In Mark 3, we come across a small sentence, that if not paid attention to, will go in one side of our minds and quickly out the other. In Mark 3:10 it reads, “For he had healed many so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him.”
Wherever Jesus traveled people were healed—however, not all people, but “many” as stated above. We must not forget, Jesus didn’t come to heal bodies as much as He came to heal hearts. The healing ministry of Jesus (as well as the signs and wonders) was to demonstrate that our compassionate Father and Kingdom of God was breaking into their time and space. This is a ministry of the Holy Spirit that continues today. But in the first century, these healings were meant to inspire faith and draw others unto Jesus to hear and receive the message of the Kingdom and love of the Father.
But even with all that said, I can’t help but wrestle with Mark 3:10 and those who continued pushing forward but maybe were not healed. What were they thinking? What were they feeling? Were they able to see the wonder-working power of God and still rejoice? Were they able to trust in Jesus whom they heard preaching yet was outside their reach?
In all of us, there are both physical and spiritual things that we await healing for. We are wondering where our miracle is or where our visitation from God is. We might find ourselves as those “pushing forward” feverishly to touch Jesus. But what I hear my Father remind me of again and again is that now, in this new era with the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we do not need to “push, earn, or strive.” Our healing might just be found in the opposite. In resting.
I leave you with this. Jesus says in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me all who are tired and weary and I will give you rest…” The rest Jesus gives is healing in of itself. It’s a “rest” that is healing and hopeful; intimate and present; challenging and true.
I encourage you this season to slow down, trust Him, and know that if you are waiting for a miracle there is no need to “push.” Allow faith to build and hope in His goodness. Cease striving and know that suffering and difficulty is not the absence of blessing. Blessing is tied not to an outward result but instead, an inner contentment with Him regardless of what we endure.
No matter what may come and force us to abandon Him; He will always remain faithful. Therefore, don’t give up but don’t push. Just rest.
“Lord, we pray that in this season of dealing with our flesh, you would bring to light the areas of mistrust. Like the disciples, we ask that you increase our faith! Show us where we are “pushing forward” and how you want us to rest. Guard and heal our hearts of the deep resentment we may have against you and others as we wait for our own visitation from You. Open the doors that need opened and restore within us that steadfast spirit that will propel us forward one day at a time. We trust you and we love you, Father. In Jesus’s name, Amen.”
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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.
5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
1 John 1:5-7
There is one universal truth in all of us: we have an insatiable desire to be loved and to love others in return. I know what you’re thinking: “an insatiable desire to love people?!” Yes, believe it or not you do. But what exactly is love?
This past year there have been numerous time I have preached about love to my congregation. As I meet with others it comes up continually as they navigate their own journey of faith and life. Even in my own life, I have experienced a rebirth of joy and amazement as I have wrestled with the depth of God’s love and the inherent implications it brings.
But let’s come back to the core question, “What is love?” Many of us will answer this in different ways. In fact, I have learned that “love” is really just a junk drawer we dump all sorts of ideas into. Do you have one of those in your home? We have at least four. Love has become this. Everyone has their own ideas of what love is and they throw it in. Culture spoon feeds us many ideas of what it is and they throw it in. Our parents and how we are raised have their own inherited understandings of love and they throw them in. Love has become at times so watered down it can be used for anything!
We will say, “I love God, and I love fish tacos. I love Jesus and I also love the Ohio State Buckeyes!” See the problem? Granted, our english language does not help this incongruence. But its clear.. the way we use the word in our language is so broad that at times we can forget the called-out kind of love the Bible speaks of. But even still, let’s give it a try. Let’s try defining love.
Love is acceptance and tolerance, right?
To many, love is tolerance and acceptance. The idea is that rather than judge people, we should “love and accept” them no questions asked. Is there truth to this? Yea, there is some. But this is only part of the equation. However, what this means in our society is we should not communicate anything that is contradictory to someone’s actions, choices, or behavior—just love them. It sounds good. Sounds progressive. But it is only partly good. Society’s idea of love as it pertains to tolerance is not always in sync with that of the Kingdom of God and Scripture. In fact, it is far from it. True “Kingdom of God” love is not based on tolerance and acceptance, at the expense of life change and repentance.
Love is affection and joy, right?
To many of us, love is passion and affection tied to our emotions. Is there truth to this as well? Yes, but again, this is only partially true. It’s the word we use to describe our feelings of affection. We love hiking, or we love a new song that just came out, or we love chips and guac. When we aim the word at people, we usually mean the exact same thing. When we say we love someone, we mean we have deep feelings of affection because they make us feel value and worth. Love, by this definition, is pure, unfiltered emotion. Think of the phrase “fall in love.” It’s like tripping over a rock or a curb. And it’s fantastic. But there’s a dark underbelly to feeling this kind of romantic love. If we can fall into it, then we can fall out of it because it was based on something that is often unstable emotions.
With both of these attempts at defining “love” that we find in the junk drawer, we can see some challenges that wouldn’t hold up to scrutiny in the bible. With one we have an accepting and tolerant love. But if we bring this definition to Jesus—that’s not what we see. We see a love from Jesus that is yes, accepting of one’s divine personhood as being made in the image of God but equally transformative; inviting one to be transformed into the image of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.
With the other we have an affectionate and emotional love which is really our common understanding of love when we think of “things” and “people.” But again, if we bring this approach to the example of Jesus, while yes love is seen as an emotion in the life of Jesus—it most definitely is not all emotional. Emotions are fickle. They come and go. Jesus chose love time and time again. So, if our understanding of love is defined only by one of these two or both; look out! We are defining and conceptualizing “love” in a way that could set us up for disaster, broken relationships, adultery, addictions to lust, and more. We are loving with a shallow and conditional love; not the love Jesus modeled. Perhaps you are thinking, “Ok smarty pants. So, what the heck is love then?”
How would you define love?
Here of late, I have been studying the letter of 1 John I have been learning about love as though it was the first time, I had discovered it. I have also asked many people how they would define love. I have asked friends, I have asked my kids, I have even asked some strangers. Most answers have sounded as though they are coming from a lexicon and very intellectual. However, there was one person that stood out. They defined love using phrases like, “when something happens.” She was defining love through her own experiences from her past. This of course can be dangerous as many of us have both positive and negative experiences that can cloud our judgment and understanding of love. However, she defined love in the way John did in his letter: personal encounter and experience. John kicks off his letter (not his gospel) like this:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete.
1 John 1:1-4
John highlights his experience of Jesus above all else. But experiencing “what” per se? What John is experiencing is love from God, as seen, experienced, and heard in JESUS. But it wasn’t just any love. It was a special kind of love that could not be found in a textbook or dictionary. A love that was hard to define. It was a love that was being defined on the fly as they observed Jesus and the Holy Spirit at work. On one in particular occasion, Jesus taught on love in such a way that the disciple Mark surely had never heard. In doing so, it created an experience for Mark that was so memorable he had to write it down in His Gospel about Jesus.
On one occasion the disciple Mark (In Mark 12) observed Jesus talking with a religious leader. And he asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the most important?” Jesus answered quoting Deut. 6:5, the Shema: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” So, Mark is thinking: “Ok! So, this is how Jesus defines love… an insatiable passion to love God only!” Well, not so fast Mark. Jesus then follows this up in Mark 12:31 with, “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these.”
If they were defining this love by what they hear and see from Jesus, they would ask, “So is true love defined as a pure love for God or a love for our neighbor? Which is more important?” Jesus would answer, “Yes.” These disciples who wrote much of the Scriptures then began to define love not as an either/ or. True biblical love the way they experienced in Jesus was a beautiful and profound action of loving God and loving others in synergy. To the point where your love for God will be expressed by your love for people and your love of people will express your love for God. Two sides of the same coin.
Just imagine a figure 8. Turn it sideways. Now it represents infinity involving continuous loops. In one loop the label is “love God.” In the other loop it is “love people.” For Jesus, love was defined by an endless looping of loving God and loving people. While you may think this doesn’t exactly define love, you would be correct. Jesus wasn’t interested in defining Kingdom of God love. He was passionate about demonstrating it with both piety and compassion. This understanding of love was not common.
Let’s take a step back and think about John, who like Mark, was there watching and hearing Jesus like this. These experiences John had by hearing and observing Jesus formed his theology of love. They shaped how he saw the world, loved his friends, family, and fellow Christians. This went for all of them. It wasn’t studying love in a dictionary or Jewish and Greek society that gave them this radical love. It wasn’t from their already built in DNA of wanting to experience love and give love. This was supernatural love.
As the story continues, by the end of His life, Jesus was calling out their shallow definitions of love at many turns. This led to Jesus demonstrating the highest ideal of love: loving your enemies. Then as the disciples look back on an even larger scale, they realize that it was the power of God’s love for the world that caused Jesus to do this. 1 John 4:9 says, “This is how God showed his love among us, he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.”
What could go wrong?
It is clear that true biblical love is defined not intellectually but through experience with the power of God in Christ Jesus… the kind of love that is unexplainable and transforming, intrinsically connected to devotion to God and serving people—the same love that redeems us, picks us up, washes us up, and empowers us to live and love like Jesus—if it is clear that this love is what we are to love others with and God… What the enemy wants to do most is destroy this love within you. Let’s revisit both Johns Gospel and Letter.
19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.
1 John 1:5-6
John’s relationship with Jesus can be described like no other. It is a place of security, deep love, passion, and joy. Make no mistake, the reason he talks about love more than any other biblical writer is because he had the revelation of God’s love by what He experienced. In turn, this brought a security that the enemy could not touch. The same can apply to us today.
Sigmund Freud tells the story of a three-year-old boy crying in a dark room of a home he was visiting one evening. “Auntie,” the boy cried, “talk to me! I’m frightened because it is so dark.” His aunt answered him from another room: “What good would that do? You can’t see me.” “That doesn’t matter,” replied the child. “When you talk, it gets light.” This child was not afraid of the dark but of the absence of someone he loved. What he needed to feel secure was presence. We all need the same; experiencing a loving presence is the ground of this basic sense of safety for all of us. You can’t get that in a book or a dictionary, only in experience and relationship.
Throughout the Bible Darkness was always the presence of the enemy seeking to draw children of God into the shadows where the light of God’s love is hard to penetrate. John makes it clear that God is light and that is where we are to stay the best we can with the Holy Spirit’s guidance and indwelling.
