Posted by: jonathancombrink | December 20, 2012

Apocalyptic and Kingdom of God in the Ministry of Jesus

This is a paper I wrote for my Religion class, and it is mere coincidence that it is on the eve of the Mayan Apocalypse.

634889268476909080.w654    When considering the life of Jesus, its meaning and impact, one is invariably overwhelmed. Whereas many are initially familiar with the broad events, possibly through attending some church services as a child or merely through osmosis while surviving the Christmas season, at second glance the fog of complexity sets in. What exactly are these stories with their parables and extraordinary events meant to be telling us? To this there has been no shortage of interpretation and invention upon re-invention. It would not be an overreach to say that if one were looking for a Jesus to fit their particular lifestyle, it would not take them long to find it, even if the figure has dubious connection to the historical person. However, there has also been serious scholarship done that warrants far more recognition than many of the popular level summations. This paper will explore these more reliable variations and hopefully portray an accurate aspect of this interesting individual. Who exactly was Jesus? What was his mission? Or more specifically addressed in this paper, how might we reconcile the apocalyptic and the kingdom of God in the ministry of Jesus. The first order of business will be to navigate the often misused and misunderstood definition of apocalypticism. From there it will be important to address the broader meaning of the ministry of Jesus within his primary context, Judaism. Then, from within that context, it will be important to sketch how exactly the kingdom of God works within that framework. Finally, what the end game hopes to be is a synthesis of the kingdom of god and apocalypticism’s role within the larger story of Jesus’ ministry.

The term apocalypse has an interesting history and with that comes diverse interpretation. There is the scholarly nuanced meaning, and the popular level meaning. On a popular level, it would be hard to disassociate apocalpticism from movies like Armageddon or other end of the world type shows. This is that this is the more common interpretation even among scholars, and the one held by Molloy in Experiencing the World’s Religions. According to him the word apocalypticism is “the belief that the world will soon come to an end; this includes the notion of a great battle, final judgment, and reward of the good’ (Molloy 420). While this is not necessarily an incorrect definition, it does an incomplete job at explaining the broader thought world that defines it. Strictly speaking, in a Christian sense, Molloy’s definition fits more within the theological idea of eschatology, under which apocalyptic has a partial expression. As John Collins points out in Apocalyptic Imagination, “more recent scholarship has abandoned the use of ‘apocalyptic’  as a noun and distinguishes between apocalypse as a literary genre, apocalypticism as a social ideology, and apocalyptic eschatology (Collins, 2).” Albeit, the gospel stories have seen an emphasis on the latter definition ever since Albert Schwietzer rightly emphasized the eschatological dimension in his Quest for the Historical Jesus. In this book he identifies eschatology as an important key to understanding Jesus’ aims and intentions, without which we do not do justice to the gospel documents (Schwietzer 402). Therefore, in a way, the apocalyptic eschatology is an important part of the ministry of Jesus. However, it does not do carry the full weight of the teachings of Jesus and his many symbolic actions. It is necessary, then, that another aspect of apocalypticism be imported to better hold up the data. It is here that the literary genre becomes a willing participant. N.T. Wright points out that as a literary form there are two important characteristics, namely that seer is invited to view a wide range of secrets concerning heaven and earth (Wright 282). This is done with the intention of understanding monotheistic worship leading to the deliverance of the people of God. The second, which has particular importance in this paper, is that of the assurance of god’s action to restore Israel to their land while overthrowing their enemies. A reoccurring feature of this kind of genre is the emphasis on god’s interaction in the socio-political events in favor of Israel (282).

This then calls for a more flexible definition of apocalyptic that incorporates ideas of the end of the world, along with language that talks about the end of the world metaphorically to refer to socio-political events. This kind of charged language is not out of place within the first century, and has a long history in the Jewish Tradition. It is a tradition that uses immensely vivid language to express god’s overthrow of the enemies of Israel. This language commonly outworks itself by traditional militaristic and political means. It is here that G.B. Caird, in his Language and Imagery of the Bible, proposes how Jewish prophets used Biblical language. “The biblical writers believed literally that the world had had a beginning in the past and would have an end in the future. They regularly used end-of-the-world language metaphorically to refer to that which they well knew was not the end of the world (Caird 256).” As a case study, Isaiah 13 provides a clear example. In his prophetic pronouncement, Isaiah embroiders his language with terrifying language. “Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be dark at its rising,and the moon will not shed its light. I will punish the world for its evil… (Isaiah 13:9-11a, ESV). This, of course, conjures up images in the mind that are at best severe cosmic cataclysm, and at worst the end of the time-space continuum. However, contextually, this is not what is addressed in this passage. Isaiah is pronouncing judgement on Babylon, which comes at the hands of the Medes (Is 13:1,17,19). So rather than describing the actual end of the world, Isaiah was describing a militaristic conquest in end-of-the-world language. As Collins points out these early prophets lay the groundwork for the latter, more fantastical apocalypses, precisely because they use hyperbolic, metaphorical language to convey a message (Collins 24).

By the time of Jesus’ ministry there were numerous and various degrees of this kind of writing, describing in colorful detail, how the god of Israel would deal with Israel’s oppressors. It is within this context that the gospel stories were written and the ministry of Jesus was placed. And as such, the teachings and actions of Jesus reflect this symbolic colorfulness. One of the most notable features of Jesus’ ministry, as described in the canonical gospels, is his emphasis on the kingdom of god. It is the first thing that he is shown to say once he enters into his ministry, and it is the epitaph that hangs over him at his execution (Matt 4:17; 27:29,37). The gospel writers go to lengths to bookend Jesus’ ministry as a kingdom of god ministry. It is important to note that would-be Messianic figures, a Jewish term for an anointed Deliverer-Ruler, were in no short supply, and the first century was full of claimants to messiahship (Wright 174). Nevertheless, the particularly interesting feature about Jesus’ ministry, besides the fact that it was preserved in so many ways, is that his expression of the kingdom of god was almost counter-intuitive to a Jewish worldview. He is pictured as bringing the kingdom of god, and importantly, Israel’s deliverance in a way that was barely understandable to his audience. Instead of revolt and violence, he preached forgiveness and tolerance (Matt 5-7). Even though he consistently reinterprets the Jewish worldview, one must avoid the temptation to take him out of it completely. The main features of Judaism are always at the forefront. The emphasis on monotheism, covenant and eschatology is laced throughout the Jesus story. In other words, the Jewish ideal is that the one true God, YHWH, would be faithful to his promises to Israel and in doing so would act in a decisive way to defeat their enemies and restore their nation, and through them restore the world (Wright 247).

This provides the broad framework in which to decipher Jesus’ unique interpretation of what the kingdom of god meant. Far from abandoning Israel’s calling (just defined in the previous paragraph), Jesus embodies it.  In doing so, he reorients it around himself. In other words, Jesus becomes the focal point and conduit from which the kingdom of god and the hopes of Israel will come into being and be fulfilled. Jesus’ challenge is leveled at the Jews and he painstakingly calls them to repent and teaches them what it really means to be the people of God. One such example is the story of the good Samaritan in which Jesus uses a person who Jews despised (Jews were extremely prejudice against Samaritans) to be the hero of a story of extreme kindness and love, thus shaming and provoking them (Luke 10:25-37). He also challenged the Roman Imperial power, albeit more subtly. In fact the phrase used to describe Jesus’ ministry is “good news” (“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ” Mark 1:1). This word, from the Greek word euangelion, had a particularly interesting connotation in the first century. It connotes a message concerning the ascension or birth of an emperor (Witherington 69). Jesus is seen at once ambivalent to the Roman power, while at the same time carefully deconstructing it.

