Understanding Covenant, II | The Voice 9.03: January 20, 2019

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Understanding Covenant, II: Old Testament Covenants

The Scriptures speak of God as loyal to covenant, faithful to those with whom He has made such an agreement. We have seen how a covenant is an agreement between two parties with mutual obligations and promises. We do well to consider the covenants into which God entered as made known in the Old Testament.

The Garden of Eden

The Scriptures do not explicitly speak of the relationship between God and Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in terms of covenant, yet many markers of covenant relationship exist: the promise of living in the Garden and to enjoy its fruit as long as the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not eaten, and a curse if that guideline was disobeyed (Genesis 2:1-25). Adam and Eve partook of that fruit, and the curses became in force (Genesis 3:1-24).

The Noahide Covenant

The first covenant called as much in the Bible is promised in Genesis 6:18 and brought to its fulfillment in Genesis 9:9-17: a covenant between God and all the earth in the days of Noah.

God made an unconditional covenant with all the creatures of the earth to no longer flood the entire world with water (Genesis 9:11). This covenant is not conditioned on anything man would or would not do. The rainbow is the sign of the covenant: when God sees the rainbow, He will remember His promise to no longer destroy all flesh by water (Genesis 9:12-16).

God’s covenant with all flesh in the days of Noah is the last covenant in the Old Testament which maintains all mankind in view, not just the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It also remains in force until this day, and God has proven faithful.

The Abrahamic Covenant

Of all the people and families of the earth God chose Abram, whom He renamed Abraham, with whom to enter into a powerful covenant, promising blessings in Genesis 12:1-3, and establishing the covenant in Genesis 15:18-21, 17:1-14, and 22:16-18.

God entered into a covenant not only with Abraham but with all of his descendants after him: the promises would be ratified with Isaac and Jacob, and the blessings would eventually come to all who would share in the faith of Abraham through Jesus the promised Seed (Genesis 26:1-5, 28:10-22, Romans 4:1-25, Galatians 3:1-29). God entered into the covenant with Abraham on account of his faithfulness; many of its promises would only be maintained if Abraham’s descendants proved faithful to God themselves (Genesis 17:1-2, 9-10). God promised to make Abraham a father of many nations, to be his God and the God of his descendants, to give the land of Canaan to those descendants, and to bless all the nations of the earth through his Descendant, the Christ (Genesis 12:1-3, 17:1-9). Abraham and his descendants would have to honor God as their God and follow His ways (Genesis 17:9). Circumcision of every male over eight days old was the sign of this covenant (Genesis 17:10-14).

God proved faithful to His covenant with Abraham: Abraham fathered many nations, the Israelites overtook the land of Canaan, and in Jesus of Nazareth all the nations of the earth have been blessed and have been able to share in the faith of Abraham (Genesis 24:1-Joshua 24:28, Romans 4:1-25).

The Mosaic Covenant

God promised Abraham that He would enter into a covenant with Abraham’s descendants; He fulfilled this promise for Israel in the Wilderness, having led them out of captivity in Egypt, seen in Exodus 19:1-Deuteronomy 34:12.

God made this covenant between Himself and the children of Israel (Exodus 19:1-24:18); He made it known through His servant Moses, and so it is known as the Mosaic covenant. God entered into this covenant in faithfulness to His promise to Abraham; whether Israel would be blessed or cursed was dependent on Israel’s faithfulness to the covenant (Leviticus 26:1-46). God promised to be the God of Israel, to give Israel the land of Canaan, to bless them and give them victory over their enemies, and maintain Israel as His elect nation; the Israelites were obligated to keep Torah, instruction or law, as God set forth to Moses (thus known as the Law of Moses; Exodus 20:1-34:12). Circumcision remained a sign of the covenant, since the covenant between God and Israel was a continuation and fulfillment of the covenant between God and Abraham; the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle also functioned as signs (Exodus 35:1-40:38).

God proved faithful to His covenant with Israel despite Israel’s continual faithlessness. Israel would endure all the curses of the covenant on account of their disobedience (2 Kings 17:7-23, 2 Chronicles 36:15-16); their rejection of the Messiah God sent them meant the full end of the observance of Torah as written, and the people of God re-centered upon those following Jesus the Christ (Matthew 24:1-36, Galatians 6:16, Ephesians 2:11-18, Colossians 2:14-17, 1 Peter 2:3-10).

The Davidic Covenant

YHWH reigned as king over Israel until Israel sought its own king; YHWH would eventually choose a king according to His own desire, David, and would make a covenant with him (1 Samuel 13:14, 7:8-16, 23:5).

God entered into a covenant with David and his descendants; God entered this covenant because of David’s faithfulness, and its promises were dependent on his descendant’s continued faithfulness (2 Samuel 7:8-16). God promised to make a house, or dynasty, of David, who always would have a descendant on the throne; David and his descendants would have to serve God faithfully according to the Torah given to Israel. No sign was established for this covenant.

God faithfully maintained a man on the throne of David from Solomon his son until the days of Zedekiah son of Josiah; the continual disobedience of those descendants led to a diminished kingdom and then the loss of all temporal power (2 Chronicles 36:1-16). God’s promises to David met their complete fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of David who proved faithful and was given an eternal kingdom and dominion which remains to this day (Daniel 7:13-14, Luke 1:32-33, Acts 2:36, Hebrews 4:15, 5:7-8).

At various points in the Old Testament these covenants were ratified again for different generations; other evidence exists for covenants among men. Yet the covenants described above substantially represent the covenants in which God entered in the Old Testament. We have seen how they all ultimately point to Jesus of Nazareth and the work God has accomplished in Him. May we prove faithful to God in Christ and find salvation and the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

How Shall Jacob Stand? | The Voice 9.02: January 13, 2019

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How Shall Jacob Stand?

Amos was sent to prophesy a warning of doom and condemnation for the northern Kingdom of Israel in the days of Jeroboam (II), king of Israel: if they would not change their ways, YHWH would bring the calamity and disaster of the Assyrian hordes (Amos 1:1-6:14). The next section of Amos is primarily defined by a series of “visions” which YHWH gives to Amos (Amos 7:1-9, 8:1-3).

YHWH showed Amos a host of locusts who would come up and consume all the shoots of the “latter growth,” after the “king’s mowing” (Amos 7:1). Many see this spiritually or allegorically, but it appears to be a vision of the coming of locusts at a precarious moment after the rains came, after the traditional mowing of the grass according to the king, which would lead to devastation of crops and a subsequent famine. Amos cried out in intercession for Israel, asking God to spare Jacob, for how could he stand, since he is small (Amos 7:2)? YHWH relented; this would not be (Amos 7:3).

