The Insanity of God’s Love

The love of God and the love of Man

The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.” For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the Lord and to his blessings in the last days. 

Hosea 3:1-5

Years ago I was walking parts of Canton, OH during an evangelism night. I would go looking for individuals just hanging out and make friends, pray for any needs, and share the message of Christ where there were any openings. Well, I came across an older lady and she had a child with her. She was outside her apartment at the door. I introduced myself and we talked about simple things. She then asked me what I was doing in their area. I explained I was a Christian and I was seeing if there was anyone I could pray for, meet with, and share about the love of God. She responded, “oh, that’s nice.” 

But then she opened up in a profound way. We talked about her previous marriages, divorces, physical and emotional abuse she had been in, the pain of being physically abused. It was heart breaking. She then said, “that’s what i struggle to understand… that you are here talking about a loving God, but these men said they loved me.”  This led us down a long convo outside her door about the nature of God’s love vs. The broken love of humans. She quickly realized she had always lumped them together. I passionately explained to her how the love of God and especially the love of Jesus is nothing this world has ever seen or known. 

Near the end she began to begin to cry. I mean tears upon tears upon tears. She said, “I have always grown up hearing about that love but I just always thought it must have not been for me but for others.” 

What broke my heart about that was how she viewed herself as a person underserving of God’s beautiful and deep love. Unfortunately this is not uncommon. An experiment… if you could imagine God thinking about you, what would you assume he would think? A surprising number of us would be quick to use words like, “disappointment, hard worker, failure, and more.” We would use adjectives like these and every single one would be the opposite of how God sees us.  

In most cases it is usually our sin, we believe, that catches God’s attention first and foremost. That was the case for the woman I met that day as well as many of us. The consequences of this assumption is catastrophic for our experience of God’s love in this life. 

The Love of God is…

Regardless of what you have come to believe about God based upon your life experience, the truth is that when God thinks of you, love swells in his heart. God overflows with love for you; for humans. He is far from being emotionally uninvolved with his creation. God’s bias towards us is strong, persistent, and positive. Our God chooses to be known as love, and that love pervades every part of his relationship with us. 

Does this truth minimize sin? Of course not. Because sin does not change how God feels about humans. Read that last sentence again. It’s true. God is simply not that fickle. Like loving parents who see their child make a wrong decision—do you love this child less? Of course not. God loves us with a love that is not dependent upon our behavior. 

Christians who assume the opposite tend to live their lives focusing on sin and performance more so than the depth and beauty of God’s love. These are those who believe they are honoring God by focusing on sin as much as they can. At times this group will judge other christians for not taking sin as seriously as they do. This group tends to become uncomfortable with divine love and feel an urgent need to balance this love out by highlighting God’s hatred of sin. The saddest part is that this group will often give verbal recognition that such a deep and divine love exists; yet they will fail to experience much of it while they live their lives. 

On the flip side though, the one who can live their lives secure and at rest in the truth that God is head over heels in love with them as his daughter or son—what a different trajectory that one will experience than the others. Why? Because they are remaining in relationship with christ. Relationship with God is not found in performance or hatred of sin. Relationship with God is found in remaining in the very love of God:  

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

John 15:9-13

Do you see the primacy of love? 

What we see in Jesus was God’s heart all along. Hosea’s passionate plea for Israel to be faithful is not some original idea he woke up with and heard from God. The prophets and leaders before him were crying out for Israel to return to the divine and deep love seen in the garden of Eden. Even for us as Christians, the story of Jesus’ love for you and i did not begin with him…it began in genesis in the creation narrative. 

When this narrative in genesis is read as science, we are missing it. The goal of the biblical writer as well as the Hebrew language being used is not meant to be a scientific text. It was written as a love poem giving the origin story of humanity. Is it truth? Of course. Did God create the heavens and the earth? Of course. It is truth. But the entire narrative of truth rests on a deep love story between God and those he created.

And so, created from love and for love, human beings ran from this divine love in pursuit of what seemed to be “freedom.” The result was catastrophic. Freedom turned into bondage. Intimacy turned into alienation. Genuine love was reduced to self-love. All of this resulting in deep pride and unimaginable estrangement from our true selves and how God created us to be. Sin was the ultimate killer of faithful covenant love between God and us and has, ever since, led us into diluted and dysfunctional definitions and pursuits of love and intimacy. Many of us have been there, are there. We were never meant to stay in this place. Neither was Israel. 

God’s love for us is transforming… 

Hosea is living for us, with visible symbolism, the pain that God is feeling because of this rupture. His heart is in agony. Hosea is called to marry a woman who has been a prostitute and bear children with her. This prophetic action is illustrating how God, who is full of love, is patiently waiting for Israel to return to him and be faithful in return. But it isn’t happening. Its getting worse. 

Just when we think it is over, God goes further with Hosea. Look again at what Hosea is to do in an effort to rescue his bride

Read Hosea 3:1-3 above again. But slowly.

Can you imagine this? Hosea wakes up. He hears the rumors. He rushes to find gomer at the market. She isn’t there. He panics and hopes to God she did not return to the streets or to her pimp. He hopes she did not go back to prostituting herself. He thinks to himself, “why would she leave my love I am giving her, our love we have in marriage, and seeking “fake love” in these ways?!?” So he goes and finds her pimp. Poses as a customer. And says, “ill take that girl over there.” He pays for her. She comes and finds her customer. With shame she realizes its her husband. Hosea brings her back home. Literally brings her away from where she was because why? Because he loves her too much to be at peace with her decision to be in that place.] We will come back to this insane scenario but…

Lets not miss something so important about God’s love: Hosea shows us that the way to return to the place of God’s love and faithfulness is not a passive acceptance of where gomer is or where we are; but a shifting of our intentions, thinking, and actions, to leave that current place and journey into a new one. Do you see this? The love of man is passive and based on acceptance. It is focused on self and ego. Whatever makes you feel good…however you want to define yourself… love is love. For the world? Yes. This is true. For the love found within the kingdom of God? It is the opposite. The love of God is relentless and founded upon transformation. 

Hosea could not rest with his wife on the street. God cannot rest with his children living in sin. Does it change how much he loves them? Of course not! But it does not equally change his jealousy and passion for them to live lives that are being transformed by his love. 

This divine love of God, the love Jesus speaks of and Hosea demonstrates is transformative. Continually. If ever a message is preached or proclaimed that gives love without transformation—that is not the gospel. Repentance (turning from sin) is a foundational part of our faith. How can we discover true divine love if we do not leave behind our broken attempts at love? 

God’s desire was always to find a people for himself, call them out from the world, and show them his deep and divine love so that they could then show the rest of the world that same deep and divine love. To do this, the people must be called out. This means repentance, leave their old life for a new—because the true deep love from above is so inviting that they cannot help but be transformed by it. 

I have often loved with condition. I have often lived trying to earn God’s love. Not a decade ago. More like a week ago. The enemy’s fingerprints are upon all of our lives when it comes to the love we give to others. We must be aware of it and consume ourselves with his love to protect us. But you know where all of this begins? In our own thinking. We asked the question, “if you could imagine God thinking about you, what would you assume he would think?” Perhaps adjectives like “unfixable, unlovable, unworthy” come into our mind. 

What lengths will this love go?

What is most often missed in Hosea 3 is the reality of the lengths God will go to show love to his beloved—those who think they are “unfixable, unlovable, and unworthy.” We already saw what Hosea did. But lets look for a moment not at “what” but “how” he did it. 

 So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley.

Hosea 3:2

He bought a person who was already his. Do you see this? And he does this for fifteen shekels of silver and some barley. For comparison, Exodus 21:32 says a slave cost 30 shekels, and joseph was sold for twenty in Genesis 37:28. So Hosea goes and pays a little less than a slaves wage to get back his wife from the pimp. He didn’t have to! She was his wife! But Hosea goes and brings her home to a place of safety where true love is found and he says, “stay here for many days and remain with me, and I will remain with you!” This is not Hosea making her his slave. This is not Hosea commanding her she must stay. This is Hosea, acting in the place of God, saying, “I know that you are already mine! I love you so much that even when you leave me again and again and return to your ways, I will search for you, I will find you, and I will pay the cost to have you back to me!” 

“I don’t know Noah. You think that shows a “great cost”? I mean, it was less than the price of a slave.” Ok. Fair enough. How about this… 

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 

Though Hosea obeyed God, showing gomer the deep love and faithfulness of God, in the long run, Israel still was Israel. And so, God did it a second time. But this time it was not with the price of a slave; but rather the price of a King. But not just any king. God’s personified love was found in the person and teaching of Jesus who came from above. Who suffered a horrendous death and sacrifice as a means to usher you into a true revelation and encounter of God’s “garden” love. 

Many have experienced this love. They are experiencing all of it through Jesus and their lives are being transformed becoming holy, free from the pain and delusion of sin. But for many others, we are still trapped living as spiritual orphans and slaves This was the message Jesus told them again and again about the father’s love. But many didn’t get it. 

I leave you with this: God loves you. There is no sin too large for God to forgive. No life too far gone for him to redeem. His love for you has never changed. We have. Remember that the true love of God—divine love– will lead to new life characterized by repentance, holiness, and pure joy in him. A life shaped by the kingdom of God and his Son Jesus.

And so, 

Hosea went to find his bride. 

God sent Jesus to find his bride. 

In both cases, the bride was found. 

But for you and I, the question remains, “will we be found by God?” Stop running. Surrender to the love of God and begin to form habits that reciprocate that love: prayer, scripture, and meditating on the love of God. And I promise you. Your life will never be the same.

Amen? 

Amen.

“What exactly does ‘salvation’ mean?” – Salvation Pt. 2

Before venturing into the Scriptures with the ins and outs of salvation, it would be helpful to get a basic understanding of both the Hebrew and Greek definitions. Having a good handle on the word and theme will position us to move more efficiently through the primary sources we will encounter. 

