s communication see the article linked here:  Pre-Incarnate Appearances Of The Son Of God In The OT – Truth Or Myth (Part 2)

6.) Daniel 7:13 – “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven.”

For a full treatment of Daniel 7 I direct the reader to my recent article found here: The Rider On The Clouds

I will not rehearse everything from that article here but I will point out one thing. Heiser’s whole case here is that in the Ugarit literature Baal is given the epithet ‘the Rider on the clouds’ and that Baal is a deity. He contends that only a deity can have this title. Then he shows how Yahweh is given the same epithet in the Hebrew Bible in Duet 33:26; Ps. 68:33; 104:3; Is. 19:1. Heiser believes this epithet is given to Yahweh to tell the Israleites that Yahweh is the true deity rather than Baal. He then goes to Dan. 7:13 and says that the same epithet, which only a deity can bear, is given to another entity that is distinct from Yahweh, who is already in the scene in v. 9. His conclusion is that this entity, referred to as ‘one like a son of man‘, is therefore a true deity figure, hence Yahweh must be a binitarian God, i.e. a deity consisting of two persons, case closed.

But there is a glaring flaw in Heiser’s reasoning here, which apparently no one has ever brought to his attention because I have never heard him address it. The flaw is this – nowhere in Dan. 7 is the ‘son of man‘ given the title ‘the Rider of the clouds.’ In the Ugarit literature Baal is called the ‘ Rider (or Charioteer – Ugarit = rkb) of the clouds’. In the Hebrew Bible, in the verses listed above, Yahweh is called “the one riding” (Heb. rakab) on the heavens or on clouds. Note the similarity of the Ugarit and Hebrew words. This is because Ugarit is a Semitic language closely related to biblical Hebrew, with many words shared between them. So we can see that the word used to describe Baal coincides with the word used to describe Yahweh. Now please note that in the description of the ‘one like a son of man‘ this key word is absent. The phrase in Hebrew reads im anane semayya ateh = with the clouds of heaven coming. Heiser contends that the author intended his readers to make the connection that the ‘one like a son of man‘ is being likened to Baal and Yahweh as a ‘Rider on the clouds” and that any Hebrew reading Dan. 7:13 would have done so. Yet the author failed to employ the key word by which that connection could have been made. The ‘one like a son of man‘ is not given the epithet ‘the one riding on the clouds‘ in Dan. 7:13, but is merely described as “coming with the clouds of heaven,” which could have various meanings. I do not see how, without the key word rakab, any Jew would have made the connection that Heiser thinks is so obvious. This, in my opinion, is a fatal flaw to his argument.

Heiser’s Summary

After going through all of the passages we have just looked at, Heiser summarizes his conclusions as follows:

  • OT theology includes the idea that Yahweh can be in two persons, sometimes in the same scene.
  • OT theology also teaches that this second Yahweh figure is portrayed in human form, and even physically embodied.

Heiser has not proven either of these conclusions, as I hope has been made obvious. He has not proven that  OT theology includes the idea that Yahweh is binitarian in nature, he has simply interpreted the relevant passages according to his theological predilections. I think I have shown that his interpretations are not only not necessary but also that they are not even the most reasonable within the context of the Hebrew Bible as a whole.

Binitarianism To Trinitarianism In One Easy Step

Believing he has established that the OT teaches a binitarian Godhead, Dr. Heiser then attempts to show how the biblical language about the Holy Spirit logically leads to trinitarianism. He offers two passages from the Hebrew Bible to show this.

1.) Is. 63:9-11 compared with Ps. 78:40-41

What Heiser does with these passages is really rather strange. He seems to equate ‘the angel of his presence‘ in Is. 63:9 with ‘his holy spirit‘ in v. 11. After reading , “Where is he who put in the midst of them his holy spirit,” Heiser says, “wait, I thought God put the angel in their midst; oh the psalmist is so confused — no actually he’s not.” This is a remarkable statement coming from one who affirms the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. Heiser has already, throughout the lecture, equated the angel with who he calls ‘the second Yahweh.’ He has also led the audience to think of this second Yahweh as the pre-incarnate Son i.e. Jesus Christ. But now he is equating the angel with the holy spirit as if they are the same person. It seems that Heiser doesn’t even understand what orthodox trinitarianism demands; he just seems to conflate God, the angel and the holy spirit into a sort of modalistic being.

