Categories
Can You Trust the Bible?

Is Jesus Coming Back in 2022?

Author: Patrick Krentz Th.M., Managing Editor for Foundations by ICM

 

When you read the letters of the Apostle Paul, you may notice something surprising – he seemed to think the world would end in his lifetime. Was the Holy Spirit inspiring an error when he wrote about Jesus returning soon? It’s been two thousand years… was he crazy? What possible justification could there be for his “wrong” opinions to be codified in inspired texts? Well, I think both he and the Holy Spirit were justified in preserving these thoughts. Let’s take a few moments to consider Paul’s words, and to think about why, perhaps, we should think the same.

 

The End of the World As We Know It

First, let’s recognize that Paul did believe Jesus could return very quickly – possibly while he was alive. This would be the climax of history, the end of the world as we know it, and the beginning of the age of the Messiah. Consider his words to the church in Thessalonica who were distressed about believers who had died. These believers were confused because they did not know what would happen to believers who had ‘gone to sleep’ prior to the return of Christ. Paul reassured them, saying:

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 NIV)

Do you see his argument? He said, “we who are still alive will be caught up.” His grammar, at least, anticipated that even he would be included in this great event.

 

Who’s Crazy?

So the question remains, was Paul wrong? Did he misunderstand the words of Jesus or the teachings of the other Apostles? And more importantly, did the Holy Spirit inspire Paul to write in error? The simple answer to each of these questions is No. Here’s why: every believer should think exactly the same thing that Paul thought and taught – that Jesus could (and would) return in their lifetime. Consider more from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians:

Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-6)

In the first verse of this passage, Paul explains: “about times and dates we do not need to write to you…” Why? Because, first of all, times and dates don’t matter: we need to be ready all the time. But, second, because Paul and the Thessalonians don’t know when the return will happen.

So, while Paul expects Jesus to return soon, he understands that ‘soon’ could be quite literally any time. His emphasis is not about when Christ will return, but that we should be ready when he returns.

In several parables, Jesus tells stories of those who are waiting for their master to return (Luke 12:35-40, 42-49, Matthew 25:1-13, 14-30). He severely warns those who wait to watch at all times, expecting their master’s return at any moment. Jesus summarizes, saying: “You also must be ready because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.Don’t be caught sleeping, distracted, or unprepared just because he’s been gone longer than we expected.

 

 

What’s Our Response?

Be crazy, therefore, as Paul is crazy. Expect the return of Christ in your lifetime. Live as if Jesus will return tomorrow, next week, next month, three years from now… Live like you believe what Jesus, Paul, and other New Testament writers say about the end of the world. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul and others to write about the return as imminent, meaning that it could happen at literally any moment. They were not wrong, they simply did not know when it would happen (and neither do we). This imminence of the return hasn’t changed even though it has been two thousand years since the time of Paul.

Jesus says, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32 NIV) He also says, “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Luke 12:40 NIV) If you believe in these words, they will radically change the way you live.

Peter encourages us toward this end, saying: “The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:7-8 NIV)

The End

The Holy Spirit allowed Paul’s expectations to pepper his inspired writings because this is exactly how we should think, how we should live, how we should speak. Jesus is coming back soon… are you ready and watching?

Let’s close with the words of Jesus, the very last words in Scripture, which were repeated four times in the book of Revelation: “Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20 NIV).

 

Learn more about the bible by studying with our free bible study materials.

Categories
Studying the Bible

Reading the Bible Better: Why Do We Need Four Gospels?

Author: Andrew Sargent Ph.D., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

When a person asks, “Why do we need four gospels?” The playful part of my soul queries, Need? What’s need got to do with it? Do I need 75 million songs on Amazon Music? No! But it sure warms my heart to know they’re there. The serious part asks, “Should so great a figure as Jesus the Christ be left with a single witness to his life and work?” No!

The fourfold witness to Jesus, if handled well, proves to be a powerful theological anchor on no less a topic than the very center of God’s earthly work from creation to consummation—Jesus Christ & the Kingdom of God… Christ’s Kingdom.  

If handled poorly, however, there are some real dangers for us in a four-fold witness. 