Do you then see that if we are not experiencing Jesus… we are setting ourselves up for a path in the darkness? In this place love becomes distorted. What we pursue becomes off track. We begin to settle for versions of love that are dysfunctional. We allow the love we are to possess for our spouse and children to decay into something foreign to agape. Our love for God and passion for His word and truth descends to a faint glimmer of a candle where there is no brightness. Add all this up and what you get is walking in the darkness, where evil and sin abounds. We end up getting used to life outside of God’s bright shining love.
But that doesn’t have to be your story. Your understanding of how you are loved and your ability to love others is to be formed by experiencing and observing…JESUS. Its meditating on stories like the Pharisee and Tax Collector, Woman at the Well, Jesus with the poor, sick, and broken throughout Luke. It’s studying God in Hosea and how he suffered for Israel. The Holy Spirit will use the living Word to help you experience Jesus. At the church I pastor one of our core values is to be: Faithful in the basics: Scripture, Prayer, and Serving Others.This is how we encounter Jesus and form our theology of love.
For the love of God…stay in the light!
I encourage you: stay in the light. Ask the Holy Spirit to shine brightly on the areas of your life that are remaining in darkness. Do you see any darkness within you that could be clouding your vision? They could be holding grudges and clinging to bitterness. Remember, to love your enemy. Don’t give them power over you. You may be in chains because of your bitterness.
It could be carrying an offense from a situation outside of you. Please release it and love or others are steering your ship. Related to this It could be an unforgiving heart. Maybe you think someone, or something is so unforgivable. I understand that. But remember, at one point that was you when Jesus found you. Agape love does not withhold forgiveness. Sure, it will take time and a process of healing, but we must endeavor to move towards that place. And just remember, if you choose not to, then you yourself will not be forgiven before God. Jesus makes this painfully clear in Matthew 6:14-15 Are you prepared to be unforgiven? These and more are areas of darkness many of us possess within our hearts that are clouding out the light of Christ.
But God is ready to set you free. To wash away any definition you may have of love; and flood your life with new experiences of His love which lead you into the light of his love with Him and with one another. But you gotta want it. You gotta pick up the cross. He won’t do that part for you. He went on the cross so you can pick up your own. When you do, you will discover love in such a new and powerful way that it will transform you. Think to yourself:
You want to redeem your marriage? Fall in love with Jesus and do whatever it takes as He leads you.
You want to be the parent your children deserve? Experience Jesus.
You want to live out you’re calling and purpose? Intentionally experience His love daily in prayer and the Word.
Want to overcome your past experiences of pain and hurt? Allow the Spirit to give fresh revelation of identity.
Want to overcome addictions to porn, greed, slander, anger, and more? Rediscover fulfillment through agape.
Let’s ask the question one more time, “what… is… love?” I am not sure I will ever be able to answer this question appropriately, nor do I think I or anyone was created to. But I do know Who can. And that One is ready to lead us to the discovery of it in ways we have yet to ever experience.
One of the most important Scriptures in the book of Acts is found in 1:3 where Luke tells us that the resurrected Jesus spent a great deal of time sharing about the Kingdom of God while among them for forty days. However, to what degree and frequency we do not know. Assuming this text from Luke to be reliable we can note that Luke thought it important enough to include this important detail highlighting the launching point of the Church. The church now was to live in the reality of the Kingdom and its kerygma coming from the risen Jesus. Luke continues this emphasis all the way up until the end of Acts. In 28:23, 31, the Apostle Paul is seen testifying and proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the lord Jesus Christ with all boldness. With this inclusion tying the beginning of Acts with the end, Kingdom is an obvious central theme of the early church. Although in the book of Acts Luke does not present us with any of the usual paradoxes of the Kingdom seen in the Gospels, he does include the dialog of Jesus and the disciples about the timing of the Kingdom. Something which again can cause confusion with Mark 1:15 if not careful in our exegesis of the Kingdom motif and its multilayered truth.
Moving from Acts and into the Pauline corpus and letters of Hebrews, James, 2 Peter we see sparse mentioning’s of the Kingdom. In Paul’s letters we see the Kingdom being referenced in terms of future entrance as well as its power.Paul in his work is seeking to prepare followers for it while also encouraging them to walk in the new life of the Spirit which serves as a promise of the future fulfillment. One scripture of Paul which deserves attention is Colossians 4:11 where Paul states, “And Jesus who is called Justus greets you. These are the only ones of the circumcision among my co-workers for the Kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me.” The significance of this verse is found in Paul’s conception of labor and the Kingdom. Using the preposition εἰς preceding the phrase “τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ” reveals how Paul saw his labor. Peter T. Obrien explains that according to Paul, most of the time “Kingdom” is used, it denotes the future reality he is preparing the churches for while also encouraging them to live the Kingdom life in preparation. However, in this text there is a shift that needs acknowledged. The significance of this in conjunction with Luke’s presentation of Paul at the end of his volume on the church reveals that Paul saw the Kingdom in a multidimensional manner of here but not yet similar to Jesus.
Hebrews contains three references to the Kingdom while James and 2 Peter each have one. Hebrews, in its usual sermonic tone, refers to either the Kingdom or Jesus crowned with glory as a symbol of the ultimate victory. The author of Hebrews in 1:8; 2:9; and 12:28 does not offer much on the Kingdom but enough to reflect the early church’s belief that the Kingdom represented the ultimate eschatological victory of God that surely was coming shortly. James continues in the thought process of Jesus in an almost identical fashion. James 2:5 reads, “Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the Kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?” James is picking up on the truth that the Kingdom was yet to come but also that the Kingdom belonged to the unsuspected (or inauspicious as McKnight wrote above) individuals of lower status. This strikes a similar tone to our above study of Mark 10:14-15. Rounding out the canonical texts referring to the Kingdom in the New Testament after Jesus is the much-disputed letter of 2 Peter. In this letter in 1:11 the author communicates exclusively on the future of the Kingdom and the preparation of moral character which needs to take place for entrance way into the Kingdom.
While John does not use the βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ phrase itself it is worth noting that within Revelation we have around 12 allusions to the Kingdom in varied ways. All of these are geared toward the future and cosmic end of the Kingdom with special focus on the victory of the it. Of interest for our present study as it pertains to Second Temple Judaism is Revelation 19:16. It reads, “He has a name inscribed, ‘King of Kings and Lord of Lord’s.’” Above we examined parts of Enoch and Daniel 7. We also researched the Qumran scrolls and especially 1Qm 12:8. All of these contained this same language in reference to the coming Messiah as well as “king of kings” terminology found in Rev. 19:16. Moving past the writing of Revelation and its connections to the Kingdom, the church continued down this path as observed by the Apostolic Father Clement (in letters 1 and 2), Ignatius, the Didache, Polycarp, and more. Even within the Apocryphal writings of the NT we see Thomas including 15 references to the Kingdom.
These writers as well as Christians through history have interpretated and debated the eschatology of Jesus in numerous ways. Theologian Roger Olson communicates on the mosaic that is Christian belief on this matter and concludes, “There is and always has been tremendous diversity within Christianity about Christ’s return and God’s reign in the future.” This is also true of the time before the church and the ministry of Jesus. What is important to remember is that even in the presence of diverse thinking, the Church fathers by and large agreed on the presence of God’s Kingdom both in the life of the church and through her mission as well as pointing to future fulfilment at the Parousia of Jesus.
Lest we forget, the church then and today is to be the embodiment of Kingdom ethics and mission reflecting the very thought and life patterns of Jesus. The work the church does is to point back to the King(dom). The message we bear is to be one of subversive hope and revolutionary love. It is wise for us to wrestle with this question so brilliantly asked by theologian Daniel Migliore who rightly challenges the current disconnect in the Christian church around the area of eschatology and ethics. He asks
Does hope in the ‘coming in glory of the crucified and risen Christ,’ in the ‘resurrection of the dead,’ and in the ‘promise of eternal life’ erode Christian commitment to work on behalf of greater justice and peace in our communities and in our world here and now?
I would answer this with an emphatic, “No!” However, for far too many, the chasm between what the Church is declaring its hope to be and the hopeful work it is supposed to be doing is just too wide. The Church’s witness is crumbling. From ecclesiastical abuse to power struggles. From hypocritical anti- (fill in the blank) stances to the culture wars we fight so well. All of this and more is speaking a narrative that is anything but “Kingdom oriented.” No longer can our version of the Kingdom be molded by the whims of our personal preferences and emotive responses to a changing culture. A pseudo-kingdom of more division, national fervor, and fraction will not display the beauty of God’s true Kingdom which was hoped for, prophesied about, and inaugurated by Jesus. It is high time that the church re-envisions what the Kingdom means for today.
Kingdom Implications for Today
I hope by now it is obvious that the killing of Osama Bin Laden on that day so long ago was anything but a “win for the Kingdom.” (See Part 1 from this series) Given the research thus far on both Second Temple Judaism and Jesus’ own understanding of the Kingdom—such a statement by my friend that night sounds even more bizarre. But can I or anyone blame him? I am aware first-hand of the church hurt he went through, and I now know that I can’t fault him for that statement. His own experience of the church he was a part of demonstrated the opposite of the Kingdom itself through moral failures of leadership and an internally focused mission to the detriment of the surrounding community.
So how would he have known? The number one issue facing the church as well as pastors and those in leadership is the issue of credibility. With a new and healthy foundation, the church can reengage society with the tov of God, forging a way forward that demonstrates both the salt and light Jesus desired for Israel. To do this well we must first embrace the prophetic and apocalyptic nature of what the church was meant to be. For without this, the model we seek to be molded into will lack the necessary vision and urgency needed to rightly carry out Matthew 28:18-20. A mold that can best be described as apocalyptic and ethical in nature. More on this in Part 5.
 Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids, eds., Dictionary of the Later New Testament & Its Developments (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 629. This is further emphasized when we see key Scriptures in the middle pointing back to the Kingdom as the central focus: Acts 8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 14:22; 17:7.
 The Pauline corpus contains 14 citations to the Kingdom with additional allusions. The citations are Romans 14:17; 1 Cor. 4:20; 6:9, 10; 15:24, 50; Gal.5:21; Eph 5:5; Col. 1:13; 4:11; 1 Th. 2:12; 2 Th. 1:5; 2 Tim. 4:1; 4:18. The allusions can be found in Rom. 5:17, 21; 6:12-23; 1 Cor. 4:8; 15:23-28; and 1 Tim. 1:17.