It is here then that apocalyptic, with all its nuance, begins to shine. Jesus frequently refers to himself as the Son of Man, which would have readily called to mind the apocalyptic work of Daniel. The book of Daniel, specifically the seventh chapter, was heavily used in the First Century (Dunn 737). In this chapter, a son of man figure triumphs, through god’s judgment, over several beasts. The interpretation within the chapter is that of the people of god, as representative of god’s true humanity, overcoming the foreign nations, represented as beasts (Daniel 7:15-18). The eighteenth verse ends with ‘shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever (Dan 7:18 ESV), giving the passage an eschatological emphasis, one that is not refuted by Jesus. As James Dunn puts it, “‘the kingdom of god’ for Jesus was an alternative way of speaking of the age to come (Dunn 487).” He saw himself as someone who was bringing this future kingdom into the present. However the kingdom is not ushered in with the sky rolling back, but with the symbolic actions of Jesus. And fatefully with the pronouncement of the destruction of Jerusalem (Luke 21), in a staggering reversal of Daniel 7 juxtaposing Jesus with the unbelieving Israel. He uses highly charged language to predict Jerusalem’s eventual fall at the hand of the Romans in CE 70. “Jesus is portrayed by the gospels as a one-man apocalypse, the place where heaven and earth meet, the place where and the means by which people come and find themselves renewed and restored as the people of the one God, the place where power is redefined, turned upside down or perhaps the right way up (Wright ).”

Jesus is without a doubt a troubling and controversial character in history. One does not wade into the discussion without a fair bit of insanity. Nonetheless,  as one looks at the gospels, one will find an individual who, through symbolic action and charged language, embodied the apocalyptic coming of the kingdom of god. Yet, what is interestingly missing is actual cosmic cataclysm. Apocalypticism as a literary genre or socio-political ideology helps to guide the reader through the gospels into a fuller and clearer understanding of what exactly Jesus was doing in his ministry. Jesus brought the kingdom of god in an earth shattering way, but managed to do it without destroying the world.


Caird, G. B. The Language and Imagery of the Bible. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1980. Print.

Collins, John J. The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1998. Print.

Dunn, James D. G. Jesus Remembered. Grand Rapids, Mich. ; Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2003. Print.

Molloy, Michael. Experiencing the World’s Religions: Tradition, Challenge, and Change. Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2005. Print.

Schweitzer, Albert, and John Bowden. The Quest of the Historical Jesus. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2001. Print.

Witherington, Ben. The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2001. Print.

Wright, N. T. How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels. New York: HarperOne, 2012. Print.

Wright, N. T. The New Testament and the People of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Pr., 1992. Print.

Posted by: jonathancombrink | July 16, 2012

Love Wins: Why I think Every Person Should Read It.

I just finished reading a book by Rob Bell called Love Wins. I first heard about this book because it was followed by a slew of controversy and much heated rhetoric; this was at least a year back. As much as I love a good bit of theological tabloid-style slander, I was unable to enter the fray because of other commitments. This allowed me a far bit of time to listen to the name calling and praises from most angles. It wasn’t until I met with a good friend of mine who had recently read his book, that I decided that at the next available moment I would crack it open and give it a fair read.

On Being Disappointed and Overjoyed in One Moment –

First off, Rob Bell is a consummate post modern writer that is able to handle multiple ideas and philosophical concepts in one place just long enough to convey them, in such a way as, to make you feel as if someone has just put a warm blanket on you as you shiver on a cold winters night. It just feels right, and comforting.

Secondly, I was expecting at any moment to turn the page and see the heinous ramblings of a heretic – those pages that everyone was hot and bothered about. They never arrived. Sure, there were obvious things that I would not exactly agree with him about, and there were things that were super simplified. But there wasn’t a moment where all of a sudden he said something that caused me to rend my garments in disgust.

Mr. Bell simply asked questions. Questions that, to be honest, have been asked of me by more than a few people. The interesting point is that where I would answer in an oversimplified and dismissive way, Rob Bell would answer with another profound question (sounds like someone else I have read about?). This obviously could be dismissed as the relativistic pattern of postmodernism. Yet, I think it goes deeper and actually answers questions that straightforward answers can’t explain. Then, he will follow up his response question with a story (another familiar tactic?). He captures within one book both the tension of evil and the beauty of the gospel. The other thing that he captures in this book is a picture of God that is astoundingly controversial. How can God love so deeply and so profoundly? I wonder if what people are most offended by is not a heretical rendering of the heaven and hell story, but of the God that loves so deeply that will allow broken, fallen people (many who have a marred view of Jesus) into his kingdom. I love that the question for Mr. Bell is not who is left ‘in’, but how do we reconcile the saving work of Jesus and the love of God with so many people being left ‘out’. As the title says, love wins and for Bell love, God’s love, is the starting and ending point. There are no clear answers, although there are implied ones, but sometimes I think (especially in this case) the question is enough.

I read this book hoping to find the source of the controversy, but was sorely disappointed. What I did find, however, made me love Jesus all the more. Mr. Bell does with this book something that is necessary to the conversation of Jesus, Hell and all things wrong with world. He brings a fresh perspective. He doesn’t have all the answers, but if I were completely honest I am not sure anyone does. He simply puts Jesus first and then proceeds to tell us of his undeniable and ferocious love. Sometimes that steps on traditional toes (another familiar trait?), but always with the intent of going deeper into the all expansive love of Jesus. A love that not only addresses our ultimate future, but also the here and now. I have an ‘unbelieving’ sister, I wish she would read this book and with an open heart see a Jesus that I would more readily believe in and profess. I hope that any body who reads Love Wins will read it on its own terms, and to the end – and if you are particularly prone to dares, I dare you not to cry by the end!

Posted by: jonathancombrink | May 30, 2012

Israel and the Land (A Question)

Here is something that I have had on the burner for a while, and hopefully will spark some interesting dialogue. I am curious about the concept of Abraham and the promise of the land (Gen 12, 15, 17) and how it relates to the Christian worldview. The question at the forefront of my mind is  – Has the promise of the land, by virtue of the advent of Christ, been redefined?

The reason I bring this up, and I am no expert, is because as I read through Paul and certain passages like Matthew 28 and those of Acts it seems that the issue of the land has been expanded, recapitulated and redefined to incorporate the entire world. Being, in more precise terms, that Jesus, as Israel’s representative, has inherited the blessing of Abraham and is also the heir (and rightful ruler) of the whole world.

First, I find the place of justification for such a notion in the Abrahamic blessing itself. In Genesis 12:7 – “Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said “To your descendants (lit. seed) I will give this land.” This same verse is quoted in Galatians 3:16 in which Paul refers to the Seed here as Christ. Now here we know that although the land was indeed given to Abraham and his offspring, his offspring found ‘headship’ in the Messiah, Jesus. Therefore, we could argue that through Jesus Israel will eventually have the land (to which I say Amen!). But over and above that I see that the NT writers saw Jesus ministry and influence (and inheritance) breaking the bounds of Israel and becoming global in its scope. I believe Paul here is laying forth the idea that in Christ the land has been given to him and by virtue that he is the Christ that now also incorporates all the known cosmos, visible and invisible.

