Posts Tagged ‘John’

But Some Doubted

There is a way in which doubt can establish faith rather than undermine it.

Let’s suppose for a moment that Jesus did not rise from the dead. Some people believe that and the way they explain the Biblical accounts is to say that years later they were written by manipulators in order to turn a good teacher into a god to galvanize a movement that was beginning to fray.

There are historical, theological, and textual problems with this answer, but let’s leave them aside for the moment and ask what kind of writings such manipulators might manufacture. How would they tweak history to convince people 100 to 200 years later (according to skeptical timelines) that Jesus came back to life?

You might put words in Pauls mouth to the tune of:

“He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” (1 Cor. 15:4-8)

Years after Paul’s death there would be no way to actually verify any of this. These writings would be taken as inspired scripture which you’re not allowed to question so there you go. Jesus rose even when he didn’t.

I’m giving the skeptic a lot of leeway here. There are problems with the idea of anyone accepting modified writing or with their sudden appearance 200 years later if they were made up. But let’s let them have those for now.

A more sophisticated approach might be the story of Thomas’ doubt in John 20:26-29:

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

You see? Thomas came around! A story like, were it fake, would serve to strengthen the deception. “See? Thomas didn’t believe it either! But Jesus said you’d be blessed it you believe without seeing.”

What you would not expect to see if people are trying to establish the lie that Jesus rose from the dead and everyone back then knew it and believe it is this:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. (Matt. 28:16-17)

These supposedly fabricated stories would seek to establish the supposedly ancient truth that Jesus rose and people saw him. Why would they include this? The disciples saw the resurrected Jesus and they worshipped him. “But some doubted.” What more proof did they need? He’s standing right in front of them!

But Matthew’s account could serve to undermine the entire covert attempt to fool people. You can’t let that kind of doubt slip through or the whole thing could unravel on you.

So why did Matthew include it? Probably because it really happened. People are not so simple as to believe just because they have evidence. We all doubt sometimes and the disciples were no different. After all, people don’t usually rise from the dead. Even in the pre-scientific mindset of the first century, Lazarus rose from the dead because Jesus told him to. But Jesus just rose.

That leads to another problem with fabricating this story. Even by the third century, women were not given equal status in society. So when the gospels say that women reported that Jesus rose, it again kind of undermines the attempt at deception.

So is it satisfying to believe that these masterminds who attempted to turn Jesus into something more than a rabbi were genius enough to fudge the scriptures and at the same time dopy enough to do it so poorly? It isn’t to me. So even when I question and wonder and, yes, doubt I still look at the scriptures and believe. But some doubt.

How Crowds Can Be Manipulated

Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?

I have to admit that this has always puzzled me. Jesus was a very well known person by this point in his ministry so why did Judas have to identify him to anyone? And why use a kiss to identify him? Since Judas came with a crowd, why not just point and say “That’s him!” It is a poetic and powerful image but I don’t get why it played out this way with Jesus. Turns out, as it usually does, that not only does it make sense, but it contains a kind of warning for us.

sheepdogIt all starts back in verse 2 and if you don’t pay attention it it, you’ll wind up like me, poor person, missing the point. “And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people.” Why didn’t the chief priests and the scribes just grab Jesus? Because of the crowd. Why did they have to scheme with Judas for a way to betray Jesus? Because of the crowds. And when they and Judas finally figured out how to get their hands on Jesus, who did they bring with them? “There came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them.” (47)

Get it? They were afraid of the crowd and how they would respond if they saw Jesus being arrested. Their first thought was to arrest Jesus secretly, away from the crowd so that there wouldn’t be a riot. That’s why Judas was included, they needed an insider to point the way, to alert them when and where he might be alone. But that isn’t quite how it played out. It wouldn’t have necessarily prevented a riot once the people found out that the one they shouted “Hosanna” to was arrested. The people really couldn’t be excluded from this, they had to find a way to include them and it appears they did. A portion of the people came with them to arrest Jesus. Not all of them, but a big enough group to be called a crowd were somehow enticed to join in.

