To Tarshish! | The Voice 11.15: April 11, 2021

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

To Tarshish!

The Word of YHWH came to Jonah ben Amittai: go to Nineveh and cry against it; their wickedness had ascended before Him (Jonah 1:1-2).

Among the “minor prophets” Jonah is unique: most of the book is a narrative in the life and work of Jonah; it is not primarily a collection of the prophet’s sayings. We do not know when the story was composed; we only know the relative timeframe of the events thanks to a reference to Jonah ben Amittai in 2 Kings 14:25. In it we discover that Jonah ben Amittai is a prophet of Gath-hepher, on the border of Zebulun (cf. Joshua 19:13); he prophesied of how Jeroboam ben Jehoash would restore the borders of Israel. Thus Jonah lived and prophesied around 780 to 750 BCE: a time of renewal and prosperity in Israel, in which many cherished the hope that Israel had been made great again. Not entirely coincidently, the same period was one of upheaval in Assyria: Adad-nirari III had energetically expanded the power and influence of Assyria, but after his death in 783 BCE his successors fell prey to internal strife and discord, a situation which would remain until 745 BCE.

Jonah, Israel, and the whole ancient Near Eastern world were acquainted with the wickedness of Nineveh and the Assyrians. They already had begun manifesting the imperial ambitions which would soon overtake and overwhelm most of the petty ancient Near Eastern kingdoms. Their pagan idolatry was always before YHWH. Perhaps they had done some other great evil of which we are ignorant but Jonah could well imagine.

And yet, when called to go and preach repentance to Nineveh, Jonah fled. Jonah sought to travel as far away from Nineveh as he possibly could; in the world of the ancient Mediterranean, nowhere was farther away than Tarshish. We believe Tarshish to most likely be the same as the Greek Tartessos, a term used to describe the area around the mouth of the Guadalquivir River in modern day Spain, just past Gibraltar, the “Pillars of Hercules,” and thus on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean (Jonah 1:3). By boarding a boat heading for Tarshish, Jonah clearly was not at all interested in heeding the Word of YHWH.

Yet YHWH would not be so easily escaped. While he sailed west he encountered a storm so mighty it threatened to tear the ship apart (Jonah 1:4). The sailors were terribly frightened: each prayed to his own god and sought to lighten the load of the ship. Meanwhile, Jonah slept below deck (Jonah 1:5)! Jonah was awakened and exhorted to pray to his God (Jonah 1:6). They all then cast lots to determine why this evil had come upon them, and the lot fell upon Jonah; he explained who he was and the God of Israel whom he served, and they were all the more scared, for he had already explained what he was doing (Jonah 1:7-10). They wanted to know what they should do, and Jonah told them to cast him overboard, for it was the only way to save themselves from the storm (Jonah 1:11-12). The sailors worked valiantly to get back to land but could not do so; they then begged YHWH to forgive them for what they were about to do to Jonah, and then they cast him overboard (Jonah 1:13-15). The sea ceased raging; the sailors feared YHWH, offering sacrifice and making vows to Him (Jonah 1:15-16). Meanwhile a great fish swallowed Jonah up; he remained in the belly of that fish three days and nights (Jonah 1:17). Much speculation has attended to this large fish: many have presumed it a whale, which is a mammal and not a fish, but might have been reckoned among the fishes in Israelite taxonomy. Perhaps it was a type of sea creature which has since gone extinct. We cannot know for certain.

Jonah prayed to YHWH while in the belly of the fish; its substance is recorded in Jonah 2:1-9. Jonah cried out to YHWH in his affliction, and YHWH heard him (Jonah 2:1-2). YHWH had cast him into the depth of the seas; nevertheless, Jonah remained confident he would see YHWH’s temple again (Jonah 2:3-4). Jonah considered how he had descended into the depths of the waters and yet YHWH had brought back his life from the pit (Jonah 2:5-6). Jonah’s soul fainted within him, and yet he remembered YHWH; his prayer came into the temple of YHWH (Jonah 2:7). Many served idols in futility and thus forsake God’s mercy; Jonah would pay his vows and offer sacrifice to YHWH with thanksgiving, for salvation is of YHWH (Jonah 2:8-9). After three days and nights YHWH spoke to the fish, which vomited Jonah out onto dry land, ostensibly back in Israel from which Jonah had fled (Jonah 2:10).

Jonah’s story so far has certainly been dramatic. We do well to wonder what motivated him to flee from the presence and call of YHWH; in his good time our narrator will reveal it all to us. Yet we can already tell that Jonah clearly wanted nothing to do with whatever YHWH was planning for Nineveh and the Assyrians, and wanted to get as far away as possible. Thus he would go to Tarshish.

We might think it a bit overdone and overdramatic for Jonah to go and flee to Tarshish; we might chastise him for thinking so narrowly or presumptuously, as if he could somehow truly flee from the presence of YHWH and escape Him. At the time many believed their gods to have power in certain geographic areas; Jonah’s behavior might not have seemed as strange to his fellow people of the ancient Near East as it does to us.

We may not be tempted to rise up and go to the other end of the earth in order to escape God’s message and calling, but we should be careful about how sharply we judge Jonah. Jonah was quite forthright and honest about fleeing from the presence and call of YHWH; how many times have we been tempted to shy away from the presence and call of God in Christ, yet attempt to justify or excuse ourselves in doing so? Perhaps Jesus would demand that we reconcile with people who have wronged us or with whom we maintain significant disagreement; perhaps Jesus would have us provide for people who would actively seek our harm; maybe Jesus would want us to speak up in a way that would expose us to rejection, derision, or harm. In all of these moments, and many others, we might want to get on a boat ourselves and flee to Tarshish.

As it was with Jonah, so it is with us: we can try to go as far as we want in trying to flee from God’s presence and word, whether geographically or relationally, and yet we can never truly escape Him. God will find us where we are; we will be held accountable for what we think, say, feel, and do. We are called to draw near to God, not flee from Him in bewilderment, frustration, or shame (James 4:8). On our own we flail about, drowning in the sea of anxiety, despair, fear, and sin; God has delivered us from the storm, for Jesus His Son endured three days and nights in the grave so we can be reconciled to Him and obtain eternal life (cf. Matthew 12:39-41). May we draw near to God and obtain such life in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Man, Minute and Majestic | The Voice 11.14: April 04, 2021

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Man, Minute and Majestic

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers / The moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? / And the son of man, that thou visitest him?
For thou hast made him but little lower than God / and crownest him with glory and honor (Psalm 8:3-5).

Minute and majestic: David has well encapsulated humanity’s contradiction in terms.

David had glorified God as having an excellent name in the earth and His glory in the heavens (Psalm 8:1). God was able to establish a bulwark from the mouths of babies to silence forces opposed to him (Psalm 8:2). David had looked up at the heavens and marveled at what he saw: he recognized how small humans were in the grand scheme of things, and wondered why God was mindful of them (Psalm 8:4). And yet God had made them a little lower than the heavenly powers, crowning them with glory and honor, giving them dominion over the animals of the earth (Psalm 8:5-8). David had good reason indeed to praise the name of the Lord YHWH as excellent (Psalm 8:9).

Humans tend to want to resist recognizing the continual tension in which they live as both very small in the grand scheme of things yet made wonderfully and majestically to be able to exercise dominion in the earth. It seems to be easier to focus on how small we are when we want to rationalize the various ways we exploit and perhaps even oppress the creation over which we have been given oversight. At the same time we also vaunt ourselves in our majesty and devote great time and effort into many mighty works so as to resist the prospect of our smallness and relative insignificance in the working of the cosmos. It is hard for us to reconcile how we can maintain both of these propositions in our minds at the same time since they seem so self-contradictory, and yet both remain persistent outgrowths of our fears and anxieties about our standing in the cosmos and before God.

Yes, we human beings are minute in the grand scheme of things. The universe abounds with untold numbers of galaxies, all filled with innumerable stars and planets rotating around them. We live in a small corner of that universe in one of those galaxies; the great forces by means of which all these things have come to pass can easily crush us. Our time in this life is short; our abilities, at a cosmic level, do not mean much. We are constantly challenged and beset with various difficulties since the universe allows for life but has many forces at work which would easily destroy it.

Even so, man remains majestic, crowned with the glory and honor of having been made in the image of his and her Creator (Genesis 1:26-27). We can explore the universe and many of its mysteries. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, as David would sing in Psalm 139: we are able to accomplish complex tasks and can ponder our own existence and the meaning of it all. We are capable of great good and all that goes by the name “humanitarian”; we are also capable of great evil in devastation, destruction, and death. No other creature in this world could have the pride of place as mankind presently enjoys.

To this end we must anchor ourselves in David’s understanding of how minute and majestic we are. God has made everything this way; we cannot perceive everything, and we do well to continually confess the existence of forces greater than we are and which we cannot control or manipulate, and a God who created us and to whom we ought to give thanks and serve (Isaiah 55:8-9). And yet we do have our areas of ability and strength, and ought to exercise all such power to the glory of God, as a stewardship of the gifts God has given, and for which we will give an account (Romans 13:1, 14:10-12).

