Lecture 12: Titles of Jesus
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Jesus’ deeds reinforce what he is teaching. The different titles people use when they address or refer to him describe different aspects of his nature and ministry. Jesus is more concerned about how the Church engages and influences the world than about what goes on within the four walls of a building.
C. Son of David
1. Josephus, Antiquities viii. 2, section 5
2. Entry into Jerusalem
D. Messiah or King of the Jews
F. Holy One
I. Son of God
J. Son of Man
II. Sociological emphasis
A. Associating with tax collectors and sinners
B. Only God has the authority to forgive sins
C. Authority over holy time (healing on sabbath days)
D. Authority over other powers (exorcisms)
E. The scope of Jesus' miracles
G. Jesus claims that he has authority over the Law
H. Temple cleansing
I. Suffering and the cross
J. Vindication in resurrection with judgment to follow
III. Other aspects of Jesus' theology (split at 50:46)
Course: Life of Christ
Lecture: Titles of Jesus
This is the 12th lecture in the online series of lectures on the Life of Christ by Dr. Darrell Bock. Recommended Reading includes: Jesus According to Scripture: restoring the Portrait from the Gospels by Bock, Baker, 2002 and Jesus in Context by Darrel Bock and Greg Herrick, eds., Baker, 2005 and Jesus Under Fire by Mike Wilkins and J.P. Moreland, Zondervan, 1995.
We will look at the Christology of these remaining chapters, which involves looking from the earth upwards. We will look at the sayings, the titles and especially the acts. As I’ve already mentioned in other lectures, to understand what is going on with Jesus, you must understand both his words and his deeds, where his deeds reinforce what he is teaching and operate in many cases as audiovisuals, not just conceptual guides to what is going on. John’s Gospel highlights what Jesus says about himself and this is a key to understanding Christology.
Rabbi, Prophet and Son of David
We will first look at some of the titles and then have a closer look at the points supporting those titles. We look at Jesus as Rabbi, the Jewish name for teacher. This name is used by many toward Jesus and is present in Mark and also in John. It only comes from Judas in Matthew. Luke uses the synonym teacher that comes only from observers of Jesus which Mark also uses. This is probably the most basic category of which Jesus is referred to and lacks Christological content. It is just a way to emphasize that Jesus did teach. The next title is prophet. It was the most popular view of Jesus by his observers and there is some merit to this title. Jesus, himself, compares is ministry to the prophets Elijah and Elisha; this becomes part of the portrait of Jesus. But this wording is more of a leader prophet like Moses or a greater than Jonah than just one among many prophets. But I think the populace looked at Jesus as one among many prophets. He follows John the Baptist to open up the Eschaton and he comes as a prophet, a fresh read on the Law. All of those features belong to Jesus as prophet. Then there is the title, ‘Son of David.’ This is the connection that begins to move in a messianic direction. It shows up in the infancy accounts but it doesn’t give us insight into Jesus’ own view or those who saw his active ministry. It still falls short and is a basic category like that of the Christ around which he builds his portrait. It comes from the Son of David, a declaration that comes from some of the healings as well, it appeals to the royal Psalm imagery. It is close to the messianic claim because it puts him into a regal category. It reflects the voice of the baptism at the transfiguration, ‘you are my son’ also in Psalm 2:7. It is often used by people in Jesus’ audience; the most famous was from the blind man. The connection to healing is an interesting link.
The association of the Son of David idea came with healing and exorcism and with the portrait of Solomon in the 2nd Temple Jewish tradition. Note this description: ‘Now the sagacity in wisdom which God had bestowed upon Solomon was so great that he exceeded the ancients so much that he was not inferior to the Egyptians who were said to be beyond all men in understanding. Indeed it is evident that their sagacity was very much inferior to that of the king. He also excelled and distinguished himself in wisdom above those among the eminence of the earth at that time for his shrewdness. He composed books of odes and songs, a thousand and five, of parables and similitudes, three thousand, and he spoke a parable of every sort of tree, from hyssop to the cedar and like minor, also about beasts and all sorts of living creators whether upon the earth, the seas or the air, for he was not unacquainted with any of their natures and described them all like a philosopher and demonstrated his exquisite knowledge of their properties. This alludes to the various figures of speech in the Proverbs. God also enabled him to learn that skill which expelled demons which is a science useful and sanative to man. He composed such incantations also by which distempers were alleviated. He left behind him the manor of using exorcisms by which to drive away demons so as to never return and this method of curing is a great force today. I have seen a certain man of my own country; his name is Eleazar (a known Jewish exorcist) releasing people that were demonical. The minor of the cure was like this, by putting a ring with a root mentioned by Solomon to the nostrils of the demoniac after which he drew out the demon by the nostrils and when the man fell down; immediately he ordered the spirit not to return to him again, making still mention of Solomon and reciting the incantations he composed. And Eleazar persuaded and demonstrated to the spectators that he had such a power.’ Now the idea of being the Son of David came with the idea of being very wise and having control even over spiritual forces, but notice that in this idea we have a contemporary healer in the time of Josephus of this Eleazar who uses all the incantations that is normally associated with exorcism, things we never see Jesus use. There is both a similarity and a difference here in terms of the background. But this association may be why the blind man thinks that the Son of Man is capable of healing him. This is not the only passage that has this kind of an idea, but probably the most famous one.