Secondly, Hebrews 11:8-16 also lends a hand here reminding that although Abraham was in the land, as was many of the Patriarchs, he looked towards a heavenly kingdom, a true homeland.

Furthermore and Finally, Romans 4:13 says explicitly that Abraham was promised to be the heir of the world.

“For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.” (Romans 4:13)

Let me give you my inner logic. God called Abr(ah)am out of Chaldea in order to make a covenant with him – a covenant with the explicit intent of reversing the curse of sin and death that had come through Adam (It is no coincidence that Genesis 12 follows from Genesis 1-11). He chose Abr(ah)am to be the father of the nation of whom would be God’s agents (or as Isaiah says servants) of renewal for all of creation. They were called to be the priests of God to the nations (Exodus 19:5-6). God’s action plan, if you will, was to have one people who would demonstrate God’s purpose for humanity and thereby, albeit sometimes through military conquest and treaty, motivate all the gentiles nations to worship God and partake of their blessings and thus, in converting them to Judaism, to restore the world to its perfect state.

The issue, however, that became evident from the start was that Abraham’s own descendants acted more like the Gentile nations than the unique people of God, the representatives of God’s true goal for humanity. It was to this end that the Torah being introduced did what that good, holy and just thing was given to do and that was to put all Israel under guard until the time of the Messiah. They were unable, because of their sins,  to enter into the blessings promised to Abraham concerning the land (and hence global restoration etc) as per Deuteronomy 28-30 which gave exile as the ultimate penalty of disobedience.

Now we fast forward from 606-587/6 BCE, the final overthrow of the Judah and the subsequent end of the Jewish dynasties (without being under some form of Gentile oppression and occupation), to First Century CE. As has been argued correctly in my opinion, we see there that the Jews still were in exile and unable to inherit the promises made to them. It was into this context of Israel’s exile that the coming of Jesus the Messiah, God reiterated and renewed his commitment to fulfill everyone of the promises of God to Israel. Through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus simultaneously acted out God’s covenant faithfulness to His people and, as Israel’s representative, Israel’s own faithful response to God’s conditions (i.e. the Torah). Thus, God redrew the covenantal promises made to Abraham as being “in Christ”, rather than being “in Israel”, being that those very promises were guarded, and unfulfilled, by the Torah due to Israel’s inability until such a time of Jesus’ coming.

Jesus fulfilled God’s word and thereby caused all the promises of Israel, namely the Abrahamic blessing and the promise of the Spirit, to become readily available to ‘all who believe’ (Romans 1:16-17). In Him all the promises became a wholehearted ‘Yes and Amen’ (2 Corinthians 1:20). I believe it is easy to see from this that the promises of ‘seed’/ ‘offspring’ (Galatians 3:16- 29), and ‘kingdom’ (2 Samuel 7, Acts 2:22-36;cf 15:15-18 etc) are fulfilled through and in Jesus, albeit being refined and redrawn. With the laws of the Torah being either being absorbed (Matthew 5-7) or abolished (Hebrews). Within all of this, I see a conditionality into which the promises where made (Torah) or reaffirmed (OT Prophets). The conditionality of covenant included the direct descendants of Abraham by circumcision, and hence excluded Gentiles, it was a condition of national identity that was defined by its written code, namely the Torah.

So for all of this I have one question: Does the land not therefore need a fresh look? Should we not also, seek to align ourselves with what, in my opinion seems to be a redefining of the land as the entire cosmos? Is there not conditionality to this as well, in that Israel,  being Jews as defined by Torah (or ‘law’), which now in Christ includes Jews plus Gentile, so shouldn’t Israel, the land of above said Torah defined Jew, now include the world for the above said renewed people of God, Jew plus Gentile – the true descendants of Abraham (Gal 3:29).

I know this is alot and there are probably many things within this post that are disagreeable, but it after all is a question – Does the land need to be redefined as the world (Which I would say is for an inheritance for Israel, Jew and Gentile in Christ, for an everlasting promise!)

Posted by: jonathancombrink | May 25, 2012

Jesus, Israel and Daniel 7

In a recent discussion with a friend of mine and on his blog, in which he tackles certain ideas about the Messiah, we began talking about an aspect of Jesus’ Messiahship. It revolved around the nature of his claim in Matthew 26 (Luke 22, Mark14). In it the High Priest interrogates Jesus and questions him about his teachings. It is at the end of this time that I find to be the most interesting –

“But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:63-64, Luke 22:69, Mark 14:62)

Their question is simple – Are you the Messiah? As both Christ and Son of God are logical cognates. It is important to note that this claim was not something unusual or particularly offensive to the Jewish sensibility. There are numerous historical accounts of so-called Messiah’s rousing the masses in revolt against Rome, so it seems as if this was the only issue – there would be no issue. In a sense, the first century Jewish world was at a fever pitch of anticipation about the coming of the Messiah and the defeat of the Gentiles.

What I would like to propose is that Jesus was doing something far more fundamentally subversive, than just saying he was the Messiah. There are certain commentaries that spend a great deal of time on the initial portion of Jesus’ response in which Jesus responds “I am”, to the question of are you the Son of God (Messiah). There are even some Bible interpretations that interpret it as alluding to Gods pronouncement to Moses that he was the ‘I am’. This seems extremely unlikely given the scope of the Synoptic gospel and in my mind it is an anachronism imposed on the passage by those who wish to see explicit statements on Jesus’ deity. What I believe Jesus is doing here is far more subtle and poignant. To the question of whether or not he is the Son of God/Christ (varies in each gospel), he reorients the answer and describes himself as the Son of Man. In doing so he alludes to Daniel 7, in which the people of God (the nation of Israel) are vindicated over the bestial empires. In this turn of events the people of God receive the kingdom of God and the oppressive empire is destroyed.

And behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

He then goes on and quotes Psalms 110.

The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”

It is not hard to see a common theme of vindication in the ‘presence of your enemies’ motif. The big reveal is that instead of Israel being vindicated over the nations – This is of course is the central narrative of Israel’s entire history from Abraham to the present day. This uniqueness is oriented around the Temple and Torah and through faithfulness every Jew is ordained to participate in it. But Jesus beautiful executes a pithy subversive comment that is evidently heard loud and clear by those listening to him. For clarity sake, I will unpack it a bit.

In saying what he said in the way he said it, Jesus draws a sharp line from some of his more complementary statements (I did not come to destroy the law’) to this one. He emphatically places a line between him and the nations religious leaders. They are not only wayward and corrupted; they are, according to this line of thinking, no better than the bestial Roman oppressors. In a wholly inadequate analogy it is like saying the United States of America is North Korea. They are two worldviews that are diametrically opposed to one another and Jesus lumps them together in relation to him. He is the one that will be vindicated and the High Priest and the nation of Israel will face judgment. Unless they put their lot in with Jesus, they will be stripped of their kingdom. To that, the High Priest tears his garments and accuses him of blasphemy. I am sure they would have killed him for much less, but this statement galvanized their ideas. I believe rightly that they understood that Jesus had placed himself in the role of Israel as God’s chosen people and made them (current Israel and the nations leaders) as no better than the Gentiles.

