Category Archives: Christ

What Are You Studying?

Pastors, teachers, and other students of God’s Word, you might enjoy supplementing your studies with some unique and accessible commentary.  My Bible Journal posts have followed the haphazard course of my own studies recently, largely focused on the New Testament.  Here’s an attempt to organize my offerings for you.  Please pass these links on to others if you think they would be helpful!

Remember, you can follow the Bible Journal on Twitter @GrassRootsTheo, or sign up for email notifications (see the button below).

Bible Journal entries are listed below under the relevant books or sections of the Bible.  Find a match with what you are studying, and read along!

**GENERAL BIBLE STUDY TOOLKIT**

Bible Study Strategies (Audio)

Genre Judgment Calls

Pickup Theology

Redemptive-Historical Reading

Self-Evaluation Tool

A Friendly Intro to Biblical Theology

 

** OLD TESTAMENT COMMENTARY**

Christ in the OT

The Messiah in the OT

**GENERAL NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY**

Christ in the NT

Christ Jesus Our Lord

Invitational Imperatives (various Epistles)

Providing Perspective (various Epistles)

**GOSPELS**

General Gospels

Eyewitnesses to a Transfiguration

Mapping the Parables

On the Unforgivable Sin

Prompted Parables

Prophetic Puzzle Pieces

Samaritan Stories

“Shhh – don’t tell!”

Mark

Mark is Longer

Luke

Death Meets Life at the Gates of Nain

“Follow, Fast!”

The Cost of Salt

John

Curious Questions (Woman at the Well)

Naming Names

**ACTS**

Paul the Governed (see also Romans)

Prison Diary (Acts 16)

Greek Gods in the NT (Acts 16-19)

Take-Aways from Philippi (Acts 16)

Rome Meets Paul

Before Speaking, Listen (Acts 17)

 **PAUL’S EPISTLES**

Mutual Autobiography

What Paul Said About Jesus (Comprehensive Chart)

Paul on Jesus, Part 1 (The Lord of Time)

Paul on Jesus, Part 2 (History, Salvation, Obedience)

Paul on Jesus, Part 3 (Benefits & Realities)

Romans

Chronology and Meaning (see also James & Galatians)

Paul the Governed (see also Acts)

The Metaphysical Situation (see also 1-2 Corinthians)

1-2 Corinthians

Fortune Cookies

Pickup Theology

Riff on 1 Cor. 13

The Metaphysical Situation (see also Romans)

Theo-logic

Examining Ourselves

 Galatians

A Tale of Two Jerusalems

Chronology and Meaning (see also James & Romans)

In Step with the Spirit

Ephesians

Military Mnemonics

Philippians

Providing Perspective

Philemon

The Mouse that Roared

**NON-PAULINE EPISTLES**

James

Chronology and Meaning (see also Galatians & Romans)

A Topical Concordance of James (includes link to pdf resource)

1 Peter

Providing Perspective

123 John

Euphemistic Faith

**REVELATION**

Hang On ‘Cause Jesus Wins

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Paul on Jesus: Part Three

[Texts:  Paul’s life and letters]

To wrap up my summaries of Paul’s teaching on Jesus (Part One and Part Two having covered History, Salvation, and Obedience), I’d like to focus on the Benefits delivered to believers in Christ and the new Realities of our spiritual location “in Christ.”  My comprehensive chart of what Paul had to say about Jesus can be accessed here, if you’d like to see these ideas in more detail.

On my chart, I am calling “Benefits” those things that are presently in our possession through faith in Jesus, as well as those things that are promised to us in the future (but are no less certainly ours!).* For the most part, these are intangibles; yet even as the bread and drink of Communion are physical reminders of a real but untouchably distant historical event, so are our physical bodies reminders of the real, material future blessings of resurrected life in the New Heavens and New Earth.  In other words, all that we are unable to experience with our senses now will one day be thoroughly realized in our bodies, relationships, and world.

Some of the invisible Benefits belonging to believers are improvements on the old order of things, as set out in the Hebrew Scriptures:  freedom from the law of sin and death; inclusion, if we are Gentiles, in the promises and family of the great patriarch Abraham; access to God in the first place.*  Other Benefits trump the oldest enemy of every human being, Death itself: for in Christ, Paul assures us, we have already died and been made alive with never-ending life; and though we will die physically, we shall yet hope to live again in our resurrected bodies.

Still other Benefits explain our present situation, however contrary to evidence these truths may seem:  we are adopted children of God; we are gifted by God for service and with the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit; and we have the blessings of comfort, joy and encouragement in Christ.  Truly, as Paul says himself, we by Christ’s poverty have become rich.

Finally, the Benefits of life in Christ include our salvation from judgment and extend to the formation of our characters into his likeness.  Righteousness and holiness, flowing from our deliverance from the power of sin, law, and death, will increasingly mark the people of God.  And in all of our challenges and changes, we are guaranteed to find ourselves safe in the love of our Father God.