The entrance into Jerusalem, the pilgrims and answers to Psalm 110; these are important texts showing the Son of David, Christ linkage in the move from Son to Lord. We also have several passages in Matthew in which the Son of David is presented. In moving to the Son of David, we are moving to a more serious Christological title. This begins to be one of the more significant titles to think about. Next, we have the title of Messiah or King of the Jews. You can think about the life of Jesus rotating backwards out of what led to Jesus being crucified. It is especially frequent in the Gospels (over 55 times) where the term Christ appears and the majority of those texts are in John’s Gospel. There are seven key texts of which by far, perhaps the most important is Peter’s own confession in which Jesus’ qualified an acceptance of Peter’s confession which demonstrates that Jesus wasn’t just some kind of prophetic figure, but is at the center of what God is doing in the program of God and bringing of the kingdom. Jesus accepts the title which is in contrast to the title prophet. It includes suffering as Jesus teaches about this characteristic. Note that after this confession, Jesus begins to introduce the idea of suffering which Peter has no understanding about but does by the time Jesus had left the tomb. The public usage is restricted for a time and this is because Jesus first has to define the term in a way so others will understand it. The Pharisees fail in their attempt to get the disciples to stop using the Christ title as he entered Jerusalem. It comes up in Jesus’ examination by the Jews. It comes up in the examination by Pilate. In fact, kingship is the issue in both the synoptic Gospels and in John for the charges that led to Jesus’ crucifixion and trial. We see this mentioned in John 4, 9, 11 and 27. It’s not as prevalent as one might think, especially from Jesus himself. It is a title that he accepts but it is one that he wants to qualify. All of this reflects what we have seen.
Suffering Servant, Holy One, Shepherd and Lord
The next three titles are interesting and all have a bit of surprise to them. You would perhaps think that the idea of Jesus being God’s servant, would be more highlighted than it is in the Gospels, especially as important as it becomes later in the church. But it is only in the narrative remarks alluded to by Jesus or present in the divine voice when God about his son. It appears in particular key points, but otherwise it isn’t all that prevalent. It appears at the baptism and at the transfiguration. It is probably alluded to in Luke 4 when Jesus cites Isaiah 61. It is part of what is known as the Ransom Saying that the Son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for many. And there are allusions to Isaiah 53 that surround his crucifixion. For example, Jesus’ own remark that he must be reckoned with the criminals. What is interesting, the citations about Isaiah 53 that we get from Jesus tend to highlight the fact that he dies as an innocent. It is just like the use of Isaiah 53 we get in Acts. The most explicit use deals with the fact that he went to his death in silence. There is enough usage of the servant material across the Gospels alone with the allusions to suggest that the entire portrait is understood when the title is appealed to.
The title of Holy One shows up only in a few passages. It shows up in Peter’s equivalent confession at Caesarea, Philippi in John 6 and it shows up in the confession of demons when Jesus performs certain exorcisms. Other than that, it doesn’t appear at all. Another key title that shows up in a few passages is Jesus, the Shepherd. Like the sheep without a people in Matthew 9:36 and the Good Shepherd is John 10. The roots come from Ezekiel 34, the idea that God would send a Shepherd that would really shepherd the people in contrast to the leadership. The picture of shepherd has roots going back to 2nd Samuel 7 which is the Davidic Covenant, when David is brought into the kingship and his previous role as shepherd pictures what the king is to do and be, so there is an allusion to shepherding the people in the mist of that covenant. So, all of these images are important to the titling of Jesus.
The next key title is the term, Lord. This is the key Christological title for the early church. ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet. It is less prominent in the Gospels but it does appear. Luke uses it as narrative description of Jesus but it doesn’t appear in scenes where Jesus and people are talking but it does appear in the descriptions that Luke uses to introduce Jesus in various scenes. He talks about the Lord from place to place, etc. There are some usages to the term in the Gospels that begin to push in the direction of going beyond the normal everyday use of the title, which is in respect for somebody. It is like the way we would use the word, sir. There are other passages where the use of the word, Lord, might be a little ambiguous in terms of what it means. The key texts are Jesus as Lord of the Sabbath and the appeals associated with Psalm 110:1, the discussion that comes from Jesus points to the comprehensive authority the Lord has. David, even though he is the ancestor of Jesus calls his descendant Lord and the issue that this raises about Jesus’ identity. The Gospel of John is similar; it is tied especially to the resurrection and especially to the key climatic confession of Thomas in saying, ‘my God and my Lord.’ Its use in the Gospels is restrained, especially from text that are supposedly being updated by the early church as critics claim. You would think that you would see more of this in the discussion and dialogue if this material were being used in as undisciplined a manner as some critics suggest.
