“The public cannot be too curious concerning the characters of public men.” —Samuel Adams (1775)
Judges 8:1–9:21; Philippians 2:12–18; Psalm 67:1–7
Too often, we’re cynical about circumstances. When people come to us for advice, we want to list all the reasons why they shouldn’t take a certain course of action. We want to dissuade them. But what if we had a little faith instead?
In Judges, we find someone who is surprisingly idealistic. When the men of Ephraim oppose Gideon, he says, “What have I done now in comparison to you? Are not the gleanings of Ephraim better than the grape harvest of Abiezer? God has given into your hand the commanders of Midian, Oreb, and Zeeb. What have I been able to do in comparison with you?” (Judg 8:2–3).
Gideon cleverly couches his request in the middle of compliments; he places positives on either side of it. He wins back their favor: “And their anger against him subsided when he said that” (Judg 8:3).
Gideon’s motives were flawed, theologically or interpersonally, but his actions do teach us something fascinating. People often want to be told that they can accomplish the impossible. Those who believe in the impossible can often accomplish things that others can’t. Of course, Gideon was audacious; he and the men from Ephraim could have been crushed by these warring nations of mightier strength and military intelligence. Surprisingly, in this circumstance, he succeeded (Judg 8:15–17).
We shouldn’t necessarily look to Gideon as a shining example (he makes lots of mistakes). But this incident is a reminder that we need to carefully consider our interactions with those we influence. What if we chose to be encouraging? What if we didn’t default to cynic mode? When someone comes to you for advice, consider the work that God might be working in that person. If He deems that they are worthy, they will accomplish their work—even if everything looks bleak at first.
Who can you encourage? How can you affirm people’s calling?
John D. Barry
 Barry, J. D., & Kruyswijk, R. (2012). Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
“The names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-gatherer; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him” (Matt. 10:2–4).
Unity in the Spirit is the key to a church’s overall effectiveness.
Unity is a crucial element in the life of the church—especially among its leadership. A unified church can accomplish great things for Christ, but disunity can cripple or destroy it. Even the most orthodox churches aren’t immune to disunity’s subtle attack because it often arises from personality clashes or pride rather than doctrinal issues.
God often brings together in congregations and ministry teams people of vastly different backgrounds and temperaments. That mix produces a variety of skills and ministries, but it also produces the potential for disunity and strife. That was certainly true of the disciples, which included an impetuous fisherman (Peter), two passionate and ambitious “sons of thunder” (James and John), an analytical, pragmatic, and pessimistic man (Philip), a racially prejudiced man (Bartholomew), a despised tax collector (Matthew), a political Zealot (Simon), and a traitor (Judas, who was in it only for the money and eventually sold out for thirty pieces of silver).
Imagine the potential for disaster in a group like that! Yet their common purpose transcended their individual differences, and by His grace the Lord accomplished through them what they never could have accomplished on their own. That’s the power of spiritual unity!
As a Christian, you’re part of a select team that is accomplishing the world’s greatest task: finishing the work Jesus began. That requires unity of purpose and effort. Satan will try to sow seeds of discord, but you must do everything possible to heed Paul’s admonition to be “of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (Phil. 2:2).
Suggestions for Prayer: Pray daily for unity among the leaders and congregation of your church.
For Further Study: Read 1 Corinthians 3:1–9, noting how Paul addressed the issue of disunity in the Corinthian church.
That means I hit a nerve. That means I’m doing my job. No one is above public rebuke when they sin publicly. That goes for Gaines’ buddy Paige Patterson. Rest assured, Steve (and the rest of the SBC leadership), if you sin publicly, you will be rebuked publicly as long as I have breath and […]
Any institution led by a self righteous arrogant misogynist who imagines himself a dictator and who fires anyone who calls his behavior into question doesn’t deserve the financial support of Southern Baptists. Furter, such a leader needs to be immediately removed from his position. Paige Patterson must be terminated. He is a disgrace to Baptists […]
The apostasy is just getting worse by the day, as too many places in Scripture predict. There are a lot of teachers, teachings, and groups which need to be marked and avoided. This post will link to articles of exposing some of the worst — worst because they are sucking in too many non-discerning people.…
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.
The human personality has a right to be consciously aware of a meeting with God. There will be a spiritual confirmation, an inward knowledge or witness!
This kind of confirmation and witness was taught and treasured by the great souls throughout the ages.
Conscious awareness of the presence of God! I defy any theologian or teacher to take that away from the believing church of Jesus Christ!
But be assured they will try. And I refer not just to the liberal teachers. God has given us the Bible for a reason—so it can lead us to meet God in Jesus Christ, in a clear, sharp encounter that will burn on in our hearts forever and ever.
When the Bible has led us to God and we have experienced God in the crisis of encounter, then the Bible has done its first work. That it will continue to do God’s work in our Christian lives should be evident!
Dear Lord, I pray for all Christian workers who are doing the hard work of translating Scripture into foreign languages. Quicken their minds and bless their work today.
Concerns Raised as Atlanta’s Embassy Church to Make Aerialists ‘Full Part of Worship Experience’ May 03, 2018 08:27 pm
Alabama Teacher Goes Home to Change After Principal Asks Her to Cover Up ‘Just Pray’ T-Shirt Apr 30, 2018 07:19 pm
Disney Selling Homosexual-Themed ‘Rainbow Love’ Mickey Mouse Ears at Theme Parks Apr 30, 2018 09:19 am
Christian School at Center of Scripture Skirmish Seeks Injunction After Board Votes to Shut It Down May 02, 2018 08:40 am
Alfie Evans, Hospitalized Toddler at Center of UK Court Battle, Dies Apr 28, 2018 10:03 am
Indian Pastor Found Dead After Reporting Money Missing From Bank Account Apr 29, 2018 09:37 am
Boy Scouts of America to Remove ‘Boy’ From Name Since Girls Now Joining Group May 02, 2018 06:40 pm
‘I’m Not Happy’: Elderly Australian Scientist to Travel to Switzerland to End His Life May 01, 2018 01:12 pm
GQ Lists Bible Among Books Not Worth Reading, Novelist Calls Scripture ‘Foolish,’ ‘Ill-Intentioned’ Apr 30, 2018 01:08 pm
One word that crystallizes the essence of the Christian faith is the word grace. One of the great mottos of the Protestant Reformation was the Latin phrase sola gratia—by grace alone. This phrase wasn’t invented by the sixteenth-century Reformers. Its roots are in the theology of Augustine of Hippo, who used it to call attention to the central concept of Christianity, that our redemption is by grace alone, that the only way a human being can ever find himself reconciled to God is by grace. That concept is so central to the teaching of Scripture that to even mention it seems like an insult to people’s intelligence; yet, if there is a dimension of Christian theology that has become obscured in the last few generations, it is grace.
Two things that every human being absolutely must come to understand are the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. These topics are difficult for people to face. And they go together: if we understand who God is, and catch a glimpse of His majesty, purity, and holiness, then we are instantly aware of the extent of our own corruption. When that happens, we fly to grace—because we recognize that there’s no way that we could ever stand before God apart from grace.
