Living in the light of the Kingdom of God

Menu Close

Category: Theology (page 1 of 2)

Id is 2

Ridderbos on the Gospel as rooted in History

Herman Ridderbos in his book When the Time Had Fully Come explains how the gospel is more than just that which is concerned with man’s stake in it through justification, but is in its fullness rooted in the historical and factual reality of the incarnate Christ who lived, died, rose again, ascended, and poured out the Spirit. The warning that Ridderbos issues accords with warnings I have seen in more recent years by the likes of Scot McKnight, Darrell Bock, and others that we must not preach a “truncated gospel” that only is concerned with justification but rather that we should preach the gospel that proclaims the whole historical story of the good news that Jesus came to bring. Indeed, rejoice in the provision and work of justification, but remember the king and recount all of the works which he accomplished.

(Emphasis below in bold is my own.)

If asked what the functioning of this wider approach to the Pauline kerygma could mean with respect to preaching in our day, I would reply: It can be a mighty support for us in the present crisis of certitudes. In Reformation times, too, a life and death struggle was carried on, with the ultimate certainties of the Church at stake. Today that crisis is perhaps even deeper and more fundamental. Then the question was whether man shall be justified by faith or by works. It was then that the Pauline kerygma of the justification by faith saved the Church. Now the issue is whether man in general has any need of justification at all. The question is presented whether truth and certainty can be found anywhere except in the true existence of man himself, and whether truth is not simply subjectivity and no more. Thus the whole history of salvation is thrown into the crisis. It is more than mere accident that in our time the battle about the existentialist interpretation of the gospel overlaps for the greater part that of the demythologizing of the facts of salvation. Put in a simple way, the issue is whether this history of salvation is something more than what takes place in man himself. And this issue concerns not only theologians and philosophers. With ever increasing force it is required that the preaching of Christ should make clear to man how he is existentially concerned in the gospel. And the criticism of preaching is largely bound up with this, although most people may never have heard of Kierkegaard, Heidegger, or Bultmann.

Now this demand that preaching should bring home to man his being concerned in the gospel, is a decidedly legitimate one. But it is also a dangerous one. For great is the temptation for the preacher to approach this involvement of man and gospel not from the gospel but from man. When the approach is made from man, then it is no more the analysis of the history of redemption in Jesus Christ which reveals the real existence of man, but it is the analysis of man in his actual situation which serves as the criterion for what is acceptable in the history of salvation. In this crisis of certitudes, in this struggle of the being or not being of the Church, the gospel of the apostle Paul can once more save the Church from destruction. The apostle preaches the gospel in a really existential way. He preaches not only the facts of salvation which once have happened in the history of Jesus Christ; he also points out in an incomparable way man’s concern in God’s beneficial deeds in Christ Jesus. For he places man in the facts of salvation, man in Christ, in His death and resurrection, in His ascension into heaven, and consequently man in the Holy Spirit. But this means that for the knowledge of man in his real existence as-well as for his salvation there is no other way and possibility than in what once has happened in the history of Christ. This history reveals the very existence of man in its distress and in its redemption. And it is only in the involvement in this history of salvation, in the death and glorification of Christ, that the existence of man can be saved and has been saved.

Ridderbos (pgs. 58–60)

Herman Ridderbos. When the Time Had Fully Come: Studies in New Testament Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957.

God Is Not Duly Worshipped Until He is Listened To

In his comments on Deuteronomy 31, John Calvin writes something that explains how the reading/hearing of Scripture is properly necessary to worship of God in reverential fear and obedience. If we are not reading God’s word with regularity to remind ourselves of its revealed message, or memorizing and meditating upon it in recollection, should that not lead us to ask how it is that we are worshipping God in following him obediently when we are not listening to his word and holding it in mind?

Calvin’s commentary:

There was therefore no business to prevent them from celebrating that festival, whereby God represented to them in a lively manner, how miraculously He had preserved their fathers in the desert. Lest the recollection of so great a benefit should ever perish, the Law indeed commanded them, wherever they might be, to go forth from their houses every year, and to pass seven days under the boughs of trees; but in the Sabbatical Year, when all was at rest at home, it was more convenient for them to go up to Jerusalem from all quarters, that by their very multitude they might the better testify their gratitude. Therefore it is added, “when all Israel is come,” etc. And it must be observed, that in that assembly they were more solemnly pledged, one and all, to keep the Law, because they were mutually witnesses against each other if they should break the covenant thus publicly renewed. On this account it is added, “Gather the people together, men, women, and children.”

But that it might not be a mere empty spectacle, it is expressly commanded that the book should be read “in their hearing:” by which words a recitation is expressed, from whence the hearers might receive profit, else it would have been a sham and ludicrous parade…. To this end, therefore, did God desire the doctrine of His Law to be heard; viz., that He might obtain disciples for Himself; not that He might fill their ears with a senseless and unprofitable clamour…

But whilst no other mode of reading Scripture is approved by God, except such as may instruct the people, so also the fruit of understanding, i.e., that they may learn to fear God, is required in the hearers. But it is undoubted, that “the fear of God” comprehends faith, nay, that properly speaking it springs from faith; and by this expression Moses indicates that the Law was given for the purpose of instructing men in piety and the pure service of God. At the same time we may learn from this passage, that all the services which are paid to God in ignorance, are extravagant, and illegitimate. The beginning of wisdom is to fear God; and on this point all agree; but then each one slips away to his own imaginations and erroneous devotions, as they choose to call them. God, however, in order to restrain such audacity as this, declares that he is not duly worshipped, except He shall first have been listened to.