Now I have to speculate a bit here but I don’t think I’m going too far afield in this. The crowd knew Jesus. At least a lot of them did since they saw him ride into Jerusalem on a donkey and then spend the day terrorizing the abusers of the temple courts. That has to mean that a lot of people saw him. So I don’t think it is unreasonable to assume that many of the people in the crowd who came to arrest Jesus knew who he was. At least the chief priests and officers of the temple did and they were there too according to verse 52. So here’s what I’m presuming. Judas and the authorities told the crowd that there was a troublemaker present who was going to mess up the Passover celebration. There were probably a mix of stories told in order to get the people agitated. “And you know,” you can here the schemers saying, “the Romans don’t care about our feast. They certainly won’t do anything to prevent this troubler of Israel from doing what he’s going to do. No, as Jews it is up to us to protect the feast!” They probably introduced Judas as a hero who was part of the mad man’s group who would lead them to him so they could stop him. And to make Judas look even more like a real insider, a key member of the cult, Judas would kiss the leader and when he did, the crowd should arrest him immediately. They didn’t have to say it was Jesus, they may have said that there was someone in group of the Galileans who was up to this. They didn’t know who it was but Judas did and he’d lead us to this traitor.

All of that is unsaid any any of the Gospels. It is speculation and could well be wrong, but it seems to fit with what happened after Jesus was arrested. When he was brought before the council, they were having a hard time finding an accusation that would stick because those who accused him were presenting contradictory and conflicting accusations according to Mark 14:55-56. It could be because the scribes sowed numerous false accusations in order to stir up the crowd against him. Now the peoples’ fertile minds were remembering things Jesus had said or things they thought they’d heard Jesus say and they were turning them into accusations. That’s why the final accusation that they did get to stick was what Jesus said but not what he meant. See John 2:19-21 and Matthew 26:61. And then look at what happens when Pilot wanted to release Jesus in Matthew 27. The deception and manipulation of the crowd continued: “Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus.” I think the explanation I’ve given above fits pretty well with the fact that the leaders could persuade the crowd to ask for the release of “notorious prisoner,” murderer (Mark 15:7), and insurrectionist (Luke 18:40) like Barabbas over a thoughtful rabbi like Jesus.

Here’s how this is a warning to us. Crowds can be manipulated. It doesn’t really matter what unites the crowd: nationality, religion, a lack of religion, a shared goal, whatever. When we band together for a common cause, and human beings always do that, our leaders can manipulate us, even when they fear us, by making it seem like our common interest is threatened. And when they do this, they will aim the crowd at the target of their choice by claiming that that target is the threat. This works even if the day before the crowd was praising the target.

What makes us vulnerable to this kind of thing is the fact that we think we’re beyond it. We have the internet, education, free thinking. “We have never been slaves to anyone!” we assert. The real way we can avoid this is by being aware of the fact that we susceptible to it, by picking our leaders very carefully and then keeping a close eye on them. This applies in churches, government, families, etc. So, for example, be careful of reposting things that enrage you on Facebook without checking the source. You may be being manipulated into supporting or opposing something that isn’t so. Take care how you listen.

My Desires are Stupid

Lord, I want to be free. I want my desires so changed into accord with reality so that I can do what I want to do and never regret it. That’s what I want. And so I’m going hard after Jesus to change me, because many of my desires are stupid. – John Piper, prayer after preaching on John 8:30-36.

Many of my desires are stupid and I don’t even know it. I’m counting on the Lord to change them or make me aware of how stupid they are.

Ezekiel’s Temple

The issue came up in Sunday school last week whether the temple in Ezekiel’s vision in chapters 40-48 is a literal, physical building or a visionary representation of something else. The amount of physical detail given to the temple seems to indicate that it is intended to be a real, physical construction.

