Author Archive for John Thomson


the shoot from Jesse’s stump… the nations judged… and converted… isaiah chs 11- 25

I have been reading Isaiah. It’s sheer length and the vista it covers make it a difficult book to grasp. Having said that the big issues of the book are clear. Human rebellion, leads to two responses from a Holy God – judgement where there is no repentance and salvation where there is a heart of faith. In both of these Messiah – the King- Servant is central.

Although Isaiah’s focus is Israel and particularly Judah his canvas is world wide. The Holy One, has a controversy with Israel which will lead to judgement through which salvation will emerge, but he also has a controversy with the nations. They too are under his sovereignty and their sin means they must be be judged, yet once again salvation is integral to God’s plan; the nations will be judged yet they will also be converted. Messiah will accomplish both revealing the glory of God in doing so.

Reading Isaiah, as with other biblical prophecies it is often hard to distinguish between what has immediate fulfilment and what belongs to the end of history (is eschatological). Both horizons are interfused. It’s easy to get bewildered. The effect, perhaps intended, is to throw us back on dependence on the Lord… and the wisdom of others God has gifted to teach us.

Another effect the prophecy has on me, perhaps exaggerated a little by health issues, is to harrow. Scenes of judgement in the past and judgement to come are traumatic. God has revealed his plans in history and in that we rejoice. We rejoice in the salvation revealed but we see all too graphically the judgement of ungodly nations, including Israel which while a cause for rejoicing (as evil is crushed and God is extolled) also appals (Cf. Isa 24:16-18). We see too that the godly must live though many desperate events leading up to the final overthrow of evil (Cf. Isa 26:20,21). They suffer the trauma of history’s convulsions and the hostility of an ungodly world as they do so. We feel perhaps a little of what John in Revelation and others of the prophets felt as visions of the end were given to them to proclaim; what had a sweetness to the taste (God’s revelation to them) became bitter in the stomach (for it spoke of great suffering and awful judgement (Rev 10:9; Ez 3:1-3).

Those born and raised in a post-war western world have experienced an exceptional time of peace, prosperity and religious freedom. For Christians persecution and hardship belonged to times distant or lands remote and seemed unreal in our cushioned world. Also, since many of us were reared with the belief that the church would be taken to heaven before the terrifying end-time upheavals of Revelation we could view these with a certain detachment. We perhaps assumed we would live and die, or the Lord would return, without us facing persecution. It was possible to pray ‘your kingdom come’ without any thought that this ‘coming’ implied endtime trauma we must face*. All in all, the West in my lifetime has produced many Christians with little experience of suffering and a faith that mainly paid lip-service to its possibility; I am one.

The early church was born in a world more openly hostile to Christ. Persecution was common and expected. The way of the cross for them was real. Even if they were not then experiencing persecution, the expectation of Christ’s return in their lifetime implied the rise of the AntiChrist and/or the Lawless One associated persecutions; I’m assuming only one Second Coming was the apostolic teaching.

John’s Revelation was not written to inform believers of a world in which they would play no part but to prepare them for a future they must face… it is a world where God acts in judgement and salvation and in which God’s people must persevere. John is frank. He does not hide from believers that they belong to a kingdom that demands patient endurance, has already involved martyrdom and will do so again (Cf. Rev 14:12). He does not soft-pedal the suffering but reminds them that whatever happens during the final tumults of history God is still on the throne. The book of human history is in the hands of Christ, the lion of the tribe of Judah. He has conquered. He is the ruler of the kings of the earth, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead. He will keep his people through the hour of trial that was to come upon the whole earth. Believers may be martyred but they will share in his resurrection and for them the second death will have no part. They may face the hostility of men but they will not face the fury of the wrath of the lamb when he comes to judge. And he is coming soon. These and many other consolations run through the book to nerve the church in faith before Christ returns and the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ… beyond which he shall reign for ever and ever.

Such judgements and salvation Isaiah also saw.

Isaiah lived in dangerous, traumatic times. The Assyrian threat was real and menacing. Assyria was a cruel heartless enemy. Isaiah faces Israel or Judah with the stark truth that in a troubled dangerous world the only place of safety lay in a humble obedient trust in God; if they do not stand by faith they will not stand at all (Isa 7:9). The various nations that surround, some that Israel feared and others with whom they are tempted to enter alliances, are all untrustworthy and will all be judged by God. Israel’s salvation resides in trusting God alone.

However, although Isaiah spoke into events in his own time and immediately beyond (from 8th to sixth centuries B.C.), as we have noted, his prophecies reach much further into the future; they are eschatological. They describe (in chs 14-25) an ultimate day of cosmic reckoning. A day of world-wide desolation (Isa 24). God has a controversy not only with Israel and with nations impinging on Israel (Read chs 14-23) but with all nations of the earth (ch 24). And the fact that what was prophesied for the immediate future was fulfilled as prophesied should enliven faith and warn unbelief that the eschatological will also be fulfilled**.

Yet in the midst of universal calamity as a godless world faces the onslaught of the devastating day of the Lord, rejoicing can be heard. Voices are lifted in praise from ‘west’ to ‘east’ and from the ‘ends of the earth’ (Isa 24:14-16). God in the midst of a godless world has a people covering all the earth, who bring glory to the Righteous One; those for whom the day of the world’s judgement is a day of salvation. Isaiah anticipates not only that the nations are judged but that they are healed. In ch 19 we read,

19 In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the LORD at its border. 20 It will be a sign and a witness to the LORD of hosts in the land of Egypt. When they cry to the LORD because of oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and deliver them. 21 And the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the LORD in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the LORD and perform them. 22 And the LORD will strike Egypt, striking and healing, and they will return to the LORD, and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them.
23 In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Assyria will come into Egypt, and Egypt into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.
24 In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, 25 whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.

Two powerful oppressors of Israel, Egypt in the past and Assyria in her present are blessed by salvation. Gentile nations share equally with Israel (v24). Indeed, titles that belong to Israel are bestowed on them (my people… the work of my hands v25. Cf. 1:3, 45:11). It will be left to the NT to reveal what this involves in greater detail (Eph 3:6).

We who live this side of the cross see this eschatological salvation of the gentiles being realized in the gospel age… the kingdom of the future has made a bridgehead into the present age… the day yet to come has already dawned… now is the day of salvation (Isa 49:8, 2 Cor 6:2 Cf. Roms 13:12). God is presently calling out of the nations a people for himself through the ‘shoot from the stump of Jesse’. The exile gave the impression that the Davidic dynasty had died. Isaiah, however, foresees a king who will arise from the apparently dead stump. It is he, the sevenfold Spirit-filled eschatological Davidic king, who will realise, God’s purposes. Enigmatically, he is not only Jesse’s shoot but Jesse’s root (Cf. Rev 22:16… the divine-human King). He shall execute God’s judgement on the nations (11:4) and he will be their salvation too. He ‘shall stand as a signal, an ensign, to the peoples – of him shall the nations inquire… or in him shall the gentiles hope’ (Isa 11:10; Roms 15:12. Cf. Isa 2:3, 42:4, 51:5,60:1-3; Acts 15:14-19). As Isaiah’s later suffering servant he will ‘startle’ or ‘amaze’ many nations as they hear of Messiah’s suffering and learn its astonishing meaning (Isa 52,53).

In Romans 9-11, Paul rejoices that God is calling from the gentiles a people for himself. Among other OT Scriptures, he cites Isaiah, including 11:10 (a signal… in whom the gentiles trust) as prophesying the salvation of the nations through the gospel (Roms 15:8-12, 15-21). It is not sufficient to see in these citations merely a correspondence or general principle, we are intended to see fulfilment. The obedience of the gentiles that the OT anticipated in the last days is happening now through the gospel (Roms 15:18-21: Acts 15:14-19). Indeed, paradoxically, only after the salvation of the nations will Israel herself be saved… the last shall be first and the first shall be last (Roms 11).

Israel and the nations will come under judgement, terrible judgement***, but in them God is at work calling a people for himself, a people from every tribe and tongue and nation, drawn to Messiah, who will share together with converted Israel in all covenanted promises (Eph 2; Cf. Isa 14:1, 17:7). In the words of Peter, to believers, both Jew and gentile,

2:9 You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him jwho called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Isaiah sees this salvation vista in the gospel and beyond it to the final ‘ingathering’ of God’s people by Messiah. The Lord who scattered in judgement (6:11-12) now gathers in blessings (Cf. Matt 24:31, Jn 11:52).

12 He will raise a signal for the nations

and will assemble the banished of Israel,

and gather the dispersed of Judah

from the four corners of the earth.

All shall have their place in Messiah’s Kingdom which seems to have become a great mountain (Mount Zion) filling the earth, an earth where nature itself is redeemed and all is filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea (11:6-9).

Isaiah envisages (in Ch 25) the kingdom as a great messianic banquet for all nations where the shroud of death is removed (Cf. Matt 8:11, Lk 14:15-24; 1 Cor 15:54,55).

6 On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples

a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,

of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. (Cf. 24:11)

7 And he will swallow up on this mountain

the covering that is cast over all peoples,

the veil that is spread over all nations.

8 He will swallow up death forever;

and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces,

and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,

for the LORD has spoken.

As is always the case, God’s deliverance****for his people calls for a celebration song. Indeed the verses above are a song. So too is Chapter 12. Here we appear to have two songs celebrating God’s awesome deeds, particularly, though not exclusively, in salvation.

1 You will say in that day:

“I will give thanks to you, O LORD,

for though you were angry with me,

your anger turned away,that you might comfort me.

2 “Behold, God is my salvation;

I will trust, and will not be afraid;

for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song,

and he has become my salvation.”

3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. 4 And you will say in that day:

Give thanks to the LORD,

call upon his name,

make known his deeds among the peoples,

proclaim that his name is exalted.

5 “Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously;

let this be made known in all the earth.

6 Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,

for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”

*I can understand the powerful attraction of a pre-trib rapture. It removes the prospect of endtime persecution before Christ’s coming. In this respect, for those like me who have come to believe that the church will be present during history’s penultimate convulsions then Isaiah 26:20,21 is comforting.

**Just as for Israel the fulfilling of the prophecy concerning Assyria in Ch 14 was an encouragement to faith that prophecies concerning the Babylonian exile and restoration would also be fulfilled.

***The nations are devoted to destruction (Ch 34). The sins that provoke judgement in general involve idolatry, pride, and opposition to God’s people. Babylonia heads the list, the archetypal symbol of the world in its humanistic pride opposed to God and his people. (Chs 13,14). It was the nation that overthrew the reign of God by taking the throne of David and ransacking the temple, taking its treasures. It made captives of God’s people. It symbolises in its king (ch14) humanity’s arrogant and idolatrous attempt to take the place of God . As the archetypal representation of the world it is utterly destroyed… swept by the broom of destruction.

Assyria was a constant fearful threat to all, brutal and merciless, intent on exterminating God’s people. It is this opposition to God’s people and so to God that breaks her (Ch 14). Philistinia was the enemy within, the enemy in the land that rejoiced in the troubles of God’s people (Ch 14). It does recognise that only in Zion lies refuge. Moab was a distant idolatrous relative marked by pride that would bring her low (16:6). Again her only place of refuge is among the people of God where God will establish his messianic kingdom. Damascus or Syria was another enemy of Israel allied to Ephriam the apostate part of God’s people opposed to Judah and Jerusalem, the true centre of worship. Cush a distant warlike nation opposed to God and one of the many nations of the world arrayed against God’s people. Egypt, idolatrous, and with an ancient pedigree boasted in its stability, wisdom and natural resources. Babylon again appears. It is fallen. It is a desert. Its gods are shattered. Dumah or perhaps Edom, Esau’s descendants and Israel’s relatives, who elsewhere are said to gloat over Israel’s distress feeling personally secure, are likewise to face judgement. Arabia too will be judged and its glory brought low. Then comes the sting in the tale. Judah too is counted among the nations whose sins must be judged. God’s professing people are corrupt. They trusted in everything but their God (22:11). Judah which claimed vision from God was blind. Tyre, an ancient city of commerce and trade again marked by pride in its position and influence.

The nations are not masters of their own destiny, God is. Isaiah’s prophecies show this since in them the Lord declares beforehand what he will do.