YHWH then showed Amos fire, which would come out to contend for YHWH’s purposes; it consumed the great deep, the ocean depths, and would overcome the land (Amos 7:4). Again Amos cried out in intercession for Israel, since Jacob is small; again YHWH relented, and it would not be (Amos 7:5-6).

Amos then saw the Lord standing by a wall made by a plumb line, holding a plumb line (Amos 7:7). YHWH asked Amos about it, and explained its purpose: He would set a plumb line in the midst of Israel, and would not pass by them anymore; the holy places of Israel would be desolate, and YHWH would rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword, for death and devastation (Amos 7:8-9).

In some way Amos communicated these visions to the Israelites, and this time a response came swiftly. Amaziah, the priest of YHWH at Bethel, sent word to Jeroboam regarding the “conspiracy” which Amos spoke, that Jeroboam would die by the sword and Israel would be sent into captivity; he was sure the land could not bear these prophecies (Amos 7:10-11). Amaziah called Amos a seer and told him to go and prophesy in Judah, and no longer at Bethel, since it was the king’s sanctuary and a house of God (Amos 7:12-13). Amos then corrected Amaziah: he was no seer, but a shepherd, and a keeper of sycamore trees; YHWH had told him to go to Israel and prophesy against it (Amos 7:14-15). Amos then set forth the word of YHWH to Amaziah: since he would forbid prophesying against the descendants of Isaac and Israel, his wife would become a prostitute in the city, his children would be executed, his land would be divided as by a plumb line, and he would die in an unclean land, thus participating in the exile of Israel (Amos 7:16-17).

The Lord YHWH then showed Amos a basket of summer fruit (Amos 8:1). YHWH then explained its purpose: the end had come for Israel, and He would not pass by them again (Amos 8:2). God then envisioned what it would be like on that day: wailing in the temple; corpses everywhere; horror and astonishment in silence (Amos 8:3).

All of these visions work together to communicate God’s warning for Israel: their judgment would not come by famine or fire from heaven; instead, God would lay down His line, and Israel would be left to their own devices. They thought a glorious age awaited; in truth, they were enjoying the last fruits of their relationship with God, and their end was near. Death and devastation would come for many; for those who stayed alive, exile or slavery.

Amos’ message proved politically explosive; the authorities at Bethel wanted nothing to do with him and what he had to say. He was accused of plotting sedition and conspiracy against Jeroboam and against Israel; he was proving to be a pesky Judahite who did not belong and was meddling in business which was not his. Then, as now, it was easier to get rid of the messenger than it was to heed the message. Amaziah would have not been troubled much by Amos; he would have been sure that Amos was cantankerous, and that judgment was far away if it ever came.

Did Amos’ prophecy regarding Amaziah come to pass? We have no revelation of explicit validation, but we have every reason to expect it took place. Within a generation Israel would be devastated and cast into exile; as part of the elite, Amaziah’s wife would have been easy prey for rape and a life of prostitution, his children targets for execution, and his own life spared only to exacerbate his humiliation.

Amaziah’s story would be Israel’s story. They did not heed Amos; they would experience devastation and suffering; those who died would be considered more fortunate than those who lived to experience further humiliation in exile.

Unfortunately, most of those who come with a message of sharp rebuke from YHWH receive the same response as Amos did. It remains easier to dispatch or ignore the messenger than it is to heed the message. Every generation convinces itself that they are different, and they will heed the messages previous generations did not. And yet every generation, in its own way, refuses to heed God’s warnings. Judgment will invariably come.

As Christians we do well to heed the things which took place in Israel as examples for us. We must prove willing to listen to the prophetic critique we find in the pages of Scripture and go through the uncomfortable experience of having our idols and ideologies exposed for what they are so we can more fully trust in God in Christ and obtain salvation in Him. May we heed the Word of God and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Salvation in the New Testament | The Voice 9.01: January 06, 2019

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Salvation in the New Testament

Great expectations surrounded the birth of the Messiah. The angel Gabriel told Mary to name Him Jesus (“YHWH saves”), for He would save the people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). Mary rejoiced in God her Savior, seeing in her Son God’s remembrance, help, and mercy to Israel (Luke 1:47, 54-55). Gabriel announced the birth of Jesus as the Savior to shepherds (Luke 2:10-11); Simeon confessed Jesus as God’s salvation, the glory of Israel, and a light to the Gentiles (Luke 2:30-32). Zechariah, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied of Jesus as the means by which God would bring salvation to His people, a horn of salvation in David, and salvation from Israel’s enemies and those who hated them (Luke 1:67-75). The birth of Jesus brought great joy to those who looked for the redemption of Jerusalem (cf. Luke 2:38).

In the covenants which God made with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Israel, and David, salvation had involved deliverance from enemies, blessings and prosperity in the land which God had given them, and progeny to maintain the covenant, the land, and God’s blessings (Genesis 17:4-8, Leviticus 26:1-12). Israelites therefore naturally expected the coming Messiah to bring this kind of salvation to His people in even greater measure than in the days of Moses or David.

All who would maintain such expectations would become disappointed and frustrated by what God accomplished in Jesus of Nazareth, not because He was a false Messiah, but because they set their sights, hopes, and dreams for salvation too narrowly. Israel was focused on the oppression of the Romans. The Romans, however, were only the latest in a long line of oppressors and persecutors. One day they would be gone, and some other oppressor would rise.

Jesus of Nazareth instead proclaimed the good news of God’s reign in the Kingdom He was establishing: defeat over the greatest enemy, Satan, and the sin and death by which he had deceived and tyrannized mankind for millennia (Romans 5:12-21, 6:14-23, 8:1-25). Jesus gained victory over Satan by resisting all of his temptations and suffering evil at the hands of his agents to the point of death (Hebrews 4:15, Colossians 2:15). God gave Jesus victory over death in the resurrection, and gave Him all rule, power, and authority in His ascension and the establishment of His Kingdom (Daniel 7:13-14, Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 2:14-36, Romans 6:1-11).

Christians do well to understand salvation as it has been manifested in what God accomplished in Jesus. Jesus came, died, and was raised again to save people from their sins and reconcile them to God and to one another (Ephesians 2:1-22). Jesus absorbed and suffered the shame and the curse of sin and in this way secured redemption for all who would trust in Him (Galatians 3:10-14, 2 Corinthians 5:20-21). Jesus now reigns as Lord and Christ, and all do well to follow after Him and His commandments (Acts 2:36, 1 John 2:3-6). In Jesus all are invited to become part of the household of God and to participate in the work of the Kingdom of God in Christ in His church (Ephesians 1:22-23, 2:18-22, Colossians 1:13, 18).