The prophet Habakkuk was upset during one period in Jewish history because he saw the enemies of the people of God triumphing, the wicked prospering, and the righteous suffering. He raised a lament, saying: “Are you not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof” (Hab. 1:12). He went on to a affirm the holiness of God, and how God cannot tolerate evil: “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong . . . ” (Hab. 1:13a).
This is anything but characteristic of the human condition. We can tolerate what is wrong. In fact, if we don’t tolerate what is wrong, we can’t tolerate each other or even ourselves. In order to live with myself as a sinner, I have to learn to tolerate something that is evil. If my eyes were too holy to behold iniquity, I’d have to shut my eyes anytime I was with someone else—and they would see in me a man who has besmirched the image of God.
Habakkuk then asked, “Why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” (v. 13b). He couldn’t fathom how God could endure and be patient with human evil. Yet, we can’t tolerate the idea of God’s being upset about human evil; we become antagonistic toward the idea of a God who is so holy that He might turn His back from looking at someone or something that is sinful. That is the dilemma that Scripture sets before us: we have a holy God whose image we bear and whose image it is our fundamental responsibility as human beings to mirror—yet we are not holy.
I once discussed the holiness of God with a group of pastors at a theology conference. One of the pastors said he appreciated my teaching about the holiness of God, but he disagreed with what I taught about the sovereignty of God. I said that, though as Christians we should strive to live together in peace and not be argumentative or divisive, the two of us couldn’t possibly both be right when it comes to how God’s sovereignty works. And furthermore, whoever is wrong is sinning against God at that point of error.
When we sin, we want to describe our sinful activity in terms of a mistake, as if that softens or mitigates the guilt involved. We don’t think it’s wrong for a child to add two and two and come up with five. We know the answer’s wrong, but we don’t spank the child and say, “You’re bad, because you made five out of two and two instead of four.” We think of mistakes as being part of the human condition. But as I said to that pastor, if one of us is wrong, it would be because he came to the Scriptures while wanting it to agree with him, rather than wanting to agree with the Scriptures. We tend to come biased, and we distort the very Word of God to escape the judgment that comes from it.
But to err is human—which is to say, “It’s OK.” We are so accustomed to our fallenness and corruption that, while our moral sensibilities may be offended when we see someone involved in gross and heinous criminal activity such as mass murder, normal, everyday disobedience to God doesn’t bother us. We don’t think it’s that important, because “to err is human, and to forgive is divine.”
This aphorism suggests that it’s natural, and therefore acceptable, for human beings to sin. It’s implied also that it is God’s nature to forgive. If He doesn’t forgive, then there’s something wrong with His very deity, because it is the nature of God to forgive. But this is as false as the first assumption; it is not necessary to the essence of deity to forgive. Forgiveness is grace, which is undeserved or unmerited favor. We are so accustomed to sin that we do it all the time. We can’t define a human being without defining our humanness as fallen, and we can’t possibly maintain life itself apart from grace.
How is sin to be understood? Is it accidental or essential to our humanity? The term accidental refers to those properties of an object that are not part of its essence; they may exist or not exist without changing what that object truly is. For instance, a moustache is an accidental property. If a man shaves off his moustache, he does not cease to be a man.
On the other hand, essential properties are those that are part of the essence of a thing. Remove that property, and it ceases to be that thing. Sin is not essential to humanity, unless someone believes that God made humanity sinful at the beginning. If sin is essential to humanity, then that would mean Jesus was either sinful or not human. So, sin is not essential. Adam had no sin when he was created, yet he was still human. Jesus has no sin, but He is still human. Believers will have no sin when they get to heaven, and they will still be human.
Sin is not essential, but neither is it merely tangential or on the surface of our humanity. Rather, the portrait that we get in the Scriptures of man in his fallen condition is that he is utterly and thoroughly infected by sin in his whole person. In other words, sin is not an external blemish, but something that goes to the very core of our being.
The Supremacy of God’s Son
1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 1:1–4). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
The Preeminence of Christ
In these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (1:2–3)
Someone has said that Jesus Christ came from the bosom of the Father to the bosom of a woman. He put on humanity that we might put on divinity. He became Son of Man that we might become sons of God. He was born contrary to the laws of nature, lived in poverty, was reared in obscurity, and only once crossed the boundary of the land in which He was born—and that in His childhood. He had no wealth or influence and had neither training nor education in the world’s schools. His relatives were inconspicuous and uninfluencial. In infancy He startled a king. In boyhood He puzzled the learned doctors. In manhood He ruled the course of nature. He walked upon the billows and hushed the sea to sleep. He healed the multitudes without medicine and made no charge for His services. He never wrote a book and yet all the libraries of the world could not hold the books about Him. He never wrote a song, yet He has furnished the theme for more songs than all songwriters together. He never founded a college, yet all the schools together cannot boast of as many students as He has. He never practiced medicine and yet He has healed more broken hearts than all the doctors have healed broken bodies. This Jesus Christ is the star of astronomy, the rock of geology, the lion and the lamb of zoology, the harmonizer of all discords, and the healer of all diseases. Throughout history great men have come and gone, yet He lives on. Herod could not kill Him. Satan could not seduce Him. Death could not destroy Him and the grave could not hold Him.
Fulfillment of Promises
The Old Testament tells us in at least two places (Jer. 23:18, 22 and Amos 3:7) that the prophets were let in on the secrets of God. Yet at times they wrote those secrets without understanding them (1 Pet. 1:10–11). In Jesus Christ they are both fulfilled and understood. He is God’s final word. “For as many as may be the promises of God, in Him they are yes; wherefore also by Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us” (2 Cor. 1:20). Every promise of God resolves itself in Christ. All the promises become yes—verified and fulfilled. Jesus Christ is the supreme and the final revelation.
In these last days. The last days are days of fulfillment. In the Old Testament the Jew saw the last days as the time when all the promises would be fulfilled. In these days Messiah would come and the Kingdom would come and salvation would come and Israel would no longer be under bondage. In the last days promises would stop and fulfillments begin. That is exactly what Jesus came to do. He came to fulfill the promises. Even though the millennial, earthly aspect of the promised Kingdom is yet future, the age of kingdom fulfillment began when Jesus arrived, and it will not finally be completed until we enter into the eternal heavens. The Old Testament age of promise ended when Jesus arrived.
Has spoken to us in His Son. Jesus Christ is the revelation of God climaxed. God fully expressed Himself in His Son. That affirms Christ as being more than just human. It makes Him infinitely superior to any created being, for He is God manifest in the flesh. He is the final and last revelation of God, in whom all God’s promises are fulfilled.
We have looked at the preparation for Christ and the presentation of Christ. Now we will look at His preeminence. In this brief but potent section (1:2–3) the Holy Spirit exalts Christ as the full and final expression of God—superior to and exalted above anyone or anything. In these verses we see Christ as the end of all things (Heir), the beginning of all things (Creator), and the middle of all things (Sustainer and Purifier).