The earliest instance of “salvation” in the Hebrew writings is found in Genesis 32:11 with Jacob praying that God would “save” him from the hand of his brother Esau. This common understanding of salvation from calamity from a fellow human is common. However it is in Exodus 14:30 we see a divine component of being introduced where it is God doing the saving. These citations and many others like them explain “salvation” or the act of getting saved in the context of being redeemed or recused from situations taking place around them. The various Hebrew cognates for salvation include 

nāṣal (“deliver”), pālaṭ (“bring to safety”), pādāh (var. pādaʿ, “redeem”) and mālaṭ (“deliver”). Two major salvific terms are gāʾal (“redeem,” “buy back,” “restore,” “vindicate,” or “deliver”) and yāšaʿ (“save,” “help in time of distress,” “rescue,” “deliver,” or “set free”).”[1]

In the New Testament the term “salvation” or the verb “to be saved” does not span as large a range of meaning as we find in the Old Testament. In the NT the core word used to describe salvation is sozo. The Anchor Biblie Dictionary explains 

that within the NT verb sǭzō (“save,” “keep from harm,” “rescue,” “heal,” or “liberate”) 106 times, and its compound diasozō 9 times. The corresponding nouns sōtēria (“salvation”), sōtēr (“savior”) and sōtērion(“salvation”) turn up 45, 24, and 4 times respectively. We find the very ruomai (“rescue”) 15 times in the NT, which also uses many other terms (“freedom,” “justification,” “life,” “reconciliation,” “redemption,” “resurrection,” and “rule of God”) to express salvation.” [2]

The earliest usage of any of these in the NT is found in Matthew 1:21 when the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph speaking about Mary saying, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Like the OT the action of being saved can apply to both interpersonal human dynamics as well as divine. I.H. Marshall communicates well the role salvation often plays in the NT: (1) To rescue from danger and restore to a former state of safety and well-being; (2) To cause someone to become well again after becoming sick; or (3) To cause someone to experience divine salvation –“to save.”[3]

Taking both of these understandings above we can confidently gather an idea of what salvation entails before we look at how it functions so as to arrive at a more nuanced and well-rounded understanding for today’s dialog in the church of the 21st century. In looking at both Testaments and their respective meaning of “salvation,” we can say with confidence that it is the verb or noun (depending on the context) in which an individual or group enacts to bring deliverance, restoration, and/or redemption for another individual or group. When the agent of the action is divine, salvation takes on an entirely new dimension. However, asking the right questions just might help us arrive at a place of solid footing. Questions like those author Adrian Plass asks, albeit humorously, in his book Bacon Sandwiches and Salvation. Questions which I myself was asked in 2004. 

But what is it all about? What does it mean to be saved? Saved from what? Saved for what? Should the whole business of salvation have a significant impact on my present as well as on my future? Speaking of the future, what can we expect from an eternity spent in heaven? How can we possibly make sense of heaven when our feet remain so solidly on Earth? Where is the interface, The meeting point between the flesh and the spirit?? And when all the strange religious terms and voices and patterns and mantras and man-made conventions have faded away, what will be left?[4]

Having observed a birds eye view of the various nuances of what salvation means in different contexts in both Hebrew and Greek, we are now able to explore these kinds of questions to extract the clearest understanding of the divine salvation of God.[5]

Salvation in the Old Testament 

Salvation evokes images of being set free as well as profound redemption emerging from the human experience. It points to the fact that there is a deep inherent need of being redeemed, rescued, and restored. For the Hebrew people these themes wove a beautiful tapestry of salvific language when describing and speaking to and about God. The origin for this is found in Genesis 1:27 where it reads, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them.” It may surprise some that this is the origin for salvation but it cannot be denied. The reason this text within the creation narrative is because it points toward the very foundation of salvation: relationship and identity. 

The children of God[6] were created in solidarity with the rest of the created order but He then gave them dominion over all as they were created in the very image of Himself. Man and woman as the divine image bearers is a crucial aspect of their covenant relationship with Yahweh. Joel B. Green communicates that humanity is created uniquely in relationship to God and finds itself as a result of creation in covenant with God. He adds, “Humanity is given the divine mandate to reflect God’s own covenant love in relation with God, within the covenant community of all humanity, and with all that God has created.”[7] As can be seen, covenant language encapsulates the creation story and Man’s relationship to his Creator. But what happens when this divine relationship is harmed or marred by an entity such as Sin? Something needs to happen. Someone needs to act. For the image bearers are now in need of saving in both an earthly manner as well as spiritual. What was pure in its creation has now been opened to destruction and danger. 

Salvation is focused on Yahweh rescuing a people for Himself and his purposes; doing whatever it takes to restore what has been tarnished by the rebellious actions of Adam and Eve.  If this is not kept in tandem with his children as image bearers, the covenantal aspect of God and Israel can be lost. The prescription for encountering his salvation is deeply connected to the covenant made with Israel—through whom we can see the salvific heart of God on display across many pages of the OT. Without the covenant there is no unrelenting bond prompting the saving actions of God. Similar to a partner longing to be loved, adored, and rescued if need be; without a marriage covenant, that one could experience the anguish of being ignored or walked out on. Ideally, a marriage covenant would reinforce every salvific action from one spouse to another. 

Throughout the Pentateuch (especially the Abrahamic and Patriarchal narratives) it is apparent that the groups of people who receive redemptive blessings from the God of Israel do so because of a deep loving relationship—thought at times not reciprocated. The blessings given all vary in context and yet point to one cohesive theme: that Yahweh is the only One they can trust to guide and save them. This is apparent throughout the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50 whether it is with Joseph himself or even his father Jacob and other siblings. God is seen bringing earthly salvation by taking care of their physical needs. Before Joseph we see within the Great Flood in Genesis 6:5-9:19 a clear example of God’s desire to save his people following the opposite. Outside of these two in Genesis the most significant salvific act of God for a group of people is none other than Israel itself when they suffered under the tyranny of Pharoah in Egypt in Exodus 1-15. In all three examples above, the groups represented comprise the people Israel, who have been called out to be God’s children.[8] Their stories illustrate that their salvation is stemming from their God Whom they know because of covenant love and allegiance.

Moving outside of the Pentateuch a continued thread on salvation runs through the rest of the OT with variations depending on the genre and era. Throughout 1 Samuel, Judges, Nehemiah, Ruth, and especially the Psalms, salvation coming from Yahweh for the people Israel is a dominant theme that cannot be ignored.  The prophets, more so than any other section of the OT, carry on the theme of salvation attempting to draw Israel back to a place of alignment with the Law. J.C. Moeller, in discussing the priority of salvation coming from the various prophetic oracles writes 

The theme of salvation, expressed in rich and varied language and communicated by the prophet with the oracle, occupies a prominent place in the prophetic books. Only God can save, and he will do so how, when, for whom, and for whatever reason he pleases.[9]

This tone throughout the prophetic books continues to challenge Israel’s faithlessness as well as another angle of salvation which we will explore shortly. But again and again the prophetic writers seek to remind rebellious Israel from where their salvation comes from. Isaiah the prophet in 43:25 of his own book reminds everyone that it is God alone who blots out their transgressions and remembers sin no more. Shortly before in 25:7-8 we can see God’s salvific actions taking center stage. “The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth.” Apart from Isaiah there is Zechariah who declares that on a certain day “a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to clean them from sin and impurity.” (Zechariah 13:1) 

Any individual with a good concordance or bible software could continue for quite some time down this path looking at the vast number of examples of prophets and OT writers longing for God to intervene and bring his redeeming self into their time and space assuming that Israel is seeking to live up to its end of the covenant. As J.C. Hartley observes, “The saving deed then is determinative for the nature of each generation’s relationship with Yahweh and its proclamation inspires the faith to establish to maintain the relationship.”[10] According to much of the OT’s rationale, if there was no covenant faithfulness; there was no salvation to be sought. Each generation needed to reaffirm its faithfulness to Yahweh. A primary way of achieving this was through Torah observance. 

Torah and Salvation

Throughout the OT narrative leading into 2nd Temple Judaism salvation was intended to be a continual enjoyment. It was not meant to be an event they cry out for when disastrous situations arose but rather a perpetual relationship of salvation—if you will. To live in the saving presence of God required covenant faithfulness as the prophets challenged Israel and Judah to. The Torah was meant to be the guide or tutor to enable them to deal with any and all challenges that would arise seeking to compromise Israel’s covenant loyalty resulting in the loss of the blessings for which they were originally created.[11]

The Torah and covenant go hand in hand. The Torah was not a weapon or check list for salvation; it was the life-giving record of God’s covenant with them. Israel was to be his own and they were to remain his through the adoration and obedience of Torah. When this happened, there was firm conviction that many blessings (or curses when disobeyed) would be conferred upon Israel as seen in Deuteronomy 28. This journey between obedience and disobedience regarding the Torah was a tension that, as Chris Wright explains, “included what God had done on the one hand (he had chosen, called and redeemed them), and what Israel was to do in response (to love and worship Yahweh alone, and to obey him fully).”[12] God expected his Law to take center stage setting up a continual salvific presence for Israel. The result being that Yahweh would be known as the God of Israel for all the world to see and be drawn to. This was the covenant relationship the entire OT is built upon which is explained and expanded upon in the Law and later writings as well. 

A core distinguishing factor of Torah that is important to remember is that even though this collection of writings affirms what is said above; it also clarifies and communicates the will of Yahweh for the people on a practical and governance level. And so within it we find numerous types of laws, commands, decrees, and other words used to denote the commands of Yahweh for his children. The intention was to protect them and bring them into a place of existence marked by unity and shalom. The presence of these types of laws for governance does not negate the ultimate and chief aim of the Torah which was to enable Israel to live as Yahweh’s people. Or as Exodus 19:6 puts it, “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” This kind of state of being for Israel was achieved when like David, they treasured and savored each word and syllable of the Torah itself. as seen throughout Psalm 119. 

In Summary

In summary, the Israelites experienced salvation primarily through the present and the central focus of realizing and living this salvation was through obedience through Torah and what it commands. If adherence to Torah was maintained and participated in; they could expect the saving actions of Yahweh to be present. When it was not, the prophets sought to bring the children of God back to obedience to the Law.

In taking a step back from the common elements of salvation and Torah as explained above we can see other core ideas associated with OT salvation.. Among the many are the prospect of a messianic leader or “servant of the Lord” (Isaiah 42); the restoration of a Davidic monarchy (Isaiah 16:5); the presence of a second or renewed “exodus” back into the land (Ezekiel 37:12); and the knowledge of God reaching the nations outside of Israel (Isaiah 51:4). These ideas and more surrounding national salvation by God was focused on the present side of death.[13] 

However, within the prophetic books there is a new understanding of salvation beginning to subtlety emerge focusing on the hopes for salvation involving a possible afterlife. Isaiah 26:19 is a text often viewed as speaking of salvation in the life to come by the statement, “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!” Similar aspects of salvation can also be observed in Isaiah 53:8-10, Ezekiel 37:1-14; and Daniel 12:2 which will be highlighted in the following section on salvation in 2nd Temple Judaism. David as well as Isaiah and some of the prophets dips his toes into “afterlife” salvation from the depths of Sheol. These are found in Psalm 30:3; 86:13; and 116:3-8. 

If Torah is followed and the children of God continue down a path of loyalty and faithfulness to their covenant with Yahweh, they can expect salvation in their time and space as well as in the life to come. The all of this leads to a reality for Israel where the nations will see that Yahweh is the one true God chiefly because of the continued salvation he is bringing to them as well as promising into the future. M. J. Harris writes, “At that time all the nations will stream into Zion, ‘the city of the Lord’ (Is. 2:2–3; 60:3, 14). In the last days ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance’ (Joel 2:32).”[14] The salvation which is to be observed from Israel for the nations serves as the beginning steps towards a NT understanding of salvation where the Gentiles are involved and the Gospel of Jesus is on display. Understanding how we get to that place requires us to travel through the era leading up to the time of Jesus. More on this in “Salvation Pt. 3.”