Next he shows that the language of Is. 63:10 is identical to that of  Ps. 78:40-41, specifically the words rebelled and grieved, and that the same event is being referred to in both passages. He points out that in the Is. passage it is the holy spirit who is grieved and rebelled against, yet in Ps.78 it says that God is the one that was grieved and rebelled against. Hence, the holy spirit is equated with God and the angel and therefore this is “three thinking.” This is where it becomes clear that Heiser is merely interpreting the text to align with his presuppositional theology. Why cannot the comparison of Is. 63:9-11 and Ps. 78:40-41 be telling us that “his holy spirit” is simply a way of referring to God being actively at work among his people? Instead, based on his predilections, Heiser interprets it to mean that there must be three different persons in the Godhead. But this is going far beyond what these two texts say or any other texts of the OT for that matter. Because he thinks that the NT teaches that the holy spirit is a distinct person within the Godhead, based on later orthodox, catholic creeds, he simply reads this back into the Hebrew Bible as if that is what it was saying all along. But the most that can be logically drawn from these passages is that “his holy spirit” is just another way of referring to God himself. If ‘my spirit’ were grieved over something, that would not imply to anyone that a second, distinct person within me is grieved, but simply that I myself am grieved. Is the spirit of a man a distinct person from the man or is it the man himself? Likewise, why should we assume that ‘the spirit of God‘ is a distinct entity within God rather than just a way of referring to God himself being actively involved with his people. When the Scripture refers to ‘the hand of Yahweh‘ doing something, should we understand from this that Yahweh’s hand is a personal entity that is at the same time distinct from and yet equated with Yahweh? ‘The hand of Yahweh‘ is meant to denote that Yahweh himself has accomplished something and nothing more. In the OT the phrase ‘spirit of Yahweh‘ or ‘my spirit‘ or ‘his spirit‘ functions in the same way, i.e. it denotes God’s activity among his people, not that there are multiple persons in God.

2.) Ezekiel 8:2-6 –  Then I looked, and behold, a form that had the appearance of a manHe put out the form of a hand and took me by a lock of my hair and the spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me, in visions of God, to Jerusalem … And behold the glory of the God of Israel was there … and he said to me, “Son of man … do you see what they are doing … to drive me far from my sanctuary.”

Dr. Heiser totally misses the mark here. As noted above in this article, Heiser seems to be unaware that Ezekiel is having a vision, a vision which is recorded from ch. 8 through the end of ch. 11 where he says:

Then the vision I had seen went up from me, and I told the exiles everything Yahweh had shown me.

Heiser does not include v. 1 of ch. 8 in his slide presentation. V. 1 reads:

In the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day, while I was sitting in my house and the elders of Judah were sitting before me, the hand of Lord Yahweh came upon me there.

Get this picture in your mind. Ezekiel is sitting in his house, in Babylon, with the exiled elders of Judah sitting before him, when suddenly the hand of Yahweh comes upon him (this is probably when Ezekiel enters into an altered state of consciousness). Ezekiel then sees this long vision which involves him being in Jerusalem and in the temple. He also sees the form of a man (presumably Yahweh) who reaches out his hand and takes him by the hair. Now the thing that Heiser doesn’t seem to understand is that none of this is actually physically happening in real time. When the ‘hand of Yahweh‘ came upon him, Ezekiel entered into another state of consciousness, and while sitting there in front of the elders of Judah he went into ‘visions of God.’ Yahweh did not appear physically in front of Ezekiel and the elders who were there with him. This was a vision that Ezekiel alone was experiencing while the elders were sitting there before him. In this altered state of consciousness Ezekiel was not seeing anything with his physical eyes or hearing anything with his physical ears; he was seeing and hearing in the spirit only.

As I noted earlier, God often appeared to prophets in visions, in the form of a man. But none of them actually saw Yahweh embodied, as Heiser suggests; they only saw a representational image of Yahweh (a man) within a vision. Everything Ezekiel  experienced  was only in his mind, i.e. the images and voices he was seeing and hearing were not really happening in the real world. Therefore Heiser’s whole argument here falls apart completely. This is not about Yahweh being embodied and then the spirit being equated with this embodied Yahweh. Heiser’s reading of this text is just plain silly and is unworthy of a scholar. The passage simply relates a vision that was given to Ezekiel in which he sees Yahweh in the form of a man and is shown what is going on in Jerusalem, and Yahweh speaks to him in the vision. There is no confusion here as to who is acting and speaking.