When the question is brought up as to who Jesus Christ really was, some people will say He was a good teacher, some will say He was a religious fanatic, some will say He was a fake, and some will claim He was a criminal, a phantom, or a political revolutionary. Others are likely to believe that He was the highest form of humankind, who had a spark of divinity which He fanned into flame—a spark, they claim, that all of us have but seldom fan. There are countless human explanations as to who Jesus was. In this chapter we are going to look at what God says about who Jesus was, and is. In just half of verse 2 and in verse 3 is a sevenfold presentation of the excellencies of Jesus Christ. In all these excellencies He is clearly much more than a man.
Jesus’ first excellency mentioned here is His heirship: In these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things. If Jesus is the Son of God, then He is the heir of all that God possesses. Everything that exists will find its true meaning only when it comes under the final control of Jesus Christ.
Even the Psalms predicted that He would one day be the heir to all that God possesses. “But as for Me, I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain. I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, ‘Thou art My Son, today I have begotten Thee’ ” (Ps. 2:6–7). Again we read, “ ‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron, Thou shalt shatter them like earthenware’ ” (Ps. 2:8–9). And still again, “ ‘I also shall make him My first-born, the highest of the kings of the earth’ ” (Ps. 89:27). “First-born” does not mean that Christ did not exist before He was born as Jesus in Bethlehem. It is not primarily a chronological term at all, but has to do with legal rights—especially those of inheritance and authority (which will be discussed in more detail in chapter 3). God’s destined kingdom will in the last days be given finally and eternally to Jesus Christ.
Paul explains that all things not only were created by Christ but for Him (Col. 1:16) and that “from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36). Everything that exists exists for Jesus Christ. What truth better proves His equality with God?
In Revelation 5, God is pictured sitting on a throne, with a scroll in His hand. “And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals” (v. 1). The scroll is the title deed to the earth and all that is in it. It is the deed for the Heir, the One who has the right to take the earth. In New Testament times Roman law required that a will had to be sealed seven times, to protect it from tampering. As you rolled it up, you sealed it every turn or so for seven times. The seals were not to be broken until after the person whose will it was had died.
John continues his vision: “And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?’ ” (v. 2). Who, the angel wondered, is the rightful heir to the earth? Who has the right to possess it? “And no one in heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth, was able to open the book, or to look into it” (v. 3). Perplexed and saddened, John “began to weep greatly, because no one was found worthy to open the book, or to look into it; and one of the elders said to me, ‘Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals’ ” (vv. 4–5). As he continued to watch, he “saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (v. 6). Jesus Christ, the Lamb, came and took the scroll out of the right hand of God. Why? Because He, and He alone, had a right to take it. He is Heir to the earth.
Chapter 6 of Revelation begins the description of the Tribulation, the first step in Christ’s taking back the earth, which is rightfully His. One by one Christ unrolls the seals. As each seal is broken, He takes further possession and control of His inheritance. Finally, “the seventh angel sounded; and there arose loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever’ ” (11:15). When He unrolls the seventh seal and the seventh trumpet blows, the earth is His.
In his first sermon, at Pentecost, Peter told his Jewish audience, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). This carpenter who died nailed to a cross is, in fact, the King of kings and Lord of lords. He will rule the world. Satan knew this truth when he approached Jesus in the wilderness and tempted Him to take control of the world in the wrong way, by bowing down to Satan. As the temporary usurper of God’s rule over the earth, Satan continually tries every means of preventing the true Heir from receiving His inheritance.
When Christ first came to earth He became poor for our sakes, that we, through His poverty, might be made rich. He had nothing for Himself. He had “nowhere to lay His head” (Luke 9:58). Even His clothes were taken from Him when He died. He was buried in a grave that belonged to someone else. But when Christ comes to earth again, He will completely and eternally inherit all things. And, wonder of wonders, because we have trusted in Him, we are to be “fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:16–17). When we enter into His eternal kingdom we will jointly possess all that He possesses. We will not be joint Christs or joint Lords, but we will be joint heirs. His marvelous inheritance will be ours as well.
Some Still Reject Him
Amazingly, though Christ is the Heir of all God possesses, and though He offers to share His inheritance with anyone who will trust in Him, some still reject Him. Many rejected God as He revealed Himself in the Old Testament. Now God has perfectly revealed Himself in the New Testament of His Son, and people continue to reject Him.
Jesus illustrated this tragedy in a parable.
There was a landowner who planted a vineyard and put a wall around it and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and rented it out to vine-growers, and went on a journey. And when the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. And the vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and seize his inheritance.” And they took him, and threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers? They said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers, who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, this became the chief corner stone; this came about from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.” Matt. 21:33–44)
That parable needs no explanation.
To willfully reject Jesus Christ brings on the utter damnation and destruction of a vengeful God. To Israel that parable says, “Since what you have done was so blatant, not only rejecting and killing the prophets but rejecting and killing the Son, the promise has been taken away from you and given to a new nation, the church.” Israel was set aside until the time of her restoration.
The second excellency of Christ mentioned in Hebrews 1 is His creatorship: through whom also He made the world. Christ is the agent through whom God created the world. “All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:3). One of the greatest proofs of Jesus’ divinity is His ability to create. Except for His complete sinlessness, His total righteousness, nothing more sets Him apart from us than His creatorship. Ability to create belongs to God alone and the fact that Jesus creates indicates that He is God. He created everything material and everything spiritual. Though man has stained His work with sin, Christ originally made it good, and the very creation itself longs to be restored to what it was in the beginning (Rom. 8:22).
The common Greek word for world is kosmos, but that is not the word used in Hebrews 1:2. The word here is aiōnas, which does not mean the material world but “the ages,” as it is often translated. Jesus Christ is responsible not only for the physical earth; He is also responsible for creating time, space, energy, and matter. Christ created the whole universe and everything that makes it function, and He did it all without effort.
Sir John C. Eccles, nobel laureate in neurophysiology, said that the odds against the right combination of circumstances occurring to have evolved intelligent life on earth are highly improbable, but he went on to say he believed that such did occur but could never happen again on any planet or in any other solar system (“Evolution and the Conscious Self,” in The Human Mind: A Discussion at the Nobel Conference, John D. Rolansky, ed. [Amsterdam: North Holland, 1967]). If you do not recognize a Creator you have quite a problem explaining how this marvelous, intricate, immeasurable universe came into being.
Yet thousands upon thousands of men believe that man emerged out of primeval slime. Man just evolved—that wondrous creature whose heart beats 800 million times in a normal lifetime and pumps enough blood to fill a string of tank cars running from Boston to New York; that same man whose tiny cubic half-inch section of brain cells contains all the memories of a lifetime; that same man whose ear transfers sound waves from air to liquid without losing any sound.
A.K. Morrison, another brilliant scientist, tells us that conditions for life on earth demand so many billions of minute interrelated circumstances appearing simultaneously, in the same infinitesimal moment, that such a prospect becomes beyond belief and beyond possibility.