The Son of God
This is an ambiguous term in the original context as it can be a reference to the king or the unique Son. The Son who is uniquely related to the Father; it roots out of the Old Testament are 2nd Samuel 7, ‘I will be as a Father to him and he shall be as a Son to me.’ There are also roots in Psalm 2, ‘you are my son, today, I have begotten you.’ This is a good bridge term. Jesus hasn’t used the full title for himself but uses son without the qualification of God as he talks about God as his Father. It is the same idea for sure; it’s just a different way to use it. John uses it nine times with three of those usages in the narrative descriptions of Jesus and then the rest come in narrative remarks between characters in the passages. It is tied to the idea that God is my Father in a unique sense in John. The Son is emphasized in the divine voice that comes from the heavens. It is emphasized in the language of the demons. It is closely linked to the idea of the Christ that Luke 4:41 suggests. In Mark, it is only the confessing centurion at the Cross that uses the title. It doesn’t appear otherwise. It is used by Jesus in a handful of passages such as Matthew 11, Luke 10, the parable of the wicked tenants which portrays Jesus as the son who is killed by the tenants, the John 5 discourse where we get the discussion about Jesus as the son doing only that which he sees the Father doing and the picture of God as my Father and the language of the only begotten Son, the unique Son of God appears here. The Son of the Blessed one or of God also appears in the trial scene of Jesus in Mark 14:61 and Matthew 26 it is also present in the allusions associated with Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7. The question about Son of God is generated from the reply of those passages. So all this relates to the Christology of Jesus.
The Son of Man
The biggest title in terms of usage is Son of Man. It is used much more widely than anything else. It is Jesus’ favorite self-designation. In Jesus, according to Scripture textbook, note the usage here. It has eighty two appearances in the Gospels and only John has it on someone else list. The term appears thirty times in Matthew, twenty five times in Luke and thirteen times in John. There are about fifty one different sayings involved with this number. There are usages that overlap as you are looking at similar events; it still appears in about fifty one different sayings. This is a lot of material. There are about three hundred and fifty scenes total. Fourteen of them are rooted in Mark, Ten involve teachings from Matthew and eight of these sayings are unique to Matthew with seven of them being particular to Luke and thirteen are found in John. It is found in every layer of the Gospel tradition. Matthew has several texts on its own as well as Luke. So the expression is multiply attested; the sayings have been divided up into three sub-classes. Sayings about Jesus’ present ministry, the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head, talking about what Jesus is currently doing. Sayings about his suffering and apocalyptic saying that involve the Son of Man returning to judge. You can see the distribution of 17, 26 and 27 and each type is well distributed across the Gospel tradition with various emphases. Matthew has seven ministry sayings, ten suffering sayings and thirteen apocalyptic sayings so it is fairly well divided. Mark on the other hand who emphasizes Jesus’ suffering has three present day ministries sayings and nine suffering sayings and three apocalyptic sayings. Luke has seven present ministry sayings, seven suffering sayings and eleven apocalyptic sayings and then John has a different way of presenting this so it doesn’t fit those classifications. There are four sayings that speak of the coming and going of the Son of Man, six sayings that treat the crucifixion and exaltation with one that names him as a judge and two that describe him as a salvation bringer. All of this helps portray the portrait of the Son of Man. Obviously the key text is Daniel 7:13-14, but it’s important to remember that Jesus doesn’t specifically connect this title to that passage until the Olivet Discourse in the synoptic Gospels, very late in his life. It has a wonderful mix of human and divine authority that Jesus can fill with context and that is why I think Jesus likes this title. Son of Man means a son of a human being, referring to someone who is human. But the Son of Man figure in Daniel 7 rides the clouds and that is something that points toward transcendence. In some ways this is the most important title we have seen in Jesus’ ministry.
We conclude on the Son of Man, summarized as the uniquely empowered eschatological agent of God, a human saturated with divine authority and yet he is one who will give himself to the people so that he will one day vindicate in glory. A survey of the scope of the use of the Son of Man helps us to see why Jesus chose this as his favorite way to speak of himself. As George Lad aptly said to the title, ‘Jesus lay claim to a heavenly dignity and probably the preexistence itself and claimed to be one who would one day inaugurate the glorious kingdom. But in order to accomplish this, the Son of Man must be the suffering servant and submit himself to dying.
