Christus Victor as atonement

Christus Victor as atonement

This sermon presents a Christus Victor model for the atonement through the Resurrection. While the work is not included here, I’ve done extensive word studies on the “ransom” and “redeem/redemption” word groups and translated excerpts from the relevant passages ― all of which is background to the approach that frames this sermon. In short, I’m convinced that (notwithstanding the valid penal substitution angle) Christ’s death was a ransom to Satan which Jesus then took back after three days.

The analogies of the fishhook and the mousetrap are not mine, but were suggested by great theologians over 1,400 years ago. The Christus Victor model was the dominant view in the Church until the 12th century. Gustaf Aulen’s Christus Victor (ca. 1930) is a paradigm-shifting little book that I suspect many modern theologians cite more than they actually read. If you have questions about this model for the atonement, I suggest Gregory of Nyssa’s discussion in his catechism (ch. 22-26, see the footnotes) along with Aulen’s book. Above all, for pastors who read this, I encourage you to read beyond the narrow and “safe” lanes of your particular ecclesiastical orbit.

Seeing the Resurrection Through New Eyes

God paints reality in shades of black and white. Spiritual life or death.[1] Salvation or damnation. Rescue or prison. Liberation or slavery. Adoption or eternal exile. Cosmic victory or defeat.

This last one is how I invite you to view the Resurrection. It’s one way Jesus viewed it. Not just payment to God for sins. Not just satisfying God’s justice and a cosmic sense of “rightness.” But a divine victory for you over the forces of real darkness.

There is darkness in this world and in our souls, you know. Why do we do bad things? Why did a madman kill a Capitol police officer two days ago? Why did a guy murder six women in Atlanta, last month? Why did Hitler exist? Stalin? Mao?  Why did the U.S. government engineer and carry out forced deportation of Indians to the West in the early 19th century―something even Hitler is on record as drawing inspiration from?[2] Why did some churches in the antebellum South own slaves?[3] Why has there been a military coup in Myanmar? Why is this world so dark? Why is Starbucks espresso so bitter?  

These are existential questions that cry out for answers. Why is there “evil” in this world, and inside me, too?

Well, because we’re sick. This world is sick. This whole creation is sick. We need to be rescued from ourselves, liberated, delivered, bought back and led to safety. Shown the way by the God who made us. Who’s working to reverse what’s gone wrong.

We’re in trouble. We’re lost. We’re without hope. We’re criminals in God’s universe. We have a prison sentence hanging over our heads … But God has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! And, He does it here, on Easter Sunday, through the resurrection.

Jesus of Nazareth, God’s only Son, came here to rescue us. In return, He asks us to change our allegiance. To repent. To turn. To acknowledge our insurgency against God. To apologize and mean it, and to believe He really can rescue us.

That’s what the resurrection is about. Rescue. Liberation. Being ransomed and set free from a kidnapper.   

You’ve put together furniture. You know about those assembly kits. They come with pre-packed screws, Allen wrenches, washers, all that stuff. The bible’s portrait of Christ’s ministry is like that. We’re used to using only the #3 screw and the Allen wrench (penal substitution). We’ve forgotten there a #5 screw, and a different Allen wrench, and a washer or two that we can also pick up. Now, you can use the same screws for everything, and the thing will still “work.” But, it’ll work better if you use all the tools.

And so, we’ll understand Christ better if we look at all the facets of this diamond. We’re stuck on the Cross. We hardly mention the resurrection when we think of the Gospel. It’s time to redeem the empty tomb as Christ’s victory over Satan for us.

The Parable of the Strong Man―Christ as Victor

Jesus paints His interaction with Satan as a battle that He wins. In Luke 11:20-23, in the context of rejecting the accusation that He’s an agent of Satan, Jesus offers this little analogy:

But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

The blanks aren’t hard to fill in. Satan is the strong man guarding his home. Picture him patrolling his front yard with a shotgun and a scowl. Jesus is the stronger man who attacks Satan, overcomes him, tosses his weapons and armor aside, then takes everything that belongs to him. Mark, in his version of the same parable, records Jesus saying:

But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house (Mark 3:27).

In order to go into the house, Jesus first has to destroy, tie up, overcome, hog-tie, defeat the strong man in single combat. Then, he can plunder, steal, take by force, rob the guy’s goods from his home.

This is a battle, a combat. Jesus will crush Satan, beat him down in his own driveway, then go inside and rob everything he’s got. He’ll back a pickup up to the front door and loot everything Satan has. As Satan lies in the flowerbed moaning, Jesus will kick him in the face once more for good measure.  Then, He’ll hop back in the truck and drive away with Satan’s goods in the back.  

But, how does it happen? What does it look like? Jesus paints an exciting picture, but it’s a metaphor―He doesn’t mean it literally―so we wonder. Will it be a frontal assault (a la Pickett’s charge or Normandy)? Or, will it be more crafty, more sneaky, more delicious and hilarious in its victory?

Winning the Victory―The Great Payoff

I want you to think of two words: “ransom” and “redeem/redemption.” Both these terms appear in your bibles, but we’re so used to seeing them that they’ve lost their force. They’ve become Christianese, not English.

“Ransom” means what you think it means.[4] It’s the payment that rescues someone.[5] In the New Testament era, it usually meant the price paid to free a captive from a captor.

Let me share an example.

On 03 March 1932, someone kidnapped Charles and Anne Lindbergh’s 20-month old baby from their home in New Jersey. The mother was taking a bath and the baby was alone in the crib. When they discovered the child missing, Lindbergh grabbed a gun and searched the house and the grounds. He found a ransom note on the window sill:

Dear Sir! Have 50.000$ redy 25 000$ in 20$ bills 15000$ in 10$ bills and 10000$ in 5$ bills After 2–4 days we will inform you were to deliver the mony. We warn you for making anyding public or for notify the Police the child is in gut care.

The kidnappers eventually raised the ransom to $70,000. Intermediaries met with the kidnappers to negotiate, and they provided articles of the poor baby’s clothing to prove they were for real. Lindbergh paid $50,000 of the ransom. But, the parents never got the child back. People found the baby dead in the woods near the Lindbergh home on 12 May 1932.

“Redeem” or “redemption” means the act of buying back the slave; setting the captive free. These words are two sides of the same coin. Ransom is the price Lindbergh paid, and “redemption” is the rescue Lindbergh hoped to achieve with that ransom. They’re near synonyms―different words with almost the same meanings.

Now, once we get that set in our minds, I want you to think about what these passages mean:

Mark 10:45: For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Ransom means paying money to a kidnapper―who’s the kidnapper?