**** This post focuses merely on a few things these chapters point towards. I am aware that many questions remain. In particular questions of potential eschatological geo-political scenarios. Fulfilment may be multifaceted.


human arrogance and its end

Isaiah 9:8

The Lord has sent a word against Jacob,
and it will fall on Israel;
9 and all the people will know,
Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria,
who say in pride and in arrogance of heart:
10 “The bricks have fallen,
but we will build with dressed stones;
the sycamores have been cut down,
but we will put cedars in their place.”

Upon reading this text, I was struck by how the language of human arrogance remains the same over millennia. Israel (the ten tribes to the North now separate from Judah, the two tribes to the south) are in trouble but their newscast is full of human self-sufficiency.

Whatever happens we can recover… we will survive We can stronger, better than before. We hear it from our politicians. It runs through so much of our media. Where today in the midst of Covid is a crying out to the Lord. The message is that we will conquer. We have the science, the technology…. we are able. God is unnecessary. Dead. There is no self-humbling before him. No sense that he is in control of history and all that takes place. We are the measure of all things.

Israel was about to discover that her boasts were hollow and empty. She was about to face horrific destruction and exile from which she would not recover; there would no return from exile such as happened to Judah. The tribes were effectively lost among the nations. Israel in her hubris had neither trusted the Lord nor taken him into account.

I fear for our society… for the West, for the world. To be sure Britain is not a theocracy like Israel but God holds people to account when there is no fear of God before their eyes. Britain and the West has known great great gospel privilege which many are now determined to overthrow. We are carving out a future where his universal laws are being turned on their heads.

Yet, there are still many decent people. There is still a will for justice and a compassion for the needy. Perhaps the Lord will yet stay his hand. He is long suffering and gracious. May he yet turn the tide of evil and may his Spirit come in saving power to turn hearts to himself.

For Israel, God’s patience had come to an end. Israel fell to the Assyrians because the Lord handed her over to them (9:11-21). They Assyrian became the rod of his anger and the land was scorched. (Though the Assyrian’s reasons for attack are different and culpable (Isa 10:5-19).

Yet, even for the ten tribes who vanished into the nations, it was not the end. Isaiah says concerning a day yet to come,

Isa 10:20

In that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on him who struck them, but will lean on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. 21 A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. 22 For though your people Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return.

And again,

Isaiah 27:13

And in that day a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out to the land of Egypt will come and worship the LORD on the holy mountain at Jerusalem.

There will be a day of ingathering. A day when the the One Isaiah spoke of in chapter 9… the son given shall come and gather all those who have believed in him to himself to share in his heavenly kingdom. Among that group will be many from the Northern tribes who were exiled and yet remained people of faith. Many perhaps who through the experience of exile turned to the Lord, the God of Jacob, and in faith awaited salvation.

Jesus speaks of this ingathering in Matthew 24

30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

Paul, it seems, describes this ingathering when he writes in 1 Thess 4

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Whatever the events of history we are called to live through this is the hope for people of faith… the day of ingathering.


what is the gospel?

What is the gospel?

Perhaps one of the best known (at least it once was) and most succinct summaries is a verse from the fourth gospel, the gospel of John; John chapter 3 and verse 16. It says this.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

This verse is a condensed summary of the story of the Bible. The Bible message is in a sense a story. It is not a made up story, but a true story. It is the big story of all that is… the story of God, of humanity, of Jesus, God’s Son and of destinies. Let me unpack the story a little more.

The Bible begins with God. Everything begins and ends with God. He and his activity dominate all existence. No-one and nothing is more important than God. He is before all things, above and beyond all things. He is the eternal self existing One, the only God. He is the Creator and all else is created. It is he who out of nothing created the universe. He created it to reveal his own glory and for his delight. He also created it as a fitting home for humanity, the crown of his creation. Humanity, created in his image was commissioned to rule and tend the earth on God’s behalf. Trusting him, they were to develop and enjoy all he had given. In this new pristine world everything was good… in fact very good. Everything was conducive to human happiness in God and the world he had created for them. And God looked on his creation with delight. (Read Genesis Chs 1,2)

But then catastrophe. The unthinkable happened. Adam and Eve, our first parents disobeyed God. God had lavished upon them every kind of good thing and forbidden only one thing, the fruit of one tree… and what was forbidden they began to desire. It looked good for food, it was a delight to the eyes and it promised wisdom. They were tempted and ate. Just a little act but it was no small thing. They had defied their Creator and broken his one explicit command. They had failed in the simplest test of loyalty. A new force had a foothold in creation. Sin, or evil, had entered the world. Everything was changed. (Read Genesis Ch 3)

God had warned they must not eat and if they did, disobedience would bring death. And it did. A good God could not ignore evil nor would he want to, however much he cared for those he had created. And so death, the wage of sin, entered the world. Adam and Eve, and the whole race they produced were diseased and would now die. Rebels themselves they birthed a race of rebels… a race riddled and riven with sin… and defined by death. It’s not hard to see we are all Adam’s children. A glance at history and our world today is all it takes. What is wrong with the world? Humanity is what is wrong with the world. We are what is wrong. Sin is rampant. Death reigns.

Yet, astonishingly, God still loves humanity. He loves those he made bearing his image. He loves a race who have rejected him and reveal all kinds of anti-God despicable behaviour, a lot of it, even to our own eyes, worthy death. Astonishingly, the Holy God loves bad people… not because they are bad but despite them being bad. The Bible story goes on to reveal the increase of human wickedness as human history unfolded while in parallel and contrast it reveals the determined love of God to rescue humanity from its sin and sin’s consequences. Sin has many consequences even in this life. Wrong behaviour damages us and others. But the consequence above all from which we need saved is the righteous anger and wrath of a holy and good God which our sin rightly provokes; a wrath from which in love he greatly desires to save us. (Read Romans Chs 1-3)

How will he do it? What is his rescue plan? Let me outline the very bare bones.

God began to work in history. He chose a man (Abraham) and through him a nation (Israel) to and through whom a special son was given… God’s Son. He was not simply a titular son or nominated son as others in the Bible are but God’s real ‘Son’… his ‘one and only Son’. By a miracle of divine conception, a virgin would give birth to a son who in reality is God become human. (Read Matthew Ch 1; John 1).

Now I know this is hard to get your head around. And God knows it is hard too. That is why in the Old Testament he gave indications that point to such an event and why in the gospels we are given an in depth look at Jesus, his words and actions and the miracles he did.

It is clear to even the casual reader of the gospels that Jesus was no ordinary man. He does not fit into any readily defined category. In fact, it is clear that he is in a category of one. He is unique. Those to whom he came, his own nation Israel, ought to have recognised that the things he said and the miracles he did marked him out as the promised Son. They ought to have seen how he so closely echoed what God had previously said and done in their history. His miracles were signs. They were what the expected Messiah would do, things only God could do or had done. Everything pointed to him being the One the OT promised, the One who would save Israel and indeed the world from their sins… the One who was God become man.

And so, again and again, Jesus, the promised son, called upon people to trust in him… believe in him… follow him. Many did. Many more didn’t. In fact, as you probably know, his own nation, Israel, eventually rejected him and crucified him. It was the greatest of all sins. They crucified their Messiah. They judicially murdered the Son of God. The crucifixion of Jesus strips bare the human heart for what it is. They did not want Christ, they did not want God to rule over them. But they were not alone. They did what Adam did and what every human heart naturally does… they rejected God’s rule. The human heart is so wicked it is prepared to murder its Maker. We are all Israel.

Yet, and here’s the nub, Jesus death was not a frustration of God’s plan to save the world, it was the fulfilment of it. Both the Old Testament and Jesus anticipated it. It was long prophesied and Jesus clearly spoke of it. He said he must go to Jerusalem where he would be killed. It is really what John means when he wrote, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his son’. The ‘giving’ involved above all else, giving him up to death for his death is central to God’s saving plan for humanity. God gave his one Son whom he really loved for a world by whom he was really hated. Jesus had to die if humanity was to be saved. There is much that God accomplished through Jesus death but the key point is he died as a sacrifice for sins. He was the ransom for our redemption, He paid our debt. He took the hit. He took our sentence. He absorbed the judgement our evil requires. In death, he was God’s sacrificial lamb bearing away the sin of the world. We needed an atonement. We needed a sin-bearer. We needed… we need… Jesus. (Read Isaiah 53).

Jesus death has both cosmic and personal implications.

God’s plan, the Bible story reveals, is to bring this world to an end and to create a new heavens and new earth more glorious than the first. It will be a fresh and new creation that will last forever with nothing to destroy or mar it, populated by those who believe in Jesus… those who confess they are rebels and ask for pardon. They give to Jesus, the divine King, the kiss of allegiance.

Jesus died, but if you know the Bible story you will know that his death wasn’t the end. Far from it. Death could have no lasting hold on a sinless person. It had no claim on Jesus, no right to him. And so God resurrected Jesus and in his resurrection life and body he heads a new creation. God unites to him all who believe in him. They are given eternal life, the life of Jesus… the life of God promised to all who is believe in him. When we believe, this life begins in our hearts but ultimately it will involve our bodies too and take us into God’s new creation, his everlasting Kingdom. It is a glorious hope. The defeat and destruction of all that has destroyed life here and a new universe more glorious than we can conceive where God and humanity will live together in perfect harmony. There God will be fully glorified and humanity will flourish in the enjoyment of God.

But there is a down side, a black side. What of those who will not believe in Jesus? What of those who continue to reject him, who in effect still cry… ‘away with him, crucify him’?

Our opening text implies what other verses explicitly teach; they perish. The Bible story is not a make-believe story where all live happily ever after. If there is happiness for those who bow and believe there is horror for those who defy and dismiss God’s grace and offered mercy. To ‘perish’ is not to cease to exist but to exist forever in the caverns of hell and what the Bible calls ‘the Lake of fire’. Theirs is eternal judgement, eternal torment, eternal separation from God. It is chilling and terrible. It is hard even to mention. Yet Jesus did. He warned of impending judgement for those who refused him; only in him lay salvation. There is no place in a new creation for those who do not want its Creator. There can be no salvation for those who do not want the Saviour.

This is the merest outline of the Bible story and the Christian message. So much more could be said.

It is, I recognise, an incredible story. To many today it seems implausible, even impossible. There are many reasons that could be given why it is true and books have been written developing these reasons. Here I simply want to point you again to the main reason for believing – Jesus himself. I want to urge you… look carefully at Jesus. Read what the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, reveal of him. Jesus is the truth which those who look with eyes open to see will see. The reason people do not see is not a lack of proof but because they do not want to see… seeing is just too costly. I will end by re-quoting the text with which we began and some of the words that follow. Here are Jesus’ words in John’s gospel chapter 3:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.


psalm 87… born in zion

psalm 87

1 On the holy mount stands the city he founded;
2 the LORD loves the gates of Zion
more than all the dwelling places of Jacob.
3 Glorious things of you are spoken,
O city of God. Selah

4 Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon;
behold, Philistia and Tyre, with Cush—
“This one was born there,” they say.
5 And of Zion it shall be said,
“This one and that one were born in her”;
for the Most High himself will establish her.
6 The LORD records as he registers the peoples,
“This one was born there.” Selah

7 Singers and dancers alike say,
“All my springs are in you.”

One of John Newton’s most famous hymns begins like this…

Glorious things of thee are spoken,
Zion, city of our God;
he whose word cannot be broken
formed thee for his own abode…

The hymn is based largely on this much less well-known Psalm. Indeed it’s opening words are lifted from the psalm’s third verse.