Jesus as God and his Authority
The last category is God which is used by the doubting Thomas, a title and a response that Jesus accepts and is a part of the portrait that he sees in dealing with himself at the end of his ministry. So this is an important category. When we think about Jesus’ association with tax collectors and sinners, we really are thinking about a completely different kind of sociological emphasis that Jesus is bringing to the community that God is going to build, and it also becomes a model for the mission of the church. Both of those themes are important. The reason why it is significant is because the church goes from being made up of people who have made themselves into the righteous thus and being a gathering place of people who have experienced God’s grace. These are people who have experienced what God has to offer. Jesus associates with tax collectors and sinners and he uses the picture of the great physician to talk about this. No one goes into a doctor and tells them what is wrong. It’s the doctor’s responsibility to take care of you and see what the problem is. Interestingly, those who are already righteous do not need to come to the physician. So this is a model for ministry. Thus, out of this, one of the problems of the church, it becomes a little hermeneutical community that a person enters into along with their family to protect them from the world and in the process the risk is that you will sever yourself from the natural relationships that you have from being in the world with your neighbors and thus cut yourself off from engaging in mission of the church. This is why we get teaching on the initiative that Jesus took to hang out with people who aren’t normally associated with the righteous community. His goal was to minister to them and bring them into this new community where they can fellowship and be nurtured not to become a virtual monastery in terms of interaction with the world. So the association with tax collectors and sinners was a different model in which righteousness was seen.
The second category is connected to a picture of authority that it represents. This is an authority that only God processes. And the most famous passage in dealing with the forgiveness of sin in the New Testament is the healing of the paralytic where Jesus does that which can be seen to give evidence to the authority that he processes which cannot be seen. The third category of authority is the authority that involves the Sabbath incident and various healings associated with the Sabbath. This represents authority over an established holy time. God is the one who marked out the Sabbath who defined it as a day of rest. In fact the Sabbath is something that is marked out in the Ten Commandments as a part of what God has called his people to do and this authority over holy times, Jesus shows in healing on the Sabbath and redeeming on the Sabbath not being a violation of a prohibition of work that is associated with it. Now who has the authority to define what is proper on the Sabbath? Another category of authority is that of exorcism. This shows his authority over other powers, particularly spiritual powers. This is especially significant in the backdrop of Jewish expectation in which the kingdom of God is seen as defeating the presence of Satan and forces arrayed against humanity in the world. This is another key category of authority.
The next category is takes in the sheer scope of Jesus’ miracles. We have already mentioned that there are two primary miracle periods in the Old Testament, the period of Moses and the period of Elijah and Elisha. Moses operated during the period of the foundation of the deliverance for the nation and Elijah and Elisha was during a low spiritual period in the history of Israel in which was in a great deal of trouble. With Elijah and Elisha, we get a variety of healings, but with Moses we have the plagues which God is really doing himself and then there were the creation miracles. For Jesus, it was the scope of his authority of which he operated that was unique as far as miracles were concerned. And his authority was over a wide sphere. In Luke 8:22-56 is where we get the calming of the sea which shows Jesus authority of creation, the healing of Gerizim demoniac, we get Jesus authority over the demons and the healing of the woman with the issue of blood showing Jesus’ authority of diseases and then the raising of Lazarus’ daughter showing the conquering of death. This miracle cluster with its scope is kind of a mini photograph of what Jesus’ life and ministry is all about and the extent of his authority. And remember that in Judaism, when we think of Moses, we have the picture in Ezekiel where when Moses performs the plagues, he is being made God to Pharaoh. We now move to purity issues.
Where Jesus has the right to extend judgement and to assess what constitutes purity and impurity. One text that we haven’t talked much about is from Matthew 7:1-23 where the dispute comes because Jesus doesn’t seem to be quite as sensitive about food laws, the washing of hands as the Law might suggest, and in this passage, Jesus says that it isn’t what you put into your mouth that defiles but what comes out of your mouth. He puts himself in a position of authority over purity issues. Purity is something by which a Biblically oriented Judaism is very sensitive about. We usually don’t associate religion with these kinds of areas. However, in the 1st century, these points where important as they were a part of authentic identity for a Jewish person. In putting this all together: the Sabbath incident and the way the Sabbath was handled, the issues of purity, to some degree, the association with tax collectors and sinners and the forgiveness of sins deals with Jesus’ way of handling the Law. His authority to interpret and rule over the Law, to be the Lord of the Sabbath, to change the ideas and ways created by the Pharisees and Sadducees, etc. Jesus says, ‘but I say unto you,’ the anti-theses of Matthew. And what we are seeing is a person who sees himself with having that authority, not merely to discern what the Law means but to set himself above the Law in many ways. When he says that the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath, he is not just issuing a rabbinic interpretation of how this is supposed to work but he is doing much more than that. So who has the right to claim authority? Putting the above altogether, Jesus in effect is claiming to be Lord of the Torah.
