You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Protestant’ tag.

J C RyleThis post continues my series on hell. If you haven’t read about Origen’s unorthodox views on hell which are currently infecting the Church, please do so.

J C Ryle (1816-1900) was undoubtedly one of the greatest Anglicans who ever lived.

Educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, his parents expected him to enter politics. However, Ryle felt called to the priesthood and was ordained in 1842.

He was very much an evangelical preacher, firmly opposed to the Ritualism in the Church as characterised by the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement of the time. Although he had firm religious convictions which he expressed in no uncertain terms, in private, he was known for his kindness and warmth.  He also preached to the working class, bringing many to the knowledge and love of Christ Jesus.

One of Benjamin Disraeli’s last acts as Prime Minister was to appoint Ryle to the post of Bishop of Liverpool, a brand new diocese.  There, Ryle presided over the construction of 40 new churches, raised clergy salaries and instituted pension funds for them. He was also responsible for the building of the Anglican cathedral in Liverpool.

Ryle retired only three months before he died at age 83 in 1900. Today, he appears to have more of a following in the United States among orthodox Protestants than he does here in England.  He published several works on the four Gospels as well as on the Christian life.

(Incidentally, Ryle’s second son, Herbert Edward Ryle, served as Bishop of Exeter, then Bishop of Winchester before being appointed Dean of Westminster in 1911.)

If only the Church of England had many more clergy like Ryle today. He wrote:

My chief desire in all my writings, is to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ and make Him beautiful and glorious in the eyes of men; and to promote the increase of repentance, faith, and holiness upon earth.

And:

Every professing Christian is the soldier of Christ. He is bound by his baptism to fight Christ’s battle against sin, the world, and the devil. The man that does not do this, breaks his vow: he is a spiritual defaulter; he does not fulfil the engagement made for him. The man that does not do this, is practically renouncing his Christianity. The very fact that he belongs to a Church, attends a Christian place of worship, and calls himself a Christian, is a public declaration that he desires to be reckoned a soldier of Jesus Christ.

You can read his views on the Christian life and his analysis of English Puritan clergy. GraceGems has an extensive collection of Ryle’s sermons and books which you can read online.

Ryle’s written works include commentaries on the gospels. What follows is an excerpt from Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on Matthew. It is from his commentary on Matthew 26:14-25. Emphases mine below.

This is the relevant reading (ESV):

Judas to Betray Jesus

14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.

The Passover with the Disciples

17 Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19 And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.

20 When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve.[b] 21 And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25 Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”

The first part of Ryle’s commentary discusses Judas then concludes with the following. Note how Ryle relies on Scripture to make his point about the importance of avoiding everlasting hell:

We ought frequently to call to mind the solemn words, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” “We brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” Our daily prayer should be, “Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me.” ( Proverbs 30:8). Our constant aim should be to be rich in grace. “They that will be rich” in worldly possessions often find at last that they have made the worst of bargains ( 1 Timothy 6:9 ). Like Esau, they have bartered an eternal portion for a little temporary gratification; like Judas Iscariot, they have sold themselves to everlasting perdition.

Let us learn in the last place from these verses the hopeless condition of all who die unconverted. The words of our Lord on this subject are peculiarly solemn: he says of Judas, “It had been good for that man if he had not been born”. This saying admits of only one interpretation. It teaches plainly that it is better never to live at all than to live without faith and die without grace. To die in this state is to be ruined forevermore: it is a fall from which there is no rising, a loss which is utterly irretrievable. There is no change in hell: the gulf between hell and heaven is one that no man can pass. This saying could never have been used if there was any truth in the doctrine of universal salvation. If it really was true that all would sooner or later reach heaven, and hell sooner or later be emptied of inhabitants, it never could be said that it would have been “good for a man not to have been born.” Hell itself would lose its terrors if it had an end: hell itself would be endurable if after millions of ages there were a hope of freedom and of heaven. But universal salvation will find no foothold in Scripture: the teaching of the Word of God is plain and express on the subject. There is a worm that never dies, and a fire that is not quenched ( Mark 9:44) Except a man be born again,” he will wish one day he had never been born at all. “Better,” says Burkett, “have no being, than not have a being in Christ.”

Let us grasp this truth firmly, and not let it go. There are always persons who deny the reality and eternity of hell. We live in a day when a morbid charity induces many to exaggerate God’s mercy at the expense of his justice, and when false teachers are daring to talk of a “love of God lower even than hell.” Let us resist such teaching with a holy jealousy, and abide by the doctrine of Holy Scripture: let us not be ashamed to walk in the old paths, and to believe that there is an eternal God, and an eternal heaven and an eternal hell. Once [we] depart from this belief, and we admit the thin end of the wedge of skepticism, and may at last deny any doctrine of the Gospel. We may rest assured that there is no firm standing ground between a belief in the eternity of hell, and downright infidelity.

We do need to guard against adopting unorthodox beliefs, those which go contrary to Scripture. As Ryle says, once we begin discarding one fundamental tenet of Christianity, we are unlikely to stop there. We depart on the road to questioning more and more of the Bible and discarding more doctrine. Where does one end up then? In a sorry spiritual state wherein we question whether we are saved.

Notional doubters or sceptics who claim they ‘want to believe’ but somehow cannot, would do well to study the New Testament. If they cannot bring themselves to do that, they should pray for the divine grace to enable them to do so:

I believe; help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24)

More on hell next week.

This follows on from Monday’s post about hell. Please note that there is an adult image and disturbing content in this entry.

In the 1970s my secondary school religion teachers taught that Origen was a heretic and that the Church declared him as well as his teachings anathema. In short, they said that Origen started out as a devout Christian then went off-piste.

My mother told me the same thing years before.

Today, Origen seems to be all the rage. The modern Church has rehabilitated his reputation, and clergy are encouraging us to adopt his beliefs.

Two of Origen’s beliefs concern hell and universalism. Origen held that hell was temporary, akin to a very long-term purgatory, and wrote that there will come a point in eternity when God will accept the population of hell — including Satan — to heaven.

Is that what the Bible says?

As far as Origen was concerned, the Bible is entirely allegorical — down to the last word. In his mind, the simple-minded could take it literally or look at it in terms of genre (like me), but if one truly had faith in Christ, one would be able to interpret the words differently.

Origen also believed in the pre-existence of souls, which is a form of reincarnation.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica‘s entry on Origen states (emphases mine):

The chief accusations against Origen’s teaching are the following: making the Son inferior to the Father and thus being a precursor of Arianism, a 4th-century heresy that denied that the Father and the Son were of the same substance; spiritualizing away the resurrection of the body; denying hell, a morally enervating universalism; speculating about preexistent souls and world cycles; and dissolving redemptive history into timeless myth by using allegorical interpretation. None of these charges is altogether groundless. At the same time there is much reason to justify Jerome’s first judgment that Origen was the greatest teacher of the early church after the Apostles.

That last sentence demonstrates why heretics were and are so dangerous. Every one of them mixes truth with error.

The Church did not declare Origen to be anathema until 300 years after his death. Origen died in 254 and the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople condemned his teachings in 553.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica explains why:

In the 6th century the “New Laura” (monastic community) in Palestine became a centre for an Origenist movement among the monastic intelligentsia, hospitable to speculations about such matters as preexistent souls and universal salvation. The resultant controversy led Justinian I to issue a long edict denouncing Origen (543); the condemnation was extended also to Didymus and Evagrius by the fifth ecumenical council at Constantinople (553). Nevertheless, Origen’s influence persisted, such as in the writings of the Byzantine monk Maximus the Confessor (c. 550–662) and the Irish theologian John Scotus Erigena (c. 810–877), and, since Renaissance times, controversy has continued concerning his orthodoxy, Western writers being generally more favourable than Eastern Orthodox.

This CCEL page has the full statement of the 15 anathemas against Origen — his person as well as his teachings.

Today, we read that Origen was not declared anathema in 553. This notion comes from Norman Tanner whose Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils was published in 1990. An Eastern Orthodox blog, Eclectic Orthodoxy, has more on Tanner’s explanation, a clear plea for universalism.

The general gist is that Justinian I did not like opposition and that Origen was not the only early theologian who had such ideas. Two others, St Clement of Alexandria and St Gregory of Nyssa, were also universalists.

Yet, they are saints. Origen was declared a heretic.

It seems that, as my teachers and our religious studies books said, Origen went too far. Dr Ken Matto has an interesting list of Origen’s beliefs, some of which are held by the Catholic Church, sects and modern churches in other denominations. What follow are the really unorthodox ones. Although many claim Origen fought against Gnosticism, Matto purports that he was indeed a Gnostic:

Gnosticism was and is a belief that all matter is evil and that freedom comes through knowledge. The word Gnostic comes from the Greek word “gnosis” which means “knowledge.”

Matto lists the beliefs of Gnostics, referring to Jay Green’s The Gnostics, the New Versions, and the Deity of Christ. There are eight, which you can read in full.

Those that stood out for me are that the Gnostic thinks he is Spirit while lesser beings are but flesh and blood; he has a knowledge which surpasses Christianity; he allegorises Scripture; he believes that Christ’s earthly body was an illusion and that He will always be inferior to Gnostic gods, the Demiurge and the Artificer.

