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The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity is on September 25, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 16:19-31

16:19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.

16:20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,

16:21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.

16:22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.

16:23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.

16:24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’

16:25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.

16:26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’

16:27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house–

16:28 for I have five brothers–that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’

16:29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’

16:30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’

16:31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 9 through Luke 19 is all about our Lord’s teachings in the final six months of His ministry.

We are in the latter part of those lessons.

Today’s post is another long one. It explores why people go to hell and the nature of hell.

Before exploring this parable in detail, please note that this Sunday’s readings, perhaps apart from the one from Jeremiah, all tie together in denouncing the love of riches and luxury.

Today’s parable was our Lord’s warning to the Pharisees about self-righteousness and the need for repentance.

John MacArthur says:

Hell is full of surprised people.  That’s really what this story is about — a man who was shocked to find himself in hell Equally shocking to those who listen to the story was the idea that the other man was in heaven.  This was contrary to all of their expectations.

MacArthur explains about the ancient Jewish tradition of believing in a type of prosperity religion. The Pharisees also subscribed to it. In short, the faithful were blessed with wealth while the poor and infirm were cursed:

This story is about a rich man.  He’s the main character.  He’s a religious man.  He would be understood in the context of this story, as Jesus is telling it, to be a man who had been blessed by God.  They had their own sort of prosperity religion in those days, and…and they saw the poor people as cursed and the rich people as blessed.  That’s the view of the Pharisees, the religious leaders of Israel.  So this is a man who has been singularly blessed by God.  He is a man who lives life to the max, who enjoys the best that life can bring limitlessly, who surely expects to go to heaven but ends up in hell.  And then there is that other man, that despicable, poor man, who, by very evidence of his life is being cursed by God, who ends up when he dies in heaven.  That’s why you could call this story “The Great Reversal.”

And just exactly to whom is this story directed?  Well, it is directed, first of all, at the moment, at the time to the Pharisees again, verse 14“The Pharisees who were lovers of money were listening to all these things, and He said to them.”  This section is a section of Jesus speaking to the Pharisees; 17:1, he turns to speak to His disciples.  So for the moment, this story is directed at the Pharisees, as have been a number of our Lord’s stories, including the amazing three stories He told in the 15th chapter about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the tale of two sons In fact, the Pharisees are the ones who have declared their loyalty to the law and the prophets, referred to in verse 16.  They had declared their adherence to and obedience to Moses and the prophets.  They were the religious leaders of Israel.  They were the ones who considered themselves blessed and, according to verse 14, they were lovers of money.  They had a convenient theology that accommodated their wealth prosperity view.  The more money you had, the more you were blessed by God.  Loving money, pursuing money, is like loving God and pursuing blessing.  That was their view.  The truth is, verse 15, “They were detestable in the sight of God,” because they did, in fact, love money and did not, in fact, obey Moses and the prophets.

So the story is directed at the Pharisees.  Their hero in the story is the rich man. He’s the symbol of a God-blessed life in Israel.  On the other hand, they would treat the poor man the same way the rich man did, for they were famous for disdaining outcasts And, by the way, the Pharisees also believed in life after death.  The Pharisees believed in judgment, and the Pharisees believed in heaven, and the Pharisees believed in hell.  And none of them expected that they would end up in hell

And so Jesus is really giving them another jolt.  He’s giving another shock to them in this story.  It is directed at those people who are false religionists.  But you have to understand that this kind of jolt and this kind of shock to their system and the system of anybody who comfortably thinks he or she is going to heaven because they are religious, when, in fact, they’re going to hell, is not an outrageous act.  It is, on the other hand, a very compassionate and a very merciful act.  Warning people of reality is the…the most compassionate, loving, gracious, kind thing that you can do.  Warning self-righteous, religious people that they’re going to end up unintentionally in hell is the most important thing we can do. And that’s exactly what Jesus did.  Hell is full of people who went there unintentionally, from their perspective.  The rich man no more expected to find himself in eternal torment than the Pharisees did when they arrived there.  They were among those who gained the world and lost their soul.

MacArthur discusses how Jesus constructed this story:

You have a poor man and a rich man.  The poor man then becomes rich; and the rich man becomes poor; and the poor man becomes richer than the rich man ever was; and the rich man becomes poorer than the poor man ever was.  You have a poor man on the outside of the house, and you have a rich man on the inside.  Then comes death, and you have a poor man on the inside and a rich man on the outside.  You have a poor man with no food, and a rich man with all the food he can possibly need; and then you have a poor man at the great heavenly banquet, and a rich man with absolutely nothing.  You have a poor man with needs and a rich man with no needs; and then you have a poor man with no needs, and a rich man with needs.  You have a poor man who desires everything.  You have a rich man who desires nothing. And then you have a rich man who will never have his desires fulfilled, and a poor man who has all his desires fulfilled.

You have a poor man who suffers and a rich man who is satisfied; and then you have a rich man who suffers, and a poor man who’s satisfied.  You have a poor man who’s tormented, and a rich man who’s happy; and then you have a poor man who’s happy, and a rich man who’s tormented.  You have a poor man who is humiliated, a rich man who’s honored.  Then you have a rich man who is humiliated, and a poor man who is honored.  You have a poor man who wants a crumb, a rich man who feasts; and then you have a poor man who’s at a feast, and a rich man who wants a drop of water.  You have a poor man who seeks help, a rich man who gives none.  Then you have a rich man who seeks help, and a poor man who gives none.  Then you have a poor man who is a nobody, a rich man who is well-known; and then you have a poor man who has a name, and a rich man who has none.  You have a poor man who has no dignity in death, not even a burial.  You have a rich man who has dignity in death.  Then you have a poor man who has dignity after death, and a rich man who has no dignity after death, not even a name.  You have a poor man with no hope, and a rich man with all hope.  Then you have a rich man with no hope, and a poor man who has hope realized.

Jesus began His parable by introducing the rich man as being someone who dressed in purple and fine linen and who dined sumptuously every day (verse 19).

Before I go further, this story is often referred to as ‘Dives and Lazarus’. ‘Dives’ is Latin for ‘rich’. It is not a name, only an adjective.

Matthew Henry points out that it is not a sin to have riches, but it is when those riches consume one’s life:

It is no sin to be rich, no sin to wear purple and fine linen, nor to keep a plentiful table, if a man’s estate will afford it. Not are we told that he got his estate by fraud, oppression, or extortion, no, nor that he was drunk, or made others drunk; but, [1.] Christ would hereby show that a man may have a great deal of the wealth, and pomp, and pleasure of this world, and yet lie and perish for ever under God’s wrath and curse. We cannot infer from men’s living great either that God loves them in giving them so much, or that they love God for giving them so much; happiness consists not in these things. [2.] That plenty and pleasure are a very dangerous and to many a fatal temptation to luxury, and sensuality, and forgetfulness of God and another world. This man might have been happy if he had not had great possessions and enjoyments. [3.] That the indulgence of the body, and the ease and pleasure of that, are the ruin of many a soul, and the interests of it. It is true, eating good meat and wearing good clothes are lawful; but it is true that they often become the food and fuel of pride and luxury, and so turn into sin to us. [4.] That feasting ourselves and our friends, and, at the same time, forgetting the distresses of the poor and afflicted, are very provoking to God and damning to the soul. The sin of this rich man was not so much his dress or his diet, but his providing only for himself.

MacArthur describes the man further:

“There was a rich man.”  How rich?  Extravagantly rich.  Luxuriously rich.  And by the way, again, I remind, he would be respected immediately He would be envied immediately, honored.  He would be viewed as blessed by God.  That’s why he was so rich.  In Israel, his business had been touched by God; and he would be a hero to the money-loving Pharisees.  So he would also be a man who would assume, and everybody would assume, that God had blessed his life; and…and that’s why he was as wealthy as he was.  So it wouldn’t be just the religious leaders who would think that.  Anybody would think that, even in general, even today, would look at him.  He’s a religious man.  He’s in Israel.  He’s a part of the society.  Look what God has done to bless his life.

How rich was he?  Well, “He habitually dressed in purple and fine linen.”  Imperfect tense, “habitually,” it means exactly that.  It is an imperfect verb that means this was his regular way of dressing.  He didn’t have a casual day, apparently. He just put it all on every day. And what did he wear?  It might not sound like a lot to us, but he dressed in purple and fine linen.  Now, let me tell you a little bit about this…this purple, first of all.  The outer garment that the people wore in those days if they were wealthy enough was made out of wool; and wool was, for the elite, fulled.  You’ve heard of fulled, F U L L E D, woolIt was placed into a basin, and then it was mingled with clay, and the process, a very time consuming, laborious, hands-on, manual labor to full that wool in clay, produced a kind of white that was almost blazing, brilliant, shining white.  Very expensive process done for the elite.  They had whiter clothes than everybody else, and it wasn’t because of their detergent.  It was because of this process the wool was put through.

And then if you wanted to really make it luxurious, you had it dyed with a Tyrian purple dye.  That’s from Tyre, which is on the north coast of Israel; and this dye came from a shellfish called a murex Obviously, you had to go get the shellfish, and then extract the dye, and it was the most expensive dye.  You remember Lydia in the book of Acts was a seller of this purple dye; and this dye was used to dye the robe purple, which was considered the highest degree of opulence This is the robe of royalty, the purple robe.

Underneath this robe was fine linen.  The normal tunic would be made of fine linen.  Probably a reference to the finest linen of the day, which is probably still the finest cotton in the day, and that’s Egyptian cotton Linen here referring to something made out of cotton.  Egyptian cotton was the most expensive and the best and the highest thread count, and you ladies know all about that So it signified…It signified that this is the finest clothing that somebody could wear, and he wore it every day.  He came out in splendor every day.

Not only was he dressed that way, but he was euphrain He was joyously living It means to be glad to enjoy oneself.  It is the verb used in Luke 12.  I think it’s verse 19, where it says, the…the man who built the bigger barn said, “Let’s eat, drink, and be merry.”  So he lived a merry life He lived a joyous life.  He lived to the max.  He was the party guy, and it was a very luxurious, opulent kind of party.  It is described as splendor.  Actually an adverb; he lived splendidly; and, again, all the language is over the top here; and he lived like that every day.  I mean, for him, every day would be like the feast that the father in Luke 15 gave to the prodigal who came back Every day would be a killing of a fatted calf kind of event.

Extreme riches, extreme self-indulgence, lavish lifestyle, ostentatious display; he’s got it all.  He is the definition of what it means to be filthy rich, which is a term devised by poor people.

At the rich man’s gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, who was covered with sores (verse 20).

Henry and MacArthur both say that, in Hebrew, Lazarus is Eleazar, which means, as Henry says:

the help of God, which they must fly to that are destitute of other helps. This poor man was reduced to the last extremity, as miserable, as to outward things, as you can lightly suppose a man to be in this world.

MacArthur says:

Lazarus is the Greek form of the Hebrew Elazar, or Eliazar.  It means “whom the Lord saved, whom the Lord helped.”  Very common name, by the way, in Israel, and a wonderful name for this man; because it tells us how he ended up in heaven.

Anyone familiar with Ohio might remember the Lazarus department stores, which eventually merged with Macy’s. As a child, I had trouble reconciling department stores with the men named Lazarus in the New Testament. It was only later that I found out Lazarus was the family name of the brothers who founded the department store chain.

This brings me to another point. Both men named Lazarus in the New Testament are canonised saints. This Lazarus is unique to Luke’s Gospel. The Lazarus here is not Mary and Martha’s brother from Bethany. The feast day of this Lazarus is June 21 and that of Lazarus of Bethany is December 17.

Henry describes Lazarus further:

(1.) His body was full of sores, like Job. To be sick and weak in body is a great affliction; but sores are more painful to the patient, and more loathsome to those about him.

(2.) He was forced to beg his bread, and to take up with such scraps as he could get at rich people’s doors. He was so sore and lame that he could not go himself, but was carried by some compassionate hand or other, and laid at the rich man’s gate. Note, Those that are not able to help the poor with their purses should help them with their pains; those that cannot lend them a penny should lend them a hand; those that have not themselves wherewithal to give to them should either bring them, or go for them, to those that have. Lazarus, in his distress, had nothing of his own to subsist on, no relation to go to, nor did the parish take care of him. It is an instance of the degeneracy of the Jewish church at this time that such a godly man as Lazarus was should be suffered to perish for want of necessary food.

MacArthur takes a less charitable view than Henry and says that Lazarus was practically tossed at the rich man’s gate:

… verse 20, “A certain poor man,” ptchos in the Greek, meaning extreme poverty Galatians 4:9, “beggarly, worthless,” could be translated pitiful Could be translated inferior.  It’s not just he had a little.  He had nothing.  Destitution.  This the absolute 180 extreme.  The man has nothing, and it says, he’s also laid his gate, the gate of the rich man, covered with sores, covered with sores.  This is to have ulcers, oozing, open lesions. This same word is used in the book of Revelation to describe the horrible judgment of God when the angel pours out the first bowl of wrath in the final judgment.  It becomes a loathsome and malignant sore, Revelation 16:2, on the men who had the mark of the beast and who worshipped his image.  Verse 11: “They blaspheme the God of Heaven because of their pain and their sores.”  It is an ugly kind of sore.  Where did the sores come from?  We don’t really have a diagnosis of that, but I can give you a pretty good guess; because, if you go back to the verse, it says, “The poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate.”  That’s not a good translation.  That sounds like come…somebody came and just kind of delicately laid him down.  That is not a delicate word.  That’s the word ball.  It means to throw, throw or throw down.

What happens here is you’ve got a man who is thrown down at the gate to the rich man’s house, which indicates that he probably was paralyzed, couldn’t move.  The sores may well have come from the inability of the man to move, as people who can’t move in a bed or can’t move in a wheelchair develop sores at all points of pressure.

Jesus said that Lazarus wanted only what fell from the rich man’s table — crumbs — yet only the dogs came to lick his sores (verse 21).