Jesus changed the liturgy of the nation; it is not merely writing fresh liturgy to proclaim what already is being celebrated. It is the declaration and change of the liturgy to focus now on the events being associated with him. This was what happened with the Last Supper. He takes the Passover season and Passover imagery, changes it and transferred it and now makes the key event to be associated with his death instead of the Exodus. Who has the authority to redesign liturgy, not just in wording but in reference? And what we are seeing here, are little bricks in the wall assembling Scripture one piece at a time to make it clear that Jesus is the unique authority. He stands on one side of the wall in comparison to everybody else.
The next category is temple cleansing. This is the right to exercise authority over the most sacred space in the world as far as Judaism is concerned. In fact, it’s an authority, not only over the most sacred space in the world but it’s an authority that touches on the very presence of God himself because of what the temple represents. That brings us to suffering and the Cross. Obviously and ultimately the claim here is an authority to be able to save and deliver as a result of what takes place on the Cross. But we are not actually told how that works. Paul is the theologian that tells us how the hanging on the Cross works and how it pays for sin, etc. What we know is that forgiveness of sins is able to be offered as a result of it. We know that there is a picture in a few passages about Jesus giving his life for a ransom for many and the association with suffering, but the detail of how it works isn’t given to us. However, the fact that he is able to go to the Cross, he has authority over life and death as a result; some of which his miracles have also pictured in their variety, is part of yet another indication and level of authority that Jesus exercises. All of this pushes toward and impales compares to the last category and that is the vindication and ascension and provision along with the judgement that follows.
Jesus himself sets this up; he basically says this at his trial before the Jewish leadership, God will demonstrate the authority I process by vindicating my unjust death. This is precisely what the confession of the centurion and each of the synoptic Gospels represent. ‘Surely this one was the Son of God.’ Surely this one was innocent. Surely this one processed the authority that he claimed. Surely this one is creditable in what he is teaching. All of this comes as part of the territory of the vindication that is made and the empty tomb is God’s statement of who Jesus is, especially when we put around it what Jesus says it represents before it happened, and that is that God has taken Jesus to his right hand in heaven, into his very presence, at his side, now executing the distribution of blessing through him, both in terms of forgiveness of sins and in terms of the Holy Spirit. The Gospel is primarily about two things: forgiveness that leads to a relationship with God and distribution of the Spirit on the other. So vindication and resurrection and ascension and provision and judgement; you put this altogether and what you see is a figure who processes absolution unique authority that treads all over areas where God has his foot prints. So whether you talk about the Law, sin, Sabbath, demons, creation, disease, death, purity, Torah, liturgy, temple and the authority that he has over all of those areas; think about how many of these things are happening in public and people like the Jewish authorities who were watching him. Any report of him should also have included the extent of his authority. They knew that he associated with tax collectors and sinners and they complained about his authority to forgive sin. They also challenged him on the Sabbath incidents. These purity issues are being taught became of complaints outside the circle of the disciples. They are not aware of the redesign of the liturgy at the Last Supper. Of course, they are aware of the attempt to cleanse the temple, so most of these issues are realized by the public. The benefit of having some explanation about what is going on is something that only the disciples get. This is all happening in public and along with the scope and repetition of the miracles and the way that Jesus challenges them to think about how he was able to do these things on the Sabbath?
My understanding of this Christology leads me to think that the emphasis in the New Testament really ends up being the appreciation of who Jesus is, not merely what he does. And his redeeming character in one sense is only a small part but not the whole picture in thinking of him merely as a deliverer. He is about more than redemption; his role in the creation is far more than about saving. He is in charge and that’s why ‘Lord’ ends up being a key title, that’s why Christ anointed, a picture of a king is a key title. This is not about being a king of a land or country, but a king who has cosmic authority, someone who is LORD. This is not just expressed but it is being illustrated for us. Jesus’ ministry illustrates the Lordship he has over all of these areas and part of the portrait reveals the inability to separate what Jesus is doing and what God is doing. This is shown when John says, I and the Father are one which is part of this portrait. Even in the synoptic Gospels, Jesus is exclusively carrying out and executing the program that God has given him and in doing so, following God’s will. They are inseparable. There is a sense in which the Christology of the Gospels is what is often called functional. You see Jesus functioning in a variety of roles and you come to understand who he is as opposed to merely getting raw statements in the abstract of who he is. Jesus puts his actions with his teachings in such a way that you see who Jesus is instead of merely hearing who Jesus is. We tend to teach about Jesus in reference to what he said about himself. Jesus teaches about himself by having people to think about what he is doing.