To this end participation in the new covenant between God and Jesus contrasts sharply with participation in the covenant between God and Israel. Israel was a specific people given a specific piece of land; Christians come from all the nations of the world and are citizens of Jesus’ Kingdom which is not of this world, transcending all lands and nation-states (John 18:36, Acts 10:34-35, Philippians 3:20-21). Israel’s blessings and curses were concrete, focusing on offspring, material prosperity, and material security; while Christians may still receive such concrete blessings from God, they are not guaranteed, and their existence or lack thereof do not inherently provide assurance of God’s favor or disfavor (Matthew 6:19-34, 2 Corinthians 11:18-33). The Christian’s strong assurance and hope lay instead in eternal life in the resurrection (Philippians 3:1-15), something beyond this life. A Christian may experience a Job-like event of great material loss: in Israel such would be considered a curse, but in Christ it may be the way the Christian glorifies God and obtains the resurrection of life (1 John 3:16, Revelation 12:11).

The contrast between salvation in the Old and New Testaments is often reduced to “physical” versus “spiritual”: salvation in the Old Testament involved physical deliverance from physical enemies and distress, whereas in the New Testament salvation involves spiritual deliverance from our spiritual enemy.

As we have seen, this “physical vs. spiritual” contrast has a lot of truth in it, yet we must resist making the comparison absolute. Everything God sought to accomplish in Israel would culminate in Jesus’ death and resurrection; the Patriarchs and the Israelites who trusted in God sought to cultivate that spiritual relationship and yearned for a heavenly city and land whose builder and founder was God (Hebrews 11:8-16). Thus, spiritual elements existed in the salvation and covenants of the Old Testament; likewise, the physical is not entirely rejected in the New Testament.

God is a spirit; God desires for the salvation of our souls (John 4:24, Romans 6:3-7, 8:9-11). Yet if God’s salvation in Christ were only spiritual in nature, the story would be about how to escape the enslavement of the hopelessly corrupt creation in order to cultivate pure spirit: this was the story advanced by the docetics and Gnostics, and rightly condemned as heresy by Paul and John (1 Timothy 6:20-21, 1 John 4:1-5, 2 John 1:6-10).

In our zeal to make appropriate contrasts between the old and new covenants we should not go beyond what is written and fall prey to the philosophies of the world (Colossians 2:8-9). God has made humans as soul, spirit, and body; we were made thus as part of His creation which He called very good (Genesis 1:26-27, 31, Hebrews 4:12). God’s creation has never been the problem; the problem was the corruption introduced into the creation by sin and death (Romans 5:12-21). God became flesh and dwelt among us as Jesus of Nazareth; Jesus took on the form of sinful flesh to redeem it (John 1:1, 14, 2 Corinthians 5:20-21). The “game changer” was not Jesus’ revelation to the world of secret knowledge of how to escape, but Jesus’ resurrection from the dead: Jesus’ resurrection is the ground for the hope of our own resurrection, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:18-23, 1 Corinthians 15:1-58). Humanity is not the problem; physicality is not the problem; sin and death are the problems, and when sin and death are fully overcome in Jesus, we can be made ready to obtain eternal life in the incorruptible, immortal, yet still distinctly human, resurrection body (Romans 5:12-21, 1 Corinthians 15:50-58). Not for nothing do Peter and John envision life in the resurrection in a glorified “new heavens and new earth,” a setting to right of all that has gone wrong, not a complete abandonment of what God made and called good (2 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1-22:6).

God did indeed save His people from their sins and gave them victory over their enemies in Jesus their Messiah. God’s work in Jesus did not align with Israel’s expectations, but it was also not otherworldly or escapist. Our hope is not in the here and now, but in Jesus and the resurrection, but it cannot be completely extricated from the creation in which God took on flesh and dwelt among us, died, was raised in power, and now rules over as Lord. May we continually praise God for the hope of salvation in Jesus, and seek to obtain the resurrection of life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

2 Baruch | The Voice 8.52: December 30, 2018

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2 Baruch

Jerusalem had fallen to the Romans; another Temple of the Israelites had been torn down and burned. In order to make some sense of what happened, many Israelites turned to the past. An Israelite of the late first century sought to provide understanding and encouragement to his fellow Israelites by writing as if Baruch, attempting to make sense of how YHWH could have again handed His people over to their enemies. His writing is known to us as 2 Baruch.

2 Baruch is also known as the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch, in contrast with the Greek Apocalypse of Baruch. 2 Baruch was almost assuredly originally written in either Hebrew or Aramaic, but probably Hebrew, and then translated into many languages. 2 Baruch has been primarily preserved in a Syriac translation of a Greek translation of the original (hence why it is often called the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch, even though it was not a Syriac composition). The work is written as if by Baruch, son of Neriah, Jeremiah’s scribe and companion, who experienced great distress on account of his circumstances in Jerusalem, but whose life would be spared on account of his faithfulness (Jeremiah 32:12-15, 36:4-32, 43:3-6, 45:1-5). And yet 2 Baruch would give Baruch a pride of place and standing as a prophet in his own right not at all suggested in Jeremiah or anywhere else in the Old Testament; for this and many textual reasons 2 Baruch is universally recognized as pseudepigraphal, written by an anonymous Israelite in the first century CE or early second century CE after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 but without any expectation of the bar-Kokhba revolt. The anonymous author most likely chose Baruch since he maintained faith and trust in God despite distress in the days when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians; he likely intended for this to provide a model and example for Israelites of his own day. Many have noted the many parallels between 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra and some have suggested a dependent relationship; while both have apocalyptic themes and relate to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, the two works remain distinct. 2 Baruch is not as consistently apocalyptic, featuring narratives, speeches, prayers, and lamentation as well; the author of 2 Baruch attempted to frame the most recent devastation in terms of the greater story of what he believed God was accomplishing for Israel. Through prayer, lament, speeches, and visions, the author of 2 Baruch attempted to provide context for his fellow Israelites after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, and hoped to encourage them with the promise of a Messiah and the resurrection.

2 Baruch can be read online here. 2 Baruch began with God warning “Baruch” and the faithful to leave Jerusalem before it is destroyed; “Baruch” cannot make sense of how God could be faithful and do such things; God told “Baruch” it would happen to discipline the people for their sins while giving confidence that the heavenly Jerusalem is preserved; “Baruch” saw an angel gathering the vessels of the Temple before the destruction (2 Baruch 1:1-9:1). “Baruch” remained in Jerusalem and lamented the fall of Jerusalem, considering those who died more fortunate than those who endured Jerusalem’s destruction (2 Baruch 10:1-12:5). God and “Baruch” then have another conversation regarding future judgment and the hastening of time so as to reach the end (2 Baruch 13:1-20:6). “Baruch” then prayed, contrasting God’s greatness and man’s short time, asking for the end to come (2 Baruch 21:1-26). “Baruch” and God conversed again, in which God established the end would come when the fixed number of those who would be born came to pass, with the end times divided into twelve parts, each with tribulation, culminating in the time of the Messiah and the resurrection of the dead (2 Baruch 22:1-30:5). “Baruch” then gathered the remaining elders of Judah and spoke to them of the future, in which the Temple would be rebuilt but destroyed again, but afterward built again for eternity in the renewal of creation at the end (2 Baruch 31:1-34:1). “Baruch” lamented the fate of Jerusalem again, even lamenting the insufficiency of his lament regarding the humiliation of Israel (2 Baruch 35:1-5).

