What is new about the New Testament Part 4

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By Rob Lampard

Recap

This blog concludes my series entitled What’s ‘new’ about the New Testament?  In part 1 we considered why this is an important question for us and looked briefly at how the New Testament itself answers our question.  In part 2 we took a more detailed look at the following topics: the new authority with which Jesus taught, the new covenant, and the new life which his ministry to people results in.  And in part 3 we considered the answers which the book of Hebrews supplies.  In this part we’re going to consider the answers which the book of Revelation supplies.

What’s New in Revelation?

First, Jesus’s personal assurance to believers who overcome is new:

 

“To him who overcomes … I will give a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.” (2:17; cf 3:12)

 

Second, there are two songs specifically declared to be new (5:9 and 14:3).  This is an idea first introduced by the Psalmist:

 

Sing to him a new song; play skilfully, and shout for joy.  (Psalm 33:3; cf 40:3, 96:1, 98:1, 144:9, 149:1)

 

It is picked up later by Isaiah:

 

Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, you islands, and all who live in them. (42:10)

 

And finally, it resurfaces again here in Revelation.  Chapter 5 begins with John seeing a scroll in the right hand of God.  It seems important that the scroll be opened and its message read, for eager search is made for someone who is worthy to open and read it.  When no one is found, it causes John to weep uncontrollably.  But then one who is there present consoles John:

“Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David,[1] has triumphed.  He is able to open the scroll.” (5:5)

 

Jesus comes and takes the scroll.  The effect of him doing so is like that of a huge stone being thrown into a lake: the ripples spread and spread, getting bigger and of greater intensity the further they go.  First the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fall down in reverence (v8).  Then they sing a new song (v9-10).  Next millions of angels join in (v11).  Finally, every living creature ‘in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea’ takes up the refrain, declaring their ultimate praise to ‘Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb’ (v12-13).  In contrast, the words of the second ‘new song’ of Revelation (14:3) are not recorded.  Indeed, they are only known to and learnable by ‘the 144,000 who had his (the Lamb’s) name written on their foreheads’. (14:1)

 

Third, there is ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ (21:1).  This is something foretold by the prophet Isaiah:

‘See, I will create new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.

But be glad and rejoice for ever in what I will create,

for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people;

the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.’ (65:17-19)

 

We note that this new heaven and earth will incorporate a renewed, delightful Jerusalem, marked by the absence of crying.  John sees the fulfilment of these things (Revelation 21:2 and 4).  He also hears a loud voice declare:

 

“Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will dwell with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” (21:3)

 

Here is the fulfilment of the ancient promise which, throughout history, has consistently marked the covenants God has made.[2]

 

In summary of all this, John hears the voice from the throne declare, “I am making everything new.” (21:5).  One might think that such a declaration would be a fitting one with which to end the book of Revelation and the Bible.  But that’s not what we find.  Instead, John’s vision goes on for another two chapters.  In the remainder of chapter 21, the focus turns to ‘the bride, the wife of the Lamb’ (v9).  We know from other parts of the New Testament that the bride of Christ is his church (Ephesians 5:25-27, 32).  And we know from many New Testament passages that the Lamb is Jesus Christ.[3]

 

These connection chains, wherein one title is connected to another to another, are typical of Revelation.  From one point of view this makes the book less than straight-forward to follow.  From another however, it gives its teaching a greater strength than a series of simple statements would.  The huge beams which supported the ceilings or roofs of ancient buildings are impressive.  But they are only capable of supporting up to a certain distance – may be 30 metres.  The vast roofs of modern community building, sports halls, and especially stadiums (which might span a distance of 150 metres or more) require a different support structure, a lattice.  Such a support structure, though more complex to design and construct, is actually far more elegant and effective.  This is so of Revelation’s teaching, especially it’s teaching about the person of Jesus Christ.  It’s with a consideration of this that we’re going to end.