Matto states Origen’s 14 beliefs. What follows are the most unusual — and wrong:

1/ He believed the Holy Spirit was a feminine force
7/ He believed in the transmigration of the soul and the reincarnation of the soul
8/ He doubted the temptations of Jesus in Scripture and claimed they could have never happened.
9/ The Scriptures were not literal. He was the father of allegory.
11/ Based upon Matthew 19, a true man of God should be castrated, which he did to himself.
13/ Christ enters no man until they mentally grasp the understanding of the consummation of the ages. (It was Frederick Dennison Maurice in the 19th century who defined eternal life as coming to a knowledge of God. This is the essence of Gnosticism.)
14/ He taught there would be no physical resurrection of the believers.

Gosh. I know Anglican and Episcopal clergy who believe some of these things. Not No. 11, however, I hasten to add. The painting of Origen below — courtesy of Bad News About Christianity — comes from Roman de la Rose [‘Romance of the Rose’], France 15th century, Bodleian Library, MS. Douce 195, fol. 122v.

Odd, isn’t it, that Origen — he of scriptural allegory — took Matthew 19:10-12 literally?

10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

Natto follows with a useful Scriptural rebuttal of Origen’s teachings, concluding that Gnosticism fits in nicely with New Age teachings.

Indeed.

The New World Encyclopedia draws an empathetic conclusion about Origen:

In centuries much later, however, his work has been revisited by more sympathetic eyes, and his thought has been recognized as formative for the development of Christian theology. The historian Philip Schaff (1819-1893) sums up Origen’s contribution to Christianity, by saying that in spite of his condemnation he “did more than all his enemies combined to advance the cause of sacred learning, to refute and convert heathens and heretics, and to make the church respected in the eyes of the world.”[3] Origen’s hope for universal salvation and his tolerant attitude towards those who have different opinions would be more acceptable today when Celsus’ criticism of Christianity may tend to be more seriously reflected upon and ecumenism is more common-sensically practiced. It may be that as early as in the third century before church dogma was officially formulated he already had an insight into today’s situation.

Or maybe we are just leading ourselves down the garden path.

St Paul warned against false beliefs that tickle our itching ears (2 Timothy 4:3). How can something that sounds so good be so wrong? Paul warned:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,

On this point, the Wikipedia entry for Origen states:

Origen is regarded by the Catholic Church as a Church Father, but not a saint.[76]

Really? So, everything I learned about him in Catholic school has been conveniently overturned?

It would appear so. Catholic Encyclopedia has what can only be described as a puff piece on Origen. The entry explains away any criticism the Church had of him since the 6th century. It’s a long article and, like most Catholic Encyclopedia entries, is written in their typically arcane style, which is so unnecessary. I do wonder whether they want Catholics to read it or continue in blissful ignorance. But I digress.

In a nutshell, Catholic Encyclopedia tells us that through the centuries people have misunderstood or misinterpreted Origen’s teachings. The entry even casts doubt over whether Origen was actually anathematised! They base their reasoning on Pope Vigilius’s absence from the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 553, the fact that the subsequent popes through to the early 7th century never mentioned Origen and, finally, the Origenism that was condemned was not the one Origen himself came up with but a derivation of it.

Hmm.

Am I convinced by that? Certainly not.

Origen came into this post at length because Bad News About Christianity mentioned the man in the article ‘Invented, Amended & Discarded Doctrines’ — one of which is hell:

According to recent theories Hell is not a place at all. It is, as the heretic Origen suggested, a condition of being distant from God. Alternatively, if it does exist it is probably empty! This solution attempts to reconcile the traditional doctrine of the reality of Hell with the requirement for a modern, caring, God. It is a classic example of the way in which teachings change when doctrine starts to become unteachable because of widespread disbelief. The Church cannot bring itself to agree explicitly with the atheist Lucretius (c.96-55 BC) and admit that “There is no murky pit of Hell awaiting anyone”*, but that is really what churchmen have come around to after 2,000 years.

Well said, even if they are unbelievers.

Their entry on hell is worthwhile reading. It quotes the relevant part of the Second Council of Constantinople statement:

Whosoever says or thinks that the punishment of demons and of the wicked will not be eternal, that it will have an end …. let him be anathema.

The article goes on to say that this firmly established the Church’s belief in hell until relatively recently:

For centuries children and peasants were terrorised by the promise of eternal damnation. Theologians assured them that they would be crushed in giant wine presses, torn to pieces by wild animals, fed with the gall of dragons, burned for eternity, tortured by demons, and so on.

As Cardinal Newman pointed out, belief in Hell was central to Christian theology, it was “the critical doctrine — you can’t get rid of it — it is the very characteristic of Christianity”. The existence of God was held to prove the reality of eternal hellfire, so denial of eternal hellfire amounted to denial of God. The reality of Hell was simply not open to question.

The article mentions a Catholic priest, the Rev John Furniss, who wrote booklets about the faith for children. They cost one penny per volume and were well known in the late 19th and early 20th century. One of Furniss’s books was called The Sight of Hell, which is reproduced in full on the Bad News About Christianity site.

Those of us who are simple-minded when it comes to belief in a literal hell will appreciate Furniss’s work, several chapters of which begins with a Bible verse or have a variation on a Bible story. He wrote that the inspiration came from revelations that St Frances of Rome (1384-1440) said she received.

This is a brilliant book, but if you shared it with your children, you’d probably get arrested for child abuse. Here is an excerpt from ‘The Red Hot Floor’, about an adolescent of ill repute who ends up in hell:

Look into this room. What a dreadful place it is! The roof is red hot; the floor is like a thick sheet of red hot iron. See, on the middle of that red hot floor stands a girl. She looks about sixteen years old. Her feet are bare, she has neither shoes nor stockings on her feet; her bare feet stand on the red hot burning floor. The door of this room has never been opened before since she first set her foot on the red hot floor. Now she sees that the door is opening. She rushes forward. She has gone down on her knees on the red hot floor. Listen, she speaks! She says; “I have been standing with my feet on this red hot floor for years. Day and night my only standing place has been this red hot floor. Sleep never came on me for a moment, that I might forget this horrible burning floor. Look,” she says, “at my burnt and bleeding feet. Let me go off this burning floor for one moment, only for one single, short moment. Oh, that in the endless eternity of years, I might forget the pain only for one single,short moment.” The devil answers her question: “Do you ask,” he says, “for a moment, for one moment to forget your pain. No, not for one single moment during the never-ending eternity of years shall you ever leave this red hot floor!” “Is it so?” the girl asks with a sigh, that seems to break her heart; “then, at least, let somebody go to my little brothers and sisters, who are alive, and tell them not to do the bad things which I did, so they will never have to come and stand on the red hot floor.” The devil answers her again: “Your little brothers and sisters have the priests to tell them these things. If they will not listen to the priests, neither would they listen even if somebody should go to them from the dead.”

There we have a variation of the Dives (‘the rich man’) and Lazarus story that Jesus related (Luke 16:19-31).

Back to the article. The atheist author(s) rightly point out that Catholics and Protestants alike feared God’s wrath and the unspeakable horrors of hell for centuries. These days, less so, if at all:

Now belief in Hell seems to be no longer necessary. Certainly the Church of England does not require it. The Privy Council decided many years ago that belief in it is optional*. Theologians have now started to redefine Hell. In fact, according to the Church of England’s Doctrine Commission, traditional teachings of hellfire and eternal torment are “appalling theologies which made God into a sadistic monster and left searing scars on many”*.

On the contrary, it is better to live in fear and trembling — and repent — now than have eternal regrets in the everlasting fiery pit later.

In closing, Bad News About Christianity has an article about Origen, which tells us what Catholic Encyclopedia does not:

Like some of his contemporaries he voluntarily castrated himself to remove a sinful source of temptation. He insisted on observing Jesus” instructions, such as the ones about not carrying an extra coat and not wearing shoes (Matthew 10:10). During his lifetime he was deposed from the priesthood and deprived of his teaching post by the Bishop of Alexandria. He was also condemned by the Bishop of Rome and by a synod of Egyptian bishops. St Jerome held that he had deliberately tried to mislead the orthodox into heresy. Views attributed to him were condemned by further bishops, emperors and councils. To clear up any remnant of doubt, Origen’s teachings were condemned by the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 553.

Now that sounds like my religious studies textbook (minus the first sentence)!

More on hell to follow.

Giotto Wikipedia 220px-Giotto_-_Scrovegni_-_-19-_-_Presentation_at_the_TempleFebruary 2 is Candlemas.

On February 3, Catholics remember St Blaise, one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers said to guard against ills of the throat. Many attending Mass will have had their throats blessed last Sunday or will have this done on the feast day itself.

Regarding Candlemas, my aforementioned post has the gospel reading,  Luke 2:25-38, and the importance of this feast day which recalls Jesus’s Presentation at the Temple.

Candlemas always falls on February 2, because it is, in the Church calendar, the 40th day after Jesus’s birth. According to Jewish law (Leviticus 12, Exodus 13:12-15), Mary would have had to complete her ritual purification prior to accompanying Joseph and Jesus to the Temple. The presence of the infant Jesus, although circumcised and formally named (January 1), was required so that the priests could conduct the ceremony of the redemption of the firstborn. In those days, Mary and Joseph would also have brought an animal sacrifice. They could only afford a pair of turtledoves.