Knowing these Benefits is the key to bearing the Realities of the Christian life, which, Paul does not hesitate to admit, will often be painful and sorrowful in our broken world.  Those believers whose political and social settings most closely resemble Paul’s own will best be able to appreciate the power of these truths for the shouldering of suffering.

While some of the Realities that I have listed on my chart rather cross over into the Benefits category (e.g., belonging to Christ, having already been buried and raised with him, being members together of his body), other Realities do not feel like Benefits at all.  Our close identification with our Lord, both individually and collectively, opens for us the possibility of suffering, an experience that Paul knew only too well.  He recognized in his imprisonment, maltreatment and hardships the fulfillment of a prophecy once made about him by the Lord himself:  “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name,” and he identified the same in the lives of his friends:  “For the sake of Christ you not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.”

It’s the phrase “for his sake” that puts the Realities in perspective.  Since for our sake Jesus was condemned, bringing into being the Benefits that Paul celebrates, our temporary sufferings for his sake can be borne in grateful response and the confident hope of receiving unshakeable life at the end of our story.  Without this perspective, no believer over the whole course of Christian history could have withstood the cruel persecutions devised by the world. By God’s grace, Paul’s life and letters provide us with a verbal picture of the noble soldier who bears all for the sake of his Commander in Chief.  Let’s learn from him, and keep on standing firm.

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*It would actually make just as much sense to call these Benefits “Realities” of the Christian life; but here I’ve used the “Reality” category to collect those things that we experience in this life because we are believers, as well as for a few more invisible and intangible implications of belonging to Christ.

*I’m not going to give you the verse references in this post!  If I did, your eyes would skim these paragraphs and you wouldn’t really read these amazing statements.  (Am I not right?)  You see if you can remember the specific verses that I’m referring to.  If you can’t, look up these ideas under the Benefits and Realities categories on my chart “What Paul Said About Jesus.”

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Filed under 1&2 Corinthians, Acts, Biblical Theology, Christ, Ephesians, Epistles, Eschatology, Historical Context, Jesus, Paul, Philemon, Philippians, Redemptive History, Romans

Paul on Jesus: Part Two

[Texts:  Paul’s letters and speeches]

In a previous post I shared some of the fruit of a year-long study with friends in which we read the NT books in chronological order.  As I went along in my perusal of the Epistles, I gathered answers to the question, “Who is Jesus in this letter?”  This resulted in a chart of Paul’s collective teachings on Jesus, which can be accessed here.  Earlier I surveyed who Jesus is across time; now I’ll take a look at some of Paul’s major themes as he teaches about the Savior.

What does Paul spend the most verses talking about, across all of his letters and his speeches in Acts?  Any guesses?  Three categories stand out to me as the fullest sections on my chart:  Redemptive History, Forensics, and words about the Commander-in-Chief and His Troops.  So, speaking broadly, Paul was apparently most concerned to communicate Jesus’ historical significance, the judicial aspects of our salvation in Christ, and the duties and experiences of the soldiers of this Kingdom.  Let me dive a little more deeply into the details of each of these subjects.

Paul conceives of Redemptive History in its full sweep, from past through present to future, and emphasizes always the accompanying revelation that makes sense of it all.  Jesus is the Long-Expected One, and Paul seems to delight in connecting the dots in Scripture and in human history to show that this is so.  Much of his apologetic speech to Jews in Acts is concerned with how Jesus fulfills Hebrew prophecy, especially regarding the identity of the anticipated Christos.  Though his letters to the churches no longer have this evangelistic purpose, Paul cannot seem to help mentioning Jesus’ historical connections; to him, they are part and parcel of Jesus’ identity and role as Savior.

Among the many details of Redemptive History, two receive special emphasis when Paul speaks or writes about his Lord.  First there are all the ways that Jesus fulfills prophecies and promises, types and signs that have appeared throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.  He emphasizes Jesus’ connection to David’s line and Abraham’s family, showing how he fulfills “the promises to the patriarchs”; regarding Moses and the Law, Paul makes much of Jesus’ substantial embodiment of past “shadows” and hints, from the Passover lamb to the identity-marker of circumcision to the special Jewish holidays.

The second detail of Redemptive History that receives the most attention is the anticipation of Jesus’ return from heaven—a future event that has bearing on Paul’s (and our) present.  Again and again, Paul casts the behavior and hope of the church in terms of, and in light of, the expected reappearance of the Savior.  His “coming,” as Paul typically puts it, is as certain an event as his entrance into human history in the first place, and as certain as the suffering, death, and resurrection that form the foundation of our confession.  In his desire to persuade Christians to suffer faithfully, Paul continually returns to this certainty.  It is notable, by the way, that with one exception* he does not mention the Second Coming in his speeches in Acts: it seems that this information is most relevant to Christians who need reasons and reminders to persevere, but not yet to potential converts.

Forensics, or the judicial aspects of our salvation, comprises another major category of thought in Paul’s writings and speeches.  This theological topic is probably what usually comes to mind first when we think of what Paul had to say to the church, and with good reason.  Although not any more prevalent than the other two subject areas discussed here, Paul’s reasoning and teaching on forgiveness, judgment, law and faith, sin, salvation, and justification (to name just a few prominent terms!) certainly stand out as deeply important to him.