For David, human dominion over the animals of the earth is a given, an established fact from the creation of the world (Psalm 8:5-8; cf. Genesis 1:26-31). For the Hebrews author, however, there remains an open question regarding that dominion: he saw how Jesus became the Son of Man, made for a moment a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor in His sufferings and death, and all in order to be exalted to authority and dominion over the created order (Hebrews 2:6-7, 9). And yet the Hebrews author made it plain that not everything has yet been fully subjected to Jesus; he remained confident all would be subjected to Him one day, but it has not taken place fully yet (Hebrews 2:8). Many still resist His salvation; the powers and principalities remain at work in this world (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

As Christians we take great encouragement from how the Hebrews author saw Jesus embodied as the Son of Man of Psalm 8:3-8: through His suffering and exaltation we can find salvation, a kingdom, and the way we should live. We also ought to grasp the Hebrews author’s tenuous hold on dominion: yes, dominion was granted to humans, but a significant number of forces are beyond our power. In our fear and anxiety will we press down all the more deeply on that over which we do have power, and exploit and oppress to oblivion the creatures and resources of the earth? Or will we learn how to love, tend, and even serve that over which God has given us dominion, as Jesus loves, tends, and serves all of us who live in His Kingdom?

David could look to the heavens and see the work of God’s hand. When most of us look to the heavens, we can no longer see the work of God’s hand as well beyond all of the lights we have built for ourselves for our comfort and in our attempt to make a name for ourselves. Such is a sadly ironic yet fitting embodiment of one of our challenges in the present hour: we are hindered from confessing God’s great glory and our relative smallness by means of the haze from our diligent labors in our creative abilities to exploit, aggrandize, and make much of ourselves and for ourselves. We only want to make ourselves small in order to justify all our big works and minimize the effects those works have on ourselves and others.

We are minute and majestic; we are part of this creation, yet made in the image of the One who created it. We may be small but our impact on our environment can be large. We can discern such things so that we can give glory to God our Creator and live in harmony with His purposes and the creation He has made, or we can distort and warp this reality in tension in our fears and anxieties unto oppression and degradation of our relationships and our environment. May we all confess our minuteness in humility while giving praise to the God who has crowned us with majesty and honor, and seek to glorify Him in how we live and treat one another and all He has given us!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Division | The Voice 11.13: March 28, 2021

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Division

But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another (1 Corinthians 12:24b-25).

When we speak of “divisions” in the church, we normally gravitate toward divisions on account of false doctrines, on account of attempting to impose a liberty (or the lack thereof) on others, or on account of pushing a “hobby horse” or some other issue regardless of its substantive importance in the faith. Such division is lamentable, but sometimes sadly necessary; Christians are to mark and have nothing to do with those who advocate for false teachings (Romans 16:17-18). The church in Ephesus was commended for not tolerating false apostles, and the church in Thyatira chastised for tolerating the false prophetess “Jezebel” (Revelation 2:1-7, 18-29). We hate to see people fall away from the truth, and we must gently and meekly correct those in opposition, praying that God may grant them repentance and a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 2:24-26).

Yet, in the New Testament, the Apostles are concerned about many other forms of division. We see this manifest in 1 Corinthians 12:24-25: as Paul speaks about division in this passage, division has far less to do with doctrine and much more to do with a lack of openness, love, and mutual honesty/accountability.

This is an important lesson for us. We have become well conditioned to be on the lookout for divisions regarding doctrine, and yet if we act in unloving or discouraging ways toward our fellow members of the Body of Christ, we create divisions. When we withhold ourselves from the brethren, not confessing our sins to one another (James 5:16), not allowing others to bear our burdens (Galatians 6:2), and in various ways composing ourselves in ways aloof from our brethren, we are the authors of division within the body.

In the world such types of division are natural. Humans are a tribal lot; we generally have a small circle of people we trust, and we learn through the experience of hurt and betrayal to know when to close off and avoid accountability in relationships. This natural tendency has been exacerbated in the Western world over the past few generations; we are more withdrawn from our fellow man than ever before. We do not interact with others as we travel; we can go through the day and barely physically interact with anyone. We have technology designed to bring us together but it only does so at arm’s length. By default we live in a sort of division because our culture has enshrined individualism as the greatest good. Meanwhile, we are starving to death emotionally and spiritually, because we are not being nourished by the support system that we all need, for we are made in the image of God who is one in relational unity, and we need strong relationships with others to not only survive but flourish (Genesis 1:26-27, John 17:21-23).

And so, if divisions would be healed and made rare, members of the Body of Christ must have “mutual care” for one another (1 Corinthians 12:25). Yes, we are reconciled to God and one another through what God accomplished in Jesus, and made into one body by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13, Ephesians 2:11-22); yet we are called to be diligent to preserve the unity accomplished in that Spirit in Ephesians 4:3, the very same diligence we are to exercise in handling rightly the Word of truth in 2 Timothy 2:15. We thus must work to preserve the unity of the Spirit, being open with one another, accountable to one another, seeking to both be a source of encouragement and to gain encouragement within the body. But that is only possible when we decide to open up, to express vulnerability, and truly and fully connect and relate to each other as fellow Christians. That demands a willingness to trust even though betrayal is not only possible but highly likely. It requires reorientation, a way of life very different from that in our current society.

We understand the dangers of doctrinal division; how can we jointly participate in Christ if we are not agreed upon what it means to do so (1 Corinthians 1:10)? Yet the dangers of other forms of division are no less acute. If a congregation is divided into factions supporting different persons or methods, or as a legacy because brother Smith said a discouraging word to Sister Jones twenty years ago and real forgiveness was never manifest, how can that local congregation function in a healthy way that glorifies God and truly encourages its members (1 Corinthians 1:11-13, 3:3)? Such a congregation essentially is already two or three churches who happen to come together at the same time and place, and often to their harm, for no matter how well things may seem to go, that division is always the sixty ton elephant in the room. Likewise, if a congregation agrees on what is true but everyone just looks to family members in the church for connection and support, how can that congregation function in a healthy way that truly manifests itself as the spiritual family of God (1 Timothy 3:15)? What would happen if Christians not affiliated with one family or another attempted to join and be part of such a congregation, and how could such a congregation effectively incorporate converts from the community into their association? Or what if a congregation has doctrinal agreement but gives comparatively little concern for the health or strength of the association and community among its members? In such a congregation there is great division, for it is really a host of atomized individuals or family units who agree to meet once or a few times a week but otherwise have noting to do with each other. Such is no longer a church but a country club, and even then, a poorly functioning country club at that. How will such a congregation be able to provide support and encouragement when difficult days come for some of its constituent members or in the life of the congregation itself? How can they provide an environment of true spiritual flourishing when the members of the Body seem to have little connection with each other, however intended or desired?

We would never want to be responsible for dividing the church on account of matters of doctrine, and that is well and good. But if we allow open divisions to fester and do not work to make peace and heal, we perpetuate the division of the Body of Christ. If we because of fear or pride refuse to be open and vulnerable among fellow Christians, and presume that we can keep to ourselves, we divide the Body of Christ. If we prefer physical family or friends to the exclusion of other members of a local congregation, we divide the Body of Christ. If we do not work to incorporate new Christians into the life of the congregation, we cut off new growth and thus divide the Body of Christ.

We do well to be concerned about the dangers of doctrinal division, but we should be just as concerned, if not more so, regarding the condition of divisions which may exist among the members of the Body of Christ. We must give great diligence to encourage all Christians to strive to break down the barriers of pride and fear and be willing to truly live in community, to share in life with one another, to associate and be accountable toward each other. We commit evangelistic malpractice if we put all our efforts into converting members of the local community but do not intentionally work to make sure they are acclimated and assimilated into the community of the members of the Body of Christ. The stronger the connection to the Body of Christ, the better chance of spiritual growth and flourishing; the weaker the connection to the Body of Christ, the more likely such a person atrophies, gets discouraged, falls to temptation, and for all intents and purposes is divided from the rest and ready to be cut off. Not for nothing does Paul continually exhort Christians to give diligence regarding their connections and association with fellow Christians (Romans 12:3-18, 1 Corinthians 12:12-28). We do well to be concerned regarding all potential divisions in the Body of Christ, and strive to make peace and grow together with the saints to the glory of God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Kindness | The Voice 11.12: March 21, 2021

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness

The Apostle Paul well understood that maintaining an understanding of the truth of God in Christ, and upholding that truth, was very important (Galatians 1:1-5:16). And yet such an understanding must inform the Christian’s practice, and the practice of the faith reinforces the truth of what God has done in Christ: thus Paul not just encouraged the Galatian Christians in the truth of God in Christ, but also exhorted them toward faithful conduct in Jesus (Galatians 5:17-24). Paul expected Christians to manifest the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:23-23:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law.

The fruit of the Spirit is not plural, but singular; each aspect cannot be understood only on its own merits but must be incorporated with the rest. The fruit of the Spirit could be entirely defined by love; joy, peace, and longsuffering/patience all speak to attitudes which allow Christians to glorify God regardless of their circumstances, and can endure.

The fruit of the Spirit ought to represent attitudes and dispositions manifest in behaviors, as can be seen with “kindness.” The word translated in Galatians 5:22 in most versions as kindness (but as “goodness” in the KJV) is the Greek word chrestotes, defined by Thayer’s as “moral goodness, integrity; benignity, kindness.”

Kindness seems hard to describe but easy to perceive; such says much about what it means to be kind. On a fundamental level kindness is an openness to another, seeking to be well-disposed toward them and to provide benefit in some way. We certainly appreciate the kindness of a stranger if they help us in a moment of need, providing resources we might need or something of that sort. But kindness is not equivalent to benevolence: one could certainly give begrudgingly, or out of perceived necessity. A person can be benevolent but harsh; for that matter, a person might be seen as good, yet not really kind. Kindness demands welcoming and warmth and can be communicated as easily as with a smile as anything else.

In the New Testament Christians are told to not expect such kindness and integrity in the world (Romans 3:12). The Apostle Paul set himself and his associates forward to early Christians as a model of kindness as they preached and labored among them (2 Corinthians 6:6). They expected Christians to put on kindness toward one another and to all (Colossians 3:12).