 

The Grab Bag Threat

Right off, let’s address the elephant in the room. 

The biggest threat to hearing what the Holy Spirit intended for you to hear by inspiring four Gospels is to treat the Gospels as a grab bag of facts about Jesus that you can use to Frankenstein together your own gospel in your imagination. 

The average preacher reads about a given gospel story wherever it appears, gathering facts as they go. Often, they work out odd rationalities for seeming disparities. Then they weave it all together, trying to avoid having extra parts like when they put together an Ikea bunk bed. 

This process completely misconstrues the nature of these books as books. It corrupts their function as Gospels. It robs both preacher and hearer of the greatest benefits of a four-fold witness.

The grab bag approach is like wantonly dismantling four brilliantly constructed, Holy Spirit inspired gospels in order to cut and paste together a poorly conceived one of your own.

 

Gospels Preach

To use the title Gospel for these four books says something specific about how they are to be read. They are not written like modern biographies giving all the “whats” and “whens” of a person’s life. Gospels are written to preach. They are theological discourse in story form. Though Matthew, Mark, and Luke mention many of the same events, each selects and organizes material differently to preach uniquely about Jesus. According to Church tradition, John actually wrote his gospel with full awareness of the others and sought to cover much that stood outside of their purposes. 

Each gospel is a uniquely inspired interpretation of the life and work of Jesus, written to instruct in matters of faith and practice. Four gospels, therefore, are not redundant but, rather, advantageous, four-fold theological instruction. 

 

How to Read a Gospel Well

This means that each gospel needs to be read as a self-contained creation, respecting that author’s storytelling choices. This requires careful observation of terms, grammar, literary devices, and structure. It demands a careful scheme of questioning about the meaning of those choices and investigating proper resources for answering those questions. This takes time and energy and an openness to the possibilities that your presuppositions about Jesus could be wrong. For today, let me just give you a few thematic and structural cues to look for as you begin to unpack the power of the four-fold witness.    

 

Story Sermons

  • Matthew, Mark, and Luke use a form of narrative sermon in which multiple events are woven together to preach a single message while developing themes as each succeeding story sermon unfolds. Watch for natural openings and closings.

 

The Gospel of Matthew

  • Matthew organizes his book around five major Disciple teaching events, ending each with the statement, “When Jesus finished…”
  • Matthew has independent story sermons. His introduction presents Jesus as the rightful heir of Abraham and David who came to bring Israel out of exile. Abraham and David are recurring images throughout Matthew. We also find his birth narrative and Passion week story sermons. 
  • But Matthew also has large story collections bound to Jesus’ five Discipleship speeches that unpack His messages and explore Matthew’s chosen themes.  
  • Matthew is interested in Gentile inclusion and Jewish exclusion.  
  • Matthew is interested in the nature of True Righteousness.
  • Matthew is interested in Jesus’ compassion. 
  • Matthew returns to the subject of “bearing fruit” in six different contexts. 
  • Matthew has his own broad presentation of Jesus’ “fulfillment” of Scripture. 

 

The Gospel of Mark

  • Mark writes his book with 21 story sermons, constructed from 3-7 carefully woven events.
  • Mark’s sermons develop two major ideas: 1. The Identity of Jesus. 2. The Nature of the Kingdom of God. 
  • The first half of Mark reveals that Jesus is the Christ. It climaxes in Peter’s grand profession, “Thou art the Christ!” This identity is developed through the testimony of Jesus’ works, His declarations, and various spiritual manifestations. 
  • The second half unpacks what it means for Jesus to be the Christ and the surprising nature of the Kingdom. Jesus is a suffering Christ bringing a mustard seed Kingdom to the hearts of humanity.

 

The Gospel of Luke

  • Luke uses similar story sermons to Mark’s, but has over 30 of them, with more miracles and more parables. Almost half of Luke is unique material.
  • Luke is particularly interested in the Holy Spirit. Luke overtly references the Holy Spirit more times than Matthew, Mark, and John put together. 
  • Luke is particularly interested in the prophetic. Just so, Jesus is not just the Christ, but also the long-awaited prophet like unto Moses (Deuteronomy 18).
  • Luke develops his interests around Jesus’ declaration of gospel mission in Luke 4:18-19 from Isaiah 61:1-2 (i.e. good news to the poor, liberty to the oppressed, etc). Thus, Luke includes many more references to demonic deliverance, miracles, and the disenfranchised.  