Luke tells us that there were two holy, elderly people present: Simeon and Anna (Hannah, in Hebrew). Simeon’s prayer over Jesus became the Nunc Dimittis (or Canticle of Simeon). It can be found in Luke 2:29-32:

Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace; according to Thy word: for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people: to be a light to lighten the gentiles and to be the glory of Thy people Israel.

Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit told Simeon that he would not die until he had seen Jesus, hence the first words of the canticle.

When Anna heard Simeon’s prayer, she knew that this infant was the Messiah.

Before Christmas, John MacArthur wrote a three-part series of posts about Anna. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

MacArthur tells us that it is important to remember that, at this time, the only Jews who recognised Jesus as the Messiah were humble, ordinary people — Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, Simeon and Anna:

All of them were basically nobodies. All of them recognized Him because they were told who He was by angels, or by some other form of special revelation. Luke recounts all their stories in succession, as if he is calling multiple witnesses, one at a time, to establish the matter.

Also recall the role that humble people had in Jesus’s ministry: the apostles and the vast majority of His followers.

The prophetess

Luke describes Anna as a prophetess. MacArthur explains that she is unlikely to have received divine revelation directly. It is more probable that she was a lay minister for women, either teaching them or praying with them. She would have had no teaching authority over men.

Anna lived at the temple and was known for her holiness. She spoke of God and Scripture, little else:

So when Luke called her a “prophetess,” he gave insight into her character and a clue about what occupied her mind and her conversation.

MacArthur says there were only five women referred to as ‘prophetess’ in the Old Testament. All had brief divine revelations, so were not on a par with the male prophets who actually held what MacArthur terms ‘prophetic office’.

Miriam

Moses’s and Aaron’s sister Miriam was the first. After the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, Pharaoh and his army were swallowed up and drowned. Moses sang a song of thanksgiving, and afterward Miriam sang a one-stanza song of prophecy (Exodus 15:20-21):

20 Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. 21 And Miriam sang to them:

“Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.”

Unfortunately, the fact that Miriam received prophecy went to her head and Numbers 12 tells us that God was angry with her for criticising Moses about his wife. He gave her leprosy for seven days, during which time she had to be well outside the camp.

Deborah

The next prophetess was Deborah (Judges 4:4):

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment.

She was the only female judge in the era prior to the establishment of a monarchy in ancient Israel:

In fact, she was the only woman in all of Scripture who ever held that kind of leadership position and was blessed for it.

Deborah also had a brief prophecy from the Lord, which she gave to her fellow judge Barak, which led them to make a journey together (Judges 4:6-10):

She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, “Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand’?” Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” And she said, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 And Barak called out Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh. And 10,000 men went up at his heels, and Deborah went up with him.

MacArthur said her presence was God’s rebuke to the men of her generation who were fearful. She did not see herself as a leader like Barak, but rather as a ‘mother in Israel’ (Judges 5:7).

Huldah

Huldah appears in 2 Kings 22, where she warned of the need for repentance or the people would face the wrath of God (2 Kings 22:14-20):

14 So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asaiah went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe (now she lived in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter), and they talked with her. 15 And she said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: ‘Tell the man who sent you to me, 16 Thus says the Lord, Behold, I will bring disaster upon this place and upon its inhabitants, all the words of the book that the king of Judah has read. 17 Because they have forsaken me and have made offerings to other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore my wrath will be kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched. 18 But to the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, thus shall you say to him, Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Regarding the words that you have heard, 19 because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the Lord, when you heard how I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. 20 Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring upon this place.’” And they brought back word to the king.

The parallel passage is in 2 Chronicles 34:22-28.

Two other women

Two more women are referred to as ‘prophetess’.

Noadiah was a false prophetess (Nehemiah 6:14):

Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, according to these things that they did, and also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who wanted to make me afraid.

Isaiah’s wife was the other. She was more of an honorary prophetess, by virtue of being married to him. She did not receive any divine revelation but the prophet refers to his wife in Isaiah 8:3:

And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said to me, “Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz;

Anna’s life

St Luke tells us that Anna’s father was Phanuel from the tribe of Asher. Asher means ‘happiness’, Phanuel ‘Face of God’ and Hannah ‘grace’. Asherites were well known for their wisdom and their daughters for their beauty.

Anna was only married for seven years before her husband died. By the time she saw the infant Jesus, she was already very elderly:

The Greek text is ambiguous as to her exact age. It might mean literally that she had been a widow for eighty-four years. Assuming she married very young (remember, thirteen was a typical age for engagement in that society), then lived with her husband seven years before he died, that would make her at least 104—very old indeed, but entirely possible.

More likely, what the text is saying is that she was now an eighty-four-year-old widow. She was married for seven years when her husband died, and having never remarried, she had now lived as a widow for more than six decades.

Widowhood in the ancient world meant much hardship. Anna would have struggled financially most of her adult life:

Anna probably either lived on charity or supported herself out of the remnants of her family’s inheritance. Either way, she must have led a very frugal, chaste, and sober life.

Luke says that Anna never left the temple. From this we can conclude that she lived in one of the modest apartments on the temple grounds, most of which housed visiting priests. MacArthur thinks that Anna might have been a caretaker at the temple when she was younger and that, perhaps, she was given the apartment in recognition of her service. Another possibility is that it was an act of charity to her in hardship.

Luke also tells us that Anna fasted and prayed continuously. MacArthur explains:

Abstaining from food per se has no mystical effect on anything spiritual. But fasting with prayer reveals a heart so consumed with praying, and so eager to receive the blessing being sought, that the person simply has no interest in eating. That is when fasting has real value.

Anna apparently had been doing this as a pattern for sixty-four years or longer. Here was a passionate woman!

He thinks she was praying for the coming of the Messiah:

there is little doubt that one of the main subjects of her prayers was an earnest plea for the very same thing Simeon was so eager for: “the Consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25 NKJV). Her hope, like Eve’s, was for the Seed who would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). Her longing, like Sarah’s (Galatians 3:8, 16), was for the Seed of Abraham, who would bless all the nations of the world. She was praying that God would soon send the promised deliverer, the Messiah.

Despite her living at the temple, MacArthur believes that she was fully aware of the corruption at the heart of the religious leaders. She was there to be close to her Lord:

Remember, she belonged to the believing remnant, not the apostate majority. She had no part in the error and hypocrisy that Jesus would later rebuke among the scribes and Pharisees. She was not a participant in the money-changing system at the temple that stirred His wrath. She knew the Pharisees were corrupt legalists. She understood that the Sadducees were spiritually bankrupt liberals. She truly loved her God. She understood His heart and mind.

Lessons from Anna

MacArthur’s essays on Anna are most inspiring. Men can learn from them, too.

What struck me in particular were these:

She genuinely believed His Word. She was a wonderfully remarkable woman indeed—perhaps one of the most devout people we meet anywhere on the pages of Scripture. No one else comes to mind who fasted and prayed faithfully for more than sixty years! …

Anna knew who the believing remnant were. She could identify the true worshipers—the ones who, like her, were expectantly awaiting the Messiah. She sought such people out, and at every opportunity from then on, she spoke to them about Him.

It is unlikely that Anna lived to experience Jesus’s ministry. Yet, God answered her lifetime of prayers by giving her the blessing of seeing Jesus.

And, what did she do next? She prayed in thanksgiving and spoke to all of the Messiah (Luke 2:38):

And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Anna the prophetess is a true role model for all Christians.

Modernism 1922 from Clare SparkThe days have long passed since the doctrine of hell has been preached in church.

A few bold and righteous pastors such as John MacArthur do so now and then, but hell is considered anathema to most clergy.

Following on from my post summarising MacArthur’s explanation of hell, today’s entry looks at the widespread 20th century decline of the doctrine of hell.

Quotations below come from Way of Life‘s ‘Taking the Fire out of Hell’. Emphases mine below.

Although by the end of the 20th century, hell became a dirty word and unthinkable concept, the decline began in the 19th century. The widely-quoted Baptist preacher from London, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, had this to say in 1865:

There is a deepseated unbelief among Christians just now, about the eternity of future punishment. It is not outspoken in many cases, but it is whispered; and it frequently assumes the shape of a spirit of benevolent desire that the doctrine may be disproved. I fear that at the bottom of all this there is a rebellion against the dread sovereignty of God. There is a suspicion that sin is not, after all, so bad a thing as we have dreamed. There is an apology, or a lurking wish to apologize for sinners, who are looked upon rather as objects of pity than as objects of indignation, and really deserving the condign punishment which they have wilfully brought upon themselves. I am afraid it is the old nature in us putting on the specious garb of charity, which thus leads us to discredit a fact which is as certain as the happiness of believers.

The nature of hell shifted from the biblical fire and brimstone to various beliefs: annihilation, symbolism, a void or no hell at all.

What follows is a potted history of quotes from clergy, theologians and evangelists of the 20th century.

1930s

George Buttrick, who was the President of the Federal Council of Churches (precursor to the World Council of Churches) wrote in 1935:

A God who punishes men with fire and brimstone through all Eternity would hardly be Godlike. He would be almost satanic in cruelty an childlike in imagination — like a nasty little boy pulling off the wings of a fly. The Christian faith is that God and hereafter is like Christ.

1950s

In 1951, Gerald Kennedy of the Methodist Church USA said in NAE magazine:

Speaking of eternal punishment of an everlasting state of agony for the wicked, I can say that I am sure that God is at least as good and merciful as men. I certainly would not banish any man to a place of punishment forever because of his faults or his state of mind when he left this life. I am sure God is not less fair or merciful than I.