The Psalm has three stanzas. The first (vv1-3) celebrates the Lord’s love for the Zion. The second and largest (vv4-6) focusses on the his pleasure in the inhabitants of the Zion, while the third (v7] reveals the love of its citizens for the city (v7). It is fair to say the central focus of the Psalm is Zion’s citizens… those born there. In this psalm they are the principal example of its glory.

the Lord loves Zion…

1 On the holy mount stands the city he founded;
2 the LORD loves the *gates of Zion
more than all the dwelling places of Jacob.
3 Glorious things of you are spoken,
O city of God. Selah

Zion, in Scripture, is God’s city. It is the one place on earth God has chosen to dwell among his people (Ex 15:17; Deut 12:5; Ps 132:13,14). We may ask why he loves Zion and discover there is no ready answer. God’s love of Zion was an act of extraordinary grace. Mount Zion was no great mountain. Other mountains in Israel were higher (Cf. Ps 68:15,16). Zion, the city of David, at the point God chose it as his home, was no great city. But then Israel, when chosen by God, was no great nation… she was the least among the nations (Deut 7:7). God chose Israel because he loved her (Deut 7:8). Equally he chose Jerusalem because he loved her (78:68). Yet, in choosing Zion, God chooses the things that are nothing to bring to nothing the things that seem to be something. Grace is love reaching out to the unlovely… the unworthy… the things that are nothing. It is love to the undeserving, to sinners. For God to dwell with humanity, especially sinful humanity, is always gracious. And so Zion from the moment God chose to dwell there when David brought the ark of the covenant into the city, epitomised grace. The city of David had become the city of God… the city of divine favour, the city of grace (Ps 102:13; Zech 2:12).

As God had chosen Zion and put his name there Israel believed Zion (or Jerusalem) was inviolable. They were terribly mistaken. Although God had chosen Zion and promised to dwell there forever, his continued presence in Zion depended upon her covenant loyalty and in this Zion singularly failed. Zion’s citizens were sinners and could not be loyal if they tried. In time their sins became so gross and offensive to God, so defiant of the covenant, that his patience ran out and the curses of a broken covenant fell upon the city (Deut 28,29). Not once, but twice. Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in BC 587. Terrible though this rape of the virgin city was it was nothing compared to AD 70 when the city was utterly razed by the Romans and Israel was exiled among the nations for almost two thousand years. This second holocaust Jesus prophesied with deep pathos (Matt 23:31-38, 21:18-22, 33-45; Lk 23:31; Cf. Isa 5:4; Jer 32:31).

The lesson is clear. Where the personal righteousness of Zion’s children was the cornerstone of her security she had no future. The prophets recognised that if Zion were to be the secure, holy and eternal city where God would dwell for ever among his people as he had promised then it would require to be built on another covenant, a better covenant … a covenant of grace and not works; it would need to be God’s initiative from start to finish (Jer 31:31-34; Eph 2:8-10; Hebs 7-10). It would require a righteousness supplied and not demanded (Cf. Isa 60:21; 61:10,11; 62:1,2,12; Deut 30:6). In a word, if Zion were to be the city founded in holy mountains then God, himself, would have to create her (Isa 65). It must owe ‘its stability and sanctity ‘ (Kidner) entirely to him. Only a city with a foundation, a cornerstone, laid by God would be unshakeable and incorruptible (Isa 14:32, 28:16; Hebs 12:28).

And so God announces through Isaiah the prophet the city he will build by himself, entirely by grace.

Isaiah 28:16

“Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion,
a stone, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation:’
‘Whoever believes will not be put to shame.’

Isaiah’s prophecy is one of many concerning eschatological Zion all of which have a consistent theme – the eschatological Zion will be God’s construction. To use the language of the writer to the Hebrews, the city’s ‘designer and builder‘ is God (Hebs 11).

It is this eschatological city that features in Psalm 87.

V1. ‘On the holy Mount stands the city which he has founded’.

What is God’s foundation stone for his eternal city? Well, of course, as we know, the cornerstone is really not a what but a who. Christ, Zion’s King, is the cornerstone (Matt 21:42-44)

Isaiah was referring to Christ. He is the cornerstone. In both references to the cornerstone in the NT letters (Eph 2:20; 1 Pet 2:6), the cornerstone refers to God’s house, or temple. Christ is the foundation on which the temple of God’s people is built. Both texts, however, are consciously employing the language of Isaiah (Cf. 1 Pet 2:6). The fluidity between city and temple is no real concern, not least because the New Jerusalem, the heavenly city of God is a temple-City; it has no temple for the whole city is a temple (Rev 21:22 Cf. Jer 3:12-18). The city is a cube, a vast ‘Most Holy Place’ filled with the immediate glory of God.

The difference between the earthly Jerusalem and the heavenly Jerusalem of prophetic vision is stark and clear; it centres on response to the cornerstone. The earthly Jerusalem rejected the cornerstone, which became a stone over which it stumbled and was crushed (Matt 23:42-44; 1 Pet 2:7,8 Cf. Isa 8:14). The heavenly Jerusalem is populated by ‘whoever believes in him‘ (Isa 28:16; 1 Pet 2:6). To belong to the heavenly Jerusalem requires faith in Christ; it means resting entirely upon the foundation stone.

It is these citizens of faith in eschatological Zion the Psalm celebrates; those born in Zion… Zion’s children.

zion’s children…

4 Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon;
behold, Philistia and Tyre, with Cush—
“This one was born there,” they say.
5 And of Zion it shall be said,
“This one and that one were born in her”;
for the Most High himself will establish her.
6 The LORD records as he registers the peoples,
“This one was born there.” Selah

In v4 it is the Lord who speaks (or perhaps Zion?). He holds the official register of Zion’s citizens. He announces with evident pleasure and pride those birthed in Zion; it is spiritual birth that gives citizenship in eschatological Zion (Jn 3). God’s inordinate love for Zion is clearly a possessive love for her sons and daughters. These are they who ‘know him‘ (Cf. Ps 9:11, 36:10, 91:14; Jer 9:23,24). Three times in a very terse psalm he repeats ‘this one was born there‘. God’s people – all individuals to God- are made by grace people of worth and distinction… they are the apple of His eye (Cf. Isa 56:1-8, 60:21,22, 66:18,19; Zech 2:8).

Who are these people he holds in esteem? Here the psalm reveals the most astonishing fact; Zion’s children are multinational. Eschatological Zion is a cosmopolitan city. It is not simply Jews whose names appear on the city register, but also gentiles. Many from the nations will be ‘native’ born citizens of Zion (Cf. Ps 86:9). Indeed Jewish people are not mentioned; the focus is entirely on the nations. It is not genes but grace, not blood but belief, which constitutes one a citizen of Zion (Jn 1:12,13).

The psalm frames the multinational nature of Zion in a way shocking to the ears of Jewish nationalists… Zion’s children are not simply from the nations but from nations who were traditionally Israel’s enemies (v4; Cf. Ps 83:1-6). Of the peoples cited, all but one were nations who mistreated Israel. Egypt and Babylon cruelly oppressed her. The Philistines were an ongoing thorn in her flesh. Proud Tyre looked at her with disdain. Cush (probably Ethiopia) was as far away from Israel as could be imagined yet from her come those who are citizens of Zion, all are registered by God as born there (Cf. Hebs 12:22,23; Rev 21:24-27; Ps 69:28). Zion is their mother city (Cf. Phil 3:20).

The Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible refers in v5 to Zion as ‘mother‘. It is perhaps this text, and certainly Isaiah 54, which he goes on to cite, that Paul has in mind in Gals 4 when he speaks to both Jew and gentile Christians and says,

26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.

As Kidner points out, Psalm 87 describes ‘the gospel age’.

The psalm celebrates that Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem has become the birth place for all nations (Cf. Zech 2:11). Ethnicity does not count in the eschatological Zion… only a new creation…all born in Zion are one in Christ, the one true son of Zion (Eph 2, 3:6-9; Gals 3:25-29, 6:15 Cf. Isa 53:10: 11:10). This is one of the many glorious things that the writer (a son of Korah but unlike his forebear, a godly Jew) finds thrilling about Zion. He has truly drunk deeply from the grace springs of Zion. Previous grievances and distinctions are forgotten. Faith unites inimical Jew and gentile to Zion’s King (the one born there) making both one new people and equal citizens in Zion’s city (Eph 2:11-22; Isa 56:1-8 ), a Zion with many more children than the earthly Jerusalem… for the children of the ‘forsaken‘ wife will have far more than she who was ‘married‘ (Isa 47:89, 49:1-9 20-23, 54:1-8 Cf. Isa 29:23, 66:7-9, Roms 4:11,12, 16-17, Gals 3:24-30; Rev 5:9,10, 7:9:17); God blesses where, humanly speaking, blessing is impossible. Presently, the world-wide mission of Zion’s children is to present God’s cornerstone as the light to all nations (Matt 28:16-20; Isa 60:3,15,16. Cf. Isa 2:1-5; Mic 4:2; Acts 9:15, 10:34,35; 11:18). Like the writer of Psalm 87, they extol the glories of Zion, the glories of grace (Roms 1:16; Ps 48:12-14 Cf. Hebs 12:22-24). They proclaim the inscrutable wisdom of the God of grace who has consigned all to disobedience that he may have mercy on all (Roms 11:30-32).

And so the Most High, the sovereign God, establishes Zion. Those who trust in the foundation stone, will not be put to shame… God will not fail them (Ps 125:1).

the city of joyful praise…

7 Singers and dancers alike say,
“All my springs are in you.”

The third stanza though brief is pregnant. Zion is the source of joy and refreshment for God’s people. Kidner points out that singing and dancing are praise in two of its most exuberant forms (Cf. Ps 68:5; 150:4; 2 Sam 6:14). Zion’s springs of water constantly refresh and invigorate (Cf. Ezek 47:1; Jn 4:14; Rev 22:1,17); Zion is not only secure, it satisfies (Ps 46:4)… it is where the redeemed come with singing and everlasting joy is upon their heads. There… here… God dwells with his people, he is their God and they are his people (Rev 21,22).

Newton’s song of Zion captures the ancient Psalm’s vision well.

Glorious things of thee are spoken,
Zion, city of our God;
He, Whose word cannot be broken,
Formed thee for His own abode
On the Rock of Ages founded,
What can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded,
Thou mayst smile at all thy foes.

See the streams of living waters,
Springing from eternal love.
Well supplies Thy sons and daughters,
And all fears of want removes.
Who can faint while such a river
Ever flows their thirst to quench?
Grace which like the Lord, the giver,
Never fails from age to age.

Blessed inhabitants of Zion,
Washed in the Redeemer’s blood;
Jesus, Whom their souls rely on,
Makes them kings and priests to God
‘Tis His love His people raises,
Over self to reign as kings
And as priests His solemn praises
Each for a thank offering bring.

Saviour, if of Zion’s city,
I, through grace, a member am,
Let the world deride or pity,
I will glory in Thy Name
Fading is the worldling’s pleasure,
All his boasted pomp and show
Solid joys and lasting treasures
None but Zion’s children know.

*Gates were the hub of economic, administrative and social life in ancient cities. To love the gates of Zion is a synecdoche for loving Zion.


zion, city of our god (2)

By the end of the OT, Jerusalem was not the city the prophets anticipated. To place the prophetic hope in a wider frame, the promised Kingdom had not arrived. It lay somewhere in the future. And so the people of God died in faith, like Abraham looking for a country and city yet to come. The prophetic vision was so glorious that it would require a complete renewal of all things to be realised. They died looking for a heavenly city… (Hebs 11).

In the NT, Messiah arrives and with him the promised Kingdom. Jerusalem’s day of destiny has arrived. Her King enter’s his city humbly, peacefully, riding on a donkey (Zech 9:9, Matt 21:5). He goes to his Father’s house, his house, but finds it defiled and ripe for judgement; his cleansing the first instalment (Mal 3:1,2, 4:6; Matt 23:37,38). He leaves the temple and with him the glory departs (Cf. Matt 12:6; Jn 2:19,20) It is desolate. Jerusalem remains in true character, stubbornly wicked. She has always been the place that kills the prophets (Lk 13:33,34). Now, as she had killed them, she will kill her king and with him, her peace (Matt 21:33-45, 23:36, 37; Lk 13:33,34,19:41-44; Jn 1:11. Cf. 1 Thess 2,14-16). In AD 70, as Jesus prophesied (Lk 21:5,6, 20-24), both temple and city are destroyed. None should flee into it for safety but from it into the hills (Matt 24:15,16 Cf. Jer 21:8-10). Jerusalem would be trampled on by the gentiles until the time of the gentiles is fulfilled (Lk 21:24). It had thrust its King outside its gates and on a cross (his grave too is outside the city). It will no longer see him until it says, ‘blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ (Matt 23:39). The Holy City was no longer holy but enslaving and corrupt (Isa 52:1; Matt 27:53; Rev 11:8; Gals 4:25). Allegiance for Messiah’s people was now to her crucified King outside the Judaistic camp. Here we have no Jerusalem, no permanent city, but seek the city yet to come that bears her name, the New Jerusalem (Hebs 13:7-15).