[1] David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 5, Anchor Bible Reference Library (New York London Toronto [etc.]: Doubleday, 1992), 907-908.

[2] Freedman, 5:910.

[3] Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall, eds., Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 720.

[4] Adrian Plass, Bacon Sandwiches and Salvation: An A-Z of the Christian Life (London: Authentic Media, 2007), 163–64.

[5] While it is of course acknowledged that salvation can refer to many things within the biblical text, the scope of this chapter will highlight how Israel and the early church understood salvation from a sin and present danger issue. 

[6] Throughout this paper the name of God will vary from context to context interchanging between “Yahweh”, “God”, and “Father.” 

[7] Green, Salvation, 19.

[8] Freedman, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 5:908.

[9] Mark J. Boda and J. G. McConville, eds., Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2012), 700.

[10] Terence E. Fretheim, God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005), 416.

[11] T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker, eds., Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 856–57.

[12] Christopher J. H Wright, Salvation Belongs to Our God: Celebrating the Bible’s Central Story (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity, 2008), 58.

[13] Michael D. Morrison, “Salvation,” The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016)

[14] M. J. Harris, “Salvation,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 764.

Jesus and the Kingdom of God Part 2

“Kingdom” According to Jesus

Scot McKnight provides an ideal on-ramp to capture the meaning of God’s Kingly rule and phrase ‘Kingdom of God’ as Jesus understood it. In his work “A New Vision for Israel” he states, 

Jewish social and political circumstances permitted the religious hope of Israel to have its own delightful and despairing history. At the same time, this hope shaped the social and political identity of the nation and exercised a profound influence on the teachings of Jesus. His teachings on the present operation of the kingdom were shaped fundamentally by his vision of the future kingdom.[1]

McKnight argues that any attempt to study the Kingdom of God through Jesus’ thinking and teaching must be kept within this context. Failing to do so would result in an erroneous belief that what Jesus is teaching is somehow new or uncommon. This would be inaccurate given the study above of Second Temple literature. In the past and for some in the present the action of believing that the apocalyptic teachings of Jesus were independent of contemporary ideas. Over time though, as literature began to be made available and scholarship on the topic multiplied, this perception began to shift. As Albert Schweitzer makes clear,

After the studies of Hilgenfeld and Dillmann had made known the Jewish apocalyptic in its fundamental characteristics, and the Jewish Pseudepigrapha were no longer looked on as ‘forgeries’, but as representative documents of the last stage of Jewish thought, the necessity of taking account of them in interpreting the thought of Jesus became more and more emphatic.[2]

It is with this understanding in mind both from McKnight and Schweitzer that any hope of discovering what Jesus means by “Kingdom” must remain connected to his own sitz im leben. For study we will highlight key Scriptures where Jesus uses “Kingdom of God” in diverse ways. These texts will focus on Jesus seeing the Kingdom as present, ethical, and future.[3] With the book of Mark being the earliest extant Gospel we will take our Scriptural examples from here. While it would be advantageous to go through the parables[4] relating to the Kingdom of God, we will focus only on the direct statements of the Kingdom which connect most to surrounding outside literature we have already examined.

Mark 1:15 and the Kingdom Present

At the beginning of his ministry, the Gospel of Mark tells us in 1:15 that he exclaimed, “πεπλήρωται ὁ καιρὸς καὶ ἤγγικεν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ· μετανοεῖτε καὶ πιστεύετε ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ.”[5] For Jesus the Kingdom of God in this sentence is one of present impact. From this text it is surmisable that this wasn’t something that was coming next week or next year. It was now. Along with the present arrival is a spatial connection in his usage of “ἤγγικεν.”[6] In otherwards, it is near in this present space and time. The addition of “πιστεύετε ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ” adds a devotional concept he is expecting his listeners to grab ahold of. To trust and to believe that this present Kingdom is discernable—the one that has been spoken of well before his arrival.

Joel Marcus in his Anchor commentary would agree with the above and views Jesus’ usage of the Kingdom of God here as having an immediate impact. He states

Kairos can mean either ‘decisive moment’ (cf. 12:2, 13:33) or ‘span of time’ (cf. 10:30; 11:13). Because of the combination with plēroun, ‘to fulfill,’ which implies linearity, the meaning ‘span of time’ is to be preferred in the present instance.”[7]

He goes on to say that this understanding of God’s rule and reign being inaugurated at this present time lends to this being a both dynamic and apocalyptic pronouncement of Jesus concerning the Kingdom. Which, as we recall, was a strand of thinking found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and certain Pseudepigraphal texts. 

Jesus is giving not only an invitation but a cosmic declaration to all who would hear, to come and experience that which is immanent. That God’s reign and Kingdom is discernable in the present through his ministry. It is with this urgency of the Kingdom that Jesus is compelled to go from village to village. It is an imminence, once again, that is not necessarily new in its origin. In T. Mos. 10:1 it reads, “his [God’s] Kingdom shall appear throughout his creation…” In the Kaddish Prayer we have another similarity that deserves notice. “May he establish his Kingdom in your lifetime and in your days, and in the lifetime of the whole house of Israel, speedily and at a near time.” In speaking of this same immanence, Dale C. Allison brings us to a deeper place of clarity. Allison qualifies six of scholar Marcus Borg’s assessments of the Kingdom. In doing so he supports those who see the Kingdom as an eschatological pronouncement from Jesus and its present inbreaking in Mark 1:15. He states

If the Kingdom is indeed (6) an “ideal state,” that is, the eschatological state when God’s will is done on earth as in heaven, this would explain why (5) the Kingdom is also a political metaphor (when the ideal comes Rome will be gone), why (4) it is something one can be in or out of (some will enter, others will not enter), why (3) it is associated with God’s kingship (God will then be universally recognized as king), why (2) it is linked with the divine presence (in the end God will be, as Rom. 15:28 puts it, all in all), and, finally, why (1) it is bound up with God’s power (the ideal only comes because of God’s might and only after a great struggle against evil).[8]

From our first example of Jesus’ usage of Kingdom of God we can say with confidence that Jesus thought in the same apocalypticism that is in line with much of what we discovered from the Second Temple literature. Allison helps us see this from a multi-layered approach while Marcus shows that Jesus saw this as a present multi-dimensional reality for all who would place their trust in his message. He is pronouncing an invitation to a Kingdom with present implications seeking the trust of those who would listen. 

Mark 10:14-15 and the Ethical Kingdom

Making the shift from Mark 1:15 to 10:14-15 and our journey of seeing “the Kingdom of God” through the eyes of Jesus is enough to cause us to scratch our head. How is it that in Mark 1:15 we see a “present tense” Kingdom but are now confronted with a Kingdom that is (appears to be) yet to come? In our second example the specific part of the text which we will engage reads, “ὃς ἂν μὴ δέξηται τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ ὡς παιδίον, οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθῃ εἰς αὐτήν.” 

The obvious question we should bring to this text when read in conjunction with 1:15 is, “How is it the arrival of a Kingdom with present implications and yet it needs entered into as communicated in the negative with: οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθῃ εἰς αὐτήν.” Was not Jesus communicating that it was here? It had arrived. While interpretations differ, the text appears to give the connotation that this is a future Kingdom that is yet to come and those who welcome children—an ethical component of the present/future Kingdom—will reserve the right to enter it. The timing of the Kingdom according to Jesus is hotly debated. While timing is important for understanding the eschatology of Jesus, maybe it is a focus we are imposing hermeneutically more than the text is seeking to reveal. N.T. Wright suggests that the texts which are often thought of referring to the timing of the end of the world are more rooted in a deeper Jewish meaning. [9]

He argues that this then suggests that the crucial question is not so much that of the Kingdom’s timing but rather its content.[10]  Though the present text is not in reference to an apocalyptic ending of the world (though embedded within οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθῃ εἰς αὐτήν” one could argue it is indirectly present), it nonetheless highlights what Wright is saying. What is important for our quest in understanding how Jesus understood the Kingdom is the welcoming of a child to himself. This is a marker of the Kingdom that is at work in the life of Jesus throughout his ministry. This ethical component of the Kingdom culture is in lock step with what was hoped for.[11] More on the ethics of the Kingdom will be explored later in this paper. But for our present study of Mark 10:14-15 it is important to recognize how this present statement of a child being welcomed to himself is connected to the larger narrative. Scot McKnight writes

Kingdom evokes for may the grand and glorious, but Jesus sabotaged such an idea with an emphatic focus on the inauspicious nature of the present Kingdom of God. The Kingdom had inauspicious beginnings—like a mustard seed (Mark 4:30-32), it was comprised of inauspicious people—like children (10:14-15) and tax collectors (Luke 19:1-10), it was led by an inauspicious person—Jesus (Luke 17:20-21), and yet this inauspiciousness would someday turn into a grand a glorious display (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43).[12]

Mark’s inclusion of Jesus’ indignation and frustration at the disciple’s halting of children coming to him (of whom the likes of the inauspicious Kingdom is found according to McKnight) is unique to his gospel alone. In doing so he highlights with passion what Jesus viewed the Kingdom as being all about: a divine and subversive welcoming of that and those rejected by the ways of human governance and society. William Lane beautifully articulates what this text reveals and how Jesus views the inclusion within this present/future Kingdom. He states

The disciples’ attempt to turn the children aside because they were unimportant is one more instance of a persistent tendency to think in wholly human, fallen categories which Jesus had rebuked on earlier occasions (Chs. [Mark] 8:33; 9:33-37). The Kingdom of God belongs to children, and to others like them who are of no apparent importance, because God has willed to give it to them…. The Kingdom belongs to such as these because they receive it as a gift.[13]

This second example displays an ethical dynamic to the Kingdom that falls in line with what was hoped for before Jesus in the above research. While the challenge of timing is certainly imbedded in this these two, that is not the priority of this specific text. In the process thus far, we see that the Kingdom has present impact (Mark 1:15) with ethical and cultural implications (Mark 10:14-15). The Kingdom according to the thinking of Jesus is setting up to be a status reversal in the present with an eye towards future consummation as we will see.  

Taking a step back we can see that the actions and teachings of Jesus are happening to further this two-fold effort of (1) pronouncing a present Kingdom (2) with action that displays the evidence of a new Kingdom, breaking through the social order of first century Palestine. Wright detects this happening in Jesus and asserts that he believed with his own work and message that something “dramatically new was already happening.”[14] As Wright says, “The days of preparation were over ; Israel’s god was now acting in the way he had promised of old.”[15] This understanding though is kept in tension since at the same time Jesus was viewing the Kingdom as something about to burst on to the scene. If his followers were not careful it would come as a thief in the night. All of this can be described as a Kingdom that is both here and not yet. This paradox was enough to give even the disciples moments of confusion.[16] But alas, the Kingdom is not marked by confusion. It is a wonderful and beautiful paradox expanded upon even further by our last Markan text. 

