Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Apostle Paul and the Kingdom of God

The kingdom of God was central to Jesus’ teaching ministry, but what about for Paul? In his letters and in his teachings in Acts, Paul demonstrates a kingdom vision that corresponds very closely to Jesus’ ideas. Here is an overview of the kingdom of God, according to Paul:

1) The kingdom is the Old Testament, Davidic kingdom, in which all of God’s promises to his people will be fulfilled through the Messiah (Rom 1:2-4; 15:12; 2 Tim 2:8; Acts 13:32-34).

2) Jesus reigns at the right hand of God, over spiritual powers and over his church (Phil 2:9-11; Eph 1:20-23; Col 1:15-18; 2:9-10).

3) Christ’s ultimate reign will be realized when he returns and rules over heaven and earth (1 Cor 15:24-28; Eph 1:9-10; 1 Tim 6:14-16; 2 Tim 4:1,18; Acts 17:31).

4) Believers have entered the kingdom already (spiritually) through God’s saving work in Christ (Col 1:12-14; see also Gal 1:3-5; 2 Thess 2:13-14).

5) Believers will enter the kingdom in full resurrected glory (physically) when Christ returns (1 Cor 15:50; Phil 3:20-21; see also 1 Thess 5:9-10; 2 Tim 2:10).

6) Believers encounter suffering on the road to their final kingdom destination (2 Cor 4:17-18; Rom 8:17-18; 2 Thess 1:5; 2 Tim 2:12; Acts 14:21-22).

7) Believers are called to live according to the values of the kingdom by embracing what is good (Rom 14:17; 1 Thess 2:12; Titus 2:11-14).

8) Believers are called to live according to the values of the kingdom by rejecting what is evil (1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:5).

9) The kingdom of God was a major preaching topic and ministry goal for Paul (Col 4:11; Acts 19:8; 20:25; 28:23,31).

We could also add Paul’s teaching on judgment (on those who oppose God’s kingdom, bringing vindication for God’s servants) and the church (as a “lab” in which kingdom priorities and relationships of peace and reconciliation are lived out).

Paul probably joined other early believers in praying “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (or the even shorter version, “Maranatha!” – “Lord, come!” – 1 Cor 16:22). Paul was a man of the kingdom and a lover of the King.

 

 

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Peter’s teaching about Jesus in Acts and 1 Peter

Peter at Capernaum

Who is Jesus, and why does he matter?

The apostle Peter delivers a similar message about Jesus in both his sermons in Acts and his teachings in 1 Peter:

1) Jesus is the promised “servant” (Acts 3:13; 3:26; 4:27; 4:30; and 1 Peter 2:22-25, which paraphrases the famous suffering servant passage of Isaiah 53) who would first suffer for the people and then be delivered by God, according to the Old Testament prophets (Acts 3:18-21; 10:39-43; 1 Peter 1:10-11)

2) Jesus was crucified, “hung on a tree,” because of the schemes of those who opposed God (Acts 5:30; 10:39), but on that “tree” he bore our sins and gave us forgiveness, according to God’s eternal plans (1 Peter 2:24; Acts 2:23; 3:19; 4:28).

3) Jesus is the fulfillment of Psalm 118:22-23 – “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone/cornerstone. The LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” This rejected Messiah who was dramatically vindicated by God is the source of salvation for all who believe (Acts 4:8-12; 1 Peter 2:4-10).

4) Jesus is risen from the dead! (Acts 2:24; 2:31-32; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 1 Peter 1:3; 1:21; 3:21). Jesus, who was opposed and crucified unjustly, has been vindicated by God in his resurrection from the dead. Believers are given new life and salvation through Jesus’ resurrection.

5) Jesus has ascended into heaven and is now seated and enthroned at the right hand of God, in fulfillment of Psalm 110:1 (Acts 2:33-36; 5:31; 1 Peter 3:22).

6) Jesus will come again in glory for his people (Acts 3:21; 1 Peter 1:7; 4:13; 5:1; 5:10) and will judge the “living and the dead” (Acts 10:42; 1 Peter 4:5).

Jesus, God’s faithful servant and the centerpiece of God’s saving plans, was crucified for our sins, was resurrected in power and victory, was exalted to the right hand of God in all authority, and will return one day as glorious savior, king, and judge. These affirmations about Jesus have been central to the faith of Christians for nearly 2000 years.