Up until now I think most will agree. The question arises what lies yet future for earthly Jerusalem. People have different beliefs here. I have no certainties. It does seem that Jerusalem will yet face further conflict immediately prior to the Second Coming. But, if so, what lies beyond for the earthly city? What of the OT’s future Zion of glory? Some see all OT prophecies as referring to a future earthly Zion and not the NT’s heavenly Zion. There are in effect two Zion’s, an earthly and a heavenly. I understand why. Some OT Scriptures seem to suggest a future earthly Jerusalem not quite perfect (Isa 65), however, I confess I struggle with this. It’s seems to me that the NT understands the future kingdom anticipated in the OT, as a heavenly kingdom (2 Tim 4:18 Cf. Eph 1:3, 2:6) and the OT future Zion as a heavenly Zion. Indeed this seems to be how the OT saint understand eschatological promise… future and heavenly. This weighs heavily with me*.

Thus Abraham from the beginning of the covenant promises looked beyond an earthly Canaan to to a heavenly country (Hebs 11:16) . He looked for ‘a city which had foundations whose designer and builder was God’ (Hebs 11:10). So too did all OT believers. They acknowledged they were strangers and exiles upon the earth looking for a homeland in another country (Hebs 11:14). Indeed, OT prophecies concerning the expected Kingdom and the eschatological Jerusalem are so ideal that they surely predict a world radically different to the present. Together it seems we seek the same country, the same city… a heavenly one that is to come (Hebs 13:14).

This city, however, is already in existence. It is in heaven presently. Hebrews says,

22 …you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

When those to whom Hebrews was written believed in Jesus they became part of his heavenly kingdom. The glorious future of the redeemed that the OT described they already in a sense inhabited. They had come to Mount Zion (which was) the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. All of that to which they had come was already in existence.

Paul seems to be making a similar point in Gals 4.

25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written,

“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more. than those of the one who has a husband.” 28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.

Paul contrasts the then existing earthly and the heavenly Jerusalem. Notice a ‘Jerusalem above’ already existed. She was the ‘mother’ of the Galatian believers. Paul’s text to confirm this is Isaiah 54. In Isa 54, after the exile Jerusalem has few living in her. Having rejected her husband (the Lord) who in turn rejects her she is like a widow. She is ‘desolate’. But God’s mercy transcends his judgement. Messiah, the Servant of the Lord, through vicarious suffering brings blessing far greater than Cyrus. (Isa 53). In grace (like barren Sarah) abandoned Jerusalem is promised more children than earthly Jerusalem when inhabited had ever borne. As Barry Webb in BST, points out, Jerusalem’s barrenness would prove no more of an obstacle to God than Sarah’s did. From both come innumerable children. Jerusalem may disappear under the wrath of God but God is still at work creating sons and daughters for Jerusalem, the Jerusalem to come, the Jerusalem above which is our mother. The eschatological city will be teeming with those ‘born in Zion’ many of them from gentile nations (Ps 87 Cf. Isa 66:7-9; Phil 3:20). Ultimately Jerusalem’s offspring are the offspring of Zion’s one true son and King (Isa 53:10). The important point, however, is that Paul identifies Isaiah’s eschatological OT Zion with the Jerusalem above, which is the mother of us all; Isaiah’s future Jerusalem and Paul’s heavenly Jerusalem appear to be one and the same. Jerusalem ‘below’ had put its King outside its gates and on a cross. She was finished. Judaism was finished. The focus now was on the city to come (Hebs 12:10-14).

The final reference to the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem is in Revelation. Two cities sit in stark contrast, Babylon, the city of fallen humanity in rebellion against God, the great Prostitute dressed in her lurid seductive dress (Rev 17,18) and the New Jerusalem***, the city of God, redeemed humanity, the spotless bride of Christ dressed in white linen which is the righteousness acts of the saints (Rev 19:7,8, and 21,22. 3:12). The point to note is John’s vision of the New Jerusalem draws from OT images of eschatological Zion and other OT eschatological images.

Zion was the place where heaven and earth met. God dwelled in Zion among his people. Yet the earthly Zion was always but a shadow of a reality to come. Today he dwells in his people, his temple, the citizens of of the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. John, in Revelation, sees the final consummation of Zion’s story. He sees the heavenly Mount Zion come down out of heaven from God… a bride adorned for her husband (Rev 21:2). All things are new and with Jerusalem’s descent it seems heaven and earth meet in the most complete and perfect sense. The dwelling place of God is **immediately and eternally with man (21:3). He will dwell with redeemed humanity: he shall be their God and they shall be his people. Life will be truly ‘heaven on earth’.

This is our hope, our home.

Rev 3:12 The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.

Finally, the words of Isaac Watt’s well-loved hymn (Cf. Ps 87:3).

Glorious things of thee are spoken,
Zion, city of our God;
he whose word cannot be broken
formed thee for his own abode;
on the Rock of Ages founded,
what can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded,
thou may’st smile at all thy foes.

See the streams of living waters,
springing from eternal love,
well supply thy sons and daughters,
and all fear of want remove;
who can faint while such a river
ever flows their thirst t’assuage?
Grace, which like the Lord, the giver,
never fails from age to age.

Savior, if of Zion’s city
I, thro’ grace, a member am,
let the world deride or pity,
I will glory in thy name;
fading is the worldling’s pleasure,
all his boasted pomp and show;
solid joys and lasting treasure
none but Zion’s children know.

* However, I’m keen to avoid being too prescriptive. The details of eschatology many find difficult. As I signalled, I am one who finds it difficult.

**The New Jerusalem is a Temple-City. That is, there is no temple for the whole city is a temple, or more precisely the Most Holy Place. It is a golden cube echoing the Most Holy Place (1 kings 8:20). God’s presence is not hidden behind walls but is immediate and glorious. God’s glory is immanent in the city in the fullest sense.

*** Here we see the potential fluidity of symbolic language. The city is both a people and a place, a community and a culture. In the OT, Zion is also a place and a people. We should remember too that the description of the city is primarily symbolic. We shouldn’t treat the description as literal. It is a vision, often drawing from the OT, and expected to be decoded. This is clearly signalled in Rev 1:1 ‘The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place.’ ‘Show’ often means ,signify’ indicating symbolism… a point made not only by modern writers such as G Beale but by William Kelly, a seminal dispensationalist. (Cf. Rev 1:20, 5:8, 11:3,4, 17:9,10, 19:8). Indeed, Kelly writes that ‘a mere literal way of interpreting the Revelation… is a capital blunder…it is… a symbolic book’.


zion, city of our god (1)

It is sometimes said that the Bible is ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. In a sense this is true. Two cities feature in the Bible story. However, really it is the story of one city for it is the story of God. He is the leading character… and his love is Zion or Jerusalem – the city of God (Ps 46,4,5, 48:1).

When God created human beings in his own image and placed them in a world prepared for them he said, ‘ “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it’ (Gen 1:28). This implied for human beings community and culture, with hindsight we see it ultimately involves a city. If in the first book of the Bible humanity is placed in a garden, in its last book redeemed humanity belongs to a city.

As we begin to read the Bible story we could be forgiven for thinking a city as all that is evil. Certainly, the first two cities in the Bible are opposed to God. They are built for the glory of man and in explicit opposition to God. In Genesis 4, Cain in opposition to God’s judgement, settles in a land named after his judgement (to wander) and builds a city*he names after his son. Cain is defying God and making a name for himself. In Genesis 10, Nimrod (meaning rebel), an aggressive Empire builder opposed to God, is the ultimate source of two kingdoms, Babylon and Assyria. Both are destructive enemies of Israel and both attack Jerusalem, the city of God. Nimrod builds a number of cities one of which is Babylon (Babel). Babylon is arrogantly humanistic. It is built by and for human hubris; those who build her do so explicitly ‘to make an name for themselves’ and in defiance of God’s mandate to migrate through the earth. They build a tower that reaches into the heavens. They want to control God too. Babylon is the archetypal city of man. It is built for human prestige, power, security, pleasure, profit, religion, progress and to provide a future all independent of and opposed to God (Gen 11. Cf. Gen 13:12, 19:1-29). It is human community and culture in rebellion against God. In the Bible it straddles. history – Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and the abominations of the earth, and the persecutor of God’s people (Rev 17:1-6). It is Babylon that first routs Jerusalem and takes her into captivity.

However, in Genesis 12 the narrative dramatically shifts. The narrative lens narrows and focusses on one man, Abraham. Abraham stands in vivid contrast to Babylon. Called by God to leave His country (in Babylon region) and go where God leads him he obeys. He too will have a name that will be remembered. He will have a land and offspring. He will belong to a city. The vital difference is that these will be a gift of God’s grace, the gift of promise. What man in sin is determined to grasp God in grace generously supplies. Abraham is called to believe the promise and live by faith… a pilgrim in this world travelling to another where home lay. The Hebrew writer pens it like this in ch 11,

8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God…. 13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

Two incidents briefly connect Abraham to this promised city. Returning from battle, he is met by Melchizedek, King-Priest of the Most High God (first recorded priest in the Bible) who comes from Salem to bless Abraham (Ps 11:4; Hebs 5, 7). Salem was Jerusalem a millennium before she became the city of David, the city of God. Later in Abraham’s life God tells him to take Isaac, his son, and offer him as a sacrifice on a mountain God would reveal. The mountain was Moriah, the mountain of the Lord (Gen 22:14), which became the site of God’s house, the temple, in Solomon’s Jerusalem (2 Chron 3:1). As Abraham is about to slay his son as a sacrifice God stays his hand and points to a ram caught in a bush as a substitute sacrifice. God was already revealing that Jerusalem would be a blessing to Abraham and his offspring (Cf. Ps 133).

1000 years later Jerusalem or Zion (both names refer to the same place) was a Jebusite fortress (Cf. Gen 15:20). David captured it (an evidence of God’s favour 2 Sam 5:10) and it became his royal city, the capital of Israel (2 Sam 5:7 Cf. 1 Sam 17:54). Much more significantly, he brought the ark of the covenant, into the city to dwell (2 Sam 6:17). God was now dwelling in Jerusalem. Subsequently, David’s son, Solomon, built a permanent house, a divine palace or a temple, on Moriah, in an expanded Jerusalem into which the ark was placed (I Kings 8). Jerusalem was now not merely the city of David, it was also the city of God (Ps 46:4,5, 48:1 Cf. I Kings 8:11; Ex 15:7, Isa 60:14, Ps 87:1). God had chosen to dwell in Jerusalem among his people (1 Kings 8:11, 2 Chron 6:4-6; Ps 24, 68:16, 78:67-72, 132:14, 135:21). It was there he would live**and place his name forever (Ex 15:17; Deut 12:5,11, 21; 1 King 5:3-5, 8:1-53, 9:3; Ps 132:13-18). And so Jerusalem became the centre of Israel’s worship and national life.

Jerusalem appears to mean something like ‘foundation or possession of peace’ or ‘city of peace’ (Cf. Hebs 7:2). Peace is the shalom, or well-being, of those whom the Lord blesses and Jerusalem was the place where the Lord commanded the blessing, even life forevermore (Ps 133). However, God’s continued presence and the blessing of peace required covenant loyalty, it required obedience (1Kings 9:6-9). Disobedience, the covenant had warned, would bring curse and not blessing.

From the earliest days Israel was encouraged to pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Ps 122:6-9), in effect, to pray for her faithful obedience to the Lord for therein lay her peace.. Tragically, Jerusalem’s subsequent history reveals little obedience, indeed it reveals rebellion; the city of man had invaded the city of God (Ezek 16:46-48; Jer 23:14; Rev 11:8). Jerusalem increasingly defied the Sinai covenant and in her defiance rejected what made for her peace (Cf. Isa 9:6; Matt 23:37). Eventually God’s patience ran out (Jer 15:6). If Jerusalem abandoned God, God would abandon Jerusalem (Cf. 2 Chron 24:17,20). The Lord had warned he would forsake his house and finally he did, driven from it by desecrating idolatry (2 Chron 36:11-14; Ezek 8-11; Jer 7:13-15. Cf. Lev 26:327-33; Lams 2:7). Indeed the Lord who had fought tirelessly as the divine Warrior for Jerusalem became her enemy and fought against her (Isa 1:24,25, 28:21,22,24, 63:10, 66:6; Jer 21:4-7,10, 44:2,6; Lam 2:5; Joel 2:11. Cf. 2 Kings 24: 19,20; Deut 28,29). The covenant curses fell. Jerusalem and Judah fell.