The following year, theologian Nels F S Ferré wrote in Theology Today magazine:

According to the very meaning of sovereign love, however, God both can and will have all to be saved. The Bible, in its largest and deepest logic, also affirms that with God all things are possible and that He would have all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. Among the numberless unthinking people an immature and unworthy eschatology espousing eternal hell is unfortunately still prevalent, vitiating Christian ethics at its very heart.

1960s

In 1961, Martin Luther King Jr told Ebony magazine:

I do not believe in hell as a place of a literal burning fire.

1970s

Fuller Theological Seminary revised their position on hell in 1971:

Fuller Theological Seminary’s new doctrinal statement departs from its original position on eternal punishment for believers, simply saying that the wicked shall be separated from God’s presence.

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter’s sister Ruth Carter Stapleton, a Southern Baptist evangelist, said in Christianity Today (caps in the original):

The Bible DOES NOT teach that we experience hell after we die, we experience it before we die.

1980s

In 1983, Billy Graham said that hellfire is figurative, not literal:

I think that hell essentially is separation from God forever. And that is the worst hell that I can think of. But I think people have a hard time believing God is going to allow people to burn in literal fire forever. I think the fire that is mentioned in the Bible is a burning thirst for God that can never be quenched.

and

Jesus used three words to describe hell. … The third word that He used is ‘fire.’ Jesus used this symbol over and over. This could be literal fire, as many believe. Or it could be symbolic. God does have fires that do not burn. And also there is the figurative use of fire in the Bible. … I’ve often thought that this fire could possibly be a burning thirst for God that is never quenched. What a terrible fire that would be never to find satisfaction, joy, or fulfillment!

In 1986, the Houston Chronicle quoted Lutheran religious scholar and professor Martin Marty as saying:

The passing of hell from modern consciousness is one of the major if still largely undocumented modern trends. … most theologians today maintain hell is not just damnation, but a positive punishment, beyond which everything else on this profoundly mysterious question is only speculation. If faith has survived the decline of hell, then it may be the result of an accent on the love of God for God’s own sake. If so, the new situation is an asset.

In 1987, Neal Punt, a British pastor in the Reformed Church, wrote in his Unconditional Good News: Toward an Understanding of Biblical Universalism that clergy should not warn sinners about the dangers of eternal damnation.

That same year, a survey of the American Baptist Convention revealed:

that only 59.8% agreed that “Hell is just punishment for sinners.” 17.1% disagreed and 23.1% were “not sure.”

The August 1, 1989 edition of Calvary Contender reported that the Anglican John R W Stott

revealed that he was a proponent of conditional immortality, or annihilationism, a view that denies eternal punishment in hell for the unsaved.

1990s

The Criswell Theological Review featured theologian Clark Pinnock who had this to say in 1990:

Let me say at the outset that I consider the concept of hell as endless torment in body and mind an outrageous doctrine. … How can Christians possibly project a deity of such cruelty and vindictiveness whose ways include inflicting everlasting torture upon his creatures, however sinful they may have been? Surely, a God who would do such a thing is more nearly like Satan than like God.

The December 15, 1991 edition of Calvary Contender reported the Reformed Anglican J I Packer‘s perspective:

Christianity Today senior editor J. I. Packer says he does not believe that ‘the essence of hell is grotesque bodily discomfort.’ That idea, he conceives, ‘misses the deeper point of the lurid wordpictures drawn by Dante and Jesus, and the New Testament writers.’ He says: ‘The essence of hell is surely an inner misery of helpless remorse, with recognition that in assigning one to an eternity of self absorbed unwillingness to receive and respond to divine goodness, the unwillingness that in life one was always cultivating God is being totally just and had done what is entirely right. Selfhated and Godhated will feed each other in Hell forever’.

In 1993, a controversy about hell arose at the Grand Rapids Baptist College and Seminary, which is affiliated with the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC). One professor, Michael van Horn, had to resign because of his views on heaven and hell. He denied a literal heaven and a literal hell. On the latter, he told 22 Michigan pastors there was no ‘literal fire’ in hell. D A Waite’s ‘Four Reasons for Defending the King James Bible’, published in Bible for Today that year, wrote that the GARBC’s Council of Eighteen:

refused to state in their resolution on hell that there was ‘literal fire’ there. Dr. Clay Nuttall was present as a witness. In his written report, he mentioned that when a man suggested ‘literal fire’ be inserted in the GARBC resolution on hell, a Council of Eighteen member said they couldn’t do that because many of the Pastors and people of the GARBC fellowship do not believe there is ‘literal fire’ in hell. Now, if that isn’t the first step in the direction of absolute and total apostasy in the GARBC, I don’t know what is!

That same year, the retired Anglican Bishop of Durham David Jenkins was quoted as saying:

I am clear that there can be no hell for eternity; our God could not be so cruel. However, I think for some people who have wasted every opportunity for redemption, there may be extinction.

Interestingly, the Church of England moved to a position of annihilation — and nothingness — in 1996. The National & International Religion Report explained:

The Church of England has redefined hell. Rather than a place of eternal suffering, hell is a state of nothingness, the church said. The church said it was concerned that people were terrified into becoming believers and consequently suffered ‘searing psychological scars.’Nevertheless, everyone still faces a day of judgment, according to the Anglican document The Mystery of Salvation. Those who fail the test are annihilated. Hell is described as the final ‘choosing of that which is opposed to God so completely and so absolutely that the only end is nonbeing’.

In 1997, Bill Phipps, the then-Moderator of the United Church of Canada told the Ottawa Citizen:

I have no idea if there is a hell. I don’t think Jesus was that concerned about hell. He was concerned about life here on earth … Is heaven a place? I have no idea.

And so it continues in the 21st century. Rob Bell‘s 2011 book Love Wins comes to mind. By 2014, Rob Bell had left his ministry at Mars Hill. He no longer attends an established church.

More to come this week.

j0289346In a recent Forbidden Bible Verses post on Matthew 13:50-53, I cited one of John MacArthur’s sermons, ‘The Power of Unbelief, Part 1’.

In that sermon, MacArthur describes Jesus’s return to the synagogue in Nazareth to teach the congregation. They were no more receptive than they were the first time, but at least they did not try to throw Him off a cliff again.

MacArthur described the ritual involved. The Church shares a few parallels.

Call to worship

Every Friday, there was the call to stop work for the Sabbath. The ancient Jews sounded:

two trumpet blasts. Those blasts would have come from the trumpet in the hands of the minister of the synagogue, who climbed up onto the roof of his house and just as the sun was beginning to set on Shabbat, Friday evening, he would blow two blasts to warn of the beginning of the Sabbath. A little time would intervene, and he would blow a second time, this time one blast. At that blast, all work halted. Then there would be a little space of time, and he would blow another single blast, and instantly put his trumpet down, lest he should defame and dishonor the Sabbath now that the third blast indicated it had begun. He would not defile the Sabbath.

Jesus would have heard the trumpet blasts and with the people, and gone to a place to partake in the Sabbath activity.

For Sabbath worship the following day, a synagogue leader used a shofar (translated as ‘trumpet’ in the Bible) to alert the congregation it was time to gather together. This would have been a long blast with one or two notes.

Churches have bells. In the Middle Ages, these were rung not only before Mass but at the time of the Elevation of the Host during the prayer of consecration, when everyone had to be at church. Some Christians used to wait for the second sound of the bells coming from the sanctuary, enter to hear the prayer, then leave afterwards. Many felt that it was sufficient to be present only at that point, as W D Maxwell explained in his 1937 book A History of Christian Worship: An Outline of Its Development and Form (p. 65).

Today’s bells, where used, generally are rung 15 minutes before the start of the service or Mass. They are still rung at the time of the consecration at Catholic Mass and some High Anglican services.

Assigned places

MacArthur says that everyone had an assigned seat in the synagogue:

They sat in a very prescribed manner in a very prescribed place; it was very routine, with familiar faces, activities, and events.

Until the mid-19th century, it was common in some Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterian congregations to rent or purchase a pew for one’s family. Those who could not afford to do so were relegated to lesser pews — on the side, in back or upstairs. Because of pew allocations some churches only allowed in members of their congregation, effectively prohibiting outsiders from attending. As congregants’ disputes rose over pew designations and clergy realised that they were restricting other Christians’ ability to worship, the practice was abolished.

Standing for the readings

MacArthur tells us that the Jews of Jesus’s time stood to hear the readings:

The standing posture was indicative of the authority of the Word of God.

Christians also stand for the Scripture readings.

Sitting for teaching

When a rabbi or guest teacher, such as Jesus, gave an address, the congregation sat down to hear it:

lest the people think that man’s teaching had the same authority as God’s Word. They stood to read, and sat to teach.

Similarly, Christians sit to hear a sermon.

Our Christian services follow time-honoured and ancient traditions.

Bible GenevaThe 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.

Matthew 14:1-12

The Death of John the Baptist

14 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife,[a] because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. 10 He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, 11 and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. 12 And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus.

———————————————————————————————-

It is appalling that neither version, Matthew’s nor Mark’s, of the death of John the Baptist — the last prophet — whom Jesus compared to Elijah and the greatest person who ever lived, is in the three-year Lectionary. Why? Churchgoers need to hear about profoundly serious sin brought about by the preference for one’s own pleasure. And Herod’s is a classic morality as well as biblical story, affirmed by the historian Josephus and the early Doctor of the Church Jerome.