As to “the strangers,” when their participation in sacred things is in question, I have elsewhere observed that all foreigners are not so called, but only those who, being Gentiles by origin, had devoted themselves to God, and having received circumcision, had been incorporated into the Church; otherwise it would not have been lawful to admit them into the congregation of the faithful; and this is confirmed by the additional words, “that is within thy gates:” which is as much as if Moses had said, inhabitants of your cities, and dwelling together with the people. Finally, when their children are mentioned, reference is made to the propagation of sound doctrine, that the pure worship of God may continually be maintained. He therefore commands that the Law should be recited, not in one generation only, but as long as the status of the people may last; and surely all God’s servants ought to take care, that they may transmit to posterity what they have learnt themselves.

Jesus the Blasphemer, or Blasphemed?

Recently I discovered what I believe to be a notable feature of the description of Jesus’ trial before the Jewish leaders in the Gospel of Luke as I was reading through it in Greek. An attentive reader of a translation could also pick up on this, but reading it in Greek simply made it stand out to me more — as I find so often happens. This is the text that initiated my observation:

καὶ ἕτερα πολλὰ βλασφημοῦντες ἔλεγον εἰς αὐτόν. (Luke 22:65)

“And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him.”

I noticed that Luke the Evangelist does something remarkable in telling the story of the trial of Jesus before his crucifixion compared to the other Synoptic Gospels. Bear with some relevant observations below.

In Matthew and Mark, they tell how the High Priest —upon hearing Jesus’ own testimony during his first “trial” before the Jewish leadership where he claimed that he was the Son of Man— tore his garments and said:

What further witness do we need? You have heard his blasphemy (τῆς βλασφημίας). What is your decision?” (Mark 14:63b-64a)

He has uttered blasphemy (Ἐβλασφήμησεν). What further witness do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy (τὴν βλασφημίαν). What is your judgment?” (Matthew 26:65b-66a).

Keep in mind here that the text reports to the reader that Jesus is the one being accused of blasphemy.

It is clear from context that the Jews here are picturing blasphemy as an offense specific to God as its recipient. While there are occurrences of blasphemy elsewhere in Scripture which are simply directed toward another human or even angelic beings (Jude 8), the context tips the balance here in favor of understanding this to be blasphemy of the divine. They were premising their accusation on Jesus’ identification with the divine Son of Man (Matthew 26:64), and calling for judgment on the basis of the Law of Moses which declares that those guilty of the specific crime of blasphemy against God should be killed (Leviticus 24:16).

Given that context, let’s observe what Matthew goes on to say and then compare his account to Luke:

They answered, “He deserves death.” Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” (Matthew 26:66b-68).

In Luke’s account we see an amazing “reversal” take place in what is reported. He omits something Matthew includes in 26:65, but also includes something Matthew did not in 26:66-68.

Firstly, observe what is absent as Luke reports a summary of the agreement of what all of Christ’s accusers said (“they said” vs. 71), instead of specifically reporting the words of the High Priest: “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips” (Luke 22:71). No mention of Caiaphas’ accusation of blasphemy is given here, as Matthew had reported. Secondly, look where we notably do find an indictment of blasphemy in his account instead. Luke adds a comment that Matthew did not: “They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, ‘Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?’ And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him (βλασφημοῦντες)” (Luke 22:64-65).

Luke has intentionally reported his account in such a way that he reveals that Jesus is clearly not the blasphemer, but rather that it is the Jewish leaders and their associates who are blasphemers. Compared to Matthew especially, this is an opposite portrayal or “reversal” (so to speak) of what is reported about blasphemy; even though it would be clear even to the readers of Matthew’s Gospel that Jesus was not blaspheming either, since he truly is the Danielic Son of Man that he claimed to be.

Also, significantly, the statement that Luke makes in 22:65 has one further major implication: Jesus is God. Blasphemy against the Son of Man (Luke 22:22, 48, 69) denotes speaking against God. As mentioned above, the context of Jesus’ trial makes it clear that blasphemy is divine blasphemy (blasphemy against God). It was Jesus’ very identification with the Son of Man before Caiaphas that led him to accuse Jesus of blasphemy (Matthew 26:64), because of that title’s association with divinity. Yet in Luke, where we see this reversal of the assertion of blasphemy, it carries with it the implication that Jesus is truly divine; thus, that they are the ones blaspheming him as God. I had never before noticed this passage as a testimony to the divinity of Jesus, yet as I examine it closely: there it is.

The revelation that the Jews were blaspheming their divine Messiah is a remarkable thing for Luke to highlight, which is worth pondering on. It leads his readers to more intentionally draw their thoughts to consider whose claims truly dishonored, offended, and misrepresented the true God during Jesus’ passion. Luke is crystal clear: it was not Jesus’ claims and actions which were amiss but rather those of his accusers.


1 Pictures from FreeBibleImages provided under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 Deed