1 Timothy 2:5-6: For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

Ransom means the price to buy a hostage back from a captor―who’s the captor?

Titus 2:14: … who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Redeem means the act of buying our freedom from a hostile agent―who’s the hostile agent?

1 Peter 1:18: you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

Christ’s death was the price to buy off someone to let you go―who’d the payment go to?

Romans 3:24: … and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus

How does God make you righteous? By the redemption, the purchase from slavery, that’s because of Christ Jesus―but purchase from whom?

1 Corinthians 1:30: And because of him [God] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.

Jesus is the Wisdom, the Righteousness, the Sanctifier … the Redeemer,  the Liberator who bought us back from the slavemaster―who’s the slavemaster?

Ephesians 1:7: In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,

Redemption is the great purchase and rescue from bondage―rescue from whom?

Hosea 13:14: I shall ransom them from the power of Sheol; I shall redeem them from Death. O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting?

God buys us back from death, who’s kidnapped us. Death is a force that needs to be paid off so it’ll let us go―how does Jesus pay death off for us?

Jeremiah 31:11: For the LORD has ransomed Jacob, and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him

God buys us back from our captor; buys him off and rescues us from hands too strong for us to break―how does this ransom drop happen?

Who’s the Payoff To?

As strange as it might seem at first glance, God paints Christ’s death and resurrection as Jesus ransoming us from Satan.[6] My own translation of 1 Timothy 2:5-6, keeping in mind the real meaning of “ransom,” is this:

For there is one God, and one mediator between God[7] and men―the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a payoff[8] for the benefit[9] of all people …”

Why do I say this? Well, a ransom goes to the kidnapper and God isn’t the kidnapper! Satan is the kidnapper. He’s kidnapped unbelievers, he controls them, they naturally “belong” to him―are you still his captive? God made us for Himself in the beginning, but now that’s all reversed. The Apostle Paul says we’re all born as “sons of disobedience” and are “children of wrath,” (Eph 2:1-3). The Apostle John writes “we are from God, [but][10] the whole world lies in the power of the evil one,” (1 John 5:19). This is why the scripture says when we become believers, we’re rescued (that word is not an accident!)[11] from the “domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins,” (Colossians 1:13-14). There’s a transfer of ownership.

So, this “payoff,” this ransom, must go to Satan. It’s what “ransom” means. It’s what “redemption” means. So, it’s what had to have happened. “The Son of Man came … to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many,” (Mark 10:45). This doesn’t displace “paying for my sins, as my substitute,” but augments it―Christ’s ministry is a diamond with different facets.

But, we wonder, didn’t Satan try to stop Jesus from going to the Cross?[12] There’s the temptation in the wilderness (Mt 4:1-11). There’s Peter trying to stop Jesus from going to the Cross. “Get behind me, Satan!” and all that (Mark 8:33). It seems like Satan did try to stop Jesus at first, but he apparently changed his mind.

After the Lazarus miracle, Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin decided Jesus had to die, but quietly, discreetly (Jn 11:45-53). Then, on Palm Sunday, we see the uneasiness among Sanhedrin (Jn 12:9-11, 19). Satan sees this and senses opportunity. We know this, because on Wednesday during Holy Week (cf. Mark 14:1), Satan decides to go all in for force:

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them (Lk 22:3-4).

Satan changed his tactics―why?

Why Did Satan Switch Tactics?

The scriptures tell us:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Jesus’ death destroys Satan. Then, Jesus delivers, releases, sets us free. We’re the “goods” and “spoil” that Jesus plunders from Satan’s house, from that analogy from Luke. The resurrection is when He triumphs over Satan. God “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him [Christ],” (Colossians 2:15).

The resurrection is when Jesus points His finger and laughs at Satan, mocking him. If this were a bad movie (that is, one of those movies that are so bad they’re actually good), we might imagine a scene like this:

  • SATAN: “No! It can’t be! It can’t … !”
  • JESUS: “Yep, it’s me! Surprise, sucker!”

But, again, why did Satan accept this “payoff?” Why did he orchestrate it? Isn’t he crafty enough to avoid this mistake? Satan isn’t stupid, so Jesus must have deceived him, and He must have done it by attacking Satan’s great weakness.

How’d he do that? Well, Satan has great pride. He wants to replace God and rule over all. He’s been trying to kill Messiah from the beginning. Revelation 12 gives us a dramatic picture of all that. Then we think about Herod the Great’s slaughter of the children in Bethlehem. The temptation in the wilderness. He attempts to kill Jesus in His hometown synagogue (Luke 4:29-30). Then the machinations with Judas.

Satan originally tried to tempt Jesus away from the Cross. To divert Him, offer a shortcut. Satan’s afraid of the Cross. But, Satan changes his mind sometime between Lazarus and Palm Sunday. He thinks he can handle the Cross.

So, like a gambler, Satan spins the roulette wheel and puts all his chips on the Cross, figuring He can handle it. Because he has great pride

Why would Satan change his tactics and push events towards an outcome he’s tried to avoid for nearly three years? Jesus must have bluffed Satan―tricked him.

How’d He do it? How did he trick Satan?

The Devil’s Mousetrap―”It’s a Trap!!”

During the last week of Jesus’ life, He declared: “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out,” (Jn 12:30-31). It’s as if Jesus said, “By my death this Friday, and my resurrection on Sunday, I’ll defeat Satan and leave him lying broken and beaten on his own front porch!”

The Cross is a deliberate trap―a trojan horse, a subterfuge, a divine false flag operation meant to fool Satan into making a bad bet.[13] Satan thought he’d win―why else would he try it? You think he thought he’d lose, and was just going through the motions? Of course not. Jesus knew He’d win―why do you think He went through with it?

The Cross is actually the greatest double-cross in history. At the end of the last supper, just as they got up from the table to head to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus declared:

I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me (John 14:30-31).

Jesus knows Satan’s got nothing on Him, but goes ahead―and that’s the point! Jesus fooled Satan by cloaking Himself in humanity.[14] “None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory,”[15] (1 Corinthians 2:8).

His new and real humanity made Satan “forget” who He is, to underestimate Him, to think He’s weak (cf. Isa 52:13-53:12). Why else would Satan even try the temptations? He knows who Jesus is, but always thinks he can get him, trick him, tempt him, outwit Him.

And so, Jesus made Satan believe he could actually pull this off―and does it from within this broken system. He uses Satan’s own weaknesses against him and defeats him by craft―not by brute force,[16] but by “fair play,”[17] by playing the game from within the sinful system and winning.