Mark 14:25 and the Future Kingdom 

Our first two examples highlight a linear movement of the Kingdom. Our first example from Mark 1:15 showcases the starting line of Jesus and all who would follow him. That the message and proclamation was to be Kingdom focused. The element of repentance was so that those who were “afar off” or wandering down paths of hopelessness wondering if the common pseudepigraphal or Isaian texts, which surely existed in the cultural milieu of the people, would ever surface. Our second text from Mark 10:14-15 highlights the distance this Kingdom will go in challenging the status quo of current social dynamics within the 1st century location of Jesus.[17] It is with our final text that we see somewhat of a “finish line” from Jesus. 

In 14:25 Jesus states, “οὐκέτι οὐ μὴ πίω ἐκ τοῦ γενήματος τῆς ἀμπέλου ἕως τῆς ἡμέρας ἐκείνης ὅταν αὐτὸπίνω καινὸν ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ.” At first glance we must again grapple with the apparent confusion of timing. In an almost definitive sense Jesus is putting his cards on the table that the Kingdom is not yet here though it was in Mark 1:15. The βασιλείᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ in this text with the accompanying language of banquet and drinking wine leads us to believe Jesus here is speaking not only of a future reality but more importantly a future fulfilment. In Jesus and Judaism E. P. Sanders defends this authentic statement by Jesus and askes a poignant question. He asks

Does this indicate that Jesus thought that the disciples would constitute a group which would survive his death and endure until the eschaton, or that the kingdom would arrive immediately, with no interval? Is the kingdom this-worldly or other worldly? We find here the uncertainty which generally characterizes discussion which attempts to specify the precise meaning of the saying’s material.[18]

While much has been written on the proposed aims and intentions of Jesus surrounding the last supper and how he viewed his death, this paper is unable to give this question the attention it merits. This question though highlights the frame of questions which get us closer to assessing how Jesus saw the Kingdom. Suffice to say that Jesus was both proclaiming and experiencing something himself which he knew was at work within him and through him regardless how he saw his own future as the messiah. It was a Kingdom that was taking root while he ministered with an eye to the future fulfillment as even the prophets before him proclaimed.

From our final text we can see that Jesus viewed an impending restoration of all things and a bringing to order of that which is disordered. When Jesus says οὐκέτι οὐ μὴ πίω ἐκ τοῦ γενήματος τῆς ἀμπέλου ἕως τῆς ἡμέρας ἐκείνης ὅταν αὐτὸ πίνω καινὸν, he was not speaking of any ordinary banquet. As Normin Perrin so wonderfully explains this text with its present and future implications he writes

The imagery of the Messianic Banquet teaches that it [the Kingdom] will mean a perfect participation in the ultimate blessings of God; and the imagery of the New Temple which is a regular apocalyptic symbol for the final blessed state, describes the community of the redeemed as enjoying a perfect sacral relationship with God.[19]

As should be clear by now, Jesus cannot be pigeonholed into one viewpoint on the Kingdom from his era. There are present and future aspects. There are ethical inferences that affect this life and the life to come. These three examples (among many others) highlight a robust mindset on the Kingdom that Jesus communicated from. The logical outflow of these sayings of Jesus (whether they be attested or accepted) is to bring together a cohesive theological understanding of what Jesus means when he uses the phrase “Kingdom of God.” While the debate on timing, spatial components, and ethical dimensions will continue, it is imperative we not “miss the forest for the trees.”

We ought to ask, “So what that the Kingdom is here?” “So, what that the Kingdom has differing social dynamics?” “So, what that this Kingdom will one day be fulfilled fully?” While such questions may resemble a toddler asking this phrase to everything they are told, it is important for us to ask them, nonetheless. Persistently asking such questions will enable us to integrate a fresh Kingdom approach steeped in its natural context of Second Temple Judaism.

Before moving on to understanding this Kingdom mission in the wake of Jesus’ ascension and resurrection in Church history we must capture a glimpse of where scholarship has been on this same endeavor. More on this in Part 3.


[1] McKnight, A New Vision for Israel, 120.

[2] Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (Mineola, N.Y.: Dover, 2005), 222.

[3] The ethical components of Jesus’ understanding on the Kingdom of God will be more fully explored in the concluding area of this paper.

[4] For an in depth look at the Kingdom parables see Klyne Snodgrass, Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, Second edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018). As well as Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Kingdom of God.

[5] In analyzing these three Markan Scriptures it is most appropriate that we do so in the original language. 

[6] This perfect active indicative 3rd person singular verb denotes a movement in space has in effect taken place. Something has moved into the present time. BDAG lists the meanings of this word to include a reference point, a drawing near, a coming near, an approaching of humans and transcendent beings. This would of course imply also to the Kingdom of God. Whether or not this applies to the seen or unseen is debatable. For the present context the usage of ἤγγικεν signals a spatial approach with the teachings and message of the Gospel. (Frederick W. Danker, Walter Bauer, and William Arndt, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000).

[7] Joel Marcus, Mark 1 – 8: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, First Yale University Press impression, The Anchor Bible, volume 27 (New Haven, Conn. London: Yale University Press, 2010), 172.

[8] Dale C. Allison, Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998), 122.

[9] N. T. Wright, Christian Origins and the Question of GodJesus and the Victory of God, 1st North American ed (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 222–23.

[10] Ibid.

[11] See Enoch 10:1, 3-4 and our study of it above. 

[12] Craig A. Evans, ed., Encyclopedia of the Historical Jesus (New York: Routledge, 2008), 356.

[13] William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans Publ, 2010), 360.

[14] Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 1992, 466.

[15] Ibid.

[16] This is especially true in the book of Acts in 1:1-7 where the disciples are continuing to confuse the Kingdom’s present implications with the national restoration of Israel as opposed to the more apocalyptic and eschatological Kingdom which was breaking in.

[17] It should be noted that because of space there cannot be an adequate exploration of each Scripture which highlights the ethical transformations of the Kingdom. However, in later parts of this project the implications for Christian ethics, church leadership, and ecclesiastical mission will be addressed further. 

[18] E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, 1st Fortress Press ed (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 148.

[19] Norman Perrin, Jesus and the Language of the Kingdom: Symbol and Metaphor in New Testament Interpretation (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976), 188.

How to Find Hope for Tomorrow in Unsuspecting Places

Here We Are. In the Desert.

I want you to imagine something with me. I want you to think about your life. With all the good, bad, and ugly you have walked through. The pain of the past. The shame felt. The hurt caused by others. The abuses absorbed. The labels received. The failed promises. The failed vows. I want you to put all of that at the forefront of your mind. All those things no one else knows or has seen you weep over.

Now, I want to ask you a question. “What would it feel like to be completely whole, healthy, and restored?” Can you imagine what that would be like? To take a deep breath again with full healing from your past and present?

I have asked myself this same question before. I often find myself comparing my own journey and growth. However, not with other people as much. More times than not its with the people I have heard about in the Bible. They ALWAYS seemed to me as the prototype people of God who got it right.

I would idolize people like Moses who parted the Red Sea who lived so close to God’s holiness and healing that he met with God face to face!

I would think of Mary the mother of Jesus who had the honor to be chosen as the one to bear in the flesh the very Person of God in Jesus!

I would and have often thought of David who was called a man after God’s own heart. Clearly his life demonstrates the perfect image of what it means to be healed and whole.

I often thought of Paul and Jesus as well for obvious reasons. 

When I would look at these individuals, foolishly, I would only look at their highs. Never their lows. Focusing on the positive of their lives but not on the hell they walked through. Why did I and why do we often do this when looking at people we are inspired by? Because we have an ingrained allergic reaction to anything that will cause discomfort, difficulty, and friction. We hate it. But the reality is, these are the things that bring us health and new life—oddly enough. We just want to skip it all. 

You may remember the Extreme Home Makeover show. Well one of the biggest keys to making this show work was literally constructing a house in days. Newsflash: this isn’t reality. The problem is that the footers and materials used to make homes required time to set, mature, and become strong. And then the house would be durable. Many of these houses were riddled with issues because of unrealistic expectations in constructing them. Our lives are often no different. If we do not embrace even the difficult seasons, years down the road our foundations will rock and we will be a mess because we sought for short cuts. We ran from the pain.

Desert Roads

Many of the individuals mentioned above walked difficult roads: 

Moses was on the run for murder in the desert tending goats when God found him. 

Mary was pregnant with Jesus AFTER an angel appeared to her and had to journey through the desert region of Egypt to escape the violence of Herod who was killing babies throughout the area in search of the chosen one. 

David, before he ever walked into the fullness of his destiny was on the run from Saul in the desert region of En Gedi where many scholars believe he wrote some of the most powerful Psalms showing his deep love and trust in God. 

And Jesus Himself? Before his ministry launched he was literally “cast out into the wilderness desert,” being tempted and tried by Satan Himself. 

Paul too, when he found Christ did not immediately excel to this place of wholeness and healing. Instead, he spent 3 years in, you guessed it, the desert.

God’s strategy to bring us back to places of closeness and intimacy is seen above with these individuals. It is one word all of the examples we just heard about had in common. Moses, Mary, David, Jesus, and Paul. All of them walked through the desert to get where God desired them to go. This is God’s playbook. 

A Wounded Heart Finds Healing

Now, lets take a step back. From Hosea 1:1 (a prophet in the Old Testament) all the way up to 2:13, God is hurting. His heart is tearing in two. Because those whom He created have forgotten about him. Not in lip service or when in need—but in living faithfully for Him and growing in their relationship with Him daily. God is a scorned and angry lover. He is so consumed with jealousy for his adulterous bride that he is ready to hit reset on everything. 

“Start the rain water!… Bring the fire and brimstone!… Lets blow the whole thing up and start over!” But He doesn’t. He can’t. Something within Him always comes back to love and never giving up! 

After the two-timing behavior of Israel is exposed, and after God breaks a few dishes and slams a few doors, God waits on the porch brokenhearted long into the night. He remains hopeful, not only that Israel will return on her own but also that He may be able to draw her not just back… but somewhere deeper. Where is this “deeper place?” You guessed it. The desert.

What is so special about the desert? Isn’t the desert places where things go to die? Exactly. All through the Bible the symbolism behind the desert is meant to display the locations where God’s presence and power is felt most. Rarely did transformation ever happen in King’s palaces, lush land, or places where all the needs were met. 

This is why affluence in Western society is the slow killer of our spirituality. We have everything we need so why do we need the intimacy of God? Why pray? We have it all.