The Bible tells us that we can choose to enslave ourselves to God or to sin. This story should be at the forefront of our minds as a real-life illustration — and warning — of what happens when people decide to give themselves over to the devil.

Matthew gives us the end of the story then goes back and explains what happened.

Mark has a longer history of John the Baptist and Herod. I wrote about his account in 2012 and provided a lot of historical information from John MacArthur as to why John the Baptist warned Herod about his lust and unlawful marriage with Herodias. You can read more here and here. I also wrote about the various Herods yesterday; you might find the post useful.

Now on to Matthew’s account. The first two verses tell us that Herod is convinced Jesus is a resurrected John the Baptist. He knew John was imbued with holiness, hence Herod believed he was now risen and working heavenly miracles. Herod did not know much of Jesus at this time.

We then read (verses 3, 4) why Herod imprisoned John the Baptist, who might have been held in close proximity to Herod’s home. Matthew Henry gives us a succinct explanation (emphases mine):

The particular sin he reproved him for was, marrying his brother Philip’s wife, not his widow (that had not been so criminal), but his wife. Philip was now living, and Herod inveigled his wife from him, and kept her for his own. Here was a complication of wickedness, adultery, incest, besides the wrong done to Philip, who had had a child by this woman and it was an aggravation of the wrong, that he was his brother, his half-brother, by the father, but not by the mother. See Psalm 50:20. For this sin John reproved him not by tacit and oblique allusions, but in plain terms, It is not lawful for thee to have her. He charges it upon him as a sin not, It is not honourable, or, It is not safe, but, It is not lawful the sinfulness of sin, as it is the transgression of the law, is the worst thing in it.

John the Baptist had so aggravated Herod’s conscience that he wanted to put him to death. The only thing that stopped him from doing so was the fury of the people who deeply loved and respected John the Baptist.

When Herod’s birthday celebrations took place (verses 6, 7), they were decadent. By the time Salome — unnamed in the New Testament — came in to dance, the assembled guests had enjoyed sumptuous feeding and watering. In keeping with Roman traditions, the event required a memorable party piece involving death.

John MacArthur gives us two examples:

Herodias had an ancestor by the name of Alexander Junius, and historians tell us that one time, Alexander Junius was holding a big feast, and brought in 800 rebels to make a display. He crucified all 800 of them in front of all the revelers at the feast, and then, while they were hanging on the crosses, still alive, he murdered their wives and children in front of them. It was a debauched world …

When the head of Cicero was brought to Fulvia, the wife of Antony, she spat on it, pulled its tongue out, and drove her hair pin through it. Jerome says that is what Herodias did with the head of John; we can’t verify that, but we know that Herod’s family seemed to want to mimic all of the worst atrocities of the Roman nobility. It must have been a point of derision and mocking – that dear, godly, faithful man, his head severed from his body. That is the extent of rejection that comes under the pressure of the fear of man. He was afraid to lose his throne, afraid of John, afraid of his wife, afraid of the people around him. Under the intimidation of that, he damned his soul to Hell forever.

Hell. Matthew had just mentioned Jesus’s description of it in Chapter 13, in a verse also excluded from the three-year Lectionary:

50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Anyone who doubts the existence of hell or eternal punishment is allowed to debate the issue here, however, please do give a reason why, other than, for example — speaking generally — that ‘God in His mercy will save everyone’ or ‘I never believed it’. Examples of reasons would include an underlying difficulty with authority, doubting the creeds, relying on favourite authors or revisionist professors rather than Scripture, etc.

As we saw last week, Scripture — and Jesus, in particular — warned us many times about transgressing the Father. And we transgress the Father when we transgress His Son Jesus.

Jesus’s death on the cross is satisfactory for the sins of the world but is efficacious only for those who believe in Him:

It is Satan’s studied purpose to keep souls from believing in Christ as their only hope; for the blood of Christ that cleanseth from all sin is efficacious in behalf of those only who believe in its merit.

If we were all saved, why would Jesus — and, later, the Apostles — have continually warned us in the New Testament to turn away from sin? Surely, if we were all going to heaven, it would not matter. We could do whatever we pleased, as Herod and his family did, and still be saved.

In fact, why would we need any laws at all if we were all going to share a glorious afterlife? We could all be murderous, thieving anarchists engaging in fornication and adultery.

To those who support Universalism, I recommend a solid study of the New Testament, because:

When the Godhead is denied, there is no salvation.  When the dual nature of Christ is denied, there is no salvation.  When salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is denied, there is no salvation.  When the Word of Truth is denied, there is no salvation.  When Jesus’ second coming bodily to rule and judge the earth is denied, there is no salvation.

We are not saved on the basis of simply saying we believe Jesus existed, was a great guy, was a prophet, was a wonderful teacher … but on the basis of our continued belief that Jesus Christ is Lord and that He will ultimately save us and give us eternal life.

I suspect that those who deny hell are worried not about themselves as much as a close family member or a cherished friend, past or present.

Pray that living unbelievers are given the divine grace necessary to enable an everlasting faith. Scripture tells us that we can know God only via a firm belief in His Son Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

Returning to today’s reading, Herodias had a word with Salome, who then asked for John the Baptist’s head on a platter (verse 8). Henry surmises that Herodias might have worried Herod could find a younger or more beautiful partner:

Perhaps Herodias feared lest Herod should grow weary of her (as lust useth to nauseate and be cloyed), and then would make John Baptist’s reproof a pretence to dismiss her to prevent which she contrives to harden Herod in it by engaging him in the murder of John.

Herod immediately regretted his rash and extravagant promise to Herodias’s daughter (verse 9). Henry explains the dangers of making oaths and throwing wild parties:

Promissory oaths are ensnaring things, and, when made rashly, are the products of inward corruption, and the occasion of many temptations.

Note, Times of carnal mirth and jollity are convenient times for carrying on bad designs against God’s people. When the king was made sick with bottles of wine, he stretched out his hand with scorners (Hosea 7:5), for it is part of the sport of a fool to do mischief, Proverbs 10:23. The Philistines, when their heart was merry, called for Samson to abuse him. The Parisian massacre was at a wedding. This young lady’s dancing pleased Herod. We are not told who danced with her, but none pleased Herod like her dancing. Note, A vain and graceless heart is apt to be greatly in love with the lusts of the flesh and of the eye, and when it is so, it is entering into further temptation for by that Satan gets and keeps possession. See Proverbs 23:31-33. Herod was now in a mirthful mood, and nothing was more agreeable to him than that which fed his vanity.

Herod did as his step-daughter asked and, as proof, the prophet’s head was duly brought in (verses 10, 11). Salome presented John the Baptist’s head to her mother.

Afterwards, John the Baptist’s friends buried his body, then relayed the tragic news to Jesus (verse 12).

MacArthur makes this observation:

It may speak something of the thoughtfulness of Herod in his sobriety as he would permit that.

Then, Jesus went away to be alone (Matthew 14:13). John the Baptist was His cousin. They were conceived around the same time.

The Gospels tell us that Herod wanted to meet Jesus. However, He never did. MacArthur tells us:

Once, He sent a message to him. In Luke 13:32-33, He sent a message to Herod and said, “You fox. You want to see Me? You will not be able to kill Me like you did John the Baptist until My work is done.” He called him a fox, and He never saw him, and moved, with quiet dignity, beyond the grasp of Herod. He left Herod to his guilt, his unresolved fear, his vile, wretched sin, and to the woman who was his doom, until one fateful day.

The only time Jesus saw Herod was at His trial, prior to the Crucifixion:

Look at Luke 23:6. This is the only time He ever went into the presence of Herod. This is the trial of Jesus. “When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked if the Man were a Galilean. And as soon as he knew that He belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.” Pilate didn’t know what to do with Jesus, who was on trial, or mock trial. So he knows that He is from Galilee, and he says that He belongs in Herod’s jurisdiction, so he ships Jesus to Herod. Verse 8. “Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him.” Here was this strange fascination again, and now, finally, the two meet.

“Then he questioned Him with many words,” and we don’t know what he asked, but what an opportunity! The Lord can give him all the answers right now. Herod desires, longs to see Jesus, and has for a long time. The Lord could do some miracles, give him all the answers he wants, and it says, “But He answered him nothing.” Jesus never said one word. “And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused Him. Then Herod, with his men of war, treated Him with contempt and mocked Him, arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him back to Pilate. That very day Pilate and Herod became friends with each other, for previously they had been at enmity with each other.”

The used to hate each other, but here, they became friends. You know how? Common mockery of the Son of God; they are two very tragic men. Listen, Herod rejected Christ, and Christ rejected Herod. It was hard, stony ground; for fear of a woman, for fear of a reputation, for fear of his peers, and for fear of his throne, he damned his soul forever. John the Baptist lost his head but lives forever in the presence of God.

In conclusion:

Christ wants to reveal Himself to you, but if you are proudly holding onto your reputation, for fear of what others may think, for fear of the attitude and actions of those who may reject you, for fear of the loss of face or reputation, for intimidation by evil people, you have forfeited Christ and damn your soul. The day will come when you ask the questions and get no answers.