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Another Dramatic Conversion in the Early Church

Ridge outside of Nazareth, where Jesus and James grew up

The apostle Paul had the most memorable conversion experience in early Christianity (Acts 9), but James, the brother of Jesus, was not far behind.

The Gospels are uniform in how they portray the skepticism of Jesus’ brothers during Jesus’ earthly ministry. The brothers are named in Matthew 13:54-57, with James at the head of the list. At the end of John 7:2-5, after the brothers openly scoff at Jesus, John records that “even his own brothers did not believe him.” Mark 3:20-21 portrays Jesus’ family being embarrassed at Jesus’ claims and the attention he was attracting.

By the time we get to Acts though, the situation has changed completely. After Jesus ascends to heaven, when all of the believers are in Jerusalem praying and waiting for the Holy Spirit to be sent, Jesus’ brothers are right there with them (1:12-14). Later, James emerges as the leader of the mother church in Jerusalem, according to Acts 12:17 (note that James the brother of John has already been put to death by this point – Acts 12:2), Acts 15:13-21, and Acts 21:17-26. In all three passages, James is singled out above the other leaders of the Jerusalem church as being a man with authority and influence. Likewise, Paul refers to James as an apostle (Galatians 1:19) and a “pillar” (Galatians 2:9) in the early church. According to the Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities 20.9), James died as a martyr for Christ around A.D. 62.

What made the difference for James? How did he do such an about-face in his attitude towards Jesus? 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 provides the answer. After Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to the apostles and other believers. But according to verse 7, Jesus made a special resurrection appearance to James. Before Jesus’ resurrection appearance to James, nothing indicates that James believed in Jesus. But after Jesus’ resurrection appearance to James, everything indicates that James believed in Jesus, and with all his heart.

The reason James turned from a skeptic into a follower and servant (James 1:1) of Christ is the same reason that Paul did. James and Paul both saw the resurrected Jesus, and immediately, all of their opposition, doubts, and objections to Jesus as Messiah were eliminated.

What does this mean for us? If the resurrection of Jesus stands, everything else about Christianity stands with it. The real, physical resurrection of Jesus is the lynchpin of our faith as Christians. Everything else is details. If Jesus, who was crucified and buried, really did rise again in power and triumph, then I’m ready to trust in him, receive his forgiveness, and move forward as his disciple, no ifs, ands, or buts.

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Christians and Government

On the eve of elections in the United States, let’s take a brief look at how the Bible speaks about some of the responsibilities of 1) governments and 2) believers living under those governments. I won’t dive into any partisan positions on specific issues but will just try to identify some guiding principles that should shape our thinking.

Governments:

Human governments are part of the order that God established for the world (Romans 13:1-2). Governments function effectively when they are contributing to orderly societies in which people can live their lives in peace (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

Governments are expected to be able to distinguish between good and evil, so that through the creation and enforcement of laws governments can promote good and deter evil in society (Romans 13:3-4; 1 Peter 2:14). My guess is that Paul would appeal to conscience and general revelation as the basis for a government’s differentiation between good and evil (these are topics he already dealt with earlier, in Romans 1-3).

Governments are expected to advance the common good (Romans 13:4) – the government acts as “God’s servant to do you good” (NIV), or “a servant for your good” (ESV).

Takeaway – In democracies, believers should try to discern whether candidates are committed to upholding laws and justice as well as promoting the overall long-term welfare of the citizens. That is a fairly general place to start, but it is important to have this big picture in mind before analyzing the intricacies of the various positions about which the candidates disagree.

Believers:

Believers should pray for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

Believers should show respect and honor towards those in authority, and they should demonstrate this by paying their taxes (Romans 13:1, 6-7; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13, 17). Jesus says this most memorably in response to a question about paying taxes: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:15-17).

Believers should remember that our primary allegiance is to God. Every time believers confess “Jesus is Lord,” this is an affirmation of our chief obligation as believers – to be totally devoted to and obedient to Jesus as our master. Paul reminds the Roman citizens of Philippi that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). Believers are to “fear God and honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17). When allegiances between God and government seem to clash, there may even be times that believers must “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29; note how in Acts 4:19-20 Peter expresses a similar conviction in both a firm and respectful way to the authorities).

Takeaway – no matter what the outcome in the United States elections, Christians should be ready to be respectful to the leaders of our government. Let’s pray for our leaders, avoid speaking falsely about them, and be ready to pay our taxes and fulfill other duties with willingness and honesty. And let’s remember our first love – Christ – and the mission he has given us as a church. Governments change, but the work of Christ continues from generation to generation around the world.

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