In regards to the Pharisees and the leaders of Israel; Paul said that they were zealous with knowledge. They couldn’t accept Jesus because they failed to see where the Law was leading which turned it into the absolute for them. But this is very common among those who embrace religion to make the Law their god. When you meet people who are religiously zealous, this is often the direction they go in. This happens in Judaism and in some forms of fundamentalist Christianity, in fundamentalist Islam and other religions. The human tendency is to sow, regular and control through the Law and thus that law becomes their god.
In answering a student’s question about Nicodemus; he was viewed as a Jewish leader who had some sensitivity. I think he was representing some who were actually trying to assess what Jesus’ ministry was providing and were at least open to it. They were driven by a model of how faith is to work which on the one hand has blinded them even as they zealous in their own minds, and faithfully pursue what that means. They were being faithful to their convictions and some aspects of that had some grounding, but with pieces missing. But that was what Jesus was challenging them about. You need to understand and appreciate how this authority model helps to understand and talk about Jesus. Putting it into a context of Judaism that did care about purity and the law and the Sabbath with these emanating as a religion from God helps you to see that what Jesus is doing is very much a comprehensive claim to authority. I tend to think about Jesus in very abstract terms as we think about who he is.
The Theology of Jesus
In this last section I want to consider other aspects of Jesus’ theology, especially his theology of community, the issue of Salvation, discipleship, and the issue of return and Judgement. I’m not working with the categories of systematic theology as such but to describe the theology in categories that Jesus’ own ministry is presenting. It wouldn’t be difficult to take this and deal with ecclesiology (theological doctrine relating to the church) here, but we need to think through these categories in the categories that Jesus gives us. Since Jesus rarely used the term church and this only appears in one Gospel at two points. I call this the entity of the new era. You might call it the ‘way’ to use the language of Acts. This new community in its early existence did not see itself as non-Jewish. This of course begs the question; did Jesus come to establish an entity that was distinct from Judaism? This was not what he was about. That is however the way we think of the church. We tend to think of it as being completely distinct from Judaism but in fact the church is very much rooted in Judaism. John says that salvation is of the Jews, so there is this sense in which the community of the new era is really a natural extension of where a faithful Judaism should take Jews. Another way of saying this is, if you are a good Jew you would be a Christian. Please note that this is very hard on Jewish hears, nevertheless, this is the emphasis in Acts. God made certain promises to our fathers which Jesus represents the realization of. The Spirit has come as God has promised; therefore you can know that God made me both Lord and Christ. The promises of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are fulfilled in your mitts through the activity of the servant (Acts 3). We see Philip share with the Ethiopian eunuch and he shares the realization of Isaiah 53 of what God was talking about. So there is an emphasis in these messages about how Jesus is the proper completion of what Judaism had hoped for. Paul says this in Romans 10, ‘Christ is the telos (the purpose) of the Law. If you are sensitive to the Torah and Torah observant, you should end up as a follower of Jesus Christ.
The Church and Israel
Note that here the lecturer answers another question from a student about messianic synagogues. As such the problem here is in regards to the separation of Jews and the gentiles; of which one of the purposes of Christ was to unite the two. Now, having said this, you must understand that the church lost this sense of connection in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries to their Jewish roots. It came as a reaction to the Judaizers, the rabbinic rejection and of the claims of the church. There were many rational reasons for it; the destruction of the temple which in turn led to the chaos in Judaism, etc. But the point here, the church should never have lost sight of those roots. You have an early church that has come to Jesus, it is clear that God has begun a new thing and yet they are still hanging out at the temple. They don’t see themselves as having left Judaism; in fact I would argue that the Book of Acts is really an explanation that goes something like this: Christianity may seem like a new religion but it is actually quite old. It is rooted in the God of Abraham and it isn’t that we are something new. We were forced to become something distinct because the Jewish people forced us out. We did not come with the intention of building a separate religion. We came with the intention of being the completion of what God had promised. And that is actually what we think we are. Things could have been very different. Even though it was for the Jew first, we still have gentile inclusion. Interestingly, what the church sought to make Christianity, didn’t actually take place in this sense. Had Judaism responded as it should have, all Jews would be Christians. But Judaism did not respond to the message, only a very small proportion of them did. So we didn’t end up with a believing Israel in the church, but instead we ended up with only a remnant in the church. That remnant is the bridge between an old, present and future era. This is the language of Romans 10; God always has a remnant, but sociologically the church is not Judaism.