But in the desert we are reminded of our need and hopelessness. In the difficult areas we run from, we are running from our need for Him to work within us. It is there that the Holy Spirit can reach us. This is God’s playbook! As it was for his wayward wife. But what happens in the desert? Through Hosea (2:14-15), God says,

“Therefore I am now going to allure her;
    I will lead her into the wilderness
    and speak tenderly to her.
There I will give her back her vineyards,
    and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she will respond as in the days of her youth,
    as in the day she came up out of Egypt.

I encourage you. Read it again. Comfort is found in the silencing of competing voices. Vineyards are restored, which are a symbol of blessing and restoration. Trouble and challenge are turned into hope and opportunity. “Valley of Achor” meant the “place of trouble.” Do you see the transformation God is inviting unfaithful Israel into? He is not calling for divorce. He is inviting full restoration!  It is a “return to your first love!” God says that Israel will sing again as in the days of her youth when she was first set free from Egypt. Can you see all of this? Eugene Peterson gives a great window into Hosea 2:!4-15 when he translates it:

“And now, here’s what I’m going to do:
    I’m going to start all over again.
I’m taking her back out into the wilderness
    where we had our first date, and I’ll court her.
I’ll give her bouquets of roses.
    I’ll turn Heartbreak Valley into Acres of Hope.
She’ll respond like she did as a young girl,
    those days when she was fresh out of Egypt.

God’s relentless heart and pursuit of us is beyond our imagination. The very places we hide from one another and from God, the best we can, are the very places God wants to bring to the surface in that wilderness time when we feel at our lowest. When we feel furthest from God, in a moment, God can transform it into the closest of times! Not to help us make a home there and stay in our brokenness… but rather heal and walk us through it. But for them, all of it was dependent upon one thing for Israel: willingness.

The Deceiving Hyphen

What stands before A – B is a small hyphen. Beware, the hyphen is deceiving. It leads us to think the route from brokenness to healing is a straight and easy line. It isn’t true. What is in the middle is the desert and we have to get through it God’s way. We may want to swim under it, jump over it, teleport to the other side, but we cant.

We. Just. Cant.

There is only one way from A to B. There is only one method of travel where Jesus will be found. And that is in treading water and swimming bit by bit to the other side. Often while holding a cinder block in one hand and a dumbbell in the other. It’s the desert. It isn’t easy. But even still, we tread and swim with Jesus there hoping and trusting we will find comfort, restoration, the transformation because of what we have seen time and time again in the Scriptures.

But if we aren’t willing to make that swim, we settle and exist with our cinder block, often times unknowingly hurting others. 

In the book Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity, an author named Ronald Rolheiser explains this journey through the desert to healing well in our culture. 

One of the challenges, at least in the western church, is an inability to deal with our wounds in a healthy way. Our training as Christians has been focused on Bible studies, small groups, and Sunday worship. But little thought has been given to the connection between our emotional and spiritual lives. This, I believe, is why people can inflict so much damage on and within the church. There’s tons of spiritual head knowledge, but without healing the wounds of the past they are unable to experience healthy relationships.

Being OK With Desert Silence and No Manual

All of us begin our lives in Christ with a child-like hope and belief that we will always remain in this faithful dialog with God and we will grow to become so close to Him and so whole. But as time goes on, Some of this begins to change.  God becomes aloof to us, we perceive. We lose interest. All of this becomes a mindless and numb existence. We settle for it as though it were truth. Suddently then, God becomes really silent. 

But it is in the silence of God, the desert and the wilderness, we actually discover Him in a real and new way. There is no sequence or method. There is no practical application when it comes to surrender, repentance, and discovery of the intimacy of God. These are all relationship words; not a manual to build a playground set. I mean, think about it. Do you look at your friendships and spouse this same way? Expecting a manual to make everything fit together perfectly?  There just isn’t one. All of it is relationship and mystery. But what I do know, in the mystery where we hit our wall and surrender to the needed journey through the desert—God takes us to higher ground and deeper intimacy as seen in Hosea 2:16-18.

“In that day,” declares the Lord,
    “you will call me ‘my husband’;
    you will no longer call me ‘my master.’
I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips;
    no longer will their names be invoked.
In that day I will make a covenant for them
    with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
    and the creatures that move along the ground.
Bow and sword and battle
    I will abolish from the land,
    so that all may lie down in safety.

Did you catch that key phrase? He says, “In that day…” 

In that day when you Israel decide its time to surrender.

In that day son and daughter when you are finally ready to say, “Not my will but yours be done.” 

In that day when you finally say its time to enter the desert for growth and new life. 

There is so much healing and empowering God has for us in the places we least expect. Whether it is where we find ourselves which is difficult (desert) or a place within us we do not want to deal with (desert)—no matter what, there is healing to be had there. This is the playbook of God. And when we decide to do things God’s way… then “In that day…” we will find wholeness. I still believe Jesus heals and delivers us from our pain and sin. Do you?

Maybe you don’t. But you know what? It doesn’t change God. He relentlessly pursues his people. He relentlessly loves you. Our bad behavior does not make God love and pursue us less just as our good behavior does not make him love and pursue us more. We cannot earn the love of God, for He is love.

Take Time

I encourage you to take time. Take time to look where you are at. Your desert may be areas you have ignored. Failed expectations. Broken vows. Broken promises. Things in your past. The desert could be your current situation. So… ask Him.

“Lord, what do you desire from me?

What is my wilderness?

Am I in a wilderness? Where am I?

Where do you desire me to go?

Am I running with you, to you, or away from you?”

Take time to be in the Scriptures and to pray so that the noise can settle. When it does, embrace the quiet and still desert air and trust that even in that place, God’s love is loud, present, and ready to do its healing work.

Obedience.

Any mentioning of the word in Christian circles will conjure up diverse emotion. In many corners of Christianity, it has become a word of obscenity. Whether the context is obeying Jesus or learning to obey spiritual authority—no matter the context, this word has become problematic on many levels. A linguistic parriah. 

Don’t get me wrong; I get it. I really do. It seems that reports of sexual abuse and corruption from those in places of leadership in the Church are coming out by the week as more brave women and men step forward. The result is a large distrust of the church as we have known it as well as leaders within the church. Obedience and human spiritual authority is an entirely separate topic. Again, I understand. I have lamented for many hours in prayer over it.

Combine this with the origin story of my homeland, the USA, and we can understand on another level why this word is hard for us. The USA has a deep and innate obsession with individualism, autonomy, and freedom. It has come at a great price. There are positives to this part of our national identity. For the Christian though, if we are not careful, those positives can become problematic to our allegiance to Christ if not kept in check. If not kept in check, obedience in any form, drops into our ears like a threat to everything we hold dear.  

Though for the Christian, obedience is very much a foundational principle to live by, regardless of where we call home. Following and obeying Jesus in Scripture was never based on our emotional disposition or ease of comfort. There was never a standard to be met before we could obey. Following Jesus has forever hinged on pure obedience. Not the kind of obedience that comes across legalistic. Costly, yes. Difficult, yes. Painful even, yes. But never legalistic or shameful. The way Jesus speaks of it, is tied to a deeper submission of the heart to that which we are following. 

The Promises of Obedience to Jesus

This can be seen when Jesus, in John 14:15-15:16 includes or alludes to twelve promises which accrue to those who love and… obey God. 

  • 14:15-17: If you keep my commandments, I will send you the Helper, who will abide with you forever.
  • 14:18: I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
  • 14:21: He who loves me will keep my commandments.
  • 14:23: We will come to him who obeys and make Our home with him.
  • 14:26: The Holy Spirit will teach you all things and remind you of my words.
  • 14:27: Do not be afraid, I give you my peace.
  • 15:7: If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.
  • 15:8: My Father is glorified when you bear much fruit.
  • 15:9-10: If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love.
  • 15:14: You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.
  • 15:15: I no longer call you servants, but friends.
  • 15:16: You did not choose me; I chose you–that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain.

Do you see how the above Scriptures highlight the role of obedience and it being for our ultimate good as Christians? This is what the unbelieving and secular society needs to see: indiviudals who walk out their faith at all costs. 

Unbelievers find faith in Jesus not because of a mental ascent to certain beliefs. They find faith in Jesus because they stepped out of their current existence and into a new one by faith; doing and following what they see within the Gospel of Jesus. Of course belief has a part to play.

But remember, Jesus first called out, “Follow me” to the disciples. Not, “Believe me.” 

Apart from unbelievers, followers of Jesus are renewed and find fresh faith themselves, not because they devoured books or went a week without a certain sin. They find renewal by obeying what they know to be true but have ignored for some time. That which we have read again and again but have been slow to put into action.

Following Jesus is not built on our terms. Following Jesus is built on his. He calls us to obey; submitting our whole hearts to him.

I pray that today you find yourself desiring to live out your faith in fresh and new ways. Seeking to crucify your own flesh and ego and with childlike faith, trusting the planted seed of the Gospel which has been planted within you. 

Lest you fear obeying Jesus like he desires is attainable, remember you have been given his Holy Spirit to lead you to a rediscovery of the deep things of God. In doing so, you will discover that obeying Jesus is not an adventure into drudgery. Obeying Jesus becomes a doorway into a hope and future that finds meaning in the present. It brings our faith to life!

To the point where, like the Apostle Paul, we are are able to say, “For I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Those things God has been calling / commanding / inviting / requesting you to do; those dreams which require you to put action to your lips, its time to move. Nothing will ever come by theorizing, talking, and dreaming. The things God destines for our lives come through our obedience to his Gospel truth. You can do this; the Holy Spirit is with you. The greatest transformations I have ever experienced have been the direct result of time of prayer when I know, read, and hear what God is inviting me to–and with fear and stumbling I step out and obey. I wish I was better at it. But I am learning. Learning to obey his voice above all others. Joy is found in no other place than obedience to Christ.

“So, you just got saved. From what? For what?” Part 1

Many who follow Jesus are able to pinpoint with clarity the moment they realized they were “saved” and the simultaneous relief and joy that surrounded that moment. However, understanding what they were saved from or for—that is less clear. I began following Jesus in April of 2002. Upon realizing my salvation, I began to evangelize those closest to me. With fervor and passion, I would explain the Scriptures to the best of my imperfect ability as well as what I believed God was communicating to me from them. I felt that I was well on my way to a healthy understanding of this new faith until a friend asked a rather simple question. Following my explanation of the Gospel to her and my reception of it she bluntly asked, “But what are you saved from?” Being unsure how to answer I gave a curt reply. “Hell, of course!” At the speed of light, another question followed. “But what are you saved for?” This one stumped me. It was then I realized although I could tell someone when I was saved, I was unable to give clear meaning to what this meant on a practical level for how I lived my life or functioned in the church I had recently joined.

In the many years since becoming a Christian I have learned that salvation is often spoken of in the church and yet rarely understood or even appreciated. I have noticed it becoming the favorite catchphrase between the spiritual “haves” and the “have nots.” Often people will cast judgement on others saying, “That person is definitely not saved.” or “This one over here is saved!” We haphazardly use this word so often that it has lost much of its root system from where it stems. As a result, the theology behind one’s understanding of salvation is often convoluted and rarely straight forward—just as it was for myself all those years ago. This should not come as a surprise since “salvation” (like all theological concepts) is developed from within contexts which possess their own contours. Whether or not those contours shift drastically, or subtlety will be the focus of what is ahead. 