Israel (or Judah) had considered Jerusalem inviolable. The Babylonian conquest (586 B.C.) proved the virgin City (2 Kings 19:21; Lams 2:13) was not inviolable. Judah had trusted the temple like a talisman, and trusted idols and other nations (Jer 17:4-10. Mic 3:11 Cf. Isa 31:1-3 Jer 17:17, Ps 146:3,4) but not the Lord, at least not truly. She had forsaken the fountain of living water and hewed out cisterns, broken cisterns that could hold no water (Jer 2:13). Jerusalem had refused to see that her inviolability depended on her loyalty to God; her covenant faithfulness. The nation refused to hear the voice of the prophets and continued in debasing idolatry and blatant covenant disobedience (Jer 7:24-26, 32:33,34). Zion and her daughters paid a terrible price. Jerusalem was pillaged, her walls razed, the temple destroyed, and her deeply traumatised inhabitants deported to Babylon, where they remembered all too late the blessings of Zion (Ps 137:1). Zion was left a wasteland and Jerusalem a desolation, the holy and glorious temple burned with fire and all that was treasured left in ruins (Isa 64:10) in a devastation comparable to de-creation (Jer 4:19-20).

If those who loved her and her God had praised the beauty of Zion and declared her the joy of the whole earth (Ps 48:1) then her conquest by the Babylonians (586 BC) would lead her enemies to mock her.

All who pass along the way clap their hands at you; they hiss and wag their heads at the daughter of Jerusalem: “Is this the city that was called the perfection of beauty, the joy of all the earth?” (Lams 2:15 Cf. 1:7).

Was this the end of Zion? Had Jerusalem no future? Was the Lord’s promise to dwell in Zion with his people ‘forever’ entirely conditional? Had the Lord abandoned his people? Had they stumbled irrevocably? Would there be no city of God?

The poetic and prophetic writings provide the answer. Even as they pronounce judgement, they see beyond to ultimate blessing. Zion will face terrible judgement but she has yet a glorious future (Mic 7:8-10); a future founded on the steadfast love of the Lord (Isa 54:8,10; Ex 34:6; Ps 86:15; Lam 3:21-33. Cf. Ps 50, 89:1-4, 27-37). God would again choose Jerusalem (Zech 2:10-12). He would forgive her sins and restore her joy and reputation (Jer 31, 33:9 Cf. Deut 30:1-10; Ps 14:7; Ezek 37). God’s love of Zion would overcome all obstacles (Ezek 20:40-44; Isa 43,44 Cf. Ex 33,34). Isaiah writes in Isa 54,

10 For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.’

Jeremiah records the Lord’s pity for Zion,

For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, declares the Lord, because they have called you an outcast: ‘It is Zion, for whom no one cares!’ (Jer 30:17).

The city about to be called ‘Forsaken‘ would be called ‘My delight is in her‘ (Isa 62:4 Cf. Zech 1:17)

What was the vision of future Zion, the City of God, depicted by the Psalms and the prophets?

Firstly, she is entirely God’s creation (Isa 65:18) built on a critically secure cornerstone/foundation stone (Isa 28:16,17 Cf. Isa 8:14,15; 26:1-4; Ps 118:22; Zech 10:4). She is established and kept by the Lord God (Ps 46:5, 48:1-14, 125:2; Zech 2:2-5; Isa 33:2, 20; Jer 33:16) who will renew the hearts of those who belong to her and no stubborn rebellious heart will enter it to bring judgement (Ps 125:3; Jer 3:17; Isa 26:2, 52:1,2). Created by grace (Ps 102:13; Isa 60:10) she is a redeemed city (Isa 1:27, 52:9, 60:16, 62:11,12; Ps 102:13.), the city of salvation (Isa 26:1, 46:13, 52:10, 60:18, 62:1,2). She will have many children and be cosmopolitan (Isa 54:1-3, 13; Ps 87; Zech 2:1-5 Cf Isa 4:3,4, 60:22, 66:7,8; Hebs 12:23). She is righteous (Isa 1:26, 26:2, 54:14, 60:17,21, 62:1,2; Jer 33:15,16), faithful (Zech 8:3; Isa 1:26), holy (Isa 4:2,3, Joel 3:17).

Living waters flow from her (Zech 13:1, 14:8, Joel 3:18 Cf. Ps 46:4, 36:8,9; Cf. Jer 17:13). She is full of joy (Isa 35:10, 51:11, 60:15; Ps 46:4, 132:16 Cf. Zech 8:4-6), praise (Isa 60:18; Ps 102:21) and festivity (Isa 25:6). She is truly the city of peace, of wellbeing (Isa 25:6-9; 66:12, Hag 2:9). It is in Zion that God has commanded the blessing, even life forevermore (Ps 133; 128:5). Death***and every enemy of life in its fulness, is banished (Isa 25:6-8, 2:4, 30:19, 33:24, 35:10, 51:11, 60:18, 20, 65:19) from Zion the eternal city (Ps 125:1).

Jerusalem will be the perfection of beauty (Ps 50:2, 48:1-14; Isa 60:9, 62:3 Cf. Isa 60: 7) and the epitome of freedom (Isa 60:11). She will be majestic (60:15) and prosperous (Isa 60:5; Cf. Ps 128:5). Work in her will be fulfilling and rewarding (Isa 65:21,23) while rest is assured (2 Sam 7:10,11).

However, what makes Zion truly glorious, truly excellent, is that God is there (Ezek 48:35). Zion is his city (Isa 60:14). He fills the city with his concentrated glory (Zech 2:5 Cf. Hag 2:9). He is her everlasting light (Isa 60:2,3,19,20). He is King and He reigns forever from Zion, the city of the great King (Ps 48:2, 24: 7:10, 146:10; Isa 24:23; Jer 3:17; Mic 4:7; Zeph 3:14-19; Zech 2:10; Ps 99:1-5). He reigns with and through and in his Davidic King (Ps 2:6, 132:11-18; 45; Isa 9:6,7; Jer 33:15,16). Both Zion and her Davidic King are chosen by God (2 Chron 6: 5,6; Ps 78:67-72). Indeed, the Davidic King of eschatological Zion and her God are ultimately one and the same (Ps 45:6, 110:1,2; Isa 9:6,7; Dan 7:13,14). God is there because he loves Zion more than anywhere else (Ps 87:1, 78:67-72, 132:14, Isa 54:10; Zeph 3:14-20).

And because God is there, and the Davidic King is there, Zion is home (2 Sam 7:10; Zeph 3:20; Zech 10:10 Cf. Isa 11:6). It is home in such an utterly transformed universe that Isaiah calls it ‘a new heavens and new earth’ (Isa 65:17-19 Cf. 65:25).

Some 70 years after exile Israel was restored to the land and Jerusalem’s temple and walls were rebuilt. What had seemed impossible happened (Ps 126:1). It was a signal to faith of what God could do. However the prophetic vision for Zion far outstripped anything that the return from exile produced. It required a servant of the Lord greater than Cyrus to realise the redeemed Zion of the prophets. Their vision was of an idealised Zion, an ultimate Zion, a Zion of glory not possible in its fullest sense in the present world. They envisaged a Zion that belonged to God’s final salvation… that belongs to a world yet to come (Isa 65:17-25).

* Biblical cities were not necessarily large. Initially they may be little more than settlements. Presumably Cain’s City was small. David’s Jerusalem seems possibly to have been only a few thousand people. Cain’s City was founded on blood that cried for vengeance. God’s City is founded on blood that proclaims forgiveness.

** As Solomon makes plain, although God in grace made the temple his home, yet God cannot ultimately be contained in a building. As Solomon acknowledges at the dedication of the temple, the heavens and earth cannot contain him (1 Kings 8:27). Yet he deigns to dwell among his people, even if his dwelling on earth in the physical temple is a ‘footstool’ (1 Chron 28:2; Isa 60:13, 66:1,2; Ps 99:1; Ezek 43:7. Cf. Rev 22:3,4).

*** Although the overwhelming picture of the Prophetic Jerusalem is of entire perfection the language of a passage such as Isa 65:20 is difficult to understand for it suggests imperfection still exists. (Cf. 65:17-25). Here different prophetic constructs and interpretations come into play explaining it. Personally, I have no view on this at the moment and leave it with the Lord. For all of us, we see through a glass darkly. In this post I am trying to give the broader contours of the city of God as I presently understand them.

Isa 65: 20 No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed. (Cf. Isa 52:1)


preparing for persecution

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5:11,12)

Blessed are the persecuted… these are not words we are inclined to dwell on. Christians in western democracies in the last couple of centuries have taken their religious freedom for granted. Indeed, our culture has, in a broad sense at least, privileged Christian beliefs and values. This privilege is fading fast. Christianity is increasingly identified with a past that many wish to disown and with values that are now considered oppressive. Christians are rocking on their heels.

Perhaps it is time to prepare for rejection at a level most Christians alive presently in the West have never known. Below is a few ways we may begin preparing our minds for greater opposition.