Satan has no claim on Jesus. None. Jesus has no sin, so He’s not under any penalty. He’s out of bounds. It’s against the rules for Satan to take Him. Yet, Satan takes Jesus anyway―he kills him. He thinks he can get away with it. He thinks he can handle it.

But, by taking an innocent man against the rules,[18] Satan loses everything he has. His power is broken. He’s ejected the magazine from his own weapon just as Jesus comes walks up the driveway. He’s defenseless!

If you imagine a scene from that same “so bad its good” TV movie, it might look something like this:

  • Satan (defiant, smirking): “These criminals are mine, and I’m in charge here!”
  • Jesus: “Yeah, well … you just killed me, and I never sinned, so you actually have no power over me at all. You have no claim on me. You had no right to take my life.”
  • Satan (licking lips nervously): “What do you mean?”
  • Jesus: “It means you just fell for it, buddy. I let myself be captured by you. I let myself be killed to pay for everything bad anyone’s ever done. I tricked you into letting me inside your gates, and I’ve broken your power. And now, I’m gonna prove it to everyone by heading back in three days. How do you like them apples?”

And so, to continue the scene, the resurrection is when Jesus punches Satan in the face, beats him down in his own front yard, steps over his body and goes into the house to grab all the folks out of the basement and bring them to safety―do you want to come along? Or, do you want to stay in the bad man’s house?

It isn’t surprising that Jesus paints His victory in violent terms, because “[t]he reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil,” (1 John 3:8).

Exhortation―Victory in Jesus!

Jesus’ death and resurrection is like a fishhook[19] with Christ as the bait. He dangles there, tantalizing, irresistible. Satan gobbles Him down and is poisoned. He vomits up everything he has. Then he perishes; dead because of his own pride.

Or, you could think of it like a mousetrap.[20] Satan goes for the tasty Tillamook sharp cheddar cheese. The trap snaps, breaking his neck. His power over his slaves is gone. He knows about the trap, knows it’s dangerous, but thought he could beat it. And so he dies like a fool.

Jesus pays the ransom with His life, then takes it right back once He locks away the kidnapper. “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again,” (John 10:17-18).

He picks up the ransom bag from beside the mousetrap where Satan dropped it. “Thanks for watching this for me, I’ll take it back now!” Satan’s legs are still spasming as Jesus walks away, bag in hand.

This is the truth. The hook, barb, or poison dart that death uses to sting every one of us is sin (1 Corinthians 15:56)―which is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). We commit divine crimes by breaking God’s law, and sin’s power is that it brings death. It accuses us, “Look what you’ve done! This means death is coming for you pal, ‘cuz it means you belong to me,” (1 Corinthians 15:56) But, as the Apostle Paul says, “thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (1 Corinthians 15:57).

The resurrection is Jesus’ battle cry of victory, and it’s supposed to be ours, too. A victory over evil. A victory over the Accuser. A victory over everything that’s so wrong in this world. Satan ain’t dead yet, but he’s that mouse, choking with a broken neck in that trap. Kicking his legs and fading out. He’s the fish caught on the hook, gasping in the bottom of the boat. Growing weak, dying.

And so, in light of this, Jesus says to you and I, “Come with me if you want to live!”[21] Have you done this? Pledged allegiance to Him? His victory is why we have hope! Come to Jesus and take the victory He’s won for you.


[1] See also the Didache 1.1: “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between these two ways,” (The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd ed., trans. J.B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer, revised by Michael Holmes (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989), p. 149).

[2] Claudio Saunt, Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory (New York: Norton, 2020), p. xvi.

[3] Duke Kwon and Gregory Thompson, Reparations: A Christian Call for Repentance and Repair (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2021), pp. 117-118 (esp. fn. 57).

[4] The word group is λύτρον, ἀντίλυτρον, ἀπολύτρωσις, λυτρόω, λύτρωσις, λυτρωτής.

[5] Alistair McGrath summed up three implications that go with “ransom” idea from the New Testament scriptures; (1) liberation or rescue, (2) a payment, and (3) someone to whom the ransom is paid (Christian Theology: An Introduction, 3rd ed. (Malden: Blackwell, 2001), p. 415).

[6] “For being free from debt, He gave Himself up to that most cruel creditor, and suffered the hands of the Jews to be the devil’s agents in torturing his spotless flesh. Which flesh he willed to be subject to death, even up to His speedy resurrection, to this end, that believers in Him might find neither persecution intolerable, nor death terrible, by the remembrance that there was no more doubt about their sharing His glory than there was about His sharing their nature,” (Leo the Great, “Sermon 72,” in NPNF 2.7, pp. 184-185). Emphasis mine.

[7] The genitive in μεσίτης θεοῦ καὶ ἀνθρώπων is a genitive of space.

[8] Lest anyone think I’m being blasphemous, you’ll see “payoff” as a suggested synonym for the noun “ransom” in the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford, 2012), p. 723, and the Oxford definition for the noun “ransom” is in line with the Greek lexicons I’ve cited, above (see New Oxford American Dictionary, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford, 2011), s.v. “ransom,” n., p. 1445).

[9] I take the preposition ὑπὲρ to be expressing benefaction.

[10] I believe the conjunction καὶ expresses contrast (cf. NEB, REB), but the point is made even with a translation of “and.”

[11] The relevant word here (ὃς ἐρρύσατο ἡμᾶς ἐκ τῆς ἐξουσίας τοῦ σκότους) means “to rescue from danger,” (Louw-Nida, 21.23; cf. BDAG (907)). I’d render it as “… who rescued us from the power of darkness.”

[12] This objection is common. Representative examples are James Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, in PNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), p. 328, and Friedrich Büchsel and Otto Procksch: “It is by no means commensurate with Jesus’ powerful concept of God that the many should have to be rescued from bondage to Satan. This concept demands that they be liberated from indebtedness to God,” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), s.v. “Λύτρον,” B.4, p. 344).

R.C.H. Lenski objects that the offering cannot be to Satan, because Jesus said He committed His spirit into the Father’s hands; Lk 23:46 (Interpretation of Mark’s Gospel (Columbus: Wartburg, 1946), p. 465). However, this citation from Ps 31:5 is simply an expression of absolute trust. As the representative man, Jesus trusts the Father completely. And, Jesus surely knows the whole plan (cf. Jn 10:18). Lenski’s objection does not stand.

[13] On the fairness and justice of this subterfuge, see Gregory of Nyssa, “The Great Catechism,” ch. 26, in NPNF 2.5 (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1893), pp. 495-496.