And even though the church is spiritual Israel, it functions and has the role that Israel had in the old era, it is the repository where the promises now reside, it is the locus where revelation can be seen and it is the place where the preaching of God’s message resides. Even though it is the spiritual Israel, it is the Israel because Israel today is split between the remnant that believes and detached branches that are still out there. The theology that we have doesn’t deal with the intention, it deals with the reality. Here’s the problem, the difference between a ‘reformed’ and a ‘dispensationalist’ has the reformed saying that the church is the new Israel and therefore ethnic Israel no longer matters in the program of God, generally speaking. There are a few who hold out a future for ethnic Israel and that ethnic Israel will respond and that is put within a reformed model. Whereas the dispensationalists will say, yes the church is the institution of God today and functions like Israel does or did. But it is not all that Israel is; why, because there is in the program of God a future for this group. Note that Romans 9-11 talks about the possibility of the natural branches being grafted back in, some point in the future. Dispensationalists don’t want the church or anyone else to lose sight of this. A reformed person who sees a future of ethnic Israel is very close to a dispensationalist. I can think about and perceive a future for ethnic Israel without thinking about a national Israel that will be the center of the millennium. That is where the difference comes in. The very future that God promised Israel in the Old Testament would then have been realized in a millennium. There would not be two dispensations (the method or scheme according to which God carries out his purposes towards humanity of which there are said to have been three dispensations: the Patriarchal, the Mosaic or Jewish and the Christian) , one in the church and one in the millennium. The message that went into the synagogues of Jesus’ day basically said that if you were a good Jew and believed God’s promises you will embrace Israel’s Messiah, who ended up to be Jesus Christ. That was the message.
Judaism was a religion whose calendar and worship was built around a single temple. You need to think about everything in Judaism that revolves around the temple and then take the temple away. This would require you to total reorganize your faith. This is what happened in the destruction of the temple in AD 70. If would be the same if all of the churches vanished and Christians would have to re-organize themselves without those churches. As the church was being structured, the major remnant of Judaism was being restructured further away from Christianity. And the presence of the Messiah who was divine was changing the entire shape of the faith within Judaism as it slowly reshaped itself into Christianity. What was once oriented around a single building became reoriented around a single person who put you in touch with the living God. It a radical difference and change. So Christianity in its original design and earliest preaching did not see itself as radically breaking from what Judaism of the Hebrew Scriptures was supposed to be. It did see itself breaking with what Judaism was becoming through the rabbis. Paul didn’t stop going to the synagogue initially, nor did other Jewish Christians. Today, as Christians, we seem to think there was Judaism and when God came, he purposely built a whole new religion, including buildings and everything that went with that. But what happened, the new religion Christianity emerged because of the reaction of the original audience. What Acts is arguing, even though Christianity appears to be new, it is actually quite old. Now for an ancient in an ancient culture, it is not what is new that is great, it is what is old that is great, particularly in regards to religion. So again, Acts is saying that we did not go out to consciously form a church. We were forced to form a church by the reaction that we met with the original audience for whom the Gospel was originally intended. We are not anti-Jewish; we are as pro-Jewish as we can be because if you believe Moses and prophets, you will become a follower of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Nothing would have convinced the Jewish people as they had already made the judgement about Jesus. Once a religious ideological idea has taken grip of the soul, it is very difficult to change it.
Look at Islam; how can you have a religion that can be so violent? It is because the core concepts of that religious faith have taken ahold of the soul of a lot of people. They don’t see the world the way you do. They don’t evaluate what goes on like you do. It just doesn’t go through the same filter which means it doesn’t fit into the same cultural standings. Christianity was built along ethnical religious lines and it is clear that God didn’t want us to have a temple as we didn’t need sacrifices. We went about the business of trying to live as faithful Jews without a temple. Some Jews are looking to the day that the temple comes back and there is something missing in their religion until it happens. This is why you see pictures of orthodox Jews standing at the Wailing Wall because it represents I remnant of the presence of the temple for whose reconstruction they long for. That is why when you go through the Jewish quarter in Jerusalem down to the area of the western wall, you will meet a nine armed minora in gold that is already forged for the third temple. As for the church is concerned, it is the new communities’ character and calling that are more important to Jesus than its form. Our churches today spend a lot of time wrestling with debating, discussing, separating over the form of what the church is. Jesus was much more concerned with the character of the communities that developed and how it reflected as it engaged with the world. Consider the worship services of the early church; they had hymns and liturgy and met in homes to do it. There was much more time spent on the character of what the community was supposed to look like and the calling and mission that the church was to carry out. We have managed today to reverse the emphasis; that is why people don’t see the New Testament church. They see a well-organized machine that has a lot of parallels to a religious sphere and that’s not taking a shot at how the church is delivering what they have to deliver. The point is that we are spending much more time on engaging on the form of how we do church than we do on what the church should be doing. The church didn’t form so that we could figure out how to do church. The church exists so that the church can do the mission of God.