  • It is not wrong to hope not be persecuted. While there is blessing in persecution, persecution in itself is not a virtue. The early church was scattered as people moved elsewhere to escape persecution. Paul often had to flee for his life. (Cf. Matt 10:23) There is no shame in praying, ‘let this cup pass from me’. Persecution is a trial from which we may legitimately ask to be kept. It is not something we should seek with misplaced bravado. Instead, pray that the authorities will allow us to live quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty (1 Tim 2:2). However, in the final analysis, faith says, ‘nevertheless not my will but yours be done’.
  • Persecution in one form or another and to varying degrees is to be expected. Paul says all who live godly lives in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution ( 2 Tim 3:12). Jesus taught his disciples that just as the world had hated him it would hate them too (Jn 15:18). He taught them to expect persecution (Jn 16:1-4, 33). The world is opposed to Christ. That is why throughout its history the church has often endured exacting persecution. In many parts of the world it grapples with severe persecution today. For many of us, the world’s hostility has been slight. This may soon change. If it does, we should not be shaken in faith for we were promised no less. We need firm clear resolve. Jesus ‘set his face’ towards Jerusalem (Lk 9:51-54). He knew what would happen to him there but he was firm in his resolve. He is our role-model. Peter writes,’ 12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Pet 4:12).
  • The call of the gospel was a call to cross-bearing. This is tied in closely to the previous point. We died to a life of self-pleasing. When we became a Christian we contracted to take up our cross and follow him. Some of course become Christians not having evaluated the cost and when the implications of following become clear some turn away (Jn 6:60-70). Such, says Jesus, are not worthy of the Kingdom of heaven (Lk 14:25-34, 9:62). The way to life is by way of a cross. Those who love their lives lose them and those who late their life in this world will keep it for eternal life (Jn 12;25, 26). It is because he loves us that he calls us to give up our lives for it is in dying we live. It is in a text stressing the constant love of Christ for us we read ‘for your sake we face death all the day long. We are considered as sheep to be slaughtered‘ (Roms 8:36). The way of the cross is the way of love; Christ laid down his life because he loved us and we lay down ours because we love him.
  • Fear God not men. Jesus said, ‘Do not fear them who can kill the body but not the soul. Rather fear him who can kill both body and soul in hell’ (Matt 10:28). Remember it is those who endure to the end that are saved (Matt 24:13. Cf. Hebs 3:14, 10:39). It is those who conquer who enter the kingdom while among those cast into the lake of fire are ‘the cowardly’ (Rev 21:7,8). There are healthy fears and fearing God’s judgement when we’re tempted to abandon faith is one (Hebs 2:1-3, 6:4-8, 10:26-31).
  • Resist devilish unbelieving thinking. The prospect of persecution will test the mettle of our faith. Reactions to the threat of persecution may differ from person to person to person, however, it is likely that any latent weaknesses in our faith will reveal themselves. Doubts that sometimes may have flitted across the back of our minds will clamour for centre stage. They will gain a new found potency. We need to label them for what they are. These thoughts are charlatans. They arise from fear and need to be condemned as unworthy. They are ultimately satanic and destructive. We will need to resist them and for that we will need the armour of God (Eph 6). Perhaps the important point at the moment is to recognise is that these attacks are not unusual. They have been experienced by many before us. That’s why we are given the armour. We should take encouragement from the words of James, ‘resist the devil and he will flee from you’ (Jas 4:7).
  • We will not be tried beyond what we can bear (1 Cor 10:13). Although the context of this promise is the common trials of life it holds good for the trial of persecution. We are promised too a way of escape not necessarily from the trial but in the trial. The way of escape is surely found in looking to him as our source of all comfort and strength.
  • God is with his people in their persecutions at every point. Grasping this is what strengthens our spirit. He promises he will never leave us or forsake us. And if the Lord is our helper we need not fear what man can do to us (Hebs 13:5-7). If God is for us who can be against us (Roms 8:31)? Our Heavenly Father knows our needs and will meet them (Matt 6:26-32). The world may persecute but we need not fear because Christ has overcome the world and will enable us to overcome (Jn 16:1-4, 33). We may feel weak and vulnerable but the Spirit of God dwells within and he is neither weak nor vulnerable. He will give us courage and endurance (2 Tim 1:7). Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world (I Jn 4:4). And so we entrust our souls to a faithful Creator (1 Pet 4:19).
  • Refuse to think anxiously about the future. Jesus teaches us to refuse anxiety. It is futile for it cannot change anything and it is foolish for our Heavenly Father knows what’s we need. We are given grace for one day at a time. (Matt 6:25-34). Sometimes our minds create fearful scenarios in the future. These imaginings are not helpful. They paralyse and enervate. They are enemy of faith for our focus is on an imagined situation and not on the Lord. God gives grace for what is real not what is imagined. When Jesus told his disciples they would be persecuted he taught them not to be concerned about what they would say if interrogated for they would be given the words to say (Matt 10:19). The God who provides for our needs today will provide for the needs of tomorrow when and if tomorrow comes. There is a line between preparing our minds for the possibility of persecution and fretting or worrying about it. In fact, part of preparing our minds is determining to refuse to give credence and house room to worrying thoughts and imagination. Paul, writing to the Philippians believers says, ‘The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:5-7).
  • Don’t focus on the suffering but on the glory that follows. It was the anticipation of future glory that enabled OT believers to persevere in faith often in the face of severe persecution (Hebs 11). It was because he saw the joy to follow that Jesus endured the cross (Hebs 12). In a couple of occasions in the gospels it seems that as the cross approached Jesus focuses on the glory that lay beyond (Lk 9:51; Jn 17:4,5). Our sufferings here, Paul reminds us, are short and slight compared to the eternal weight of glory that shall follow (2 Cor 4:17 Cf. 1 Pet 4:12). Indeed suffering here will increase the glory… blessed are you when men persecute you… for great is your reward in heaven (Matt 5:11,12). If we suffer with him we shall also reign with him but if we deny him he will deny us (2 Tim 2:12).
  • Derive courage from the faith of others. If God enabled them to endure he will enable us to endure also. They witness to his keeping power (Hebs 11). These were ordinary people it was their God who was extraordinary. We are not alone but part of a vast army of believers spanning history who have overcome the world by their faith (I Jn 5:4).
  • Fix our eyes on Jesus. He is both the supreme inspiration for faith and the sole and sufficient object of faith (Hebs 12: 1-3). Don’t look at the waves look at the Lord. Again and again in Scripture we are exhorted to look to our God and no time more so than when fear rises in our hearts. Have no fear of sudden terror trust in the Lord (Prov 3:25,26). The antidote to fear is always faith. The Psalmist says ‘I have set the Lord always before me. He is at my right hand therefore I will not be afraid (Ps 16:8).
  • Do not be afraid, only believe (Mk 5:36). Most, if not all, of the above points are essentially a call to refuse fear and embrace faith. Jesus urges this because it is possible. It is a question of the will. Will we fear or will we believe? The choice is stark and absolute. It is in many ways it is a no-brainier. Who wants to live with fear? Who wants to feel they failed because of fear? How destructive would such cowardice be – now and eternally?

But how do we conquer fear?

We do what we find in the Psalms repeatedly; we speak to ourselves in the language of faith? I won’t have the courage to face persecution... the Lord will be my courage. I won’t have the strength to withstand the pressure… the Lord is my strength. I won’t know what to say... the Lord will tell me what to say. But these are fearful foes... if the Lord is for me who can be against me? I don’t have enough faith... the Lord will give me faith. To every fear the final answer is ‘the Lord’. He loves us deeply and will keep us in every situation. Nothing can come between us and his love (Roms 8:37-39). Our trust is not in ourselves but in the Lord. We are weak but he is strong.

The antidote to fear is the assertions of faith. Faith says firmly, Lord I believe help my unbelief. Fill your heart and mind with the greatness and goodness of your God. Speak to yourself in the language of faith. Speak to yourself over and over until the truths of faith are deeply rooted in your soul.

Listen to the opening words of Psalm 46

1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

This is the language of faith. It is faith’s assertion in a time of trouble when the foundations of life seem to be collapsing all around. When we feel fear, when the securities of life are in danger, when we face trouble in the shape of potential persecution then let us do what the Psalmist does, let us assert that God is our refuge and strength. Let us trust in him. (Cf. Psalm 31:14, 37:39, 56: 3,11, 73:26, 91:1,2). The name of the Lord is a strong tower. The righteous run into it and are safe (Ps 18:10). As the disciples did, let us ask the Lord to increase our faith (Lk 17:4).

  • Last but not least, maintain the disciplines of faith and means of grace. Let us read God’s Word and hide it in our hearts. Let us draw near to God in prayer. Live humbly and obediently putting away the sin that so easily overtakes. Abide in him. Keep ourselves in the love of God. Meet where possible with God’s people.

Peter writes,

6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.


john 17… jesus’ prayer for his church (3)

(ESV) 20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Jesus high-priestly prayer now turns from his immediate disciples to all believers. Clearly he knows that the church will not end with his disciples but will grow and flourish.

His prayer for them is principally

that they may be one (20-23)

that they may be with him to see his glory (24-26)

that they may be one

John is thinking of a unity of relationship, life and purpose. It is clearly also a unity of love (v26). It is unity that flows from their dynamic relationship with the Father and Son created though belief in the apostolic word (v21 Cf. v11, 14:10,11, 20, 15:1-17; I Jn 1:1-4). It is unity maintained by abiding in him.

We should notice that John is not thinking in terms of denominational unity. This is a unity beyond structures. John doesn’t focus on structures but on the essence of Christianity. For John, eternal life is the gift of the gospel. In Christ was life, the essence of which was fellowship with the Father. This life he gives to his own that they may, through the indwelling Spirit know the Father and Son. In the first instance then Jesus is praying that their shared eternal life, a life of shared relationship with Father and Son, will unite all those who come to know the Father through receiving the apostolic word (v20). This is a unity that crosses denominational divides. Paul is referring to this unity of eternal life when he speaks of maintaining the unity of the Spirit (Eph 4:1). It is not a unity that requires to be created, it already exists; it requires only to be maintained. Faith in Christ brings every believer into a unity of eternal life nurtured and sustained by the Spirit. It is a life lived in fellowship with God, with the Father and Son. The Spirit brings all God’s people into the unity of relationship that exists in a God Himself.

It seems that this unity however is not yet perfect; it allows for growth… that they may become perfectly one (v23). In Ephesians, believers are to maintain the unity of the Spirit (v3) but have yet to reach the unity of the faith a unity of maturity reflecting increased understanding of Christ and likeness to Christ (v13). This is the goal. They are to mature together until they reflect the glory of who Christ was as a perfect man on earth, reflecting the Father (v22). We in our lives reflect his glory and so the glory of the Father. He lived in the Father’s love and reflected the Father’s heart. The great moral bond of this unity is love but it is love growing out of an awareness that the Father loves us as much as he loves Christ (v23, 26 Cf 1 Jn 3:1,14-24, 4:7-13, 16-21).

It is interesting that it is in his prayer for the church in general that he stresses love. As we grasp that we are loved and dwell in that love, we love (1 Jn 4:19). Our love for each other flows from our appreciation we are loved by the Father (v26). To know the Father’s name (v26) is to know the Father and so to know his fatherly love. It is the cry of ‘abba’. Yet we are reminded that the Father is righteous (v25 Cf v11). The Father’s love is not soft. He trains all those he loves (Hebs 12). At the same time it tells us too that the Father is righteous in loving us.

Jesus asks for this ‘oneness’ that grows from shared life fellowship by the Spirit in the Father and Son to be visible that the world may see it and recognise Christ and the Father. Christian unity in the life and concerns of God by the Spirit is a compelling witness (13:35). We love with the love that existed between the Father and the Son. It is seen in people from different backgrounds who may be different in all sorts of ways being one in desire and love in the gospel.

Undoubtedly, structural disunity mars this witness, however, there is a bond of love and unity that life in the Spirit creates that transcends denominational barriers and is surely a witness in a world where identity politics is creating more and more fragmented and opposing groups. The bond of love between Christians of different colour and race will be an increasingly distinct witness in a world driven by forces of hate.

that they may see my glory

It seems, however, that there will be a yet future witness to the world. Whatever unity there may be presently Jesus prays as we noted for a time when they will be ‘perfectly one that the world may ‘know’ you sent me and loved them even as you loved me’. Here he does not say that the world may ‘believe’ but that the world may ‘know’. Is he pointing to a unity beyond ‘unity of the faith’ and growing in maturity presently to that moment of ultimate maturity and perfection that Paul calls ‘the revealing of the sons of God’ (Roms 8).

It is certainly then that his following prayer request will be fulfilled – that they may be with me where I am to see my glory (v24). Those who have believed in him, shared in his shame, he wants rewarded with the delight of enjoying his glory. His glory will be a thing of eternal wonder and delight. It is a glory we will never get so familiar with or that that we will take for granted. We will forever exult and rejoice in it. It will continually amaze us.

We shall see the glory that is his as the eternal God, the glory he had with the Father before the world was and we shall see too the glory he has acquired as a result of his incarnation and self-humbling to achieve redemption. At his divine glory we shall wonder, in his acquired glory we shall share. In love, he will give us his glory then just as he gives it now (v24). We shall be his bride delighting in the glory of her husband the King, sharing in it with him as a bride does, while also bringing to him glory as a bride without spot or blemish whose love he has won by giving himself in love for her (Psalm 45; Eph 5). Then all will know and recognise Christ and his multinational church for who they really are.

Rev 7: 9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation be belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”…
19: 6 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
7 Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
8 it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”

This is Christ’s prayer for his people.


john 17… jesus prays for his own (2)

Jesus prayer in John 17 follows on immediately from his teaching (ch13-16). It seems as if the disciples were allowed to eavesdrop. It often picks up on themes developed in Ch 13-17.

The section now (vv 6-26) is intercessory and gives us insight into Christ’s present intercession for his people today. It is his advocacy to the Father. We should remember that Jesus intercession is not because the Father is reluctant. He shares his Son’s concerns. Both equally care for those that their ‘own’ (vv9,10). It’s impossible to avoid the mystery of the trinity in this prayer; Father and Son are distinct persons yet are one not only in goals but in being.

And so Jesus’ prayer that commenced with a petition for his own glorification now turns to his own (vv6-26). They are never far from his mind. Indeed his own glorification was in their interest (14:1,2). The bulk of his prayer is for his ‘own’. This part of his prayer divides into two clear sections.

  1. Vv6-18 His prayer for his immediate disciples
  1. Vv 19-26 His prayer for those who will trust him having never seen him.

The focus of this post is the first of these – his immediate disciples. Verse 6 defines his focus.

I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world.

His disciples are defined in at least three ways.

  1. They do not belong to the world
  1. They have received and believed Christ’s teaching
  1. They belong to the Father and to Christ
  • His own do not belong to the world.
  • The world for John is humanity in opposition to God. The prayer describes the relationship of his disciples to the world in various ways. In unconverted days they belonged to the world; they have been taken ‘out of the world’. That is, they are no longer in opposition to God but committed to him.