[14] Gregory of Nyssa (“Catechism,” ch. 24, in NPNF 2.5, p. 494) and John of Damascus, “An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith,” §3.1, in NPNF 2.9 (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1899), p. 45).

[15] This is likely a deliberately vague reference to both human and demonic “rulers.” David Garland blithely dismisses this understanding at 1 Cor 2:6 based on the phrase’s usage in the NT, and remarks it only refers to Satan when it’s in the singular (1 Corinthians, in BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), pp. 93-94). This is an unpersuasive analysis―the context can suggest either. C.K. Barrett is correct to see spiritual forces (The First Epistle to the Corinthians (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), p. 72).

[16] “He overcomes evil, not by an almighty fiat, but by putting in something of His own, through a Divine self-oblation,” (Gustaf Aulén, Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement, trans. A.G. Herbert (London: SPCK, 1931; reprint, Crossreach, 2016, Kindle ed.), p. 43.

[17] “The background of the Latin theory may truly be called legal; but in the Fathers the essential idea which the legal language is intended to express is that God’s dealings even with the powers of evil have the character of ‘fair play,’” (Aulen, Christus Victor, p. 43).

[18] The Christus Victor model stumbles badly here because it can’t articulate how, exactly, Jesus’ death and resurrection wins victory for His people. It can’t describe the mechanics of this victory. It has no concept of substitution, of satisfaction, of justice. Chrysostom’s attempts to explain fall flat (John Chrysostom, “Homilies on the Gospel of St. John,” Jn 12:31, in NPNF 1.14 (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), p. 249). This is where the penal substitution model excels. It’s necessary to cross-pollinate the two models. I realize my brief sketch here has some logical holes, but I think it’s faithful to the best aspects of both models.

[19] This is from Gregory of Nyssa (“Catechism,” ch. 24, NPNF 2.5, p. 494) and John of Damascus (“Orthodox Faith,” §3.27, NPNF 2.9, p. 72).   

[20] Augustine, “Sermon 261.” Excerpt from Alister McGrath, The Christian Theology Reader, §5.10, 3rd ed. (Malden: Blackwell, 2007), pp. 352-353.

[21] I know I’m channeling Reece from “The Terminator,” but if it works, it works …

Jesus’ Prophesy

This is my sermon from this past Sunday, from Mark 10:32-34. In this passage, Mark shows us the third time Jesus prophesies about the manner of His own death. To appreciate this prophesy, we look at what Jesus’ favorite title “Son of Man” means, and what it means in light of the prophesy of His own betrayal, execution and resurrection. Finally, we consider the comfort that fulfilled prophesy gives Christians as we consider promises that have yet to be fulfilled.

For the downloadable audio and sermon notes, see the sermon on the Sleater Kinney Road Baptist website. This sermon is part of a larger series on the Gospel of Mark.

Who is Jesus? A Bible Study

helpStudying bible doctrine can be hard. There are two approaches a bible teacher can take here.

He can do this in a systematic way, where he explains the doctrine using passages or verses from all over the Bible to present a comprehensive, thorough look at what the Scripture has to say about a particular issue. The difficulty here is that you can’t “see” the doctrine in one particular place, because you’ve been skipping around so much.

He can also teach a doctrine from one major passage, and perhaps a few more, too. But, the teacher will usually spend his time working through a major passage, allowing the students to “see it” with their own eyes as they discuss the passage, bit by bit. The downside is that not every passage will have everything “important” in it; there are always more passages to turn to!

In response to a great question from a church member (hi, Laura!), I decided to post a series of questions about Christ from Hebrews 1. This list isn’t comprehensive, and I could have thought of more. But, it’s a good start! I also decided to start by providing a very brief discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity, to get us off on the right foot.

Ciao. Enjoy …

A moment with the trinity

Here is a short, orthodox definition of God, from the 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith (Article 2):

We believe that there is one, and only one, living and true God, an infinite, intelligent Spirit, whose name is JEHOVAH, the Maker and Supreme Ruler of heaven and earth; inexpressibly glorious in holiness, and worthy of all possible honor, confidence, and love; that in the unity of the Godhead there are three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; equal in every divine perfection, and executing distinct and harmonious offices in the great work of redemption.

This definition tells us a whole bunch of things:

  1. There is one true God, He’s alive today, and He’s infinite in power and greatness.
  2. He is a Spirit, which means He has no inherent bodily form.
  3. His name, according to the Hebrew spelling, is Jehovah. In more modern times, we know this should actually be pronounced YAHWEH (“yaw-whey”)
  4. God made and rules over all creation
  5. God is indescribably holy
  6. God deserves all possible honor, confidence and love
  7. This one God has always consisted of three Divine people; Father, Son and Spirit.
  8. Each Person is co-eternal (i.e. been around forever) and co-equal to each other.
  9. Each person acts in unity with the other (“unity of the Godhead”), which means all three Divine People act together to accomplish everything. There is never a time when the Son acts, and the Father and Spirit take a rest on the front porch for a while. They act together.
  10. God chose to highlight different roles for each Person in Scripture, so we’d see and understand each Person taking a “starring part” in a different role, so we’d understand that He’s triune (i.e. Father, Son and Spirit). By highlighting one Person’s activity in an action more than the other two, God shows us His triune nature.

Questions, questions!

Here are some questions to consider from Hebrews 1-2:

In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world (Heb 1:1-2).

 

Jesus is God’s Son (Heb 1:2). What does that mean?

A psalmist also mentioned God’s son, in Psalm 2. What is that Psalm about? What does God’s Son do, in that psalm? Who is He king over? What kind of power will he have? Is this son, in Psalm 2, the same or different than God? Why do you think God quoted Psalm 2 at Jesus’ baptism (Mk 1:9-11), and called Jesus His Son? Why do you think God did the same thing, again, later in Jesus’ ministry (Mk 9:2-8)?

What does it mean, in Hebrews 1:2, when the Bible tells us God appointed Jesus “heir of all things?” What is an heir? What does that mean for Jesus? What are “all things?”

Who created the world (Heb 1:2)? Doesn’t the Book of Genesis say God created the world? Read Psalm 33:6-7, and especially Job 38-39. Why, in light of these passages, does it say that God (one Person) used His Son (a second Person) to create the world?

He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has obtained is more excellent than theirs (Heb 1:3-4).

What does it mean that the Son “reflects the glory of God” (Heb 1:3)? The KJV says He is “the brightness of His glory.” What does this mean? Can a created being ever perfectly reflect God’s glory?

If Jesus reflects God’s glory, then is He somehow distinct from God? After all, you can’t reflect your own glory; someone else has to reflect it, right?