For instance, protestant understandings of salvation are mostly born out of the struggle within the Reformation focusing on the tension of justification by faith which has brought about various stereotypes within Christianity. John J. Collins writes

Perhaps the most abiding stereotype of ancient Judaism is that it was a religion of the Law. Christian perceptions on this subject have been shaped to a great degree by the portrayal of the Pharisees in the Gospels as rigid observers of the letter of the Law. It is now recognized that this portrayal is polemical in nature and cannot be taken as an objective description.[1]

Add to this the subsequent influences of the enlightenment, scholasticism, revivalism, pietism, and many other “-isms,” the theological understanding of salvation moves well beyond faith and includes other imports that cloud a basic meaning of salvation which is tethered to its Judistic roots. Though not mentioned above but possibly the greatest influencer of such (negative?) diversity has been the fundamentalist/ modernist controversy where firm lines have been drawn to the point where biblical interpretation and how one does it can be a deciding factor if one is even “saved” or not.[2] All of these influences (not to mention the radical individualism and consumerism of Western society) has led many to “conceive of salvation in particular ways, shaped by the controversies of the past and the cultures of the present.”[3] We are left asking the question, “Will the real understanding of salvation please stand up?” 

New Testament[4] scholar Brenda B. Colijn asks similar questions of salvation while employing a unique method. In her book Images of Salvation in the New Testament she seeks to deepen the reader’s comprehension of salvation and what it encompasses. The goal of her study is not to land on one definition per se but rather appreciate the many ways it is described throughout the Scriptures. She explains

The New Testament does not develop a systematic doctrine of salvation. Instead, it presents us with a variety of pictures taken from different perspectives…. This reliance on images is typical of the Bible: ‘the Bible is much more a book of images and motifs than of abstractions and propositions…. The Bible is a book that images the truth as well as stating it.’[5]

If we want to go deeper in understanding what we are saved from and for or who the agent of salvation even is, the question we should then wrestle with is, “where do these concepts or symbols come from which are used to explain salvation?”

Being able to answer this question among others surrounding it positions followers of Jesus to better understand the story of salvation they are part of. Failure to do so will result in believers and a church unable to articulate why this message is called “Good News;” a truth about salvation that is not neatly defined; only described. 

To aid in our pursuit of understanding salvation it is imperative we remember that the core biblical description on this theme is embedded within a larger story that far expands outside of our individual selves. Joel B. Green states

The ongoing story of God’s relationship to the whole cosmos, and thus to all humanity, and especially to Israel, as this is narrated in the Old and New Testaments…. is grounded in the scriptures of Israel, and comes to expression above all in Jesus Christ, [and] continues into the present, and moves forward to the consummation of God’s purpose and self-revelation in the end.[6]

It is to this end—understanding salvation through the lens of the biblical narrative—that we must strive for. Anything short of a thorough study in what Green communicates above results in a stunted salvific understanding of God that is quickly reduced to the individualism which pervades much of modern Christendom. An individualism which communicates that salvation is simply the absence of judgment and condemnation resulting in heaven being our ticket. Thankfully there is much more to salvation than this tired and worn understanding of salvation.

As N.T. Wright famously writes regarding the importance of the New Heavens and New Earth in contrast to a simple understanding of going to heaven when we die, “There is life after life after death.”[7]

Much of the church’s thinking and language about salvation (and at times eschatology) is inadequate to reach those following Jesus as well as those who are yet to make the decision to. The only way forward is by going backwards to better understand what salvation meant to Israel, the Gentiles, Jesus, and early church. Will there be large differences? Will there be a linear understanding over time with minor shifting? It is hoped that through this journey of study that we will arrive at a wholistic understanding that better positions the Christian and church alike to give society something it has been longing for: “wholeness and hope.” A pleasant byproduct will also be the ability to answer what we are saved from and what we are saved for with the depth and beauty such a question, not to mention the Gospel of Jesus, deserves. 


[1] Abingdon Press, ed., The New Interpreter’s Bible: General Articles & Introduction, Commentary, & Reflections for Each Book of the Bible, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994), 285.

[2] Brenda B. Colijn, Images of Salvation in the New Testament (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2010), 21.

[3] Colijn, 21.

[4] “NT” will be used to denote “New Testament” moving forward except when quoted. 

[5] Colijn, Images of Salvation in the New Testament, 13–14.

[6] Joel B. Green, Salvation, 1st ed, Understanding Biblical Themes (St. Louis, Mo: Chalice Press, 2003), 3.

[7] This understanding of life after death is built upon N.T. Wright throughout his work on early Christian hope. See  N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, 1st ed (New York: HarperOne, 2008).

Becoming Excellent in How We Serve God

How would you define ministry excellence? This was the question I posed to my team last week. What came back were diverse definitions illustrating varying degrees of how this can be defined. This phrase though, “Excellence in Ministry” is relative. Anyone’s idea of what excellence is can suffice to that person. For instance, is excellence in ministry just doing out best? Some would say yes. Is excellence in ministry having everything professionally put together minimizing all glitches and issues? Some would say yes. To be clear, I am being rather narrow in my focus, looking at how churches are led as well as what takes place within the community of faith. But it does involve what happens outside the four walls as well in each of our own ministries where God has placed us.

I always come back to the Apostle Paul when trying to nail down a good definition of being excellent for the Lord. I have always been fearful of perfectionism as well as sloppiness in what I do for the Lord. But Paul has helped me find that healthy middle ground. He wrote in Colossians 3:17,

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I know, I know. This too could be vague. Though it still might be; this nonetheless provides the impetus and definition of excellence in ministry. We seek to be excellent in what we do because its for Christ and the magnification of His Kingdom. The standard and definition for our excellence is the model of Jesus. While everyone must wrestle with how they define it; what matters most is that we are seeking after it. Those we lead and those on the outside are looking for communities of faith that line up with the excellence and ideals of Jesus in Scripture. So whether its in preaching, organizing, cleaning, or any other task in the Church–how are you being excellent? What areas need refined in how you are serving the Lord?

Here are the definitions from our Compassion Church team. Take your time in reading them. Notice the differences among them.

  1. Having a clear vision that points others to Christ; showing compassion by identifying and meeting needs by stewarding resources well. 
  2. Using the gifts God has given us to do our best acknowledging he has given us all perfect gifts. 
  3. To take initiative in being authentic to our vision and bringing relationship and structure together. 
  4. Doing ministry with integrity to empower and bring compassion and unity to the church community. 
  5. Using our gifts in unity to serve others in obedience to Christ in creating a Tov (goodness) culture. 
  6. Bringing people closer to Jesus in a well organized and truth way to achieve a clear vision centered on His will. 

How would you define it?

Jesus and His Kingdom – Part 1

What exactly is this “Kingdom” Jesus speaks of?

On May 2nd, 2011, the news broke. Osama Bin Laden had been killed for his role in the September 11th, 2001, attacks on U.S. soil. The reception of this news for many was marked with euphoria, joy, and deep seated—decade long—emotions of revenge. The masses gathered in front of the White House in celebration with liturgy of song and chant. The singing of “God Bless the U.S.A” as well as the repetitious and synchronized yelling of “Rot in Hell.” Many interviewed in the streets were speechless in their attempts to communicate their relief. In watching these interviews, it was easy to see a disturbing and shocking trend woven throughout their thinking: God’s approval. 

In the following months details began to come forward from the “situation room” where the president and other cabinet members watched the operation play out. We were told that if the mission were successful and Bin Laden was captured dead or alive a code word would be given, “Geronimo.” What was said through satellite communications to the President that night was, “For God and Country, Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo.” There it was again. 

Following that night over ten years ago now I had many conversations with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ about the subtle tension I and others were feeling. It was a disturbing tension I could not remove myself from: rejoicing over the death of another while simultaneously invoking the name of God and His approval. It just didn’t feel right though I did understand it’s origin. I battled in my own flesh the emotions of satisfaction that this man received what my flesh felt he deserved. However, deep-seated within me is an ethic of love and non-violence formed by the teachings of Jesus which challenged those emotions. 

Nonetheless, I struggled to see how invoking God’s blessing over this action differentiated us from those who also perpetrated these attacks in the name of their own god. But it was one comment from an individual that stands above everything I had seen on T.V. After graciously putting up with my long discourse regarding what I felt to be so un-Christlike and un-befitting for Jesus followers in celebrating the death of Bin Laden, a friend said to me, “I felt like what happened was just. It was a win for the Kingdom of God.” 

Really? A win for the Kingdom?[1] I could not believe that someone I had trusted and admired as a mature student of the Scriptures would say something like this. I was determined to seek out a fresh understanding of the Kingdom of God in response to his statement. Since that moment to the present, I have come to realize this may be the most important area to grapple with for the modern church. Judging from that one conversation to many others I have had as a leader in the Church I have also realized it might be one of the most diluted and misunderstood aspects of Jesus’ message. If the Church has any hope at all in displaying the awe-inspiring wonder, beauty, and creativity of the Gospel—we must go backwards before we can go forwards. We must do the hard work of recovering the width and depth of what the Kingdom of God meant to Jesus as well as those who came before him.  

When looking at the New Testament it is beyond clear that the central fulcrum on which his entire message swings is this very topic. The Kingdom is, as Bruce Chilton says, “…the center of Jesus’ message both as a fact and as a mystery.”[2] If this is true, which I believe it is, then how this message is understood and conveyed is of the utmost importance in our desire to bring profound hope and truth to an unbelieving world. These noble aspirations unfortunately will never come to fruition if this Kingdom message is not embraced in its right context. Failure to do so can and is already resulting in a crisis of identity for the Church and her mission. 

Thankfully there is hope. A fresh re-understanding of the Kingdom opens the doors for both disciples and churches to reemerge as beacons of light and substantial hope in a weary and worn culture. Again, Chilton states, “But if it is true in general terms that we can know Jesus, then it must be possible to understand what he stood for…the Kingdom of God, is conveyed to us powerfully within the gospels. They invite us to share the power of that vision.”[3] If our pursuit is to know Jesus and his central message thereby becoming faithful disciples and Churches, then our journey, as already stated, must go backward before it can go forward. 

What didKingdom” Mean Before Jesus? Was it Original to Jesus?

Often where there is a lack of clarity in any topic the result is almost always due to vague and incomplete explanations. This same truth could be applied to our endeavor in seeking to understand what Jesus, in Mark 1:15 as well as John the Baptist in Matthew 3:1, are seeking to convey when they both respectively declared this coming Kingdom.[4] We are wise to assume that this understanding of a kingdom was widespread at the time within early Judaism thus contributing to a lack of need to spell it out in detail.[5] However, this does not mean we are left in the dark. We are still able to comb through the Old Testament as well as literature within Second Temple Judaism to ascertain a firm understanding of what this phrase meant as well as the emotion it evoked when declared. 