Posted by: jonathancombrink | January 7, 2012

On the Kingdom of God 2

A Way Forward

What does it mean that the kingdom of God is present today? This is obviously a broad and all encompassing question, in fact it is the question of this entire series. So then we must go to the follow up questions in order to begin a narrower journey down its tributaries. The follow up questions that many use to validate this larger question is by trying to define what a kingdom is. They ask ‘what is a kingdom?’ or ‘what makes a kingdom?’ which are undoubtedly good questions but they are necessarily skewed in favor of a quasi-medieval rendering of what a kingdom is. These represent some of the misleading questions that only lead many along a path that is well trodden and dead ends. In a sense, the way forward is backwards. The task of understanding the idea of the presence of the kingdom needs to be done by reverse engineering. By this I mean we need to look first and foremost that the actions of the early church, then look at the symbols that they used to reinforce it, then to examine the questions they were asking and answering and then we can hopefully come to some clarity.

Now the early church no doubt believed something had happened on Easter Sunday, something significant enough to cause them to act in an entirely different way. Many changed their eating habits, fellowship habits and even their nationalistic habits. Each one of these changes is very telling. It is especially telling when we see Jesus exhibiting the otherwise and at times even endorsing a very much traditional Jewish line of action. Was then the early church going rouge on the founder’s precepts, or did they understand something that gave them the fluidity to modify their actions? Although the former has be the response of many over the past few centuries, I think it is the latter that is the most likely. The early church believed themselves to be living on the other side of one profoundly significant event – the resurrection of Jesus. They believed that in that event a radically different moment was upon them. Hopefully, in the course of this series, the resurrection will be discussed, but for now it is sufficient to leave it here. How then did they explain or even symbolize this new moment?

They symbolized it with the Eucharist, Baptism and Table Fellowship with Gentiles. It was also explained it by way of New Creation, New Covenant, and the Kingdom of God. They saw themselves living in a time of fulfillment. Those who have other agendas will argue at this point, but it seems that these well-worn terms are profoundly used within the Jewish tradition. Therefore, those who object would have to argue that the early Christians used these ideas in a completely incongruous way than they were previously and commonly used. The first Christians certainly did change the way they lived and believed, but it was never in such a way as to completely disown their heritage without a clear line of reasoning. Rather those who came to faith in the Messiah saw that it changed scenario and did what any faithful Jew would – they began to act, think and talk like had in fact changed.

This then begs the question – How did they begin to act, think and talk? They spoke in terms of fulfillment. They acted as if age-old prophecies were being fulfilled in them. They thought, if I may be so bold, as if they themselves were the inheritors of Gods new world.

Posted by: jonathancombrink | October 21, 2011

On the Kingdom of God

The Kingdom Inaugurated: Introduction

When I originally started out on the journey to answer the nagging questions concerning the kingdom of God I felt an apprehension that my ideas on this subject were in fact unfounded and built on very shaking ground. However after some time of studying and time in the word, I am more convinced than ever on the idea that the kingdom of God is manifest in and through the church today is part and parcel with the full expression of that kingdom at the return of Christ.

Is the kingdom of God present today? Do we experience its power here and now? Is that experience merely a signpost for something that is entirely future? Is Jesus waiting to inherit David’s throne or is He ruling from it now? Is the kingdom spiritual? Is it physical? Is this even a valid dialectic? I would suggest that many of the key ideas that are beneath most of these questions are erroneous. They are the misleading questions stemming from a faulty starting point. It seems to me to be like someone attempting to convince themselves that the apple in their hand is in fact an orange and so ask themselves as series of apparently probing but ultimately misleading questions – Is this orange sweet? Does it have seeds? Does it have a skin that can be peeled off? And thus we convince ourselves that we indeed are dealing with an orange and blindly ignore the more obvious evidences.

Finding the kingdom of God in History:

Recently there has been a push to situate the kingdom of God under historic categories. It has been correctly recognized that much of our recent belief of the kingdom has been rooted more in platonic philosophy than in a traditional historic Jewish understanding. From this many have sought to reclaim the true Judaistic understanding of kingdom. This they have done by pointing out the continuity and physicality of the kingdom between first century Jewish expectation, an expectation that kept a very natural and physical kingdom within its scope.

Looking at this topic is incredibly encouraging and challenging. However, where I feel the error comes in is not in the pursuit, but in the tools used to work it out. Although denouncing platonic, existential and naturalistic categories in the data, many still use these flawed distinctions in the reasoning while shifting through it.

False dichotomy:

In working with the complex themes of Kingdom, many still hold the false dualistic notions of heaven and earth, body and spirit, and spiritual and natural in a way that the first century Jew would more than likely not have considered viable options. To be certain Jews did not have a spatial concept of heaven and earth, which follows closely within the Platonic and Gnotistic dualism between this physical realm of ‘Shadowy Copies’ and the perfect incorporeal realm of ‘Forms’. Rather the first century Jew conceived of reality, all things created, under two broad categories of visible and invisible, which are dynamically interconnected.

They also saw reality as a dualism of this present age and the age to come. Now rather than falling back into the false cosmological dualism of Platonism, they held this belief within the deeply historical concept of eschatology. Defining it as the hope in which the God of Israel would act dramatically on behalf of the people of God in deliverance and salvation within history. The eschatological hope that possessed the minds of most average Jews was the belief that the YHWH would act in a New Exodus and in that deliverance He would inaugurate the kingdom of God and a new age.

What I am trying to lay out is not that inaugurated eschatology can, by producing certain scriptures and empirically ‘once-and-for-all’, be proved. Rather I want to outline that it is the overarching story that gives meaning to the first century church. It is the bedrock doctrine that makes Jesus, Paul, the gospel and the entire first century church movement coherent. It is my conviction that Jesus, Paul and the early church all saw themselves living within God’s inaugurated kingdom.

Posted by: jonathancombrink | May 11, 2010

The Gospel Revisited

For clarity sake, I think it would be a good time to give a more clear and expounded version of my first ‘gospel’ post -seeing that I wrote the first one in about 10- 15 seconds while I was reading through Revelation 14. I think there is a level of misunderstanding that surrounds this word that I would now like to address it. To say that the truth of Jesus is the gospel is correct in one sense while in another it is a bit too simplistic. It is based on the presupposition that ‘our’, ‘mine’ or ‘their’ concept of Jesus is the correct or true version. We only need to talk about the The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) or the Jesus Seminar to realize that there is as much confusion about the person of Jesus. Therefore it is important that we realize this confusion and bravely seek to understand and know the true Jesus revealed in the Word asking the pertinent questions along the way

The second misunderstanding or concern over the gospel as ‘Jesus is Lord’ is the view that it undermines the soteriological basis of the gospel. There is much to say about this, but it will suffice to say that this is at once an overreaction and a very telling reality. The reason for the confusion within the church over ‘what is the gospel’ is largely because we are trying to give an answer to what we perceive to be the ultimate question, namely the question of ‘how is a sinner saved’. In that I mean, most are concerned with what has to happen in order for a sinner to perceive their rebellion against God and how he restored to right relation to Him. This question is good and needed, but I think the basis and paradigm we use for raising this question is off target. It is in fact not the ultimate question nor warrants the ultimate answer, rather it is a sub-question and answer if you will. I have conviction that many of us are guilty of asking questions about salvation separated from the story in which in was proposed in the first place. Does ‘what must I do to be saved’ fit within the larger story of God’s redemption of the entire cosmos and his unique working of bringing about that salvation through his covenant people Israel? Or are we guilty of the myopic introspection and anachronism seeking to free ourselves from our own conscience? It is only within the larger narrative of cosmic restoration and God’s action through his unique people that we can rightly answer this question.

