Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible: Mark 15 and 16

Mark 15:10“For he knew that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy.” Pilate wasn’t a good man, but he wasn’t stupid, either. Surely he had heard of Jesus roaming around his province; a man who attracted the large followings that Jesus had would be of some concern to the authorities. But Christ had never done anything wrong, thus Pilate had left Him alone. And when the Jewish religious leaders of the day brought Him before the governor and made accusations that were groundless and harmless, Pilate was perceptive enough to grasp their motives. Jesus was drawing crowds, the chief priests were not. It didn’t take a genius to add two and two.

Mark 15:47—“And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed where He was laid.” From Clarke: “For here a timid man [Joseph of Arimathea], and a few weak women, acknowledge Jesus in death, when the strong and the mighty utterly forsook him.” At the moment, who really had the greater faith in Christ: His apostles or these women? Sometimes—many times—the lowly, nameless widow in the pew is much more pious and devoted than the famous, silver-tongued orator in the pulpit.

Mark 16:16—“He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” A lot of ingenious attempts have been made to avoid the simple meaning of these simple words. Martin Luther, in the 16th century, started the doctrine of “salvation by faith only” (no one taught such before him), and it stuck with all the Protestant denominations. And they have continued to stick with that doctrine tenaciously. Thus, Jesus’ words here in this verse simply cannot mean what they seem to mean. Not because Jesus didn’t mean what He said, but because too many men will not give up their religious traditions in order to accept the truth. Isn’t this exactly the reason the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day rejected Him and crucified Him? Jesus connects belief and baptism with salvation. The English is powerful, but the original language is even more so. In the Greek, “believes” and “is baptized” are both aorist participles. The action in aorist participles always precedes that of the main verb. So, in this case, “belief” and “baptism” must take place before “will be saved.” It’s an absolute in the Greek, and it accords with other New Testament passages on baptism (cf. Acts 2:38, 22:16; I Peter 3:21).

Sometimes the quibble is made, “But the second clause doesn’t say ‘and is not baptized’.” This is not highly intelligent reasoning. Baptism without faith is utterly vain; why would one who did not believe in the first place submit to being immersed in water? Lack of faith alone is sufficient to condemn; but faith and baptism are both necessary for salvation. Let me use a parallel sentence. “He who eats his food and digests it shall have health. But he who does not eat shall die.” We must eat and digest to be healthy, but if we don’t eat, we die. We must believe and be baptized to be saved; but if we don’t believe at all, we will be damned. Faith must be understood as a principle of action; it is what leads us (trust) to do what God says. How can one truly say they have “faith” in Jesus, that they “trust” Him, and yet deny His words, “he who believes and is baptized will be saved”? True faith won’t argue, it will simply accept and trust.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible: Mark 13 and 14

Mark 13:31—“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” This is the New King James Version’s rendering of this passage and it catches the sense of the Greek better than the old KJV’s “Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away” (the ASV has the same reading as the KJV). In the Greek, there is a double negative in the verse; bad English, but emphatic in the original. In effect, “My words shall not never pass away.” Again, this is one of the ways the Greek language emphasized a certain thought. So, even if (when) the heavens and the earth disappear from existence, the words of Christ shall definitely stand. Jesus makes this statement in the context of the destruction of Jerusalem, which took place in A.D. 70 (read especially my comments on Matthew 24 for a full discussion of Jesus’ teaching on that event.  Follow this link:  Matthew 24). That destruction will surely take place—“My words will by no means pass away.” The Jews thought that their system could never be upset and destroyed; after all, they were God’s chosen people. But “God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones,” John the Baptist told them in Matthew 3:9. The Jews never got it, and they still haven’t. In eternity, we will discover that every word the Lord Jesus, His apostles, and His prophets spoke was everlastingly true, for they were inspired by the Holy Spirit, Himself also God.