What does it mean that the Son “bears the very stamp of His [i.e. God’s] nature,” (Heb 1:3)? The KJV says the Son is “the express image of His person.” What does this mean? Can a created being really have an identical nature, and bear the very stamp of God’s nature? What does this tell us about who Jesus is? Is He divine, or created?

The Son is, right now (present-tense) “upholding the universe by His word of power,” (Heb 1:3). What does this mean? Doesn’t the Bible say that Jehovah, God Almighty, created and controls the world, even now (read Psalm 33:6-7, and especially Job 38-39)? What does this tell us about Jesus, and the doctrine of the Trinity?

What does it mean that the Son “made purification from sins” (Heb 1:3)? How did He do that?

What does it tell you about Jesus that He “sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high” (Heb 1:3)?

A Psalmist used a similar phrase (i.e. sitting at God’s right hand) in Psalm 110; what is that psalm about? Who is the LORD who speaks to David’s Lord, who’s sitting at His right hand? What does the LORD send His Lord to do? Why do you think Jesus asked the same question (Mk 12:35-37)?

Why is the Son “much superior” to the angels (Heb 1:4)? If angels are God’s highest created beings, then what does this (and everything we’ve asked) tell us about who Jesus is?

For to what angel did God ever say,

“Thou art my Son,
today I have begotten thee”?

Or again,

“I will be to him a father,
and he shall be to me a son”?

And again, when he brings the first-born into the world, he says,

“Let all God’s angels worship him.” (Heb 1:5-6)

Did God ever call an angel His Son (Heb 1:5; see Psalm 2:7)? Why do you think the writer of the Book of Hebrews is making this comparison? What does he want you to “get” about Jesus?

Did God ever promise to make an angel His son, and to be a Father to an angel (Heb 1:5; see 2 Samuel 7:14)? Why do you think the writer of the Book of Hebrews is making this comparison? What does he want you to “get” about Jesus?

Of the angels he says,

“Who makes his angels winds,
and his servants flames of fire.”

But of the Son he says,

“Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever,
the righteous scepter is the scepter of thy kingdom.
Thou hast loved righteousness and hated lawlessness;
therefore God, thy God, has anointed thee
with the oil of gladness beyond thy comrades,” (Heb 1:7-9).

God calls His angels servants (Heb 1:7; see Psalm 104:4) but, the writer of Hebrews says, compare this to when a Psalmist wrote a song that called the Israelite king “God,” (Heb 1:8; see Psalm 45:6-7). This king’s throne endures forever, He’ll have a kingdom to rule over, and He loves righteousness and hates lawlessness (Heb 1:8-9). Why do you think the writer of the Book of Hebrews is making this comparison? What does he want you to “get” about Jesus? He’s the Israelite King they’d been waiting for (see Mk 11:7-10). So, what does it mean that the writer of Hebrews called the king from Psalm 45 “God?”

And,

“Thou, Lord, didst found the earth in the beginning,
and the heavens are the work of thy hands;
they will perish, but thou remainest;
they will all grow old like a garment,
like a mantle thou wilt roll them up,
and they will be changed.
But thou art the same,
and thy years will never end.”

But to what angel has he ever said,

“Sit at my right hand,
till I make thy enemies
a stool for thy feet”? (Heb 1:10-13).

The writer of Hebrews also wants you to know that a Psalmist was also talking about God’s Son when he wrote that God made the earth and the heavens, that God will last longer than both of them, and that God is eternal (Heb 1:10-12; see Psalm 102:25-27). The Psalmist said God did this, but the writer to Hebrews says this was actually talking about God’s Son! Likewise, the Book of Genesis says God created the heavens and the earth, but the writer of Hebrews says God actually did that through His Son (Heb 1:2).

It’s important you know the New Testament further clarifies things the Old Testament says. God did create everything, in the triune sense that all three People participated in creation, but the writer wants to highlight the Son’s particular role in that drama. But, when compared to this, what angel did God ever tell to “sit at my right hand, till I make thy enemies a stool for thy feet” (Heb 1:13)? Why do you think the writer of the Book of Hebrews is making this comparison? What does he want you to “get” about Jesus?

Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation (Heb 1:14)?

What does the Bible say angels do, in Hebrews 1:14? Is that what Jesus does, or does He have a much bigger role?

Finis

There are other good bible passages to turn to about Jesus. But, this is a good one to start with. I hope you find it useful.

The Most Boring Sermon Ever – Jesus and the Burnt Offering

You haven’t read the Book of Leviticus lately … have you? Don’t be shy; I understand! This is a confusing and mysterious book to many Christians, but it doesn’t have to be. The book is about the moral, ceremonial and civil laws that God’s people had to follow under the Old Covenant. It’s full of lots of details, and lots and lots of blood.

Lots of blood.

It may not be a spell-binding page-turner of a book, but it’s one of best resources God gave us for understanding who His Son is. When we compare the elaborate sacrificial rituals from the Book of Leviticus to what Christ did for sinners once for all, we see a beautiful object lesson. That’s what the sacrificial system is; God’s object lesson to prepare His people to understand and accept the need for a final, perfect atonement for sin and rebellion.

That’s what I preached about this past Sunday morning; how “Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God,” (1 Pet 3:18).

Here’s the sermon (below):

For reference, here’s the graphic I referenced throughout the sermon, which depicts the Old Covenant tabernacle, as described in the Book of Exodus:

tabernacle

My Translation of Micah 5:1-3

The prophet Micah wrote a wonderful prophesy about Jesus Christ, the One who would come forth for God to be the ruler par excellence in Israel. I’ve spent some time translating the passage from the Septuagint; the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures which Jesus and the early Christian used. I plan to write a bit about this passage soon. For now, I’ll just leave you with the translation.

There are some differences from the English translation in your Bibles, because they’re translated from Hebrew, not Greek. The verse numbers from the Septuagint are also different, sometimes. This is one of those times. In your English Bibles, this passage will be Micah 5:2-4. Here, it’s Micah 5:1-3:

Micah 5(1-3)You can find more of my pitiful translations from the New Testament, the Septuagint and an ancient creed or two here.

Leviticus . . . and the Burnt Offering

lev 1(4)The Book of Leviticus is a strange place for many Christians. They usually avoid it. It’s strange, they think. Weird. Isn’t all that Old Testament stuff over and done with, anyway? Well, as they say, “it’s complicated.”

I’m starting a short audio teaching series through the Book of Leviticus, chapter by chapter. Every teaching lesson will be stored here.