 

The Gospel of John

  • John’s story sermons focus on fewer events but unpack them more deeply. One does well to ask in each story sermon: Who is Jesus? What does faith look like? What is true life?
  • Jesus talks more often, with more people and more openly in John about His true nature as incarnate God, and His connection to the Father. 
  • John is famous for his sevens. Seven signs. Seven “I Am,” statements. Jesus is revealed in association with seven feasts. Seven references to His hour. And, believe it or not, many others. Have fun counting stuff in John’s Gospel. 

Each Gospel needs to be read in its own context, revealing, in turn, the Jesus of Matthew, the Jesus of Mark, the Jesus of Luke, and the Jesus of John. 

Another benefit of having four gospels is that comparison and contrast heighten awareness of specific choices made by each gospel writer. This is not a grab bag approach used to build a new gospel in the mind, but aid for careful observation by the reader who is seeking to understand each writer as a uniquely inspired interpreter of Jesus. 

 

Conclusion

So, the four Gospels give us four times as much theological instruction about the life and work of Jesus, as each writer brings his own uniquely inspired interpretation to the table. Four Gospels also provide the comparison and contrast needed to maximize the reader’s ability to discern the details exploited by each writer as they preach through their uniquely structured books. 

Long may you linger over these masterful works as they preach about our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.

 

Learn more about the bible by studying with our free bible study materials.

Categories
Uncategorized

Guest Blog: A Godly Love

Author: Joshua Barrera M.Div., Guest Blogger for Foundations by ICM

 

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, you may be one of the thousands of people hurrying to find the perfect gift for your significant other. As the holiday approaches, few of us stop to think about what our culture teaches about love and romance this time of year. But only a moment’s glance at your local, mega-retail store speaks volumes – hundreds of various chocolates, flowers galore, and unique cards or love notes. Our culture tells us daily (but most strongly during Valentine’s Day) that love is demonstrated through gifting one another “stuff.” 

Jesus offers us a different perspective on love. In fact, He presents us with a different kind of love altogether. In John 13, as Jesus prepares for his mission to the Cross, He leaves the disciples one final, crucial lesson about love. 

Godly love is displayed through willful servanthood

 

A Demonstration of Love

“Jesus…rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13:3-5 ESV)

There are two important aspects of Godly love that we need to understand: intention and action. 

 

Willful Love

Love is willful servanthood because it involves intentional choice. I think back to when I first began dating the woman who would later become my wife. Those stomach butterflies, the heart skipping, and the persistent desire to make her happy were all guided by natural, organic feelings of love. I responded to those feelings of love by making the intentional, willful choice to love. I did not need to be told to bring her flowers or to spend time with her. I chose to do those things of my own accord because I wanted to.

In a similar way (in a more complete way), the Bible describes the Trinity as Three Persons in a constant, perfect, harmonious relationship with one another. There is no greater display of unity nor greater display of love as what is seen in the Godhead. The Father loves the Son who loves the Spirit who loves the Father, and on and on it goes. When Jesus stepped down to the earth and took the form of a man, He did so with the intent of welcoming humanity into that Trinitarian relationship. God loves us of his own volition with a passion far deeper than anything we have ever experienced. 

 

Servant Love

Love is willful servanthood because actions reveal, portray, and prove love. 

In today’s culture, we casually toss the word “love” around and use it as though it is similar to the word “like.” For example, we might say, “I love pizza” or “I love rock and roll.” Love in those cases means something completely different from when we say “I love you” to our spouses. Using the term “love” so broadly actually cheapens its meaning and causes us to use the word carelessly. Would your partner believe you when you say “I love you” if after saying so, you disrespect and hurt them? Of course not! Love must be backed with specific actions. Fortunately, Jesus reveals in this passage exactly what actions love takes. 