Next time: Matthew 14:34-36

Tomorrow’s Forbidden Bible Verses entry will be about Herod and the death of John the Baptist as related in Matthew 14.

I have written about Herod before when discussing Mark’s account of this event (here and here). Those provide full explanations about his family relationships — especially his ‘marriage’ — which John the Baptist warned him about.

It should be noted that more than one Herod is mentioned in the New Testament. John MacArthur’s sermon on the first reading in Matthew 14 has helpful explanations, excerpted below.

When Jesus was born, Herod the Great was ruling at the time:

we’ll see that there was a king then by the name of Herod. That was … Herod the Great. He was an Idumean, a descendant of Esau, and it was quite interesting that a descendant of Esau should rule over the sons of Jacob. He was an Arab, if you will. Herod the Great, to compound matters, was also married to a Samaritan, so you can imagine how a non-Jew, son of Esau, married to a Samaritan would be unpopular in the hearts of Jews. Yet he was their king, appointed by Rome, over the whole area. It was he who was so fearful when he heard the word that a King had been born, and as a result, slaughtered, in a massacre, all of the babies, in order that he might eliminate anyone who would pose a threat to his throne.

By the time we get to Matthew 14, Herod the Great had died long before, when Jesus was a baby. His legacy involved dividing the area he had ruled into territories for his sons:

When Herod the Great died, his dominion, which was all of Palestine (to the north, east, and even south), was divided among three of his many sons. It is hard to keep track of his sons, because he had them by different women, so some of them were half-brothers. Some of them even had the same name, as we shall see; they had different mothers, but the same father.

He had three sons: Archelaus, Philip, and Herod Antipas. Archelaus was assigned the area of Judea and Samaria, over which he ruled. Philip was given Ituraea and Trachonitis, which was the northernmost part of the land of Palestine. So Archelaus was in the south, Philip was in the north, and Herod got the middle, which was Galilee, and to the east of Galilee, the area known as Parea.

The Herod of Matthew 14, then, is Herod Antipas, who had been ruling for 32 years:

“Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus.” Now we meet this main character, the one who is the rejector in the passage, the one who is the stony ground.

He is called the tetrarch. Technically, that term is a mathematical word, it means ‘a ruler of a fourth part.’ Tetra has to do with a fourth of something. But it came to be a term used of any subordinate ruler in a section of a country, and there were many subordinate rulers in Israel at that time. He was one of them.

In verse 9, he is called ‘king,’ and it says, “The king was sorry.” That is a very generous use of the term; he was not a king. In fact, he sought to be a king. On one occasion, he went to Rome to ask Caligula to make him a king, primarily because his wife wanted to be called ‘queen,’ and that wish was not granted to him. So he wasn’t really a king, but a petty potentate, and it is a very generous use of the term ‘king,’ which was frequently used for people of lesser stature than we would imagine a king to have.

The New Testament has two other Herods from the same family:

There are two other Herods who appear later in the New Testament, and you need to understand that they come in the same line. The next Herod we meet is named Herod Agrippa, and if you want to know about that Herod, read Acts 12; he declared a ‘Herod Day,’ celebrated his power, and didn’t give God the glory, so God smote him and he was eaten by worms, and died. There is, following him, a second Herod Agrippa, or Herod Agrippa II, and we find him in Acts 26. Paul preached to him. So basically we have these four: Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, Herod Agrippa I, and Herod Agrippa II.

As for Herod Antipas, Herodias and Salome, Matthew Henry tells us what happened to him according to the Jewish historian Josephus:

Josephus mentions this story of the death of John the Baptist (Antiq. 18. 116-119), and adds, that a fatal destruction of Herod’s army in his war with Aretas, king of Petrea (whose daughter was Herod’s wife, whom he put away to make room for Herodias), was generally considered by the Jews to be a just judgment upon him, for putting John the Baptist to death. Herod having, at the instigation of Herodias, disobliged the emperor, was deprived of his government, and they were both banished to Lyons in France which, says Josephus, was his just punishment for hearkening to her solicitations. And, lastly, it is storied of this daughter of Herodias, that going over the ice in winter, the ice broke, and she slipt in up to her neck, which was cut through by the sharpness of the ice. God requiring her head (says Dr. Whitby) for that of the Baptist which, if true, was a remarkable providence.

Indeed. Divine judgement had certainly been passed in this world — and no doubt the next.

 

John F MacArthurYesterday’s post started with Matthew 13:50, in which our Lord spoke of the ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ that takes place in hell.

In 1982, John MacArthur delivered a sermon on Matthew 13:47-52:

The Parable of the Net

47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

New and Old Treasures

51 “Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

MacArthur’s sermon is called ‘The Furnace of Fire’. In it, he explains the nature of hell.

As I said yesterday, our modern notion of hell has been watered down greatly since the 19th century. Most Christians believe it will be a place of mental torment where the damned long for God forever.

But could there be other sensory elements to hell, ones which mankind would prefer to overlook or to explain away because they are too horrifying to contemplate? MacArthur thinks so.

He says that Jesus talked about how horrible hell would be. The Gospels have many references about eternal condemnation. These can be found in Matthew 5, Matthew 8, Matthew 23 through 25, Mark 9, Luke 6, Luke 12 and Luke 16.

Jesus said more about fire than mental torment, although permanent insanity could well be the end result of going to hell. Yet, many theologians and clergy choose to gloss over this fact. It would be better if they were to  say that hell is like Dante’s Inferno and advise us to read it. However, they would probably say that Jesus was using allegory in talking about hellfire. I doubt many believe in hell as Jesus described it.

Degrees of torment

Like Dante, MacArthur believes there will be degrees of punishment in hell (emphases mine):

You have in hell a place of relieved torment of body and soul in varying degrees …  In other words, for some people, hell will be worse than others.  For all who are there, it will be horrible.  It will be ultimate suffering. 

There will be no relief for that, but there will be even more severe degrees of suffering for some.  It says in Hebrews 10, “Of how much more severe punishment shall they be thought worthy who have trodden underfoot the Son of God and counted the blood of the covenant an unholy thing.”  People who have stepped on Jesus Christ, who have rejected his cross, will know a greater hell than those who have not. 

There will be degrees, just as there will be degrees of reward in heaven.  We saw that, also, I think, in Matthew chapter 11, when it said, “It will be more tolerable for Sodom than for you.”  In other words, it’s only relative.  It isn’t going to be tolerable for anyone, but it will appear to be more tolerable for them than for you because of what you have experienced. 

You had Jesus Christ in your city, they didn’t.  You rejected Him with more light; therefore, hell will be more severe for you.  And then you have, of course, that incredible parable in Luke 12 where the Lord says, “To the servant who knew and didn’t do right, many stripes.  To the servant who didn’t know and didn’t do right, a few stripes.”  So hell will be unrelieved torment of body in soul in varying degrees.  And John Gerstner says, “Hell will have such severe degrees that a sinner, were he able, would give the whole world if his sins could be one less.”

Darkness

MacArthur reminds us that the Bible speaks of darkness when referring to hell:

the Bible defines it as darkness, outer darkness.  That is deep-pit darkness, darkness that’s way out from the light, impenetrable darkness, darkness that closes in.  And it is darkness without the hope of light forever.  Have you ever been in the darkness and longed for the daylight? 

Have you ever been in the darkness and longed for someone to turn a light on?  To be in that encroaching, encompassing, moving kind of darkness and know that for all the eons of eternity, you will never see light is how our Lord describes hell.  Unrelieved darkness forever, with no hope of the light, no hope of the dawn. 

Fire

Yes, there is fire:

And the Bible also says it is a fire.  Now, it is not a fire that we would know as fire, to burn something in this world.  But fire is God’s way of describing it because it is a tortuous, unrelieved kind of fire, more terrible than any fire that we would ever know.  But fire describes the torment of the damned; blackness describes the torment of the damned, no light, no light ever, ever.  No relief from the suffering, the agony and the pain, forever.  And there’s only two times in all of Scripture that we have any insight into how people respond to hell. 

Torment of the body

MacArthur mentions Jesus’s cautionary story about the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Dives did nothing to help poor, sickly Lazarus who ate the scraps from his table. When Lazarus died, he went to heaven. When Dives died, he went to hell. There Dives suffered from everlasting thirst:

24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 

Abraham refused. The rich man then asked him to send someone who had died to his brothers, so they might be warned of the torment to come. Abraham replied that the rich man’s brothers had Moses and the prophets to warn them. Ultimately:

31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

Torment of the soul

MacArthur says:

it is a place of unrelieved torment for both body and soul, for both body and soul.  Soul being the inner part. 

The new body built for hell

MacArthur explains that the human body as God created for life on earth would not be able to resist hellfire.

So, when the Last Judgement takes place, just as those going to heaven will have a new glorified body, those going to hell will have a new body fit for eternal damnation:

When a person dies now, their soul descends into that torment.  In the future, there will be a resurrection of the bodies of the damned.  They will be given a transcendent body that will then go into a lake of fire.  It will be a body not like the body we have now.  It will be a very different one.  They will be resurrected just like we will, as Christians. 

We will be resurrected because this body could never live eternally in heaven, right?  We have to have a transcendent body, a glorified body, a different body, and so do the damned.  And they will be raised, John 5, they will be raised in new bodies for the single purpose of being punished forever in those bodies. 