“Baruch” was then given a vision of a forest with rocks and crags and a fountain turning into a river which uprooted the forest except for one cedar; the cedar would be brought before a vine and condemned: this is explained to “Baruch” as a series of four kingdoms, with the vine as the Messiah who would overcome the final kingdom; “Baruch” is told that all are judged by what they do toward the end of their lives (2 Baruch 26:1-43:3). “Baruch” convened a group of Israelites and exhorted them to obey the Law to obtain life in the new world to come; he would soon be gone, but Israel would not lack leaders or wise men (2 Baruch 44:1-47:2). “Baruch” again prayed a contrast between God’s greatness and man’s transience, begging God to not remove hope from Israel; God responded by emphasizing the need for judgment to satisfy justice, and detailed the tribulations to come; the nature of the resurrection is discussed, glorified for the righteous, a resurrection so as to decay for the wicked; “Baruch” wished for people to finish their lamentation and prepare for what God would give them (2 Baruch 48:1-52:8).

“Baruch” then received an extended vision, explained by the angel Remiel: he saw alternating black and bright waters raining upon the earth from clouds in twelve cycles, which were explained in terms of the six times of wickedness in Adam, Egypt, the Amorites, Jeroboam, Manasseh, and the Babylonian exile) and the six times of righteousness in Abraham, Moses, David and Solomon, Hezekiah, Josiah, and the Second Temple); a greater darker period would then come, bringing destruction, and then a flash of light to end it: the end of the Second Temple, the time afterward, and the coming of the Messiah and peace (2 Baruch 53:1-76:5). “Baruch” addressed the Israelites for a third and final time, speaking of the present destruction as chastisement for Israel’s sins, admonishing the Israelites toward faithfulness no matter what (2 Baruch 77:1-17). Based on Israelite encouragement “Baruch” then wrote two letters of a similar message for the exiles in Babylon and in Assyria; the latter is preserved in the rest of 2 Baruch, the “Epistle of Baruch,” detailing the events which transpired in Jerusalem, how it was the judgment of God, the importance of remaining faithful to God and the Law, and the expectation of judgment on Israel’s enemies (2 Baruch 78:1-87:1).

We do not know how well 2 Baruch was received within Israel; the text was preserved by Christians who found it profitable for consideration and meditation. 2 Baruch testifies to how some in Israel attempted to come to grips with the destruction of Jerusalem, understanding it as God’s judgment for sin while remaining confident in the Torah and the coming of the Messiah and a day of resurrection. Jerusalem was destroyed on account of the sins of the people; yet that sin was primarily their rejection of the Messiah whom God had already sent to Israel, Jesus of Nazareth, who prophesied the destruction as His vindication as the Son of Man (Matthew 24:1-36). 2 Baruch has value for us as a witness of the continuing hope of the Messiah and resurrection in Israel; we do well to put our trust in Jesus as the Messiah so that we may obtain the resurrection of life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Works Consulted

Stone, Michael and Henze, Matthias. 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2013.

The Cost of Eternal Life | The Voice 8.51: December 23, 2018

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The Cost of Eternal Life

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

John 3:16 is perhaps the best known verse in the Bible. There always seems to be at least one person holding a sign proclaiming the verse at every sporting event. The message of the verse provides comfort and encouragement for many: it speaks of God’s love for mankind and the opportunity given for mankind to obtain eternal life.

Many people have heard about the message in John 3:16 but have not heard much else from the Bible. People also hear from many churches that all they need to do in order to be saved is to believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that no matter what they do after that moment, they will be saved. Therefore, many think that as long as they recognize that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, everything will be fine. The Scriptures, however, do not teach this: in fact, they teach the opposite in James 2:24 and 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9. Eternal life is possible; we do nothing to earn it or deserve it, but it comes at great cost.

The Scriptures reveal that we humans do not deserve salvation, and no one is saved because of how great they are or because they have purchased salvation somehow (cf. Romans 3:9-21, Ephesians 2:1-10). Yet this does not automatically mean that salvation requires nothing from us. Let us consider what the Scriptures teach regarding what God seeks from those who would obtain eternal life.

To obtain eternal life, we must certainly believe, but must also do the will of the Father, as it is written:

“Not every one that saith unto me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

To obtain eternal life, we must put away sin, as it is written:

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. We who died to sin, how shall we any longer live therein? (Romans 6:1-2).

To obtain eternal life, we must do what is right and good, as it is written:

To them that by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and incorruption, eternal life (Romans 2:7).

To him therefore that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin (James 4:17).

To obtain eternal life, we must make Jesus and His will the top priority in our life, and suffer loss and humiliation, as it is written:

“He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that doth not take his cross and follow after me, is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37-38).

Please do not take our word for this, as if our word means much of anything. Instead, please see that we have spoken from the Scriptures regarding these matters. The Lord Jesus Christ and His Apostles have declared that it is not enough just to recognize that Jesus is Lord; we must act accordingly, doing the will of the Father, seeking the good and avoiding the evil, constantly suffering loss for Jesus.

John 3:16 is a wonderful passage and we would do well to praise God every day because of His love and His offer of salvation through His Son Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, we do not want you to be deceived by a false gospel that leads to eternal condemnation (cf. Galatians 1:6-9). The view that says that all we need to do in order to be saved is believe is popular and comforting, but, as the Scriptures reveal, it is simply not true! When we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Lord of Heaven and earth (cf. Matthew 28:18), we must then obey Him and His will, doing His commandments and walking as He walked (1 John 2:1-6). We, the members of the church of Christ, are striving to obey Jesus our Lord, and we stand ready to encourage anyone else who seeks to do the same. We encourage you to consider the options of life or death, and choose to follow Jesus to obtain eternal life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Understanding Covenant, I | The Voice 8.50: December 16, 2018

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Understanding Covenant, Part I: What is a Covenant?