Henry points out how patient Lazarus was and how cold-hearted well-fed people are towards hunger:

He desired to be fed with the crumbs, v. 21. He did not look for a mess from off his table, though he ought to have had one, one of the best; but would be thankful for the crumbs from under the table, the broken meat which was the rich man’s leavings; nay, the leavings of his dogs. The poor use entreaties, and must be content with such as they can get. Now this is taken notice of to show, First, What was the distress, and what the disposition, of the poor man. He was poor, but he was poor in spirit, contentedly poor. He did not lie at the rich man’s gate complaining, and bawling, and making a noise, but silently and modestly desiring to be fed with the crumbs. This miserable man was a good man, and in favour with God. Note, It is often the lot of some of the dearest of God’s saints and servants to be greatly afflicted in this world, while wicked people prosper, and have abundance; see Ps 73 7, 10, 14. Here is a child of wrath and an heir of hell sitting in the house, faring sumptuously; and a child of love and an heir of heaven lying at the gate, perishing for hunger. And is men’s spiritual state to be judged of then by their outward condition? Secondly, What was the temper of the rich man towards him. We are not told that he abused him, or forbade him his gate, or did him any harm, but it is intimated that he slighted him; he had no concern for him, took no care about him. Here was a real object of charity, and a very moving one, which spoke for itself; it was presented to him at his own gate. The poor man had a good character and good conduct, and every thing that could recommend him. A little thing would be a great kindness to him, and yet he took no cognizance of his case, did not order him to be taken in and lodged in the barn, or some of the out-buildings, but let him lie there. Note, It is not enough not to oppress and trample upon the poor; we shall be found unfaithful stewards of our Lord’s goods, in the great day, if we do not succour and relieve them. The reason given for the most fearful doom is, I was hungry, and you gave me no meat. I wonder how those rich people who have read the gospel of Christ, and way that they believe it, can be so unconcerned as they often are in the necessities and miseries of the poor and afflicted.

MacArthur explains how a goodly portion of bread ended up on the floor after a meal in that era:

Jaconias Jeremias writes…and he tells us about this. . .a very gifted historian, done a lot of great work around that time of the year…he says…that time of human history: “Guests at a meal used pieces of bread to clean their hands.”  Now, let me tell you what the…how the picture works.  In those days, you might have a little fruit and a little vegetable or whatever, but they ate with their hands.  There weren’t any knives and forks and all that.  So you basically ate with your hands as…as most of the world has done for most of its history; and, typically, you took bread — bread being a staple — and you dipped it in some kind of stew or thick soup or whatever; and you ate that way.  You ate the bread, like at the Last Supper, dipped in a sop, remember?

OK?  So that’s what you did.  Well, I mean it’s a little messy; and they didn’t have paper napkins; and I guess they could’ve used cloth if they had to; but they had a really good method for cleaning up the mess on their hands.  They used the bread that was a little more stale.  Now, there would be some bread on the table that was to be dipped.  Then there would be other bread that was to then be used to mop up your…your hands.  Now, the bread had the capability of absorbing the sop, and you ate it that way; and it also the capability of absorbing what was dripping all over your hands; and so they would use the bread to clean their hands and then throw it under the table.

The dogs who licked the poor man’s sores were not pets of the rich man. They were the scavengers — wild dogs — that roamed the streets then.

MacArthur says:

These dogs are always presented in the Bible as scavengers, mongrels, sort of semi-wild, not domesticated, ugly.  Was just the way it was in the world at that time.  They roamed the cities.  They roamed the periphery of the cities eating the garbage, and they came in, and in these open courtyards where meals would be held, they would clean up the bread that had been thrown there. And so the rich man has this big feast.  The people are eating, taking the bread they needed to, cleaning, throwing it under there.  The dogs were coming and eating it; and the poor man would’ve given anything if he could have moved himself under the table with the dogs, to get some of that dirty bread.  That’s how desperate this man was.

Dogs are always pictured as dirty.  Second Peter 2:22 says, “The dogs lick up their own vomit.” He wanted to get down there with the dogs and eat the dirty bread.  It reminds me of another man in the 15th chapter, the prodigal who wound up eating with what?  Pigs.  Such a humiliated situation.  So destitute.  He’s road kill, really.  He’s being treated as if he’s dead by the rich man. That’s how the Pharisees would treat him, too.

Then, one day, the poor man died and angels carried him off to rest with Abraham; the rich man also died and was buried (verse 22).

Note how Jesus framed that sentence. The poor man was lifted up to glory with Abraham, by angels, no less. The rich man ended up in the ground.

MacArthur says the Pharisees would have found that shocking:

The poor man died; and, immediately, he’s carried away by angels. That’s stunning. That is shocking. That is unthinkable; and then he is taken by the angels to the side of Abraham. The angels take his body from the licking mongrels and they take him and place him beside Abraham. First of all, the fact that angels are doing this is a jolt to the Pharisees who are hearing the story, because they view this man as cursed by God

So the shock is this man is in heaven. The next shock is he’s not just in heaven, he’s taken by the angels to heaven. The next shock is he’s not just taken by the angels to heaven, but he’s not on the periphery. He’s not at the back of the room or the back of the crowd looking over everybody’s head and between their heads to see who’s sitting up at the main table. He’s sitting next to Abraham. Wow. This is just way out there. A…a broadside on their theological assumptions.

Henry reminds us that death comes for the rich and the poor alike. Some rich people believe they are invincible.

This is why our late Queen nurtured her personal faith so carefully and why she took the time to evangelise in her Christmas messages — and, most importantly, in her two televised funeral services, seen by four million people around the globe just this past Monday, September 19, 2022:

Death is the common lot of rich and poor, godly and ungodly; there they meet together. One dieth in his full strength, and another in the bitterness of his soul; but they shall lie down alike in the dust, Job 21 26. Death favours not either the rich man for his riches or the poor man for his poverty. Saints die, that they may bring their sorrows to an end, and may enter upon their joys. Sinners die, that they may go to give up their account. It concerns both rich and poor to prepare for death, for it waits for them both. Mors sceptra ligonibus æquat—Death blends the sceptre with the spade.

———æquo pulsat pede pauperum tabernas, Regumque turres. With equal pace, impartial fate Knocks at the palace, as the cottage gate.

Jesus purposely took some liberties with this parable as He said that, while being tormented, the rich man saw Abraham from a distance with Lazarus by his side (verse 23). That would not happen in reality.

MacArthur tells us:

Nobody in hell could see into heaven, because nobody in hell would ever know the heavenly experience. Nobody in hell is omniscient, so they wouldn’t be able to see in heaven, look around till they found Abraham. They wouldn’t know who Abraham was. Nobody in hell can have a conversation with somebody in heaven; but for the sake of the story, to make a point, because it does reveal the essence of the suffering in hell

MacArthur says we can be sure the man is in hell, as his translation uses the term Hades:

in the New Testament, Hades clearly refers to hell, with only one exception, and that is Acts chapter 2 verses 27 and 31, which is a quote from Psalm 16; and there it has a vague meaning of just the grave; but that’s because it’s quoting an Old Testament passage. Every other usage of the word Hades in the New Testament refers to the abode of the damned. It is never, in the New Testament, the abode of the redeemed, of believers. And so it is synonymous then with hell.

Some might ask about Gehenna.

MacArthur says:

Gehenna is a word referring to the Valley of Hinnom, the city dump that was burning all the time.  It became a metaphor for hell — the never, ever extinguished fire.  The fiery hell of Matthew 5:22 that Jesus spoke about.  The hell of Matthew 5:29 and Matthew 5:30, and there are many other references to it. 

The rich man called out, ‘Father Abraham’, a reference that would not have been lost on the Pharisees, and he asked him to send Lazarus with a fingertip of water to cool his tongue, for he was in agony in the flames (verse 24).

MacArthur tells us something vital about hell:

One thing about hell, you get a fully active conscience. I’m not going to develop all that. You get a fully active conscience, so that the true wretchedness of who you are is completely dominant in your thinking. All that illusion about how good you are, all those illusions about your self-worth and…and your basic, innate goodness gone. There is a full realization of the sinner’s wretchedness in hell. A fully informed, acutely aware and sensitive conscience becomes the tormenter. He doesn’t say, “How did I end up here?” That question’s never asked in hell. He doesn’t say, “Did I really deserve this?” He doesn’t say, “Don’t you think this is a little extreme?” He doesn’t say any of that.

Note that the man still thought so little of Lazarus, as if he were the lowliest servant:

he looks in his own mind at the person he would consider to be the most wretched person who ever got into heaven, and he picks him, and it’s Lazarus. That’ll tell you that hell didn’t remediate him. He viewed Lazarus exactly the way he always did; and he also thought somebody that lowly ought to serve him. He never got heaven’s assessment of Lazarus, because people in hell don’t have heaven’s assessment of anything

He’s tortured.  The metaphor is thirst and water, but the point is relief.  He wouldn’t give Lazarus a crumb, but he wants Lazarus to give him a drip.  “Dip your finger in water, drip it on my tongue.”  Minimal.  Any tiny, small bit of relief dripping off the end of Lazarus’ finger.  He’s not asking for a barrel, not asking for a bucket.  He’s not asking for the heavenly pipeline to be extended to hell, so there’s a constant flow.  The souls of the damned know they’re doomed to suffer.  They know they are suffering justly.  All they ask for in the lips of this man are small moments of relief in this eternal, unending horror.  “I am in agony,” odunaō, to be in great pain.  “I am in great pain.”  Real water’s not going to sooth the eternally tortured soul.  That’s not the point.  The message is the desperation for just the smallest moment of relief.  This is consistent with the image of hell.

You read the New Testament, you read even the Old Testament, Isaiah 66:24 talks about the fires of hell.  You go through the New Testament … The gospels and the writers of the New Testament describe hell as a fiery place, and its fire is the fire of torture and tormentIt’s also described as darkness, outer darkness, like being lost in the most infinite corner of space under horrible torture and pain, a place of weeping, wailing, teeth-grinding agony.

… A fire that burns forever, but never purifies. A fire that burns forever in an everlasting darkness that only punishes.

Abraham replied, addressing him as ‘Child’ — some translations say ‘Son’ — and not in a good way. This is the way a parent addresses a poorly behaved child or a law enforcement officer addresses a criminal.

Abraham reminded the rich man that he received his reward with good things on earth, whereas Lazarus received evil things. In the afterlife, Lazarus was in comfort and the rich man in agony (verse 25).

Henry says that Abraham represents Christ in this parable:

Abraham in this description represents Christ, for to him all judgment is committed, and it is his mind that Abraham here speaks. Those that now slight Christ will shortly make their court to him, Lord, Lord …

He puts him in mind of what had been both his own condition and the condition of Lazarus, in their life-time: Son, remember; this is a cutting word. The memories of damned souls will be their tormentors, and conscience will then be awakened and stirred up to do its office, which here they would not suffer it to do. Nothing will bring more oil to the flames of hell than Son, remember.

Abraham went on to say that a great chasm has been fixed between heaven and hell and that no one in one place can reach the other (verse 26).

Still considering Lazarus to be the lowest of the low, the rich man asked Abraham to send him to his father’s house (verse 27), to his five brothers to warn them so that they do not end up in the same place of torment (verse 28).

Abraham denied that request, too, telling him that his brothers have Moses and the prophets: ‘they should listen to them’ (verse 29).

MacArthur gives us a brief set of Old Testament verses to illustrate that point:

Psalm 3:8, “Salvation belongs to the Lord.”  Isaiah 43:3, “I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”  God says, “I am your Savior.  I am your only Savior.”  “Truly,” says Isaiah 45:15, “Truly Thou art a God who hides Himself.  Oh God of Israel, Savior.  Israel has been saved by the Lord with an everlasting salvation.”  God is the Savior.  “Turn to Me.  Turn to Me,” verse 22, “all ends of the earth and be saved.  I am God, and there is no other.  There is no other God besides Me, a righteous God, and a Savior.”  There’s none except Me.  This is total abandonment to God who alone is the Savior; no one else, and you give up everything.

Listen to Isaiah 55:6“Seek the Lord while He may be found.  Call upon Him while He’s near.  Let the wicked forsake His way, the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to Lord, and He will have compassion on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” It’s about forsaking everything and embracing the God who is the Savior.

Now, in conclusion, does that sound any different than the New Testament?  It’s not one bit different.  All those components are components of New Testament salvation.  The only difference is we’ve seen the reality of the coming King and Sacrifice. If they believed Moses and the prophets, that would’ve been enough.

The rich man went on with a third request, asking for a sign sent to his brothers — someone from the dead — who will cause them to repent (verse 30).

That request is very much in line with those from the Pharisees. They saw miracles but wanted to kill Jesus. They wanted Him to perform a sign just for them. Our Lord did not grant it.

Abraham replied to the request in the negative, saying that if the five brothers do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced if someone rises from the dead (verse 31).

The man ended up in hell because he did not repent (verse 30).

MacArthur tells us how that man and his brothers could have found the way to repentance:

You must recognize your sinfulness, and the Old Testament commands that you repent. That is, you turn from your sin and turn toward God, realizing that God is gracious and offers grace to those who repent, that God is willing to forgive sin. He is a God of forgiveness by nature, who has no pleasure in the damnation of the wicked; and how do you appropriate that gift? Not by works, not by religious ceremony, but by faith. Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness; and that God will justify you. That is, He will declare you righteous, not because you are righteous; but He will credit His righteousness to you, the great doctrine of justification. Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness. It was his faith, even though he was unrighteous, that God accepted; and then gave Abraham, credited to his account, God’s own righteousness.

In closing, MacArthur discusses the differing notions of hell between our society and in the Bible:

it is critical for us to understand the literal reality of hell, and to accept the warning of Scripture. Hell has really disappeared from the vocabulary of many preachers.  Hell is denied by many in favor of universal salvation or everlasting nonexistence called soul sleep where people die and just go out of existence forever.  That’s a popular view among those who call themselves Christians.  Hell is denied by many.  It is preached by few, because it makes people uncomfortable.  That is true.  Hell has been reduced to a swear word, used by unbelievers not believers.  It has been reduced to a trivial verbal epithet that we sling around when wanting to express our anger.  Unbelievers flippantly and frequently tell people to go to hell. And while unbelievers don’t seem to have any hesitation to talk about hell and to verbally threaten people with it, at the same time the church is reluctant to warn people not to go to hell, supposedly out of love and compassion and concern and a desire to be acceptable.

So while unbelievers have the word “hell” on their lips frequently, believers have it on theirs rarely; and that is certainly what Satan would want.  Trivialize and make nothing but an epithet out of hell, words that you sling around that have no meaning, and silence the church about the truth of it. But it is the fearfulness of hell; it is the horror of hell that is exactly the point of its revelation.  The purpose of telling us about hell and describing it with such detail and so repeatedly in the Scripture is to produce in sinners fear, terror, and panicThat’s what it’s for.  It’s to contribute to the way in which they anticipate their eternity.  It is to frighten them, to horrify them so as to produce a terror of spending forever there that drives them in the direction of repentance and faith in the gospel.