And yet God remains the model of kindness for the Christian. The concept of Hebrew hesed, so fundamental in the Psalms and an essential characteristic of God, is not able to be well translated into either Greek or English, as the place where covenant loyalty and loving kindness meet: upholding commitment with a feeling of warmth. We should certainly understand at least a hint of hesed behind the description of God’s work in Christ as a display of kindness: God’s kindness appeared in Christ and the salvation secured by His sacrifice according to Titus 3:4, and in Ephesians 2:7 Paul expected Christians to be continually bedazzled by God’s display of the riches of His grace in kindness for the rest of eternity.

God loved; God showed grace and mercy; and thus God is kind. We see the kindness of God in the continual refreshment of the creation and our lives. We can discern God’s kindness as He is present with us in our lives, and strengthens and sustains us through our distress and trial: everything we have and are comes from Him, and our continual sustenance in Him is a gift. We can have complete confidence that God cares, and we have every reason to seek to draw near to Him, for He has done everything He can to demonstrate how kindly disposed He remains toward us (Romans 8:31-39, Hebrews 10:19-23).

As Christians we ought to be kind to one another and to others as God has been kind to us. Yet we should never confuse God’s patience and kindness with laxity and indifference. God has been kind to us in order to give us an opportunity to turn and follow His ways: if we faithfully seek His purposes we will endure in His kindness for eternity, but the kindness of God will be exhausted at some point for those who resist His purposes, and leaving a fearful expectation of judgment remaining (Romans 2:2-11, 11:22). We should not presume on God’s kindness!

If longsuffering/patience is the most coveted character trait yet one of the most poorly displayed, then kindness has become one of the most lost and neglected dispositions of our age. As Western society has grown more individualistic people have become more atomized and alienated from one another. Not a few people have become embittered and hardened by their experiences with their fellow human beings, and remain skeptical and aloof. People are guarded and give off the impression they would rather be left alone. Interaction with fellow human beings is made to seem risky; it is easier to not even acknowledge the existence of those around us.

Such an indifferent world is a cruel world, truly dark in its alienation and despair. If Christians manifest the same kind of anxiety and fear as is consistent in the world, and thus do not prove kindly disposed toward other people, the light of the Gospel is severely diminished. Instead Christians must be the light in the darkness, and the light of God in Christ is well expressed in kindness (Matthew 5:13-16). When we prove kindly disposed toward others, and express kindness to them in disposition and behavior, we provide warmth in the cold, and openness where there is normally closure. To be kindly disposed toward people, especially toward people with whom we maintain disagreement on many matters, is now countercultural and often disarming. People have little need to be part of another cold, lifeless group of people; but who would not want to be part of a group of warm, welcoming, kind, and caring people? Thus Christians ought to be for one another and for the world.

The world has enough people who are closed off to one another in alienation and despair. Let us resolve to open ourselves toward other people and manifest kindness to them. May they see in us the fruit of the kindness God has displayed toward those who are in Christ, and may they come to share in that kindness, and all to the glory of God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Quietly Waiting for the Day | The Voice 11.11: March 14, 2021

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Quietly Waiting for the Day

YHWH had spoken; His Day would soon come upon His people and upon the world. Habakkuk would now sing and wait.

Habakkuk had complained to YHWH regarding the injustice pervasive in the land of Israel (Habakkuk 1:1-4); YHWH responded by assuring Habakkuk He had noticed and would be obtaining vengeance through the mighty Chaldean army (Habakkuk 1:5-11). Habakkuk wondered how YHWH could be just in rendering judgment against a comparatively more righteous nation by means of a comparatively more unrighteous nation (Habakkuk 1:12-2:1). YHWH responded, declaring how the arrogant soul would be cast down, but the righteous would live by their faith: as the Chaldeans would render judgment, so they also would be judged and destroyed; YHWH endures (Habakkuk 2:2-20).

What, then, could Habakkuk do? The message had been given; he now waited for the Days of YHWH to come. But he did not wait idly; he made a prayer and sang a psalm before YHWH (Habakkuk 3:1-19). Psalms were often sung prayers; Habakkuk’s is “on” or “according to” shigyonot, one of the terms used of psalms which we do not fully understand, but is most likely referring to a particular genre or style of psalm (Habakkuk 3:1).

Habakkuk had indeed heard the report of YHWH and revered Him; Habakkuk wanted YHWH to revive His work and make it known and to remember His merciful compassion in the midst of displaying wrath (Habakkuk 3:2). Habakkuk imagined God as coming from Teman and Paran, mountains to the southeast of Israel: His glory covered the heavens, the earth was full of His praise, His brightness was light, His power came forth, pestilence went before Him, and lightning came at His feet (Habakkuk 3:3-5). YHWH measured the earth and drove out the nations; mountains were scattered, hills bowed down, for YHWH went forth as He did of old (Habakkuk 3:6). The inhabitants of the desert areas between Israel and Sinai, Cushan and Midian, experienced distress; Habakkuk rhetorically asked if YHWH was angry with the rivers or the sea as He rode upon the chariot of salvation (Habakkuk 3:7-8). YHWH’s bow was exposed; His arrows had a commission (Habakkuk 3:9). Habakkuk spoke of YHWH’s effects on the earth as He judged the nations: the land would flood, the mountains would shake, torrents of rain would flow, the sun and moon would stop; as YHWH would stomp on the earth, the nations are trampled (Habakkuk 3:10-12). YHWH went forth to save His people and the salvation of His Anointed; He would strike the wicked, cutting his chest open, and piercing their soldiers with the spear (Habakkuk 3:13-14). The wicked deigned to scatter God’s people, seeking to plunder the poor; YHWH trampled upon the sea with His horses; Habakkuk was deeply affected by their exultation, and he trembled, waiting quietly for the day of trouble and judgment coming upon those oppressors (Habakkuk 3:14-16).

Habakkuk knew difficult days would come. A time would come when the fig tree would not provide fruit, vines would not grow grapes, olive trees would produce nothing, and the folds and stalls for farm animals would be empty (Habakkuk 3:17). Yet in those days Habakkuk would rejoice in YHWH, the God of his salvation: YHWH was Habakkuk’s strength, and would give him the skill of the deer, allowing him to find refuge in difficult mountain terrain (Habakkuk 3:18-19).

Habakkuk thus well encapsulated his prophetic burden in his prayer-psalm. YHWH is the Creator God of Israel; YHWH has seen, and YHWH would come in judgment, first against His people for their iniquity, and then against the haughty who had prevailed against them. Habakkuk was made despondent on account of the haughtiness of those who would commit injustice against the poor; he yearned for God’s justice to come against the oppressors of the people. He had complete confidence that day would come, and so he waited. In the day of distress and trial he would still trust and rejoice in YHWH who was his salvation and strength. Through YHWH Habakkuk could endure the dark days which would come against Israel: perhaps Habakkuk lived to see the Day of YHWH against Judah in 586; maybe even by great length of life he might have seen the rise of Cyrus and the people of Israel restored to their land in 539. Regardless, he would find his strength and endurance in YHWH, and not in himself or the nations of the world.

Habakkuk did not design this psalm purely for his own use; it concludes with instructions for the chief musician to sing it with stringed instruments, expected in a Temple context (Habakkuk 3:19). Israel would have plenty of opportunity to internalize Habakkuk’s psalm prayer and to allow it to give them a voice before their God. They would see opponent after opponent, oppressor after oppressor; they would return to their own land but would not truly possess it, and they would have reason to pray again and again for YHWH their Creator to return as of old and to mightily judge the nations. The day would come on which God’s Anointed would come and would accomplish salvation for God’s people.

To this day we can internalize Habakkuk’s prayer psalm and allow it to give us a voice before God. We also should expect our Creator God to return in judgment. We will see mighty nations rise and fall. We will hear the mockery and haughtiness of the oppressors of the poor and of God’s people, and it ought to cause us great distress and pain. Yet we must wait patiently on God and wait for the day of their judgment, for the Lord of Armies sees, and will not be idle. We might well see days of great need, in which we find all the sources of food fail, and great distress on the earth; will we yet rejoice in the God of our salvation, and consider Him our strength? Will we be equipped in Him with the readiness of the Gospel of peace, and go out nimbly to proclaim and embody it? May we maintain confidence in the Lord of Armies, looking for and hastening His return in judgment, and obtain the resurrection of life in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Eschatology of the Creation | The Voice 11.10: March 07, 2021

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Eschatology of the Creation

What is going to happen to the creation once the Lord Jesus returns?

For many the answer to the question would seem simple: it will be completely destroyed! The creation is reserved for fire and will entirely burn up; such is what it would say in 2 Peter 3:7-13.

This viewpoint is understandable. It seems to be a natural conclusion to expect the creation to be thoroughly destroyed on the basis of 2 Peter 3:7-13. John also expected the heavens and the earth to pass away, and the sea to be no more, in Revelation 21:1. From these passages it would appear that the creation is destined for complete and thorough destruction and devastation, and will be no more.

Yet the witness of the apostle Paul complicates this story. Paul encouraged the Roman Christians by affirming how they would receive unimaginable glory in our inheritance in Christ provided we suffer with Jesus in Romans 8:17-18. He then spoke of the present situation and what would come in Romans 8:19-23: the creation awaits the revealing of the sons of God, for it was subjected to vanity in hope that it would be delivered from corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. The creation groans for that liberation, and not just the creation, but those who have the first-fruits of the Spirit groan internally, waiting for the adoption of the redemption of the body. This is the hope in which Christians are saved, and it has not yet been seen, for one does not hope for what one can see; thus we wait patiently for it to come to pass (Romans 8:23-24).