 Peter T. O’Brien, Word Biblical Commentary: Colossians, Philemon (Waco, Tex: Word Books, 1982), 252–53.
 Roger E. Olson, The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity and Diversity (Downers Grove, Ill. : Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press ; Apollos, 2002), 334.
 Daniel L. Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology, Third edition (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 367.
 Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer, A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing (Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 2020), 6–9. McKnight uses this Hebrew word to speak of the hope represented by the goodness of God. In the pages cited he does so with the desire to express what the culture of church ought to be. That in our churches there must be the tov of God permeating all aspects. If this is not so than what is left in the wake of a “tov-less” church is narcissism, abuse, power struggles, and more. Why? Because the goodness of God, the tov, has been replaced by the prideful and harmful ways of leadership which compromise’ the church’s integrity. All of this can be spoken of in the same view of the church’s mission in engaging the outside world with the substance of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom represents at its deepest point the hope or tov of God.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
An Inconvenient Truth
There is a story of a man who had not gone to church for several years but suddenly stopped gathering. He fell out of community. His pastor dropped by one evening unannounced. The man answered the door and invited him in. Of course, he knew why his pastor was there. They went and sat in two chairs in front of a roaring fire. Neither man said anything. After a few minutes, the pastor picked up the fire tongs, took one of the logs out of the fire, and laid it on the hearth. The flames died down and flickered a few times before going out. They watched in silence as the log started to grow cold. After a while, the pastor once again picked up the fire tongs and put the smoldering log back with the other burning logs. It immediately burst back into flame. The pastor got up and said, “Well, I need to go now. But I’ve enjoyed our visit.” The man rose too and said, “I appreciate your message, pastor. I will be in church on Sunday.”
Whether you want to believe it or not; there is a truth that none of us can escape as Jesus followers: We are better together than we are apart. A log burns best with others; not alone and away from the flames. We are created in Christ to not only tolerate one another but to thrive. And so, we form this thing right here: what Jesus calls in Matthew 16, his “Church.”
Many of us are not entirely sure why the church or being in community is so important. Some have denigrated the need for it all together. We have produced a me-centered faith that would make community with other believers as an afterthought. I wish I could say it was the world doing this but its happening in the Church. Many leaders and authors have adapted the Gospel message to a wayward, “community disliking” culture and have placed self at the center. This results in churches who have truncated the Gospel message; wringing out any semblance of community and the need to do life with others like it was an oversaturated wash rag. What has taken place in consumer culture Christianity the West is immersed in is the opposite of what Jesus desires. And its true, don’t get me wrong, our faith does involve an emphasis on our personal relationship with God. But there’s more. It’s God calling, forming, saving, and redeeming a corporate people to live and exist… in community.
This then makes the church not as an optional part in the plan of God reaching the lost, but an essential part. Christ did not send his Holy Spirit only to individuals. Jesus always had community in mind.
But let’s be real, there are times when the wounds the church gives are even more profound and complex than wounds suffered in the world. We can be injured by an abuse of power or a hypocritical action by a “brother or sister.” Any of us who have hung around the church long enough have a few scars to show.
A Welcome Tension
And yet, here we are. We are the people Jesus has called out, anointed with His Holy Spirit, and desires to go into all the earth. And you may look around at your own church and think, “This is plan A?” Yes. And the reason it is such an amazing plan from God is that He will get all the glory through anything us misfits accomplish because it is only by God’s Grace that anything good can flow from us individually and as a church. This is all by design.
So, we have some tension here we must acknowledge. On the one hand we have the truth that God has called a people to be set apart and display his power to an unbelieving world. On the other hand, we are all fallible and broken individuals coming to seek to grow in holiness and righteousness before God—prone to flesh. So, what do we do?
We know we need one another. But it’s hard sometimes. And when in community, we are meant to be real, vulnerable, and able to be worthy of trust so we can walk with and lift each other. Right? The temptation by many is, “Well, I don’t know these people I have been burned, so I am going to just smile, pretend, and get my Jesus fix and I’m out!”
But what if I were to tell you that embracing this present tension and reality of “Jesus calls imperfect people to carry out His perfect will—together”—is actually the very church Jesus is looking for! The Church of Jesus Christ at large is a home not only for the morally upright but for the moral failures. For those who for a variety of reasons have not been able to “measure up.” As Brennan Manning once said, “The Church is a healing community proclaiming the Father’s indiscriminate love and unconditional grace, offering pardon, reconciliation and salvation to the down-trodden and leaving the judgment to God.” Does this mean we do not pursue holiness and sanctification? Of course not. But the Church that ignores the reality of the human experience and struggle with the flesh, will not fully understand the journey of helping one another towards wholeness. Infact, an expectation that we will not come into conflict at times or even dislike one another is lunacy.
But going a step further, a Church that will not accept the fact that it consists of sinful people learning holiness and exists for sinful people to be made whole in Jesus, becomes hard-hearted, self-righteous, and inhuman. As Hans Küng writes, “It deserves neither God’s mercy nor men’s trust.”
While this may not help the tension, it does show us how we are to embrace our humanity as a testimony to the world around us. That even though we are who we are, there is still something intangible about us, within us, and around us that is salt and light; inviting and convicting; inspiring and life changing. And what is that “something”? It’s what we see in Acts 2. It’s what the Apostle Paul wrote about in Romans 5:5-8. Pay close attention to the plural pronouns and how within us the Spirit of Love has been poured out!
5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
How did the Early Church do this so well? What are we missing that they experienced, that could ease this tension and transform our church and community experiences?
Community Formed by the Holy Spirit
The Acts 2 Scriptures above ought to cause two things to rise up within us. They ought to confirm the areas where we are in step and ought to convict us in the areas where we aren’t. Anytime we open up to learn about the first church we will usually get hit by the amazing beauty of their inclusiveness. The power of their boldness. The joy of their togetherness. The inspiration of the preference for one another. All of these—in many regards—are things we do not readily embrace in our own culture which makes it that much harder to see some of these traits in the church. So, what happens is, we think what we just read is impossible! We think, they were so perfect! We are so far from that! Not necessarily.
I’ll never forget when I first became a Christian, I was so passionate about my faith and holiness and really pursuing Jesus. I was, and am, so black and white at times and was adamant that the book of Acts had it right and we just had to get back to the “Early Church.” It was a mentor though who sat me down and walked me through all the issues Paul is addressing in the NT. Incest, people getting drunk on communion wine, infighting, members suing one another, and more. These people were a mess! But God used the early Church, so much! The power of the early church was not in their money, privilege, or societal influence. The power of this “New Thing” God was doing in the land was found in what we already read from Paul: The Spirit and Love. But lets go deeper… Look at 1 Corinthians 12:13
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
When Paul says this, he is not giving some vague cliché like we are all part of the same team. No. He is going much deeper than that. In referencing the gifts of the Spirit that are in operation among those baptized in the Spirit he explains basically that these are taking place because all of us have drank from the same Holy Spirit. We are all connected in this way.
The Holy Spirit of God is the life of the church. He is the fire, motivator, and glue that keeps community together as well as moving forward in the purposes of Jesus. Think about it for a moment: We see here in Acts 2:42-48 a group of people like the Jews have never seen! They are selling their goods; they are giving to any who had need. Insane!
None of this is obligatory. The Essenes (a religious group during the days of Jesus) were similar, but they had to sell their possessions and hold nothing as their own. They freely chose and volunteered to live this way and to love one another to this degree. That’s the Spirit of God! Because they all sought the same Spirit, they were all transformed by the same Spirit. When the Holy Spirit moves in your life as you yield to Him—transformation comes. I have seen it and experienced it time and time again.
This past week I was walking the trails at Quail Hollow, a park near where I live. I was in the woods from about 9-4:30 for a day of prayer. The Spirit showed me something powerful. There is a little river I usually sit by. But right now, there is no water. And so, all the stones are sitting there. I heard the Spirit say, “Remember in the Spring season when the water flows?” I then remembered how I was amazed how the water would rush through and move the rocks in piles together and saturate everything. The Lord helped me see this as a picture of what the Church is supposed to be vs. what it often is for us. We are dry, separated, and situated in one place. But the Spirit is that river which saturates, moves, and brings together the church just as the water does those rocks.
When you begin to seek the Spirit of God like we have been discussing and are filled and baptized in Him, you begin to see things through the lens of what Jesus desires. And 10 times out of 10 that lens will involve “others.” Doing life together, befriending others, sharing the Gospel with others, learning from others, sharing with others, serving others, loving others—others! But the Church cannot succeed in this as well as us individually unless we are being moved by the Holy Spirit of God in prayer, Word, and community.
If you are still with me, there’s a chance you may be giving some pushback mentally. Don’t worry, I get it and have lived in that place. I would think and say things like, “I don’t need church. I can worship anywhere. I don’t need others. They annoy me, hurt me, and break my trust.” Been there. I have felt those same things.
In fact, there’s a great story of a man who didn’t want to go to church at all on a certain Sunday morning. He said to his wife, “I have three great reasons why I shouldn’t have to be at Church and in community this morning. 1) they don’t like me, 2) It isn’t fun, and 3) I got hurt there. The wife looked at him, said, “Hunny, I’ll give you three reasons why you need to go to church this morning. 1) You are loved, 2) There are amazing people there, and 3) You are the pastor sweetie, so you have to go this morning.” This may or may not have been me at one time or another as a pastor.
But I have grown over the years and have learned deeply, that we need each other. The will of Jesus is that His Church be in community, tightly knit, lifting the burdens of one another.
The Spirit of God healed and empowered them to do amazing things-together.
They proclaimed the Gospel together.
They were discipled together in the Apostles doctrine.
They had fellowship together.
They were prayed and filled with the Spirit together.
They had meals together.
Do you see how important community is in the plan of God for your own health and growth?
The early church was known for being together. But it wasn’t just because the Spirit was poured out. It was, going back to what Paul said, what the Spirit of God poured into their hearts and minds: TRANSFORMING LOVE.
A Community Known for its Love
Jesus talks about this kind of transforming love in John 15:9-12. He says,
9 “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.