 

The books known as ‘The Gospels’ (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) present us with a developing picture of Jesus.  Exploring this theme in any detail would require a separate document.  But briefly, Mark begins with Jesus’s baptism by John the Baptist (1:9-11), his calling of his disciples (1:14-20, 2:13-17, 3:13-19), and various healings and deliverances (1:21-45, 2:1-12, 3:7-12).  Various teachings are interspersed.  Despite all this, when, in 4:35-39 Jesus calms a storm whilst in a boat on a lake, the disciples’ reaction is to ask, “Who is this?” (4:41).  It’s not until 8:27-29 that Jesus directly asks his disciples who they think he is.  Peter replies that he is the Messiah.  But when Jesus goes on to start predicting his rejection, suffering, execution and resurrection (8:31, in line with the prophecy of Isaiah 53), Peter rebukes Jesus for entertaining such a notion (8:32).  Jesus in turn rebukes Peter (8:33).

 

It’s clear from all this that the disciples did not receive a brain-dump revelation of who Jesus was.

Instead, they experienced progressive revelation.  In line with this, Jesus deliberately employed the enigmatic title ‘Son of Man’ to designate himself by – to the bafflement of his hearers (John 12:34).  The reasons for this are several, but one of the key ones is this: no one presenting themselves as man amongst men, which Jesus obviously did, would be received credibly if, from the outset he went around explicitly declaring, “Hey folks, I’m God you know.”  (Imagine how we would react if someone did such a thing today!)

 

All this changes however in the book of Revelation when Jesus speaks to John, not as a man on earth, but as a man in heaven.  As such, he unreservedly designates himself by multiple exalted titles.  He is the First and the Last, the Living One who was dead and is alive forever more.  He holds the angels in his hands and walks among the churches.  He is the Son of God.  He is holy and true.  He is the Amen, the faithful and true witness.  He is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.[4]  He is the root and offspring of David and the bright morning star.  He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords![5]  To those who ask, “Where in the Bible does Jesus say he is God?”, the clear answer is, “In the book of Revelation!”

 

[1] We know this is Jesus because he explicitly tells us later that he is ‘the root and offspring of David’. (Rev 22:16)

[2] This idea is first expressed in Genesis 17:7 and is repeated at least 18 times in the rest of the Bible.  See the footnote in our section about the New Covenant for a fuller list of these references.

[3] John 1:29, 1Corinthians 5:7, 1Peter 1:19, Revelation 5:5-13, etc.

[4] To see that this is a direct declaration of divinity compare Isaiah 41:4, 44:6-7, 48:12-13 and Rev 1:8.

[5] Revelation 1:17, 2:1, 2:18, 3:7, 3:14, 22:13, 22:16, 19:16.

What is new about the New Testament Part 3

posted in: Bible 0

By Rob Lampard

Recap

This blog continues my series entitled What’s ‘new’ about the New Testament?  In part 1 we considered why this is an important question for us and looked briefly at how the New Testament itself answers our question.  And in part 2 we took a more detailed look at the following topics: the new authority with which Jesus taught, the new covenant, and the new life which his ministry to people results in.  In this part we’re going to consider the answers which the book of Hebrews supplies.

What’s New in Hebrews?

Any commentary on or human exposition of Scripture is bound to fall short of and miss important strands in the writer’s thesis.  Such commentaries can nevertheless help us see ‘the wood for the trees’.   The following outline of Hebrews 1:1-10:18 has been drawn primarily from Arthur W. Pink’s substantial commentary[1] and the section headings in the NIV Bible.

 

  1. Christ superior to the prophets (1:1-3)
  2. Christ superior to the angels (1:4-2:18)
  3. Christ superior to Moses (3)
  4. Christ superior to Joshua (4)
  5. Christ superior to Aaron (5:1-10)
  6. (Warnings against falling away: 5:11-6:12)
  7. (The certainty of God’s promise: 6:13-20)
  8. Jesus, the high priest like Melchizedek, superior to the Levites (7)
  9. The superior covenant (8)
  10. The superior tabernacle (9:1-11)
  11. The superior sacrifice (9:11-10:18)

 

The reader will note the repeated use of the word ‘superior’ in this analysis.  This highlights the major part Hebrews plays in the subject we are considering.