Now, the leading preacher of hell of all people, the leading preacher of hell ever is the Savior of sinners, the Lord Jesus ChristThe most references to hell are in the four gospels and they come out of His mouth.  It is Jesus who teaches us about hell.  Clearly, the epistles are the…the ground in which we will find the clearest foundation for our understanding of hell.  Not just there.  The writer of Hebrews refers to it.  The apostle Peter refers to it.  The apostle John refers to it.  The apostle Paul refers to it.  Even Jude refers to it.  All the writers of the New Testament pick up on the issue of hell.

This punishment is defined by the word aiōnios, which is the word eternal or everlasting; and there are people who would like to redefine that word aiōnios and say, “Well, it doesn’t really mean forever.”  But if you do that with hell, you’ve just done it with heaven, because the same word is used to describe that.  If there is not an everlasting hell, then there is not an everlasting heaven; and I’ll go one beyond that.  The same word is used to describe God. And so, if there is not an everlasting hell, then there is not an everlasting heaven, nor is there an everlasting God.

It is clear that God is eternal; and, therefore, that heaven is eternal, and so is hell.  This is what is on the heart of the Lord Jesus when He talks to the Pharisees, the religious leaders of Israel, and tells them the story in Luke 16:19 to 31.  He makes it up as He did His parables.  He invents the story.  The only difference between this and any other parable is He has a name for one of the characters; and there’s a reason for that; but the story really has one purpose.  It is to warn of hell. It’s a story about a man who was surprised to end up in hell.

If you know someone who needs a discussion about hell, do not wait. It is essential in order for them to be saved. Teach them what Jesus says about hell. My prayers go with you in that effort.

Bible ancient-futurenetThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Galatians 4:28-31

28 Now you,[a] brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. 30 But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” 31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s allegory of Hagar and Sarah, the former being a slave (her followers attached to Mosaic law) and the latter a free woman (Christians having freedom in Christ).

John MacArthur recaps Paul’s message for us and adds a similar insight from Hebrews (emphases mine):

Hagar, the slave, symbolizes the old covenant; the earthly, legalistic, Judaistic Jerusalem; the Ishmael mentality of law and bondage. Sarah, the free woman, symbolizes the new covenant, the heavenly Jerusalem, and the wonderful, wonderful blessing of faith and grace. We belong – we belong to the Jerusalem that is above.

I want to talk about that a little bit. So, would you turn to Hebrews chapter 12? Hebrews chapter 12. Because here – this is kind of spread out for us a little bit, Hebrews chapter 12, verse 18 – here the writer of Hebrews is really kind of further explaining this same kind of analogy. He’s saying to the believers, “You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind” – that’s Sinai; you haven’t come to that – “and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they couldn’t bear the command, ‘If even a beast touches the mountain, it’ll be stoned.’” And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, ‘I am full of fear and trembling.’”

You haven’t come to Sinai; you’re not Sinai; you’re not Ishmael; you’re not Hagar; you’re not the present form of religion in this world.

“But you” – verse 22 – “have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.”

Paul tells the Galatians, who have been in thrall to the Judaizers, that they (the Galatians) are like Isaac, children of promise (verse 28). Recall that Sarah was well past childbearing age when God opened her womb. He promised Abraham and Sarah an heir, and He kept that promise because of Abraham’s unwavering faith.

Paul is using this analogy to get the doctrine of justification by faith through grace firmly set in the Galatians’ minds and hearts.

Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us:

We Christians, who have accepted Christ, and rely upon him, and look for justification and salvation by him alone, as hereby we become the spiritual, though we are not the natural, seed of Abraham, so we are entitled to the promised inheritance and interested in the blessings of it.

MacArthur says of Christians:

We’re in the line of Sarah, Isaac, the Jerusalem that is above, faith, freedom. “And if the Son shall make you free, you will be free for real,” John 8:36 says.

Isaac’s birth was miraculous. It was miraculous. So is ours. The miracle of the new birth cannot be accomplished by human effort. You must be born from above.

Paul likens the state of the Galatians, at risk of persecution at the hands of the Judaizers, to that of Isaac, whom Ishmael mocked (verse 29). Ishmael was jealous that he was no longer Abraham’s heir.

Henry says:

lest these Christians should be stumbled at the opposition they might meet with from the Jews, who were so tenacious of their law as to be ready to persecute those who would not submit to it, he tells them that this was no more than what was pointed to in the type; for as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, they must expect it would be so now.

Paul reminds the Galatians of Genesis 21, wherein God told Abraham to do as Sarah asked when she wanted Hagar to leave their home; the son of the slave shall not inherit with the son of the free woman (verse 30).

Here is the relevant passage, beginning with Isaac in verse 8:

God Protects Hagar and Ishmael

And the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing.[b] 10 So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” 11 And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son. 12 But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named. 13 And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.” 14 So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.

15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the child under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot, for she said, “Let me not look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. 17 And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. 18 Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” 19 Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. 20 And God was with the boy, and he grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow. 21 He lived in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

However, upon Abraham’s death, both Isaac and Ishmael buried him (Genesis 25):

These are the days of the years of Abraham’s life, 175 years. Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, 10 the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with Sarah his wife. 11 After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son. And Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi.

12 These are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s servant, bore to Abraham. 13 These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, named in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael; and Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, 14 Mishma, Dumah, Massa, 15 Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. 16 These are the sons of Ishmael and these are their names, by their villages and by their encampments, twelve princes according to their tribes. 17 (These are the years of the life of Ishmael: 137 years. He breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people.) 18 They settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria. He settled[a] over against all his kinsmen.

Isaac’s wife Rebekah gave birth to Jacob and Esau:

24 When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob.[d] Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.

Returning to Paul’s analogy, he concludes by telling the Galatians that they are not children of the slave woman but of the free woman (verse 31), Sarah.

MacArthur interprets this verse for us:

Ishmael can’t inherit along with Isaac. People under the bondage cannot inherit with those that are free in Christ. Those who are trying to please God by the flesh and works cannot inherit with those who have come by grace and faith.

So, just know this, we’re not children of the bondwoman; we have nothing to do with them. Since that is true, here’s the final exhortation, verse 1, “It was for freedom” – from all that – “Christ set us free; therefore, keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” Don’t go back into that system from which you have been set free. This is the good news of salvation.

Anybody who comes along, tries to add any kind of externalism, any kind of ceremonialism to your freedom in Christ, you tell them, “I’m in the Sarah, Isaac, promise group, not the Hagar, Ishmael, law group. I’m not under bondage; Christ has set me free

Paul hasn’t finished with his discourse on freedom in Christ. More to come next week.

Next time — Galatians 5:2-6

Bible oldThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Galatians 4:21-27

Example of Hagar and Sarah

21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia;[a] she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written,

“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;
    break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
    than those of the one who has a husband.”

———————————————————————————–

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s warnings to the Galatians about the Judaizers’ flattery and his being ‘perplexed’ — frustrated — about their acceptance of those false teachers.

Paul uses the story of Hagar and Sarah to illustrate the difference between slavery under the old law and freedom in living God’s promise.

John MacArthur explains why (emphases mine):

… here’s the illustration. Ishmael was born to Hagar. Ishmael is an illustration of the flesh. Ishmael is an illustration of the flesh. The promise was clear: God is going to give a son. It’s going to have to be supernatural. They don’t want to wait on God, they’ll do it their way; so the flesh rejects the promise and tries to take by its own power what God gives.

One child is the child of the flesh, the other child is the child of the promise: that’s Isaac to Sarah. By the time he’s born Abraham’s 100, she’s 90. But God supernaturally creates that child in her womb. Ishmael was born according to the flesh; they did it on their terms their way. Isaac is born through the promise of God; Ishmael is born naturally, you might say. Isaac is born supernaturally. That’s why when he was born they named him “laughter,” which is what Isaac means, or “rejoicing,” or “gladness.”

Two sons then become the patterns for spiritual truth. Ishmael is a son born in the usual, natural way. But beyond that, not just the usual, natural way, but in the flesh in a sinful way, as if they could fulfill the will of God on their own sinful terms. Ishmael is a representative of all those who try to do it on their own. Ishmael is an illustration of those who want salvation by works. And Ishmael was born to a slave, was a slave, and produced a whole lineage of slaves. Ishmael symbolizes accomplishing what God wants by your own flesh and ending up in bondage.

Isaac, on the other side, was born as a result of Abraham’s faith in God. As a blessing on His faith, God miraculously enabled Abraham, though he was, Hebrews says, as good as dead in terms of childbearing capacity. He allowed Abraham to deposit his seed in his wife Sarah, and for that to lead to the birth of Isaac. Isaac then was the child of promise. Isaac was the result of the power of God. He was, you might say, Spirit-born. The Holy Spirit caused Isaac to come forth when it would have been impossible for Abraham and Sarah to have a child. Isaac represents then salvation by faith alone. Abraham believed God and God supernaturally fulfilled His will in Abraham.

Ishmael pictures all those who try to please God and accomplish God’s will by the flesh. It’s sinful, it’s useless, it creates bondage. Isaac symbolizes all those who do the will of God by faith in His promise. He does the work; He brings it to pass; He receives the glory.

Paul begins by asking the Galatians who want to live under Mosaic law if they have considered what that would actually be like had they heard it read (verse 21).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

if they would do this, they might soon see how little reason they had to trust in it.

Paul begins recounting the story in Genesis of Abraham’s two sons, one born by a slave woman and the second born by a free woman (verse 22).

Hagar’s Ishmael was born by the flesh while Isaac was a fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah (verse 23).

Paul says that, allegorically, the women each represent one of two covenants God made with His people. The Old Covenant, made at Mount Sinai, represents Hagar, bearing children for slavery (verse 24).

Paul goes on to say that Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the Jerusalem of the present, as the Jews, having rejected Christ, were still following the old law and were, as such, slaves (verse 25).

Henry confirms this historical point:

… Agar, represented that which was given from mount Sinai, and which gendereth to bondage, which, though it was a dispensation of grace, yet, in comparison of the gospel state, was a dispensation of bondage, and became more so to the Jews, through their mistake of the design of it, and expecting to be justified by the works of it. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia (mount Sinai was then called Agar by the Arabians) …

Then Paul says that the ‘Jerusalem above’ is free and is the mother of Christians (verse 26).

In that verse, Paul refers to the spiritual Jerusalem, the heavenly Jerusalem.

To support his allegory, he cites Isaiah 54:1, in which the prophet quoted the Lord. When God’s people were released from Babylon, the women would be in labour and giving birth once more (verse 27).

MacArthur gives us the context:

This is an amazing approach by Paul. Isaiah 54:1 is long after Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Sarah, Sinai. Where does this fit? Isaiah’s writing to the captives in Babylon. The people of Israel have been taken captive into Babylon. And Isaiah writes to cheer them up. And this is in the section on salvation. And what he says to them in this verse – chapter 54, verse 1 – is that, “You’re desolate, you’re barren, you’re in exile, life is horrible. You know, you’ve hung your harps on the willow trees. You have no song to sing. All is sadness.” And Isaiah says, “Cheer up, rejoice, barren woman who doesn’t bear; break forth and shout you who are not even in labor; for more numerous are going to be the children of you who are now desolate, you who have no husband – more fruitful are you going to be than even those who are married and flourishing.”

What was that? That was a promise of the return to the land, “You’re going to be out of captivity; you’re going back to the land.” And when they got back to the land, the women began to flourish, and the nation began to reproduce and reproduce and reproduce, and the nation of Israel grew and grew and grew and grew. And the apostle Paul is using another scripture to say, “I promise you that when God says, ‘You will flourish,’ you will flourish.” God said it to the exiles in Babylon, and He fulfilled it. God said it to Sarah, and He fulfilled it by His power. By His power.

Paul also uses this illustration to say that false teachers hate the truth. The Judaizers hate that the Galatians have freedom in God through their faith in Christ.

MacArthur tells us:

Get this; Hagar hated Sarah. Hagar hated Isaac. We see that in Genesis 16. Then in Genesis 21:8 and 9, we see Ishmael hating Isaac. Ishmael thought for years that he was going to be the heir to the fortune. And then along comes the true heir, and he’s out.

And so, there was animosity, and Ishmael was a hater of Isaac, as Hagar was a hater of Sarah. So, persecution came then – mark it – the sons of Hagar, Sinai, the works, the flesh, false religion are always the persecutors of the truth. They will continue to persecute the children of Isaac and Sarah, the children of promise.

The greatest persecutor of the true church is false religion. Satan’s system of works ...

This is so amazing. So, we’ve got this false church persecuting the true church. We’ve got a war going on.

Paul’s allegory continues. More on that next week.

Next time — Galatians 4:28-31

Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Galatians 3:7-9

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify[a] the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s taking the Galatians to task for being ‘bewitched’ by Judaizers claiming that Gentile converts to Christianity had to be circumcised.

Paul introduced Abraham in verse 6:

Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

Abraham believed God’s promise to him first. The circumcision of our father in faith did not occur until 14 years later. More on this follows below.

John MacArthur sets the tone for today’s three verses:

So in verses 6 to 9, we have Paul’s positive proof that Old Testament salvation is by faith alone, positive proof that Old Testament salvation is by faith alone, and the positive proof is Abraham. They want Abraham to defend their works system. He’s going to take Abraham and defend faith alone using Abraham. He’s going to beat them at their own game by an accurate understanding of Abraham, such as we read in the fourth chapter of Romans

Paul says that anyone who believes in God — ‘those of faith’ — are the sons of Abraham (verse 7).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that circumcision — ‘according to the flesh’ — does not enter into it:

… not according to the flesh, but according to the promise; and, consequently, that they are justified in the same way that he was. Abraham was justified by faith, and so are they.

Paul goes on to cite the promise that God made to Abraham, which is in Genesis 12:3; Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by their faith (verse 8).

Henry says (emphases mine):

Abraham was justified by faith, and so are they. To confirm this, the apostle acquaints us that the promise made to Abraham (Genesis 12:3), In thee shall all nations be blessed, had a reference hereunto, Galatians 3:8; Galatians 3:8. The scripture is said to foresee, because he that indited the scripture did foresee, that God would justify the heathen world in the way of faith; and therefore in Abraham, that is, in the seed of Abraham, which is Christ, not the Jews only, but the Gentiles also, should be blessed; not only blessed in the seed of Abraham, but blessed as Abraham was, being justified as he was.