That’s what the Bible says, tormented forever.  They have to have a body to fit that eternal torment.  And that’s why Jesus in Matthew 10:28 said, “Fear not them that can destroy the body, but fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”  You see, hell is soul and body. 

Some people think it’s just bad memories.  No, it isn’t just bad memories.  It isn’t just the inner thinking processes; it is that body as well.  Transcendent, eternal bodies, greater than anything we have on this earth, are going to be given to the damned so that they can suffer in those bodies forever.  And that’s the only reason that they’ll have those bodies

With the present body, man couldn’t endure hell … the body that we have now would be consumed in a moment.  So as God fits the redeemed with new bodies for heaven, He fits the damned with new bodies for hell.

The worm and fire forever

We know that the ‘worm dieth not’ and that the fire never goes out. This describes the Jewish Gehenna. Was Jesus addressing His people allegorically or literally?

MacArthur explains:

Now what did He mean by that?  When a body goes into the grave, into decay, worms descend into that body.  And they begin to consume that body, and the worms will die when the food is gone.  So once the body is consumed, the worms die.  But in hell, the worms never die because the body, though it is continually being consumed, is never consumed.  So the worm never dies. 

In other words, the Lord was saying the unrelieved torment of body goes on and on.

And:

it says, also, the fire is not quenched.  Now a fire always goes out when the fuel is gone.  But the fuel will never be gone.  Though the burning goes on, the fuel is never consumed.  And so you have unrelieved torment of body and soul.

Conclusion

Do enough of us think about hell or is it something we can explain away?

Is it more than the great existentialist void many of us have been taught to believe?

For all the time we spend rationalising hell, maybe it is time we gave Jesus’s warnings more thought. We — inherently sinful men and women — are telling each other that hell is a state of mind. Our Lord described it differently.

If contemplating the hell He described is a horrifying thought, He meant us to clearly understand it’s not a place we want to spend eternity. Repent, pray for faith and for continual grace.

Bible kevinroosecomThe 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 (here and here).

Matthew 13:50-53

50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

New and Old Treasures

51 “Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

Jesus Rejected at Nazareth

53 And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there,

—————————————————————————————-

Verse 50 concludes Jesus’s Parable of the Net (Matthew 13:47-49):

47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous

That parable is read in the 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time when Year A readings are used in the three-year Lectionary.

It is a pity that the compilers — Catholic and Protestant theologians — decided to omit verse 50.

Since the 19th century, the Christian idea of hell has been watered down to such a degree that many people joke, ‘So what? At least I can get a gin and tonic down there’.

However, as John MacArthur says, hell is no laughing matter (emphases mine):

Verse 50, “And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”  Now that is a fearful verse.  And I confess to you that it affects me just as it affects anybody.  It is a horrifying, fearful verse

And if there’s any doctrine in the Bible that you wish were not there it is the doctrine of hell, but that does not eliminate it.  It is there.  And this is the heart of the matter.  Cast into the furnace of fire.  Those are terrifying words from our Lord.  And yet He spoke more of hell than anybody else. 

And I think there’s a reason.  Do you know what I think?  I think that if Jesus hadn’t taught us about hell, we wouldn’t believe whoever did.  It had to be Him.  It is so inconceivable, it so causes us to be revulsed.  We cannot conceive of eternal damnation.  And it had to be our Lord who said this or we never would have been able to accept it.  It was His own special emphasis.  And He was a preacher of hell.  More than anything else, He threatened men with hell.  And if you don’t think He did then you haven’t been carefully noting His ministry.

MacArthur went on to detail the previous references in Matthew’s Gospel. MacArthur was using the KJV at this time in his ministry.

Matthew 5:22:

Whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

Matthew 5:29-30:

If your right eye offend you, pluck it out and cast it from you for it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not your whole body should be cast into hell. If your right hand offend you, cut it off, throw it away, for it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish and not that your whole body should be cast into hell.

Matthew 8:12:

The sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Other verses which cite our Lord directly concern condemnation or damnation. And, as Bible readers know, it is not only in Matthew, including chapters 23 through 25, that we find such warnings but also:

Mark chapter 9, Luke chapter 6, Luke chapter 12, Luke chapter 16.  It just goes on and on.

If our Lord warned us so many times, why would we not believe Him?

Because theologians, even in the 16th century but more nowadays, have told us that this hell is a psychological one that causes us to long for God. I can understand why atheists respond with ‘So what? I don’t believe anyway.’

I’m going to go into MacArthur’s definition of hell — from the same sermon — in tomorrow’s post, but suffice it to say that it includes ‘impenetrable darkness’, ‘unrelieved fire’, physical pain and torment of the soul relative to the degree of sin committed in this life.

He says:

When a person dies, their soul goes out of the presence of God, into the torment of hell.  It may not be the full final lake of fire that comes after the judgment in the great white throne, for that needs a transcendent body to endure it

But it is a torment just as well as illustrated by the rich man who in hell was tormented.  When a person dies now, their soul descends into that torment.  In the future, there will be a resurrection of the bodies of the damned.  They will be given a transcendent body that will then go into a lake of fire.  It will be a body not like the body we have now.  It will be a very different one.  They will be resurrected just like we will, as Christians

We will be resurrected because this body could never live eternally in heaven, right?  We have to have a transcendent body, a glorified body, a different body, and so do the damned.  And they will be raised, John 5, they will be raised in new bodies for the single purpose of being punished forever in those bodies

That’s what the Bible says, tormented forever.  They have to have a body to fit that eternal torment.  And that’s why Jesus in Matthew 10:28 said, “Fear not them that can destroy the body, but fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”  You see, hell is soul and body …

With the present body, man couldn’t endure hell … the body that we have now would be consumed in a moment.  So as God fits the redeemed with new bodies for heaven, He fits the damned with new bodies for hell … 

Since childhood, I have always been struck by the words ‘wailing and gnashing of teeth’, which seem to imply more than torment of the soul.

Above, MacArthur referred to our Lord’s story of Dives (‘rich man’) and Lazarus, which is a reading in the three-year Lectionary (Luke 16:19-31). Dives did nothing to help poor, sickly Lazarus who ate the scraps from his table. When Lazarus died, he went to heaven. When Dives died, he went to hell. There Dives suffered from everlasting thirst:

24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 

Abraham refused. The rich man then asked him to send someone who had died to his brothers, so they might be warned of the torment to come. Abraham replied that the rich man’s brothers had Moses and the prophets to warn them. Ultimately:

31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

And so it remains to this day. Our Lord has millions who mock Him daily around the world.

Jesus had finished relating the disciples not only the Parable of the Net, but also the Parables of the Sower, the Weeds, the Mustard Seed and the Leaven, the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Value.

He asked His disciples if they understood them (verse 51). They replied, ‘Yes’. Matthew Henry says that Jesus asked because:

he was ready to explain what they did not understand. Note, It is the will of Christ, that all those who read and hear the word should understand it for otherwise how should they get good by it? It is therefore good for us, when we have read or heard the word, to examine ourselves, or to be examined, whether we have understood it or not. It is no disparagement to the disciples of Christ to be catechised. Christ invites us to seek to him for instruction, and ministers should proffer their service to those who have any good question to ask concerning what they have heard.

We can be sure that the disciples did understand the parables because when they did not, as with those of the Sower and also the Weeds, they asked for an explanation.

Jesus then paid them a compliment (verse 52) by comparing them to scribes trained for the kingdom of heaven and masters of a house. Henry explains:

They were now learning that they might teach, and the teachers among the Jews were the scribes. Ezra, who prepared his heart to teach in Israel, is called a ready scribe, Ezra 7:6,10. Now a skilful, faithful minister of the gospel is a scribe too but for distinction, he is called a scribe instructed unto the kingdom of heaven, well versed in the things of the gospel, and well able to teach those things

He compares them to a good householder, who brings forth out of his treasure things new and old fruits of last year’s growth and this year’s gathering, abundance and variety, for the entertainment of his friends, Song of Song of Solomon 7:13. See here, [1.] What should be a minister’s furniture, a treasure of things new and old. Those who have so many and various occasions, have need to stock themselves well in their gathering days with truths new and old, out of the Old Testament and out of the new with ancient and modern improvements, that the man of God may be thoroughly furnished, 2 Timothy 3:16,17. Old experiences, and new observations, all have their use and we must not content ourselves with old discoveries, but must be adding new. Live and learn.

Verse 53 refers to our Lord’s departure from Capernaum to his hometown of Nazareth. Luke 4:16-30 tells us what happened there, and I wrote about it, albeit briefly as it is in the Lectionary, in 2013.

In short, the people of Nazareth thought Jesus was an upstart, got angry with Him and tried to throw Him off a cliff:

30 But passing through their midst, he went away.

Given that, it seems strange that Mary and His step-brothers wanted to bring Him back to Nazareth.

MacArthur tells us that Jesus was leaving Capernaum for good, as the residents did not accept Him, even though He had been teaching and healing the people there for a year.

Remember His dire warning to them in Matthew 11:20-24, which some of you might remember from my entry of October 2015.

MacArthur explains:

back in Matthew 11:23, Jesus said, “And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.”

In other words, Jesus had pronounced a curse on Capernaum, and when it says that very simple little statement at the end of verse 53, “He departed from there,” Capernaum’s history ended and God’s damning judgment began. It was the beginning of the end. He never went back, except in passing, and never reestablished a base there. Capernaum had its opportunity. He had come into that city, demonstrated power that could only be interpreted as from God, and now it was over. It marked a crisis in the town’s history from which it never recovered. If you go today to Capernaum, no one lives there; it is utter ruin. It is one of the most beautiful places on the earth, but no one is there. It has felt the hot breath of the curse of Jesus Christ for its unbelief.