 

First, Hebrews asserts that Jesus, being the Son of God and Messiah (as spoken about in Psalm 2, 2Samuel 7:14, Psalm 45, Psalm 104 and Psalm 110), is necessarily superior to the prophets and the angels.  The prophets simply spoke God’s word and served his purposes in their generation (eg David – see Acts 13:36-37).  The angels are simply ‘ministering spirits, sent to serve those who will inherit salvation’ (Hebrews 1:14).  Jesus was likewise sent (mentioned 33 times in John’s Gospel).  Hence his designation as an apostle (Hebrews 3:1).  But unlike the angels he first took on human form to carry out his ministry (Hebrews 2:14, 17); unlike the prophets, ‘after he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven’ (1:3).

 

Second, Jesus is shown to be greater than Moses.  Both faithfully carried out the task they were appointed to (3:2).  But Moses was faithful as a servant (3:5); Christ is faithful as a son (3:6).  Moses was part of God’s house (3:5); Christ is the builder of that house (3:3).

 

The people of Joshua’s time, by entering the promised land, sought the promised rest from conflict (Deuteronomy 12:9-10), and found it in a limited way (Joshua 11:23).  But since Psalm 95 several hundred years later still speaks of God’s people entering his rest, it becomes apparent that a better, eternal rest from the struggles of this life is in view.  Hebrews urges all believers to fix their minds and efforts on this goal (4:11).  In all this, Jesus himself remains our example (3:1, 4:14-5:9, 12:2-3).

 

At verse 4:14, Hebrews introduces a major new theme.  Not only is Jesus the promised Messianic king of Psalm 2 (quoted in 1:5 and again in 5:5); he is also the great high priest in fulfilment of Psalm 110 (quoted in 5:6).[2]  As such, his priesthood exceeds that of Aaron, who was only appointed in the time of Moses, then died and passed on his priestly role to his sons, who each in turn died (7:23).  ‘But because Jesus lives for ever, he has a permanent priesthood.’ (7:24)  This contention is in full accord with the declarations of Psalm 110.  Put simply, the role of the king in Israel was to be God’s representative before the people, whereas the role of the priest was to be the people’s representative before God, especially in the offering of gifts and sacrifices for sins (5:1).  Because Jesus’s priesthood is permanent, ‘he is able to save completely those who come to God through him.’ (7:26).

 

The writer moves on to display the superiority of the new covenant over the Mosaic one.  We’ve considered the primary substance of the new covenant in a previous section.  Hebrews expounds this further by focusing on two key aspects of the Mosaic covenant: the tabernacle and the sin offering.  It points out that the tabernacle constructed during the time of Moses (the construction of which is described in great detail in Exodus 36-38) was ‘a copy a copy and shadow’ of the true one in heaven (8:2, 8:5, 9:24).  The inference is that it is Jesus himself who is this true tabernacle (10:20; cf John 1:14, where a literal translation would say something like ‘The Word became flesh and lived in a tent (or tabernacled) among us.’).

 

Every sin offering of the Mosaic covenant involved three participants: the sinner, the sin offering, and the priest (see for example Leviticus 4:27-31).  Under the new covenant, Jesus simultaneously fulfils two of these roles.  He is both the priest to whom we come (see the paragraph two above) and our sin offering (8:3, 9:12, 9:14).  We must also note that this sacrifice is repeatedly declared to be a one-off, sufficient and effective for all who will embrace it for all time (7:27, 9:12-15, 9:25-28, 10:10-18).  Wow!

 

So here’s a quick summary of what we’ve seen in the book of Hebrews.  Jesus is superior to the angels, the new and better Moses writing the law in our hearts (10:16), the new and better Joshua leading us to rest in a heavenly country (11:16), the eternal high priest in the order of Melchizedek (7:24), the mediator of a new covenant (12:24), the new and better tabernacle, the new and better sacrifice.