The truth of ‘Jesus as Lord’ being the substance of the gospel is one that I am not only convinced of through scripture, but also through literary and historical analysis. As I have mentioned elsewhere it is both necessary and important to look at all of these things if we truly going to come to a position that reflects the biblical authors intentions. The word for Gospel had both a Jewish and Roman connotation:

For the Jews it was that God, the Creator and Sovereign Lord, would act in bringing restoration to the earth and a return from exile for the people of God. Within that context the Jews would understood the good news as God acting in opposition over the nations, subduing them to His righteous rule. The people of God would then be ‘justified’ or better ‘vindicated’ as the people of the true God. In short, when God manifests Himself in subduing the nations and defeating the enemies of God (which have all the ecological and societal implications implicit in it), the nations would know that ‘God is the Lord’ (which would be, in a simplistic sense, the Jewish Gospel). Now, albeit in an unexpected way, Jesus had acted definitively to defeat Satan and the principalities displaying His preeminence over them. Also, because of his obedience to the Fathers will, He further received a name above all others (the Lord) and a throne above all others making Him the rightful heir of all things. You may ask then why is darkness still rampant and the nations still in rebellion? The simple answer which I will possibly expound on later is part of the argument in Romans 9-11: God has given time for the Gentiles to come in before He completes His plan (the how? is then explain in ‘how do I get saved’ which is explain earlier in Romans – ‘in Christ’). Therefore there is a gap between Jesus’ first and second coming. It may even be interesting to note the disciples question of Acts 1:6-7, being that they understood the implications of Jesus’ resurrection and enthronement as the surety of the full manifestation of God’s rule.

For the Romans/Greeks, the gospel would have had a more governmental/or subversive connotation. Being that it was a term used to announce either the birth or crowning of a new King. The term Jesus is Lord is, and rightly should be, seen as a direct challenge to the Caesar/King of the day. Jesus is Lord, therefore Caesar is not! The Romans would understand that there was a greater Lord, who is demanding total allegiance. The message would be to ‘confess with your month he is Lord {not Caesar}’ and ‘believe that God raised Him from the death {believe that God had acted in a one time event of vindication of Jesus over the gentiles (nations) by raising him from the dead as a down payment/first fruit of our future vindication over the nations} (Romans 10:9-10).

I have to go study, more to come…

Posted by: jonathancombrink | March 5, 2010

1 and 2 Thessalonians

Here is some more notes.

1 and 2 Thessalonians


  1. Thessalonica was the largest city in the Macedonian region and, as a port city, was a financial and military center. It was founded by the king of Macedonia, Cassander[1], in 315 B.C. who changed the name from Therma to Thessalonica after his wife. It also became the capital of the second district of Macedonia in 168 BC when Rome separated Macedonia into four administrative districts and in 146 BC became the capital city of the entire Macedonian province. It finally earned its right as a free Greek city under the Romans in 42 BC because of its support of Anthony and Octavian.
  2. As Paul and his companions journeyed upon the Via Egnatia, the primary trade route from the Eastern provinces to Rome, they would have undoubtedly encountered various groups and various forms of religion and belief. However, upon entering Philippi and Thessalonica they would have run headlong into the cities most known for their fierce loyalty to the cult of Roma and the Emperor. It is within this culture that the declaration that “Jesus is Lord” would have direct opposition to “Caesar is Lord”. It is therefore significant to notice Paul’s usage of the word and imagery of the parousia of Jesus as in direct confrontation to parousia of Caesar.
  3. The letters to the Thessalonians capture the basic heart of Paul’s message and praxis within his newly established congregations. As some of the earliest epistles within his corpus, they give us a clear view into the fundamental truths that were essential for Paul. We see within these letters Paul’s mastery in drawing upon past, present and future in order to stabilize and strengthen this fledgling church.
  4. We know from Luke’s account (Acts 16-17) that Paul, Silas and Timothy, upon leaving Philippi, journeyed to Thessalonica where for three Sabbaths they reasoned concerning the Messiah in the local synagogue. Luke relates the whole event in his characteristically brief way, yet not without earmarking key themes that were significant.  First, we are told that Paul reasoned from Scripture that the Messiah was to suffer and rise again. Then later, as the opposition to Paul’s message climaxed, his antagonists brought the charge against him that ‘these are acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king – Jesus’ (Acts 17:7).  Both these themes are infused deeply into the bedrock of both letters and can be seen as pillars that uphold the tensions that are present within.
  5. The newly formed church of Thessalonica was comprised of some Jews, a large group of devout, or god-fearing, Greeks, and a handful of the leading women of the city (Acts 17:4). The textual evidence from the letters themselves are however less clear. It seems as if the Jewish influence among the Gentiles written about in Acts wasn’t as prominent as it seems there, which is evidenced by Paul considering them to be essentially pagan (1 Thess 1:9-10). Another possibility is that the Jews who had been converted turned back to their original religion as persecution grew. It is also telling that with all the abundance of OT allusions and quotations within Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians and Romans, these letters have relatively none.
  6. Upon leaving abruptly from Thessalonica, Paul and his team traveled to Berea were, if only for a moment, they received a warm welcome. That is until the Jewish agitators from Thessalonica traveled to Berea and stirred up the people against them. Fleeing from there they remained in Athens for a short time, while we see Timothy journeying back to check on the Thessalonians. It is here in Athens that we are told of Paul’s confrontation with the philosophers and their apathetic response. From there, Paul journeys on towards Corinth, where in 51AD the first letter to the Thessalonians is penned. It is unlikely that more than a few months had passed since he was with them. Then again a few months after that the second letter was sent, likely in response to hearing news concerning them.
  7. The reason for writing the first epistle was one of necessity and concern for Paul, who after hastily leaving Thessalonica, desired to know the state of those whom he had converted (1 Thess 3:1-10). Paul likens his concern for them to that of maternal and paternal care (1 Thess 2:7-8,11), which is not unlike Paul (Gal.4:19). A major concern for Paul is that the believers would turn back from the faith having seen him and his team persecuted and made to leave. This, along with the persecution that they themselves were receiving, made Paul anxious to remind them of the glorious consolations that awaited those who remained faithful within the tensions of vindication and suffering.

Main Themes

  1. The main theme of both letters is the exhortation to the steadfastness of faith and hope in the midst of persecution because of the assurance of the eschatological vindication. The main theology of the book combines the theme of Jesus’ death, resurrection and return with (or as a model for) present suffering of the church and their future hope of resurrection.
  2. This letter is baptized, as it were, in the eschaton, the final day of Christ’s coming to judge the living and the dead. However, it is also one of the most profoundly tempered books concerning the day to day praxis of all believers. Those who are alive and waiting for the Lord are not to become fatalistic and neglect the practical way of life, such as working in order to eat. He calls them to work, and even being as forthright as saying ‘If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat’.
  3. The theme of practical holiness or sanctification has a prominent role, especially as they are those who have received the Holy Spirit. This picks up on a fundamental Pauline thought that juxtaposes the work and power of the Spirit against the ways of flesh and its lusts.

I Thessalonians

    1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 – Introduction and Thanksgiving

    A major concern within this letter for Paul is to offer perspective concerning the suffering of their leaders and their own congregation. Therefore it is important that we see Paul use the word church here as an indicator to their position within the larger body of believers in all regions, and even those in Judea (2:14). As we shall see below, the solidarity of all believers is a crucial aspect that Paul seeks to draw upon. Paul saw these believers as the co-citizens[2] with all the people of God. This is only further enforced by the use of the terms ‘beloved by God’ and ‘election (v.4). Paul by using these classic Jewish terms[3] is seeking to remind the believers of Thessalonica that they are a part of the family of God.