 

Humble Love

Oftentimes, the significance of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet is lost on us. During that time, people traveled in sandals long distances across dirt or sand roads. Their feet were disgusting. The kind of love that Jesus shows them here is remarkable…far more meaningful than a box of chocolates might be. The Lord and Creator of all things, the Son of God, humbled himself and took the role of a servant. 

First, love means humbling ourselves. Jesus didn’t just pour a cup of wine for the disciples he loved so much. He did the dirtiest, lowliest task in service to them. He didn’t think for a moment that His being God should prevent Him from doing a servant’s work. No, He loved them. Enough to forgo his status and do the work of someone far below Him. 

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3 ESV). Can you relate to this? Do we intentionally seek out the most difficult and humbling tasks to show love to our spouses? Are we not only willing but joyfully seeking to deal with the nitty-gritty chores of looking after our children? Do you view humbling yourself as a way to love others? 

 

Sacrificial Love

Second, love requires sacrifice. It means taking the needs of others and putting them before your own. Jesus again sets the example, most prominently in His death on the Cross. God so loved the world, that Jesus willingly walked to His death to save us. 

While we struggle with selfish desires, Jesus had already made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). 

Christians are called to have this same kind of godly love for all people. 

 

Godly Love

If Jesus will wash the disciples’ feet out of love, then we are called to follow in His footsteps. “I have given you an example,” He said, “that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:15 ESV). 

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34 ESV).

For Christians, passionate love for Jesus ought to be constant and persistent. We should be “Delighting in the Trinity,” as Michael Reeves puts it. We are instructed to love others in the same way that Christ loves the Church, both humbly and self-sacrificially. What does that look like in your relationships – your family, your friends, your coworkers? As our culture prepares to celebrate their understanding of love, Christians should strive to show the love of a willful servant. In doing so, “all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 ESV).

Learn more about the bible by studying with our free bible study materials.

Categories
Studying the Bible

Well Stories: Behind the Scenes Footage from John 4

Author: Andrew Sargent Ph.D., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

Behind the Scenes Footage from John 4

Doing Old Testament studies, sometimes you discover something wonderful about the New Testament. Not too long ago I discovered something magical about John 4 where Jesus meets the woman at the well. 

It turns out that John wrote the story of the woman at the well using, if you’ll pardon the pun, a well-known romantic story pattern called, “Foreigner at the Well.” As a well story, the ancient reader expects to find a blossoming marriage, leading to famous children, and a changing world. In John 4, they get more than they bargained for.   

 

Backstage

Right, so a little background. 

Back in Bible times, it was the woman’s job to draw water for her family, much as it was the man’s job in my growing years to mow the lawn and take out the garbage. The time of young women back then tended to be carefully administered by those who loved her and looked out for her best interests, so it is easy to imagine that the one place for single young men and single young women to meet-n-greet in a somewhat freer environment would be at the popular hangout spot… the well. One dude I know called wells the “singles bars” of the ancient near east, and he wasn’t too far off. 

 

The Story Pattern

So, the foreigner at the well story pattern goes like this. 

  • First, an unmarried male foreigner travels to another country, usually driven there by troubles at home. 
  • Second, as one would expect, he goes to a local well. 
  • Third, while there he meets the woman who will be his wife. 

In Scripture, what makes this story pattern special is the very notion of divine appointment. Two strangers from different regions have a “chance” encounter at that magical place of chance encounters. Yes, but in truth, they are two strangers destined by Yahweh to meet and change the world together. It’s romantic; it’s theological; it’s epic. As one of Israel’s favorite stories to tell around the communal campfire, it’s part of Israel’s origin story… the tellers of the tale. It tells how Israel came about by divine design working in chance encounters.

 

Macho, Macho, Men

Each instance of this story pattern in Scripture gives us elements to compare and contrast with John 4. As you read John 4, take special notice of how John plays off them.      

The most basic versions of the story are found with Jacob & Rachel and Moses & Zipporah. 

Jacob flees his father’s house in the face of his brother’s murderous intentions. He travels to his mother’s country. He goes to the well where shepherds are gathered for watering and asks about his family. The shepherds say, “Well, what do you know, here comes that guy’s daughter right now!” Rachel draws near with her father’s sheep and Jacob uncaps the well and waters her flocks. She takes him home to Daddy and the two live happily ever after… sort of. 