Many would suggest Romans 8:17-25 is a difficult passage, more difficult than 2 Peter 3:7-13, and thus believe we must understand Romans 8:17-25 in light of 2 Peter 3:7-13. Some focus on the meaning of “creation,” Greek ktisis, suggesting it does not necessarily refer to the entire creation but a portion thereof, specifically, those redeemed in Jesus.

While there are times when “creation” is used to describe only a portion thereof, there is no ground on which to argue from Paul’s use in Romans 8:17-25 that he has such a limited perspective in mind. The way Paul wrote Romans 8:23 militates against any attempt to limit “the creation” to the righteous in Christ: in Romans 8:22 he spoke of the “whole creation,” and then said in Romans 8:23 how “not only so,” but “ourselves also,” those who are the saved in Christ, groan within themselves, clearly delineating between “the creation” and those in Christ.

While we today might wish that Paul had been clearer in his exposition, Romans 8:17-25 can be understood in light of what Paul has been teaching the Roman Christians. He has already spoken of the introduction of sin and death into the world in Romans 5:12-21; such is the natural explanation for the vanity and corruption to which the creation was enslaved. Paul has testified consistently how Christians presently maintain a saved condition in communion with God in Christ in Romans 6:1-23, 8:1-17; in Romans 8:12-17 he specifically considered Christians as having already been adopted as children of God. For Paul to say that Christians await adoption, the redemption of the body, and that such a hope has not yet materialized demands that Paul speaks of the hope of the resurrection of the body, thus identifying the resurrection as the redemption of the body (Romans 8:23-25).

Whatever we think about the end of the creation must keep the resurrection in mind. Resurrection, by virtue of the very concept and use of the term in Second Temple Judaism, demands the reanimation of what has died. Paul made much in Romans 6:8-11 of how Jesus died to sin once, and now He will die no more in the resurrection, for He lives to God: since we confess that Jesus’ soul and divinity never died, we understand Paul is talking about the physical body of Jesus raised from the dead and transformed for immortality. It remains true that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom according to 1 Corinthians 15:50, but such does not mean the physical body is eliminated: Paul’s metaphors in 1 Corinthians 15:50-56 all point to enhancement in transformation, not elimination. The physical may not remain exactly as it was, but its origin as part of this creation remains. And if we uphold the resurrection of the body, by necessity, we must see that something of this present creation will continue to endure, redeemed in the adoption of the body. Paul extended this hope not merely to the saints but to the whole creation in Romans 8:17-25, consistent with Jewish witness regarding the value of the creation. Paul made it clear that the creation itself was not the problem: otherwise how could God call it very good in Genesis 1:31? It was the introduction of sin and death into the creation that was the problem according to Romans 5:12-21. In Romans 8:17-25 the problem is that the creation has been subjected to vanity and is in bondage to corruption. The solution to sin and death was redemption in Jesus according to Romans 5:12-21; the hope of the creation is to be released from bondage and vanity and to receive something of that glory to be given to God’s children in Romans 8:20-22.

Thus we can make good sense of Romans 8:17-25 in terms of what God has already accomplished and revealed in Jesus. But what of 2 Peter 3:7-13? Is it not clear how the creation is going to be eliminated by fire?

Peter certainly envisions how the present creation is stored up for fire. But does that fire demand the elimination of the creation? Most versions speak of the works of the earth will be “burned up” (Greek katakaesetai); and yet the best manuscript evidence reads instead that the works of the earth “will not be found” as meaning “will be exposed” (Greek heurethesetai). Furthermore, Peter did not just start talking about a destruction by fire without any context: he spoke of how the heavens and earth existed long ago out of water and by means of water, and how the world existing then perished by the Flood in 2 Peter 3:5-6. He then said the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire in 2 Peter 3:7. We understand that the Flood was quite the cataclysm, but we do not see evidence that the creation was entirely eliminated: quite the contrary, for Noah and his family and the animals in the ark were preserved! If Peter can speak of a “former” creation perishing in the Flood and yet without being eliminated, then contextually we cannot demand that he expects the “present” creation to perish by fire and thus be eliminated.

We can thus find harmony between Romans 8:17-25 and 2 Peter 3:1-13. On the judgment day there will be a purgation of the present creation by fire. This fire purges unto redemption; it need not demand the elimination of the present creation. The creation is not the problem, sin and death are the problem, and God will purge the creation from the effects of sin and death by fire. The creation will then obtain the glory of the children of God and share in redemption.

It might well be that the purgation by fire is so thorough that not much of the original creation is left: we have full assurance that the creation will remain at least in our transformed resurrection bodies. However much remains, when the purgation by fire has been completed, we will then dwell in that “new heavens” and “new earth,” where righteousness will dwell, and we will remain in the presence of God without any veil or hindrance (cf. 2 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1-22:6).

God has not given up on His creation; the Scriptures bear witness that God does not intend on giving up on His creation. There is a future for God’s creation in our resurrected bodies and in the “new heavens and the new earth.” May we persevere in faith in Christ and obtain the redemption of our bodies on the day of resurrection!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Communication and Knowledge | The Voice 11.09: February 28, 2021

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Communication and Knowledge

The process of communicating knowledge is a centerpiece of the faith in Christ. Proclamation of the Gospel, after all, demands the communication of saving knowledge of the Risen Lord Jesus who was crucified (Romans 1:16, 10:17). What is going on in the process of attempting to communicate the Gospel?

This is another area in which the Enlightenment paradigm has taken hold. The Enlightenment paradigm involves the assumptions of the Enlightenment: the problem with mankind is ignorance or false knowledge; the solution is to inform, or enlighten, mankind with true knowledge, and then humanity will do what they are supposed to do when they know what they need to know. According to the Gospel, knowledge is necessary, but not sufficient: our problem as humans is that we know quite well what to do but we are tempted to sin and fall prey to temptation (Romans 5:12-21, 7:1-25, James 1:13-15).

Another aspect of the Enlightenment involved the idolization of “objectivity.” The only things which are really true are those that can be maintained through objective analysis. We can see this clearly in the pretense of the media: the stated goal is to attempt to communicate the news as objectively as possible so as to allow the reader to make an appropriate conclusion based upon a sober and reasoned analysis of the information provided. Never mind that no one wants to read an objective news story and everyone has their biases because everyone has an already formed worldview; objectivity remains the goal.

The conceit of objectivity is exemplified in the oft-used illustration of the uncontacted Indigenous person who comes across a Bible and would thus begin to practice Christianity as we believe it ought to be practiced. If such a circumstance were to take place, it would be difficult to imagine how the would start the Catholic church, Lutheran church, or things of that sort; and indeed, they would see in the text and practice things like elders in a local congregation, baptism, etc., but may also give the holy kiss, meet in their huts or wherever they would live, and practice the faith in other ways that may not exactly imitate our practice. It would be consistent with New Testament Christianity, just as we seek to be consistent with New Testament Christianity; nevertheless, this story is impossible, because such an Indigenous person doing such a thing is purely mythological. No one is fully objective. Everyone, from the New Guinea tribesman to the Parisian to someone in the Deep South of America, has a worldview shaped and formed by their experiences and their environment. Every worldview is consistent with the Gospel in some ways; every worldview falls short in some ways. That’s why we must be rooted in Christ and challenge our most deep-seated assumptions with the Gospel (Colossians 2:1-10).

And this is the challenge with how we view Gospel communication. We’d like to think the Gospel Preacher proclaims the Gospel and the Hearer understands exactly what is meant and comes to the exactly proper conclusion and makes the appropriate changes. That’s the ideal, and we all know what happens to the ideal in our creation. In fact, every step of this process is fraught with difficulty.

The Gospel Preacher is exhorted to preach the Word faithfully (2 Timothy 4:1-4), but the Gospel Preacher is a creature of his time, place, and culture. Based on his experiences he will think that certain elements of the message need greater emphasis than others; he may be right in some ways, but he also may not. He may defend tradition as if it were truth, and dispense some truth as if an earlier tradition. No doubt he’ll think he’s proclaiming the whole counsel of God, but if there could be an “objective analysis” of what was preached, some lesser things textually would be magnified in preaching, and some things made much of in the text would not receive as much emphasis. This is not the end of the world; we preach the Gospel in a specific context, which means that we are going to have to spend more time on certain subjects rather than others. But we’ve also all probably seen when it goes wrong.

Then there’s the Hearer. Assuming her sincerity, she has lived for years apart from the Gospel of Christ or influenced by some other understanding of Jesus. Today she has lived in 21st century America and has been influenced by all of its cultural peculiarities. Even if she is very receptive to the Gospel, when she hears its message, there are parts that she isn’t comfortable with and strike her as odd, counter-intuitive, and against everything she’s ever been taught. This is not a bad reaction; it is exactly the reaction that should exist, because there are parts of the Gospel that should make us uncomfortable, should strike us as counter-intuitive, and against everything we’ve ever been taught. A Gospel that is everything she believes, everything she expects, and with which she fully agrees is not a real Gospel at all, but the God of the imagination of man of that particular era. The Gospel is supposed to be a challenge to some degree; at some point, we have to recognize that many of its dictates are difficult, counter-intuitive, and against everything we’ve been taught, but decide to trust God and His ways over our thoughts and ways (so Peter, John 6:68-69). Anyway, our female Hearer, like the rest of us, is not a computer. We don’t just process data; our emotions and souls are involved. Therefore, she’s not just receiving information and processing it like a computer; she is reacting to what she is hearing or reading in her emotions and soul as well. She might feel a deep sympathy or revulsion at what is heard; she may automatically sympathize with what she hears, or feels hostility toward it; the visceral impressions she feels may be impressed as a deep memory which might recur when the subject or information piece is brought up again in the future. This is not bad or wrong because if God wanted to make computers, He would have; instead, He made humans, and our minds and emotions and soul all influence one another. This is how we can, say, abhor what is evil, and cling to what is good (Romans 12:9); we can have such visceral reactions. But in our sin corrupted nature, we can misfire. We can feel deep revulsion to some things that God has said are good or are consistent with holiness; we might still cling to sin or not righteousness. I’ve heard too many stories of people who have gone down the wrong paths doctrinally not because of a well-argued, coherent, rational argument, but because they are reacting to some situation that was not handled properly or a very uncharitable or unloving attitude expressed toward another, and the person felt a deep revulsion based on that experience.