While there has historically been much debate over the exact meaning of some of Paul’s terms (especially justification), there is no question that he sees salvation in Christ Jesus as intricately bound to questions of sin and righteousness, wrath and favor.  The news in Christ is always good for those who have accepted him:  there is true and ultimate rescue in this Savior, a gift of innocence in place of guilt.  There are also wrong ways to go about solving the problem of our standing before the Judge of all—errors that have persisted since ancient times, and that still threaten to undermine the message of Paul’s gospel.

Finally, we could probably say that the relationship between a living and powerful Commander-in-Chief and His Troops is the topic at the forefront of Paul’s thoughts in his letters.  His own experience and that of his friends give Paul real-time illustrations of what it means to serve the Lord, and his explanations and exhortations provide a verbal framework for the embodiment of life as “good soldiers of Christ Jesus.”  Courage, perseverance, kindness, responsibility, generosity, and faithfulness to the delivered message of the Kingdom are qualities constantly reinforced in Paul’s epistles.  If you read through this section of the chart I created, I think you’ll get a sense of the nobility of our calling in Christ—something lovely to reach for, something worthy to strive after.  Paul’s many words still urge us on towards the finish line, so many centuries later.

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*The one exception is a mention in Acts 17 (in the Areopagus at Athens) of a resurrected man who will one day judge the world on God’s behalf.

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What Paul Said about Jesus (Original Chart)

I do intend to continue with my observations of Paul’s words about Jesus, which I began to explore in my previous post.  In the meantime, here is my topical concordance of What Paul Said About Jesus, based on the ESV.*  It prints out in 15 pages, double-sided.  I suggest using color, as I have indicated the verses found in Acts with red text, and there are colorful bars marking each new major category.  Some verses fit into more than one category or subcategory.

Topical teachers and teachers of Paul’s writings will surely appreciate the chance to compare his thinking across his letters (and the speeches in Acts) in these different areas.  Others will find this a treasure-trove of the riches of Christ as expressed by this prolific Apostle.

What Paul Said About Jesus (Original Chart) (pdf)

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*As per ESV copyright rules, whole verses constitute less than 50% of the text of this document.  I have paraphrased or truncated the rest.

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Paul on Jesus: Part One

[Text:  Paul’s Sermons & Letters]

After joining some friends in 2015 to “ride a fast horse” through the NT books in chronological order, I’ve ended the year’s race with four small notebooks full of observations and many a likely topic to Journal about.* I’m a Notebook Person (because I can’t remember anything I read unless I write it down), and I approach any kind of study with research questions to keep me focused.  This year I kept three queries in mind as we approached the Epistles:

What’s on [the writer’s] mind?

Who is Jesus?

What is faith?

The first kept me alert to the main ideas of the letter, the second to the letter’s presentation of the Savior, and the third to the multifaceted nature of biblical belief.

In this post I’d like to at least begin to organize the data I collected on Paul’s teachings about Jesus.* Whenever we read works of “systematic theology,” we’re looking at collections of information on different theological topics (Father, Son, Spirit, human beings, the church, etc.), really the results of research efforts that the theologian has made over time in his reading of the Scriptures (and of other theologians).  Each scholar presents the data in a different way, having decided what’s most important to communicate and how to arrange the material.  My own [very small-scale] theological overview will offer the ideas Paul communicates about Jesus, ordered from most often to least frequently mentioned.*

I’ve written elsewhere about Paul’s unusual and very personal use of Christ Jesus as a designation for his Lord, probably my favorite discovery out of the year’s study.  Of course he also makes use of the Kingly title, Jesus Christ, and continually resorts to the shorthand name-title, Christ, when he really gets going in his theological explanations.  He calls Jesus the Son of God (though, unlike the author of Hebrews, only once does he call him simply the Son) and also our Lord, usually in company with Jesus’ name.* So what does he have to say about this Jesus?

The first thing I noticed from my survey of Paul is that there is a LOT to tell about the Savior.  I found it helpful to group the Jesus-details that I found in Paul’s writings into thirteen subcategories, which are listed at the end of this post.  What I’ll highlight here is the fascinating way the Lord Jesus inhabits and owns all of Time—Past, Present, and Future.  This is what I discovered (and if you just read these Bible verses through in order, you’ll get a big-picture sense of Christ’s involvement in history!):

  • Paul teaches that the Son existed in Eternity Past and was active in Creation:

He was in the form of God, but did not count equality with God something to be grasped.

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

For [by means of] him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.

  • He surveys Redemptive History, showing Christ’s relationship to it and fulfillment of it:

To [the Jews] belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever.

…which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh…

All the promises of God find their Yes in him.

  • He names what has been accomplished by Father and Son in the Near Past:

He was manifested in the flesh.

God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law.

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.

Christ Jesus . . . in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession.

He was crucified in weakness.

Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father.

God has highly exalted him!