Consider the vastness of our universe. If you could somehow put 1.2 million earths inside the sun, you would have room left for 4.3 million moons. The sun is 865,000 miles in diameter and is 93 million miles from the earth. Our next nearest star, Alpha Centauri, is 5 times larger than our sun. The moon is only 211,463 miles away, and you could walk to it in 27 years. A ray of light travels at 186 thousand miles per second, so a beam of light would reach the moon in only 1 ½ seconds. If we could travel at that speed, it would take 2 minutes and 18 seconds to reach Venus, 4 ½ minutes to reach Mercury, 1 hour and 11 seconds to reach Saturn, and so on. To reach Pluto, 2.7 billion miles from earth, would take nearly 4 hours. Having got that far, we would still be well inside our own solar system. The North Star is 400 trillion miles away, but is still nearby in relation even to known space. The star Betelgeuse is 880 quadrillion miles (880 followed by fifteen zeroes) from us. It has a diameter of 250 million miles, which is greater than that of the earth’s orbit.
Where did it all come from? Who conceived it? Who made it? It cannot be an accident. Somebody had to make it, and the Bible tells us the Maker was Jesus Christ.
Third, we see Christ’s radiance, the brightness of the glory of God. And He is the radiance of His glory. Radiance (apaugasma, “to send forth light”) represents Jesus as the manifestation of God. He expresses God to us. No one can see God; no one ever will. The only radiance that reaches us from God is mediated to us from Jesus Christ. Just as the rays of the sun light and warm the earth, so Jesus Christ is the glorious light of God shining into the hearts of men. Just as the sun was never without and cannot be separated from its brightness, so God was never without and cannot be separated from the glory of Christ. Never was God without Him or He without God, and never in any way can He be separated from God. Yet the brightness of the sun is not the sun. Neither is Christ God in that sense. He is fully and absolutely God, yet is a distinct Person.
We would never be able to see or enjoy God’s light if we did not have Jesus to look at. Standing one day before the Temple, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). Jesus Christ is the radiance of God’s glory, and He can transmit that light into your life and my life, so that we, in turn, can radiate the glory of God. We live in a dark world. There is the darkness of injustice, of failure, privation, separation, disease, death, and of much else. There is the moral darkness of men blinded by their godless appetites and passions. Into this dark world God sent His glorious Light. Without the Son of God, there is only darkness.
The great tragedy, of course, is that most men do not want even to see, much less accept and live in, God’s light. Paul explains that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). God sent His light in the Person of Jesus Christ, that man might behold, accept, and radiate that light. But Satan has moved through this world to blind the minds of men and prevent the light of the glorious gospel from shining on them.
Those, however, who receive His light can say, “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). That is what happens when God comes into your life.
The hymn writer said, “Come to the light. ’Tis shining for thee. / Sweetly the light has dawned upon me.” What a wonderful thing to realize that Jesus Christ, who is the full expression of God in human history, can come into our lives and give us light to see and to know God. His light, in fact, gives us life itself, spiritual life. And, His light gives us purpose, meaning, happiness, peace, joy, fellowship, everything—for all eternity.
Christ’s next excellency is His being. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature. Jesus Christ is the express image of God. Christ not only was God manifest, He was God in substance.
Exact representation translates the Greek term used for the impression made by a die or stamp on a seal. The design on the die is reproduced on the wax. Jesus Christ is the reproduction of God. He is the perfect, personal imprint of God in time and space. Colossians 1:15 gives a similar illustration of this incomprehensible truth: “He is the image of the invisible God.” The word “image” here is eikōn, from which we get icon. Eikōn means a precise copy, an exact reproduction, as in a fine sculpture or portrait. To call Christ the Eikōn of God means He is the exact reproduction of God. “For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col. 2:9).
Also in Hebrews 1:3 is given the fifth of Christ’s excellencies, His administration, or sustenance. He upholds all things by the word of His power. Christ not only made all things and will someday inherit all things, but He holds them all together in the meanwhile. The Greek word for upholds means “to support, to maintain,” and it is used here in the present tense, implying continuous action. Everything in the universe is sustained right now by Jesus Christ.
We base our entire lives on the continuance, the constancy, of laws. When something such as an earthquake comes along and disrupts the normal condition or operation of things even a little, the consequences are often disastrous. Can you imagine what would happen if Jesus Christ relinquished His sustaining power over the laws of the universe? We would go out of existence. If He suspended the law of gravity only for a brief moment, we would all perish, in unimaginable ways.
If the physical laws varied, we would have an unbelievable mess. We could not exist. What we ate could turn to poison. We could not stay on the earth; we would drift out into space. We would get flooded by the oceans periodically. Countless other horrible things would happen, many of which we could not even guess.
Consider, for example, what instant destruction would happen if the earth’s rotation slowed down just a little. The sun has a surface temperature of 12,000 degrees Fahrenheit. If it were any closer to us we would burn up; if it were any farther away we would freeze. Our globe is tilted on an exact angle of 23 degrees, providing us with four seasons. If it were not so tilted, vapors from the oceans would move north and south and develop into monstrous continents of ice. If the moon did not retain its exact distance from the earth the ocean tides would inundate the land completely, twice a day. After the first flooding, of course, the others would not matter as far as we would be concerned. If the ocean floors were merely a few feet deeper than they are, the carbon dioxide and oxygen balance of the earth’s atmosphere would be completely upset, and no animal or plant life could exist. If the atmosphere did not remain at its present density, but thinned out even a little, many of the meteors which now harmlessly burn up when they hit the atmosphere would constantly bombard us. We would have to live underground or in meteor-proof buildings.
How does the universe stay in this kind of fantastically delicate balance? Jesus Christ sustains and monitors all its movements and inter-workings. Christ, the preeminent Power, maintains it all.
Things do not happen in our universe by accident. They did not happen that way in the beginning. They are not going to happen that way in the end, and they are not happening that way now. Jesus Christ is sustaining the universe. He is Himself the principle of cohesion. He is not like the deist’s “watchmaker” creator, who made the world, set it in motion, and has not bothered with it since. The universe is a cosmos instead of chaos, an ordered and reliable system instead of an erratic and unpredictable muddle, only because Jesus Christ upholds it.
Scientists who discover great and amazing truths are doing nothing but discovering a few of the laws that Jesus Christ designed and uses to control the world. No scientist or mathematician, no astronomer or nuclear physicist, could do anything without the upholding power of Jesus Christ. The whole universe hangs on the arm of Jesus. His unsearchable wisdom and boundless power are manifested in governing the universe. And He does it by the word of His power, without effort. The key to the creation story in Genesis is in two words, “God said.” God spoke and it happened.
When I think about Christ’s power to uphold the universe, that truth goes right to my heart. We read in Philippians 1:6 the wonderful promise, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” When Christ begins a work in your heart, He holds onto it and sustains it all the way through. We can imagine Jude’s excitement when he wrote, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24–25). When your life is given to Jesus Christ, He holds it and sustains it and one day will take it into God’s very presence. A life, just as a universe, that is not sustained by Christ is chaos.
The sixth excellency of Christ is His sacrifice: When He had made purification of sins. What a tremendous statement!
The Bible says the wages of sin is death. Jesus Christ went to the cross, died our deserved death for us, and thereby took the penalty for our sin on Himself. If we will accept His death and believe that He died for us, He will free us from the penalty of sin and purify us from the stain of sin.