At this point, He made a second visit to Nazareth. This took place one year after the synagogue congregation tried to kill Him:

He went right back into the teeth of the storm, right back into the synagogue, and taught them.

Matthew 13:57-58 relates that this return visit went no better than the first:

57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” 58 And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.

It is amazing that between these two towns the most perfect teaching and healing the residents could ever experience escaped them. Who could have done that except the Messiah?

MacArthur explains:

Nazareth’s problem was that they loved their sin, and didn’t want Christ at all. That is why, when they came to Jesus, they said, “We want a sign,” and He said, “I will give no sign to this evil, adulterous generation. Your problem isn’t that you need proof, but that you love sin.” That is the issue. Unbelief blurs the obvious.

And so it remains and will remain until the end of time as we understand it.

In closing, two brief observations.

First, it is appalling to think how little our clergy explain the unbelief and rejection in both Nazareth and Capernaum. Until I started carefully reading the Bible, using Matthew Henry and John MacArthur as guides, I had no idea. If you have known this since childhood, say a prayer of thanks for the blessing of faithful teachers at home and in church.

Secondly, the compilers of the three-year Lectionary have done us all a disservice. The omission of one of Jesus’s dire warnings about hell (Matthew 13:50) is deplorable. We need to know this. We should not have to go digging around at home to find the missing verse. I say that because Catholics have their Missalettes which have the readings in the booklet. They generally do not have Bibles in their pews. A number of them have probably never read verse 50 — and many others which are omitted: Forbidden, yet Essential, Bible Verses. Don’t our clergy want us to know the truth?

Next time: Matthew 14:1-12

 

Bible GenevaThe 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.

Matthew 13:10-17

The Purpose of the Parables

10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
    and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
15 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
    and with their ears they can barely hear,
    and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
    and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
    and turn, and I would heal them.’

16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

——————————————————————————————————-

Matthew 13 opens with the Parable of the Sower.

Afterwards, the disciples asked our Lord why He chose to speak in parables (verse 10). He replied that the parables are for them because they have the capability of understanding holy mysteries. The people do not (verse 11).

In fact, Jesus speaks of a judgement on the people in this regard. They are present. They see Him. They witness His miracles. They hear his teaching. Yet, their unbelief prevents them from understanding. He speaks of the gift of comprehension via divine grace in verse 12: to those who have it, God will bestow even more, however, to those who do not have it, even what faculties one has to understand will be taken away. Therefore, the people can hear and see but not comprehend (verse 13).

John MacArthur explains that:

willful rejection becomes judicial rejection.  Man says no, so God says no as well.  God confirms men in their own stubbornness; God binds them by their own chain.  And for them the parables become interesting stories and they really don’t know what the point is.  Just riddles …

And the fact that we who love Jesus Christ understand the Bible is not a statement about our intellect; it is a statement about God’s gracious illumination of our hearts and minds.  This is judgment.  Look at it this way.  When Jesus first came, His words were very clear.  He said He was the King.  He proved He was the King.  He preached the Kingdom message.  He said, “Here’s how it is in My kingdom.”  He said, “Repent, the kingdom is at hand.”  He gave them all they needed to know about the kingdom.  They didn’t hear.  They refused Him. 

Some will say that is harsh. However, MacArthur goes on to say that Jesus made everything crystal clear up to that point so that people would recognise Him as the Messiah:

So, when they wouldn’t listen to the clear words that He spoke.  And you remember back in Matthew 5 to 7, He would say, “The kingdom of heaven is like – ” and then He would use that analogy, salt or light or birds or lilies of the field and He would always explain its meaning?  Therefore He said, “Seek ye first the kingdom and all these things will be added.  It was always very clear what He meant.  And then when they hardened their hearts and blasphemed Him and said He was from Satan, then He talked to them in riddles that He did not explain.

Our Lord extends the meaning of Isaiah 6:9-10 from the prophet’s day to His own (verses 14, 15).

MacArthur gives us Isaiah’s context:

Isaiah wrote that at a time of profound judgment on Israel.  He had just pronounced a series of curses on them.  He cursed them for all of their drunkenness, debauchery, their immorality, He cursed them for their bribery, He cursed them for their oppression of the poor.  He cursed them for their hypocritical religion.  And then, of course, at the height of all of that cursings, the King Uzziah died, and the country plunged into the darkest days in a long time. 

They were on the edge of imminent conquering, and the Babylonian captivity came as that judgment.  And Isaiah says to them, “Now God’s going to judge you; you wouldn’t hear and you wouldn’t see and now you can’t hear and you can’t see.  You wouldn’t be converted and you wouldn’t be healed, and now you can’t be healed or converted.” 

And it wasn’t long after that, Jeremiah echoed the message of Isaiah, and the great hordes came and swept away the people into Babylonian captivity.  That was the first fulfillment of Isaiah’s words.  And Jesus says, “Here’s the second.”  So parables…listen carefully…are a judgment on unbelief.  The fact that the natural man understandeth not the things of God is not only a statement about his ignorance.  It is a statement about God’s judgment on that individual. 

Matthew Henry warns us about God’s judgement of the greatest of sins (emphases mine):

A description of that judicial blindness, which is the just punishment of this. “By hearing, ye shall hear, and shall not understand what means of grace you have, shall be to no purpose to you though, in mercy to others, they are continued, yet in judgment to you, the blessing upon them is denied.” The saddest condition a man can be in on this side hell, is to sit under the most lively ordinances with a dead, stupid, untouched heart. To hear God’s word, and see his providences, and yet not to understand and perceive his will, either in the one or in the other, is the greatest sin and the greatest judgment that can be. Observe, It is God’s work to give an understanding heart, and he often, in a way of righteous judgment, denies it to those to whom he has given the hearing ear, and the seeing eye, in vain. Thus does God choose sinners’ delusions (Isaiah 66:4), and bind them over to the greatest ruin, by giving them up to their own hearts’ lusts (Psalm 81:11,12) let them alone (Hosea 4:17) my Spirit shall not always strive, Genesis 6:3.

Henry explains how divine grace operates in conversion:

Note, 1. That seeing, hearing, and understanding, are necessary to conversion[,] for God, in working grace, deals with men as men, as rational agents he draws with the cords of a man, changes the heart by opening the eyes, and turns from the power of Satan unto God, by turning first from darkness to light, (Acts 26:18). 2. All those who are truly converted to God, shall certainly be healed by him. “If they be converted I shall heal them, I shall save them:” so that if sinners perish, it is not to be imputed to God, but to themselves they foolishly expected to be healed, without being converted. 3. It is just with God to deny his grace to those who have long and often refused the proposals of it, and resisted the power of it. Pharaoh, for a good while, hardened his own heart (Exodus 8:15,32), and afterwards God hardened it, Matthew 9:12,10:20. Let us therefore fear, lest by sinning against the divine grace, we sin it away.

When we consider how many of God’s people had the commonly-shared hope that He would provide them with the Messiah, the Redeemer. Not all understood this the same way — the prophets communicated it best — but the universal anticipation among these people, beginning with Abraham, was of divine redemption and union with God.

How they would have loved being in Galilee or Jerusalem during Jesus’s ministry.

This is why MacArthur tells us to cherish the divine gifts we have to understand the divine Truth:

Today we have the Word.  You say, “Jesus isn’t here to explain.”  No, but He said, “When I go away I’ll send another explainer, the Holy Spirit.  And He’ll lead you into all truth.” 

Do you realize what a privilege we have?  Do you realize that we not only have this book, but we have its author living in us to explain it to us?  To interpret it to us?  To apply it to us?  How they of old hungered for that. 

Also:

The other side of that is this second truth.  Rejection of Jesus Christ means the decreasing darkness of unbelief.  You don’t stay in the same spot.  It gets deeper and deeper and deeper

But it need not be so, for God calls you to Christ even this hour while you can still hear, and promises that if you receive the light of the Lord Jesus Christ, there shall be an ever increasing light, an ever increasing illumination of spiritual truth until, finally, someday you shall know as you are known in the eternal presence of the living Lord

In closing, John’s Gospel cites the same verses from Isaiah. I wrote about John 12:39-41 in 2011. That exposition also has more explanations to understand and consider, particularly since Jesus prefaced His citation of Isaiah with this warning (John 12:35-36):

35 So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

The people of His time ignored and mocked Him.

May we never find ourselves in the same scenario.

Next time: Matthew 13:50-53

© Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist, 2009-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? If you wish to borrow, 1) please use the link from the post, 2) give credit to Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist, 3) copy only selected paragraphs from the post -- not all of it.
PLAGIARISERS will be named and shamed.
First case: June 2-3, 2011 -- resolved

Creative Commons License
Churchmouse Campanologist by Churchmouse is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://churchmousec.wordpress.com/.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 722 other followers

Archive

Calendar of posts

February 2016
S M T W T F S
« Jan    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
2829  
Bloglisting.net - The internets fastest growing blog directory
Powered by WebRing.
This site is a member of WebRing.
To browse visit Here.

Blog Stats

  • 882,277 hits
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 722 other followers