Our God is a consuming fire; He can be dangerous, even among those who would be His people. Throughout the pages of Scripture we learn how God mediated His relationships with people in His creation through covenant agreements. Covenant thus represents a prominent and important theme in the Scriptures. We can better understand many things about God and His relationship with people through understanding covenant. Unfortunately, many have been led astray by their misunderstandings and distortions of the nature of covenants. We do well to explore covenants and what they mean; to do so, we must first understand what covenants are.

According to Webster’s dictionary, “covenant” in English is “a mutual consent or agreement of two or more persons, to do or to forbear some act or thing; a contract; stipulation; a writing containing the terms of agreement or contract between parties; or the clause of agreement in a deed containing the covenant; to enter into a formal agreement; to stipulate; to bind oneself by contract; to grant or promise by covenant. In English, a covenant is an agreement into which two parties enter, and by extension the documentation for that agreement.

In Hebrew “covenant” is berit, and the Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon defines it as “covenant, alliance, pledge”. Berit can refer to covenants made between man and God, man with man, the marriage relationship, and other forms of alliances. Berit is related to the word for cutting; this is consistent with the particular Hebrew idiom used to describe the ratification of a covenant, katab berit, “to cut a covenant.”

Through research and archaeology we have been able to learn much regarding the types and nature of covenants prevalent in the ancient Near Eastern world. These covenants manifest a great number of similarities with covenants seen in the Scriptures.

Covenants involved two parties and mutual obligations. In the ancient Near East, two parties, often kings with their people or other kings (including the famous “suzerain-vassal” treaties, with the suzerain as the stronger king, and the vassal as the weaker king), and each side had various obligations to uphold to maintain the covenant.

Covenants are made between superiors and inferiors and between equals. We see that a king will make a covenant with his people or with a king of a lesser city, or pacts of mutual protection with kings of equal standing.

Covenants often involved protection and assistance. The necessity of covenant in the ancient Near East was acute as alliances and treaties are today: for a state to grow and prosper it must have agreements with other states, and for a king to have a profitable rule, a king must have an agreement with his people. As can be imagined, most covenants involved protection/assistance: a king would enter into a covenant with his people to protect them in exchange for their obedience and economic support, and such a king would also enter into a covenant with neighboring peoples to not attack them and to gain military assistance if necessary.

Covenants were dissolved at the will of either party and/or lack of fulfillment of obligation. When and if either side no longer desired to be within that covenant, or if one party in the covenant did not fulfill their obligation (obedience, for example, or withholding military assistance in time of need, or attacking the other party), the covenant was considered dissolved and neither side liable for the terms of the covenant.

Yet this conception of covenant, at least in cultural terms, seems to be a purely ancient Near Eastern phenomenon. The Greek language did not have any word which would communicate the specific force and nature of Hebrew berit. To this end the Greek translators of the Hebrew Bible appropriated the Greek word diatheke to translate berit in the Septuagint (LXX).

Thayer defined diatheke as “a disposition, arrangement, of any sort, which one wishes to be valid, the last disposition which one makes of his earthly possessions after his death, a testament or will; a compact, a covenant, a testament.” The history of diatheke is well explained in Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker’s lexicon: diatheke referred to compacts or contracts, promissory obligations, in the Attic period of Greek (until 332 BCE). In the period between 332 BCE and the LXX translation, diatheke referred exclusively to one’s last will and testament (BDAG, 3rd ed., p. 228). They explain the expansion of the meaning of diatheke as follows:

As a translation of berit in LXX, diatheke retains the component of legal disposition of personal goods while omitting that of the anticipated death of a testator. A Hellenistic reader would experience no confusion, for it was a foregone conclusion that gods were immortal. Hence a diatheke decreed by God cannot require the death of a testator to make it operative. Nevertheless, another essential characteristic of a testament is retained, namely that it is the declaration of one person’s initiative, not the result of an agreement between two parties, like a compact or contract. This is beyond doubt one of the main reasons why the LXX rendered berit by diatheke. In the ‘covenants’ of God, it was God alone who set the conditions; hence, “covenant” can be used to translate diatheke only when this is kept in mind. So diatheke acquires a meaning in LXX which cannot be paralleled with certainty in extra-Biblical sources, namely ‘decree,’ ‘declaration of purpose,’ ‘set of regulations,’ etc. (BDAG, 3rd edition, p. 288).

The translators of the Septuagint, therefore, felt compelled to expand the definition of diatheke in order to accommodate Hebrew berit, and used only within the Judeo-Christian religious literary context. Diatheke, originally only a compact, later a will or testament, would take on the meaning of “covenant.” Therefore, we must not project the Greek conception of diatheke as will or testament onto Hebrew berit and how we understand the nature of covenant in the Old Testament. Likewise, in the New Testament, we must remember that diatheke can refer either to a will or a testament or to a covenant, or, as the Hebrew author does so deftly, commingle the two (cf. Hebrews 9:1-27).

A covenant, therefore, is a mutual agreement between two parties with obligations for each. The Hebrew word berit can refer to a covenant of mutual agreement and obligation between people or between God and man. The Greek word diatheke originally meant a will, testament, or compact, and the translators of the Septuagint expanded its meaning to also describe covenants of mutual agreement. May we prove ever thankful for the opportunity to maintain a covenant relationship with God in Christ, and observe all things we have been commanded to fulfill in Jesus so as to obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Woe to Those at Ease in Zion! | The Voice 8.49: December 09, 2018

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Woe to Those at Ease in Zion!

Over and over again Amos has attempted to impress upon the Israelites of the northern Kingdom of Israel their dire condition if they do not repent of their sinfulness: YHWH was about to come in judgment, and the results would not be pretty (Amos 1:1-5:27). Israel was not listening; nevertheless, directed by God, Amos persisted.

Amos pronounced woe to those at ease in Zion and secure and comfortable in Samaria: they were trusting in their foreign policy measures, as if by such intrigues they could remain stable (Amos 6:1). They claimed a special status, yet Amos asked them to consider other neighboring kingdoms like Calneh (likely the same as Calno in Isaiah 10:9, referring to Kulniah in modern-day Syria), Hamath, and Gath of the Philistines, for in substance neither Israel nor Judah were really any better than they (Amos 6:2). At the time Amos spoke all of these places still stood; they all would be conquered by the Assyrians and be swept away. Israel’s pretenses to greatness would not save them.

Amos then indicted the Israelites (and likely the Judahites as well) for their ostentatious wealth and frivolity: they imagined the day of reckoning to be far off, and gained through violence (Amos 6:3). They wasted their time in leisure, living with fancy furniture, eating choice meats, making up songs and instruments, drinking wine, cleansing themselves with oil, and in all of this do not mourn the affliction which caused distress to the house of Joseph (Amos 6:4-6). The day would be coming in which their songs would end and they would be the first to be sent away into exile (Amos 6:7). Amos thus powerfully indicted the people for squandering great wealth and time in leisure without regard for their fellow Israelites and the distress which was about to overcome them all.

Amos’ judgments did not become more pleasant for Israel. YHWH has sworn by Himself (since there is none greater, Hebrews 6:13, and heightening the solemnity) how He hated the pride and strongholds of Jacob, and it would be delivered up (Amos 6:8). Amos then envisioned the result of the disaster: a household of ten men would have none left, and the relative who would come to bury the dead would ask if any were alive, and one in the innermost part of the house would answer no, and encourage silence, not speaking the name of YHWH for all the terror and dread which had come upon them (Amos 6:9-10). YHWH has commanded, and all the houses, great and small, would be razed (Amos 6:11).

Some translational confusion exists regarding Amos 6:12-14, whether certain words should be treated as place-names or translated into substantive words, but the point remains understandable regardless. Israel has presumed that it is able to maintain power by its own strength, or perhaps the Israelite army has proven successful and has gained victory in Lo-debar and Karnaim (Amos 6:13). To this end Amos asked if horses run on rocks, or if one plows rocks or the sea with oxen, which of course is ludicrous; and yet Israel has turned justice to gall and righteousness to wormwood, both forms of poison, and yet think their strength will save them (Amos 6:12). No: YHWH would lift up a nation (which would be Assyria), and Israel and Judah would be afflicted from its northern to southern extremes (Amos 6:14).

Amos’ chastisement of Israel and Judah in Amos 6:1-14 is consistent with the tenor of his message throughout and entirely appropriate to the situation in the latter days of Jeroboam (II) of Israel. At the time Israel was prosperous; at the time things seemed to be improving. At the time one could understand why Israel felt safe and secure. They ate, drank, sang, danced, and played, and gave no thought to the destruction coming upon them. It all seemed remote; prophets had been prophesying doom and gloom for years. Such all seemed plausible until it was no longer tenable, and devastation came far more suddenly than they could have imagined on their own. Within a generation the northern Kingdom of Israel would cease as a going concern; all the horrors Amos prophesied came to pass.

The Hebrews author spoke of Christians as having come to Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, in Christ (Hebrews 12:22). To this end Christians today do well to heed the warning of Amos and be aware of the danger of growing at ease in Zion. We are constantly barraged with marketing and messaging to encourage us to live enjoyable lives in leisure: our entertainment is full of those who maintain fancy furniture, eating choice foods, drinking, cavorting, and living in the moment, and give no thought to the prospect of an evil day to come, a day of reckoning and judgment. We are encouraged to consume greatly; do we give thought to the distress which may be coming upon the people of God or the land in which we live?

Jesus and Paul encouraged Christians to live in vigilance in Matthew 25:1-13, Romans 13:11-14, and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 for good reason. Those going on to destruction distract themselves with intoxicating passions and desires of the flesh; those who pursue eternal life will remain sober, as in the day, always prepared for the return of the Lord Jesus.

Amos’ warnings remain prescient: the people of God are easily deceived into living for the moment and trusting in their own strength and ingenuity. They may have every reason to think that things will continue on as they always have. But then previously unimaginable disasters may come about, and nothing could ever be the same. Yet just as God warned Israel through Amos about what would come to pass, even though it was beyond their imagination, so in Christ we have been warned about what God will bring to pass in Jesus, even though it remains beyond the imagination of many. There is no time or room to be at ease in Zion; may we always be prepared for the return of the Lord Jesus, and share in the resurrection of life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Salvation in the Old Testament | The Voice 8.48: December 02, 2018

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Salvation in the Old Testament

God has worked diligently throughout time to save His people. As the people of God in Christ Jesus, we Christians tend to understand salvation and related ideas through the prism of what God has accomplished through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, and eventual return. This is right, good, and appropriate for us today in the new covenant; nevertheless, we must be careful about projecting what has been made known in Jesus back onto the Old Testament, before the mystery of the Gospel was made known (cf. Ephesians 3:1-11). We do well to explore what salvation looked like in the Old Testament.

As Christians we tend to think of salvation first in terms of forgiveness of sins and (as a result) the opportunity to put our trust in the hope of the resurrection to come (John 3:16, Romans 8:1-25). For the Patriarchs and Israel, salvation was much more physical and concrete.

The author of Hebrews well encapsulated the nature of Israelite service before YHWH in Hebrews 9:1-8: in Exodus and Leviticus YHWH made provision for Israel to build a sanctuary for His presence and name, first a tent, and later a temple, with an altar, a priesthood, and commandments for the offering of animals and produce in order to atone for sin or guilt or make peace with God (Exodus 25:1-Leviticus 27:34). All Israel would assemble before YHWH at prescribed times and the requisite offerings were sacrificed; Israelites would bring their produce to thank God, atone for their sins, and make peace with Him.

In Christ we understand that our hope will not be complete in this life, but in the promise of the resurrection to come (Philippians 3:1-21). The Patriarchs and the Israelites only knew of the afterlife as Sheol, the underworld place of the dead, the habitation of the righteous and the wicked alike (Genesis 37:35, Numbers 16:33, Psalms 9:17, 88:3, 89:48, Ecclesiastes 9:10). Yes, some Israelites nourished hope of being redeemed from Sheol (Psalms 16:10, 49:15), and Daniel would be given the promise of the resurrection (Daniel 12:2), but how exactly this would work out for Israelites in the end was not yet fully made known to them. We can therefore understand why the hope of the Patriarchs and Israel tended to focus on this life.

Job provides a great example for our understanding. God had blessed Job: he had seven sons and three daughters and great wealth, and conscientiously offered sacrifices for himself and his children lest anyone happened to sin against God (Job 1:1-5). Then Job was considered as one forsaken by God when his children were killed, animals slaughtered, and struck with illness (Job 1:13-22, 2:7-9). Afterward, when God blessed him again, Job maintained twice as much wealth as he had before, and again seven sons and three daughters, very beautiful were born to him, and saw his great-great-grandchildren (Job 42:10-17). God redeemed Job by rescuing him from disease and destruction; Job’s blessings were his children and his wealth.

The list of blessings and curses in Leviticus 26:1-46 also prove instructive for us. If the Israelites would observe the Law YHWH gave them, He would bring rain at the right time to nourish a bountiful harvest, give them security and safety in their land, defeat their enemies before them, multiply their number, maintain His tabernacle in their midst, and be their God (Leviticus 26:1-12). Israel could have this confidence because He had saved them, defined in the exodus from Egypt: YHWH sent plagues upon the Egyptians and delivered Israel with a powerful hand from their midst (Leviticus 26:13; cf. Exodus 6:1-15:21). If the Israelites did not observe the Law YHWH gave them, He would send illness among them, cause their enemies to eat their harvest, defeat them before their enemies, send further plagues against the land, render them barren or strike their children dead, and ultimately cast them out of the land in exile (Leviticus 26:14-43). And so it would be throughout Israel’s history. In the good times, as in Solomon’s day, Israel and Judah dwelt in safety, every man under his vine and fig tree, with confidence in the future with children and great-grandchildren (1 Kings 11:25). In the bad times, as in the end of Israel and Judah, untold thousands died of plague, famine, and war, the cities and sanctuaries of Israel and Judah were put to the torch, and the people exiled out of the land (2 Kings 17:1-41, 25:1-21).

Salvation and redemption, therefore, looked very different in Israel than they would in Jesus. Sheol was a drab affair; one’s place in Israel among the people of God would be secured by having sons and grandsons continuing the family lineage on the plot of land given to their ancestors. Dying without children or losing one’s ancestral land were the ultimate disasters, leading to the extermination of the family lineage in Israel and their place among the people of God. If an Israelite lived to a good old age, enjoyed prosperity in the land, saw Israel’s enemies defeated and had sons and grandsons, he would have considered himself blessed, fortunate, and saved and delivered by YHWH from evil. If an Israelite died young, suffered persistent drought or pestilence, endured plagues, were oppressed by Israel’s enemies, and died childless, he would have considered himself cast off by YHWH and accursed.

In Jesus of Nazareth YHWH would provide the ultimate deliverance and salvation for His people Israel, if they chose to accept it. All of the plagues and difficulties Israel experienced ultimately derived from the work of the Evil One and the powers and principalities; Jesus defeated them all by suffering on the cross and dying for the sins of the world, and God raised Him from the dead (Romans 8:1-25, Colossians 2:11-15). The blood of bulls and goats could not truly atone for sin (Hebrews 10:4); Jesus’ blood would cleanse from sin all whom God would rescue in faith, from Adam until the last man on the final day (Hebrews 7:1-9:27). Through Jesus all can have direct access to God and participation in His household (Ephesians 2:18-22); God dwells among His people through His Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:19-20). The fullness of the salvation in which Israel hoped can be found in the resurrection of life in Jesus: life in the presence of God for eternity in prosperity and health, without pain, suffering, or death (Romans 8:17-25, Revelation 21:1-22:6).

In truth, salvation throughout time has always involved maintaining a strong relationship with God and depending upon Him for deliverance and blessings. Nevertheless, the differences in understanding salvation between the Old and New Testaments remains profound, especially as they relate to this world. We do not rightly divide the Scriptures if we impose a new covenant understanding of salvation on the Old Testament; we also miss the mark if we look for confidence in our salvation in the new covenant according to the standards of salvation in the Old Testament. May we put our trust in God in Christ, obtain salvation and a restored relationship in Him, and put our hope in the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Power of Negative Influence | The Voice 8.47: November 25, 2018

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The Power of Negative Influence

Humans would like to believe they think independently and remain above the fray of fads and influences. In truth we all are profoundly shaped by our environment and the people around us. We may be in a position to influence others, but others also influence us, both perceptibly and imperceptibly.

From the beginning humans have followed after negative influences. Eve, in the Garden of Eden, was deceived by the serpent (Genesis 3:1-8, 1 Timothy 2:11-15). We do not say a person has been deceived into following good or positive things, and for good reason: deception is almost universally a negative thing.

Humanity has been beset by the deceptive nature of sin and darkness ever since (Romans 5:12-21, Hebrews 3:13). God manifest great concern for His people Israel lest they would be deceived into following other gods and to abandon their covenant and heritage in Him, even to the point of commanding summary execution of any Israelite, even a spouse or child, who would attempt to induce other Israelites into serving other gods (Deuteronomy 13:6-11). This command extended to the destruction by sword and fire of any town in Israel which has gone after other gods (Deuteronomy 13:12-18)!

We may find such commandments hard to fathom; these are the commandments to which many people today point to indict God for being bloodthirsty and barbaric. And yet God is testifying to the power of influence to lead people astray. Israel was a chosen people, one who would be distinct on their belief not just in the One True God but to serve Him without any graven images (cf. Exodus 20:1-10). They were surrounded by, and lived in the midst of, people who served many different gods, and did so with graven images that they believed represented those gods. The power of their influence would be very great. How much stronger, then, would be the influence of one’s own wife, or children, if they encouraged service to other gods? Furthermore, many trends and major changes in any society begin when a few people begin a different practice, encourage others to do likewise, and suffer little in terms of consequences.

Israel did not prove obedient to God’s commands in Deuteronomy 13:1-18. Within a few generations of Moses saying these words, Israelites would prove indignant with Gideon when he destroyed an altar for Baal and an Asherah, and desire to kill him for it (Judges 6:28-31), the inverse of God’s commandment! If anything, they all should be executed for serving other gods. And so it goes with negative influences: it proves easier to give up one’s distinctiveness in God and follow the ways of the nations than it is to reflect God’s love, righteousness, and truth among the nations.

We are under a new covenant enacted under better promises with a better witness (Hebrews 8:6). We are not to overcome evil with evil (Romans 12:21), and strive to do good to all men, even those who are our enemies (Galatians 6:10, Luke 6:32-35). If there are Christians in our midst who go after the world and no longer serve God, we are to disassociate from them, but by no means kill them (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:1-13). Nevertheless, God is still concerned about the power of negative influence, manifest in 1 Corinthians 15:33:

Be not deceived: Evil companionships corrupt good morals.

When encouraging teenagers to uphold the good and right way we often warn about the dangers of “peer pressure.” We know that many young men and women fall prey to the temptation of falling into the wrong crowd, changing their behaviors, and participate in all kinds of immorality and ungodliness which would have been unimaginable beforehand. Yet, as we can learn from Genesis 3:1-8 and Deuteronomy 13:1-18, we never grow out of the dangers of peer pressure. We are constantly under the pressure to conform to this world and its ways and beset with temptations to sin and abandon our heritage in Jesus (Romans 12:1, Hebrews 12:1-2). Furthermore, negative influence does not come only from those “out there”: we may have beloved family members or fellow Christians who might tempt us away from what is good, right, and holy in the Lord Jesus. We can never equivocate God’s will, even if our wives or our children would try to get us to do so. Such is why Paul warned the Corinthian and Galatian Christians how a little leaven leavens the whole lump: accepting or justifying people in the midst of the people of God who persistently teach false doctrine or who sin without repentance will allow the influence of false doctrine and immorality to spread to others, and therefore those involved must be disciplined by disassociation (1 Corinthians 5:1-13, Galatians 5:7-9).

We must be on guard for the temptation to worship “other gods” whom we have not known. We must recognize that we, like Israel before us, are a chosen people, and peculiar (1 Peter 2:9). While we are no longer in the midst of people who go about and serve gods represented by graven images, we live in no less of an idolatrous society. People all around us worship money, celebrity, America, individualism, naturalism, sports, sex, comfort, happiness, and all sorts of similar idols. People, perhaps even within our own family, even those who might be supposed children of God, may not understand our devotion to the LORD of Hosts and why we strive to serve Him in all matters (Matthew 6:33, Colossians 3:17). Just like Israel of old, when God’s people who believed in YHWH also served other gods because others around them were doing so, so many Christians today try to serve both God and these other idols, and they fail miserably (Matthew 6:24). It is always easier to justify their divided loyalties when others are doing the same.

We should not automatically ascribe evil motives to such people, but it is part of the conscious and unconscious aspects of the power of negative influence. Focusing on the will of God as the greatest priority in life requires constant diligence, and those who would do so must be continually on guard against the powers of negative influence from the “nations among us” and even unfortunately our own brethren at times (2 Timothy 2:15).

We should never discount the power of negative influence. None of us prove as strong and impregnable against the influences of the world and its people as we imagine ourselves to be. We often prove doubly deceived by the Evil One: deceived into following worldly influences while deceived into thinking we have risen above those influences! God knows this and has established commandments and warnings in both the old and new covenants so that we would be on guard against negative influences and to take appropriate measures in Christ to stand against them. We do well to consider who among us might tempt us to serve “other gods whom we do not know,” those in the world and perhaps even some among our own family and friends. We must also be on guard lest the people of God are brought down because some “worthless fellows” have brought in “other gods.”

We never outgrow the danger of negative influence. May we seek after God in Christ, serving Him wholeheartedly, and on guard against the temptations to conform to the ways of the Evil One!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Christian and Hope | The Voice 8.46: November 18, 2018

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The Christian and Hope

In the Greek author Hesiod’s Works and Days we learn of the myth of Pandora, who was a beautiful woman given a container by the gods which she was told to never open. At some point, as could be expected, she opened the container, and out came all sorts of evils: sickness, pain, suffering, death, etc. According to the legend, she closed the container leaving only one thing in it: hope, which would console humanity despite all the evils which were released into the world.

We find the story of Pandora and her box poignant because of the sustaining power of hope. As Alexander Pope memorably said, “hope springs eternal in the human breast.” Almost everyone nourishes and sustains hope so they can persevere and survive the trials of life, whether poor or rich, “first world” or “third world,” in prosperity or adversity. But in what, exactly, do we place our hopes and dreams?

The world attempts to put forth a lot of attractive options in which to hope. Many find money and stuff attractive: they hope their investments, financial resources, and things will provide them with satisfaction in life now and later. Some put their hope in physical appearances and the satisfaction of bodily desires. Others invest all their hope in their children and grandchildren. Many, whether they want to admit it or not, hope in their future abilities, and are confident in their ability to make things better. Meanwhile, marketers and salesmen work diligently to try to get us to put our hope in their products. Politicians promise the sun and moon, and far too many are induced to put their hope in political endeavors.

We could hope in such things, but we would always find them brought low, frustrated, or perhaps even worse, ultimately unsatisfying. Money often fails, and cannot bring happiness even if we maintain it. The body grows old and does not perform as it once did. Children and grandchildren grow up and often go their own way. At some point almost all of us reach the limit of our shrewdness and ability to make things better, and suddenly today is better than tomorrow. No product really satisfies, nor does any company really want you to be satisfied, or else you would not need to buy their products anymore. Politics devolves into an endless fount of hopelessness: most of the time politicians do not change much of value, and even those things which do change are often subject to revision.

The hope of Christians is firmly grounded in God for the resurrection of the dead. Christians are saved in hope: we recognize that there is more to living than this life, and therefore we cannot hope in anything which is of this life only, but hope in the life to come (Romans 8:18-25). Paul fixed his hope on the resurrection from the dead, willing to consider everything else in life as garbage if he could only attain to it (Philippians 3:7-11).

For Paul, the hope God extended to His people involved the resurrection from the dead (Acts 23:6, 24:15). For many Christians today, conditioned to see their hope from God as something in heaven, emphasis on the resurrection may seem strange. Why would Paul consider the hope of resurrection such a big deal?

Paul recognized the problem of life clearly: God made a good creation, but it has been corrupted by sin and death (Romans 5:12-21, 8:18-25). On account of sin and death, any hope in this life as currently established is futile: everyone will die, and everything on earth is subject to corruption and decay. Since the problem is sin and death, the solution would involve the elimination of sin and death, and this is what God has accomplished through Jesus’ death and resurrection: Jesus overcame sin by dying on the cross, and He overcame death in His resurrection (Romans 8:1-7, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, 56-57, 2 Corinthians 5:21). In the resurrection God would redeem the body (Romans 8:23). One could imagine a view in which the creation itself was the problem, and thus would need to be overcome, but that is not the picture Paul provides. It is more akin to the picture suggested by Plato and embraced by the Gnostics, who would deny the resurrection of the body and desired to escape the material world and obtain spiritual bliss. The Gnostics were universally condemned as heretics by early Christians, and for good reason (2 John 1:6-9). We do better to understand the problem, and therefore the solution, as Paul did, and not as Plato and his followers (cf. Colossians 2:8-9).

Pandora’s story resonates because we have all suffered the evils which were represented in her box. We are tempted to find hope and refuge from these evils in things in this world. Money, physical appearance, children, grandchildren, our own lives, products, and all other things are gifts God has given us. If we turn our hope away from the hope of resurrection in God in Christ, we are not trusting in God anymore, but looking to satisfy hope in these things which God has given. God has given many good things; yet they are not absolute. They cannot endure the confidence of our hope. They inevitably disappoint. And we are ultimately left discouraged.

Hope in God in the resurrection will fully satisfy, for on the great and glorious day of resurrection, all that we truly need and truly desire will be satisfied. There will be no more pain; suffering will cease. God will wipe away every tear from the eye. Distress, devastation, destruction, and all the other horrors and evils which have afflicted us will be a memory. Instead we will have eternal life with God in the resurrection body, one with God in Christ, raised like Him, dwelling with Him, enjoying eternal life in Him (1 Corinthians 15:50-58, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, Revelation 21:1-22:6).

On that day, in the consummation of all things, hope will have accomplished its purpose. We will no longer have need for hope, for our hope will be fully realized, and who hopes for what one can already see (Romans 8:24-25)? Hope may spring eternal in the breast of mankind, yet hope can only find its full satisfaction in God in the resurrection of the dead. May we put our trust in God in Christ and share in the resurrection of life for eternity!

Ethan R. Longhenry