This is the first installment, on (of course) Chapter 1 – which covers the burnt offering. I know you’re excited to hear all about it. I can tell. Take a listen; hopefully this series will be a help to you – it was to me as I studied for it!

The Blessed Man and the Gospel

Because I’ve been too busy to write much lately, I thought I’d make a short video, instead! I recently spoke to a group of young boys at our local Trail Life USA troop. I spoke briefly, but was able to share the Gospel from Psalm 32. In this video, I offer some important thoughts about King David’s words, and why they matter for you today:

The Heavenly Chorus (Revelation 5:9-10)

Revelation 59 [widescreen].pngThe Book of Revelation gives God’s people some very precious glimpses into His heavenly throne room. The Book of Hebrews tells us all the rituals, furniture and setup for the holy place in the tabernacle in the wilderness and, later, King Solomon’s temple was just a figure, a representation of the real throne room (ἀντίτυπα τῶν ἀληθινῶν) in heaven (Hebrews 9:24; cf. Exodus 25:40, 26:30, 27:8, etc.). Throughout Revelation 4-5, God gave us a look at His real throne room.

The scene opens on the Apostle John being granted a vision of supreme importance; a vision so vital that God chose to have Him write it all down in a book which is preserved in your Bibles even today. John saw a scroll in God’s hand. The scroll had writing on both sides, and was sealed with seven seals. A mighty angel proclaims with a loud voice,

 . . . who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon. And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon (Revelation 5:2b-4).

But, all was not lost. A man enters the throne room. One of the 24 elders motions to John and says,

Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof (Revelation 5:5).

These allusions probably seem strange and bizarre to a non-believer, or to a Christian who ignores the Old Covenant books. These are deliberate allusions, freighted with all sorts of Messianic and triumphant implications. The man is Christ Jesus. He is the “lion” who sprang from the Jewish tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:9ff). He is the “root” descended from King David’s father, Jesse (Isaiah 11:1ff). This is the risen Christ who has been continually interceding for His people since He returned to His Father’s house in the days after his resurrection (Acts 1:9ff). This is the Savior of whom John the Baptist declared, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

This is the crucified, resurrected, co-equal and co-eternal Son of God who came to give His life a ransom for many (cf. Mk 10:45). John the Baptist continued, “This is he of whom I said, ‘After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me,'” (John 1:30). Jesus is greater than John, because he existed before John. And yet, John the Baptist is several months older than his cousin, Jesus! How can John be younger, then? It is because Jesus is the co-equal, co-eternal Son of God . . .

whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:2b-3).

This is who has strode into God’s throne room. This is why the Apostle John need not dispair. Someone worthy has been found to open the seven-sealed scroll and unleash the terrible but righteous judgments of God upon a rebellious and wicked world (cf. Gen 6:5).

But, why is Jesus Christ so particularly worthy? The 24 elders are angelic beings and are perfectly holy – why can’t they open the scroll? What about the four living beings who are also before God’s throne? Are they tainted in some way? Our passage tells us why only Jesus is worthy:

Then he came and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne, and when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders threw themselves to the ground before the Lamb. Each of them had a harp and golden bowls full of incense (which are the prayers of the saints) (Revelation 5:7-8).

Pay attention to what these angelic beings say, to what they sing in praise and worship to Jesus Christ. Here it is, in my own translation (detailed translation notes are available here):

and they were singing a new song, saying, ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slaughtered, and by your own blood you bought for God [people] from every tribe, language, people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests for our God, and they will rule on the earth’ (Revelation 5:9-10).

First, they make a simple statement – “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals.” Only Messiah, the Anointed and Chosen Son of God, can perform this task. Why? How is He uniquely qualified? There are several reasons:

1. because you were slaughtered

He was murdered, slain and slaughtered like a sacrificial animal. He died to take away the sins of the world. More than that, He did it willingly and voluntarily. He wasn’t checkmated into it. He wasn’t cornered and out-manauvered. He didn’t struggle valiently and die fighting. He deliberately, passively and meekly allowed His enemies to destroy Him (cf. John 14:28-31). He let Himself be slaughtered. What do you think about that?

2. and by your own blood

We observe the Lord’s Supper because of Jesus’ shed blood, which is a synonym for His death. It is through His death, by means of that death, that Jesus Christ perfectly saves men, women, boys and girls on this earth from slavery to the kingdom of darkness and transfers them to His own kingdom (Colossians 1:13). His death is the instrument which accomplishes this miracle.

3. you bought for God [people] from every tribe, language, people and nation

Jesus’ death has purchased people for God from everywhere on earth. This purchasing was done in the past, when He died. It happened in the past. From God’s perspective, all His chosen people from all over the world already are saved. It’s so certain and sure that He regards it as a done deal. The angelic beings in God’s heavenly throne room sing about it as an accomplished fact. Jesus is not buying; He bought. Jesus did not die intending to save every single person in the world. Everybody is born hating God (Romans 3:18). Everybody is born inherently worthless to Him (Romans 3:12). Many people continue to hate Him until their dying day, or cloak their hatred in a noxious shroud of good works intended to bribe the Lord and “earn” His favor, as if such a thing were even possible (cf. Galatians 2:21). Jesus died to save His chosen people, and those chosen people are from every tribe, language, people-group and nation in the entire world. The Gospel isn’t restricted by racial divide, the highest mountainpeaks, the lowest valleys, the most treacherous waters or the most bigoted, sinful and hateful prejudices of sinful men. It is intended for all people, and among all people, Christ has already purchased His own for God!

4. and you have made them a kingdom and priests for our God

God’s people want to serve Him. Christ is building His kingdom, which is not here yet. His people are priests in the sense that they have direct and personal access to Him which outsiders do not have. If you do not have salvation through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, then you do not have God (1 John 2:23). You have no access to Him. He is actively angry with you. You reject Him and His Son. You hate Him. You are a criminal in His world. His people, however, make God known to those who hate Him. They tell others about God and His dear Son, Jesus Christ. They mediate the Lord to a pagan world. They don’t offer up literal sacrifices, they offer up their own selves as spiritual sacrificies to Him for His work (Romans 12:1f, 1 Peter 2:5). They regard themselves as slaves for His sovereign, holy and appropriate use. And, again, this is presented as an accomplished fact, a done deal, a past event with ongoing results.

5. and they will rule on the earth.

God’s people will rule with Him in eternity. God’s enemies will suffer for all eternity.