      “I have forsaken my house; I have abandoned my heritage; I have given the beloved of my soul into the hands of her enemies.” (Jer.12:7)

      As is common, Paul’s tone for the entire letter seems to be overflowing as he recounts the budding virtues of faith, love and hope (vv. 2-3). Not only that, but the whole of the Macedonian and Achaian region witnessed the power of God in their lives. Paul states matter of factly that the veracity of his gospel is proven, not in the spoken word only, but in power and in the Holy Spirit. It is probable that due to the troubling outcome of his clash with the Athenian philosophers (Acts 17:16-34) he was seeking to remind them of the manner in which they received the gospel knowing that it is this distinctive that will sustain them through troubled times (1 Cor. 1:18-2:16).

        “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13:13)

        Again, as was mentioned above, the believers that Paul was writing to were described as those who ‘turned away from idols’ which was hardly the custom of Jews or god-fearers. Therefore, it is likely that the majority them were first rate pagans. However, now they had turned to the ‘living and true God’ as common reference to Israel’s God[4]. This is again a highly Jewish thought that is deeply connected with the Old Testament view of the gospel. The juxtaposition of idols and the living and true One is found throughout the Old Testament. By taking up this fundamental Jewish theme, Paul is placing himself in continuity with his Jewish forebears. ***However, it is the second part of this statement that is the great twist in the tale. It is Jesus, who has been raised from the dead, who will deliver them from Gods final judgment.

        B. 1 Thessalonians 2:1-3:10 – Personal Defense

        As the apostolic team left Thessalonica many lies were spread concerning their message and their conduct. Therefore it was necessary for Paul to give a defense of integrity of his ministry to Thessalonians. It is likely that the Jewish leadership played an active role in the accusations along with the Greek countrymen (vv. 14-16; c.f. Acts 17:5,6). The charges against him included his desire for personal gain in both finances and human acknowledgement.

        Paul focuses first on his own conduct among them. He sought to distinguish himself from the other traveling philosophers of his day. He reminds them that, although they had experienced persecution for speaking the gospel, they were bold to share the gospel with them, even though the threat of more persecution was present. He continues by saying that they are not those who seek the praise from man, but God because He is the One ‘who tests our hearts’ (v.4). If God searches their hearts and they are entrusted and approved for the gospel their motives must be pure (1 Cor. 9:16-18; Gal 1:10).

          So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Cor. 5:9-10)

          In the second part of chapter two, Paul seeks to remind them of the divine origin of the message they heard and its recognizable effect upon them. They had received the message of God’s actions in Christ and now are experiencing both the good and bad effects that come with believing it. Paul reminds them that it is in line with the whole narrative of scripture for the people of God, even the Christ himself, to be persecuted and that those who oppose God will be judged (2 Thess. 1:5-7).

          Paul’s Concern and Joy -The integrity of Paul’s gospel was not the only avenue by which he was accused, his ability to care for the church and his inability to return to them only fed the fire of accusation. Paul now relates his endeavors to make his way back to them citing demonic influence as the primary hindrance. Although Paul reveals Satan as the reason for his delay in coming to them, he no doubt has in mind many of the Jewish leaders (Act 17:13). Paul reiterates that his concern is real and that he fears that their afflictions might have tempted them to renege on their beliefs reminding them that to suffer is part and parcel with Christianity (vv.3-4). However, Paul does not dwell long on this note and proves that his words a few verses before were sincere (vv.19-20), and now he tells them of his joy in hearing word from Timothy that they are prospering.

          C. 1 Thessalonians 3:11-5:11 – Christian Praxis and Eschatology

          Pleasing God – The themes of holiness, love and the return of Jesus are foreshadowed in Paul’s prayer and act as a transition from apologetic to exhortation. *The goal of Paul in this section is to please God ,which follows with the Old Testament[5]*.

          First, Paul addresses the moral conduct of the young believers who were surrounded and immersed in a culture that prided itself in moral laxity. Demosthenes, a historian of the day, said “We keep prostitutes for pleasure, we keep mistresses for the day to day needs of our body and we keep wives for the begetting of children and for the faithful guardianship of our homes”. Paul is therefore reminding them to live in the light of the knowledge of God they possess, juxtaposing those ‘Gentiles, who do not know God’ and those who know that  ‘the Lord is the avenger’ (vv.5-6).

          Furthermore, Paul draws upon the theme of the Holy Spirit to seal his exhortation. Paul warns that to reject this command is a reject of God, more specifically the Spirit which God has given them. The Spirit was to Paul the fulfillment of Gods promise to purify and renew the people of God (Ezekiel 36:25-27; 37:14). It was an indicator of the inauguration of the messianic age and as we see from Galatians and Romans, Paul saw the Spirit as the eschatological ethos in which the people of God live and by which they war against the flesh (or the present age). Therefore, to live and please God with our vessels (v. 4) is completely in line with Gods new age that is experienced now by being in the Spirit. Therefore to reject this commandment is to war against the Spirit and to reject God.

          Second, Paul praises them that they have no need to be reminded to love. However, he does remind them that love, as everything in life, is something that can and must increase if it is to remain living and vibrant.

          Comfort in the Day -The believers at Thessalonica had a measure of knowledge concerning the end times. However, that portion had led them to believe that the dead were at a disadvantage at Christ’s return compared to those who were living. It is unclear whether they believed that those who died before Christ’s return forfeited resurrection completely or that they merely would miss out on the event itself. It is clear, however, that their eschatology was deficient and that, through correcting it, Paul sought to provide them with comfort in their sorrows and sufferings.

          What then is the fate of those who sleep? Paul appeals first to Christ’s own resurrection as a model and as an assurance of the resurrection of the dead (v. 14) and second to the ‘word of the Lord’ revealing that the dead will in fact precede the believers who are alive (v.15). As Paul describes the event of the Second Coming, he may in fact be using material that was constructed earlier and may be a rephrasing or reworking of certain portions of Christ’s own teaching (e.g. Matthew 24), hence Paul’s use of by the ‘word of the Lord’. Nevertheless, the whole section is built heavily upon the Jewish eschatological vision of the Day of the Lord[6], in which God would bring judgment to the wicked and salvation to the righteous.

          Paul now acknowledges that they are not ignorant concerning the ‘times and seasons’ confirming their understanding that the Day of the Lord indeed comes unexpectedly. He draws upon the common Romans phrase ‘peace and safety’, a slogan of propaganda used to promote allegiance and compliance within the empire, as the archetypical scenario in which God’s judgments are suddenly revealed. He reminds them that such thinking is not befitting of someone who is ‘of the day’, but only of those who are ‘of night or darkness’. Those who are of the day are sober and therefore aware of the circumstance and can see clearly. This is something which cannot be said of those in the night, to whom the Day of Lord comes unexpectedly. Paul further comforts them by appealing to their election as the people of God who have obtained Salvation and who will not experience wrath at Christ’s coming (vv. 9-10).

          D. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 – Exhortation and Benediction

          Paul, obviously anxious to say more but for some reason cannot, exhorts them in various things concerning basic Christian life. By telling them ‘to recognize those who labor…and to esteem them’, Paul cuts against the cultural norm that ignored those who served and esteemed being served.