    They like Christ are now not ‘of the world (v14). Their values and allegiances are different therefore the world hates them (v14). It hates because they shine light on the world’s darkness and exposes them. It hates them because they are good and the world evil (Jn 3:19; 7:7). It hates because it prefers self rule (actually Satanic rule) to God’s rule. Our own post-Christian culture is showing increasing hostility to the gospel and kingdom values. The level of hostility may vary but Christians will never be accepted by the world; they do not belong. The whole world lies in the grip of Satan, ‘the evil one’ (1John 5:19). Since Christians live in the world (v15) life is dangerous . By allure or persecution the Satan will seek to destroy God’s people . And so the Lord prays that they may be kept from ‘the evil one‘ that neither allure nor persecution will move them (v15).

    For John, the Father and the world are mutually exclusive (1 Jn 2-15,16). If you love the world (live by the values that mark the world) then you do not love the Father. In embracing the word of the Father in the teaching of Christ they show they belong to the Father and not the world. Paul says we are to use it but not abuse it (1 Cor 7:31).

    Yet, despite this hatred, and in the face of it, Christians are not called to move out of the world but are sent into the world. As the Father has sent the Son so the Son sends the Father’s children (v18). This is the tension of faith. We are not ‘of the world’ and are ‘hated by the world’ but are ‘sent into the world’.

    His own are those who have received and believed Christ’s teaching

    This is what defines a Christian. They have received and believed Christ’s teaching. In fact they have received his teaching as from God. They have recognised his words as the words of the Father (vv6-8). They have believed that everything Jesus said and did was a reflection of the Father. They believed he was sent by the Father (v8) and that in seeing and hearing him they were seeing and hearing the Father – they were seeing and hearing God (Jn 14:6-11). Indeed they had come to believe that the God they worshipped was their Father and was exactly like Jesus.

    That Jesus’ disciples are described as having ‘kept‘ the Father’s word (v6) is a consolation, for as we read the gospels the disciples seem so often to misunderstand Christ’s teaching and are reluctant to accept some of it, particularly his teaching about his suffering and death. However, despite this, Jesus describes them as those who have ‘kept’ the Father’s word. He sees beyond their failures and focusses on their faith. When he spoke of his death many who claimed to follow him turned away. Jesus asks the others, ‘Will you also go away’. Peter speaks for all when he replies, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’. Despite their many failings and frailties they had remained with him and ‘believed’ however fragile that belief actually was. In fact, it’s fragility was about to be revealed – they were about to abandon him land scurry away.. Their stumble, however, was temporary. For their faith though fragile was authentic.

    Why, despite fears and confusion did they recover from the apparent collapse of faith? Why did their faith survive its collapse?

    There is only one sufficient answer. Because they belong to the Father and the Son.

    His own belong to the Father and Son

    Jesus is about to leave his disciples and can do so ultimately with peace of heart because they belong to the Father and he will care for them – ‘they are yours‘ (vv6,9). He commits them to his Father’s care (v11).

    Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

    The security of his disciples depends upon the Father and the Son. They were chosen by the Father as a gift to this Son (v6, 9,11 Cf. Jn 10: 27,30). While with them on earth Christ has ‘guarded’ them (v12). He entrusts them now to his Father (v11). Yet he himself will continue to care for them for as the glorified Son he will intercede for them. He had interceded for them on earth. He had prayed for Peter (and perhaps by implication for the others) that their faith would not fail. He continues to intercede (1 Jn 2:1, 5:18). He does not wait till we ask to intercede he intercedes because he sees our need.

    In this prayer two intercessory petitions are made by Christ to the Father on behalf of his disciples.

    1. Their unity – that they may be one (v11).
    1. Their purity – they are protected from the ‘evil one’ though the sanctifying Word of the Father.

    The remarkable unity of the early apostles is now a matter of history. We need only read NT to see how the apostles, by the power of the indwelling Spirit, displayed unity as the early church developed. NT Scripture is itself a witness to this unity. Different writers, each with their own approach, led to a bible of books with an integrated unified message. They display, in diversity, a unity in truth. Equally it is a unity in the Spirit (Cf. Eph 4:1-16). It is a unity of community life with the Father and the Son (14:19:21) that expresses itself in love (13:35)


    Apostolic purity is also a matter of history. There is no hint that these early apostles abandoned or denied the faith. They did not fall into serious sin. Christ’s intercession was realised. The Father protected them from the ‘evil one’. They kept his word and his word, living and powerful, kept them. It sanctified them (v17). The Word of God and the intercession of Christ are two vital means of our salvation (Cf. Hebs 4).

    Jesus has set himself apart, sanctified, consecrated himself to his work of redemption in all its aspects, perhaps, in context, especially his exaltation to glory as the King-Priest who presently reigns and intercedes on his people’s behalf (v19. Cf. 10:36). His mission even in heaven today is to enable his disciples to fulfil their mission. He by the Spirit brings the living word of the Father into their lives to protect and empower them as his ‘sent ones’. As we read the NT we see each person of the trinity is committed to our salvation (Eph 1). God is committed to his people.

    And just as the word of the Father sustained him and brought joy to him even in adversity so too it will bring joy to them (v13, 15:11).

    And so Jesus prayer for his immediate disciples draws to an end. He has prayed for their spiritual preservation. He has asked that they may be kept from the evil one and preserved in unity and purity. He is confident that the Father through the word will keep his own and he will continue to be glorified in them (v10).

    Blog posts on Scripture, by their nature, scratch only at the surface. In John’s gospel this sense of inadequacy seems even more acute. I suspect all who comment on John feel this. We paddle in deep waters.


    john 17… father glorify me (1)

    John 17 is sometimes referred to as Jesus’ high priestly prayer because the greater part of the prayer (vv6-26) is his intercession on behalf of the church. He does not intercede for the world but for his own, those the Father had given him out of the world, those both he and his Father love (17:23).

    But first he prays for himself. vv1-5

    1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world.

    His prayer for himself has really only one petition. It is a prayer for his own glory.

    Jesus… lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.’

    Heaven is where his eyes and thoughts are now focussed. In the immediate sense, his attention has turned from his disciples, his ‘own’ (ch 13-17) to his Father.

    Father and Son

    The Father-Son relationship between Jesus and God dominates John’s Gospel. Jesus is the Christ (v3), the messianic Son, the son of Abraham and David, however, John’s emphasis is not on his earthly claim to being God’s Son but his heavenly claim. He came from God (13:3) He came from the Father (16:28). He was ‘sent’ by the Father (v3. Cf. 3:17, 6:38). He is ‘from above’ (3:31) and ‘descended’ (Jn 3:13). In a word, the Davidic Son is also the Divine Son, the one and only son (3:16), and in John his divinity is constantly to the fore.

    There is no genealogy in John. Instead John’s opening words are, ‘in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.‘ (1:1). This is the reality that John proclaims. Jesus is God and was alongside God. A few verses later we read, ‘the word became flesh and made his dwelling (tabernacled) among us‘(v14). The God who resided in the OT tabernacle now resides in Jesus, the Son (Cf. Ex 25:8,9). In the tabernacle his glory was hidden. Only Moses saw it on Sinai. In Jesus, the glory is revealed for all who have eyes to see – ‘we beheld his glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father full of grace and truth’. Grace and truth (or love and faithfulness) were the characteristics of the God Moses saw on Sinai (Ex 34:6).

    It is the glory of ‘the Father’ Jesus reveals the ‘Father’ for he is the ‘Son’; He and the Father are of the same essence and being. He and the Father are ‘one’; one in purpose and one in being… he is God. And so those who come to know Christ come to know ‘the Father’ with the intimacy that Jesus knew him. They were the Father’s and now are Christ’s but what belongs to the Son belongs to the Father and vice versa (v10). They are the ‘children of God’ (1:12,13) who call God ‘Father’.

    I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world.’

    Now the one who came from God is about to return to God (13:3) The Son who came from the Father is about to return to the Father (16:28; 14:1-3). The one who descended is about to ascend (3:31, 6:62) and as Incarnate Son fill all things (Eph 4:10). He views himself as no longer in the world (v11). The glory he is focussed on is not primarily the paradoxical glory of the cross (13:31,32) for he considers his work on earth complete – he had glorified the Father on earth and finished the work he was given to do’ (v4). Rather Jesus endures the thought of the cross by concentrating on the glory to follow (Hebs 12:2). It is the glory of heaven he has in view… the glory that he shared with the Father before the world existed (v5). He desires to be glorified in the Father’s presence – alongside the Father (v5). He relinquished the splendour that was his as the divine Son (Phil 2:6) and is ready to return to it. He who in the beginning was ‘with God‘, that is, ‘alongside God’ (1:1,2) will be ‘alongside‘ (intimacy and equality) once more (Cf. 13:31,32).

    He returns, however, not only because he is God the Son and glory is his intrinsic his right but because of the enormity of his obedience and what he accomplished. His self-abnegation to death on a cross means that he deserves to be glorified; he has earned glory (Phil 2:9). The glory that the Son brought to the Father so satisfied his Father that nothing less than the full glorification of Christ would suffice; God’s justice demanded it. The One who left full glory and brought full glory deserves full glory (Jn 13:31,32).

    And in his re-glorification as divine Son but now also as a man, as Daniel’s messianic ‘Son of Man’ is himself glorified… every knee will bow to Christ to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:10,11). Yet, even as he desires his own glory he does so that in his glory his Father may receive glory. He had gloried God on earth now he wishes to glorify him in heaven. Whether in self-humbling to the cross or his subsequent exaltation bringing glory to his Father is always his goal. Just as the Father’s aim is the glory of the Son (13:32). His own glory is always God’s primary purpose. If he is a good then his own glory must be paramount; which is most excellent must be treated as such.

    Christ, in exaltation, has been given authority over all flesh (Matt 28). This is his due but it is also with a view to giving eternal life to all who believe initially his immediate disciples and then all who have not seen but believe; his glorification like his humiliation has a gracious purpose. It is in the interests of his own (14:1-3, 16:7, 17:19) Eternal life, the life of fellowship with the Father and Son in glory is only possible if the Son is glorified and the Spirit given. Eternal life is not simply life that will never end but essentially fellowship with the Father and Son. He is head over all things for the church (Ephs 1:22).

    And so the heart of Christ, even as his focus is on the Father, his return to the Father’s immediate presence and his own glory, is still with his own. The second and main part of the prayer is his devotion to his followers and his desire that they may be with him to see his glory.


    not many wise… powerful… noble

    Christians are God’s chosen ones. They are the objects of his special choosing love. It is a love that predates creation (Eph 1). It is an everlasting love (Jer 31:3). God cannot remember a time when he didn’t love us and God has a perfect memory.

    We may ask why God loves us and the answer comes back as it did to Israel he loves us… because he loves us (Deut 7:7). Hallelujah! I am not loved because of anything in me, past present or future, but because he chooses to love me and has done forever. The Lord’s love is from everlasting to everlasting to those who fear him (Ps 103:17).

    If, however, there is a secondary reason why God has chosen us (a poor choice of language) then it is because of our obvious weakness. Paul says to the Corinthians

    For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Cor 1 26-29)

    Now Paul wasn’t saying this to the Corinthians simply to bring them down a peg. He was stating a truth that runs through Scripture. Moses reminds Israel of their humble status,

    It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the LORD loves you… (Deut 7:7)

    When Israel asked for a King God gave them the kind of King they wanted. Saul looked regal. However, he was not really God’s choice. God’s choice was David. The youngest of Jesse’s son (I Sam 16:7).

    Mount Zion, Jerusalem, the city of David is where God chose to dwell and put his name. Yet Mount Zion was not a particularly high mountain, not the most impregnable of situations for a capital city.

    Why did he choose Israel and David and Mount Zion… well Paul has told us hasn’t he.

    But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

    God is determined that all the glory will belong to him. If Israel becomes great it will because God makes her great. If Zion is glorious and secure it is because God makes her so and not because of human effort.