The desire of Jesus for His Spirit-filled church was not that they would be known for their power, mystical experiences, amazing prophecy, miracles, or anything else. He desired that His church and his disciples would be known for one thing above all else: Love. Following this Spirit-Filled love is everything else. As Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 13:1 and everyone one of us hears at weddings,
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
The early church understood this. The Spirit of Love, being poured out in their hearts as Paul said above, motivated them to want to be together, help one another, and serve those who needed help. It propelled them to share the message to people who were lost and dying. Love compelled them. This is the highest form of joy we can give the Father is by loving one another. Jesus said it! When you love your brother or sister or even a stranger, you are directly pouring love out to Jesus Christ. It’s crazy when you realize how important loving one another in community really is. In His simple command to love one another Jesus had implicitly given us everything for which the human mind searches and the human heart longs for. He taught in John 14:21-23 that he would be intimately present and within those who obey his commandments… which are centered around loving one another. This doesn’t happen on islands. It happens with action.
In fact, did you know that in the entire 28 chapters of the book of Acts the word “love” is not found. Not once. Instead, we see Luke giving us story after story, action after action, of the love of the Spirit compelling simple and redeemed people to do extraordinary things.
This is what you are created for. Don’t hold this love of Jesus to yourself. Give it to another. Write a letter to someone who you have hurt. Seek to forgive an offender. Invite someone into your home. This deep love of Jesus was meant to be given, not stored. Husbands the greatest place you can worship Jesus is in your home loving and cherishing and nourishing your wife. Oh, how I wish I could say I was perfect at this. The same goes for wives. Mothers and fathers—love and nurture Christ in your children. Your mission field is right there. Jesus loves you for you so you will love others too.
Can you imagine trying to scoop up water shooting out of a fire hose and try to put it back in the hose and get it to travel back to where it came from? We do this with God! He is an eternal fire hose of indiscriminate and unfair love and grace that pours out upon his beloved people—us. And we, like fools, think the purpose is for us to love him back only! No! We are meant to take that love that is coming out and share it in community. This is what forms a movement of the Gospel reaching others.
An Invitation to Community
And so, we have an invitation from the Holy Spirit To enter into community. To be real, vulnerable, and honest. It’s risky; but it’s what Jesus desires. If we will allow the Holy Spirit to put us back into the fire—maybe just maybe, we may realize that all along, the reason we did not feel Gods peace, Gods power, or anything making sense was not because God was distant… but we were.
I encourage you to get into community. Not just going to church. I mean being the church with other people. Sharing with, trusting, befriending others because the love of Jesus within you compels you. Where there are wounds from others—give them to the Lord for healing. Seek wisdom and counsel. Above all, do not walk away from community. For when that happens, whatever fire may be in you will surely die out like a log taken from the fire; flickering away into a cold and hardened existence. That isn’t what God has for you.
Others need who you are. You have so much to give.
You need who others are. They have so much to give.
What if I get hurt? Don’t worry. You will be. Community with others was never about convenience. It was always about transformation. Period.
This is how Jesus modeled it then and desires it for your life today.
I want to encourage you with something today. Something maybe you have forgotten. Its this: Jesus still changes lives, heals the sick, and sets the oppressed free; just as He did in the pages of Scripture. It could be physical healing or it could be the victory over a destructive habit—no situation in our lives is too far out of reach for the power of God in Christ Jesus to reach us. The timing and method is with God—but I know that He still does them through His Holy Spirit.
This past week in our church there was a woman physically healed from severe pain in her legs. She walked down with a cane praying for physical healing. She walked back without the cane. The following week a man got up to share how Jesus had set him free in his life from various things that he had been carrying for so long. The common thread in all of this? Jesus is still at work changing lives. But I am not sure many of us still believe this.
In fact, it seems there are two kinds of people in the Church: There are those that follow Jesus actively and there are those that like Jesus passively.
There are those that follow Jesus actively and there are those that like Jesus passively.
The first group lives with a confidence that Jesus is still at work both within as well as through their own lives to others. They are those who are seeking to love and serve others, share the message of Jesus, helping others to repent and join the church, those who are boldly praying for the sick, casting out demonic spirits, and more. They are a people of action.
The second group lives with a theoretical knowledge that Jesus was who he said he was. They ascribe the right doctrinal beliefs. They seek to do good, be kind, tip their waiter well, tolerate and love all people, smile on walking paths, mind their own business, and then wait to die to go to heaven. They are a people of passivity.
You may find yourself in one of these groups. I pray it is the former. Maybe you’re thinking, “But I go to church! Why wouldn’t I be at church if I wasn’t passionate?” I get it. But does that equate to being the passionate disciple of Jesus that He is looking for? My dad always told me growing up that “Going into a church building doesn’t make you a Jesus follower anymore than walking into a garage makes you a car.” He would tell me this to remind me that to be a Jesus follower is what matters most.
The reality is that Jesus wants all of you so that he can transform all of you. He wants more than your Sunday attendance or confessions when you messed up. He wants all of you so that you can experience His full love, and truth, as well as enlist you in His Kingdom work. We do not have the option of being one foot in and one foot out. Jesus taught the opposite in fact. Jesus says in Revelation 3:15-16 the following blunt truth.
15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
The Holy Spirit is looking for women and men of God set on fire for Jesus, not lukewarm. Joyful, passionate, excited about the potential that Jesus offers for themselves and others who are lost because they are needed—What Jesus began; He continues today. In fact we can take this deeper. Not only does his work continue today but his Kingdom still reigns as well.
The Kingdom Jesus Began… Still Reigns. In You.
Luke writes in his Gospel that there were those who did not realize Jesus still lived and reigned. Here is a sample from Luke 24:36-39, 44-49 NIV
36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”….44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Early in the chapter before the above, we have two men walking on a road and the resurrected Jesus appears to them in their sad and mourning state as they thought Jesus was gone, hope was dead. He appears to the disciples and speaks very clear instructions to them in what we read this morning. They too were startled unsure that Jesus was really alive—even though He told them this would happen. In both cases He helps them come back to life as effective witnesses for His truth. Essentially what he is doing is reminding them that “Everything I told all of you. Everything that was spoken about me in the Word. Everything I did while among you: healing, providing, loving, releasing, and more—all of it is still for today.”
Luke then writes a sequel to all of this called “Acts” which has been called the Acts of the Apostles but is more appropriately named the Acts of the Holy Spirit. It is the story of what happens next after Jesus resurrected and ascended to the Father. Essentially, it is our story. There was no expiration date on the Acts of the Holy Spirit. Luke says in Acts in 1:1-3:
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.
Do you see how Luke writes, “…what Jesus began to do and to teach…” Luke is affirming that even though he ascended, Jesus began “something.” Something best defined as the reign of God’s Kingdom here in our time and space. Jesus could have discussed anything with them. But he chose to speak of the Kingdom of God.
This Kingdom is the reign of God that pushes back the evil and darkness. Beginning first in the hearts of humans who respond in faith, and then permeating their thoughts, words, actions, and manner of life. This is where we get the understanding of the “victorious life.” That even through difficulty, tribulation, and even death—we still reign with Jesus. This victorious life is Kingdom living.
In our desire to be understanding and empathetic we will often cater to the more difficult and broken parts of our stories in a desire to be real and authentic to be relatable. We could call this “Messy Spirituality.” While sometimes needed, we must remember that Kingdom living is not tied to the acceptance of what is wrong in us; but rather the embrace of what Jesus desires for us.
This means we are to pursue a holy life. Free of sin. Free of addictions, secret sin, perversions of the flesh, and everything else that damages our relationship with the Lord. We can be set free. His Kingdom still CAN reign in our thoughts and actions.
Kingdom living is not tied to the acceptance of what is wrong in us; but rather the embrace of what Jesus desires for us.
The desire of God is that His Kingdom would reign in our lives victoriously. We are to be those “New Creations” that the world sees and is attracted to. 2 Corinthians 5:17 brings this to light:
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
We are to be new creations because of Jesus. We are not to resemble the world but rather be those who are called out of it. We are the New Creations who are still living in the “Acts of the Holy Spirit…” We are those who bring this same Kingdom in thought, word, and action—resembling the life of Jesus—to those whom God places in our path.
Two things will happen as you read that statement above. You will either feel emboldened by it, encouraged, and recharged and passionate to commune with the Spirit and receive instruction. Or you will feel a large disconnect followed by feelings of unworthiness, defeat, and shame because you are not living your full potential of divine purpose in Christ. I beg you to remember that there is hope. Our God is an amazing God of mercy and promise! He knows and always knew that we would need help to continue the work of Jesus and expand His Kingdom today!
So lets think this through together: What Jesus began… he continues today in our time and space. The Kingdom Jesus brought… still reigns today in our time and space. But there is one more peace to this that Luke shows us in Acts 1:4-5:
4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
What Jesus Promised… Is Still Here. For You.
What Jesus Promised… is still for you. This is the missing part. But what in fact did he promise? He said, “You will be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” I can imagine the disciples hearing the commands of Jesus to GO and do this and do that. The fear and anxiety of doing it alone without Him must have been unimaginable.
But Jesus promised them. It was an ancient promise. It was fulfilled at Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out. And when the masses thought they were all drunk and crazy because they heard them praying in tongues, Peter got up and boldly said something that was to forever alter the church moving forward to present day. Look at Acts 2:38-39:
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
For as many… The promise still holds true today. For you. Jesus promised help. Help has come. You do not have to do any of this alone. Continuing the work of Jesus isn’t easy. Submitting to the Lordship of Jesus and His Kingdom in our lives isn’t easy. The Holy Spirit of God is our greatest friend and ally in learning how to overcome and walk in wisdom.
You would be crazy NOT to embrace this gift and allow it (Him) to saturate you… right? Or think of it this way. If I gave you 1 dollar but promised you I could give you 20, what would you say? If I gave you a toy car but promised you there was a real car in the parking lot for you, what would you say? In both cases, you would receive with joy the 20 dollars and the new car. This is the same reality many are living in their pursuit of Jesus. We are settling for a drop when we were promised rushing rivers. Jesus makes this clear in John 7:37-39.
37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” c39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
A River Awaits
This river is for you; the local church; the church in this nation—we are to be a river of God’s justice and goodness flowing to all who are in need of the message of the Gospel. So ask yourself: What am I scared of? What holds me back from being filled with God’s Spirit again and again? What frightens me about the baptism in the Holy Spirit? Why am I playing it safe keeping one foot in and one foot out?