“Coming to a knowledge of the truth and be saved” is not, therefore, just a matter of mental information processing. Our understanding is colored by our emotions; just like we need to align our thinking towards God’s Word, we must align our feelings with it as well. And we need to confess and admit that the proclamation of the Gospel is not just an information transfer, but often a war within the mind, body, and soul, the spiritual conflict of forces of light and darkness, the flesh versus the spirit (Galatians 5:19-24, Ephesians 6:12). We’ve got to conquer our biases, our deeply held impressions, our visceral reactions, for they are part of that thought process. And we need to be aware that others will be going through this experience as well, and shouldn’t expect the transmission of the Gospel to just be about objective pieces of information. Communication never is.

We also do well to consider the means by which the Gospel is communicated. Notice that the New Testament doesn’t say a whole lot about reading or studying; the focus tends to be on hearing and listening. This is appropriate for a time and place when most people were illiterate and scrolls were few and far between. Therefore, if you are an early Christian, odds are you could not read. And even if you could read, odds are you do not have access to all of Scripture, let alone in the various forms as we have it. So what do you do?

In such an environment, the public reading of Scripture becomes all-important; it’s the only way you get access to Scripture. If the reading is not done well, or worse, misread, you may come to believe that God has said something He has not said, or has not said something He did say. Not for nothing does Paul exhort Timothy to give consideration to the public reading of Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13). Granted, in an aural culture, your mind is better able to retain the things you have heard read to you, which is good, because after hearing the reading and the exhortation on Sunday, that’s what you’d have to think about throughout the week until the next Sunday. Hence the Biblical exhortations in Deuteronomy 6:4-12 about having the Law be on your mind, in your conversation, etc.: it’s to be made a part of life. You might think about the reading while plowing the field, and perhaps you’d have a chance to put it into action by helping a neighbor as you walk home. The message heard on Sunday is thus not divorced from life; there is an expectation that it is thought about and acted upon in life.

We’ve seen an incredible shift in 200 years: not only has Scripture become so easily accessible, but literacy is no longer the privilege of a few. Such is not intrinsically problematic; it’s a great blessing to have constant access to Scripture. It seems that “studying your Bible” has become one of the defining religious behaviors of Christians. By listening to lessons you can easily get the impression that we should be there on Sunday, do the acts of worship right, not be a denominationalist, and go study your Bibles. Now, that sentiment is noble: the idea is that by going and studying your Bible, you’ll reflect more on it, and seek to put it into practice in your life. If people were to do that, such would be great, right?

But let’s be honest. Let’s even grant that people are studying their Bibles like they should. Are we honestly seeing the transformation that should be taking place? Are people effectively meditating upon what Scripture says and applying it to their lives? Also, as discussed above, how well is the average individual doing at understanding what he is reading? Who’s there to correct him in his private study if he’s made an inappropriate conclusion or application? Does he even engage Scripture with a view toward applying it to his life, or is he just trying to understand the text for understanding’s sake so he doesn’t sound like an idiot in Bible class and doesn’t gain the ire of the preacher? How has he seen Bible study modeled in the Bible class: is it an attempt to come to an understanding of what God is saying, challenging our thoughts and actions, seeking to apply it to the modern day, or is it just a weekly opportunity to utter the same stock phrases and platitudes and revel in how we have it all right and others do not?

Even beyond that, how is the person “hearing” the voice of God in Scripture in his head? Scripture is never dead words on a page. Remember that Scripture was meant to be read aloud: sure, it’s not Paul or Peter standing up there actually saying the words, but if we close our eyes and listen, we can hear the words of the Apostles speaking to us through the Scripture reader just like they were originally read to the Ephesians or Colossians or Christians of Asia Minor or whomever and wherever. It’s its own form of communion with the saints, the shared experience of hearing the words of God spoken before us. You just can’t get that experience from reading paper or an e-reader.

For that matter, what was preached in your congregation on Sunday? Maybe you remember it. Great! What about last week? The week before that? Last month? How often have the lessons spurred you on to greater meditation on Scripture and applying it?

Let none be deceived: it is not wrong to study Scripture. We encourage the study of Scripture! But how are we going about it, and what do we see in the Bible? In short, how could we blend the benefits of the ancient approach and the modern approach?

To that end, we exhort all Christians to take the public reading of Scripture more seriously. It’s one of the acts of the assembly and should be held in high esteem. Actually read Scripture; be willing to add drama to it, for it is a dramatic text! Make it more than a preface to the lesson; remember that whatever the preacher says, no matter how substantive or well-presented, is uninspired, but the Scripture reading is our chance to actually listen to and meditate upon the inspired message of God. We do well to provide an opportunity to think about a Scripture as related to the lesson and an application of it throughout the week to keep the message fresh and to bring the message into the regular life of those who pay attention. Personal Bible study can be good and profitable but it is not an end unto itself; we need to remember that for the first 1700 years of Christianity most Christians had no ability to engage in personal Bible study and God is not going to condemn them for it. Personal Bible study should lead to the same goal as the public reading of Scripture and the exhortation in preaching: to foster meditation on what God has said to us so that we have it actively in our mind so as to have opportunity to act it out in our daily walk and to do so. All the Bible study in the world, even becoming a “walking Bible,” is of no value unless it is lived, and it is the lived Christian life which should be elevated as the ideal religious behavior for all Christians, just as it is in Scripture (Galatians 5:17-24, Ephesians 4:1-6:18, Colossians 3:1-4:6, Titus 3:3-8, etc.).

Let us give appropriate consideration to the processes of communicating knowledge so as to most effectively promote the apostolic Gospel of Christ in the 21st century!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Longsuffering | The Voice 11.08: February 21, 2021

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Fruit of the Spirit: Longsuffering

The Apostle Paul remained greatly worried about how the Galatian Christians so suddenly were being tempted to pursue a different “gospel,” one based on the works of the Law and not in faith in Christ (Galatians 1:6-5:16). Paul also maintained concern for the practice of the Galatian Christians, exhorting them to avoid the “works of the flesh” and to manifest the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:17-24). Paul spoke of the “fruit of the Spirit” in
Galatians 5:22-23:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law.

According to the Greek grammar and the witness of Scripture, the fruit of the Spirit can be understood as “love.” Joy and peace both feature decisions regardless of momentary circumstance which go well beyond the way the world understands them. Paul now spoke of what we today consider patience, or longsuffering: the Greek word makrothumia. Makrothumia can be understood in a very literal way as “long of thumos“: thumos originally referred to the powerful life energy that would enervate conduct. Thumos can easily be expressed as wrath, and is thus condemned in Galatians 5:19-21. To be “long of thumos,” then, is the ability to internalize, and hold onto for a long time, that enervating life energy without expressing it as frustration, wrath, anger, and/or violence. To this end Thayer defines makrothumia as “patience, endurance, constancy, steadfastness, perseverance; patience, forbearance, longsuffering, slowness in avenging wrongs.”

We do well, therefore, to understand such “patience” and “longsuffering” as holding on and firm for a long time, and thus endurance and forbearance. We learn patience and longsuffering either through experience or by considering the examples of those who came before us. The Apostles provided such an example, having suffered much for the faith for some time (2 Timothy 3:10). Early Christians endured much for the faith (Hebrews 6:12). We also have the examples of Job and the prophets: they endured great difficulty but remained faithful (James 5:10). Paul expected Christians to display such longsuffering toward one another in Ephesians 4:1-3 and Colossians 3:12-13; an important aspect of Timothy’s ministry would involve proving longsuffering in his preaching, teaching, and conduct in 2 Timothy 4:1-2.

Paul and Peter both thus emphasize God’s patience and longsuffering toward people as the reason things remain as they are with the hope that people will come to faith in Him (Romans 2:4, Romans 9:22, 1 Peter 3:20, 2 Peter 3:15). People were proving impatient regarding the Lord’s return, wondering when it would be, asking why it had not yet happened (2 Peter 3:1-4). Peter wished to reorient their thinking: time is irrelevant to God: a day is as a thousand years to Him, and a thousand years as one day (2 Peter 3:8; cf. Psalm 90:4). He has not yet returned because He is patient/longsuffering toward us and wants all to repent and come to a knowledge of the truth (2 Peter 3:9). Whenever the end comes, it will come quickly (2 Peter 3:10): in the meantime, we are to consider ourselves. What if the Lord had returned the day before we had repented and responded to Him in faith? Today might well be that day for another! Who are we, therefore, to get impatient with the Lord, when the Lord has proven so patient and longsuffering toward us? Thus we must consider the patience and longsuffering of the Lord as salvation (2 Peter 3:15), and not begrudge God’s patience and kindness toward others.

The challenge of patience and longsuffering is also in the endurance demanded. Everyone has some level of patience; we thus speak of some as having “short fuses” and others as having “long fuses.” The Christian, however, is called to endure beyond what they might imagine. The parable of the ten virgins is a reminder of how the Lord might well take a lot longer than we expected, and we need to be prepared to endure for longer than we thought (Matthew 25:1-13). Paul and the Hebrews author exhort us to run the race so that we might win (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Hebrews 12:1-3): we should not imagine they spoke of a 100 meter dash, but more like a marathon or even an ultramarathon. On our own we will grow weary and fail; such is why we must put our trust and confidence in the strength of the Lord and the power of His might, and submit to His will and ask to be strengthened through His Spirit (Ephesians 3:14-21, 6:10-18).