Jesus Christ is worthy because of what He did. He died to save sinners. When this scene takes place, the world has definitively rejected Him and the Good News He suffered and bled and died to bring to people. The world deserves judgment. He and His Father are the Ones the world is rejecting. It is only fitting that the “Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world” be the One who unleashes His Father’s righteous judgment on the very world which rejected Him and has “no cloak for their sin,” (John 15:22).

Jonah . . . the Missionary?

This is the beginning of a short little series on the Book of Jonah. Enjoy!

—————————————————–

All people know about Jonah is that he was swallowed by a giant fish! That’s all most Christians remember about this wonderful little book. The truth is the Book of Jonah isn’t a Sunday School lesson, but a real account of a real event that has real meaning for your life

 JONAH RUNS (1:1-3):

 

1 Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,
2 Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.

 

Jonah is commanded to go and preach to the people in Nineveh because of their wickedness. God hasn’t just found out about their wickedness. It’s just gotten so bad that He’s decided to take some drastic action. Nineveh is in Assyria, and if you know the Old Testament, you know that the northern kingdom of Israel isn’t exactly friends with Assyria!

God gives an immediate command, “Arise, go to Nineveh!” In other words, “Go, right now!” It’s also a pretty big undertaking – over 500 miles overland! This is more than a car-trip!

Jonah 1 (1-3)
See the distance Jonah had to travel, from Israel all the way overland to Nineveh?

 

Before we move on, I want you to think about how strange of a command this is in the Old Testament. We see calls for repentance all the time in the prophets – for Israel, though. Where else do we see a prophet sent directly to a pagan nation to preach to them about their wickedness in particular? Nowhere else! So, this raises the question – what kind of missions work was done in the Old Testament?

 Missions Work in the Old Testament:

Here are some good questions to ponder, and if these questions have never occurred to you, then do some thinking on it now:

  • Why don’t we see a “great commission” in the OT?
  • Why weren’t the Israelites told to go make disciples of all nations, and bring them to Jerusalem to worship the One true God?
  • Why don’t we have maps telling about Old Testament missionary journeys in the back of our Bibles?
  • Did God have no message of salvation for the rest of the world?

I want to start by reminding you that God has worked with mankind in different ways, at different times. Before God chose Israel, He worked with all of mankind individually. After God chose Israel, He worked with all of mankind through Israel

Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3).

God makes a whole lot of promises, but one of them is that the vehicle of blessing for all the other nations will be Israel:

“In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai. For they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the desert of Sinai, and had pitched in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mount. And Moses went up unto God, and the LORD called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel” (Exodus 19:1-6).

What in the world was God talking about here? What does it mean to be a kingdom of priests? What does a priest do? A priest represents God to the rest of the people – He’s a go-between. So, to go back to the missions question – what were the Israelites supposed to do to fulfill this responsibility of being a kingdom of priests, or a corporate go-between for God and the pagan nations?[1]

  • Option #1: Go out, preach the Gospel, and make disciples!
  • Option #2: Live holy lives, follow God’s law with a true heart and let unbelievers gradually flow to them, slowly but surely?

Don’t worry about what scholars say, or what your study Bible notes say – what do you think? I take option #2. If Israel had lived as a holy people, God would have continued what began under Solomon. After all, some great things happened under Solomon. Israel came closer than ever before to realizing the covenant blessings that God had promised for obedience. The temple was built and God did dwell inside it. Solomon was a godly king who only asked for the wisdom to rule right (see 1 Kings 10:1-9).

And there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom (1 Kings 4:34).

And king Solomon passed all the kings of the earth in riches and wisdom. And all the kings of the earth sought the presence of Solomon, to hear his wisdom, that God had put in his heart (2 Chronicles 9:22-23).

This sounds like a good start, doesn’t it? So, what happened to this seemingly unstoppable roller-coaster ride to greatness and God’s blessing? The Bible tells us:

But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites; Of the nations concerning which the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart (1 Kings 11:1-3).

Sin is what happened. That’s why we need Christ –  the perfect King who will succeed where even good men like Solomon failed.

 

3 But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.

 

So far, so good – Jonah is commanded to go preach to the heathen Assyrians in Nineveh. But, he doesn’t like that idea, so he heads off to Joppa and books passage[2] on a ship bound for Tarshish. Nobody is quite sure where Tarshish was – but the smart money says the southwest coast of Spain[3].

 Why is Jonah Running?

So, why is Jonah fleeing? What in the world does he hope to accomplish?

  • Option #1 – Jonah thinks he can hide from God, and God won’t be able to find him[4]
  • Option #2 – Jonah just wants to get away, wash his hands of the whole business and have God find someone else for the job[5]

I go with option #2. Jonah hates the Assyrians and doesn’t want anything to do with them. He’s so sick at heart and outraged that God’s mercy and forgiveness is being offered to them, that he’s willing to run from God!

Think about how drastic of a move this is! He’s dropping everything, leaving his home, family, friends, possessions – everything! He books last-minute passage on a ship bound for the ends of the earth (not literally, but you know what I mean!) – this must have cost a whole lot of money! He has no baggage, probably not much money and no plans.

He used a ship; today we’d use a plane. If I were in Jonah’s position today, and wanted to run far, far away, long-distance destinations available from O’Hare airport today are Beijing, Berlin, Tokyo and Zurich. I’d personally choose Zurich. There’s a flight leaving on tomorrow, for only $1,000! I could pay for the flight, and survive for a few weeks on just the credit card, but I’d have to figure something out very quickly:

  • Where would I live?
  • How would I earn money?
  • Where will I buy clothes?
  • How will I afford food

Jonah is doing something very drastic – and his situation would be more dire than mine! He’s so opposed to the very idea of the Gospel[6] going to the Assyrians that He’d willing to do all this!

Why Didn’t Jonah Want To Go?

He didn’t want to go because the Assyrians were not nice people! They were the dominant empire in the entire Middle East – Babylon would come next. Archeologists and historians have discovered evidence of several massive military battles in Israel from 853 – 845 B.C. During that period, Israel, Judah and a bunch of other countries apparently joined together to defend themselves against the Assyrians[7]. The Judean King, Jehu, is shown cowering down and kissing the Assyrian King’s feet in this picture, below:

jonah

In Jonah’s day, Assyria is in the middle of a roughly 75 year (823-744 B.C.)[8] slump. They’re not doing so well anymore and are fighting amongst themselves. Meanwhile in Israel, Jeroboam II has come to power. Israel is expanding northwards and gaining territory. The economy is booming. Jonah and Hosea are from the same approximate generation.

But, Assyria is still out there, still dangerous and still a threat to Israel. They’re a serious danger to Israel – that means they’re a serious danger to Jonah. I want you to picture the absolute last kind of foreigner you’d want to share the Gospel with as an American – who would it be?