Miscellanea

Starting at the 103:10 mark in the video Heiser makes some statements that I want to briefly touch on. First he says that the NT authors are “deliberately trying to link Jesus to the God of the OT and to the angel because they’re both Yahweh.” Of course they linked Jesus to the God of the OT – he was foretold, miraculously conceived, chosen, raised up, sent, anointed, raised from the dead and exalted by Yahweh the God of the OT. But Heiser means more than this. He means that they linked Jesus with Yahweh in a way that makes him also Yahweh. But this is completely without warrant and he certainly does not prove it in this lecture. His statement that the NT writers link Jesus with the ‘angel of Yahweh‘ is just plain false. There is no passage anywhere in the NT that equates Jesus with the angel of Yahweh in the OT, even where the authors could have easily done so {see Acts 7:30-38}.

The one verse, which Heiser mentioned earlier, that could lend credence to this idea is Jude 1:5. Some early manuscripts say that it was Jesus who delivered the Israelites out of Egypt, while other variant readings have Lord and God. While many scholars accept the Jesus reading as original, the truth of the matter is that no one knows for certain. The whole concept is based on a misconception that it was ‘the angel of Yahweh’ who saved the people out of Egypt. Later church fathers, like Justin, then equated Jesus with this angel and so we end up with Jesus delivering the people out of Egypt. The whole thing is absurd and is based on a careless reading of the relevant OT texts, such as Ex. 23:20-23; Num. 20:16 and Is 63:9. First off, in my previous article I think I have made a good case that the malak who is being referred to in these texts is Moses and not a celestial agent. Also, if the Ex. 23 passage were referring to a celestial agent, the promise being made there is that this agent would bring the people to the promised land, not that he would deliver them from Egypt – at this point they had already been delivered out of Egypt. No where in either the OT or the NT is it unambiguously stated that an angel i.e. a celestial agent was sent to bring the Israelites out of Egypt.

Next, Heiser states at 103:28:

“Paul, and he’s not the only one to do it, … will quote the Old Testament, he’ll have some passage that says, ‘Yahweh said this or that and the other thing,’ then he’ll quote it … and take the Yahweh part and he’ll write either kurios, the lord, or christos, or Iesous, Jesus. They actually do that. They quote the OT and they’ll swap in a name or a title associated with Jesus. That is to telegraph a theology. To the writer they’re the same. They do that with the angel too.”

This characterization of how the NT writers find the fulfillment of OT Yahweh passages accomplished in and through Jesus is really quite misleading and is an overstatement of what is really going on in those passages. But to those who are not well versed in Scripture it can at first appear to be a substantial argument, when in reality it is a rather sophomoric argument. What Heiser is basically saying is that if an OT passage said that Yahweh would do such and such, and then in the NT we see Jesus doing it, then the logical conclusion must be that Jesus is Yahweh. I’m sorry, but this is infantile thinking; I call it kindergarten exegesis. If Yahweh says, “I will do this thing” and then he sends an agent who accomplishes what Yahweh said he would do, then 1.) Yahweh is still the one who is said to have accomplished it, and 2.) there is no reason to understand the agent as being Yahweh himself.  So when Yahweh spoke through his prophet saying, “But Israel shall be saved by Yahweh with an everlasting salvation,” and then he accomplishes that salvation through the man Jesus of Nazareth, has not Yahweh accomplished what he promised? Was it not Yahweh who was reconciling the world to himself by means of Christ? And does Yahweh’s bringing about the fulfillment of his promise through his appointed agent require us to regard the agent as Yahweh himself? This concept is so basic throughout Scripture that it is simply unfathomable that a scholar of Heiser’s caliber would make this kind of mistake. What it shows, once again, is that his theological prepossessions are driving his exegesis of the text.  

Conclusion

This is the fourth and final article in a series of critiques of the popular teachings of Dr. Michael Heiser. It pains me to have had to write these articles but I just keep seeing too many people being misled by scholars like Heiser, who are too often believed simply because of their credentials. Now I am not saying that Heiser is purposely misleading people; he is, no doubt, sincere in all he teaches. The problem is that he interprets Scripture through a certain lens, that of orthodox, catholic theology and also of Ancient Near East literature, and therefore his exegesis cannot just be assumed to be sound. Everything must be critically examined no matter who is teaching it.

I hope and pray that these articles have been a benefit to my readers. If so please let me know. God bless!