Of all the manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit longsuffering/patience seems the most demanded yet least expressed in our modern age. Everyone appreciates when others are patient toward them, yet our patience tends to wear thin very quickly and easily. We get restless if a website takes a few seconds to load; we quickly gravitate to checking our smartphones if we find ourselves having to wait in a line. We feel as if we should already be at our destination; any kind of traffic, road construction, or other hindrance quickly frustrates us. This environment does not well facilitate the growth of healthy relationships: we all too easily expect more out of others than we do ourselves, and more quickly, and look to disqualify on account of faults and failings.

In such an impatient age it proves all the more important for the people of God to manifest patience/longsuffering. In many respects Christians are prepared to suffer long: Christians might be prepared for certain kinds of persecution, difficulty, and distress. Yet Christians may find themselves in uncomfortable or unfamiliar conditions in which patience might be demanded but not easily reflected. Longsuffering is never easy, and we need to maintain it all the more when we are most tempted to give up. Longsuffering leads to salvation: God’s longsuffering has allowed us the opportunity to be saved, and it is only by displaying endurance in the faith that we will be saved (Matthew 10:22). May we prove willing to suffer long, glorify God in Christ, and obtain life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Keep Silent Before YHWH | The Voice 11.07: February 14, 2021

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Keep Silent Before YHWH

Habakkuk stood at his watch and waited for an answer from YHWH. The answer would come, and it would resonate for generations.

The prophet Habakkuk looked upon a sinful Judah and wondered if God would render justice (Habakkuk 1:1-4). YHWH responded and left no doubt: He would bring forth the Chaldean army as the agent of His judgment (Habakkuk 1:5-11). Habakkuk was greatly troubled at this prospect: how could a holy and righteous God use a more sinful nation to judge and condemn a comparatively less sinful one (Habakkuk 1:12-17)? Habakkuk waited for an answer from God (Habakkuk 2:1).

YHWH exhorted Habakkuk to write down the vision and make it plain upon tablets so that those who would run to it might read it (Habakkuk 2:2). The vision would reach its fulfillment: time hastened toward it and it would not lie; even if it seemed to take longer than expected, they should wait, for the events would come and not delay (Habakkuk 2:3). The soul of the arrogant, the unjust, and the Chaldean is puffed up and is not upright; the righteous one, however, will live by his or her faith (Habakkuk 2:4). “Wine” was reckoned as treacherous and haughty, enlarging desire like the underworld, insatiable, gathering all nations and people: one might be tempted to find some truth in a literal application, yet we do better to understand “wine” in terms of the intoxicating desire for greater power and wealth manifest among the unjust and the Chaldean army, and perhaps also the wine of the unmixed cup of the wrath of God’s judgment.

The Chaldeans lusted for glory, power, and wealth; later generations would taunt them, pronouncing woe on those who gain wealth which is not their own (Habakkuk 2:6). Nations would suddenly rise up against them and plunder them: as they had plundered many nations, the nations would plunder them, and thus return judgment for all the blood they had shed (Habakkuk 2:7-8). Woe was also pronounced on those who obtained wealth through evil in order to exalt and magnify themselves: their house would be covered in shame, they had sinned, and even their house would cry out against them (Habakkuk 2:9-11). Further woes came against those who build a city by blood and iniquity (Habakkuk 2:12). YHWH has decreed that people would put forth great labor for what would eventually be burned, and nations would wear themselves out for vanity, a breath or absurdity, for glory and power and wealth which would exist today but be gone tomorrow (Habakkuk 2:13). The earth would be filled with the knowledge of the glory of YHWH as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14).

Habakkuk pronounced woe on those who cause their neighbors to drink and become intoxicated in order to satisfy their evil desires in seeing the nakedness and humiliation of others: they will be filled with shame and not glory, and will be compelled, as if the uncircumcised, to drink the cup of YHWH, and endure their foul shame (Habakkuk 2:15-16). All the violence the Chaldeans did against Lebanon, animal life, and human life will cover them (Habakkuk 2:17). The Chaldeans could take no comfort in their gods: what profit did they obtain from their graven images, made by humans, and yet remain dumb; woe would come against those who devote themselves to statues of wood overlaid with gold and silver (Habakkuk 2:18-19). All the while YHWH was in His holy temple, and the earth should keep silent before Him (Habakkuk 2:20).

Habakkuk 2:4 is justly famous: Paul and the Hebrews author relied upon it heavily in order to make their case regarding justification by faith and perseverance in faith (Romans 1:16-17, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:36-39). Yet its importance is not divorced from its context but highlighted therein.

We could understand Habakkuk’s concern and frustration: Judah has proven unjust, yes, but how can it be just for an even more unjust and sinful people to gain victory over them (Habakkuk 1:1-2:1)? While at times it may seem that YHWH has individual people in mind in Habakkuk 2:2-20, His focus remains on the Chaldeans throughout. They are those who are puffed up and their soul is not right in them. They are those drunk on the intoxicating desire for power and wealth. They would be ascendant for the moment; they would labor to build a most impressive city whose fame endures until this day. And yet it would all be for naught. As they had destroyed others, they would be destroyed in turn. As they exploited the wealth of other nations, other nations would exploit their wealth. All that effort, and all that arrogance, would be ultimately for nothing; Babylon is now a ruin in a sad state of disrepair, its walls crumbling, and its extent not fully investigated or known. All the devotion they lavished upon their gods was for naught: the statues were dumb, there was nothing really there, and the whole edifice and pretense would fall apart.

So it was with the Chaldeans, but really such has been how it has always gone with those who follow the ways of the demonic wisdom of the world. What the world gives the world takes away. One group has great strength for a moment; they will be overturned by those over whom they had previously gained the victory. Wealth based on exploitation and oppression would eventually fade or be taken in exploitation or oppression. Unjust Judah received vengeance and justice for their worldliness at the hands of the Chaldeans; the Chaldeans would receive it at the hands of the Persians; the Persians by the Macedonians; and so on until this very day. Their souls were puffed up; it was not right within them. They were drunk on the wine of power and wealth; it led to their undoing.

Meanwhile, God remained in His holy temple, and all the earth should have remained silent before Him. The testimony of God’s power would be known throughout the world. Those who would endure would be the righteous, and they would live by their faith. They would trust in God, and not idols who could not speak, teach, or do anything. They would not maintain confidence in worldly power or foreign policy schemes, but entirely entrust themselves to God and His purposes. They would not seek wealth through exploitation or oppression, but would trust in God their Creator and Sustainer, obtain His blessings, and use them as He intended, to benefit and provide for others as well. The nations, and even the people of God would be compelled to drink the cup of the unmixed wine of the wrath of God and suffer the penalty of justice; the righteous would live by their faith.

Paul well noted the timelessness of Habakkuk’s core exhortation (Galatians 3:11; cf. Habakkuk 2:4). The people of God have only ever lived and endured by their faith. The soul of the unjust is puffed up and is not right within him. We will turn toward God and orient ourselves around His life and purposes, or we will turn away from God and orient ourselves according to the ways of this world. We may delude ourselves into thinking that God is not there, God does not notice, God does not care, or God will do nothing, and yet God is in His holy temple. If we mentally associate that temple with the building in Jerusalem, or the modern Christian assembly, we are distracting ourselves from the thrust of Habakkuk’s message. YHWH is in the seat of His power; the earth ought to keep silent before Him. He sees. He knows. He will judge. We may experience that judgment in various ways at various times, but it will come. We must proclaim this so all can hear or read and know, so that the knowledge of God may fill the earth as the waters fill the sea. God is not mocked. It may be tomorrow or the third day, but those who live according to the world will reap the judgment coming for the world. Let us turn, therefore, live by faith, and obtain life in God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Bodily Existence of Our Lord | The Voice 11.06: February 07, 2021

posted in: The Voice | 0

The Voice

Concerning the Continued Bodily Existence of Our Lord

The core message of the Christian faith is the life, death, resurrection, ascension, lordship, and imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-7); this whole Gospel message itself gravitates around the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. If Jesus has not been raised, then we are lost in our sins, our faith is in vain, and we of all people are most pitiable (1 Corinthians 15:12-20). And yet in many parts of modern “Christendom,” especially within Evangelicalism, and even among the Lord’s people, the importance and nature of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and the hope of bodily resurrection of believers in Him has been downplayed or neglected. The reasons for such lack of emphasis are legion, involving everything from the continued influence of Greek philosophy and Gnosticism to the overtly “heavenly” emphasis found in the songbook. As a result critical truths of the Gospel, held consistently and firmly by those of “orthodox” Christian belief for generations, has been missed or neglected. Of these none have proven as controversial as whether the Lord Jesus continues to exist in heaven in the resurrection body. In this treatise we shall contend that the Lord Jesus remains in His resurrection body to this day; we shall seek to prove this abundantly from the pages of Scripture.

The Historical Narrative

The story of Jesus’ resurrection is set forth in Matthew 28:1-20, Mark 16:1-20, Luke 24:1-53, John 20:1-21:20, and Acts 1:1-11. We will highlight certain aspects of the story to illustrate our purposes below.