  • …and celebrates what our Lord is doing in the Present:

Christ Jesus . . . is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

Christ nourishes and cherishes the church.

  • Finally, Paul holds out the promise of Christ’s activity in the Future:

We await a Savior from heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. . .

. . .on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of man by Christ Jesus.

For as in Adam all die, in Christ all will be made alive.

Paul has much more to say, of course, about the theological meaning of these events, about the relationship between the Commander and his Soldiers, and about the blessings that are ours even during our earthly lifetimes because of our spiritual location “in Christ”; and I’ll bring out those themes in future posts.  For now, just savor the above statements about the Savior as a summary of his movement through time and his intersection with human history—exciting things accomplished and anticipated, and thoroughly true.

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*If my Bible Journal entries have seemed haphazard to you, this is why.  It was a very fast horse.

*I’m also including material from Luke’s account of Paul’s sermons in Acts, because I’m curious to understand Paul’s whole picture of Jesus.

*Obviously, the discipline of systematic theology holds particular appeal for tidy minds like mine.  But don’t think of the product as being just a dry recitation of propositions fitted neatly into pigeonholes!  The best theology should lead to the praises of doxology. A good systematician will fill in the bigger picture for you, since you might see only individual details when you read the Bible in your occasional devotions and classes.

*On the other hand, when Paul refers to the Lord, it can be tricky to decide whether he’s speaking of the Father or his Son.

(Quoted verses are from the ESV:  Phil. 2:6; Col. 1:17, 16; Rom. 9:5; 1:2,3; 2 Cor. 1:20; 1 Tim. 3:16; Gal. 4:4; Eph. 2:17; 1 Tim. 6:13; 2 Cor. 13:4; Rom. 6:3; Phil. 2:9; Rom. 8:34; Col. 3:1; Eph. 5:29; Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Thess. 4:14; Rom. 2:16; 1 Cor. 15:22)

I decided that Paul’s details about Jesus fall into the following categories:
Ontological Essence (what sort of Being is he?)
Place in Redemptive History
Near-Past Historical Events
Present Activity
Substitutionary Death (he died “for you”)
Forensics (the legal meaning of his death)
Resurrection, Ascension & Exaltation
Commander in Chief & His Troops
Example to Imitate
Subject of Preaching
Benefits to Believers
Reality of Believers (what is life like because of the Savior?)
Subject of Misunderstandings & Unbelief

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Filed under Biblical Genres, Biblical Theology, Christ, Epistles, Instructing the Body, Jesus, Paul, Redemptive History, Theology

“Hang on, ’cause Jesus wins.”

[Text: The Book of Revelation]

Here’s a modest New Year’s Resolution for you:  why not read (or reread) the Book of Revelation?  What’s that you say?  You’ve got reasons?  I think I may know them –

…If you’ve ever read (or tried to read) the Revelation of John, you know that though it begins in a relatively straightforward way that anyone can follow, it soon transitions into descriptions of events and creatures that surpass comprehension, if not imagination.  And while you might be aware of the different approaches that have historically influenced the Church’s reading of this book, the sheer number of interpretive options has likely overwhelmed you.  In this you are certainly not alone!

…And then if you’ve never read the Book of Revelation – perhaps because its reputation has preceded it – you probably aren’t even aware that its beginning, at least, is actually pretty accessible.

What I’d like to offer, both to those who have tried it and those who haven’t, is sort of a lifeline to hold onto as you make your way through the bulk of the book.  There are words and ideas in here that keep recurring, even in the midst of the wildly changing scenery, and watching for them will remind us that once upon a time this strange book was read by real people who needed encouragement to “hang on, ‘cause Jesus wins.”  It’s a timely message that you can catch hold of for yourself as you enter into a new year full of events that will be possibly as difficult to understand as some of the craziest passages in this book.

First off, a general outline of what you will encounter in John’s Revelation:

Chapters 1-3 establish the context and characters and directly address Christians on planet earth in seven different local churches.  This is the easy part.

Chapters 4-20 contain John’s description of dramatic visions involving heavenly beings, monstrous creatures, judgments, the saints at worship, wars and conquerors.  This is the confusing part.

Chapters 21-22 wrap it all up with John’s word-picture portraying the New Heavens and New Earth, where sorrow and sighing have no place and every tear is wiped away.  This is the beautiful part.

So in those first three chapters, we are introduced to the idea that John has been granted a heaven-sent vision while in exile on the island of Patmos.  His first responsibility (for of him to whom much is given, much will be expected) is to relay directly the personal messages that King Jesus dictates for seven specific churches in Asia Minor (that’s Turkey today).  Literally, John becomes the scribe who takes down letters to be delivered to these churches – so this part of the book is really a collection of mini-epistles.

And like any of the epistles that we encounter in the NT, these seven transcriptions are easy to follow in their outlines, if a bit mysterious in their details.  We learn that the churches vary in their faithfulness and their present challenges, and that Jesus holds them to high standards, commending those who have remained true to their high callings and warning those who are wavering or who have lost their way.  We don’t really have to know exactly who the “Nicolaitans” are, or the identity of the woman “Jezebel,” to get the idea that God’s people in these churches are beset with doctrinal and moral challenges and need to stay the course bravely.