[1] Arthur W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews, Baker Book House, 1954, (1307 pages).

[2] These two Psalms are the most quoted ones in the entire New Testament.  As well, here in Hebrews, they are both alluded to in Acts 2:36.  And Jesus himself declares Psalm 110 to be Messianic in his debate with the Pharisees (Matthew 22:41-45).

Gentle and lowly part 2.

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In a previous blog I introduced the book Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortland. My favourite chapter was on the emotional life of Christ. He has fascinating things to say about emotions generally and the emotions of Christ. He focuses on the relationship between Christ’s compassion and his anger.

 

Our emotions are diseased by the fall, of course, just as every part of fallen humanity is affected by the fall. But emotions are not themselves a result of the fall.

 

Sin is restrained my emotions of compassion; what would unrestrained emotions of compassion be like?

 

It is an inner life of perfect balance, proportion, and control, on the one hand; but also of extensive depth of feeling, on the other hand.

 

Perhaps we feel that to the degree we emphasize Christ’s compassion, we neglect his anger; and to the degree we emphasize his anger, we neglect his compassion. But what we must see is that the two rise and fall together.

 

What we are saying is that, yes, Christ got angry and still gets angry, for he is the perfect human, who loves too much to remain indifferent. And this righteous anger reflects his heart, his tender compassion. But because his deepest heart is tender compassion, he is the quickest to get angry and feels anger most furiously—and all without a hint of sin tainting that anger.

 

Are you angry today? Let us not be too quick to assume our anger is sinful. After all, the Bible positively orders us to be angry when occasion calls for it (Ps. 4:4; Eph. 4:26). Perhaps you have reason to be angry.

 

In that knowledge, release your debtor and breathe again. Let Christ’s heart for you not only wash you in his compassion but also assure you of his solidarity in rage against all that distresses you, most centrally death and hell.

 

Gentle and Lowly.

I have just finished an extremely encouraging devotional book called Gentle and lowly by Dane Orlund.

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Gentle-Lowly-Christ-Sinners-Sufferers/dp/1433566133/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1Y9ATRY8W7ASZ&dchild=1&keywords=gentle+and+lowly+dane+ortlund&qid=1611920624&sprefix=gentle+and+%2Caps%2C166&sr=8-1

 

The whole book is a mediation on the heart of Christ based on Matthew 11v29

 

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

 

The Authorised Version says gentle and lowly rather than gentle and humble. Hence the book title. Ortlund uses Christian authors from previous generations to guide him as he unpacks the heart of Christ. I found chapter after chapter to be encouraging and uplifting. A great way to start the day. I fully commend the book to you.

 

Here are a few nuggets from the first chapter.

 

“Gentle and lowly.” This, according to his own testimony, is Christ’s very heart. This is who he is. Tender. Open. Welcoming. Accommodating. Understanding. Willing. If we are asked to say only one thing about who Jesus is, we would be honouring Jesus’s own teaching if our answer is, gentle and lowly.

 

Meek. Humble. Gentle. Jesus is not trigger- happy. Not harsh, reactionary, easily exasperated. He is the most understanding person in the universe. The posture most natural to him is not a pointed finger but open arms.

 

The point in saying that Jesus is lowly is that he is accessible. For all his resplendent glory and dazzling holiness, his supreme uniqueness and otherness, no one in human history has ever been more approachable than Jesus Christ.

 

Only as we drink down the kindness of the heart of Christ will we leave in our wake, everywhere we go, the aroma of heaven, and die one day having startled the world with glimpses of a divine kindness too great to be boxed in by what we deserve.

 

He doesn’t simply meet us at our place of need; he lives in our place of need. He never tires of sweeping us into his tender embrace. It is his very heart. It is what gets him out of bed in the morning.

 

Call to prayer – from the Church of England

Dear friends

As we reach the terrible milestone of 100,000 deaths from COVID-19, we invite everyone in our nation to pause as we reflect on the enormity of this pandemic.