It was a wondrous work when Jesus Christ created the world. It is wondrous that He sustains the world. But a greater work than making and upholding the world is that of purging men of sin. In Hebrews 7:27 we are told that Jesus “does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.” In the Old Testament the priests had to make sacrifice after sacrifice, for themselves and for the people. Jesus made but one sacrifice. He not only was the Priest, but also the Sacrifice. And because His sacrifice was pure, He can purify our sins—something that all the Old Testament sacrifices together could not do.
And not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?… but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (Heb. 9:12–14, 26b)
Jesus Christ dealt with the sin problem once and for all. It had to be done. We could not communicate with God or enter into fellowship with Him unless sin was dealt with. So Christ went to the cross and bore the penalty of sin for all who would accept His sacrifice, believe in Him, and receive Him. Sin was purged, wiped out.
This truth must have seemed especially remarkable to those to whom the book of Hebrews was first written. The cross was a stumbling block to Jews, but the writer does not apologize for it. Instead, he shows it to be one of the seven excellent glories of Christ. His words are as straightforward as those of Peter: “[You know] that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18–19).
We are all sinners. And either we pay the penalty for our own sin, which is eternal death, or we accept Jesus Christ’s payment for it in sacrificing Himself, for which we receive eternal life. If the desire of our heart is to receive Him as Savior, to believe in and to accept His sacrifice, our sins are washed away at that point. The Bible says that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness for sin (Heb. 9:22) and that “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Jesus came as the perfect Sacrifice. The man whose sins are forgiven has them forgiven only because of Jesus Christ. But the blood of Jesus Christ will never be applied to us unless by faith we receive Him into our lives.
Yet again, there are people who reject Him! Hebrews 10:26 warns, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” If we reject Jesus Christ there is nothing in the universe that can take away our sin, and we will die in it. Jesus said to such persons, “[You] shall die in your sin; where I am going you can never come” (John 8:21).
The last of Christ’s excellencies mentioned in this passage is His exaltation. He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. The Majesty on high is God. The right hand is the power side. Jesus took His place at the right hand of God. The marvelous thing about this statement is that Jesus, the perfect High Priest, sat down. This is in great contrast to the priestly procedure under the Old Covenant. There were no seats in the Tabernacle or the Temple sanctuaries. The priest had no place to sit because God knew it would never be appropriate for him to sit. His responsibility was to sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice, over and over again. So the priests offered sacrifices daily—and never sat down. But Jesus offered one sacrifice, and said, “It is finished.” He then went and sat down with the Father. It was done. What could not be accomplished under the Old Covenant, even after centuries of sacrifices, was accomplished once by Jesus Christ for all time.
Jesus’ sitting down at His Father’s right hand signifies at least four things. They are, briefly:
First, He sat down as a sign of honor, “that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:11). To be seated at the right hand of the Father is honor indeed.
Second, He sat down as a sign of authority. “[He] is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him” (1 Pet. 3:22). He sat down as a ruler.
Third, He sat down to rest. His work was done. “But He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb. 10:12).
Fourth, He sat down to intercede for us. “Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us” (Rom. 8:34). He is seated at the right hand of the Father making intercession for all of us who belong to Him.
Here we have God’s portrait of Jesus Christ. We have seen the preeminent Christ in all His offices. We have seen Him as prophet, the final spokesman for God. We have seen Him as priest, atoning and interceding. We have seen Him as King, controlling, sustaining, and seated on a throne. This is our Lord Jesus Christ.
A man who says that Jesus Christ is anything less than this is a fool and makes God out a liar. God says that His Son is preeminent in all things.
What does this mean to us? It means everything. To reject Him is to be shut out from His presence into an eternal hell. But to receive Jesus Christ is to enter into all that He is and has. There are no other choices.
Prophet, Priest, and King
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Heb. 1:3)
It is hard for us to understand how remarkable it was for the first generation of Christians to put their faith in Jesus Christ. This is especially true of the Jews who had not personally known Jesus but converted to Christianity. We can imagine the kind of arguments that unbelieving Jews would have employed to dissuade their new faith. They would have pointed out that Jesus was just a man, the son of a poor carpenter from a backwater village in Galilee. They might have echoed Nathaniel’s comment, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). It was a time of unrest and of heady passions, they may have pointed out, and this man Jesus was just one of many zealous leaders of his day. Worst of all, his failure as a Messiah was proved by his humiliating execution as the worst sort of criminal. The fact that he was crucified—the most despicable of all deaths—proved that he was rejected by God. Jesus may have been a decent enough man, though he obviously got carried away by his short-lived fame. The real problem was his fanatical disciples, who made outlandish claims about his resurrection and started a heretical religion that actually worshiped the poor man.
If this is the kind of argument the Jewish Christians were subjected to, it likely was a potent one. Especially since believing on Christ came at such a high cost—exclusion from Jewish society and perhaps even violent persecution in the days to come—many might have reconsidered their religious options.
The Epistle to the Hebrews was written because of this kind of pressure. Then, as now, faith in Jesus came at a price. You could not be a Christian without carrying a cross and suffering at the hands of the world. Therefore, it had to be worth it to believe on Jesus Christ. This is what the writer of Hebrews wanted to impress upon his readers. In the book’s opening lines, he directs us to the supremacy of our Lord. He knows that if we perceive Jesus in the marvel of his person and his work—as God’s Son and as our Savior—then instead of doubting or trembling in fear we will respond with words like those from the great hymn: “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto him against that day.”
Verses 2–3 contain seven statements of Christ’s supremacy. This number seems deliberate, because verses 5–14 go on to list seven Old Testament citations that are ascribed to Christ. Seven was the number for perfection or completion, and that is the writer’s point here: the perfect supremacy of Christ. Furthermore, the seven statements of verses 2 and 3 may be organized along the lines of the three great Old Testament offices that are perfected and completed in Christ: prophet, priest, and king. This is a helpful and biblical way of thinking about our Lord. He is prophet in that he perfectly reveals God to us. He is priest in offering himself for our sins, cleansing us, and interceding for us with God. He is our king, reigning now in heaven and ruling over us as our Sovereign Lord.
Christ as the True King
It is with the last of these, Christ as king, that the writer of Hebrews begins his sevenfold exclamation of the supremacy of Christ. Verse 2 says, “In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” In these first two of the seven statements, we see Jesus as Lord both in his person and in his work.
First, he is “appointed the heir of all things.” This is something that follows from Christ’s being God’s only Son. In Israel, it was the firstborn son who had the right of inheritance. This means that “as the heir, all things already belong to the Son in principle, just as they will actually and finally be his at the end.” This was God the Father’s appointment, his purpose in creation: that his Son should be blessed and glorified in receiving all things. This is also the ultimate purpose of our redemption: “His inheritance is the innumerable company of the redeemed and the universe renewed by virtue of his triumphant work of reconciliation.”2The writer of Hebrews goes on to say, “through whom also he created the world.” Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is Lord and King because of his divine role in creation. Not only was the world made for him, but it was made by him. There can hardly be a stronger claim for lordship than this. If you are the one who made something, and for whom it was made, then you are its rightful lord. So it is in the case of Jesus Christ. Paul says the same thing in Colossians 1:16: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” Hebrews 1:3 adds that even now “he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”
Those Jewish Christians who first received this letter were being tempted to renounce Christianity. But Jesus fulfills and gathers to himself all that the office of king ever meant in Israel. He is the true king, the Lord of all, and the faithful of Israel are those who worship and serve him.