Each little letter follows a pattern, with Jesus first introducing himself in a majestic way, then commenting on their present faithfulness (or not) and exhorting them to do what is right (or keep doing it, as in the case of Smyrna!).  And each letter ends with a promise made to “the one who conquers” (or in some translations, “the one who overcomes”):  fruit from the tree of life, escape from the “second death,” a white stone with a secret name, etc.  Some of these promised rewards are mysterious, but at least we can tell that they are marvelous, worth holding out for in a season of persecution and temptation.

Then as chapter four begins, John abruptly changes what he’s doing with his words.  Rather than taking dictation, now he is trying to describe a drama that is playing out before his eyes, beginning in God’s heavenly throne room and then eventually involving the stage of the whole earth and the created universe.  This is where we are most likely to lose our footing, as we scramble to understand the things he is reporting; and this is the part of the book that has lent itself to the most varied interpretations over the centuries of the Church.  Are the scrolls, bowls, trumpets, plagues, Beasts, and wars real things that will happen (or have happened) in real human and heavenly history, or do they merely stand for real (or spiritual) things?  How you answer will influence your interpretation of John’s words in these busy chapters!

But rather than struggling to answer those interpretive questions this time through, I suggest that you read the Revelation alert for the way that the direct address of the little epistles continues to run like a silver thread through the tapestry of the visionary drama.  Even though John seems to have done a genre-shift at chapter four, moving from epistle to vision, his purpose remains to communicate with the saints on earth something about their mission, the expectations their glorious Captain has for them, and the rewards that await them as they hold fast to their loyalty to their Lord.  His opening words in the first chapter capture his ongoing goal for his readers, that they keep the command to endure:

“Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.”

So as you read, watch for phrases that echo the promises at the ends of the mini-epistles of chapters two and three.  Look for further statements about those who “conquer” (or “overcome”), and for descriptions of saints who, like the believers in Smyrna, suffer faithfully even unto death and ultimately receive a heavenly welcome and reward.  Be reminded that those who first read the dictated letters to the churches continued to read the confusing part that followed, and that the whole thing was meant as an encouragement to endure, all the way home.  “Hold on,” Jesus continues to say through John, “because after even the worst of it, I win!”

Though I am not a prophet or the daughter of a prophet, I can say confidently that there will be events in this new year that will be as incomprehensible to us as some parts of John’s vision.  It’s inevitable that we will grieve and ache and worry and fear and wonder as we move through our next days in this fallen world.  But the gift of the Revelation is the persistent message of heavenly hope and reward that runs like a lifeline through the confusion and pain.  Hold on, believers, ‘cause Jesus wins.

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Quotations are taken from the ESV.  (ESV uses “conquer,” NIV & NKJV “overcome.”)

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The Messiah in the Old Testament

In two previous posts I outlined how the word “Christ” changed in its reference over the course of the books of the New Testament and those of the Old.  The big-picture sweep of that change goes like this:

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So in the Old Testament Christ (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Mashiach), with its literal meaning of “anointed one,” mainly referred to kings – sometimes specific kings, like David or Solomon or even Cyrus of Persia; sometimes any king of David’s line; and rarely, with much mystery, to a particular figure who would come in the unspecified future and set everything to rights.

But by the time we get to the Gospel accounts, the reference of the term Christ has obviously narrowed from this broad OT usage.  At this point, whenever anybody uses this word he or she is consciously referring to that mysterious Coming One, on whom all of Israel’s hope seems to depend for defeating the Roman overlords and reestablishing the Davidic monarchy in the Land.  Those who interact with Jesus, both enemies and friends, must contend with his claim to the title and decide if he is the one who fits the bill.  As we advance into the Epistles in our Bibles, we see that Christian believers, at least, have made that judgment in the affirmative:  for now the word Christ is used as a shorthand name-title for Jesus, who, they assert, has powerfully proven himself worthy of it.

The question I want to consider in this post is how the word Christ (or Messiah) gained this specific, exciting meaning in the Gospels, given the rarity of the term itself being used in the OT to describe what a special Coming One would be or do.  How had the people in Jesus’ day gotten to the point where they all agreed (in its broad outlines, at least) on a job description for THE Christ?  They must have had some idea in their minds already of what to expect, before they could connect the dots and decide whether Jesus matched that expectation.  So where did their mental “Wanted” poster come from?  How did they get from “king” to “Expected One”?

Apparently, it was sometime during the centuries in between the end of the OT and the beginning of the events described in the Gospels, this “Intertestamental Period” of about 400 years (see the lavender bar on the timeline above), that the word Christos or Mashiach began to take on that full-fledged, pregnant meaning, so that when people wrote or spoke the word they were consciously referring to that Expected Figure, the Jewish Messiah.  That’s when this idea seems to have congealed in history around the term, during this time when the Jews labored under so many oppressive conquering regimes.