Jesus’ soul/spirit/divinity did not die. At no point in the narrative is it suggested that God the Son died or that Jesus’ soul/spirit died. In Luke 23:43 Jesus assured the thief on the cross of being with Him today in “Paradise”; Peter would insist on Psalm 16:9-11 as David testifying to the resurrection of Jesus: whereas David’s tomb (and ostensibly his body within it) remained in Jerusalem to that day, and so he was not talking of himself, but someone to come, thus Jesus’ soul was not left in “Hades”, but returned to His body which was raised from the dead (Acts 2:25-32). The New Testament provides no confidence for any view which would suggest Jesus suffered spiritual death at any point in His existence; the citation of Psalm 22:1 in Matthew 27:46 need not be true in fact but in perception (and as a reference to the whole Psalm), and if God the Son were to be truly separated from God the Father and God the Holy Spirit in any way for any amount of time, God would no longer be one in relational unity but truly three gods as the pagans and the Muslims allege (contra John 17:20-23). Not for nothing does the text say that “Jesus yielded up His spirit” (Matthew 27:50); His spirit did not die, but experienced the spiritual state of the afterlife until the day of resurrection. Thus resurrection cannot be mere spiritual illumination, enlightenment, or even transformation; Jesus spent time in pure spirit form for a short period of time, and then experienced the resurrection.

Resurrection, by definition, involved the resuscitation of the physical body. Matthew provides a bizarre detail in Matthew 27:52-53, claiming that holy ones came out of the tombs when Jesus was raised, entered Jerusalem, and appeared to many. This claim engenders more questions than it may answer; nevertheless, it again reinforces how within Second Temple Judaism, resurrection was understood first and foremost as the resuscitation/reanimation of the physical body.

The tomb was empty. The Evangelists emphasize the first evidence of the resurrection is the empty tomb. Mary, Peter, and John see the tomb empty; Peter and John note how the grave cloth lay on the ground with the face cloth folded by itself, hardly the behavior of people stealing a corpse in the dead of night (John 20:1-7). Not only is the body not there, but the reason why it is not there is firmly declared by the angel: Jesus is not there, for He is risen (Matthew 28:6).

Similarity and Dissimilarity. Within their narratives the Evangelists note points of similarity and dissimilarity regarding Jesus from before and after the resurrection. The women and disciples perceive Him as Jesus (Luke 24:40-43, John 20:16). And yet neither the women nor the disciples recognize Him immediately; He is able to enter locked rooms, and seems to move between places at speeds not feasible by any human means of the age (Luke 24:16, John 20:26). Granted, there were times in His previous life when Jesus miraculously escaped from crowds (e.g. Luke 4:30, John 8:59); but this seems to be of a different order, perhaps suggesting Jesus had transcended the space-time continuum.

Jesus’ resurrection body was incontrovertibly substantial. The disciples were invited to touch Jesus, to place their hands in His wounds; He ate in their midst, explicitly saying He was not a spirit but had flesh and bones (Luke 24:40-43, John 20:24-29). We have good reason to believe Jesus’ resurrection body was transformed physicality (a la Wright’s “transphysical”; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:50-58, Philippians 3:21), yet sufficiently “physical” to be able to be touched, to consume food, and to be treated as fully human.

Jesus ascended in the resurrection body. The book of Acts began by describing Jesus’ ascension: He had appeared to His disciples as alive many times and taught them regarding the Kingdom; after a final message, Jesus was “taken up,” and a cloud received Him out of their sight (Acts 1:1-9). Two angels then appeared to encourage the disciples, assuring them how Jesus would return from heaven “in the like manner” as they had seen Him received up into heaven (Acts 1:10-11).

At no point in the narrative are we told that Jesus divested Himself of His resurrection body. From the moment of His resurrection through His ascension Jesus is spoken of as appearing to people in the resurrection body.

Evidence for Jesus’ Continued Existence in the Resurrection Body

From the above we have seen Jesus as raised in the body and ascended in the resurrection body. Let us now consider the New Testament evidence demonstrating Jesus’ continued existence in that resurrection body since His ascension.

Jesus as the “Son of Man”. Throughout the Gospels Jesus’ favorite oblique way of speaking regarding Himself is to speak of the “Son of Man.” “Son of Man” represents a good Hebraic idiom; “son of” is a way of denoting a relationship, and at its basic level of meaning “Son of man” means a human, as seen in the equivalent parallelism of Psalm 8:4:

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? / And the son of man, that thou visitest him?

Yet without a doubt Jesus’ use of the “Son of Man” is informed by its use in Daniel 7:13-14:

I saw in the night-visions, and, behold, there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man, and he came even to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.

The Danielic “Son of Man” has Messianic connotations for certain, something well understood not only by Jesus but also His opponents (cf. Matthew 26:63-66). Therefore, when Jesus speaks of Himself as the “Son of Man,” He does not merely speak of His humanity, but speaks also of this Messianic role, the one who would receive the everlasting dominion. Nevertheless, even if “Son of Man” means more than “human” when used in reference to Jesus, there is no basis from the New Testament to suggest it means anything less. If anything, Jesus’ resurrection more fully explains how anyone “like a son of man” could enter the heavenly realm and obtain an eternal Kingdom: as we shall see, once Jesus died for sin, death no longer has any power over Him, and so He can continue to live for eternity in the resurrection body as the Son of Man (cf. Romans 6:1-11).

Not only does the Danielic “Son of Man” feature prominently in Jesus’ self-conception and ministry, He will also speak of Himself as the “Son of Man” in demonstrably post-ascension contexts: as in the Kingdom and in returning in Judgment (Matthew 13:41, 16:27-28, 19:28, 24:27, 30, 37, 39, 44, 25:31, 26:64, Mark 8:38, 13:26, 14:62, Luke 9:26, 12:40, 17:22, 24, 26, 30, 18:8, 21:27, 36, 22:69, John 6:62). In this way Jesus expected to remain human after His resurrection and ascension.

Throughout the Bible a human is defined quite specifically as a person made in God’s image with a body and soul/spirit (Genesis 1:26-27, 2:7). We have no Biblical basis to suggest that a person’s disembodied soul/spirit is still reckoned to be a human being. Thus, if Jesus remains the Son of Man and thus human, and Jesus thus remains in the resurrection body, both the Son of God and the Son of Man, to this day.

Stephen’s Witness. It is written in Acts 7:55-56:

But [Stephen], being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.”

Stephen is about to be martyred for his witness for Jesus. Luke first explained what Stephen saw: a vision of God’s glory and Jesus standing on the right hand of God (Acts 7:55). Luke then records Stephen’s actual words; we do well to note that Stephen calls Jesus “the Son of Man” in this instance. We are to understand a direct association between Acts 7:55-56 and Matthew 26:63/Mark 14:62/Luke 22:69: as Jesus stood before the Sanhedrin and was condemned to death and spoke of the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, so now Stephen stands before the Sanhedrin, about to be killed by its members, but spoke of actually seeing the Son of Man at the right hand of God, and all it would imply based on Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:13-14. Nevertheless, Stephen well understood what “Son of Man” meant, and he testified that he saw Jesus as the Son of Man, the Human One, well after His ascension into heaven. Stephen thus bears witness of Jesus’ continuing existence in the resurrection body after His ascension.

Paul’s Witness. The Apostle Paul insisted upon his standing as an eyewitness of the Lord Jesus in 1 Corinthians 9:1, 15:8. The New Testament does not record Paul as seeing Jesus at all during His life, death, or resurrection. The first time Paul is confronted by Jesus is in the vision on the road to Damascus as recorded in Acts 9:1-9 and retold in Acts 22:3-11, 26:12-18. We have some assurance that Paul speaks of this particular episode in 1 Corinthians 15:8: he saw Jesus “last of all,” as one “untimely born,” an ektromati, literally a miscarriage, one born out of due time.

While Paul recognized the temporal difference between his witness of Jesus and those who came before him, he yet nevertheless insisted that his witness was of equal worth and standing as all those who came before. We can know for certain that all the witnesses Paul mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:4-7 saw Jesus in the resurrection body; they are otherwise attested in Matthew 28:1-20, Mark 16:1-6, Luke 24:1-53, and John 20:1-21:25. If they all saw Jesus in the resurrection body, and Paul is an equal witness to them, then Paul must have seen Jesus in the resurrection body as well, even though he saw Him long after his ascension. By considering himself a witness of Jesus in the resurrection, Paul affirmed Jesus’ continuing existence in the resurrection body after His ascension.

Romans 6:1-11. 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? Or are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection; knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away, that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin; for he that hath died is justified from sin. But if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him; knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death no more hath dominion over him. For the death that he died, he died unto sin once: but the life that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Even so reckon ye also yourselves to be dead unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus.

While Paul here does speak of baptism as a type of resurrection, the ground of its power is in Jesus’ actual, substantive death and resurrection. We have already affirmed that at no point did Jesus’ divinity or soul/spirit die; therefore, the only thing which died or even could die was Jesus’ body. If Jesus divested Himself of His resurrection body and returned to His form as the pre-Incarnate Word (cf. John 1:1), Romans 6:1-11 makes no sense whatsoever. Jesus dies no more because He died to sin; death no longer has dominion over Him (Romans 6:9-10); this was never true of God the Son per se, since God is immortal. It can only refer to Jesus’ humanity. And so when Paul speaks of Jesus as (presently) living in this life He lives to God (Romans 6:10), it must center on His resurrected body, the only “part” of Jesus to truly experience death. In this way Paul also explains how Jesus can continue to serve as Lord for generation after generation: death no longer has power over Him in His resurrection body, and so not only does He endure perpetually within it, we as Christians have the hope of sharing in that perpetuity when our bodies are raised from the dead on the final day (Romans 6:5). Paul’s exposition in Romans 6:1-11 depends upon Jesus’ continuing existence in His resurrection body.