                2 Thessalonians

                A. 2 Thessalonians 1:1- 12 – Introduction and Thanksgiving

                It is clear that between the time the first and second epistle were written the persecution significantly increased[7]. Paul is understandably thankful that they are prospering and seems to have lost his note of concern that marks the first letter. But now he seems far more serious and direct in regards to his beliefs concerning the fate of the wicked that troubled them.

                Paul then picks up on the theme of retribution and vindication, a prevalent in the Old Testament, as a means to comfort the young church. Depicting in apocalyptic imagery the vindication of the suffering ones at the return of the Suffering One.

                  “The sound of an uproar from the city A sound from the temple! The sound of the LORD, rendering recompense to his enemies! (Is 66:6)

                  15″For behold, the LORD will come in fire. And his chariots like the whirlwind, to render his anger in fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. (Is 66:15)

                  B. 2 Thessalonians 2:1- 17 – Eschatology and Thanksgiving

                  Paul now addresses the theme of the parousia, or coming, of Jesus. There had evidently been some teaching or revelation concerning this event that left the Thessalonians unsettled. It may even be that an imposter wrote a false letter pretending to be Paul himself (v.2).  The word that was being circulated apparently gave the impression that the Day of the Lord was a past event, an idea that Paul corrects by explaining that two events must, by necessity, come first.

                  Apostasy:  To Paul the idea of falling away was not as difficult as it is for many Christians today. As concept throughout Old Testament, the unfaithful of the people of God who follow after other Gods are cut off from the fold, while the righteous remnant are saved in the Day of Judgment. For Paul this was not an issue based on election but a concept directly linked to unbelief and unrighteousness (vv. 10-12).

                  Man of Lawlessness: The man of Lawlessness or, in modern language, the man who personifies sin. Just as prevalent as the idea of remnant is the idea of unrighteous kingdoms and kings opposing God and His people.  This is a theme, which in the late prophetic books focuses in on the human representatives of this opposition[8]. The exploits of this man, which Paul describes, run completely in line with his prototypical forebears such as Antiochus, Pompey and Caligula, from which Paul seemingly draws upon the worst actions of each into one consummate man of sin.

                  Finally Paul, after some time, brings a word of encouragement. He contrasts the unbelieving and unrighteous with the Thessalonians whom he calls ‘beloved’ who are chosen for salvation ‘by the Spirit and belief in the truth (v.13).

                  C. 2 Thessalonians 3:1-18 – Idleness and Benediction

                  With a prayer for continued grace in the spreading and expression of the gospel in both Paul’s ministry and in the Thessalonians church, Paul turns his attention to one final detail. In light of all his comments concerning the end, Paul reminds them that the proper Christian practice is to work and not to become fatalistic. Paul refers them back to his conduct among them***

                      [1] A former general and successor of Alexander the Great

                      [2] Ekklesia – being a secular Greek term an assembly of citizens. It should be noted that for Paul the word ekklesia carried far deeper theological and biblical overtones, which gives the word the current common meaning of the people of God or the church of God.

                      [3] For example: Deut 7:7-8; 33:12; Ps 60:5; 108:6; Is 44:2; 62:4-5; Jer. 11:15; 12:7

                      [4]For example: ‘living’ Num. 14:21,28;Deut5:26; 32:40; Josh 3:10; 1 Sam 17:36; ‘true’ Ex 34:6; Ps 86:15; Is 65:16; Jer. 10:10

                      [5] Job 34:9; Ps. 19:14; 69:31; Pr 16:7; Mal 3:4

                      [6] Is. 2:10-12;13:6,9; Ez. 7:19; 30:3; Joel 1:15;2:1,11,31;3:14; Amos 5:18-20; Zeph. 1:7-8,14,18;2:2-3; Zech. 14:1; Mal 3:2; 4:5

                      [7] This is proof to some that the second epistle is in fact the first to be written, but in my opinion to settle on either side is finally due to preference rather than proof.

                      [8] Dan.11:36; 7:20; Ez. 28:2, Is. 14:13

                      Posted by: jonathancombrink | February 19, 2010

                      Romans 1-4

                      I just taught a class on Romans… here are some of my notes on the first 4 chapters and an introduction.


                      1. Recipient(s). The primary recipients of the letter of Romans were the Gentile Christians in Rome, although it is evident that many Jews were both connected with and members of the church. The church in Rome, unlike most the churches in the first century, was not founded by a prominent leader of the early church, neither Paul, Apollos, or the twelve could lay claim to it. Rather it was most likely founded by certain Jewish and proselyte pilgrims, who on the day of Pentecost or around that time became believers in Christ, who upon returning to Rome founded the church (Acts 2:10). The evolution of the church in Rome is not lacking in significance. A Jewish base of leadership, of whom Priscilla and Aquila were a part, had initially founded the church in Rome (Acts 18:2). However, under the emperor Claudius, the Jews were expelled from Rome in 49 AD leaving a largely Gentile congregation to take its place. It is evident from the first chapter that the church flourished in such conditions (1:8). This was a short-lived exile as Claudius’ successor Nero revoked the decree and allowed the Jews to return in 54 AD. But by this time the now predominantly Gentile leadership were unwilling to yield to the returning Christian Jews. It seems as if their were various disagreement within the newly reunited congregations that called for Paul to add his spiritual insight (14:1-23).
                      2. Date. Paul wrote Romans from Corinth in 57 AD. Two textual clues give us an accurate dating of the letter – first, Paul believed that his ministry in Asia was at an end (15:18-19) and second, he had not yet gone to Jerusalem to give the collection (15:23-28). Paul passed by way of Corinth as a part of his final journey in collecting the offering that he had pledged to give to the church in Jerusalem around the spring of 57 AD.
                      3. Reason for Writing. The first and primary reason that Paul wrote this letter was in order to gain Rome as his next home base for his future missionary exploits. As Antioch was the home base for his Asia Minor and Macedonian missions, so Paul sought Rome as his home base for his European mission. It is clear that Paul understood his ministry in Asia Minor as coming to a close and on his final visit to Corinthians he sets a course towards the next frontier and to ‘preach the gospel, not where Christ is named’ (Romans 15:18-20). However, he had to make one final journey to Jerusalem to present the collection from the Asia Minor congregations in accordance with his commitment to the Jewish leadership ‘to remember the poor’ (Galatians 2:10). After which, he planned to go to the ‘ends of the earth’. In sending this letter before him and appealing to his vast network of friends, he sought to make sure that everyone was on the same page. Second, Paul foresaw the potentially racially charged contentions that were sure to arising due the return of the Jewish leadership to now predominately Gentile operated church. As the apostle to the Gentiles, he wanted to make it abundantly clear that God’s plan for Israel had not taken a back seat and was in fact on the right track. God had no finished with Israel and Paul desired desperately that the Gentile Christians would not be ignorant of that fact (11:25). Paul is seeking in Romans to ‘transform the minds’ of the Gentile recipients towards a more holistic view of God’s plan. The Gentile believers were themselves ignorant of the full scope of God’s eschatological plan (Romans 11:25). Therefore it was necessary for Paul to build strategically from the ground up a polemic that would both deconstruct Gentile (and at times Jewish) worldviews and establish a biblical congruent picture of God’s plan for His renewed people, of both Jew and Gentile. He goes about this by drawing upon the major themes of Abraham and Adam bringing them to a surprising twist at the end in the Christ event.