And for the most part, the first-century idea of the Christ or Jewish Messiah wasn’t tied to the word Mashiach or Christos, but was an amalgam of different descriptions and expectations found throughout the Scriptures.  I invite you to listen to my 2015 talk “Traces of the Christ” to hear a creative rendering of this big sweep of messianic expectation in the Hebrew Scriptures, narrated as if Jesus were “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets” to explain himself to his despondent disciples on the road to Emmaus.  Here’s just a sketch of some of the things he might have told them, giving them a picture of the Messiah from the Old Testament:

  • In the Garden we learned that the Coming One was to be a human being who would suffer but have the victory;
  • from Abraham’s time and Jacob’s and Judah’s, that he would be Jewish, and royalty, and a blessing to many nations;
  • from Moses’ day, that he would be a prophet who would speak the very words of God;
  • from David’s story that he would be of this particular kingly line;
  • from Isaiah, that he would bring forgiveness through suffering.*

Remember, too, that by Jesus’ day, whatever had been the biblical expectation of the Christ had become encrusted with folk legend and popular yearnings for a powerful political and military leader — maybe somebody like Judas Maccabeus and his brother Simon, who for an all-too-brief time had managed to restore to Israel an independent monarchy about 160 years before Jesus. This event is fresh in the people’s historical imagination by Jesus’ day; and it turns out that, even for Jesus’ followers, unless someone set those imaginings aside and were steeped in the words of the Scriptures instead, they might well miss seeing how Jesus fit the bill for the Lord’s Christ – and so the seeming end of his story would be especially shocking for them.

The key piece that people tended to miss was Isaiah’s, this idea that the Expected One, THE Christ, would be a king who would suffer.  But for those who grasped this crucial element of the Messiah’s job description – usually after the fact, with some help from Jesus himself or his messengers – the details of Jesus’ story clicked into place and revealed his worthiness to bear the title.  And this is, ultimately, the Christian confession:  that Jesus of Nazareth truly did meet all of the scriptural requirements, even the ones that had dropped off the popular radar.

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*The verses that supply these ideas are, respectively: Gen. 3:15; 17:6; 49:10; Deut. 18:18; 2 Sam. 7:13; and Is. 53:5. Note that this list of messianic references is representative, not comprehensive.

Parts of this post were adapted from my 2015 talk “Traces of the Christ.”

Follow the Bible Journal on Twitter @GrassRootsTheo!

 

 

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Christ in the Old Testament

In a recent post I explored the progressive development of the title “Christ” over the course of the New Testament books, noting that as events unfolded the role of the term evolved from simply identifying an anticipated Jewish Messiah-figure, THE Christ (in the Gospels), to designating Jesus himself with the shorthand name-title, “Christ” (in the Epistles).  If you enjoy tracing the development of ideas, it may interest you to know that the word “Christ” has an even older history in the biblical canon.*  Here’s a peek at some of the earliest uses of the word in the Old Testament.

First of all, it’s important to realize that the original meaning of the Greek term christos (and its Hebrew equivalent, mashiach*) is simply “anointed one.”  Though we now associate with it ideas like “Son of God” and “Savior,” which Jesus-the-Christ certainly turned out to be, originally it merely conveyed the notion of somebody being anointed for a special purpose.  And in the ancient world, that special purpose was usually kingship.* This is kind of another surprise about the word “Christ”; and as it introduces another wrinkle into the progressive history of the meaning of the title, it’s worth taking a look at some of the earliest appearances of the word to get a sense of the historical continuity and discontinuity of its use.

Now, if you’re on your game about the biblical languages, you should be wondering how the Greek title “Christ” could be found in the Hebrew Scriptures at all.  Of course it isn’t there; but if you could read Hebrew, you would see the equivalent term mashiach appear occasionally from 1 Samuel through Habakkuk.  In our English versions, this is usually translated “the Lord’s anointed,” or “the anointed one.”

Now, about 300 years before Jesus’ time a Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures was developed for the many Greek-speaking Jews scattered around the Mediterranean world.   In the Septuagint, as it was eventually named, anytime the translators saw mashiach in the original they replaced it with christos, the same Greek word behind “Christ” in our NT.  In the following verses I’ve given you a translation as if reading from that Greek OT text, so you can feel the historical continuity of the word while also gaining an awareness of the discontinuity of what it’s referring to.

I think some of the most fascinating OT uses of the term come in four verses* talking about four different kings in Israel’s history (though not all of them kings of Israel, as we’ll see).  First, a statement made by David after he sneakily cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe and then has a crisis of remorse:

David said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s Christ, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord’s Christ.”

David leaves no room to doubt that he considered King Saul (of all people!) to be the Lord’s Christ.  Later, during a rocky time in David’s reign, his retainers use the term to describe their own king, who in their perspective has suffered a grave offense from a mud-slinging critic:

“Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the Lord’s Christ?”

Maybe it’s not too much of a surprise for us to hear David designated “the Lord’s Christ,” given his superior status among the kings of Israel; but even here the term retains its generalized meaning, and it is easily applied by David’s son Solomon to himself in a later prayer:

“O Lord God, do not turn away the face of your Christ!”