I promise you this. Jumping head first into the things of God brings about a joyful transformation that nothing on this planet could touch. And you know what else? So much is on the line. I think about marriages. How will they survive if both are not receiving the transformation from the Holy Spirit? I think about women and men. How will we battle the onslaught of the enemy in this world with lust, power, identity issues, insecurities, anxieties, greed, and more—unless we are filled and overflowing with God’s Spirit? I think about our children. How will they be raised up in the ways of Jesus if us parents are not being led by the Spirit through daily time in the Word and prayer? It wont happen. We must be intentional and saturate ourselves with the Spirit of God.
Connect the dots with me. If what Jesus began still continues today… if His Kingdom he began still reigns today… and if the Promise of the Holy Spirit is the One He gave his disciples (us) to achieve those first two… wouldn’t it make sense for the Enemy to get every single one of us to be weary, lukewarm, cynical, stuck, passionless, and defeated? He is winning if that’s the case in your life. But John tells us in 1 John 4:4 that, “He who is within you is greater than He who is within the world.”
Rise Up Woman/ Man of God. Your Helper Is Here.
So I encourage you today. Rise up man of God. Rise up woman of God. You are called and anointed by God to overcome with the Holy Spirit within you. The sin which plagues your thoughts—can be overcome. The shameful acts committed in darkness—can be destroyed. The toxic decisions and habits made again and again—can be overcome. How? By submitting, repenting, and asking Jesus to baptize you in His Holy Spirit. You dedicate more time to prayer and the Scriptures and daily asking to be Filled for that day’s work—and watch and see what the Holy Spirit will do. Nothing has changed. Jesus is still in the business of setting people free.
Last week I got a message. A woman I know well was an atheist for many years. But a long time ago she heard the Gospel of Jesus preached by myself, Michelle, and others. Years later she found herself experiencing demonic oppression and satanic attacks. She remembered the name of Jesus! She began to cry out “Jesus!” She spoke with me days later telling me she was experiencing peace and things were better. She brought books and items that were not of God to be destroyed here to the church to get rid of them. These messages didn’t shock me one bit. You know why? Because what Jesus began; he still continues today.
So which are you?
Do you follow Jesus actively?
Or do you like Jesus passively?
Jesus is ready to set you on fire with His Holy Spirit. But are you?
What is Needed Most for Your Life? For the Church?
I am sure many will have their own opinion as to what matters most for Christians and Christianity at a time when both are negatively portrayed in virtually every medium. Some will say there needs to be a restoration of love. Others will plead that we must return to prayer. Some might say the most important thing for the Church is serving the community where each is planted. Others might add that welcoming society’s outcasts and becoming more inclusive may be what is needed most. All are appropriate answers. But not the right answer. Subjective? Maybe. But allow me to be the one who will propose what most would not answer as the most important need for today: the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Before you associate me with fringe Christian individuals and write me off among those who have done bizarre, fleshly, and unbiblical things saying the “holy spirit” told them to do it; just hear me out and know that that is not me.
Let’s think for a moment. What was it that begun this entire thing called “the Church?” Of course we can point to Matthew 16 and Peter’s revelation of who Jesus was. And this being the beginning of the church since Jesus says literally, “Upon this rock (this revelation) I will build my church.” But we are talking after He resurrected.
So, was it radical inclusivity? Was it deep love and slogans about loving your neighbor? Was it a unifying push to see social programs be offered in every nook and cranny of Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and in the ends of the Earth? It wasn’t. it was none of those things. What put a “crooked generation” (Peter’s words in Acts, not mine) on notice was not one of these common items we often espouse as solutions to the lukewarmness of the Church. What it was, was this: the very power of God through the Baptism in the Holy Spirit which set the church ablaze with love; demonstrating the unquestionable power of God enabling them to add to their numbers daily.
No lights. No smoke. No podiums. No projectors. No committees. No buildings. No sermon series. No themes. No programs. No “catalyst”, “cutting edge,” or “dynamic” groups (or whatever catchy names we adore). No money. No building programs. No Awanas. No Christian cliches. No Christian Shirts or festivals. No bumper stickers. No freedom of religion. They had none of it. Only the Holy Spirit. They did more… with far less… and the more we have… we have done far less with.
Coming back to this thought of what is needed most; when we make the fruit of something the focal point we miss the place from where it stems. Things like love, welcoming our neighbor, sharing our goods, transforming our community, prayer and more—all of this is meant to come from individuals saturated and overflowing with the Holy Spirit of God, who was poured out upon the church for these very purposes. He is the vine where these things grow in our lives (Galatians 5 and the fruit of the Spirit). He and His power is where all of our common notions of what is needed most come from–granted they are biblical and from above. And so, we do not exist as social clubs on street corners turning our noses up at the masses. We exist as one entitity spread out across the globe unitied by a common Spirit who empowers, enlivens, and baptizes all Jesus followers for effective demonstration of the power of God–not eloquence of speech (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).
Whether it be the gifts of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12 or the leadership gifts of Ephesians 4:11-12 or even the motivational gifts in Romans 12—the Church is gifted to make a difference. We have all of this at our disposal and yet we have often neglected Who catalyzes all of it—the Holy Spirit who sets us ablaze with His abilities. At the very least we pay homage to Him and slap His name on our agendas like He is in the distant background akin to a Buddha sculpture on a shelf in a local Chinese restaurant.
I laugh when I am often pidgeon holed as some “Pentecostal” or crazy “charismatic” because I teach and encourage that all should be baptized in the Holy Spirit, pray in heavenly language, and seek the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Why wouldn’t I? Its literally what Scripture teaches. It isn’t a status marker. One group is not better than the other. I am merely communicating there is a clear pattern in the Bible. So… you must teach in the flow of the Word and the Early Church. Because I am adamant about this, I have had people leave my own church because I emphasize the Holy Spirit in this way. I have had people mock me as the “Holy Spirit guy.” At each turn though, I go back to the Word, read it over, and find again and again—this is the normal biblical pattern for effective Christian witness. There is no other way.
Because we refuse to accept this is the only way to truly be effective HIS way, we are a powerless church in many places. We are lukewarm and adulterous preachers—forsaking the anointing of the Holy Spirit for the gimmicks of the world. We long to see God move and complain when He does not. We possess dreams and visions and yet forget only the Holy Spirit can bring them to life.
You must know the feeling. Something deep down is missing. You read and study the same Bible I do. You read the same stories of people just like you and I. Is there not a part of you that longs to see the supernatural? Is there not a part of you that aches deep inside for a revival that spreads like a wild fire? Where you family, children, friends, spouse, co-workers and others—heck, even your fellow church members—come to radical life filled by the Holy Spirit? Filled and transformed just like those so long ago? I long to live within, serve under, and embody true revival in my own community. Shouldn’t all of us? We need the same Spirit poured out in the same way as so long ago.
That Day So Long Ago
The Holy Spirit was poured out in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost. Following the ascension of Jesus, Luke (the author of Acts) tells us that the 120 were waiting and praying in one accord for the promise of the Father (Baptism in the Holy Spirit) for effective witnessing. Note that we also learn this small group of Christians (the Church) were also in one accord. They were unified in their pursuit of this promise from Jesus in Acts 1. This brings to the surface a principle in need of recovery for today: spiritual agreement in prayer is a prerequisite for receiving the power of God for the church collective.
As already said, this Feast of Pentecost occurred 50 days after Passover. It was one of three major Jewish feasts commanded by God:
1. Feast of Passover – a week of giving thanks for God’s deliverance out of Egyptian bondage.
2. Feast of the First Fruits – a day of giving thanks for the birth and growth of new crops and the beginning of the harvest season.
3. Feast of Tabernacles – a week of giving thanks for the end and completion of the harvest season.
Pentecost was also known as “Day of the First Fruits (Num. 28:26), the Feast of Weeks,” (Ex. 34:22) or the “Feast of the Harvest.” Is it not surprising that this is the day God chose for the birth of the Church. The early church begins and ends with a focus on the harvest. This was no coincidence. Especially when reading Matthew 28:18-20 and Jesus’ Great Commission of “Go into all the earth…”
And so on this day the Church was consumed with what God prescribed as the most important thing post-resurrection of Jesus. It was a day marked with an audible sound like a mighty wind in that upper room. On the 120 present there were “tongues of fire” within/upon each that appeared as resting upon them. There was a sudden release of known languages involving at least 15 people groups depending on who you ask.
Some witnessing this phenomenon were receptive and inquiring. Others were mocking which still holds true for today. Many will always resist and some will always receive. This is the reality of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Shockingly, it continues to be an area of contention in many corners of Christianity except where revival is happening the most: the global south. Go figure.
Where Do You Land?
So, where do you land? I wonder how much of your understanding or reaction to the Baptism in the Holy Spirit been influenced by different church traditions? Assuming you have heard of this biblical experience and empowerment before. Many arrive at different conclusions. Perhaps it may be one or a combination of the following for you:
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.
Spirit baptism takes place at conversion and there is no subsequent Baptism in the Holy Spirit (1Cor. 12:13).
The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is an endowment of power for service subsequent to salvation with praying/speaking in tongues (also known as heavenly language) as the initial physical evidence.
Although tongues may accompany the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, any of the gifts may serve as evidence.
The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity; additional awareness of the Spirit’s ongoing presence is available in the rite of confirmation.
The Baptism in the Holy Spirit, tongues, spiritual gifts, signs, wonders, and miracles were temporary gifts unique to the primitive church and unnecessary after the canonization of Scripture (1Cor. 13:8-10).
Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a specific experience and there is additional power available, but its optional and the role of praying in tongues is unimportant.
What Exactly is the Baptism in the Holy Spirit?
No matter where we fall, we must be wise to recognize what is shaping our conviction on a life filled with the Holy Spirit and to make sure it is in alignment with the Word of God. Scripture is clear that there is a subsequent experience to salvation. It is also clear that all who follow Jesus are to be baptized in the Holy Spirit for effective witness and anointing to do the ministry of Jesus. Yes, we have the Spirit at the point of new birth. However, the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is, as has already been stated, the literal immersion into the power of God, in His Holy Spirit for effective witnessing to the Kingdom of God. Not to mention the anointing to defeat the strongholds of the enemy in our own lives and to then walk in freedom and holiness.