Beginning first from the Old Testament we see a complete absence of the phrase “Kingdom of God” however there is present a certain “kingly” rule that is often mentioned. The language is used to describe earthly kingdoms throughout Judah and Israel to “denote a territory or politically organized unit under monarchial rule (e.g., Gen. 10:10; Num. 32:33).”[6] Related but still an offshoot of this would be found in 1 Chron. 28:5 and 2 Chron. 13:8 where the phrase “Kingdom of Yahweh” occurs. However, to be fair we need to differentiate between the relationship of the two above. The implied “Kingdom of Yahweh” was not synonymous to the “kingdom of Israel.” Dennis C. Duling rightly communicates that even though Israel adapted near eastern ideas of divine kingship for the earthly king, God and the king were not identical; the god/king of the world was also the god/king over the people of Israel, and therefore superior to any earthly ‘divine king.’ Correspondingly, there was also tension between these two kingdoms.[7]

This tension continued through Israel’s history through the time of the prophets and well into the era of Second Temple Judaism. This becomes especially clear when we leaf through the late prophetic book of Daniel. Though it is found within the canonical Old Testament it deserves to be treated in the next portion looking into the literature of the Second Temple period due to its dating of ca. 165 B.C.E. 

The book of Daniel has long been used when talking about Jesus’ conception of the Kingdom and his own eschatology because of Daniel 7 and its corresponding usage by Jesus in Matthew 24:30 and 26:64 as well as Mark 14:62. It could be said that Daniel 7 and the “Son of Man” phrasing is a favorite saying of Jesus.[8] But what exactly do these connections mean? Up to this time in history there was a clear separation between the secular kingdoms of humans and the Kingdom of Yahweh even if the former was led by a client king. But in Daniel 7:13 where it is prophesied that “One like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven… to the Ancient One and was presented before him.” we see a major shift. Obviously, this is a serious departure from a human client king. 

What is represented in Daniel 7 can be described as a continuation of development regarding the eschatology from within Judaism. In his masterful study of the Kingdom of God, G.R. Beasley-Murray rightly summarizes that this vision of Daniel “accords a prime place to the coming of Yahweh to subdue evil and to deliver his people.”[9] This coming and arrival of “one like a human being” should be kept in its proper category as a theophany. This is God showing up on the scene in both a redemptive and punitive sense. To the faithful within Judaism the one who is coming on the “clouds of heaven” is meant to symbolize consolation to the people of God.[10] This is the ushering in of a heavenly Kingdom led by a “human-like” individual. Murray states that this individual is representative of God and his sovereignty over the world.[11] The desire of Daniel is to place in juxtaposition both earthly and heavenly kingdoms. In doing so he makes it clear that the origin of this Kingdom is from above.[12] Martin J. Selman synthesizes this prophecy of Daniel and its implication for how this era of Judaism viewed the coming Kingdom as something God will give his everlasting Kingdom to Men [and Women]. Although human kingdoms arising from the earth are doomed to failure, God does not in consequence keep his Kingdom for himself and his untainted angels…. The Kingdom of God will be given to ‘the holy ones, the people of the Most High’ (Dan. 7:18, 27), and to ‘one like a son of man.’[13]

This development within Daniel 7 represents an emerging eschatology consonant with other examples in surrounding literature. Paying attention to a small sampling out of many will help our goal of understanding the development of the Kingdom of God theme from the Old Testament through to the time of Jesus in the first century C.E. 

1 Enoch and the Book of Watchers (1 En. 1-36) contain clear statements which reflect a belief that the elect people of God, including those who are resurrected will live in a final state with God whose throne is situated upon a mountain. He will be known as a King of Kings, Eternal King, and King of the Universe.[14] The core writings from Enoch which represent this are found in 9:4; 25:7; 12:3; 25:3-5, and 27:3. Outside of the Book of Watchers other elements of similar beliefs regarding the Kingdom can be found in the “Book of Dreams,” “Animal Apocalypse,” “Apocalypse of Weeks,” and the “Book of Similitudes.”[15] As Duling makes clear, in 1 Enoch God is called King and the Son of Man is a king/messiah.[16] The book of Enoch along with the prophecy of Daniel represent a unique turn from the Old Testament and it’s understanding of the Kingdom.

Another example can be found in the Testament of Moses which is dated around the Maccabean period down through to the time of Jesus. In 10:1,3-4 it reads as the following

And then His Kingdom shall appear throughout all His creation, and then Satan shall be no more, and sorrow shall depart with him…. For the Heavenly One will arise from His royal throne, and he will go forth from His holy habitation with indignation and wrath on account of His sons. And the earth shall tremble; to its confines shall it be shaken; and the high mountains shall be made low and the hills shall be shaken and fall.[17]

This text holds three elements that give us a window into the apocalyptic nature of the Kingdom and how this points to Jesus’ own understanding. First, we see the appearance or revelation of a divine Kingdom impacting all the earth. Is this not the connotation we read from Jesus’ first declaration of ministry in Mark 1:15? The usage of ἤγγικεν regarding ἡ βασιλεία τοῦθεοῦ in Mark 1:15 gives the impression that this Kingdom has either arrived or is on the precipice of arrival. Could it be that Jesus is flowing in this same stream of thought regarding the arrival of God’s Kingdom? More on this verse shortly. Second, this apocalyptic Kingdom is one that will be in direct opposition with Satan. In Luke 11:18 Jesus gives a line of demarcation between the kingdom of Satan and the Kingdom of God. Joel Green communicates that “Jesus thus positions the work of exorcism within the larger matrix of the struggle between the dominion of Satan and the dominion of God.”[18] Lastly, the phrase “high mountains shall be made low” is significant to our knowledge of what the Kingdom was expected to usher in. The immersion of Isaiah 40 in the messaging of John the Baptist in Luke 3 along with this verse from the Testament of Moses makes clear that there are kingly expectations of equity and justice being dispersed with the coming reign of the One from  Daniel 7.

By only looking at three examples from this era of Second Temple Judaism we can be confident of a few things. There was an already implanted understanding of a coming King who would be other worldly as seen in Daniel 7. In addition to this was a deep hope that one day the righteous will experience a new Kingdom marked by justice and equity led by a transcendent Lord of lords and God of gods, and King of kings. Enoch seeks to capture all of this when speaking of Kingly rule or the Kingdom of God as a whole. The Testament of Moses showcases what can be found in many other writings of this time. Namely, a line between the righteous and the evil as well as Satan and God. All of these common expectations, hopes, and tensions were part of the economy of religion in this era where a definitive concept of “good vs. evil” is apparent.

Another collection of writings from this era which give us a glimpse into the cultural thinking of the Kingdom of God were discovered in the caves at Qumran commonly called the “Dead Sea Scrolls.” The importance of these diverse writings cannot be overstated enough in terms of their importance for understanding Jesus in his own context. Scot McKnight explains that Jesus’ life and thinking took place within a diverse Judaism where there “options were many and orthodoxies were few.”[19] He further argues that Jesus and his thinking must be observed while keeping in mind the many complex societal communities of his day, especially the “sectarian Essenism of the Dead Sea Scrolls.”[20] Another noted scholar who would agree is James H. Charlesworth. On the similarities between Jesus and the Essenes he writes that they possessed the following:

the same territory and race; they were devout, religious, conservative, and anti-Gentile. They struggled against common enemies…were close to some Pharisees, were animated by the belief that God was about to bring to fruition his promises and were apocalyptically and eschatologically oriented.”[21]  

Within the large collection of writings found at Qumran the language and context of the Kingdom of God is well attested. For the present study we will focus on two primary areas: The War Scroll (1QM) and the Rule of Blessings (1QSb) due to their apocalyptic and eschatological orientation. Both scrolls highlight the thinking of the Essene community as it pertains to the reign of God in their time and space as well as the ethical implications of this coming Kingdom.

In 1QM 12:8 we see God being called “King of Honor” and “King of Kings” in 14:6. Around the portion where King of Kings can be found there is also an eschatological focus on a future kingdom being within Israel which will be established by the priestly prince of the congregation.[22] It is a kingdom where justice, peace, and a refined or renewed gathering of worshippers in a new Temple will manifest. 1QM 13:10 could easily have been the ideological atmosphere where many would be messiahs found their footing: “From of old you appointed the prince of light to assist us, and in […] and all the spirits of truth are under his dominion.”[23] The scroll reads like an anticipatory piece of literature marking out clearly who is righteous and who is not. The focus is on the eschatological reign of God that will soon be breaking in with the fighting of the “Sons of light vs. darkness.” (1Qm 1:11) The similarities thus far ought to be evident. The lines of demarcation as well as polemical language found here can also be found in the tone of Jesus and John the Baptist. 

The Rule of Blessings, though different from the War Scroll, gives a similar perspective on the eschatological Kingdom that is yet to break in. Our focus from this scroll is the “Prince of the Congregation.” In 1QSb 5:20-22 the prince will receive a special blessing from the Master which will confer upon the prince certain eschatological actions. 

The prince of the congregation… and shall renew for him the covenant of the community for him to establish the Kingdom of his people forever, [to judge the poor with justice] to reproach the humble of the earth with uprightness, to walk in perfection before him on all his paths.[24]

In this text we again see a focus on the ethical dimensions of the coming one. Both the War and Blessing Scroll illustrate something obvious: the time and era was ripe for an individual to come and dip their toes into the apocalyptic and eschatological pressure cooker which was continuing to grow by the day while Palestine was under Rome’s rule. 

Part 1 in Summary

In summary we can confidently see that: (1) the Old Testament had an understanding of the Kingdom of God that was connected to earthly kingdoms and client kings. There was tension brewing within the desires of the Kingdom of Yahweh in comparison with the kingdom of man, however, these references are scarce. So where did this development arise of a Kingdom that was to break in apocalyptically or eschatologically? (2) While Daniel (especially Daniel 7) is found within the Old Testament, for our purposes we included it in the framework of Second Temple Judaism due to its late dating. Within Daniel we see an expectation of a savior who is coming to establish a Kingdom in the here and now. As stated by Murray above, the vision accords a prime place in the vision and expectation of Yahweh who will subdue evil and redeem his people. The juxtaposition Daniel creates between two kingdoms in the Old Testament continues until “One like the Son of Man” comes from above. (3) In examining the Pseudepigrapha we can observe similar imagery and language in that of Daniel.