Most astonishing of all, though, is Isaiah’s use of the word.  As he looks down the decades to a time beyond the nation’s pending conquest by Babylon, he envisions a season of restoration, and a kingly benefactor who would return Israel to her land.  He begins his prophecy like this:

“Thus says the Lord to his Christ, to Cyrus…”

…adding Cyrus, King of Persia, to the roster of “Christs.”

So apparently there is a difference in the reference of the term “Christ” over the expanse of the biblical story, from Old Testament to New.  In our OT, if we recognize “Christ” behind the English translation “the anointed one,” we have to acknowledge that it usually refers to a king; in the Gospels, it very clearly refers to a special Expected One, whose coming will put the world to rights; and in the Epistles, it has a still more specific reference, the God-man Jesus of Nazareth who is now identified by this name-title forever.  But how did these changes in the usage of the term occur?

Slide18

As I noted in my last post on this intriguing topic, the Jews of first-century Palestine, both followers and enemies, were confronted with Jesus’ claims to be the Christ of expectation, and they had to connect the dots between their anticipated Messiah and this particular rabbi before the title could adhere to him as if it were his very name.  In other words, they had to have some notion in their minds already of what to expect of THE Christ when he showed up, before they could recognize that Jesus was the one.

But as we have seen above, they couldn’t just unroll their scrolls and find specific verses stating directly that the Mashiach (or, if they were reading their Septuagint, the Christos) was going to do or be one thing or another.  The word was in their Scriptures some 38 times, but its reference was slippery:  sometimes it referred to one king, sometimes to another; sometimes to any king of David’s line; and sometimes, very rarely, to an ambiguous figure who was to arrive in the unspecified future.

How, then, did the term “Christ” go from being mainly about kings, to bearing the very pregnant sense of a singular Jewish figure that it clearly has in the Gospels?  I’ll explore this question for you in a later post!

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*If you don’t much like history, this will probably be a pretty dull journal entry.

*From which we derive the word “messiah.”

* We do see examples in the Old Testament of prophets and priests being anointed, but when the term appears in the OT scriptures it’s almost always in the context of a kingship.  Interestingly, what we call the “Three Offices” of Jesus – he’s our Prophet, Priest, and King – are all offices of anointing, triply reinforcing that title, “Christ.”

*From 1 Sam. 24:6; 2 Sam. 19:21; 2 Chr. 6:42; and Is. 45:1, respectively; emphasis added.

Portions of this post are taken from my recent talk, Traces of the Christ.”

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New Talk: Traces of the Christ

I’m excited to share with you the final product of a lot of research, writing, and talking to the furniture in my office!  This is a 36-minute talk that offers a sense of the historical continuity of the Christian Scriptures, observed through the lens of “the Lord’s Christ.”  The talk was originally commissioned by and delivered to participants in the 2015 Women in the Word Workshop, a Bible study conference held in Willow Grove, PA in October of this year.  (Please note that while the context was a women’s Bible conference, the content is not gender-specific!)  It’s on YouTube not because it’s a video of me speaking, but because I made some snazzy slides to illustrate it.  Enjoy!

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Christ in the New Testament

[Texts: Gospels, Acts, Epistles]

Having accomplished my recent speaking assignment on this subject, I can now spill more beans about what I discovered about the word Christ in the NT without stealing my own thunder.  I wrote earlier about the surprising significance of the name Christ Jesus in its appearance in the Epistles; now here’s some further insight into the progressive development of this figure and this idea through the three main sections of the New Testament, the Gospels, Acts, and Epistles.

Let’s start by taking a look at a few select verses from the NT that involve the word “Christ.”  I’m assuming that you know this is not Jesus’ last name; there’s a specific meaning to it (which I’ll explore in a future post); but have you ever really noticed the variety of uses it’s put to, in the Gospels, and in Acts, and in the Epistles?  See what you can observe here:

Gospel:  All were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ.

Acts:  Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.

Epistle (Paul):  But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Epistle (Peter):  Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous.

Do you notice a difference in the way this word Christ is used in these examples?* Think you could explain what you’re seeing?

As you’ve probably figured out, two of the verses include the article (that’s the label we give to little words like the and a), and two of them don’t.*  There’s a difference in reference in each case, isn’t there?  When someone is thinking about THE Christ, they have in mind what we’ve learned to call the Jewish Messiah, an anticipated figure who will somehow spectacularly set the whole world to rights.  It’s an ambiguous reference, because at this point in these particular narratives (Luke and Acts) the actual identity of this Expected One is as yet undetermined for at least somebody in the scene.

But when Peter and Paul use the word Christ in their letters, they’re referring to a specific man, Jesus of Nazareth, who is now designated by this name, Christ. It’s really the title of a particular role, and somehow it has come to be used as a name when the NT writers refer to Jesus in the Epistles.  So there’s a suggestion here, just among these four verses, that there’s something different going on between the Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles regarding this word Christ.