Mark 14:25—“Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God." This is an important passage to understand. Jesus is establishing what is called “the Lord’s Supper” (the Catholic Church calls it the “Eucharist”). Let’s break down a thought or two in Jesus’ statement. There will come some point in the future (from when He spoke) when He will drink the fruit of the vine again with His disciples. That day will be “in the kingdom of God.” Well, this cannot be heaven, because “flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (I Cor. 15:50). There will be no literal earthly kingdom of Jesus; in other words, He will never literally reign from Jerusalem for 1,000 years, as premillennialism teaches. He cannot do so (see the comments on Zechariah 6:12-13 in my “Minor Prophets” blog for why He cannot reign on earth.  Follow this link:  Zechariah 6). So we must find the kingdom of God somewhere else. That kingdom, the New Testament teaches, is the church. Three quick proofs. In Matthew 16:19, Jesus gave Peter the “keys of the kingdom of heaven,” thus the kingdom had to be established in the first century because that’s when Peter lived. In Mark 9:1, Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power." So if the kingdom hasn’t come yet, there are some awfully old people on earth right now. Again, the kingdom came in the first century. Further, Paul said we are in it now: the Father “hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.” Notice the past tense—“hath translated.” He couldn’t have “translated” people into something that didn’t exist. “Kingdom” is simply one more designation for God’s people. We are a “body,” a “church,” “sheep,” “saved,” a “kingdom,” and so forth. Each idea conveys a certain relationship with God. In regards to “government,” we are a “kingdom”—Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords (I Tim. 6:15)—not a “democracy.” We don’t vote on a new “Lord” every four years. So back to Mark 14:25. When will Jesus drink the fruit of the vine with His people again? In His kingdom. We partake of the Lord’s Supper weekly, and part of that, of course, is fruit of the vine (see I Cor. 11:23-26). The Lord is there with us. While there is a physical dimension to our drinking “the fruit of the vine,” it is largely a spiritual act, and it is in that sense which Jesus “drinks” it with us. If we think only in physical terms, then we miss the major, major component of the Christian religion.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Journey Through the Bible: Exodus 19 and 20

Exodus 19:5—“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.” In one major sense, the children of Israel were going to be a “special treasure…above all people” regardless of what they did: they were the people through whom the Messiah was going to come. It is very important to understand this theme of the Old Testament. Back in Genesis 3:15, after man sinned, God promised that a Savior would come as a human. As we trace the development of this promise—as I did several times in my summary of the book of Genesis—we find the line going through Seth, Noah, Shem, Arphaxad, then Abraham, the father of the Jewish people. Thus, God chose the Jews to be this “special treasure…above all people.” Think of how many different peoples, races, cultures, etc. existed in the world at that time. The Old Testament itself delineates dozens—Girgashites, Hittites, Jebusites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Greeks, Syrians, Sabeans…the list is almost endless. And this, of course, doesn’t even touch any peoples living in Europe, Asia, North and South America, and Australia. There have been hundreds of thousands of different tribes and peoples on earth throughout history. But it was Israel whom God gave the Law, and the great honor of bringing the Savior of the world to mankind. The Old Testament hones in on those people, tells their story, because it is the most important story in the world. And the promise was fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, as the New Testament tells us. And salvation will come only through Him (Acts 4:12).

The Lord also promised that the Israelites would have special blessings and protections in the land of Canaan, “if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant.” They didn’t do that, so they were taken into captivity by the Assyrians and Babylonians, then eventually lost all of their system of worship when the Romans destroyed their genealogical records in 70 A.D.—a punishment for rejecting Jesus as the Christ (see my posts on Matthew 24.  Follow this link:  Matthew 24).  The current return of Israel to Palestine has nothing to do with any promise God made to them in the Old Testament. See my article on the subject on my main Bible blog.

Exodus 20:11—“For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” Not in six ages or six eons or six billion years. Six days. If God said “six days,” but really meant, as some teach, six eons of time (to allow for evolutionary progression), then God is being, at best, disingenuous. How would a Jew reading this in Moses’ day understand it? There is no doubt that they would have understood it as 24 hour days. And that is also the clear idea of Genesis 1 (each day had an “evening and a morning,” as 24 hour days do). The only reason some try to get around the six 24-hour days creation teaching is that they wish to compromise with Darwinian theory. There is no reason to do this. The theory of evolution is the biggest bunch of hogwash that man has ever concocted, being devised solely to free man from the necessity of obeying his Creator. It isn’t going to work on the Day of Judgment.