I believe the best way to read it is to recognize that Ezekiel is seeing a physical representation of another reality, not a physical building. In chapter 47 Ezekiel describes a river flowing from the temple. The further the river flows, the deeper the water gets. This is not something that we would expect to see in an actual temple build in Jerusalem. There are wells on the temple mount but they are deep underground so it is improbable that a river would well up from under the temple.

There are indications that the river is meant to picture something else. Not only does the water desalinate the ocean and the swamps and marshes, it multiplies animal life wherever it goes. The banks of this river team with trees that never drop their leaves and produce fruit monthly. Real trees don’t do that. The river is described in concrete terms just as the temple is yet the river is figurative so it seems consistent with the vision to understand the temple as figurative as well.

Since scripture helps us understand scripture, if the New Testament treats this vision as figurative then it is figurative.  While there isn’t an exact citation of this vision in the New Testament, there are some tremendous similarities between Ezekiel’s temple and the city that John saw in Revelation 21. Consider: 1The Ezekiel/Revelation chart modified from The Road to Emmaus

Ezekiel’s Temple John’s City
Set on a high mountain (40:1-2; cf., 8:3) Carried up to a high mountain (21:10)
One with a measuring rod (40:3) Angel with a measuring rod (21:15; cf., 11:1)
The temple is measured (40:5-42:20) The city is measured (21:16-17)
The temple is a square (48:30-35; cf., 41:4) The city is a cube (21:16)
There shall be sacrifices; worship is central (43:13-27; cf., 46:1-21) The nations shall bring their glory and honor; worship is central (22:26)
No abomination in the temple (44:4-14) Nothing unclean in the city (21:27; cf., 21:8)
Priests will minister before the Lord (44:15-31) Priests unto God (21:18-20; cf., 20:6)
Twelve gates for the sons of Israel (48:30-34) Twelve gates for the sons of Israel (21:12-13)
Water flows from the temple (47:1-5) Water flows from the throne of God (22:1;cf., 21:6)
Trees bear fruit and provide healing (47:6-12) Tree of Life bears fruit and provides healing (21:2)
God will have a place for his people (47:13-48:29) The people’s place is the Lord (22:5; cf., 21:3-4, 7)
The Lord will be there (48:35; cf., 43:1-12; 45:1-25) The Lord will illumine them (21:22-23;22:3-5)
There is no city described. The city has no temple (21:22)

The similarities seem to indicate that when John was shown “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb,” (Rev 21:9) he saw the same thing as what Ezekiel saw in his vision, that is, the Church.

Ezekiel’s imagery of God’s people as a temple with priests and sacrifices is consistent with the New Testament description of the Church. The Church is a temple (1Co 3:16-17, 6:19; Eph 2:19-22, 1Pt 2:5). We’re told to offer our lives as a living sacrifice to God. (Rom 12:1) Paul’s life of service is a drink offering poured out on the church’s faith. (Phil 2:17) His work gathering in the gentiles is an offering. (Rom 15:16, 2Ti 4:6) Our tithes and worship are sacrifices. (Phil 4:18, Heb 13:15) Likewise, Paul was acting as a priest in relationship to the gospel (Rom 15:16) and we are a priesthood (1Pt 2:5, 9; Rev 1:6, 5:10, 20:6).

Ezekiel’s vision of a temple represents something real through figurative language. I believe the reason Ezekiel spends so much time walking through and measuring the temple is impress us with the majesty of what the temple will be, not to lay out blueprints for it. That kind of writing is the best way he had to demonstrate the grandeur of what God will do when he restores his people. It is like the vision of the dry bones coming to life (37) and the stony heart of his people being replaced with a fleshly one (36:26-27) and washing them with clean water (36:24-25). If we understand Ezekiel’s temple in the context of this section of his writing, it is speaking of the restoration and purification of his people and that is exactly how we see the New Testament speak of the Church.

   [ + ]

1. The Ezekiel/Revelation chart modified from The Road to Emmaus