This apparent difference sparked my curiosity, which is why I did a detailed survey of the NT books to find out how the writers employed this word Christ.* Here’s what I noticed.  First of all, the word Christ appears in four different forms: sometimes it’s used alone, sometimes with the article, and sometimes with Jesus’ name – Jesus Christ, or Christ Jesus.  You can see on this graph, where I’ve set out the percentage of the time that Christ is used in any of these ways in these three different sections in the NT.*

Christ Graph

What I found was that in the Gospels, it’s almost always the case that people are wondering about the Expected Figure –THE Christ – while in the Epistles it’s almost always the case that the writer is using the word to express truth about the specific God-man, Jesus.  So that’s where we’re more likely to see Jesus Christ, Christ Jesus, or just plain Christ. In fact, when we get to the Epistles, Christ MEANS Jesus for these writers and readers.

But almost nobody has gotten to that truth in the Gospels yet; they’re all still trying to figure it out.  Who is THE Christ?  When is he coming?  What will he do? In fact this use of Christ (with the article) in the Gospels should reinforce to us that we’re still in an OT context when we read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The people in these narratives are still looking forward to a fulfillment, and we’re watching that fulfillment take place as we read these books.

In Acts, as you might expect, there’s a transition in the usage of the word.  That’s in keeping with this transitional part of biblical history, when Christians are actively engaging a culture that doesn’t know the gospel yet.  On the one hand, when Christ is used by itself, without Jesus’ name, it’s always in the context of somebody explaining to a Jewish audience about the Expected One, and we always see the article – it’s always “THE Christ”; but now that more people are versed in the Christian storyline, either Luke in his narration or the people in these scenes will sometimes refer to Jesus as “Jesus Christ.”

All this to say, there’s a historical development going on right there in the NT, visible in the way the word Christ is used.  We might say that the people in the narratives are progressing in their understanding of THE Christ, moving from wondering about that Expected Figure to embracing the specific identification of the Man who embodies that expectation.

We see those dots being connected in Acts as people learn about the Lord Jesus; and in the Epistles we find that the transition is complete, and writers can refer to Jesus with this shorthand name-title, Christ, because they’re writing to Christians who have made that transition in their minds, too.

Read more about the progressive development of the meaning of the word Christ in my next post!  Remember you can follow this Bible Journal on Twitter @GrassRootsTheo!

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*These verses come from Luke 3:15, Acts 9:22, Rom. 5:8, and 1 Pet. 3:18 (ESV), respectively.

*Fun fact:  What I noticed in my English translation about the article (“THE Christ”) is only visible in languages that typically use the article before nouns.  Some don’t.  For example, it has recently been brought to my attention that a Russian translation of the Greek doesn’t retain the articles from the original!  An interesting and somewhat rare instance of the English language paralleling the NT’s highly inflected koine Greek.  And another research moment where it’s handy to know some Greek.

*My research steps to discovering the use of Christ in the NT went like this:

  • I did a word search for the use of Christ in the ESV through https://www.biblegateway.com/, turning up 534 results.
  • I created a table to record the reference & the text of the verses, copying and pasting the texts from the search results (dismissing those that were counted because Christ was mentioned in the heading!).
  • I color-coded (using highlighter & font color) to show the different usages.
  • I double-checked the Greek text wherever Christ appeared in the ESV without the article (the), discovering that sometimes the word Christ was not in the original text at all (the editors just thought we needed it, I guess!), and sometimes the word actually DID have an article attached in the Greek. (See second note, below.*)
  • I tallied usage according to the different arrangements of the title, keeping separate tallies of the preferences of different NT authors & Paul’s usage by book.
  • Using my totals for the different main sections of the NT (Gospels, Acts, & Epistles), I calculated the percentage of time that each of the four forms of the word appeared in each of these sections, and created this graph.

*Pace Greek scholars:  I realize that there are a few anarthrous “Christs” scattered among Matthew, Luke, John and Acts; but since in context these are all ambiguous references to the Coming One, I have counted them with the Messianic collection (yellow bar).

*Our English translations hide a couple details, though.  For one, as I mentioned already, sometimes the translators add “Christ” to make sure we know who the writer is talking about (where the Greek just says “he” and leaves the identity ambiguous).  Also, there is sometimes a subtle distinction between “the Christ” and just plain “Christ.”  Although it’s not uncommon in Greek to add a definite article (the) before a proper noun (“the Jesus,” “the John,” etc.) without affecting the meaning, in the case of “the Christ” one of two things may be happening:  either the writer is merely referring to the Savior Jesus by this shorthand name-title, or he is referring to – or especially emphasizing Jesus’ fulfillment of – the specific Jewish Messiah figure.  Evidently the ESV translators voted in favor of the first option more often than the second in the Epistles (83 times vs. 7 times!).  But I think a few occurrences of “the Christ” in Greek, translated merely as “Christ” in the Epistles, could arguably have possessed that specific Messianic emphasis in the original.  Maybe I’ll write you a paper on this someday.

Portions of this post are taken from my recent talk, Traces of the Christ.”

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