It is not a one time thing we mark on a calendar. It is a continual refilling we seek to experience which is kicked off by receiving in faith, exercising the gift of heavenly language in prayer, and seeking to be filled daily or seek until we exercise heavenly language in prayer. The point is, we don’t stop. Acts 4:31 makes this clear as the same disciples were again baptized in the Holy Spirit and anointed just as Jesus was.
Peter says in Acts 10:38 that “Godanointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” Are we better than Jesus that we do not need to be filled and anointed with the Holy Spirit? Or when Jesus says in John 14:12 that we (his disciples) will do greater things because He goes to the Father—don’t we need to be equipped as Jesus was? Who also said in Acts 1:8 to wait for the promise from the father. For it was then he said that we “will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses…”
I have always modeled, taught, and instructed that this is an additional experience stemming from the initial work the Holy Spirit began at repentance and salvation. I have wavered at different times in the past due to my own wrestling. However, I no longer can. Scripture is clear. This is the clear biblical pattern. For example, look over these five key examples: Acts 2:4 // Acts 8:14-15 // Acts 9:17-22 // Acts 10:44-46 // Acts 19:6-7.
So what essentially does all of this mean for the Church of today? The following…
Gods plan and purpose is for all followers of Jesus to be baptized in the Holy Spirit, pray in heavenly language, and employ the gifts of the Spirit as He distributes for effective ministry and the tearing down of strongholds internal and external. Those who say this isn’t for them: why deny or refuse to seek all God has for you? Only that person and the Church at large will suffer in the end.
This baptism (apart from salvation and apart from water baptism) is the fulfillment of the prophet Joel from 800 years before Pentecost. In the book of Joel he writes there would be (5) key elements of this out pouring that began in Acts and continues today: 1) the outpouring of the Spirit on ALL flesh, 2) prophecy, 3) visions and dreams, 4) signs and wonders, 5) and salvation to all who follow Jesus.
Lest we try and think all of this was exclusive to those early believers. I beg you not to forget what Petersays to those who were “cut to the heart” asking what they should do after hearing the mighty things of God being declared in numerous unknown and known languages in Acts 2. He says, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 Forthe promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
The promise is still here. The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is still here. Heavenly language in prayer with God is still here. Physical healing is still here. Signs and wonders are still here. Prophecy, visions, words of wisdom, faith, words of knowledge, and more—all is still present under the guidance and infilling of the Holy Spirit. Nothing has changed. Repentance and submission is still the key. The promise was for them and all who were to come.
I pray we are filled with radical faith and trust to rekindle our passion for Him–the Holy Spirit who alone can enable us to effectively minister to a lost and dying society steeped in identity confusion, godlessness, and moral corruption. But may it begin in our churches first.
So, it only makes sense then to affirm that what is most important and needed for the church of today is that which was given to the Church first and foremost: a Baptism of fire in the Holy Spirit.
Want to reach your neighbors? Want to know how to communicate with boldness? Want to experience the clarity of the voice of Jesus internally and the Scriptures come to life? Do you dream of your church living with such deep and unconditional love that permeates your surrounding neighbors and community? Societal ills combatted? These and more… we must be filled with the Holy Spirit and lead the way.
Lastly, I encourage you whether alone or in your next time of prayer with others. Review Acts 2. Ask the Holy Spirit to baptize you as Jesus did them with the Holy Spirit and fire. Accept and receive in faith. Yield your vocal chords to the Holy Spirit and begin to speak and pray aloud as you feel the Holy Spirit moving through you. Remember that Acts says they began to pray in 2:4 as the Spirit gave them utterance. In other words, it takes two to tango. Begin to accept the Gift and walk with boldness nurturing your newfound relationship with the Holy Sprit with times of prayer and reading of Scripture. Begin to testify immediately with the new boldness you have received! Need help in this? Email me at NoahDSchumacher@gmail.org.
And remember, if any of this seems odd to you… especially praying in an unknown heavenly language…just remember this: you believe a dead guy came back to life and came out of a locked stone tomb three days after being dead. Is this not the epitome of supernatural? As much as some would like to, we do not get to pick and choose which supernatural parts of our faith are acceptable and which are not. I pray that the Church in the West would be set free from our closed in, non demonstrative, and at times boring approach to the greatest news the world has ever known.
So I beg you. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit. Do not quench His activity in your life and the Church. He is all we have. He is what we need most. And currently, His fire and baptism is what is needed most in the Church at large if we have any hope to bring in the harvest; to bring as many into the Kingdom of God as possible. Isn’t that the point?
Within the time of Second Temple Judaism the understanding of “salvation” did not change wholesale per se. There is however an important shifting that does in fact take place. During this era, the areas surrounding all areas of Palestine and were being heavily influenced by various streams of apocalyptic thinking which found their way into mainstream Judaism. Pertinent to our study is to focus on the imported theme of “resurrection” which is obviously an important part of salvation as well as the ministry and life of Jesus. To understand this more we will engage a few key scriptures from this era to help us see how salvation and at times resurrection were understood. We will draw our texts from the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, and Dead Sea Scrolls.
In the Apocrypha we find a terrifying story of seven brothers tortured for their loyalty and allegiance to God. Within this story we discover the central hope or core emphasis which comes forth when they are pushed to their breaking point. In 2 Maccabees 7:9, one of the brothers who is being tortured communicates with his final breath, “You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws.” As is obvious, there is a focus on salvation not coming in the present moment but rather in the life to come. This understanding that the “King of the universe” is going to raise the brothers up speaks to an understanding of salvation that was present in the form of resurrection. Statements this blunt are not found in the OT, but they are in here.
George W. E. Nickelsburg defines resurrection as the “eschatological act in which God brings the dead to life in order to recompense them for the righteous or sinful deeds that they committed during their lives.” He continues to explain that, “In addition to a resurrection of the body, biblical and Jewish texts also speak of the ascent of the spirit or of one’s (immortal) soul to heaven and of exaltation among the angelic host.” The question of how this understanding of salvation is taking on tones of resurrection and being “raised up” as seen in 2 Maccabees (among others) is important for our appreciation and study for both our own salvation and resurrection but also the resurrection of Jesus.
And so, how did Judaism get to this progression? E.P. Sanders, in his monumental work appropriately titled “Judaism,” explains the origin for not only a salvific view of salvation but also of other widely held beliefs during the era Maccabees and other Apocryphal books were written—including Daniel. He writes
A lot of unfortunate and evil things happen in the world, and all philosophies and religions face the problem of explaining them. In our period, Jews were torn between a straight monotheistic explanation of evil—God intends it—and a dualistic explanation—there is another power (Satan) or a congeries of other powers (demons).
This crossroads that Judaism found itself in paved the way for differing cultural ideologies to creep in as well as religious imports in an effort to make sense of what was happening during this trying time of Israel’s history. Sanders goes on to credit Persian influence in areas of demonology and angelology as well as a belief in resurrection. This importing of belief in the resurrection continued to influence the ways in which Israel viewed its own salvation. Though for centuries previous, salvation was sought out in the present by the intervention of Yahweh because of their covenantal faithfulness in keeping Torah, it was now taking on an additional depth involving the life to come at the resurrection.
The religious group who stood in the way of this were the Sadducees. This group of religious elites maintained their denial of resurrection in the afterlife because, as purists, they maintained a strict adherence to the biblical text alone. They did not entertain further traditions as other groups would, such as the Pharisees. Sanders, in explaining why the Sadducees were this way, states
Possibly Sadducees, like modern biblical critics, distinguished dates and recognized metaphors. Or, more plausibly, perhaps they accepted only what was in the Pentateuch. In any case, scholars usually connect their literalism with their rejection of life after death.
This rejection of life after death and its application to salvation was somewhat rare. With the surge in apocalyptic literature surrounding early Judaism there were many diverse voices who began to focus heavily on the ultimate victory of God in the life to come with vivid imagery and language.
Author Łukasz Bergel in his paper “God’s Victory and Salvation: A Soteriological Approach to the Subject in Apocalyptic Literature” rolls out an impressive schema in comparing the soteriological theme and language of literature found in John’s apocalypse and the apocalypses found in Judaism near the time preceding Jesus. The desired outcome of the paper is to ascertain what exactly are the consequences of salvation in both bodies of writing and the avenue of how God’s victory is achieved as perceived during this time frame. Interestingly, his work brings to light how many of the writings during this era were intertwined with “victory” language. One could almost say apocalyptic writers during this time were enthralled with war and battle overtones throughout. He writes
Soteriology in apocalyptic literature is often presented in two aspects: the salvation and the judgement. These two issues are characteristic of the apocalyptic genre and are mutually connected. In their essence, they seem to stand in opposition, but in apocalyptic reality, they are complementary. Salvation concerns the salvific process – the events and actions that must be done – and the results of this process. The judgement is showed as a consequence of the refusal of salvation. The terminology and imagery of God’s victory can be related to both aspects. However, it is usually applied to the salvific aspect and even identified with it. Salvation is a victory.
These complementary aspects of salvation and judgment comprise much of the eschatology we find leading into the time the NT was written. There is continuation with a subtle divergence as Bergel says above. Where the OT understanding of salvation is Israel clinging to the intervention of Yahweh; this is now moving into language describing a cataclysmic militaristic event involving the victory of Yahweh in which salvation is achieved for those loyal to Him. It is important for our brief study to investigate some of these writings before learning how Jesus understood and communicated this in His ministry.
In the following texts we see God’s victory taking center stage. What is evident in each text is a theme revolving around a “chosen one” or the mediation of a messianic figure of some sort. This is beginning to take shape with the emergence of the “Kingdom of God” motif.
The pseudepigraphal text 1 Enoch opens with a vision describing the victory of God with the imagery of a parade on display. In it we see God himself marching to bring salvation to His people after achieving victory. In verses 3 and 4 it states,
3 Concerning the elect I said, and took up ‹my› parable concerning them: The Holy Great One will come forth from His dwelling,
4 And the eternal God will tread upon the earth, (even) on Mount Sinai,
[And appear from His camp] And appear in the strength of His might from the heaven ‹of heavens›.
Down a little further in the same chapter the jubilation and praise shifts from focusing on God’s victorious entrance to the results of His arrival:
5 And all shall be smitten with fear,
And the Watchers shall quake,
And great fear and trembling shall seize them unto the ends of the earth.