Jesus’ mission is to call sinners to repentance or to call people to repent for the kingdom of God is at hand. Luke 15 gives us a picture of initiative or the call of commission expressed in Luke; the repentance for the forgiveness of sin, to be preached to the entire world beginning at Jerusalem. In Luke and Acts, religiously speaking, the center of the world at its beginning was in Jerusalem but by the end of the Luke and Acts, the center of the world had gone to Rome. Paul had to get to Rome, not Antioch. Antioch sends him out but where does he end up? To get ready to preach the Gospel to Caesar in Rome and it takes a lot of effort and work to get there. What about Acts 27; why is it in Acts, the long sea voyage with all the detail with how difficult it was to get to Rome? As for the perspective of Jerusalem, Rome is at the ends of the earth and it takes one long hard trip to get there.
Faith, Repent and Turn
Faith, Repent and Turn are three key response terms in the Gospels and in Acts. These are three terms that work like a diagram. Anyone of them is an adequate explanation for what the response to the Gospel should be, but they emphasize different things. Repent is a word that starts out from the perspective from where you are. You have to use the words to mean a change of mind. Actually the Hebrew idea undergirding the Greek word repent is the word shu which itself means ‘turn’, so these two are very close to one another but repent basically means a change of mind or direction. To repent is to make a left or right turn or an about face; it is not to go in the same direction. To have a change of mind, you have to have a change of direction so you turn and when you turn and where you end up is with faith. You end up believing. That is why this ends up being the comprehensive term used throughout the New Testament. With repenting, you end up with faith having turned. The failure to repent leads to judgement. The call to faith is seen in several passages whether we are talking about the centurion, the paralytic, the woman with the hemorrhage, the boy with the unclean spirit, the two blind men, the gentile woman, Jairus’ daughter, or the simple woman who anoints Jesus. Every one of those passages mentions faith. Interestingly, John never uses the noun ‘faith’, but he does use the verb, ‘believe.’ But the call to believe is the way John talks about this, but the word doesn’t appear anywhere in John. Faith is seen as an abiding quality in John 15. Another term that comes in this list is ‘receive’; ‘for as many received him, he gave the right to become the children of God.’ This has to do with the idea of receiving the message, welcoming it, actually, of embracing it. If I were to give this a synonym today, it would be embracing the Gospel. To receive the Gospel is to embrace the Gospel. Note that faith is not a momentary act. You don’t believe in God and then you stop believing; you don’t believe in the Gospel and stop believing. If I have faith in the Gospel, I believe the Gospel. We tend to talk about faith as if it is a momentary act because the beginning of faith represents transition of someone out of death into new life and brings what we call justification (an acceptable reason for doing something; the act, process, or state of being justified by God). The faith that a person begins to exercise is the faith that they are supposed to live with from that point on.
Calling of the Disciples
This is the formulation of the restored Israel on the one hand and the base of which the New Testament preaches with the church on the other. Jesus Christ is the cornerstone and the apostles and prophets are the foundation. What Jesus intended to do was to reconstitute Israel. We see this in Mark 1, Matthew 4 and the call with the catch of fish in Luke 5, in the discussion about who Jesus relates to in talking to Levi and Matthew and then goes to the banquet and that following him is a priority. This is supposed to be above everything else. Luke 14:24-25 deals with considering the cost of what it is to follow Christ. If the other person is stronger, then sue for peace with God. The twelve points to the intentionality of a new community for Jesus. Of the twelve, you have a zealot and a tax collector working together. Jesus’ collection of friends in the twelve had a variety about them. They were the disciples and we have talked about discipleship with disciple meaning learner and the term only is shown in the Gospels, not in the epistles. It’s widely used, some seventy two times in Matthew alone and it is used forty six times in Mark and thirty seven times in Luke and finally seventy eight times in John. Those who follow Jesus are learners which are one of their basic characteristics because God is in the business of changing us until he is finished with the job. This changes us and it takes time and yet the idea of change in the church is sometimes a four letter word. This is something I do not understand. We haven’t yet got there yet and therefore don’t ever use the ability to reflect on things, especially our lives in relation to Jesus. Even the reformed church says, ‘always reform.’ Be committed to being changed and changing until God is finished with the job and that job isn’t done until we are glorified. As Christians we are a long term project with God. It is a process of growth and destruction and what we see in Mark is what most of us are. This will entail sufferings and taking up the Cross in this world. If you want acceptance by the world don’t sign up for Jesus because the world will not accept you and Jesus together. We are characterized by forgiveness living in a community of forgiveness and a community of love and a community of service. We have to be leaders in the church for others so that the church can be what it should be for Christ. When we think about community, there are three groups that the concern of the Gospel: the community that Jesus formed, there is Israel and there are the gentiles. Jesus ministers to and people are sent to preach for and on behalf of Israel. These passages often talk about to Israel or for Israel in one way or another, but also it is to and for the nation.