This is the catalyst for the birth of the twelve tribal fathers of Israel.

Similarly, Moses flees Egypt to escape Pharaoh and travels into another country. He goes to a well where shepherds are mistreating some woman trying to water their father’s sheep. Moses fights off the bad guys, then draws water for the ladies’ flocks. They take him home to Daddy and he lives happily ever after with one of them… sort of. 

Together Moses and Zipporah lead the people of Israel out of Egypt and fashion them into a nation. 

 

I’ll Take Foreigner at the Well with a Twist

In Genesis 24, with the story of Isaac & Rebekah, we get the ‘foreigner at the well’ love story with a proxy. Abraham commissions his servant to solve a serious problem for him by going to a foreign land to find a wife for Isaac. The scene plays out much the same as with Jacob and Moses, save for two things. The providence of God is made overt and the servant, testing the will of God, watches in awe as Rebekah, a woman of obvious substance, draws more than a little water to quench both his own thirst and that of some ten camels. She brings him home to Daddy, and she and his master live happily ever after… sort of. 

Rebekah bears Jacob, father of the twelve tribes of Israel.

 

What’s Good for the Gander is Good for the Goose

We find another well story in the Book of Ruth. Trouble sends Ruth the Moabitess into the foreign lands of Israel with her Hebrew mother-in-law, Naomi. Ruth goes out to do a pauper’s gleaning and happens upon the fields of Naomi’s kinsman-redeemer, Boaz. He too leaves his home to check on his laborers and they cross paths during her short break by the well. He gives her water from that which was drawn by his men and the rest is history. 

Ruth gives birth to King David’s grandfather.  

 

A Spiritual Foreigner at a Spiritual Well Finds a Spiritual Bride

The first thing we notice when we turn this lens upon John 4, is that Jesus, like the others, departs amid trouble into foreign territory when the Pharisees first take notice of Him. He avoids them on this return to Galilee by taking the more arduous route through Samaria. (John 4:1-4)

Jesus, having grown weary, swings by a famous well reputed to have belonged to Jacob. You may recall Jacob’s own well story. Being fed by underground springs, Jacob’s well is called “Living Waters”—Cool and clean and refreshing.

Jesus, the consummate bachelor, meets an unmarried woman there, creating our story pattern and building anticipations of love, divine appointment, and a transformed world….oooo la la

Jesus asks her for water, like the servant in Genesis 24:13-17. She does not, however, demonstrate the character of Rebekah. 

He tells her that if she knew who He was she’d ask him for a drink of “Living Water,” and He would give it. Recall that Jacob, Moses, and Boaz provide water for their loves. 

She is confused. He has nothing to draw these living waters with. Here, Jesus overtly raises the discussion to the spiritual level for her. He intends not physical water but a spiritual spring leading to eternal life. 

The elevation of the story pattern to the spiritual is established in several other places as well. In John 4:24, Jesus says, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” In 4:32, Jesus declares, “I have food to eat that you do not know about,” and in 4:34 says, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” Not done yet, Jesus says in 4:35-36, “Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life.”

Jesus does not find here a physical bride. What he finds is a sinner who comes under conviction before his disclosure of her sin, who crumples before his prophetic power as he preaches of Himself. She says, “I know that Messiah is coming.” Jesus says, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:25-26)

Indeed Jesus finds a spiritual bride. She is a spiritual bride because she plays that role in the type-scene, but is also a spiritual bride because she becomes a functioning and replicating part of  THE spiritual Bride—the Church. She goes out and bears witness to Him, saying, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (John 4:34) Her witness bears spiritual children, for, “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” (John 4:39)

So, as we read John 4, we find that John both subverts the romantic connections in the Well Story by spiritualizing love and devotion and accentuating the elements of divine appointment and world transformation through the same. Beginning with the woman at the well, Jesus is winning a spiritual bride to produce spiritual children transforming the world spiritually. Through John’s telling of the tale, Jesus continues to bear spiritual children… children like you and me, called to transform the world around us through our witness to Jesus our Lord.

Learn more about the bible by studying with our free bible study materials.