The focus of Enoch is the establishment of an everlasting Kingdom of God where victory for God and His righteous ones, with salvation and judgment following. As can already be seen, this is different from the more one-dimensional understanding of salvation in the OT where the children of God are waiting for Him to intervene. Moving through Enoch we find that the prime antagonist is Azazel who “taught the people the art of making swords and knives, and shields, and breastplates” (1 En 8:1). This antagonist along what was brought with him is dealt with by a “Son of Man” later in the book when in 46:3-4 the author writes
3 And he answered and said unto me:
This is the Son of Man who hath righteousness,
With whom dwelleth righteousness,
And who revealeth all the treasures of that which is hidden,
Because the Lord of Spirits hath chosen him,
And whose lot hath the pre-eminence before the Lord of Spirits in uprightness forever.
4 And this Son of Man whom thou hast seen
Shall raise up the kings and the mighty from their seats,
[And the strong from their thrones]
And shall loosen the reins of the strong,
And break the teeth of the sinners.
5 [And he shall put down the kings from their thrones and kingdoms]
Because they do not extol and praise Him,
Nor humbly acknowledge whence the kingdom was bestowed upon them.
This reference of the Son of Man recalls Daniel 7:13 where in the vision Daniel has, he says, “One like a Son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven” in reference to the coming salvation of God breaking in. Salvation during this time as seen in Enoch as well as Daniel is taking on a different nuance. It does not mean there is a new understanding replacing the OT view but rather coming into a sharper focus. Now, a messianic figure is taking the baton from Yahweh and bringing judgment and salvation here through the impending Kingdom of God while still establishing an everlasting reign in the life to come.
Before looking at how those who wrote the DSS view salvation, one more piece of writing that comes from this same era is found will help highlight this development. The Sibylline Oracles, like Enoch, also speaks of salvation as being preceded by a war where God reigns victorious in defeating sin and its corruption. Babylon and Egypt are the symbolic forces of evil against Israel and the main enemy of God is Beliar. He will deceive and lead many astray. In 3:71-74 we are told that God will destroy him and render his influence defeated. Salvation will then come for the elect people of God’s choosing and they will enjoy peace living around the temple. Bringing back a theme from Eden we see that God himself will guard them and fight for them so that there will be no war; much less evil. This is found in 3:702-709.
The Essenes (who were around Qumran where the DSS were written) were passionate and zealous lovers of Yahweh and Torah. They possessed views on the salvation of God’s people that were similar to what can be observed in Enoch, the Sibylline Oracles, and many other writings not named here. While there is not an abundance of literature on salvation from this group, there are three key texts which illustrate a belief in the resurrection in the life to come as it pertains to salvation. These are found in 4Q521, 1QH 14, and 4Q385.
In 4Q521 there is a direct reference to resurrection when the author exclaims in the Messianic Apocalypse: “For He will heal the wounded and revive the dead and bring good news to the poor…” (italics mine). It is clear that for this group who also comprised the famous War Scroll with its focus on apocalyptic warfare between the sons of light and the darkness—they saw that the impending salvation coming from Yahweh was to come in the form of a messianic figure. The Essenes of Qumran may provide Christians the closest understanding of Jesus’ own messianic aspirations and beliefs. N.T. Wright makes a clear point that the apocalyptic fervor and messianic hopes found in the DSS are not necessarily another form of Judaism. These are common themes and writings found in apocalyptic literature at large. We can then surmise that in the same way the Kingdom of God was a common theme leading up to the times of Jesus, so too the understanding of how one or Israel is saved was also a theme taking on many rich nuances from surrounding areas and streams within Judaism.
In 1QH 14 the reference is similar to what has already been explored. In 1QH14 the quotation we will focus on is “…and to all those volunteering to join the chosen of God, carrying out the law in the council of the Community, those who will be saved on the day of judgment…” Like Enoch, there is an emphasis that in the life to come there will be a resurrection in which judgment will take place for the wicked. But those who are the elect, or the chosen ones of the community will evade the impending judgment that is surely to come. At this point in our study on a few texts from the DSS, a few references relating to salvation, ought to come to mind. Scriptures like Acts 4:12 where Peter boldly declares that “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” What this shows us is that the salvation we know of today and often speak of stems from a rich tapestry of influences and cultures within Judaism surrounding Jesus.
Before moving on to looking at how Jesus viewed and communicated salvation let us look at one more example in 4Q385. In this portion of the DSS the rising from the dead through the prophecy given to the dry bones from Ezekiel 37 is written out twice. Each is written to illustrate the work of Yahweh who says, “…they will live, and a large crowd of men will rise and bless YHWH Sabaoth who caused them to live.” This along with the other two references illustrate that in a region close to Jesus at a time preceding Jesus there were expectations of the coming Kingdom of God which would both usher in and deliver salvation and judgment upon the righteous and wicked respectively. Prophetic expectation preceding this group finds their crescendo in the Essenes in terms of apocalyptic fervor and expectation. In fact, if we followed a line of development around salvation, we could say that the expectations of future salvation took on the form of apocalyptic hopes for the resurrection of the dead and a new life with God in transformed world. A world where justice would be meted out and the blessing of salvation would be given. Would Jesus fall in line with all of the above? Where would he diverge? Jesus own view on salvation will be explored next in part 4.
 John J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow, eds., The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism (Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans, 2010), 1142.
 Łukasz Bergel, “God’s Victory and Salvation: A Soteriological Approach to the Subject in Apocalyptic Literature,” Hervormde Teologiese Studies 75, no. 3 (2019): 1, https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v75i3.5443.
Reflections on the “Kingdom of God” in Scholarship
Interwoven within the Quest for the Historical Jesus has been a continued endeavor to understand how Jesus understood the Kingdom. Delbert Burkett provides an excellent summary from key theologians and scholars. Albert Schweitzer (1906) following Johannes Weiss (1892) emphasized the apocalyptic and eschatological view of Jesus and the Kingdom. It was a Kingdom that would be established by intervening drastically in human history. It was cosmic as well as cataclysmic in how it would impact the entire social order of the world. It was C.H. Dodd (1935) though who chose to go in another direction rescuing the Kingdom from the almost exclusive future aspect writing that in the present Jesus could be seen inaugurating the Kingdom. In commenting on our above passage of Mark 1:15 Dodd translated it as, “The Kingdom of God has arrived.” Interestingly, Burkett states, “According to this ‘realized eschatology,’ Jesus did not expect a future, apocalyptic Kingdom, though the early church attributed this view to him.”
Following C.H. Dodd and his landmark work “The Parables of the Kingdom” the consensus among many scholars was a twofold understanding of Jesus and his view of the Kingdom. Unsurprisingly, given our study above, most agreed that the texts point to a both realized and future reality where fulfilment of the Kingdom would take place. In essence this means that Jesus expected God to establish the Kingdom in the future but saw it already beginning through his work. As Burkett rightly states, “the Kingdom was an eschatological concept, but somehow it was already anticipated in Jesus.”
Moving on from Dodd into more modern streams of thought on the Kingdom we find E.P. Sanders who also believed in the apocalyptic establishment by God resulting in a Kingdom in the here and now. He posited that not only did Jesus believe this was coming but a reflection of this can also be seen in John the Baptist and early church. In fact, the baptism of Jesus by John is so significant that one could say the early church received their apocalyptic expectation from Jesus, who received it from the John the Baptist according to Burkett. Two other scholars who have made a significant impact on the study of Jesus and the Kingdom would be Scot McKnight and N.T. Wright. Both find themselves in a proportioned understanding of the Kingdom emphasizing a both present and future Kingdom begun by Jesus with his apocalyptical and ethical teachings as well as miracles.
In “A New Vision for Israel” McKnight argues, among many things, that Jesus functioned in the mode of a national prophet calling the nation of Israel to repentance. He helps to bring to the surface the political reception of Jesus’ message and how he navigated the various expectations of Israel longing for political freedom. McKnight highlights this tension on multiple occasions and helps the reader see and feel what it must have been like when hearing the Kingdom spoken about. In the only (to our knowledge) prayer Jesus ever taught his disciples he explains
that in the earliest traditions about Jesus, the Kingdom of God was future yet—in an immanent sense…. Jesus shaped his prayer around the Kingdom motif and expressed his essential view of the Kingdom: ‘though presently operative, its fullness is yet to come.’
In commenting on this same prayer found in Matthew 6 McKnight interacts with John P. Meier where he explained that this “Kingdom focused” prayer reveals
that when Jesus prays that God’s Kingdom come, he is simply expressing in a more abstract phrase the eschatological hope of the latter part of the OT and the pseudepigrapha that God would come on the last day to save and restore his people, Israel.
McKnight sees that this eschatological hope was not coming out of thin air but rather the societal and political environment. Jesus could discern that society was about to come to a cataclysmic end where (like the hope of the Essenes) God would intervene with his Kingdom breaking in against the work of the enemy furthering what was already taking place in his own ministry. McKnight sees this tumultuous environment and the “coming destruction of Jerusalem as a harbinger of the imminent Kingdom of God.” He then asks, “how can we combine these clear indications of a future Kingdom with Jesus’ teachings about the Kingdom as a present, operative reality?”
As is seen throughout the Gospels, Jesus expected that those who would follow him, his teachings, as well as adopt his own viewpoints, would begin to radically experience the Kingdom of God in their midst. Some of the key scriptures which point to this present Kingdom which was at work among them were Luke 4:33; 9:1; 9:11; Matt. 4:23; 9:35; 24:14. As can be seen in these texts those who were positively engaging the content of the Kingdom message were (it seems according to Jesus) being drawn deeper into the present Kingdom reality, though only a taste. The full meal or banquet was yet to come. But that taste alone was enough to demonstrate to his followers that this was the arrival of something special and new. Something perhaps written about, hoped for, and urgently needed during their season of time.
Giving this taste of the Kingdom was the supreme mindset of Jesus according to McKnight. “This is the career mission of Jesus: to usher others into the Kingdom through the proclamation of its arrival, through participation in meals, and through his mighty deeds.” This path Jesus is walking is best likened to the true path of a king. Though we call Jesus King of Kings, and it is exclaimed about him (again finding its own correlations in pseudepigraphal texts) we need to properly understand the role of the Kingdom motif considering Jesus as King. “Kingdom” implies a king ruling which would make sense with the instances where Jesus is observed leading, judging, and ruling his Kingdom people.McKnight rightly states that it is in Matthew 23:8-12 we see this come into light indirectly with the warning of Jesus to his disciples that they are not to be called Rabbi while also not to call anyone on earth Father. Jesus goes even further by saying they should not be called instructors as well. In fact, such is the role reversal of the Kingdom, they are to be servants of all which results in exaltation. McKnight does a fantastic job opening the “kingly” dimensions of Jesus and how he viewed the Kingdom at work through him. He was the King, his followers were the members of the Kingdom, and the mission was to expand the Kingdom by going into the highways and byways finding those who were ready to receive the benefits of a new King. Benefits stemming from a new and eschatological Kingdom which was anticipated in the decades and centuries previous.