Philippians 3:20-21. As it is written:

For our citizenship is in heaven; whence also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself.

Throughout Philippians 3:1-21 Paul has centered his hope on the resurrection from the dead. As he concludes this part of the message Paul spoke of our confidence as Christians, that Christ will return one day and will transform our lowly bodies to be conformed to the body of His glory, and He will do so through the power which He is presently using to subject things to Himself (Philippians 3:21). Paul here expects us to become then as He is now, a message thoroughly consistent with John’s expectation in 1 John 3:2 (since, as we have seen above from Matthew 25:31 and Acts 1:11, Jesus will return as He came, and as the Son of Man). As in Romans 6:1-11, so in Philippians 3:21: Paul’s exposition depends on Jesus’ continuing existence in His resurrection body.

1 Timothy 2:5. As it is written:

For there is one God, one mediator also between God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus.

By common confession Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy sometime in the early 60s. Paul spoke to Timothy of Jesus as the Mediator between God and men, a role He is able to uniquely fulfill since He is Himself “man,” anthropos in Greek, the word used to speak generically of us as humans. Thus, in 1 Timothy 2:5, Paul spoke of Jesus as human in the present tense, as a continuing reality. As mentioned earlier, a mere spirit/soul is not a human; a human is a person, body and soul/spirit. Thus Paul again confirms Jesus’ continuing existence in His resurrection body over 30 years after His ascension.

Lack of New Testament Contradiction. We have seen the witness of Jesus, the Evangelists, Stephen, and Paul, all of whom attest to Jesus’ continuing existence in the resurrection body after His ascension. We must also note the conspicuous lack of any explicit declaration to the contrary. In no New Testament passage is it declared or even suggested that Jesus divested Himself of His resurrection body when He ascended to the Father or at some point afterward. In no New Testament passage do we hear of a glorification or transformation of Jesus at any point after His resurrection until this day; the text throughout speaks of the moment of transformation and glorification as happening when He is raised from the dead.

From all of this evidence we do well to conclude that Jesus remains in His resurrection body to this day, and will continue to live in His resurrection body until at least the end of Judgment, if not beyond.

Addressing Concerns

With such abundant Biblical evidence and no explicit word which might confuse or contradict the matter, how has such a position become so controversial? We will consider many common concerns and attempt to address them.

A “new doctrine.” Many, upon hearing these things, are concerned that they represent some kind of “new” doctrine, an innovation.

While hearing this may be new to many people, the belief is not itself new. The belief of Jesus as continuing to exist in the resurrection body was affirmed by Christians upholding “orthodoxy” for generations. Even medieval theologians and devotional authors presumed it. For most of the history of Christianity it remained prevalent; it has only been downplayed or neglected within the past few generations. If you do not trust my witness, it is something which Roger Olson, a noted historian of Christian denominations, has noted as well.

We could easily argue that it is the belief that somehow at some point Jesus divested Himself of His body is the new innovation, a Gnostic-esque heresy. May we all be as the Bereans and judge doctrinal presentations by what is written in the Scriptures, not on our impression of what is old or new (cf. Acts 17:10-11).

Theological Concerns. In much of Evangelicalism and among the Lord’s people great emphasis has been placed on Jesus’ divinity and standing as the Son of God. Attempts to insist on Jesus’ humanity are often looked upon with skepticism, often unfairly labeled as associated with the doctrines of Jehovah’s Witnesses or some other such group. In such a climate, consideration of Jesus as remaining in the resurrection body is bound to cause theological concerns, as if one is negating Jesus’ divinity. God is spirit, after all (John 4:24), and we often associate the spiritual realm with heaven, and since in 1 Corinthians 15:50 flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, how can Jesus have a body in heaven?

We will address 1 Corinthians 15:50 in greater detail below, but for the time being we do well to note that both Enoch and Elijah were translated into heaven bodily (Genesis 5:24, 2 Kings 2:11-12). Our understanding of the spiritual realm is very limited; not enough has been revealed to so definitively declare that Jesus could not remain in His resurrection body in heaven, and anyways, one would still have to contend with all of the evidence given above.

Accepting Jesus’ continuing existence in His resurrection body need not negate or lessen the truth that Jesus remains fully God. Paul affirmed that Jesus was declared the Son of God in the resurrection (Romans 1:4). While we must be careful lest we drift into heresies by which we emphasize Jesus’ humanity over His divinity, as in Adoptionism, Arianism, or as the Jehovah’s Witnesses did and do, we must be equally careful lest we emphasize Jesus’ divinity over His humanity, which is just as heretical, as the Gnostics and Christian Scientists and others did and do. If anything, the latter proves more pernicious: John had to explicitly warn against those who denied the bodily existence of Jesus (1 John 4:1-4, 2 John 1:5-10).

In reality, it is hard for us to imagine how Jesus could be both fully God and fully man. It is the mystery of the Incarnation, that moment when the Word became flesh, and Jesus became Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:21-25, John 1:1, 14, 18). But if we accept on faith that Jesus lived in this life as fully God and fully human, there is nothing to stop us to accept that Jesus continues to exist in the resurrection body as fully God and fully human. There is nothing about Jesus in the resurrection body that would not prove equally problematic in terms of Jesus’ Incarnation. Furthermore, the Scriptures never speak of Jesus returning to the same form as He existed before the Incarnation; it is an assumption, an inference being imposed upon the text without any Scriptural warrant to justify it.

For years too much emphasis has been placed on Jesus as the Son of God and not nearly enough on Jesus as the Son of Man and all that demands. We must return to the Biblical balance and affirm both equally; when we do so, we recognize there is no theological difficulty with Jesus remaining fully God and yet also fully human in His resurrection body.

Spiritual Bodies and 1 Corinthians 15:50. On account of the strong “heaven” and “spiritual” emphasis within Evangelicalism and even among the Lord’s people, the bodily element of the resurrection has been neglected or downplayed in many circles. Many look at 1 Corinthians 15:35-50 and in it see a justification for believing in a “spiritual body,” often in contrast to anything physically substantive, and “proven” by 1 Corinthians 15:50a, Paul’s declaration that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.

There are many difficult and confusing aspects of 1 Corinthians 15:35-58, and we may not be able to make complete sense of everything. Nevertheless, Paul clearly expected Jesus’ resurrection to be the model and example for what all believers in Him will experience on the final day (1 Corinthians 15:20-28). In 1 Corinthians 15:44-46 Paul makes a contrast between the present body as a psuchikos body, and the body in the resurrection as a pneumatikos body. These terms are often translated as “natural” and “spiritual,” which leads to such interpretations as the above, since people all too easily put the emphasis on the “natural” or “spiritual” form. And yet Paul provides a bit of explanation: the psuchikos body we currently have is directly associated with Adam in Genesis 2:7, in which God breathed the breath of life into Adam, and he became a living “soul” (in Greek, psuche). The psuche is here considered the life force within us; therefore, the “psychical” body is enlivened/empowered by the psuche. The corresponding parallel would mean that the “pneumatical” body is enlivened/empowered by the pneuma, or “spirit”, perhaps the Holy Spirit. Thus Paul is not speaking of some ethereal spirit form; he speaks of a body, the pneumatical body indeed, but no less a body.

And so we come to 1 Corinthians 15:50a:

Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God…

On its own it would seem rather damning to any hope of redemption of the body. But this fragment of a verse is not on its own:

Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We all shall not sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?”
The sting of death is sin; and the power of sin is the law: but thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:50-57).

“Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom,” yes, but also “neither doth corruption inherit incorruption” (1 Corinthians 15:50). Paul then speaks of a mystery, of what will happen: we will all be changed (1 Corinthians 15:51-52a). In this change we will be raised incorruptible: this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality, and then death will be fully overcome (1 Corinthians 15:52b-57). It is not our spirit or soul which is mortal and corruptible, but our bodies; thus our bodies will be transformed for immortality and incorruption.

But what of the physical body? It is transformed, yes, but not eliminated. No passage in the New Testament speaks or even frames the discussion of the transformation of resurrection in terms of the destruction or elimination of the physical body. All such discussions of transformation envision it in terms of enhancement, not of reduction. The corruptible body “puts on” incorruption; this mortal body shall “put on” immortality. We yearn, not to be unclothed, but further clothed (2 Corinthians 5:1-4).

Therefore, yes, this present flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, since we remain mortal and corruptible. But on the resurrection day, this mortal and corruptible flesh and blood will be raised and then transformed to be incorruptible and immortal, and will be able to inherit the Kingdom of God, just like Jesus, on the day of His resurrection, was raised and then transformed to be incorruptible and immortal, and inherited the Kingdom of God and still reigns over it.

There is much we do not and cannot yet understand about the resurrection body (1 John 3:2). Nevertheless, we have confidence we will be like Jesus: He did not become some entirely non-physical, non-substantive “spiritual body,” but a transformed body which could yet be touched and could eat in this plane of existence, and so it will be for us. No, corruptible flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God; but the new heavens and the new earth are reserved for those who obtain the resurrection of life and its attendant resurrection body (John 5:28-29, Revelation 21:1-22:6)!

Conclusion

We have explored the Scriptures surrounding Jesus’ resurrection and continued existence after the resurrection. We have seen from the historical narratives and later doctrinal expositions how Jesus and the Apostles provided strong evidence for Jesus’ continued existence in His resurrection body during the forty days after His resurrection, for years after His ascension, and by all accounts will continue until at least the day of Judgment if not beyond in the resurrection body. We have addressed various concerns regarding this doctrine and have found all detractions wanting. May we recognize and affirm that Jesus continues to serve as Lord in His resurrection body, the Son of God and Son of Man, and eagerly await His return so that we may become like Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry