Christmas, church unity, Judaism, Kingdom of God, Messiah, mission, prophecy
The promise of a deliver a Messiah who would reverse the effects of the fall was first made to Eve – Gen. 3:15. This was the first of a multitude of promised made with the purpose of identifying the Messiah when He finally arrived. A useful analogy is to consider them as ‘The Messiah’s Address’.
The postal service narrows down your location and identity reading your address backwards for mail to reach you i.e. country – city – area – street- house – particular occupant.
The identity of the coming Messiah is similarly narrowed down from the more general to a specific individual i.e. male – descendant of Abraham – of Isaac (i.e. Jew not Arab) – of Jacob’s son Judah (one out of 12) – of Jesse – of David – place of birth Bethlehem – place of residence Nazareth – manner, time and facts of death and many more identifying facts are supplied.
At this time of year TV documentaries frequently try to reinterpret Christ and His mission, presenting the rise of the Christian religion over the next few centuries as a response to the failure of the coming of God’s kingdom and Israel’s national deliverance from Roman domination. The Jesus of faith or of Paul is contrasted with the Jesus of history.
However if we simply read the Messiah’s address carefully and follow the apostles identification of Him and of His agenda, that they came to understand we answer these objections.
The principle in Biblical understanding of the first mention of a matter is important and if the Jews at the time of Christ and today’s re-interpreters of Christ were to follow the principle they would see clearly that the deliverance was to be primarily one of universal deliverance from the effects of sin Gen. 3:15, a far more radical prospect than a national or political deliverance.
This concept should then be born in mind when interpreting further prophecies of the Messiah’s coming. In Isaiah 9:7 we read:
“There will be no end to the increase of His government of peace … from then on and for evermore”.
Jesus taught that His government/kingdom must be understood as ‘not of this world’ or its worldly kings and their ways Christ’s mission and its continuation through humble servant disciples entering His kingdom by a new and spiritual birth from above requires no reinterpretation when Christ’s words are taken at face value. At the first Christmas this kingdom was inaugurated and its increase has been never ending.
One commentator on this year’s CNN presentation of Jesus and Christianity stated “Jesus did not come to found a new religion but to establish a kingdom”. I have previously heard the same from several ‘Charismatic Evangelical’ church leaders and embrace it as an important guideline. Another person I know was impressed at the start of his ministry with the thought – “Bill (not his real name) you seek My kingdom and I will build My church”. The kingdom was constantly on Christ’s lips but never once did he mention founding a new religion.
On this site it is generally not Christ or matters of His Kingdom that divide us but interpretations of His church. For the sake of that kingdom John the Baptist decreased, became less visible and is commended for doing so while for some the visibility of the church is oh so important!
The church is no more than the totality of those who should decrease in their own self obsession and importance while displaying the good works, power and wonders of Christ’s ever increasing government/ kingdom, that the Father might be glorified.
As kingdom living and demonstration becomes the priority of those who follow Christ they find themselves united with one another in a living active organism while their various organizational units simply provide the minimum necessary skeleton. It seems illogical to me to advocate ‘small government’ for nations and great bureaucracy and hierarchy for churches.
‘The government is on His shoulders’ and passed to Him at His incarnation. There is a fascinating prophesy of the Messiah’s kingdom/government in Jacob’s blessing of his son Judah.
“THE SCEPTER SHALL NOT DEPART FROM JUDAH, NOR THE RULER’S STAFF FROM BETWEEN HIS FEET, UNTIL SHILOH COMES AND TO HIM SHALL BE THE OBEDIENCE OF THE PEOPLES GEN. 49:10.”
The Jewish sources Targum Jonathan 8/331 and Targum Pseudo Jonathan 2/278 identify Gen. 49:10 & 11 as Messianic prophecies.
According to this scripture and the Jews of the time the suppression of Israel’s national judicial power would take place following the appearance of the Messiah to Israel. The event that the Jews took to mark this was their loss of the supreme judicial power the ‘jus gladii’ i.e. the right to pass the death sentence.
There is some debate in Jewish sources about when this took place as being either: –
a) As one source gives the date as 7AD. or
b) According to Josephus Ant. Book 17 Ch 13, 1.5 it took place in 11 AD. or
b) Talmud, Jerusalem, Sanhedrin, fol. 24 recto – states that it took place “A little more than forty years before the destruction of the temple”
Placing the birth of Jesus at 6BC this would give the age of Jesus, at the time, in each case as 1yr, 5yrs or 24yrs respectively.
The amazing thing is that the Jews knew the implications of this themselves – Talmud, Bab, Sanhedrin, Chap. 4, fol. 37, recto states
“Woe unto us for the scepter has been taken away from Judah and the Messiah has not yet appeared.” Another Jewish source says that “When the members of the Sanhedrin found themselves deprived of their right over life and death … they covered their heads with ashes and their bodies with sackcloth” and made the same declaration as above. These facts are referenced in “Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell”.
They Jewish authorities were mistaken the young Messiah was still in preparation in Nazareth and upon His appearance they unknowingly acknowledged Him as Messiah by calling Him Jesus of Nazareth. Here we have another part for Joseph in the events; an angel appears again to Joseph, which resulted in the family residing in Nazareth “So that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘HE SHALL BE CALLED A NAZARENE’ Matt. 2:19 & 23”.
However there is somewhat of a mystery, in any study Bible when the OT is quoted cross references to the OT text are given in the margin and the words quoted may be printed in capitals. In the case of Matt. 2:23 there are no cross references given in any Bible I have checked.
The answer lies in the reference to prophets (plural) and the meaning of the name Nazareth i.e. sprig, shoot or branch. Each of these terms are Messianic titles for the Messiah e.g. “the shoot out of Jesse (King David’s father)” Isaiah 11:1, Jeremiah 23:5, Zechariah 3:8; 6:12-13.
Note in this last text “His name is ‘The Branch’” and how for Jesus His place of birth became His designated name ‘Jesus of Nazareth”. On a trip to Israel our secular Jewish guide, confirmed the meaning of ‘Nazareth’ as we looked around the town and found my discussion with him on this point interesting.
The apostles did not get it wrong because they referenced the prophets as they had been shown and as they were interpreted to them by the resurrected Jesus as He commissioned them to continue His mission John Luke 24:44-48.
There is no cause for re-interpretation from the Gen.3:15 promises to the ‘Great Commission’ the Messiah’s mission has been clear to those whose eyes He has opened.
AKA John Galt said:
Reblogged this on U.S. Constitutional Free Press.
Thank you so much for this Rob – and I hope you had a wonderful Christmas xx Jess
St Bosco said:
Merry Christmas to you good sister Jess and good brother Rob
Very good, Rob.
At the risk of seeming churlish at this time of goodwill, perhaps I can pick up on one theme of your post: re church structures. I disagree with you – although I think I know what you mean about unity being something that exists anyway amongst those with Christ in their hearts.
Perhaps I can explain myself by taking the coming together of people into a family – to live in the same house, so to speak. That is not the same as being on deeply friendly and cordial terms with ones neighbours. It’s not an exact analogy, but there is something in ritual and structures that is important in keeping people together. I am glad that you are engaging with those of us who prefer a more structured church, so to speak. My experience of evangelicals (of the non-denomination variety – which is itself usually a denomination all but in name of evangelical alliance subscribers and networkers) is that they just don’t engage with those outside of their little world. The others are wrong, and we will shake hands and smile when we meet them, but we’ve little to say. They’re wrong, we’re right and that’s that. That’s the attitude that I have usually found from many evangelicals of this type. Not you, you understand – that is why I have been keen to hear more from your approach to church.
The above phenomenon was explained to me by the former head of an Anglican theological college who observed that these types of evangelicals (and I am making an enormous generalisation here) usually don’t like to discuss theology in anything other than the most superficial way, not because they have no heart for it, but rather they see it as something to be resisted (rather like thinking of sex – we do all the time, yet there is guilt) because it would expose divisions and become ‘destructive’ rather than to build to the body of Christ in the way that you have described. If one has more formal church structures, then there is – perhaps paradoxically – more freedom.
Anyway – just to share a little bug-bear of mine. I think it disingenuous, even bordering on deceitful, for a certain type of evangelical to engage in marketing techniques “oh, we’re non-denominational / post-denominational” “we have people of all backgrounds” which appear to be those of loving unity, yet there is still a denomination there – a certain type of structure and way of doing things – albeit in a federative manner.
Now, I must write down my new years resolutions: be nicer to evangelicals, RCs and give up a vice or two!
S. Sadly I think that generally what you have to say has a lot of truth in it and it’s all too easy to say that’s true about ‘that lot’ but not about us.
Obviously each of us is in our chosen Christian tribe because we believe our take on things is correct. But the fact is that most Christians agree on the majority of the major issues so we can acknowledge we are all right a lot of the time. My approach is to build on this whenever I have the opportunity.
When asked why I moved to Barbados, if the question comes from someone I suspect is a member of a church, I often say “to work with the church”. That prompts the question “Which church”. To which I reply “Any church that will allow me to work with them”! If I was to state my theological position I would just answer the which church Q by saying “Just The Church” – but I do not thing they would get the point.
Here in Barbados with our friends we have worked in teaching and training a few RC lay people who now carry on that work within their RC Church.
In the UK we assisted an RC nun who was in considerable emotional need. The convent in which she was temporarily placed allowed her to live with us for a month and she was eventually emotionally well enough to return to her contemplative order “The sisters of the Poor Clair, in Worcestershire”. Later we visited that convent for a day at the invite of the ‘mother superior’ and ministered to all the nuns. These are small acts but demonstrate our unity in Christ as we visit as family in each other’s houses – an extension of the way you put it. As I see all this it is the Lord looking on His divided body but seeing where there is some ability, resource and a heart to go beyond the status quo and so he makes the connections.
The issue of division is not initially whether you are in a denomination or not but how much denomination is in me or in you. Denominationalism is something that easily gets into the blood as we mix predominantly with those of like mind and I think it’s an attitude to be resisted while maintaining the essential truths of ‘The Creed’.
Since 1983 most of the time I can take away from business has been spent meeting those outside of any church with the aim of ‘making disciple for Christ’ forming them into communities or suggesting churches for them to attend. So I’m often on virgin territory with people of unlike mind who may be atheist agnostic or nominally Christian with no commitment to Christ and just teaching them the basics of our faith. Currently I’m faced with starting again from nothing, it’s rather lonely and not going too well – so if I’m in a denomination I’d like to know where they are!
You must be aware that the Evangelical Alliance is not a denomination but that its membership is drawn from many denominations that differ on a large number of doctrinal issues.
The network of churches that I associate with obviously pursues our way of things but also attempts to be ecumenical in its service to the whole body of Christ, within its ability to do so. In London the ‘original church has about 20 congregations’ and acts as a resource to other churches. A failing Baptist church was assisted, revitalized and then passed back Baptist ministry and the same was being considered for an Anglican church.
The church definitely needs structure for its order, discipline, safety of members and continuance. So I compared church structure to the body’s need of a skeleton. My point was that the spiritual life of the organism of the total church is a basis for unity while we each maintain those structures we see as necessary. Further I suggested that an over bureaucratic / hierarchical structure will probably not benefit the work of the kingdom.
The New Testament Church seems to have been governed on a city wide basis with a plural leadership while gathering in multiple congregations each with their leaders. There is little to prevent church leaders across denominational divides meeting in their localities to pray, care for and assist one another. It can work wherever each has a true commitment to Christ despite our differences and is going on here in a limited way.
The discussion of theology is a lively pursuit within our movement as the initiator studied theology at Cambridge University. In considering a topic the approach is to survey and analyze each of the historic approaches and draw as much good from each that we can.
Perhaps you are getting the picture I’m an idealist endeavoring to follow the injunction of Ephesians 4:3 till we get to 4:13.
Thanks for that Rob. It helps me understand. I like and agree with much of that you have written. Perhaps I can note that I see the Evangelical Alliance differently….it seems to regard itself as a para-church group, but it seems to me that it encourages uniformity.
I am thinking of a conservative evangelical Anglican church that I know in Sussex. It has close links with the Baptist down the road. It is a member of the EA. However, the rector is also rural dean – and deaneries, in the way that the C of E does things, are in part a little bit of local church. The local church being that gathered around the bishop. What I mean is that the rural dean will have broad, low, high etc.. all on his patch. So one is forced to engage with those with whom one often profoundly disagrees. I see this as a good thing. So instead of joining a church where one pretty much agrees with the others, the C of E encourages seeing God in the difference by the very embodiment of deaneries.
If EA churches were to develop more formal links with the other churches on ‘their patch’ of whatever flavour, then great. Many do. Yet the point is made that if one is in the same church body that is visible – i.e. with structures to tie you in – then such meetings won’t be all tea, sandwiches, handshakes, and nods of the head about the good things each are doing; but that they would also look for discussion about the contentious issues.
It’s a very British thing (or perhaps I mean English) to avoid discussion of points where contention is known. We tell ourselves that we don’t discuss those because we’re sensible, mature and adult people – and let’s just be nice. With cups of tea. And cucumber sandwiches. I think that’s avoiding part of what church is.
I like your idealist approach – I am somewhat inclined that way myself. Yet I think structure has a role. Those outside of structures will come up with 1001 reasons why they are outside, rather than inside some form of structure of visible church unity. Usually blaming ‘the others’. You’re right in that we all do that to a certain extent. However, I see the ‘new church movement’ as missing out a key component of what is means to be church. Which I think a pity.
As ever, it’s been good to engage. Many thanks Rob.
S: wrote: Perhaps I can note that I see the Evangelical Alliance differently….it seems to regard itself as a para-church group, but it seems to me that it encourages uniformity.
Churches I know relate to it as a para-church group, members and churches can be expelled and in this way it provides authenticity for ‘independent’ churches and movements and safeguards for those looking to associate with such churches as if expelled by the EA members would ask why. It also provides a forum which can speak with one voice on national concerns. I think there may be much less uniformity than you imagine. These were my reasons for membership while in the UK.
S: In answer I have posted on the structures of the ‘British New Church Movement’ separately as it may also be of interest to others.
Thanks for that Rob.