100,000 isn’t just an abstract figure. Each number is a person: someone we loved and someone who loved us. We also believe that each of these people was known to God and cherished by God.

We write to you then in consolation, but also in encouragement, and ultimately in the hope of Jesus Christ. The God who comes to us in Jesus knew grief and suffering himself. On the cross, Jesus shares the weight of our sadness.

We therefore encourage everyone who is feeling scared, or lost or isolated to cast their fears on God. We also know that poorer communities, minority ethnic communities and those living with disabilities have been afflicted disproportionately and cry out for the healing of these inequalities. During this pandemic, we encourage everyone to do all they can to live within the guidelines and constraints given by government following the advice of the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser. We show our commitment, care and love for one another by ensuring we do everything we can to stop the virus spreading.

None of this is easy. Very many of us are experiencing isolation, loneliness, anxiety and despondency like never before. Many people have lost their livelihoods. Our economy struggles. Also, the necessary restrictions we live with have also prevented us from being alongside loved ones as they died, or even at their graveside. All grief profoundly affects us, but this pandemic grief is so hard.

Therefore, we need to support each other. We do this by following the guidelines. But we also do it by reaching out to each other with care and kindness.

One thing we can all do is pray. We hope it is some consolation to know that the church prays for the life of our nation every day. Whether you’re someone of faith, or not, we invite you to call on God in prayer. Starting on 1 February we invite you to set aside time every evening to pray, particularly at 6pm each day. More than ever, this is a time when we need to love each other. Prayer is an expression of love. A number of resources will be made available on our website.

Finally, we write of hope. We are grateful for the hope we have because of the service of our NHS and social care staff. What a blessing and lifeline for our nation. We are grateful for the service given in local communities by clergy, other frontline workers and so many good neighbours. We are grateful for the hope of the vaccine. It is a testimony to the God-given wisdom and gifts of scientists and researchers. We urge everyone to take the vaccine as soon as it is offered to you.

Most of all, we have hope because God raised Jesus from the dead. This is the Christian hope that we will be celebrating at Easter. We live in the hope that we will share in his resurrection. Death doesn’t have the last word. In God’s kingdom, every tear will be wiped away.

Please be assured of our prayers. Please join us.

 

Christian nationalism

Like others I have been shocked, astounded and concerned about some of what I have been reading regarding the evangelical church in America. In particular their apparent support of activities and attitudes that do not seem consistent with my Christian faith, things that appear to bring the gospel into disrepute and causing me to distance myself from them as a representative of Christ.

This has caused me to do a lot of reading, thinking, and praying to help me clarify what I think is going on and what I feel about it.

I have concluded that the issue is “Christian nationalism” and that this is a form of idolatry. Idolatry defined as making a good thing the ultimate thing. Let me go on to explain what I mean by Christian Nationalism.

What is Christian nationalism?

When the future of America (or any other country) as a “Christian nation” becomes the most important thing, that is idolatry and Christian nationalism. When America (or any other nation) is confused for the kingdom of God that is idolatry. When articles of state, such as the Bill of Rights or the Second Amendment, are revered and held as sacred as the Beatitudes or the command to love your neighbour as yourself that is idolatry. When democracy is seen to be as important as the Kingdom of God, we have got it wrong.

When being a good Christian and being a good American are seen as the same thing, we have got it wrong. When being a good Christian means supporting a particular party, it means that earthy citizenship has been exalted over heavenly citizenship. When allegiance to Jesus become mixed up with allegiance to a nation or party, we have got it wrong. Let us be clear this does not just happen in America; I have seen instances where this has happened in the UK.

The history of Britain includes periods where we too confused earthly kingdom with the kingdom of God. This happened regularly during the years of Empire, it is still proclaimed in some older hymns, e.g., the old favourite Jerusalem. It can still be found today within the UK church. Some during the Brexit debates got confused over this issue.

How widespread are these views?

Research in America suggest that 78% of self-identified evangelicals believe in Christian Nationalist to a certain extent. There are a much smaller number of hard-core adherents who spend their time thinking about this, praying about it, advocating for it, writing to politicians about it. These include several high-profile Christian leaders (e.g.,  Franklin Graham, and Pat Robertson) who are beginning to be called out for their views.

Where has it gone wrong, what is it a distortion of?

There is nothing wrong with patriotism and being proud of our nation. However, when we are in church, we should be celebrating our citizenship of the kingdom of heaven which includes people of every people, language, and nation on earth.

Neither America, nor any other nation, is the new Israel. That position is held by the people of God gathered from all nations. If anything, maybe, America is better seen as a kind of biblical Babylon, a superpower that seeks to encroach upon the sovereignty of God. Early Christians recognised that allegiance to empire was incompatible with the confession that Jesus is Lord.

There is nothing wrong is seeking to encourage our nations to adopt Christian values and for us to be involved in the public arena. We should advocate for justice based on the Bible. However, when our goal is earthly power then we are missing the mark.

Why is it such a problem now?

America, like many European nations, has become less Christian and less white, although the one is not necessarily the reason for the other! This has put certain parts of the population on the defensive, feeling the world is against them and their power is shrinking. It happens when we feel that “our nation” is being taken away from us and we are being persecuted. This is clearly impacting white people in the American church and causing them to support “Christian Nationalism”, wanting to return to the golden age where America was a white Christian nation that they imagined existed in the past.

As a result, issues of racial justice are not addressed; they are not even acknowledged because one culture is seen as better than another. Systemic factors that cause injustice are denied and therefore not addressed, causing victims of injustice to be alienated. Christians are called to be peacemakers in society, however what we see is that in many areas Christians are causing greater polarisation both in the church and wider society.

The danger is that white evangelicalism has its own distinctive way of seeing the world that it equates with Christianity. It can be a narrow, provincial community advocating for its own perks, power, and privilege. All this is far removed from the sacrificial community described in the New Testament.

It means that Jesus Christ is not being glorified.

How do we counter this?

The church must be proactive in confronting false teaching. Many are starting to do this, both in America and across the world. We need to preach about the kingdom of God, that is not limited to a nation or political party, that Jesus is king, and his kingdom is not of this world. We need to preach that we are in the world but not of this world. We engage as responsible citizens but do not take our identity from it. We are called to be salt in the world, engaging with activities that allow us to bring our distinctive whilst at the same time being light that shines truth and challenges darkness.

We need to do more than just preach truth; we also need to build healthy communities that give meaning to people beyond their political lives. Many are involved in Christian nationalism because of loneliness, fear, and anger of alienation. The church community is where these feelings need to be healthily addressed. The church community is a place for accountability. The church is not just a place you go to for a good lecture about the Bible. It should be a place where you go to live out the gospel in community with others, where you serve the church, and you serve your neighbourhood in love.

We should pray for

  • justice and peace.
  • clarity and truth. It seems to me that we are in a moment where again, pride is taking precedence over truth. We need humility to hear the truth.
  • the rebukes that need to be spoken, to be spoken with courage, but also with love.
  • gentleness in how we reach out to not the leaders, but the followers of this movement. Pray for gentleness and how we reach out to them and lovingly plead with them to steer away from the danger of this movement.

 

Other recent blogs on this subject.

https://www.pjsmyth.com/blog/a-newcomers-guide-to-christian-nationalism?fbclid=IwAR18Y1900gwg_8Y4S5rY6sXkVltXI1RRVACRnqlEvy4B2xT6DmusFSgKQMQ

https://brianzahnd.com/2021/01/the-dangerous-heresy-of-christian-nationalism/?fbclid=IwAR3u3dyM7tbMgMRTlVh08HyJ9eaLa3iesQTu__2ikZ2HJELHEp1d0cSntxU

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2021/january-web-only/christian-nationalism-capitol-riots-trump-podcast.html?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=post&utm_campaign=article&fbclid=IwAR0C7SqtB3fRmQIdveFKGwYW8vKuJC80q5yAouUW1pURD_A_5_RX-pOd-tk

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