We need to embrace the same truth. Jesus is king over the church and over the Christian people, no less than when the Israelites of David’s day looked to his authority and obeyed his commands. But how seldom people think of Jesus this way. When he walked upon this earth in his humanity, Jesus did not look like a king. He did not ride a great stallion; his coming was not heralded by trumpets; he did not hold court in a palace of gold. This is why people scoffed at his kingship. Pontius Pilate said, “Are you the King of the Jews?” It was not so much a question as a taunt. Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:33, 36). Does this mean that while you have to respect earthly rulers, you can afford to ignore Jesus’ kingdom since it is merely spiritual? James M. Boice answers,
Nothing is farther from the truth, for when we say that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, what we are really saying is that Christ’s kingdom is of heaven and therefore has an even greater claim over us than do the earthly kingdoms we know so well.… Over these is Christ, and we flout His kingship not merely at the peril of our fortune and lives but at the peril of our eternal souls.
Jesus was appointed heir of all things, which were made through him and are even now sustained by him. But this is seen only by God’s Word, and only with the eyes of faith. Jesus is enthroned, not upon an earthly throne, but “at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3). We can see this only by faith. Believing on Christ as our king, we must obey him by faith, and we must be comforted amidst our trials in the knowledge that one day soon he will come to manifest his kingdom over all creation, destroying his enemies with the rod of his might (Ps. 2:9), and inviting his faithful servants to enter into the joy of his kingdom (Matt. 25:21). As the writer of Hebrews points out in 2:8–9, quoting from Psalm 8, “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.” This is the cause of our unbelief and fear. But by faith we know that he is even now “crowned with glory and honor,” and someday soon every eye will see him, every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:10–11).
Christ as the Final Prophet
This passage exalts Christ not only as Lord of all, but also as the One who perfectly reveals God in all his glory. He is the true king, but also the final prophet: “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3).
Hot and brilliant as the sun is in the heavens, we would never see it or feel its warmth without the radiating beams that come to the earth. So it is with God and his Son, who is the radiance of his glory. Without the Son we remain in the dark regarding the glory of God. But with the Son we have an ideal, indeed, a perfect revelation of God. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:6 that we see “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” We do not see God in Christ through drawings that purport to represent his features, much less through an actor who tries to represent the way Jesus must have been. We see God in Christ through the Bible’s teaching of his person and work, of his holy zeal and compassionate love, of his heavenly words and mighty, saving works.
As the Son, Jesus is a better revelation than that which came through the prophets. It is one thing to know a chosen servant. You can learn a lot about a master by what you see in those who work for him. But as Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains, “A servant may be able to say everything that is right about his lord and master, he may know him well and intimately, but he can never represent him in the way that the son can. The son is a manifestation of the father by being what he is. Thus our Lord himself, while here on earth, represented and manifested the name of God in a way that is incomparable and greater than all others, because he is the Son of God.” John 1:18 tells us, in a striking assertion of Jesus’ deity: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”
Jesus is the perfect prophet—the one who fully reveals God’s glory—because he is not only similar to God the Father, but also is “the exact imprint of his nature.” The Greek word here is charaktēr, which gives us the word “character.” It refers to the stamp or imprint made by a die or seal. The best example is a coin with the imprint of a ruler’s face; in the same way, Jesus bears God’s image or imprint. Paul says, “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). The point is the trustworthiness with which Jesus reveals God to us. There is an exact correspondence between what we see in him and what is true of God. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” Jesus explained (John 14:9).
Furthermore, Jesus “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3). Jesus wields divine power because as God’s Son he is fully God. As the true and great and final prophet, he is able not merely to reveal God’s will but also to establish God’s will upon the earth.
This description of Jesus as the great and final prophet helps us to gain a proper understanding of the relationship of the Old Testament to the New. The reason the Hebrew Christians should not revert from Christ back to Judaism is not that the Old Testament was wrong. Through the long line of prophets, God left his people with his revelation for their salvation. But the chief message of that revelation was of a Savior yet to come, the true prophet who would not only point to salvation but would also accomplish it. Isaiah spoke of a child who would be born, a son who would be given, and said that he would be called “Wonderful Counselor” (Isa. 9:6). He added, “The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord” (Isa. 11:2–3). The way to be a true follower of Isaiah and the other prophets was and is to believe their message, to receive in faith the One for whom they prayed, who is the head of their order and the fulfillment of their age-old longing.
Christ as the Perfect Priest
We need to give homage to Jesus, God’s Son, as the King who is Lord of all. And we need to listen to him as the true and final prophet who perfectly reveals God’s glory. But there is a third office Jesus perfects and completes, that of the priest. Apart from his ministry in this office we may bow to God, and we may listen to God, but we can never be accepted by God and draw near to his presence. Therefore, the writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus is the true and perfect priest, who makes atonement for our sins. He writes, “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3).
The theme of Christ’s priestly office will occupy much of the Book of Hebrews, and it is a message we must understand if we want to be saved. Jesus fulfills the priestly office because he offers the one true sacrifice to take away our sin. This is what the angel said about him to Joseph even before his birth: “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Yes, Jesus rules within us by his spirit, and he speaks to us as prophet through the gospel. But these are possible only because as Lamb of God he laid down his life for our sins, making purification for us upon the cross. Then, as the true and final priest, he went into heaven to present his own blood to God to secure our full, perfect, and final forgiveness.
This sevenfold exclamation of praise to God’s Son is completed with the statement that “he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3). There were no seats in the temple at Jerusalem. The priests offered sacrifices for the purification of the people day and night without ceasing because the problem of sin had not yet been solved. They never sat down. But when God’s Son, the true priest whom the old covenant priests merely represented, shed his blood for us, his atoning sacrifice was the one to which all the others had merely pointed. He sat down, because there was no more sacrifice to be made, God’s Son having offered his infinitely holy and precious blood once for all. That being the case, if the readers of Hebrews wanted the benefits of the Old Testament sacrifices, then they must not turn away from Christ but hold fast to his death for their salvation.
God’s Son “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3). Since this is a throne, naturally we think of his kingly office. But it is also as our priest that Jesus takes up his heavenly royal seat. The King who rules on the throne of heaven is the very priest who sacrificed himself for our salvation and whose presence there bears everlasting testimony to our forgiveness. As Charles Wesley says in his great hymn “Arise, My Soul, Arise”:
Five bleeding wounds he bears,
received on Calvary;
they pour effectual prayers,
they strongly plead for me.
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“nor let that ransomed sinner die!”
Crown Him with Many Crowns
Verse 4 completes what in the Greek text is a single sentence that runs from the beginning of verse 1. It says, “Having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” This seems like an odd ending, but there are two explanations. The first is that Jewish spirituality in that day had an excessively high view of angels. The Jews connected angels with the great events of the Old Testament, believing that God gave Moses the law through angelic mediation and that it was an angel voice that spoke to Moses from the burning bush (Ex. 3:2).
The writer of Hebrews does not quarrel with these facts but rather with their interpretation. He acknowledges that angels are ministering spirits God sends for our help (Heb. 1:14). But that God employed angels does not mean that we should exalt them, as many Jews seem to have been doing. The angels, like the prophets, were servants of the old covenant. But Jesus Christ is the Son who fulfills the old covenant. He is the Christ, the Messiah, which means “Anointed One.” He fulfills the three anointed offices of the Old Testament: prophet, priest, and king. Therefore, the only way to fulfill all that the Old Testament taught, the only way to realize all that the Israelite fathers had looked to with hope, was to trust in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Upon the throne of heaven, he is exalted above even the angels, and his name—that is, his title or position—is more excellent than theirs.
There is another possible reason why the writer brings in angels, one that resonates with our own spiritual environment. People are fascinated by angels. Book about angels are bestsellers, and many people adorn themselves with angelic jewelry. The reason is that people know they need a mediator with God. They need someone to open a doorway to heaven and to the blessing and power of God. They need supernatural help for their otherwise insurmountable problems. People in the first-century church, just as in our own time, found in angels an appealing and non-demanding form of spiritual hope and comfort (see Col. 2:18). The fact that we don’t know much about angels makes them attractive for our veneration; we can fill in the details as we want them to be.
What this passage reveals about Jesus Christ is a cause for much greater comfort and hope than we could ever gain through the mystical worship of angels. When the Bible presents God’s Son as the true prophet and priest and king, God is showing us that Jesus Christ is and does all that our souls could ever need. Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the long-expected Anointed One, who enters into the God-given offices of the Old Testament so that he might save us to the uttermost. Charles Hodge expresses this well, explaining how Jesus Christ perfectly fulfills all our needs so that we might enter with him into the blessings of eternal life:
We as fallen men, ignorant, guilty, polluted, and helpless, need a Saviour who is a prophet to instruct us; a priest to atone and to make intercession for us; and a king to rule over and protect us. And the salvation which we receive at his hands includes all that a prophet, priest, and king in the highest sense of those terms can do. We are enlightened in the knowledge of the truth; we are reconciled unto God by the sacrificial death of his Son; and we are delivered from the power of Satan and introduced into the kingdom of God; all of which supposes that our Redeemer is to us at once prophet, priest, and king.
Jesus is the perfect and all-sufficient answer from God for our everlasting blessing. The significance of this for the original readers is obvious: If you have a Savior like this, you never let him go. If you have to lose your job, your family, your possessions—even your life—then so be it. Jesus said, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:24–25). What great profit it is, then, to gain Christ, and eternal life with him, even if all the world needs to be lost.
What this passage tells us about Christ reminds us not merely that we must hold to him in faith, but also how to draw near to him in faith. This comes through our understanding of his three offices as prophet and priest and king.
Jesus is our King. We need to be ruled and governed, protected and led. Let us therefore bow before him and crown him Lord of all, flying his banner at the gates of our hearts and forsaking all other kingdoms and rulers. Jesus is our Prophet. We need truth; he is the Truth and he speaks the truth. Let us therefore come to his Word seeking light and forsaking all the false prophets who would lead us astray. Jesus is our Priest. So we should readily come to him for cleansing, for forgiveness, for interceding prayers, and for a full and loving reconciliation with God the Father. Let us therefore confess our great need for his blood and for his ongoing priestly intercession in heaven. Let us lay hold of the cross, forsaking all claim to any merit of our own. In all these ways, through his three offices, let us commit ourselves to Jesus Christ alone, who is able to save us to the uttermost, to the glory of God the Father.
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When you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.—Matt. 6:2
Giving to the poor literally means any act of mercy, but it came to mean more specifically the giving of money or goods to the needy. Jesus did not say “if” but “when” concerning our giving—in other words, He expects us to do so. But just as sympathy for the needy does not help them unless something is actually done toward their need, so giving money provides us no spiritual blessing unless done from the heart.
Those who, like the Pharisees, give to impress others with their piety and generosity will receive no further reward. When we give with this false motive, we receive back only what people can give; we thereby forfeit God’s blessings.
Many times, of course, the pretense people use to draw attention to or make an impression with their giving is not so obvious. They know, especially if they profess to follow Christ, that other Christians will resent ostentatiousness. So they seek to make their giving “accidentally” noticed. But any strategy designed to draw attention is still a basic form of trumpet-blowing hypocrisy, which can appear in various forms. Whenever we make a point of doing our giving publicly to be noticed, rather than doing it privately simply for God’s reward, we behave more like the hypocrites of Jesus’ day, not like His children.
|What are some of the ways that giving can be done for personal recognition, even within the decorum of outward humility? How does one guard against this need for acknowledgment? What are we forgetting when we’re tempted to crave the credit for every dollar we share with others?|
For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
It is vital to any understanding of ourselves and our fellowmen that we believe what is written in the Scriptures about human society—that it is fallen, alienated from God and in rebellion against His laws!
There is plenty of good news in the Bible, but there is never any flattery or back scratching, and what God has spoken is never complimentary to men.
Seen one way, the Bible is a book of doom. It condemns all men as sinners and declares that the soul that sinneth shall die. Always it pronounces sentence against society before it offers mercy; and if we will not own the validity of the sentence we cannot admit the need for mercy!
The coming of Jesus Christ to the world has been so sentimentalized that it means now something utterly alien to the Bible teaching concerning it. Soft human pity has been substituted for God’s mercy in the minds of millions, a pity that has long ago degenerated into self-pity. The blame for man’s condition has somehow been shifted to God, and Christ’s dying for the world has been twisted into an act of penance on God’s part. In the drama of redemption, man is viewed as Miss Cinderella who has long been oppressed and mistreated, but now through the heroic deeds of earth’s noblest Son is about to don her radiant apparel and step forth a queen. This is humanism—romantically tinted with Christianity!
That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection.
Jesus Christ’s resurrection most graphically demonstrated the extent of His power. That’s the kind of power the apostle Paul wanted to experience because He realized he was helpless to overcome sin on his own.
The resurrection power of Christ deals with sin at our salvation. We experience His resurrection might at salvation. We were buried with Christ in His death, and we rose with Him to “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).
But to defeat sin daily, we need His resurrection power to be our resource. We need His strength to serve Him faithfully, to conquer temptation, to overcome trials, and to witness boldly. Only as we build our relationship with Christ and tap into His might will we have victory over sin in this life.
The NSA has tripled its surveillance of Americans’ phone chatter, collecting over 534mn phone call records and text messages last year, despite pressure for more restrictions and transparency, a new official report has revealed.
— Read on www.rt.com/usa/425900-nsa-spying-phone-records/
The Exhortation to Constant Joyfulness
Rejoice always; (5:16)
A thorough and accurate understanding of Christian joy is essential for all believers. Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians to rejoice always may seem absurd and impossible to obey given life’s inevitable difficulties, but as a divinely inspired command, believers must heed it. Any failure to do so constitutes a disregard for Scripture’s clear instructions and therefore sinful disobedience.
Many other statements throughout God’s Word enjoin the believer to have joy in all situations (Deut. 12:18; Neh. 8:10; Pss. 2:11; 5:11; 32:11; 68:3; 100:2; 132:16; Isa. 29:19; Joel 2:23–24; Hab. 3:17–18; Matt. 5:10–12; Luke 6:22–23; 10:20; John 16:20–22; cf. Pss. 16:8–9; 21:6; 28:7; 132:16; Isa. 35:10; 55:12; 56:7; Zech. 9:9; Acts 5:41; Rom. 15:13; 2 Cor. 10:17; Eph. 5:9; Phil. 2:17–18; 4:4; Col. 1:24; James 1:2; 5:13; 1 Peter 1:6; 4:13). While he was aware of the many injunctions to rejoice, Paul also recognized the existence of negative human emotions like sorrow and distress (e.g., Acts 20:19, 37–38; Rom. 12:15; Phil. 3:18; cf. Isa. 32:11–12; Matt. 9:23; Mark 5:38–39). However, the apostle also knew believers must transcend their sorrows with a continual focus on true joy; they must be as he wrote of himself, “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). Such a focus is possible because biblical joy comes from God, not merely from a superficial emotional response to positive circumstances (cf. Phil. 3:3). Christian joy constantly flows from what the believer continually knows to be true about God and about his eternal, saving relationship to Him—regardless of circumstances (Pss. 16:11; 68:3; Luke 2:10–11; 24:52; Acts 16:34; Rom. 5:2, 11; 1 Peter 1:8). Supernatural joy is from the Holy Spirit; thus Paul listed it as an aspect of spiritual fruit (Gal. 5:22; cf. Rom. 14:17).
The phrase translated rejoice always literally reads “at all times be rejoicing” and emphasizes that truly joyful Christians will always have a deep-seated confidence in God’s sovereign love and mighty power on behalf of His own, and in His providential working of all things according to His perfect plan (Matt. 6:33–34; Rom. 8:28–30; 11:33; Phil. 1:12; cf. Gen. 50:20; Ps. 139:1–5). Therefore, no event or circumstance in the Christian’s life, apart from sin, can or should diminish his true joy.
A proper perspective on biblical joy provides numerous reasons for believers to rejoice. First of all, they should rejoice always in appreciation for God’s righteous character, which, even in trouble, He demonstrates so faithfully to believers. The psalmist declared, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped; therefore my heart exults, and with my song I shall thank Him” (Ps. 28:7; cf. Neh. 8:10; Pss. 71:23; 89:16; Isa. 61:10). Second, they should have constant joy out of appreciation for Christ’s redemptive work, which derives from a gracious, loving, merciful, and compassionate God (Luke 2:10; 10:20; Rom. 5:1–2, 11; 1 Peter 1:8–9), and for His infallible instruction (John 15:11; 16:30; 1 John 5:20). Third, they should rejoice in appreciation of the Holy Spirit’s ministry on their behalf (Acts 10:44; Rom. 14:17; cf. 8:14–27). Fourth, believers should rejoice always because of the vast array of spiritual blessings they possess (cf. Eph. 1:3–4; Phil. 4:13, 19; Col. 2:9–14; 2 Peter 1:3). Fifth, they should have joy in God’s providence as He orchestrates everything for their benefit (Rom. 8:28–30; James 1:2–4). Sixth, they should be joyful out of gratitude for the promise of future glory (cf. Ps. 16:8–11; Matt. 5:12; Luke 10:20; 1 Cor. 1:7; Phil. 1:18–21; 3:20; Jude 24). Seventh, answered prayer should always be a source of joy (Pss. 66:20; 116:1, 17; 118:21; John 16:24), as should an eighth reason, an appreciation for the gift of God’s Word (Col. 3:16; cf. Pss. 19:7–11; 119:14, 111, 162; Jer. 15:16). Ninth, the privilege of genuine fellowship should bring continual joy to the believer (1 Thess. 3:9; 2 Tim. 1:4; Philem. 7; 2 John 12). And finally, true believers cannot help but express their joy at the saving proclamation of the gospel, as the early church did: “Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they [Paul, Barnabas, and other believers] were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren” (Acts 15:3; cf. Phil. 1:18).
The joyful Christian is more concerned about glorifying God than about avoiding temporal difficulties (Rom. 8:18; cf. Heb. 11:13–16, 25). He thinks more of his spiritual riches and eternal glory than he does any present pain or material poverty (1 Peter 1:6–7; 4:13; James 5:11; cf. 2 Cor. 6:4–10; 1 Peter 5:10). Believers who live like that will fulfill the command to rejoice always.
16 Compliance with the social regulations of vv. 12–15 is impossible apart from personal communion with God. Thus Paul turns to the believer’s inner life. In the exhortation to “be joyful always” he voices a theme that is characteristic of NT writings. Though this probably goes back to the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:10–12), it recurs both in the historical (Ac 5:41; 16:25) and epistolary (e.g., Php 1:18; 4:4) writings. The uniqueness of Christian joy lies in its emergence under the most adverse circumstances. Paul states the paradox succinctly in 2 Corinthians 6:10: “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” The Thessalonian Christians had already maintained joy in suffering (1:6), as had Paul himself (3:9). The challenge is for this joyful outlook to become constant (“always”). From a human perspective, they have every reason not to be joyful—persecution from outsiders and friction among themselves. Yet in Christ they can rejoice more and more.
Rejoice always! (5:16, rsv)
This injunction can hardly be interpreted as a general exhortation to Christians to ‘be joyful always’ (niv) or ‘be happy in your faith at all times’ (jbp), for joy and happiness are not at our command, and cannot be turned on and off like a tap. We would be wiser to understand this instruction as meaning ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’. Then at once it becomes reminiscent of many Old Testament commands like those which introduce the Venite, ‘Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord’, and the Jubilate, ‘Shout for joy to the Lord’. In other words, Paul is issuing not an order to be happy but an invitation to worship, and to joyful worship at that. Yet many church services are unforgivably gloomy and boring. Although, to be sure, it is always appropriate to worship Almighty God with awe and humility, yet every service should also be a celebration, a joyful rehearsal of what God has done and given through Christ. So let there be organs and trumpets and drums and singing!
5:16. Paul admonished, Be joyful always. This is short and to the point. The key, however, is the word always. Paul meant this literally. Christian joy is not bound by circumstances or hindered by difficulties. In fact, joy in the New Testament is often coupled with sorrow or suffering.
The Thessalonian believers had already experienced this strange duet, like an inspiring song played in minor key (1 Thess. 1:6). When the sorrow or suffering results from being identified with Christ, the Holy Spirit creates a supernatural joy—a wellness of soul that cannot be dampened by adverse situations. The explanation may be found in 2 Corinthians 4:16–18: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”
But we should remember that we have a part in this joy. We are the ones commanded to be joyful. It is a choice, a deliberate response that focuses on the grace and goodness of God. As the writer to the Hebrews directed us, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb. 12:2–3).
 Thomas, R. L. (2006). 1 Thessalonians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, p. 431). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Stott, J. R. W. (1994). The message of Thessalonians: the gospel & the end of time (pp. 124–125). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Larson, K. (2000). I & II Thessalonians, I & II Timothy, Titus, Philemon (Vol. 9, p. 74). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.