There is a coming one, an establishment of kingly rule, and his name will be Lord of Lords, God of Gods, and/or King of Kings. (4) All of this is continued not as a progression per se but more like the deepening of a well when we come to the Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls. In both the War Scroll and Blessing Scroll there is all the above with the addition of ethical components regarding this coming Kingdom. To be fair, a full exploration of the Old Testament, Pseudepigrapha, Apocrypha, and Dead Sea Scrolls would yield a multitude of ethical expectations for the coming redemption of God’s Kingdom. However, for our brief study we have chosen only a few. Now let us turn to see how these influences had an impact on Jesus’ own understanding of the coming Kingdom. But what did Jesus, as a Jewish first century rabbi think about the Kingdom? To this we will turn next.

(The above is an excerpt from a doctoral paper I wrote in late 2021)


[1] Moving forward in this paper, any reference to the divine Kingdom of God (except when quoted from scholarship) will be capitalized while other occasions involving earthly kingdoms and kings will not be. The same will done with “Church” when in reference to the corporate body of Christ which is to carry out the Kingdom mission of God. Both are inherent in the title of this paper which focuses on a robust and healthy theology of the Kingdom understood in its context (going backward) which is the remedy the church needs for today (to move forward).

[2]  Bruce Chilton, Pure Kingdom: Jesus’ Vision of God, Studying the Historical Jesus (Grand Rapids, Mich. : London: Eerdmans ; Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1996), ix.

[3] Ibid, Chilton, x.

[4] Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall, eds., Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 417.

[5] A common parallel to this would be if someone were to comment on how well they did at something in saying, “Wow! You hit it out of the park!” Most in North America would readily understand this to refer to hitting a homerun in baseball which is a tremendous positive. Thus, there would not be a need to explain in detail how one hits a home run in the game of baseball. 

[6] John J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow, eds., The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism (Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans, 2010), 860.

[7] Duling, Dennis C. “Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven: OT, Early Judaism, and Hellenistic Usage.” Ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 4, Anchor Bible Reference Library (New York London Toronto [etc.]: Doubleday, 1992), 50.

[8] As confirmed by Scot McKnight in my first Doctorate seminar at Northern Seminary on the eschatology of Jesus. 

[9] George Raymond Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Kingdom of God, reprinted (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1987), 35.

[10] Ibid. 

[11] Ibid. 

[12] Barrick, William D. 2012. “The Kingdom of God in the Old Testament.” The Master’s Seminary Journal 23 (2): 171. https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=reh&AN=ATLA0001924487&site=ehost-live.

[13] Ibid. 

[14] Duling, Kingdom of God, 51. 

[15] Murray draws an interesting conclusion when analyzing the Book of Similitudes from Enoch. He states, “We are brought to the startling realization that the evidence points to the Similitudes as having been written at the same time as or during the generation after the ministry of Jesus. Does this suggest that the idea of the Son of Man as messianic representative was in the air, as it were, at that time?” He goes on to say that perhaps “we have the precipitate of two parallel movements of thought leading back to one source—namely, the vision of Daniel.” This statement by Murray furthers the mosaic of belief that was developing during and before the time of Jesus. (Murray, Kingdom of God, 68.)

[16] Duling, Kingdom of God, 51

[17] James H Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Volume One Volume One, 2016, 931–32.

[18] Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1997), 455.

[19] Scot McKnight, A New Vision for Israel: The Teachings of Jesus in National Context (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1999), 2.

[20] Ibid. 

[21] James Hamilton Charlesworth, Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls, 1992, 9–10.

[22] Freedman, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 1992, 4:52.

[23] Florentino García Martínez, ed., The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: The Qumran Texts in English, 2nd ed (Leiden ; New York : Grand Rapids: E.J. Brill ; W.B. Eerdmans, 1996), 107.

[24] García Martínez, 433.

Am I Called? Burdened? Anointed?

Am I called to lead or am I leading from a place of burden? Am I anointed for the role I am stepping into? What will happen if I am serving from a place of burden and need?

It is vital for us to understand that the call for a ministry and the anointing for a ministry occur at different times and are two separate matters. The Apostle Paul from Acts 9 to Acts 13 is a prime example of this. We must distinguish between the call coming to a person and the anointing coming upon a person.

It is also necessary to distinguish between a call and a burden. A burden comes forth out of a vision of a need whereas a call comes forth out of God’s Will.

A call has a burden but a burden need not necessarily have a call. All dogs are animals but not all animals are dogs. All calls have burdens but not all burdens have calls attached to them.

It is unwise for a person to enter the ministry of Jesus out of a burden or need. It is better for a person to help or assist out of a burden or need. To enter into the ministry one needs more than a burden or a need; one needs a call from God – an appointment (1 Cor. 12:28) or a gifting (Eph. 4:11). Are there exceptions? Of course. God’s grace always abounds.

Many people enter the ministry from a place of burden or need but do not have an anointing upon them in the ministry office they are stepping into. Can God still bless it? Sure. There are always exceptions.

But in general, It is dangerous to move out of the Will of God. and to seek to function without the anointing of God’s Spirit upon the office you are serving in. It becomes mere human might, machinery, and power. When we operate from this place burn out is around the corner. When we operate form a place of calling, confirmation (from wise council), and the Holy Spirit, we can trust that the position we are functioning will have God’s anointing present—regardless of the challenges.

That One Thing We Seek

In our lives, what is it exactly we are desiring? In other words, what we we wanting to see happen? How we answer this question matters greatly. If we are desiring security that we are often filling our time with the pursuit of tangible items which can give us a false sense of security. If we are desiring value or worth then we are often filling our schedules with things that will give us our sense of belonging into this world. An identity that usually comprises of a wonderful and inauthentic veneer. Whatever we desire will usually order our steps and priorities.

But one thing is very clear. Our answer as Christians ought to differ from the world’s answer. To be fair, I desire many things in this life that are not even connected to my faith directly. However, those things do not replace the primary desire which the world would not understand. You see, we as followers of Jesus are to be the ones whose lives are so purified and distilled where what can be seen, heard, and observed is none other than Jesus. Of course this is not always the case (I myself am quick to admit my failures in this), but the pursuit of such a life is nevertheless the goal by default.

“Therefore, since we have these promises (see 2 Cor. 6:3-18), dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”

2 Corinthians 7:1

We are to be those who live unalloyed and uncontaminated. Not only by what the world sees on the exterior but also what drives us on the interior. How we answer the question of what we seek says a lot about our understanding of whether we are living the “called out” life Jesus is seeking.

We are living at a time when Christians in Western Society at many corners are having an identity crisis. We are mixing our allegiances with nations (nationalism), idols, and allowing the sins of the world choke out the goodness of God at rapid rates. We are substituting many things for an identity that is causing us to enter vicious cycles of heartbreak and unsatisfied longings. All of this is causing our pursuits and desires to be all over the place.

So what needs to happen? We need a seminal moment. We need to hit refresh and reset. We need to come back to the purity of what we were created to desire from the very beginning: the presence of God. This is something David in the Old Testament understood fully.

“One thing I ask from the Lord,

    this only do I seek:

that I may dwell in the house of the Lord

    all the days of my life,

to gaze on the beauty of the Lord

    and to seek him in his temple.

Psalm 27:4

He desired one thing very clearly: to encounter God in his fullness. So much so that he wanted to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and seek Him in his temple all the days of his life. Do we find it a coincidence that God also called David a “man after His own heart” in Acts 13:22? David was elevated in the eyes of God because of his insatiable desires and passion for the LORD. Does this not motivate and challenge us for today? David lived at a time when the Holy Spirit was upon a few. We are living in an era where the Holy Spirit is within all who yield to Him. How much more so ought our experience with God’s presence transform everything around us?

The Church is not starving for methods, ideas, solutions or steps. The Church of Jesus Christ is starving for an encounter with the very presence of God.

But instead, we are often consumed with books, devotionals, apps, videos, and more but are at many turns still missing what is needed: a fresh and pure stripped down encounter with Jesus. This is where our desire must be. Our marriage depends upon it. Our children depend upon it. The life of the Church depends upon it. Society depends upon it. Everything does. What are you giving to others if you yourself are not encountering the love of God within His presence and glory? Prioritizing the glory of God in our daily living is paramount for every follower of Jesus.

The Presence and Glory of God

The glory and presence of God is found throughout the Scriptures. The word ‘glory’ in Hebrew comes from the word ‘kabob‘ translated glory one hundred and fifty-five times. The word ‘kabed‘ from the same root word has been translated ‘heavy‘ seven times. The root meaning of ‘kabob‘ means weight or heaviness. In the New Testament the word ‘glory‘ is translated from the word ‘doxa‘ which has various meanings like ‘appearance, manifestation, magnificence, splendid array, radiance, or dazzling lustre. It is within this glory and presence of the living God that we find our true hearts desire. We discover our identity. When we have a true encounter with the Holy Spirit, our faith comes alive. We begin to see and feel the very glory and presence of God and we do not desire anything else! His anointing becomes tangible. His authority flows through us as it did with those in Scripture. This is the hope of God for your life and for mine. To desire Him and be close with Him. There is no substitute.

When this one thing–the very presence of God– becomes our insatiable desire, we then find the anointing of God for life and what we have been called to. Put simply, the anointing of God is a manifestation of the power of God while the glory of God is a manifestation of His attributes. With this understanding, the power or anointing of God is inseparable because God does not demonstrate His power without His presence.

For instance, Jesus says in Acts 1:8 says, “When the Holy Spirit has come upon you (His presence), you shall receive power (His anointing of power).” They go hand in hand. Mark 16:17 reads, “And these signs (His power) shall follow those who believe in My Name (His presence).

So what are we to desire? We can answer with many options. Many are valid. Many would not be. But for me, I would like to answer in the way David answered. I desire an encounter with the glory and presence of God through the Holy Spirit Whom Jesus gave to us. The One Who provides comfort, encouragement, truth, challenge, and more (John 14-16). Strip everything from me but do not take away God’s Holy Spirit. From where else would I or we find our place in His presence?

Please remember, no one is given the anointing of God based on books, titles, knowledge, degrees, or years of experience. These are subservient to God’s presence and are meant to support; not replace. They mean something–but not everything.

The anointing of God to break down the strongholds of the enemy is given to those whose lives are desperately seeking to be consumed with the Holy Spirit to degrees few will understand and many will ridicule.

Though His love is always unconditional; His authority is not. Seek first the Kingdom of God. Prioritize His presence and glory. Walk boldly in the power and anointing of God that comes from dwelling in His presence daily.

I pray that we, like David, would begin to possess a singular focus upon the presence of the God in every aspect of our lives so that we may find life where there used to be death. I pray the staleness of our time in prayer and the Word would be replaced with fresh revelation and child like faith, because, like children at Christmas, we have discovered the indescribable joy of being in and seeking the presence of God in our daily lives.

For those who have fallen away at times. Those who have but a flicker burning. The Lord is never too distant. He can handle the anger, frustration, and even hatred. You are loved and invited into His presence where joy, purpose, healing, and mercy is found. All we are asked is to seek Him while He may still be found. Seeking Him with everything we have.

That’s One Thing that would transform everything.