    This principle of choosing the humble is seen again and again. It is in Bethlehem, the least of the Judaean cities that Messiah will be born (Mic 5:2). It is in Nazareth (can any good thing come out of Nazareth) that he will be raised. His mother recognises her own humble position and marvels at how God raises the humble and humbles the mighty (Lk 1:48,52 Cf. Prov 29:23, 1 Pet 5:5).

    God exalts those who humble themselves.

    Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matt 23:12)

    Jesus, who spoke these words, embodies them. Willingly relinquishing his heavenly glories as a divine person, he humbled himself unto death, even the profoundly humiliating death of a cross. As a result Paul writes in Philippians 2,

    Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:9-11)

    And so those that are nothing and confess they are nothing are exalted. Those who are poor in spirit (not timid but trusting in the Lord and not self) inherit the kingdom of God (Matt 5).

    Believing Israel, the least of nations, shall be the greatest,

    For thus says the LORD: “Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, O LORD, save your people, the remnant of Israel.’ (. Jer 31:7. Cf. Deut 28:13).

    Mount Zion shall be the highest of mountains. The city into which the nations flow.

    It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it… (Isa 2:2)

    For God’s people in quiet humble trust is their salvation.

    But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit. and trembles at my word… In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength… if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

    Today the church in the West is humbled. It has been stripped of its former glory and privilege. It has sinned. It forgot the rock from which it was cut, the quarry from which it was hewn, the humble obedient faith of the patriarchs (Isa 55:1). It said in its heart, ‘I am rich and have need of nothing’. It has become a haven for unclean birds – things God finds detestable (Cf. Rev 18:2). I doubt if God’s humbling is finished. Being loved and chosen by God is a double edged sword.

    To an idolatrous Israel God said,

    You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins. ”. (Amos 3:2).

    Judgement begins at the house of God (1 Pet 4:16-18). God wants a humble trusting obeying people. Indeed it is only such who are his people. True faith is true. It follows, not flawlessly, but faithfully.

    What are humbled, trusting, contrite, praying people to do in days of small things. We are to take heart. We are to remember that it is in human weakness God works. It is the things that are nothing he uses to defeat the apparently strong. God’s word to Zachariah the prophet are apposite.

    “Who dares despise the day of small things… This is the word of the LORD… : ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty. (Zech 4:10,6)

    And so in humble confidence in the Lord we stand as different. Our confidence we place only in the Lord and the power of the plain simple apostolic unvarnished gospel through the Spirit – the preaching of the cross- foolishness and weakness to the world, but really, the power and wisdom of God to those whom God will call (1 Cor 1:21-24). We remember,

    the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength’. (1 Cor 1:25)

    It may mean, it will mean, ridicule, rejection, resentment, rancour and perhaps worse but it is they who suffer who reign, they who accept humiliation now that shall be exalted. Peter says,

    Clothe yourselves… with humility… for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you (1 Per 5:5,6).

    May the Lord enable those he chose in love, to love and serve him, humbly and with patient endurance.


    matthew’s genealogy

    Matthew’s gospel begins with a genealogy. Not the way, you may think, to attract readers. However, genealogies were important in the ancient world, as, indeed, they are in the modern world. They establish credentials. Matthew’s genealogy is a dynastic genealogy and critical to Christianity because it establishes Jesus historical and legal right as a Davidic King, as Messiah* (1:16).

    Matthew makes clear from the outset that establishing Jesus place in the Davidic dynasty is the priority of the genealogy.

    1: 1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

    The genealogy establishes that Jesus is a true Jew, the son of Abraham. He is the son through whom God’s promises of world wide blessing will come (Gen 22:18). However, although Abraham chronologically and possibly even in terms of Jewish consciousness precedes David, nevertheless David is mentioned first by Matthew. Jesus is not merely Jewish, he is royal; he is the son of David.

    Convention allowed genealogies to be arranged according to a scheme that suited the writer’s purpose. Matthew underscores David’s priority by (probably) counting him twice in the genealogy. The genealogy divides into three groups of fourteen** with David ending the first and commencing the second***. Lest we miss this focus on David in the genealogy Matthew’s summary in v17 reminds us. The trajectory of kingship is emphasised too as the first fourteen climaxes with ‘David the King’.

    1: 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of David the king….And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah… 17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations.

    And so Matthew reveals in his opening words the theme of his gospel. Jesus is Messiah, the ‘son of David’. Matthew is announcing the good news of the arrival of the long awaited eschatological King and the Kingdom he had come to establish (Isa 9:6,7). Israel’s day of redemption and salvation had arrived. Three times in as many verses at the close of the genealogy the title ‘Christ’ or ‘Messiah’ is penned.

    16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. 17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. 18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way…

    We probably find it hard to grasp the impact of Matthew’s messianic announcement. One writer helps us to grasp its significance.

    The Old Testament ends with the messianic promise unfulfilled, looking ahead to God’s future action of bringing salvation. From what our hypothetical reader sees, the promised offspring of the woman has not (yet) come. The world has not yet been set right. Blessing has not come to the world through Abraham’s descendants. The sceptre has departed from the line of Judah. David’s kingdom has been defeated and lost, and no Davidic ruler reigns to mediate God’s blessings to the nations. The Old Testament ends looking to the future for closure and fulfilment. While the Second Temple period is anything but silent, the prophetic voice has ceased. The waiting has begun.

    With this background in place, we read the opening words of Matthew’s Gospel with new eyes: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” The entire New Testament begins with a verse that declares Jesus to be the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, the long-awaited Messiah!’

    Matthew’s words ‘the book of the genealogy’ or ‘these are the generations’ consciously reflect the language of Genesis both in creation and Adam. In Gen 2 we read,

    2: 4 These are the generations. of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.

    The account of creation, its ‘genealogy’ is designed to provoke wonder and worship. Angelic beings who witnessed it sang for joy (Jn 38:7). By the second genealogy, the genealogy of Adam, the tone has changed. In ch 5 we read,

    5:1 This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. 2 Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. 3 When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. 4 The days of Adam after he fathered Seth were 800 years; and he had other sons and daughters. 5 Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, and he died.

    The genealogy continues and with each person (bar one, Enoch) the words are intoned ‘and he died’. Life, effusive life in creation, has given way to death…’and he died’. What has happened? Sin has happened. The Serpent has happened. The Fall has happened. The rebellion has begun.

    The world was a dark place east of Eden.

    Only one glimmer of light was visible. It was what some call the ‘proto-evangel’ or ‘the first gospel’; a message of hope drawn from a pronouncement of judgement on the serpent.

    3:15 will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

    The serpent and all he inflicted upon the world would one day be overthrown by ‘the seed of the woman’. It was a strange phrase for procreative ‘seed’ is generally ascribed to the male (Cf Jer 31:37). Not until Matthew’s genealogy does the precision of language become clear. Matthew, having almost formulaically written ‘the father of’ in each link of the genealogical chain now records

    16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

    Joseph was Jesus legal father but not his actual father. Jesus had no human father only a human mother. He was, as Isaiah had enigmatically prophesied centuries previously, born of a virgin. He was literally ‘the seed of the woman’. Liberal theologians, for some reason seem to particularly baulk at the virgin birth. I’m not quite sure why. After all, if resurrection is possible, why not a virgin birth. Of course this is precisely the point; they don’t accept the resurrection either.

    In the virgin birth God is perhaps announcing three things: one, if you can’t accept the supernatural then Christ is not for you – everything about salvation is miraculous; two, if you can’t accept the disgrace and innuendo that accompany the virgin birth then you won’t be able to accept the deeper disgrace of the cross – Christ is not for you; three, the fault-line of Adam’s sin runs through the whole human race. This is why neither David, nor Solomon nor any other Davidic King could establish the kingdom of God. It required someone not frustrated by sin. It required someone from outside. It required a virgin conception to birth a humanity of a different order (Matt 1:18-24).

    To Israel the virgin birth should have presented no real difficulty to faith. Not only was it prophesied in their Scriptures, Genesis and Isaiah, but miraculous births accounted for their very existence as a nation. Jesus is ‘the son of Abraham’ (Matt 1:1). Abraham was the father of a nation whose roots lay in the miraculous birth of Isaac. Abraham was a 100 years old and Sarah 90 years old, having been childless all her life, when Isaac was born (Gen 21:5).

    And so God stamped on the salvation story as far back as Abraham that the promises required the supernatural; they depended on God and not man (Cf. Jn 1:13). Participation in the promises was through faith in them no matter how improbable they seemed (Cf Roms 4:20,21).

    11: 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

    Indeed each patriarch had a wife who found difficulty in conceiving. Thus, even in purely narratival terms Messiah’s supernatural birth should have been no hindrance to faith. (Luke, in his gospel, shows the narratival progression in the miraculous from Elizabeth to Mary****. ) These patriarchal issues of conceiving, reveal both that the promise depends on God and that while God may seem slow at keeping his promises, keep them he will (2 Pet 3).

    And slow he did seem. The genealogy reveals, as we’ve observed Israel’s history. The first fourteen generations are from the promise (to Abraham) until the establishment of David’s rule as King. The next fourteen generations cover the deterioration and collapse of the Davidic dynasty and kingdom hopes. The final fourteen generations extend from the Babylonian exile until the birth of Christ. Although Israel, at the birth of Christ, is back in the land they are under foreign rule. In one sense, they were still in exile. The genealogy implies that only in Messiah will the exile end; only in him will Israel be free of oppressive rule. This is the trajectory of Matthew’s genealogy and message of his gospel. However, the oppressive rule from which they need freed is much more profound than Rome and the exile is an exile from God.

    It is interesting to note who the genealogy includes and who it leaves out. There is a clear gap between vv8,9 where several generations. Who is included and who is left out however provides no obvious pattern. Some disreputable kings are included (Rehoboam, Joram, Ahaz) though the largely apostate kings of the house of Ahab are excluded. Jechoniah is included. Yet God had said none of his children would be heir to David’s throne (Jer 22:30). Technically this was fulfilled because although Matthew’s genealogy is Jesus legal claim to the throne through Joseph, Jesus is not Joseph’s son.

    The most remarkable feature is of course the inclusion of four women. It is unusual (though not unknown) for woman to feature in genealogies. The women included, however, are particularly unusual – Tamar, Ruth, Rahab and Bathsheba. Three (Tamar, Ruth and Rahab) possibly four (Bathsheba married to Uriah the Hittite) are gentiles. Three (Tamar, Rahab and Bathsheba) behaved scandalously immorally. Two features of Messiah’s kingdom emerge: one, it is redemptive, Jesus will save his people from their sins; two, it is international, the son of Abraham will bring the promised eschatological Abrahamic blessing to the nations (Cf. Gen 22:18; Matt 28:16-20). The final and forever Davidic King will extend the Kingdom much wider than David or Solomon did. His kingdom will be universal (Isa 49:6). It will not simply extend world-wide but will embrace both heaven and earth (Eph 1:9,10, 20-23).

    And so in his genealogy Matthew sums up Israel’s history. In the first fourteen generations the promised Kingdom is established. In the second fourteen it begins to disintegrate. In the third fourteen out of the carnage of the exile comes Messiah who will restore all that is lost and so much more. Adam’s depressing genealogy in Gen 5 is overcome in the son of David, the seed of the woman, the son of Abraham who would bless the whole world.

    Jesus shall reign where’er the sun

    does its successive journeys run,

    his kingdom stretch from shore to shore,

    till moons shall wax and wane no more.

    *Since no other genealogies exist to establish progeniture rights to the Davidic throne no-one can now claim messianic rights. If Jesus is not the Christ, there can be no Messiah.

    **Either David or Jechodiah must be used twice. Since the focus is so clearly on David it seems likely that David counts twice.

    ***Matthew’s arrangement in three groups of 14 is probably using a Jewish device called gematria where letters have a numerical value. David’s name numerically adds up to 14.

    ****It is generally thought Matthew’s genealogy is traced through Joseph and shows Jesus’ legal right to the throne. Luke’s is traced through Mary and shows Jesus biological and moral right to the throne. Matthew’s concerns are mainly Jewish and so the genealogy is traced to Abraham. Luke’s focus, as a gentile, is international and so he traces back to Adam. Matthew’s narrative immediately after the genealogy focusses on Joseph while Mary is the main focus in Luke’s nativity narrative.

    the cavekeeper

    The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.


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