Paul concludes that believers are blessed along with Abraham, ‘the man of faith’ (verse 9).

Henry explains:

It was through faith in the promise of God that he was blessed, and it is only in the same way that others obtain this privilege.

John MacArthur’s sermon provides an excellent explanation of why the Jews held Abraham in such esteem — and rightly so — yet were so mistaken in their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah.

First, he says that Paul clearly includes believing Gentiles as Abraham’s children in faith:

… he gives Abraham that title, “the believer,” which becomes the title for all New Testament people of faith.

Then MacArthur summarises Paul’s impression of Judaism at the time and salvation, which is individual and not collective, as in a whole nation:

Now this is so very, very important. All the Jews leaned on Abraham, and they saw Abraham as circumcised, and they saw Abraham as a law-keeper. There’s some serious problems with that, if you remember what we read in Romans 4. But let’s go back and follow the pattern of the story, back to Genesis chapter 12 where it all began. Genesis chapter 12.

God is going to call out a people for Himself, a people to whom He will give His divine revelation, a people who will embody the prophets, a people who will be His witness nation in the world. That’s their purpose. It is not simply that He designed to save the nation spiritually ...

And this is crystal clear in the second chapter of Romans, because it says there, “He is not a Jew who is one outwardly, but he is a Jew who is one inwardly.” And it repeats it again in Romans 9, verses 6 through 8: “Not all Israel is Israel.”

The temporal nation of Israel was under the protection of God as a nation to be a witness for Him, but that did not grant them personal salvation. And salvation is always personal, it is always internal, and it is always spiritual. It is never national; it is never external; it is never physical. God is going to call out a people to whom He will give His revelation, who are to be His witness. He is the one true and living God, and they are to represent Him in a world of many gods, polytheistic nations.

MacArthur takes us through Abraham’s story. He was called Abram in the beginning:

So the Lord said to Abram, in chapter 12 of Genesis, verse 1, “Go forth from your country.” He lived in Ur of the Chaldees. “Go from your country, from your relatives, from your father’s house, to a land which I will show you. I’ll make you a great nation. I will bless you, make your name great, so you shall be a blessing.” I mean, that was the whole point, to bless them, so they could bless the world.

“I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. In you all the families, all the nations of the earth will be blessed.” And Abram was 75 years old when he followed the command of God and left Haran with his wife Sarah. God says, “I am going to call you, and from your loins produce a great nation that will bless the entire world.”

Over in chapter 15, very important, God is still speaking to Abram. Abram is a believer now in the true God. He is a believer in the true God. Verse 22 of chapter 14, “I have sworn to the Lord God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth.” He is a true believer in the true God. He has abandoned all the gods of his ancient family.

God comes to him again in chapter 15, and tells him not to be afraid. “I am a shield to you. Your reward shall be very great.” He’s been told he’s going to be the father of nations; he doesn’t even have one child.

“O Lord God,” – verse 2 – “what will You give me, I’m childless? The heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus.” That was his main servant; and if there was no son, then the inheritance could pass to the son of the most intimate servant. “I don’t have a child.” Verse 3: “You’ve given no offspring to me; one born in my house is my heir.”

“Then the word of the Lord came to him: ‘This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.’ And He took him outside and said, ‘Look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you’re able to count them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ Then he believed in the Lord. Then he believed in the Lord.”

This is a massive, massive promise against all reality and probability. This is an old man married to an old lady; they can’t have children. And he has no offspring, and he believes that the Lord is going to give him children like the sand of the sea or the stars of heaven. “He believed in the Lord;” – here’s the key verse – “and he reckoned it to him and righteousness.” Wow. It was Abraham’s faith that caused God to credit him with divine righteousness.

Abraham serves a dual purpose, for Jews and for Gentiles:

There is salvation by faith. Abraham is the prototype of faith. He’s not the first person who believed. “By faith Enoch,” Hebrews 11. “By faith Noah,” Hebrews 11. But then it’s, “By faith Abraham,” and Abraham becomes a kind of father of faith to all succeeding generations of believers. He’s not only physically the father of Jewish people, spiritually he’s the prototype, in a sense, the father of all who believe God through human history. So God gives him a nation physically, but also through that nation comes a Messiah, and through that Messiah comes a world family by faith. That’s inherent in the promise of Genesis chapter 12.

Sarah, Abraham’s wife, thought that God would want them to use their own initiative on creating the heir that God promised them:

So Sarah makes the suggestion that he make one of the servants in the house pregnant. And she got pregnant and bore Ishmael, who fathered the Arab people. That was a pain that keeps on throughout all of human history, as the Arab-Israeli conflict goes back to Hagar and Ishmael.

Isaac, Sarah and Abraham’s son, was still years away, but God plans things in His own time and we must be patient. When Isaac arrived, so did God’s command of circumcision:

Eighty-six years old now. Ten years at least have past; there’s no child. Then the child comes, and the child is born. And Abraham is ninety-nine years old – chapter 17, verse 1. And when he’s ninety-nine years old, the Lord comes to him. And the Lord, down in verse 9, says, “You have your child; the promise is now being fulfilled. Here’s what I want you to do. You shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout your generations.

“This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; it’ll be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. Every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought for money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. A servant who’s born in your house or bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people.”

This command to circumcise came several years after Abraham was justified by faith:

Important thing to note is, at least fourteen years after Genesis 15:6, he believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness, Abraham was circumcised as an old man. Salvation didn’t come to him because of circumcision.

Mosaic law came centuries later:

Let me add another very important footnote. The law wasn’t given for hundreds of years after Abraham, so he certainly wasn’t saved by observing the law and ceremony of Moses. There was no law. There was no circumcision when Abraham was reckoned as righteous. And that is precisely Paul’s point.

God’s objective with circumcision was to keep the nation of Israel as disease-free as possible physically but also to introduce a spiritual element of cleansing:

Throughout history, Jewish women have had the lowest rate of diseases, transmittable diseases, because circumcision eliminates the possibility of things being introduced into a woman’s body by the folds of the foreskin. So God was protecting them from diseases, as He promised He will in Exodus.

But more than that, that was a symbol of the fact that they needed to be cleansed at a profoundly personal level. And that’s why the Old Testament says in Deuteronomy 10 and Jeremiah 4, “Circumcise your hearts. Cut away that part of you, which is the residence of your disease. Circumcise your hearts.”

Abraham also believed in the life to come when he obeyed God in setting Isaac up for death:

And then, an even more dramatic test of his faith comes in the twenty-second chapter of Genesis. Isaac is with Abraham. They go up the mountain, Mount Moriah, to offer a sacrifice; and God says to Abraham, “Isaac is the sacrifice. Put him on the altar and kill him.” And Abraham lifts the knife. Why would he do that? Because he believed this, Hebrews 11 says: he believed that if Isaac died, God would raise him from the dead.

Hebrews chapter 11 says that explicitly. He trusted God to such a degree, that he believed he and Sarah, as old and barren, would have a massive family that would stretch across the earth; and that if need be to fulfill that when all there was was one son Isaac, God would raise him from the dead. That’s all God wanted to show was his faith; and he pulled his knife back and provided a ram, which was a picture of the sacrifice of Christ to come.

Abraham was not fully righteous, but he believed God and obeyed His commands:

Righteousness came to Abraham from God because he believed. Was he righteous? No, he was not righteous, and demonstrably not righteous when he went in and got his servant pregnant. But God justifies the ungodly whose faith is credited as righteousness.

MacArthur gives us another Scriptural view on Abraham’s justification by faith from Psalm 32 as cited in Romans 4:

And then he quotes, Paul does, from Romans, in Romans chapter 4 from Psalm 32, that God forgives the lawless, covers the sins of the sinful … and He does it by faith. And then Paul asks the question, in Romans 4: “Was he circumcised or uncircumcised? Well, he was uncircumcised. The law: Did he obey the law?” There was no law.” I can’t tell you how foundational this is, folks. This is the biblical argument that you cannot add any works to salvation by faith alone.

MacArthur then looks at John the Baptist’s ministry. John the Baptist told the Jews they must be baptised, something that only Gentiles converting to Judaism did. The Jews replied that they did not need to be baptised because Abraham was their father:

Now the Jews thought Abraham was enough. Very early, Matthew chapter 3, John the Baptist comes preaching to the Jews, and he’s telling them basically that they’re no better than pagans, because he says, “You need to have a baptism. You need to be baptized; I’m here to baptize you.” And the only people that were baptized in their world were Gentiles who wanted to become proselytes to Judaism. So it was a proselyte baptism.

So John the Baptist is saying, “You need to be baptized,” which is saying, “You’re no better than Gentiles. You’re no better than Gentiles. You’re not ready for the coming of the Messiah,” John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah. “You’re not ready for his coming. You need to acknowledge your sinfulness, repent of your sin like a pagan, and publicly be baptized.”

In fact, John said to the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the elite religious leaders, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

And then John the Baptist said this: “And do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father.’ For I say to you, that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; and you’re going to be cut down and thrown into the fire.” ... They were trusting in their Abrahamic ancestry.

MacArthur then explores the rebuke of Jesus to the Jews in John 8:

The most powerful dialog between Jesus and the Jews on that subject is in John 8 – you might want to turn to it. In John 8, Jesus is talking to the Jews, and He tells them they don’t know the truth, they don’t know the gospel. They don’t know the truth about God, they don’t know the truth about salvation.

But He says, in verse 32, “If you listen to Me, you’ll know the truth, and the truth will make you free, free from the search from the truth, and free from judgment and wrath. So they answered Him,” – this was their response to Jesus – ‘We are Abraham’s descendants, have never been enslaved to anyone. We don’t need to be set free, we’ve never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that You say, ‘You will become free?’ ‘Truly,’ Jesus said to them, ‘truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. You’re all slaves of sin. You’re all slaves of sin, all of you. And only when you believe the truth can you be set free.’”

Now, remember, Abraham believed God. He believed that God’s word was true, he believed God was trustworthy; and when he believed God, it was counted to him for righteousness. He believed all that God had said. Jesus is saying to these Jews, “You do not believe the truth. You don’t believe the truth. You are slaves of sin. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free for real. I know you are Abraham’s descendants; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. If you were really Abraham’s children, you wouldn’t try to kill Me. I speak for God. Abraham believed God when God spoke. I’m speaking for God, and you want to kill Me. If you were Abraham’s children, you would believe the truth about God.”

Verse 38: “I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father.” He hasn’t identified who their father is yet.

“They answered and said to Him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham.’” And what did Abraham do to be justified? He what? He believed. “So believe when God speaks, and I am speaking for God.”

“You’re seeking” – verse 40 – “to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. Abraham believed the truth from God. You don’t; you want to kill Me.”

“And then He says,” in verse 41 – ‘You’re doing the deeds of your father.’ They said to Him, ‘We’re not born of fornication;’ – which is a slur against Him, accusing Him of being a bastard child – ‘we have one father: God.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God. I haven’t come on My own initiative, but He sent Me.

“Why do you not understand I’m saying? It’s because you can’t hear My word.’ – here it comes – ‘You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, doesn’t stand in the truth because there’s no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature. He’s a liar and the father of lies. Because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me.’” That’s the issue.

Abraham believed, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. The Jewish people did not believe, and they were pronounced to be doomed to divine wrath. Their attitude was that righteousness was some debt God owed them because they were the children of Abraham. But Abraham’s salvation was graciously granted to him by faith, and not by works, and not by circumcision, and not by keeping the law. “And you are not the sons of Abraham.”

In John 8:56, later in the eighth chapter, our Lord said, “Abraham your father.” Really important statement. “Abraham your father was extremely glad to see My day, and when he saw it he rejoiced.” Abraham didn’t know who Christ would be specifically, but he knew God was going to provide a sacrifice. God was going to provide an acceptable offering. He knew God was going to fulfill His promise of an atonement for sin, which would satisfy the justice of God, and by which God could reckon righteousness to a believer.

Abraham died in faith, never saw the promise. All those in Hebrews 11 died in faith, never saw the promise; but they all believed the promise was to come. “Abraham saw My day and rejoiced.”

MacArthur concludes, returning to Galatians 3:9:

So, as Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness, so through Abraham will come the line of the Messiah. Through the Messiah will come the sacrifice to provide that salvation to all who believe. And then the salvation will stretch to the world; all the nations will be blessed. And Abraham will be the father, in a prototypical sense, of all who believe.

Verse 9 sums it up: “So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham,” – I love this – “the believer, the believer.” That becomes the New Testament word to identify Christians: the believer. It’s always faith, faith alone. God asks nothing more of us. Faith is not a righteous work, faith is an empty hand receiving righteousness.

Paul continues this theme in the verses that follow. More to come next week.

Next time — Galatians 3:10-14

Bible and crossThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Galatians 3:1-6

By Faith, or by Works of the Law?

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by[a] the flesh? Did you suffer[b] so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s relating of the public rebuke he had to give to the Apostle Peter in Antioch for shunning the Gentile converts in favour of Judaizers who had infiltrated the congregation. Antioch was one of the Galatian churches.

In today’s passage, he is taking the Galatians to task for believing the highly erroneous message from these Judaizers that they need to be circumcised in order to be Christians.

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

What caused him to write this letter is false teachers had come into that area, and apparently gone from church to church proclaiming a false gospel. Paul is profoundly exercised over this. This is very early in his ministry, very early in his writings. He knows immediately, even though the churches are truly established, they are genuine believers, and they have had the influence of this great apostle – they are subject to false teaching. They will be assaulted, they will be attacked, and in some cases, they will fall victim to false teachers. And that is exactly what happened in Galatia.

So Paul writes this letter to deal with what’s going on in these Galatian churches. In the first two chapters, he defends his apostolic authority as the one called by Christ, taught by Christ, and sent by Christ. So he is the one they are to listen to, and not the false teachers who come from the kingdom of darkness, even though they profess to be Christians.

So the first two chapters deal with his apostolic authority. And then in chapters 3 and 4 he clarifies the truth of the gospel. That’s where we are now in chapters 3 and 4. He goes to the very careful, thoughtful defense of the true gospel of grace alone.

Now what the false teachers basically were saying was: grace was not enough, the cross is not enough, the Holy Spirit is not enough. “What God has wrought among you is not enough. You cannot enter the kingdom of God, you cannot enter heaven unless you are circumcised and adhere to the law of Moses.”

This was a convoluted, adulterated, corrupted gospel. They were adding works to grace and works to faith. Paul is so exercised about this that there is not at the beginning of this letter any commendation.

Paul calls the Galatians ‘foolish’ and asks who has ‘bewitched’ them, saying that they personally learned — from him — that Jesus was publicly crucified (verse 1).

One could easily write an essay on this verse alone, there is that much content to analyse.

Matthew Henry says of their spiritual foolishness:

He reproves them, and the reproof is very close and warm: he calls them foolish Galatians,Galatians 3:1; Galatians 3:1. Though as Christians they were Wisdom’s children, yet as corrupt Christians they were foolish children.

MacArthur says:

This is a powerful portion of Scripture. It is powerful because Paul embraces the Trinity – the Son, the Spirit, and the Father – and essentially says, “By foolishly being bewitched by a false gospel, or a false addition to the gospel, you have called into question the work of the Son and the Spirit and the Father.” In other words, “You have assaulted heaven at its heights.” This is an all-out attack on the Triune God.

The use of ‘bewitched’ is a singular one. It appears nowhere else in the New Testament.

MacArthur tells us:

This is the only place it is used. Is Paul saying that these Galatian believers were bewitched? Absolutely

There’s never a question in this letter about the spiritual condition of the Galatians; they are believers. Initially when the apostle Paul came, they received the gospel that he preached, they fully embraced it. Now they have become bewitched: true believers bewitched

Maybe you never thought about the fact that believers, true believers, can be bewitched. But every warning in the New Testament, every warning about false teachers and false doctrine is an assumption that believers can be bewitched. Every command to hold to the truth, guard the truth, rightly handle the word of truth is also based on the assumption of our susceptibility to bewitching. Yes, believers can be seduced into believing lies about the gospel.

Now the bewitching doesn’t come when someone says, “I don’t believe in God, and I don’t believe in the Bible. I don’t believe in Christ. I don’t believe in the gospel of grace. I don’t believe in the cross. I don’t believe in the resurrection.” That’s not bewitching; that’s not seductive – that’s obvious to us. The bewitching comes from those who acknowledge the gospel, accept the gospel, and then add works to the gospel

All those warnings, all those commands to faithfulness assume that we can become bewitched. And I would just go so far as to say, most churches in our society are bewitched. Most church leaders are bewitched. At the core, they may believe the true gospel, but they have allowed so many things to be added to the gospel or to corrupt the gospel that they are bewitched.

This isn’t just a problem in the pew. It is a problem in the pew, because it’s a problem in the pulpit. All too common for Christian leaders and pastors in places of great influence to become themselves bewitched about the gospel, even the gospel that saved them. The duty of the pastor is to guard the truth, is to preach the truth, is to fight for the truth, contend for the truth, and to protect his flock from the bewitching errors. We have to assume that bewitching. And it reaches high levels. You can’t even walk into a Christian bookstore and trust everything you find there. There are many bewitching things there.

There are indeed. I do not go into Christian bookstores for that very reason.

A little over a decade ago, I saw a lot of talk on Christian blogs about a book that touted living according to Leviticus. Many people commenting on it said it was wonderful and that their families felt purer for living according to Mosaic law whilst attending church regularly on Sundays.

That is a real life example of becoming bewitched by false teaching. Paul would have been appalled, yet it would have been familiar to him.

Thinking of that book and of these Judaizers, I can just imagine that they probably told the Galatians, ‘But if you just add these ceremonial laws to your life, you’ll be a much better, purer Christian’.

Wrong!

MacArthur tells us about the word ‘bewitched’ in Greek:

It’s from the Greek verb baskain. That in itself isn’t important, except that it’s the only time it’s ever used in the New Testament. Paul went for a word that isn’t used anywhere else. He never uses it anywhere else. He’s going outside of his normal vocabulary to find a word to describe this in a unique way. Never used anywhere else in the New Testament; and it’s always used in a bad sense.

What does it mean in the Greek language outside the Bible? The word meant “to charm,” “to fascinate,” but “to fascinate or charm in a misleading way.” Always has a bad connotation. It meant “to seek to do harm to someone by lies or deception or false promises.” It is even related to magic spells and sorcery, and the evil eye, and demonic power.

It’s a very, very serious word, and the Holy Spirit only used it once to describe not what’s happening to nonbelievers, but what has happened to believers. It’s as if they have been bewitched, not by sorcery, not by magic spells, but by false doctrine.

In the churches that Paul planted, false teachers came in after he left. We saw this in 1 and 2 Corinthians. The same thing also happened in Ephesus.

Satan is behind the bewitching, although he uses agents in the form of false teachers.

MacArthur says:

Now Satan only has two approaches, only two approaches. We see them in Matthew 13 in the words of our Lord. He can, first of all, snatch the gospel seed before it can go into the ground and be productive. And we see that in our Lord’s parable of the soils. Satan comes and snatches the seed away before anybody can understand it. That’s corrupting the gospel on the front end.

The second thing that Satan does is once the gospel has taken root and believers begin to grow and flourish, then Satan’s second approach is to sow tares among the wheat: false believers in a false gospel alongside true believers. And that is corrupting the gospel on the back end. He corrupts it on the front end by snatching it away, often through lack of understanding. He comes back, corrupting it on the back end by bringing into the church corrupt messages that produce corrupt tares among the wheat.

That’s what had happened in Galatia. The Word had come and gone into the soil. The seed had brought about life; that life was flourishing and growing. Satan shows up in the form of Jews from Jerusalem who come to demand that if you’re going to be saved and forgiven and into the kingdom of God and brought to heaven, you must maintain the Mosaic law and circumcision. This was sowing lies, and therefore, liars and tares among the wheat.

MacArthur gives us two televisual examples of bewitching:

It’s a bewitching that comes about because people want popularity, because they want acceptance. If you can go on Oprah, as one self-confessed evangelical did, and Oprah says to you, “Do I, or does a person have to believe in Jesus Christ to enter heaven?” and you say, “No,” you have been bewitched.

Larry King said to me one day, “I’m going to be okay. I’m going to be okay. When I die I’m going to be okay.” I said, “Really. Why do you say that?” He said, “Because a well-known evangelist told me, because I’m Jewish God’s going to take special care of me.” Who bewitched him?

MacArthur says the state of being bewitched comes from a weakness in the heart and the mind:

It’s not just mental inability. It’s the sinful heart, neglect of the truth. It’s a mind issue, but it’s a heart issue. The mind is not applied, carefully examining the truth, because the heart is not diligently devoted to that truth. Paul says, “You’re foolish, and you have become bewitched.”

Turning to the second half of the verse, about how Paul (principally) presented Christ and the Crucifixion to the Galatians, MacArthur explains what the Apostle meant:

“This was openly declared to you. I preached the gospel to you, and you embraced me like I was an angel. You embraced me as if I was Christ Himself. It isn’t that you just could hear in your imagination the ringing of the hammers as He was nailed to the cross; it isn’t that you could just hear the cries of the mocking crowd, or the cries of Jesus from the cross, or in your mind’s eye, you could see the blood and sweat running down His body; it isn’t just that you saw the physical reality of His death. It was that you understood that it was a substitutionary sacrifice for you. You understood the significance of His death. You understood that He was dying in your place, that your sins were imputed to Him, so that His righteousness could be imputed to you. You understood the gospel of salvation. I preached Christ to you, fully to you, crucified to you, and therefore, risen again. And the reality was you believed, you believed. And miraculously you were transformed. And all those churches in Galatia are a result of the preaching of the gospel of a crucified Christ.

Now how can you, when you have seen Jesus Christ publicly portrayed crucified, go back to the Law? Are you saying that the cross was unnecessary and you must save yourself, or are you saying that the cross was insufficient, or that the death of Christ was a partial provision, and you have to make up the rest by your works? If you are saying that, you are blaspheming the Christ of the cross. But that’s what a works system does. When it requires something from you, then it’s not all of Christ. You have assaulted Christ.”

On that point, Paul asks the Galatians if they received the Holy Spirit through a works-based law or by hearing with faith (verse 2).

Henry offers this analysis:

He appeals to the experiences they had had of the working of the Spirit upon their souls (Galatians 3:2; Galatians 3:2); he puts them in mind that, upon their becoming Christians, they had received the Spirit, that many of them at least had been made partakers not only of the sanctifying influences, but of the miraculous gifts, of the Holy Spirit, which were eminent proofs of the truth of the Christian religion and the several doctrines of it, and especially of this, that justification is by Christ only, and not by the works of the law, which was one of the peculiar and fundamental principles of it. To convince them of the folly of their departing from this doctrine, he desires to know how they came by these gifts and graces: Was it by the works of the law, that is, the preaching of the necessity of these in order to justification? This they could not say, for that doctrine had not then been preached to them, nor had they, as Gentiles, any pretence to justification in that way. Or was it by the hearing of faith, that is, the preaching of the doctrine of faith in Christ as the only way of justification? This, if they would say the truth, they were obliged to own, and therefore must be very unreasonable if they should reject a doctrine of the good effects of which they had had such experience. Note, (1.) It is usually by the ministry of the gospel that the Spirit is communicated to persons. And, (2.) Those are very unwise who suffer themselves to be turned away from the ministry and doctrine which have been blessed to their spiritual advantage.

Paul calls the Galatians ‘foolish’ again, asking that, having the Spirit’s work active in them they now think that they can be perfected by the flesh (verse 3), i.e. via circumcision and other ceremonial rituals of the Old Covenant.

MacArthur explains that there is sometimes another false teaching which appears in the Church, a Gnostic one proclaiming that one has to have a special insight in order to receive the Holy Spirit:

That is another bewitching lie that floats around, that you can be a Christian without the Holy Spirit until you attain some level of spirituality. Every believer has the Holy Spirit. So the work of Christ was a finished work, not requiring anything from the Law; and the coming of the Holy Spirit was a complete work, not requiring anything from the Law either. He came by faith.

“Are you so foolish?” – verse 3 – “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” In other words, “Is the work of Christ only partial and you have to add the important part? And is the presence of the Holy Spirit only partial and you have to add the important part; and in both cases, the important part is something your flesh produces? See this for what it is: Christ’s work is complete, the Holy Spirit’s presence is complete, the Law adds nothing to the work of Christ, the Law adds nothing to the work of the Holy Spirit.”

The word ‘suffer’ in verse 4 is better translated as ‘experience’. Paul asks if they experienced all that they did in their Christian conversion in vain, if indeed it was in vain (verse 4).

MacArthur reinterprets the verse as follows:

Did you suffer or better, “experience” – “so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?”

Was that experience in vain? Was it for nothing? And now somehow, was that some kind of false feeling, an illusion, something that never really happened until you get circumcised, and keep the rituals and the ceremonies? What could Judaizers or what could anybody else add to Christ’s work on the cross? Answer – What? – nothing. Don’t be bewitched.

So far, Paul has discussed Christ and the Holy Spirit.

He then brings in God the Father — completing his references to the Holy Trinity — by asking if He, meaning God, supplies them with the presence of the Holy Spirit and the miracles among them by works of the law or by faith (verse 5).

MacArthur offers this analysis:

This is talking about the Father. How do you know that? Because in Luke 11:13, in John 14:16 and 26, twice, Jesus says, “When I go, the Father will send the Spirit.” So he says in verse 5, “So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit” – that’s the Father. The Father is the one who provides you with the Spirit; He is one of the gifts of the Father. And, by the way, the word “provides,” epichorge, root word chorge, means “bountifully,” “abundantly,” “super abundantly,” “lavishly.”

“So then, are you saying that the Father who lavishly provided you with the Spirit and works miracles among you,” – perhaps the apostolic miracles, but perhaps even more significantly, the miracle of regeneration done by God “are you saying that He does that by the works of the Law because you’ve earned it? Did God save you because of something you did? Did God come and miraculously transform you because of something you did, or simply by the hearing with faith?”

And we know the answer to this: The Son did a complete work on your behalf, the Spirit did a complete work on your behalf, and the Father did a complete work on your behalf. Nothing is left out. You didn’t receive salvation or the Holy Spirit or regeneration by anything you did, it was the full and perfect work of Christ, the full and perfect work of the Spirit, the full and perfect work of the Father.

“You’ve experienced that. You’ve experienced power of the gospel in your life. You’ve experienced the power of the Spirit in your life. You’ve experienced the power of the Father in your life. You’ve been living in that trinitarian power. And now all of a sudden, these bewitching Jews show up and tell you that all of this is inadequate.” That is a blasphemous assault on the Triune God. It diminishes the work of Christ on the cross, the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer, and the work of the Father in the miracle of regeneration. The whole Trinity and all that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have to offer you is yours by faith and faith alone. “You foolish Galatians. Are you so bewitched?” “You are,” says Paul to the Colossians, “complete in Him.”

Then Paul brings in Abraham, saying that our father in faith believed in God’s promises to him during his lifetime and now, even beyond the grave, countless generations later; God counted Abraham’s faith as righteousness (verse 6).

Henry expands on our inheritance from Abraham, as God promised:

Abraham believed God, and that was accounted to him for righteousness (Galatians 3:6; Galatians 3:6); that is, his faith fastened upon the word and promise of God, and upon his believing he was owned and accepted of God as a righteous man: as on this account he is represented as the father of the faithful, so the apostle would have us to know that those who are of faith are the children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7; Galatians 3:7), not according to the flesh, but according to the promise; and, consequently, that they are justified in the same way that he was. Abraham was justified by faith, and so are they.

Paul has more to follow on Abraham. We’ll look at what he has to say next week.

Next time — Galatians 3:7-9

Bible croppedThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (as cited below).

Romans 4:6-12

just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

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Last week’s post focussed on Romans 3, including these important verses:

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

In Romans 4, Paul looks at the justification of Abraham, who was also circumcised — albeit some years later after God chose him to be the father of nations.

Paul’s objective was to convince the Jews that circumcision did not confer salvation or righteousness.

That means that Gentiles could also be justified via faith through grace.

Here are the first five verses of Romans 4:

Abraham Justified by Faith

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in[a] him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

Matthew Henry explains (emphases mine):

St. Paul observes in this paragraph when and why Abraham was thus justified; for he has several things to remark upon that. It was before he was circumcised, and before the giving of the law; and there was a reason for both.

I. It was before he was circumcised, Romans 4:10. His faith was counted to him for righteousness while he was in uncircumcision. It was imputed, Genesis 15:6, and he was not circumcised till Genesis 17:1-27. Abraham is expressly said to be justified by faith fourteen years, some say twenty-five years, before he was circumcised. Now this the apostle takes notice of in answer to the question (Romans 4:9), Cometh this blessedness then on the circumcision only, or on the uncircumcision also? Abraham was pardoned and accepted in uncircumcision, a circumstance which, as it might silence the fears of the poor uncircumcised Gentiles, so it might lower the pride and conceitedness of the Jews, who gloried in their circumcision, as if they had the monopoly of all happiness.

John MacArthur has more:

Paul has told us how to be right with God and he said a man is right with God not by what he does but by what he believes, by believing in Jesus Christ and His perfect work. And now it is very important that Abraham be his illustration because this that he has just taught would be unacceptable to the Jewish mind. And so he selects Abraham to make his point.

Let me give you some reasons why. First, Abraham would show the eternal truth of righteousness by grace through faith since Abraham was an Old Testament character. In other words, by using Abraham, Paul is saying this is nothing new, this is something very old. Abraham even preceded Moses. Abraham even preceded the identity of the nation Israel. Abraham really belongs in the patriarchal period, the very primitive time. He appears early on in the book of Genesis. And if Paul can establish that a man in the book of Genesis was saved by grace through faith and not of works, then he has given to us a timeless truth and nothing new at all.

Secondly, he selects Abraham because Abraham is also the supreme example of faith. Nobody in the Old Testament exercised as much or more faith than Abraham. And the New Testament even tells us that Abraham — the book of Galatians tells us — is the father of all who believe. In a very real sense, all who come to God by faith are children of Abraham, who sort of set the standard for faith by believing God in a most incredible way.

Abraham obeyed God without question. He left his extended family to go to a new land. He believed that his wife Sarah would bear a son, even when she had been barren and long past child-bearing age. He was willing to sacrifice his only son for God, although God relented in that test of faith.

Here is a bit more about Abram/Abraham from MacArthur:

Abram was his name first. It means “exalted father.” God changed his name to Abraham which means “the father of many nations,” for He had given him that promise. And it was twofold. Physically from the loins of Abraham would come multitudes of people, millions of people. The Semitic world, Arab and Jew alike, descended from Abraham. Genesis 17, the first 8 verses, talk about how God said Abraham will produce generations of people. In fact, it is said that they would be as the sand of the sea, or the stars of the heavens. He was the father of many, but not only physically, spiritually as well; for he is the father of all those who are of faith. He is the pattern established, and all others who put their faith in God follow the pattern of their father, Abraham.

Galatians makes this abundantly clear. Paul, writing in chapter 3 verse 6, says: “Even as Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness, know ye therefore that they who are of faith, the same are the sons of Abraham, and the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham saying, in thee shall all nations be blessed, so then they who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.”

So, not only did Abraham in a sense produce physical seed, but as well set the standard for spiritual production. And so, as millions follow his directive of faith, they occupy a place uniquely identified in the Scripture as children of Abraham. And that is because he is the example of justification by faith. And Paul makes that point in Romans and as I noted, he makes it in Galatians because it is so very important.

The Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion have liturgical prayers that mention Abraham as being ‘our father in faith’.

In verses 6 – 8, Paul mentions David in his discourse by citing Psalm 32:1-2. It is further proof that we are justified by faith, not works. None of our works can ever measure up to righteousness, because we are always imperfect, always prone to sin. We need God’s infinite grace at all times.

MacArthur provides the background to David’s life in the context of Psalm 32. David had committed adultery by the time he wrote it:

Now, basically you have in verse 7 a sinner characterized by iniquity and sin, you have in verse 8 a sinner characterized by sin, and in both cases the Lord forgives and does not hold that sin against the person. So, we know that that didn’t happen by works because both verses define the individual as a what? As a sinner. So how can you say a sinner is blessed? Well, you can only say that if he’s been forgiven, or if the Lord does not put his sin to his account, and that is exactly the case. And it doesn’t come by works, it comes by faith. You see, the truly blessed man is the one who is forgiven of his sin. And by the way, this is a quote from Psalm 32 verses 1 and 2. And believe me, at that juncture of David’s life, he knew guilt. He had been involved in an adultery. He had been involved in what amounts to murder. He had desecrated his throne and the sanctity of his own virtue. He was a vile wretched sinner. In Psalm 51, he went through such agony and such pain. He felt as if God had abandoned him. He was under the horrible experience of guilt. He says in Psalm 32 that his life juices dried up, and that’s what happens when guilt occurs. Saliva, one of the life juices, dries up. Anxiety creates pressure in the head that restricts the flow of the blood, another of the life juices. And the lymphatic system is affected and the nervous system is affected and he began to be old before his time and he began to ache in his joints and he began to be sick. Guilt does that.

And then in the midst of all of that he experienced the goodness of God. No wonder he said twice, “Blessed is the man.” “Blessed is the man whose sins the Lord forgives.” “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute sin.” That’s the truly blessed man. He knows forgiveness. And so David supports Paul’s point. And it’s helpful for us to know that Abraham was a pre-Mosaic figure, David was a Mosaic figure. Abraham predates the clear definition of the Mosaic covenant and so we see that God redeems people pre-Mosaic by faith. David shows us that God redeems people in the Mosaic era by faith. And the New Testament carries it into our own era. Always at all times redemption is a matter of faith resulting in imputed righteousness.

Paul then asks the Jews if imputed righteousness is only for the circumcised, then, how was Abraham included when he was not circumcised yet God found him to be righteous (verses 9, 10)?

Paul answers his question by saying that Abraham’s circumcision was the ‘seal’ of his righteousness before God. Furthermore, as he was righteous in God’s eyes before his circumcision, then, He would consider other uncircumcised men to also be righteous (verse 11).

Therefore, Abraham became not only the father of the circumcised, but also of the uncircumcised who walk in his same journey of obedience in faith through grace (verse 12).

Henry says that sacraments are the seals of the covenant that has been agreed between God and man, thanks to the blood that Jesus shed on our behalf:

The tenour of the covenants must first be settled before the seal can be annexed. Sealing supposes a previous bargain, which is confirmed and ratified by that ceremony. After Abraham’s justification by faith had continued several years only a grant by parole, for the confirmation of Abraham’s faith God was pleased to appoint a sealing ordinance, and Abraham received it; though it was a bloody ordinance, yet he submitted to it, and even received it as a special favour, the sign of circumcision, &c. Now we may hence observe, (1.) The nature of sacraments in general: they are signs and seals–signs to represent and instruct, seals to ratify and confirm. They are signs of absolute grace and favour; they are seals of the conditional promises; nay, they are mutual seals: God does in the sacraments seal to us to be to us a God, and we do therein seal to him to be to him a people. (2.) The nature of circumcision in particular: it was the initiating sacrament of the Old Testament; and it is here said to be, [1.] A sign–a sign of that original corruption which we are all born with, and which is cut off by spiritual circumcision,–a commemorating sign of God’s covenant with Abraham,–a distinguishing sign between Jews and Gentiles,–a sign of admission into the visible church,–a sign prefiguring baptism, which comes in the room of circumcision, now under the gospel, when (the blood of Christ being shed) all bloody ordinances are abolished; it was an outward and sensible sign of an inward and spiritual grace signified thereby. [2.] A seal of the righteousness of the faith. In general, it was a seal of the covenant of grace, particularly of justification by faith–the covenant of grace, called the righteousness which is of faith (Romans 10:6), and it refers to an Old-Testament promise, Deuteronomy 30:12.

What does this mean in a Christian context? The grace God confers on us in the Sacraments enables us to live a holy life, which we are obliged to do in faith.

This is Henry’s caveat about the Jews of Paul’s day and ourselves as Christians:

See here who are the genuine children and lawful successors of those that were the church’s fathers: not those that sit in their chairs, and bear their names, but those that tread in their steps; this is the line of succession, which holds, notwithstanding interruptions. It seems, then, those were most loud and forward to call Abraham father that had least title to the honours and privileges of his children. Thus those have most reason to call Christ Father, not that bear his name in being Christians in profession, but that tread in his steps.

The sacraments and holy ordinances impart grace, although they are not salvific in and of themselves, as MacArthur explains:

Listen very carefully. Many people today are basing their salvation from eternal hellfire on some infant baptism, or some confirmation, or some adult baptism, or some communion involvement, or some religious rite and ceremony. There are many people who call themselves Christians in our society who even would call themselves evangelical, who actually believe that their children are secured eternally for the covenant by infant baptism. And many are hoping in their religious rites, and though they be not circumcision they be basically the same perspective. They parallel …

So, Paul is dealing with a bigger picture than at first we might understand. And he’s dealing with the issue that religious rites and ceremonies do not justify, and when saying that he talks to our time.

Ultimately:

We are saved by grace through what? Faith. These symbols are only symbols and signs. You say, “Well, can I get to heaven if I haven’t been baptized?” Yes. You say, “Then I don’t have to be baptized!” No. “Why?” Because baptism is an act of… You say it: obedience. And if you have confessed Jesus as Lord you will what? Obey Him, and it becomes the point of your testimonyAnd that’s what Paul is teaching us.

Obedience to God characterised Abraham’s life. Jesus was — and is — fully obedient to His Father.

Let us, therefore, obey Him, too.

Next time — Romans 5:20-21

Readings for the Second Sunday in Lent — March 9, 2020 — follow.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Emphases below are mine.

First Reading

Abraham receives the Lord’s instruction to leave his family homestead. He was thought to have been 75 at the time. Abraham’s extended family were pagans, so Abraham obeyed with a blind faith in God. His wife Sarah and his nephew Lot accompanied him. Abraham’s story is utterly amazing, as demonstrated by his unquestioning faith and his unwavering obedience to God.

Genesis 12:1-4a

12:1 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.

12:2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.

12:3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

12:4a So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him.

Psalm

This is known as the Soldier’s Psalm or the Traveller’s Psalm. Regardless, its words are uplifting and should be prayed wherever one is, even at home.

Psalm 121

121:1 I lift up my eyes to the hills– from where will my help come?

121:2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.

121:3 He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.

121:4 He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

121:5 The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand.

121:6 The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.

121:7 The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.

121:8 The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.

Epistle

Paul addresses Abraham’s righteous faith, an example for us all, as we are his spiritual descendants.

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

4:1 What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh?

4:2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.

4:3 For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

4:4 Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due.

4:5 But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.

4:13 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.

4:14 If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.

4:15 For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.

4:16 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us,

4:17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) — in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

Gospel

There are two suggested Gospel readings for this Sunday. One is Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration, which was read two weeks ago on Transfiguration Sunday. Therefore, I will only include the reading from John, which concerns Jesus’s encounter with Nicodemus.

John 3:1-17

3:1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.

3:2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

3:3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

3:4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

3:5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.

3:6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.

3:7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’

3:8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

3:9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”

3:10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

3:11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.

3:12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

3:13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

3:14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,

3:15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

3:17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Nicodemus pops up two more times in John’s Gospel. The next time is in John 7:50-51, when he reminds his fellow Pharisees that they must hear Jesus out before condemning him. He appears a third time in John 19. We have reason to believe that Nicodemus became a follower of Jesus, because he helped Joseph of Arimathea prepare His body in the tomb. He brought with him 75 pounds of a myrrh and aloe mixture (John 19:39-40).

Bible boy_reading_bibleThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (as cited below).

Hebrews 11:17-22

17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. 20 By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. 21 By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. 22 By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.

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Last week’s post was about the first of the incidences of faith in the Old Testament, involving the stories of Abel, Enoch and Noah. Their belief in God led, respectively, to an obedient offering, a holy life and devoting one’s adult life to building an ark away from any coastline.

In the next set of verses, the author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, returns to the life of Abraham — our father in faith — who had a stunning belief in God and an startling unquestioning obedience to Him, considering that he had lived most of his life as a pagan.

After a life of childlessness with his barren wife Sarah, she, being beyond childbearing age nonetheless, through the blessings of God, bore a son, Isaac.

Then God tested Abraham’s faith by telling him to sacrifice his long-awaited heir (verse 17), whom he loved very much. This would be a highly fraught experience for any parent, especially if the parent had received word directly from God that it would be through that heir that all his offering shall be named (verse 18, Genesis 21:12).

Matthew Henry’s commentary lays out the complexity of the situation (emphases mine):

some things that very much added to the greatness of this trial. (1.) He was put upon it after he had received the promises, that this Isaac should build up his family, that in him his seed should be called (Hebrews 11:18), and that he should be one of the progenitors of the Messiah, and all nations blessed in him; so that, in being called to offer up his Isaac, he seemed to be called to destroy and cut off his own family, to cancel the promises of God, to prevent the coming of Christ, to destroy the whole world, to sacrifice his own soul and his hopes of salvation, and to cut off the church of God at one blow: a most terrible trial! (2.) That this Isaac was his only-begotten son by his wife Sarah, the only one he was to have by her, and the only one that was to be the child and heir of the promise. Ishmael was to be put off with earthly greatness. The promise of a posterity, and of the Messiah, must either be fulfilled by means of this son or not at all; so that, besides his most tender affection to this his son, all his expectations were bound up in him, and, if he perished, must perish with him. If Abraham had ever so many sons, this was the only son who could convey to all nations the promised blessing. A son for whom he waited so long, whom he received in so extraordinary a manner, upon whom his heart was set–to have this son offered up as a sacrifice, and that by his own hand; it was a trial that would have overset the firmest and the strongest mind that ever informed a human body.

This extraordinary episode involving Abraham and Isaac is in Genesis 22:1-18. Note that, interestingly, Abraham believed God would resurrect Isaac (Hebrews 11:19):

The Sacrifice of Isaac

22 After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy[a] will go over there and worship and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”;[b] as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”[c]

15 And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his[d] enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

The author of Hebrews says that Isaac was, ‘figuratively speaking’, returned to Abraham from the dead (verse 19), because Abraham came that close to obeying God’s command.

Both commentators say that Isaac was a type of Christ, prefiguring, in a sense, His necessary, all-sufficient human sacrifice for sin. John MacArthur tells us:

… he took him up there, raised the knife, and at the right moment, he heard this noise over in a bush. He looked over there, and God had the right animal waiting. The angel of the Lord stopped his arm. He sacrificed the ram. And Isaac only became just a figure. It says, “Which also he received him in a figure.” This is a picture of the resurrection of Christ: the death and resurrection. He didn’t really die and rise, so, it’s not a legitimate type, but it’s kind of a picture of the death and resurrection of Christ.

The author then tells us that Isaac ‘invoked blessings on’ his two sons, Jacob and Esau (verse 20). John MacArthur has a lengthy and excellent commentary on all three men.

Henry explains the meaning of that verse:

The actings of his faith: He blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. He blessed them; that is, he resigned them up to God in covenant; he recommended God and religion to them; he prayed for them, and prophesied concerning them, what would be the condition, and the condition of their descendants: we have the account of this in Genesis 27:1-46.

The next two verses illustrate faith at the time of death. I was delighted to see that MacArthur cited Henry at the beginning of his sermon on these verses:

Matthew Henry said, “Though the grace of faith is of universal use throughout the Christian’s life, yet it is especially so when we come to die. Faith has its great work to do at the very last, to help believers to finish well; to die to the Lord so as to honor Him by patience, hope, and joy so as to leave a witness behind them of the truth of God’s Word and the excellency of His ways.”

Jacob, Isaac’s blessed son, whom God renamed Israel (Genesis 35:10), blessed the twelve sons of his favoured son Joseph at the end of his life; he leant on his staff as he did so (verse 21), symbolising that he owed his blessings to God, upon whom he depended, as Henry explains:

He showed thereby his dependence upon God, and testified his condition here as a pilgrim with his staff, and his weariness of the world, and willingness to be at rest.

When Jacob’s son Joseph — he of the amazing technicolour dreamcoat — died, he did not want to be buried permanently in Egypt, where he had been highly successful in Pharaoh’s employ, but rather in Canaan, the land of God’s promise (verse 22). Joseph’s faith was profound.

MacArthur summarises Joseph’s faith, particularly at the end of his life:

This is interesting. Joseph is dying here, and, of course, at this point he’s spent the great portion of his life in Egypt. And he’s dying, and he’s going to have to be buried there, but he says, “‘Now, I want to tell you people about the departing of the children of Israel’” – they’re going back to the Promised Land – “‘and I want to make sure you take my bones when you go.’” Now, that’s faith.

He was in Egypt. You know that it had been 200 years since the promise that God was going to do this? Two hundred years since the promise. The promise recorded in Genesis 15 of the possession of the land. Two hundred years, and they’d never been there yet. And he says, “You guys are going to be going back pretty soon. Will you pack up my bones and take them when you go?” That’s faith. How did he know that? He knew it because he believed God’s promise. His faith was strong.

In [Genesis] chapter 50, verse 24, “Joseph said to his brethren, ‘I die, and God will surely visit you and bring you out of this land’” – isn’t that good? He believed God. God had said there as a land, and he never saw it, but he believed it would come. “‘God will bring you out of this land unto the land which he swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.’ And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel saying, ‘God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bone from here. So, Joseph died, being 110 years old. And they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in” – where? – “in Egypt.” He died in faith.

You say, “Well, what ever happened? Did they ever get his bones over there?”

Sure they did. You know, that’s the end of Genesis and – bang – as you begin Exodus they move out. In chapter 13 … verse 19 … “And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him” – when Moses took off for the land – “for he had solemnly sworn the children of Israel saying, ‘God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones away from here.’” So, when they packed off in the Exodus, they packed up … old Joseph, what was left of him, and took him with them.

To many of us, these men are but historical characters in the history of God’s people. However, they believed not only in God but in the fulfilment of promises they themselves never saw. Generations of their descendants did not see those promises fulfilled, either. Yet, they continued to believe.

What the author of Hebrews was doing here is to encourage his audience to understand that they should put their faith in God with regard to the New Covenant with His Son Jesus Christ.

As Jesus had already fulfilled prophecy through the Crucifixion and Resurrection, it should have been that much easier for the Hebrews to believe that He is the Messiah. Yet, they continued to waver.

May we, if ever in doubt, return to the example of these earliest paragons of faith and believe. We know about that blessed history of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. There is no reason at all to doubt.

Next time — Hebrews 11:23-28

Bible openThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 7:4-10

4 See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils! 5 And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers,[a] though these also are descended from Abraham.6 But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, 10 for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.

——————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post offered a lengthy explanation of the importance of Melchizedek and his universal priesthood, not only to Abraham but to us today.

Melchizedek’s priesthood pre-dated that of the Jewish people. Abraham, at that point, had not yet received God’s promises to him, but this encounter with Melchizedek began their fulfilment.

The unknown author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, was in the beginning points of his dissertation on Melchizedek being a higher priest than those of Jews, as his priesthood was for all who feared God. The author developed this argument, point by point, weighing heavily on the notion of universal priesthood. Melchizedek was a ‘type’ of Christ, yet not Christ himself. Christ, however, fulfilled God’s will of becoming the great and eternal High Priest for all — including Gentiles.

Furthermore, Melchizedek was also the ‘king of peace’ (Hebrews 7:2), because he was from Salem (which means ‘peace’, probably Jerusalem). Christ is the Prince of Peace: yesterday, today and forever.

We will see how this dissertation on Melchizedek develops in the coming weeks.

John MacArthur summarises the Holy Spirit’s reasoning as follows (emphases mine below):

Now, in this argument, the Holy Spirit shows that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham because He wants to show that he was greater than Aaron and Levi. Now, the point being that Abraham was better than Aaron and Levi. Therefore, if Melchizedek was better than Abraham, he was also better than Aaron and Levi. If he’s better than Aaron and Levi, he’s the mediator of a better covenant, and you ought to turn from Judaism and come to Christ. Do you see the argument?

Last week’s verses covered Abraham’s one-off tithe to Melchizedek: one-tenth of his spoils in battle with a neighbouring king. Those were not cast-offs, either, but the very best of the spoils.

Melchizedek blessed Abraham (verse 6), the man to whom God made promises that continue to be fulfilled today through descendants of Jew and Gentile alike. Abraham is our father in faith.

Considering that Abraham made a tithe to Melchizedek and received his blessing, undoubtedly, Abraham was the inferior of the two men (verse 7).

Matthew Henry says that it was Melchizedek’s:

place and privilege to bless Abraham; and it is an uncontested maxim that the less is blessed of the greater, Hebrews 7:7. He who gives the blessing is greater than he who receives it;

Therefore, in comparing Christ and Melchizedek in their universal priesthood, we can conclude that Christ is superior to the Jewish priests:

and therefore Christ, the antitype of Melchisedec, the meriter and Mediator of all blessings to the children of men, must be greater than all the priests of the order of Aaron.

The author states that in verse 8, as John MacArthur explains the ongoing priesthood in the order of Melchizedek. Even though Melchizedek died, the universal order of priesthood continues and is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns forever:

Look at verse 8, “And here men that die receive tithes” – you know, Melchizedek was of an eternal priesthood in the type; Christ is an eternal Priest, and if we tithe to priests that die, “but where he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.” In other words, to be able to exact tithes in a dying kind of priesthood is one thing; how much greater Melchizedek had no death. And so, Jesus Christ is a Priest who is alive forever more. “He receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed He liveth.”

And so, He is a greater priest because He’s a living priest; not a dying one. All men are dying men. The idea that it says in verse 8, “Here men that die” is the – the Greek is “here dying men receive tithes, but this is one who is alive forever more.”

Verses 9 and 10 are interesting, because the author of Hebrews posits that, figuratively, even the Jewish priests paid tithes to Melchizedek through their ancestor Abraham. Therefore, Melchizedek was greater than the Jewish priests. And if Jesus is greater than Melchizedek, it was time for the audience, the Hebrews, to believe that Christ is the eternal Great High Priest.

MacArthur breaks down the Jewish thinking for us:

And then comes this interesting argument in verse 9, “And as I may say” – in other words, he kid of apologizes for the strangeness of the argument; nevertheless it’s valid – “And as I may say so, “Levi also, who receiveth tithes, paid tithes in Abraham. For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchizedek met him.” The only one argument that would be left would be this: a Jew would say, “Now wait a minute. Now let me think this thing through. Melchizedek, yes, Abraham paid him tithes, but Abraham was no priest. Right? Therefore, the Levites were priests, and maybe they were greater than Abraham. And maybe if Abraham had been a priest, he wouldn’t have done that, and maybe the Levites wouldn’t have done it.”

And so He says, “Levi also, who receives tithes, paid them in the loins of Abraham.” Now, this is an interesting argument, and you’ve got to understand the Jewish mind. The Jews viewed heredity in a realistic manner. Levi was in the loins of Abraham since he was to descend from Abraham. When Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, it was as if the entire Levitical priesthood had acknowledged his superiority. And so, that answers the last objection.

Melchizedek, then, is better than Aaron. Now this is a powerful point to the Jewish mind. And in a sense I apologize to you and to me even, because without a Jewish frame of reference, this is difficult for us to understand. But Melchizedek was of a better priesthood. Jesus came after the order of Melchizedek.

Even though Genesis 14:18-20 is the one primary mention of Melchizedek, it had to appear in Scripture to show that a) there were men of God among the Gentiles and b) that Jesus would fulfil a pattern of priesthood that God established through Melchizedek. If that example of universal priesthood were not in Scripture, the Jews would have rejected any arguments about it:

Don’t you see that He couldn’t just invent a new priesthood without a historical precedent or they wouldn’t have bought it?

The argument for the superiority of this universal priesthood unfolds further next week.

In the meantime, Hebrews has many answers to the question, ‘What makes Jesus and Christianity so special?’ We can learn much from what was written to the early Jewish converts.

Next time — Hebrews 7:11-14

Bible oldThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 7:1-3

The Priestly Order of Melchizedek

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.

————————————————————————————————————

In last week’s reading the author of Hebrews began discussing spiritual meat, rather than milk, by introducing Abraham’s unwavering faith in God.

In today’s passage, he brings into scope the meeting between Abraham and Melchizedek.

Melchizedek is mentioned in prayers of consecration during the Communion service in Catholic and Anglican (including Episcopal) churches, using a phraseology similar to Hebrews 6:20 in describing Christ (emphases mine below):

20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

Given Melchizedek’s importance, the Old Testament has very little history on the man himself.

We have three lines from Genesis 14, where he appears after Abraham won the war against various kings, which included the liberation of his nephew Lot and the recovery of Lot’s possessions:

18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) 19 And he blessed him and said,

Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Possessor[a] of heaven and earth;
20 and blessed be God Most High,
    who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”

And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

There is another mention in Psalm 110:4:

The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
    after the order of Melchizedek.”

The Book of Hebrews has the most to say about Melchizedek. He foreshadowed Christ, and Christ’s priesthood surpasses his.

The notion of priesthood and Melchizedek all gets quite complicated — but nonetheless fascinating — as we shall see from John MacArthur’s sermon below.

To begin with, I will look at a more general explanation from Matthew Henry after discussing the verses themselves.

The author of Hebrews reminds his Jewish audience of Melchizedek’s blessing of Abraham (verse 1).

In return, Abraham recognised Melchizedek’s stature as both king and priest (verse 2). As such, Abraham gave Melchizedek one-tenth of his spoils won in battle. These were not the middling spoils, but the very best. Abraham understood that Melchizedek’s name meant ‘king of righteousness’ and ‘king of Salem’, meaning ‘king of peace’.

The author of Hebrews says that we know nothing more about Melchizedek in Scripture (verse 3) — or history, for that matter. That said, he was a very important person in terms of universal priesthood. God chose Melchizedek for his character, not his lineage. Jewish priests were chosen from their tribe, e.g. Levites, or lineage.

The author says that this brief mention of Melchizedek’s priesthood should serve as a timeless example of what serving God should be, like the priesthood of Jesus Christ, whose eternal priesthood surpasses that of Melchizedek’s temporal one.

Excerpted below is Matthew Henry’s explanation:

(1.) Melchisedec was a king, and so is the Lord Jesus–a king of God’s anointing; the government is laid upon his shoulders, and he rules over all for the good of his people. (2.) That he was king of righteousness: his name signifies the righteous king. Jesus Christ is a rightful and a righteous king–rightful in his title, righteous in his government. He is the Lord our righteousness; he has fulfilled all righteousness, and brought in an everlasting righteousness, and he loves righteousness and righteous persons, and hates iniquity. (3.) He was king of Salem, that is, king of peace; first king of righteousness, and after that king of peace. So is our Lord Jesus; he by his righteousness made peace, the fruit of righteousness is peace. Christ speaks peace, creates peace, is our peace-maker. (4.) He was priest of the most high God, qualified and anointed in an extraordinary manner to be his priest among the Gentiles. So is the Lord Jesus; he is the priest of the most high God, and the Gentiles must come to God by him; it is only through his priesthood that we can obtain reconciliation and remission of sin. (5.) He was without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, Hebrews 7:3. This must not be understood according to the letter; but the scripture has chosen to set him forth as an extraordinary person, without giving us his genealogy … (6.) That he met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him … Thus our Lord Jesus meets his people in their spiritual conflicts, refreshes them, renews their strength, and blesses them. (7.) That Abraham gave him a tenth part of all (Hebrews 7:2) … as an expression of his gratitude for what Melchisedec had done for him, or as a testimony of his homage and subjection to him as a king, or as an offering vowed and dedicated to God, to be presented by his priest. And thus are we obliged to make all possible returns of love and gratitude to the Lord Jesus for all the rich and royal favours we receive from him, to pay our homage and subjection to him as our King, and to put all our offerings into his hands, to be presented by him to the Father in the incense of his own sacrifice. (8.) That this Melchisedec was made like unto the Son of God, and abideth a priest continually. He bore the image of God in his piety and authority, and stands upon record as an immortal high priest; the ancient type of him who is the eternal and only-begotten of the Father, who abideth a priest for ever.

John MacArthur has much more on the subject.

First, Melchizedek is a symbol — a type — representing Christ:

Now, there’s much in the Scripture that comes under the category of typology. There are many theological terms that we use in Bible study and in Bible teaching. One of them is typology. Whenever we talk about a type, we mean an Old Testament picture of the person and work of Christ. For example, in the Old Testament we read about a brazen serpent being lifted up, and all who looked upon the serpent were healed from the snake bites. And then we hear in John chapter 3 that that is a picture of Jesus Christ. And it says, “As the Son of Man was lifted – as the serpent was lifted up, so shall the Son of Man be lifted up, and those who look on Him in faith shall be healed from sin.”

We read in the Old Testament about lambs being slain, and then we hear the words of John the Baptist, “Behold the Lamb of God” in reference to Jesus Christ. There are many pictures in the Old Testament of Christ. We call these types, and Christ is the antitype or the fulfillment of that type

But as we come to Hebrews chapter 7, we meet another Old Testament type. Now, keep in mind that types are always frail illustrations at best. A lamb rates no comparison with the Lamb of God realistically. Nor does a serpent of brass rate a relationship to Jesus Christ realistically. They are merely humble pictures meant to give us insight from an illustrative point of view. And we say at the same time that Melchizedek in no way deserves an equality with Jesus Christ. But he does serve as a very interesting picture of Christ

The author of Hebrews begins a long dissertation on Melchizedek because the priesthood was — and still is — very important to the Jewish faith.

To a certain extent, it is also central to Christianity, because a priest, or minister, is seen by many believers to be the bridge between laypeople and Jesus as well as God. Note the word ‘pontifex’ below, which Catholicism uses to describe the Pope:

And the Latin word for priest is pontifex, taken apart and it means bridge builder. The priest was the one who built the bridge from man to God. And to the Jew, the priesthood was really very, very important. To them, you see, religion was access to God. And since they couldn’t go directly to God, they had to go through a mediator, and the priests were designed to be mediators.

The high priests offered the main Jewish sacrifices on the Day of Atonement. The high priest was the only person allowed into the Holy of Holies, and, even then, he could only stay there for a moment because he himself was not worthy.

Recall that, after the Crucifixion, the curtain shielding the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem was rent in two, meaning that Jesus — not a human high priest — is our only Mediator and Advocate with God the Father. Jesus Christ offered the true, final, sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the world. The author of Hebrews wants his audience to understand this by beginning with a discussion of Melchizedek.

In God’s covenant with the Jews, priesthood was based on hereditary lines:

This was how God designed it, that certain men would be called out, set apart, sons of Aaron and Levi, to minister as priests. And they would build bridges between men and God according to God’s specifications.

Sacrifices went on and on for centuries. Then, Jesus sacrificed Himself for countless sins of Jew and Gentile alike, ending the Old Covenant and instituting a New Covenant:

And what they did, they had to do over and over and over again. And finally, a great, glorious priest has come along.

Now, you see, to the Jew this is very important, because he knows of no way to get yourself connected with God apart from a priest. And so, the Holy Spirit says, “Christ is that perfect priest. Not only does He fit the qualifications of a priest, but he supersedes any qualifications of any priest you’ve ever seen. He’s far beyond.”

Jesus Christ is our Great High Priest, forever and ever:

Now, here the Holy Spirit introduces the priesthood of Christ and says, “We have such a Great High Priest. We have a Great High Priest. You don’t need the priests of Judaism anymore. You don’t need the old system. There is a Great High Priest. There is a bridge builder whose bridge stays, whose bridge remains. And once you cross that bridge, you’ll remain eternally in the fellowship of God. There is such a bridge builder, and it is Jesus Christ.

Note that the author of Hebrews discusses Melchizedek because he was a priest of the Most High God, the creator of all. Melchizedek was not a Jewish priest, because God had not created the Jewish priestly system at that point. The Jews referred to the God who made the Old Covenant with them as Jehovah. Both names refer to the same God, but the Most High God referred to the God of the Gentiles as well as the Jews whereas Jehovah refers to the God of the Jewish covenant.

MacArthur compares and contrasts Melchizedek’s universal priesthood — a foretelling of Christ’s — with Aaron’s priesthood, which was strictly for the Jewish nation. Furthermore, Melchizedek was a king. However, no Jewish priest was a king himself, nor was he a bringer of permanent righteousness and peace with God:

Now, Aaron’s priesthood was national to begin with. In other words, it was strictly Judaistic. The particulars that were under Aaron were priests of Israel. Secondly, the priests were subject to the kings in a measure. They were not kings themselves; they were subjects in a kingdom. Thirdly, Aaron’s priesthood offered no permanent righteousness and peace, only that continual, continual, continual sacrificing. Nothing ever permanent. It never established a permanent righteousness for a man nor permanent peace with God. That peace and that righteous was shattered every time they sinned. Constant repetition.

Fourthly, Aaron’s priesthood was hereditary. It didn’t matter how good of a guy you were, if you were born in the right family, you were automatically a priest no matter what you were. Now, that poses some problems, obviously. Fifthly, it was a timed priesthood. They only existed in it from the year – from the age of about 25 to 50 and it was over. It was limited by time.

So, Aaron’s priesthood was a national one, subject to kings, no permanent righteousness and peace, hereditary, and limited by time. Now, this is very important for us to understand because Melchizedek’s priesthood supersedes Aaron’s at every single point. Therefore, says the Holy Spirit, Christ is a better priest than Aaron.

The author of Hebrews is positing a question in his audience’s collective mind. Do they want to follow a Jewish priestly system or do they want to follow a high priest who is also a king of righteousness and peace in the same way that Melchizedek was? There is only one high priest who can satisfy that criteria and that is Jesus Christ.

Looking at Melchizedek’s priesthood, we find that:

Melchizedek’s priesthood was universal. It was not national; it was universal.

At this point, MacArthur explains the difference between the Jewish names ‘the Most High God’ and ‘Jehovah’:

In relation to Israel, God took the name of Jehovah … God’s name is I Am. Right? YHWH in the Hebrew. But no Jew would say the name of God. And so, since the Jews didn’t want to say the name Jehovah, they took the consonants of Jehovah and the vowels out of Adonai, which means Lord, and stuck them together and got Yehowah which is Jehovah. So, Jehovah’s not really the name of God; it’s only that name which Israel came up with in an effort not to say YHWH and yet express who they wanted to express. So, it’s a combination word, Jehovah, and it deals strictly with Israel. And watch this, Aaron’s priests were priests of Jehovah. You remember that all the line of Aaron, the Levite line of Aaron, were – and incidentally, within the line of the Levites, you still had to be a son of Aaron. But all of those who came from Aaron were priests only of Jehovah. That is they were related to God only in connection with Israel. They couldn’t run over here and minister of there and here and everywhere else. They were tied to Israel’s economy.

But watch this. It does not say that Melchizedek was the priest of Jehovah; it says he was the priest of – what? – the Most High God. Now, that is a universal name for God, El Elyon, and it reaches everywhere and everything in heaven and earth. It is the universal name of God that includes Jew and Gentile. Far broader than the Jewish term Jehovah.

So, whereas Aaron’s priesthood related just to Israel, Melchizedek’s was broader than that and related to all men. Now, when the Holy Spirit says Jesus is a priest after the order of Melchizedek, do you see the significance? The significance is this: Jesus is not just the Messiah of Israel but of the world. So, it is very important to establish Melchizedek’s priesthood as universal if you’re going to say Jesus is a priest after the order of Melchizedek.

Now, you see the Jew – in the Jewish mind there had to be a historical reason for everything or a historical foundation. And so, God chooses Melchizedek as His perfect foundation to teach this truth. There have been priests who’ve been broader than Israel before; there’s no reason to believe there can’t be some more. And there is one, Jesus Christ. So, it transcends Israel.

MacArthur’s version of the Bible makes this clearer; Abraham used both names for God:

Now, Abraham understood this concept, because in Genesis 14:22, he said, in response to Melchizedek, “I have lifted up my hand unto Jehovah” – and then he said – comma – “God Most High.” So, he understood Jehovah in the covenant relationship; he also underst[oo]d Jehovah in the sense that He was God of everything.

The name Most High God appears elsewhere in the Bible:

In Daniel, for example, where the first great king of the Gentiles, Nebuchadnezzar is brought through seven years of humbling until he finally acknowledges the facts of God, he says this. He knew that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men. Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “The Most High doeth according to His will in heaven and in earth.” And here was a Gentile acknowledging the Most High. That’s a term that has reference to Gentiles. That’s a broad term for God.

And you’ll remember that even the demons, when our Lord cast them out, cried, “What have we to do with Thee, Jesus, Thou Son of the Most High God?” And they again used the universal term for God.

Jesus has made a promise to Christians involving the Most High God:

Jesus says for those of us who come into His relationship, He promised that we shall be called the sons of the Most High. And so, the term “the Most High” is then a universal name for God in the sense of His universal rule and character as it involves all men. And this means that Melchizedek’s priesthood is not limited to a nation. He is not just priest of Jehovah; he is priest of the Most High God, El Elyon, Possessor of heaven and earth, above all national and above all dispensational distinction.

MacArthur then examines kingship, which Melchizedek and Jesus Christ have in common:

Secondly, Aaron’s priesthood was subject to royalty; Melchizedek’s was royalty. Notice verse 1, “For this Melchizedek” – what’s the next word? – “king of Salem.” Four times it says he was king. In verse 2, it says King of righteousness, King of Salem, which is, “King of peace.” Four times in two verses, it tells us this man was a king, royal priesthood. Melchizedek’s was royal. This is something totally foreign to the Aaronic priests. This is totally foreign to the Levitical priests in Israel. There was never that combination. Israel’s priests were never king and priest. That was unknown in Israel. No priest was royal. But oh, my, what a perfect blend it is. What an absolutely perfect blend that the true Priest, the Great Priest, the glorious Priest Jesus Christ should be that blend of priest and king so that He not only takes men to God, but He rules men for God.

Listen to Zechariah 6:13, “Even He shall build the temple of the Lord; and He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon His throne” – there He is as a King – “and He shall be a priest upon His throne.” Now, that is an unheard of concept. And yet it is prophesied in Zechariah so clearly. Jesus was to be a priest, but a priest on a throne, a royal priesthood.

Now on to the identity of Salem, about which there is broad agreement but not 100% certainty. Most experts believe it is Jerusalem, but other theories suggest Shalem in the land of Canaan and Salim, where John the Baptist performed many baptisms.

Jerusalem sounds the most reasonable place for Salem when you read MacArthur’s reasoning:

… likely that’s an ancient name for Jerusalem. Jerusalem also had the name Jebus – J-E-B-U-S. The Jebusites occupied Jerusalem initially. But it may have also, at the time of Melchizedek, had the name of Salem. And so, Melchizedek could well have been an ancient king of Jerusalem. And I think that has the best evidence. The city that was the hometown of God. There’s a most wonderful statement about that in Psalm 132. I’ll take a minute to read you two verses there, Psalm 132:13, “For the Lord hath chosen Zion” – that’s Jerusalem – “He hath desired it for His habitation. This is My rest forever; here will I dwell, for I have desired it.” You didn’t know God had a hometown, did you. His hometown is Jerusalem.

And it seems to me that it would be very likely that God would have had His priest in His hometown even pre-Abraham. And so, Jerusalem had a king long before David, and a king appointed by God; and a priest long before Aaron, and a priest appointed by God. Melchizedek was king and priest of Jerusalem. Now, this is important. The Jews always felt that God dwelt with them, and that was about it; that God was exclusively theirs, and there could never be another priesthood, and there could never be another covenant. And so, when Christianity came along and says, “Here’s another covenant; here’s another priesthood,” they said, “No, it can’t be.”

Now watch this – beautiful, beautiful argument by the Spirit. “Look,” He says. “There was another priest, and there was another covenant before you existed. Why can’t there be one after?”

Ultimately:

The whole world didn’t begin with Judaism. There was something going on before God worked that way; there can be something going on after He’s finished or temporarily finished working that one. Oh, this is so important. It leaves room for the new covenant. For if God dealt differently before, why can’t He deal differently again? He didn’t need to work through the nation Israel before Abraham. Why can’t He work another way if He wants to in this economy? That’s the point.

If He had a royal priest one time, why can’t He have another one? And He does. And who is He? Jesus Christ. Something no Jewish priest ever conceived.

There is one more aspect of this to explore which is ‘righteousness’ and ‘peace’. Peace, says MacArthur, is not temporal world peace but peace with God. And we can have peace with God only if we are righteous. Therefore, righteousness must come before peace. And, if you study Scripture, you will see that ‘righteousness’ precedes ‘peace’ in every passage with the two words.

MacArthur says:

There was no permanent righteousness, and there was no permanent peace in Aaron’s priesthood. Ah, but Melchizedek’s priesthood was a priesthood of righteousness and peace. Notice verse 2, “First” – and we’ll skip the first phrase, come back to it later, “First being by interpretation King of righteousness” – and that’s a translation of Melchizedek; that’s what his name means: King of righteousness – “and after that also King of Salem, which is King of peace” – Salem, from Shalom, which means peace. His name is righteousness; his city is peace. He is a perfect combination of righteousness and peace.

Now, don’t you know that that’s exactly what all priests attempt to accomplish? What is righteousness? Righteousness is holiness. And righteousness is demanded before you can ever be at peace with God. Right? God hates sin. Therefore, if you’re a sinner, you and God are not at peace. Right? God fights against His enemies. Did you know that? God fights against His enemies. And if a man is not righteous, then he’s not at peace with God. But if a man is righteous in the eyes of God, then he’s not at war with God; he’s at peace with God. Right?

Now, Romans chapter 3, the Bible tells us that Jesus Christ gave us His righteousness, and therefore, it says in chapter 5, we have peace with God.

You say, “Well, how do you get righteous?”

When the righteousness of Christ is given to you by faith in Him. Christ’s righteousness becomes yours; you’re immediately at peace with God. He sees you covered by the blood of Christ. Every priest wanted to make a man righteous that he might be at peace with God, but they couldn’t do it. The blood of bulls and goats didn’t do it; they had to do it over and over, and it only lasted as long as a man didn’t sin. But here He says Melchizedek’s very name was righteousness, and his city was peace, emphasizing that his was a kingdom and his was a priesthood of righteousness and peace. Is that typical of Jesus Christ? Does Jesus Christ provide a permanent righteousness? Absolutely.

What happens to a sinner after he comes to Jesus Christ, invites Him into his life and then sins? What happens? Does he have to go back and ask Jesus to come in again? No. His righteousness covers him forever. What happens once you you’ve made peace with God? All of a sudden do you turn into God’s enemy again, and He’s going to destroy you? No. No. Jesus Christ secures righteousness and peace on a permanent basis.

The historical Melchizedek was probably a very righteous man and a very peaceful king. But the Holy Spirit is not here dealing with the personal characteristics of Melchizedek; He’s only dealing with Melchizedek as a type of Christ. And He says that He was first righteousness and then peace. And may I say they always come in that order; there’s no peace with God unless there’s righteousness. The Bible says the Lord is our righteousness. Righteousness comes first, then peace.

I will leave it at that.

Who could imagine a 4,300+ word post discussing three verses? I had not anticipated it.

Yet, does this make you more elated to be a Christian? Does it make you more eager and willing to spread the Good News? I hope it does!

More on Melchizedek will follow, all being well.

Next time — Hebrews 7:4-10

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http://martinscriblerus.com/

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