The highlight of McKnight’s contribution to the discussion on the Kingdom of God is that he so brilliantly illustrates the nature of the Kingly rule in Jesus while he lived as well as how the meaning of his own death is interwoven. He helps the reader locate with simplicity the objective of Jesus as King: announce the news, the King is here, expand the Kingdom, its beginning now, and the best is yet to come. Before we turn to N.T. Wright and his writings which shed light on how Jesus viewed the narrative of the Kingdom it is fitting to allow McKnight himself to give a robust summary of how Jesus of Nazareth viewed the eschatological Kingdom.
Jesus clearly taught that a grand display of the Kingdom of God and the coming of the Son of Man [Daniel 7] would take place within one generation. His followers would be persecuted and chased but delivered; those who followed him would not die before they saw the climatic event; and everything predicted about Jerusalem’s destruction and God wrapping up his plan for Israel would take place before the current generation died out. Jesus believed in an imminent display of the Kingdom of God, and he used the metaphor of the coming of the Son of Man [Daniel 7] to refer to this Kingdom event…. He also encouraged his followers to pray with a yearning desire for the immediate fulfillment of the coming Kingdom.
N.T. Wright has contributed extensively on how Jesus perceived the Kingdom at work in his ministry. In his seminal work “Jesus and the Victory of God” Wright leads the reader up a deep and winding path to a vista of the Kingdom that is far reaching, back into Israel’s narrative. Wright holds a belief (among other scholars) that Jesus’ focus was to retell the story of Israel both explicitly and implicitly through his prophetic work. Keeping this in mind, that Jesus is retelling the story of Israel, it should be no surprise according to Wright that Jesus would place himself in the prophetic position of primary Kingdom announcer as well as placing himself at the center of the “redrawn narrative” of Israel. Jesus viewed his role, according to Wright, as the one spearheading Israel’s renewal and salvation. In effect, Israel’s true god was becoming king and Jesus claimed to be his true prophet. In a similar tone E.P. Sanders synthesizes the conception of thought Jesus had regarding his role.
He [Jesus] regarded his relationship with God as especially intimate. As Geza Vermes pointed out, other charismatic prophets besides Jesus felt that they had a very intimate relationship with God, and we should not overemphasize Jesus’ view of himself in this regard. There may have been numerous people who felt as close to God as Jesus did. But we may be certain about him: he thought that he had been especially commissioned to speak for God, and this conviction was based on a feeling of personal intimacy with the deity.
Building upon this idea that Jesus saw himself as a pioneer it is evident that Jesus’ miracles and deeds, we part of an inward impetus to bring an all-encompassing redemption to the children of Israel. This narrative understanding Wright brings to us on Jesus and the Kingdom expands our understanding to see that Jesus viewed the work of the Kingdom on a cosmic scale, as stated already. Divorcing this Kingdom context from the story of Israel’s redemptive hope is a total disservice to the entire Kingdom motif and those who find hope within it.
The understanding of who comprises the members of the Kingdom according to Jesus is clear: they are Israel.They are the chosen people of God. They are the true Israel who are in the process of being redeemed at last by God over against those who are seeking to oppress, kill, and destroy them. The support for this is found in texts such as Matthew 5:3-10; Luke 6:20-23; Matthew 13:11; Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10 and more. With the above in mind, a simple rereading of the gospel texts will highlight this Kingdom/ Israel relationship in the ministry of Jesus. With the followers of Jesus realizing their place as the “new Israel” following the true King and messiah would elicit emotions of deep relief because their time of exile was coming to an end. Wright contends that during this time if you were to ask the contemporaries of Jesus where they were at in the timeline of God’s redemptive history of Israel, they would have answered like Ezra and Nehemiah: “we are in exile.” It is within this exile that Jesus thinks to pronounce the arrived and forthcoming Kingdom of God. However, the program this Kingdom offered was not a revitalization of land and violent overthrow of overlords. Jesus was heralding a Kingdom that sought to
subsume it [Israel] within a different fulfillment of the Kingdom, which would embrace the whole creation – from which, of course, he drew continually in the narratives and imagery of his teaching and announcement.
In Jesus’ purview was the entirety of Israel’s situation. He understood her past, present, and a solution for the future. Thus far with Wright we see that his narrative approach to the restoration of Israel through the divine work of Jesus gives us a window into how Jesus perhaps saw his work and mission. He was spearheading this restorative movement while speaking into the lives of the “new Israel” who were struggling in exile. There may not have been a better situation for the prophetic actions and teachings of Jesus to resonate and gain a large following.
Wright argues that the solution Jesus offers for Israel through his ministry is twofold. The first level of course was the acceptance and embrace of this Kingdom he proclaimed. There was to be allegiance and devotion given to it which would bring redemption and salvation. But probing deeper past the announcement and invitation of Jesus, the very actions and teachings were in of themselves radical solutions to be followed. He was offering a Kingdom ethic which would lead them out of the tumultuous times they were living in while simultaneously preparing them for the inbreaking Kingdom that was perhaps only a generation away.
There are many other texts we could analyze for Wright. Everything up to this point opens our view extensively as did McKnight’s. While McKnight opens the door for us to see the King, Wright leads us through the door to a room containing within it the story from beginning to end. Wright and McKnight situate Jesus in his Jewish context highlighting how his teachings and work further the narrative of the Kingdom from the Old Testament all the way through.
As was done above, it is only fitting to allow Wright to give us a wonderful summation of Jesus’ Kingdom mission before continuing. On the topic of “what is the solution?” Wright states
But, if this is one obvious answer, the other one is ‘Jesus himself.’ He claimed that the Kingdom had arrived where he was, and with his activity. He was not announcing it as though he were merely a fly on the wall. His own work – his Kingdom announcement, his prophetic praxis, his celebrations, his warning, his symbolic activity – all of these were part of the movement through which Israel would be renewed, evil would be defeated, and YHWH would return to Zion at last.
While the focus was primarily upon McKnight and Wright, we must be fair and acknowledge the plethora of texts that are available for further study. It is safe to say that when combining these two scholars among others we see a robust image of Jesus and the Kingdom. One where (1) Jesus viewed himself as a pioneering King who was (2) spearheading an apocalyptic and eschatological movement that was (3) breaking into the present space and time while maintaining an ever-present trajectory to future fulfillment. We see that this narrative of a King, his subjects, and the expansion of the Kingdom was not original in the least. This was (4) the next step in the story of Israel. Jesus was refining a people as (5) the new Israel who would leave exile and live in the fulness of God’s Kingdom beginning in the work and teachings of Jesus—who saw himself as (6) Israel’s god YHWH bringing salvation, forgiving sins, and enacting the Kingdom agenda.
Having researched common streams of thought on the Kingdom in literature predating Jesus as well as gaining a grasp of what Jesus himself thought about his role and the content of the Kingdom we must now look to what was left in his wake. How did the early church, disciples, and Church Fathers view this Kingdom Jesus spoke so much about? More on this in Part 4.
 Delbert Royce Burkett, An Introduction to the New Testament and the Origins of Christianity (Cambridge, UK ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 246.
 Scot McKnight, Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church (Grand Rapid, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2014), 77.
 Scot McKnight, Jesus and His Death: Historiography, the Historical Jesus, and Atonement Theory (Waco, Tex: Baylor University Press, 2005), 82–86.
 McKnight, A New Vision for Israel, 137. Following p.137 on p.138 McKnight treats the next logical thought regarding his summary: “Was Jesus Mistaken?” This is a question which I personally have encountered in the doubting of believers as well as atheists who point to this as a reason to dismiss the claims of Jesus as well as Christianity as a whole. McKnight wonderfully answers this valid question by saying, “the evidence above clearly reveals a vision for the future with a limited horizon: Jesus prophesied that God would wrap things up within one generation. However, instead of saying that Jesus was mistaken, that he was either a false prophet or a misguided fanatic, we ought to admit that his knowledge of the future was limited in the same way that the Hebrew prophet’s visions were limited to the events of their respective generations. Further, Jesus’ knowledge of the future was expressed in metaphorical and poetic images of collapse, judgment, and deliverance. Within this limitation, Jesus prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem as the climatic event in Israel’s history that would end the privilege of Israel in God’s plan.”
 Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 1996, 199.
 E. P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, 1. ed (London: Lane [u.a.], 1993), 239.
 In pp. 204-205 Wright summarizes how the desire and work of Jesus in retelling Israel’s story intersects almost perfectly with the general desire and deep longing of Israel itself which focused on the return of Yahweh to redeem Israel. Following these five simple paragraph summaries he concludes, “If then, someone were to speak to Jesus’ contemporaries of YHWH’s becoming king, we may safely assume that they would have in mind, in some form or other, this two-sided story concerning the double reality of exile. Israel would ‘really’ return from exile; YHWH would finally return to Zion…. It cannot be stressed too strongly that the ‘kingdom of god’, as a theme within second-Temple Judaism, connoted first and foremost this complete story-line.” He later reminds the reader that once we grasp this, it is not hard to see how the symbols and praxis associated with the Temple, Torah, Land and Jewish identity sustained and reinforced the narrative of hope.” (Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 206.)
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.” 2 So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. 3 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.” 4 For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods. 5 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.
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:
9 “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.
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.
2 So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley.
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.
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.
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.
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”).”
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.”
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.”
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?
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.
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 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.” 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. 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.
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.” 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.
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).” 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, 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.
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).” 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.”
 David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 5, Anchor Bible Reference Library (New York London Toronto [etc.]: Doubleday, 1992), 907-908.
 Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall, eds., Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 720.
 Adrian Plass, Bacon Sandwiches and Salvation: An A-Z of the Christian Life (London: Authentic Media, 2007), 163–64.
 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.
 Throughout this paper the name of God will vary from context to context interchanging between “Yahweh”, “God”, and “Father.”