  • The five Taliban members who were just released in trade for SSG Bowe Bergdahl?
  • The 9/11 hijackers?
  • Osama bin Laden?
  • ISIS?

How would you like to leave behind your family, friends and your home to preach the Gospel to these folks? Not many Christians would be too eager to sign up for that trip? Yet, that’s what Jonah was told to do; and he didn’t like it!

There is a new book out about a Lutheran chaplain during World War II named Harry Gerecke. He served two years in England and then in Europe with the Army. He was preparing to ship back home in the summer of 1945, but was asked to stay and be a Chaplain to the German war-criminals during the Nuremberg Trials. He had watched soldiers blown up, shot and killed by Germans for two years. Now, he was being asked to delay his return home and preach the Gospel to the captured Nazi leaders, many of whom had committed horrible atrocities!

What would he do? What would you do? He stayed 1.5 years extra and reported that four men were saved![9] Put yourself in Jonah’s position, and don’t condemn him too easily. What he did was wrong, of course – but what would you do if God told you to travel to Syria and preach the Gospel to ISIS militants?

WHY DID GOD SEND JONAH TO NINEVEH?

I won’t answer that question until we reach the end of the book! But, what can we learn about God from the very beginning of this little book? God saves people from every tribe, tongue and nation.

The Gospel isn’t an American thing and it wasn’t an Israelite thing – God’s vision has always encompassed more than that. Israel wasn’t supposed to sit still and look pretty because she was chosen (“elect”) by God to be His holy people – she was supposed to:

  1. live the right way
  2. follow His law out of a pure heart, and
  3. draw other nations to Him by her own example!

The Gospel gets shared with everybody, even if we don’t like them.

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[1] This is indeed the crux of the issue! Perhaps the most accessible advocate for the idea that Israelites were supposed to be active missionaries to the pagan world is Walter J. Kaiser. He asks, “[i]t is at this point that the thesis of this book participates in issues that are hotly debated today: Did this ‘kingdom of priests’ serve Israel alone or the entire world? Were they to be active or merely passive witnesses,” (Mission in the Old Testament: Israel as a Light to the Nations, 2nd ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012], xiii). Kaiser goes on to insist, “[t]he fact remains that the goal of the Old Testament was to see both Jews and Gentiles come to a saving knowledge of the Messiah who was to come. Anything less than this goal was a misunderstanding and an attenuation of the plan of God. God’s eternal plan was to provide salvation for all peoples; it was never intended to be reserved for one special group, such as the Jews, even as an initial offer!” (Ibid, xiv). Kaiser states the issue well, but his opponents do not suggest that Israel was supposed to be an elitist, snobbish society. Nor do they suggest that Israel did not fail in her adherence to the Mosaic Covenant. They merely disagree over the nature of her missions mandate – was it passive or active?

Over against Kaiser’s model is the idea that Israel’s “missions mandate,” such as it was, was basically passive. This position believes that the great ingathering of Gentiles is an eschatological one, for the latter days. This position is well represented by Andreas J. Kostenberger and Peter T. O’Brien, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission (Downer’s Grove, IL : IVP, 2001), 25-53. At this point, one’s theological stripes will be revealed – will this ingathering take place when Jesus rules and reigns from a literal Jerusalem over a literally restored Israel (dispensationalist), or is this ingathering taking place right now as the spiritual kingdom of Christ reigns in the hearts of the elect (covenantalist)?

I hold to the second option, advocated by Kostenberger and O’Brien, that Israel’s missions mandate was very real, but basically very passive (Jonah being an obvious exception). I am a dispensationalist, so I believe the great eschatological ingathering of Gentiles will take place when Israel is restored, and Christ rules and reigns as her King in Jerusalem in the Millennium (see, for example, Isa 61).

[2] There is some debate about whether Jonah chartered the entire vessel, or whether he merely booked passage as a passenger to Tarshish, where the ship had already been headed. The Scripture itself provides the answer; v.5 tells us that the frightened sailors tossed the wares they were carrying overboard. Evidently the ship was engaged in trade and already bound for Tarshish; Jonah merely slipped on-board after negotiating the fare. If Jonah had chartered the entire vessel outright, they wouldn’t have gone through the trouble of loading wares for later sale in Tarshish. If they had tried to, there would no doubt have been a considerable delay and Jonah would have sought passage on another vessel.

[3] “Although alternatives have been suggested, south-west Spain remains the most likely location for Tarshish,” (T. Desmond Alexander, “Jonah,” in Obadiah, Jonah and Micah, vol. 26, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988], 110). John Walton suggests Tarshish need not be taken as a literal destination, but as a reference to great distance, e.g “I’m headed for Timbuktu!” doesn’t necessarily mean one is going to Mali, Africa. It could mean one just wants to get far, far away (Jonah, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 8, revised ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008], 469).

[4] No Bible believer would really believe one can literally hide from God. This is not a legitimate option!

[5] “Jonah wished to escape, not beyond the power of God, but away from the stage on which God was working out His purposes and judgments. The Christian worker anxious to avoid the full impact of modern problems should have no difficulty in understanding Jonah’s action,” (H. L. Ellison, Jonah, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 7 [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985], 369). See also Ellison’s remarks on the silliness of the first interpretive option (369). Walton remarks, “Jonah does not necessarily think that distance will put him out of range of the Lord’s reach; he may have thought his flight will simply result in the Lord’s finding someone else for the job,” (Jonah, 469).

[6] Many commentators discount the idea that Jonah was a “missionary” in the NT sense, and certainly don’t agree that Jonah preached the Gospel (according to the revelation Jonah had at the time, the Gospel entailed saving faith in God alone for justification [e.g. Gen 15:6] and loving adherence to the Mosaic Covenant as proselytes). John Walton (Jonah, 457-458, 477-485) and H.L. Ellison (Jonah, 363, 383-384) are particularly insistent on this point. The particulars will wait until we reach Jonah 3, but as for a hint of my own position, Jesus’ own words in Mt 12:41 are rather decisive on this point! But for the sake of brevity I’ll simply refer to Jonah as a “missionary” and his message as “the Gospel” and save the details for later!

[7] See A. K. Grayson, “Assyria, Assyrians” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books, ed. Bill T. Arnold and H.T.M. Williamson (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 2005), 100-102

[8] Ibid.

[9] This information is from Lyle Dorsett, “Would You Share the Gospel with Hitler’s Worst Henchmen?” ChristianityToday.com. 23MAY14. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/Ll6mmr.