                      MAIN THEMES

                      1. Paul’s flow of thought drives through three main points. The first being the retelling of Israel’s story with the emphasis on faith being the primary means of being the people of God (Rom 1:18-4:25). Second, is the introduction of the new creation as the reversal and fulfillment of humanity in Christ (see Rom 8:1-39) juxtaposed with Adam (5:12-21) and Israel and Adam (7:1-25). Third, Paul seeks to re-establish and expound on that which he has been hinting at throughout Romans, which is the continuity of Israel as the people of God and the faithfulness of God in the light of Israels’ current unfaithfulness (Rom 9:1-11:39). The last portion is the practicals of what has been spoken of in 1-11!
                      2. The Righteousness of God – If we are going to understand Paul we must first be mindful that he was someone who was working off an inner worldview that was established and informed by his surroundings and heritage. He was, as any other person, someone who lived within a storied world and a storied history that opposed, challenged and enforced his ideas. This is no small concept to understand. But if we are to really grasp the nuance and depth of Paul’s theological and spiritual range we must try to think Paul’s thoughts after him and this cannot be done unless we honor the historical world that Paul lived in. On the one hand we must hold to the story of scripture that Paul replays for us of Israel’s checkered history with the major emphases being on the exodus and exile. The primary theme throughout the entire book, the righteousness of God, is the grand act of God’s righteous and faithful deliverance in accordance with his promises. The starting point of which is within the story of Israel. Albeit, for Paul, the event and the outworking of this story are a far cry from the traditional Jewish worldview, we must be aware that of its origins.
                      3. The Exodus – The idea of the exile is a massive metanarrative that undergirds the entire Pauline corpus. If we are to understand Paul we must always bear in mind that Paul saw that much of what was happening was in many regards the great action of God on behalf of Israel that could only be described as the New Exodus.
                      4. The Exile – The uneducated Jew of the first century, more often than not, believed that the exile was far from over. Although they were in their own land they were still under Gentile dominion. This along with the failure of the Shekinah to return to the temple led them to believe that they were still in exile.
                      5. New Creation –A quick word on the concept of New Creation that also lends another bedrock narrative that under girds the entire story that Paul is drawing upon. It is clear that Paul sees Christ as the New Adam who
                      6. Corporate reality – The corporate conception of the Jewish people as a nation is crucial if we are to understand Paul’s conversation with their history. Under which themes of Faith and Law and Sin/Death/Flesh and Spirit find their full meaning.
                      7. Jew and Gentile Relation – The epistle to the Romans is of such connected and interwoven logic that at first it is difficult to find the crux of the matter. Besides a few interspersed paragraphs that give the theme of the book in increasingly dynamic and powerful way (Rom 1:16-17, 3:21-26), it is not readily evident what Paul’s aims and intentions are. It is only in chapter 12 that Paul finally relieves this tension. Paul’s aim is that the Gentile recipients of this epistle would be converted, having their minds molded by God’s past, present and future plan. In verse 2 of the twelfth chapter he calls them to prove, in action and thought, the will of God (everything he has expressed up to this point, culminating in chapter 11).

                      Romans 1:1-17 – Introduction

                      1:1-6 – Unlike Paul’s other letters which usually follow the traditional method of introduction, Paul in Romans starts off with a definitive statement concerning the gospel and his authority thereby to proclaim it. It is therefore important to note the distinctiveness of Paul’s gospel. His gospel is rooted in Jesus the Messiah and the declaration that it was according to the Old Testament Scriptures that would die and rise again.

                      It is through this Jesus the Lord that Paul states that he has received his divine commissioning and ability in order to call all the nations to ‘the obedience of faith’ (v. 5 cf. 16:26) for His namesake. This is a crucial indicator of Paul’s theological intention and ambition. It cannot be stressed too much that, for Paul, his theology had its fingers on the pulse of his society and feet within the culture of his day. He had rightly understood that due to the unique actions of God through Jesus, the doors to God and to His kingdom had been broadened and it was now time for the nations to come into faithful allegiance to the true Lord. Again it is important to note that Paul’s connection between obedience and faith are not set against one another but rather two themes that are mutually reliant on one another. This is an important point to keep in mind. Paul sees that the gospel and faith are at odds with works and the law, but not with obedience that comes through the gracious response of faith. Paul then emphasizes as evidence of the nations being gathered the Romans own gathering into the faith.

                      1:7-15 – Paul then moves into his traditional style by addressing those in Rome and by emphasizing their connection within the people of God by using ‘loved by God’, ‘saints’ and ‘our Father’. It is important for Paul that they know that, although his gospel (1:2-5) is through a Jewish Messiah, they are not second class citizens who have merely been gathered from the nations but full fledge family members within the household of God.

                      Paul proceeds right into a prayer of thanksgiving in which he praises them for their successes and then their need for further spiritual input.  The Roman church, although not founded by any one of the twelve or Paul, was known throughout the world, as a testimony to their faith. However, Paul sees that they are still in need of some perspective in light of the gospel in order that they might be more firmly established (This is evidenced throughout the whole of Romans especially in Romans 9-11).

                      Finally, he ends his introduction with a report of his own ambitions and activities. Paul wants them to know of his full intention to visit and participate in the activity of God among them, citing that he is obligated to minister the gospel among the nations. This ‘debt’ is further explained in Romans 10, as Paul sees himself standing as a messenger of God’s unique activity for Israel that rightly should be witnessed and proclaimed among the nations (Is 52:10). He was, in other words, made for this reason.

                      1:16-17 – This section acts as a sort of summary statement that encompasses the entire letter. It is Paul’s thesis for the outworking of God’s righteous action revealed in Christ (1:2-4). Paul seeks to subvert the latent issue of dishonor concerning the gospel. As Jewett points out ”According to the standards of the culture, he should be ashamed of proclaiming the crucified one as the redeemer of the world, including even the barbarians and the uneducated”[1]. However, Paul is bold in declaring God’s righteous activity as the turning point of history. The following chiastic pattern of these verses draws attention to the emphasis on the righteousness of God being revealed.

                      A The power of God to Salvation to everyone who believes

                      B The Righteousness of God is revealed

                      A’ The just shall live by faith (The righteous [one] who believes will have life)

                      The righteousness of God is God’s own faithfulness to act on the promises that he made to Israel. Paul saw the Christ event as God’s definitive action of righteousness towards the people of God. Its primary emphasis is on the character of God to act in accordance with his promises. Gods redemptive plan for Israel, which is being revealed in Christ as a foretaste of the ultimate vindication[2]. This is further shown by the prepositional phrase connected with it – ‘From faith for faith’. Although there are various opinions in regards to how this phrase should be translated I find that of Witherington’s ‘From the Faithful One unto [those who have] faith’[3] the most in line with Paul’s emphasis on the work of Christ as the means through which we can have faith.

                      In understanding the centrality of the uncovering of God’s activity in Christ, we look back into verse 16 to see that for Paul it was the power of God to save and deliver. This ability of God was effective towards all those who believe. To Paul, this salvation was necessarily for the Jew first as it was through their covenant that God had chosen to act, but now due to the reworking of the means of access Paul saw that Gentiles as being able to partake as well. For Paul this was a sign of God’s eschatological activity in the present, which is evidenced by the use of Habakkuk 2:4. In its original context Habakkuk is revealing the lines of distinction that will determine who will be saved and who will not in God’s eschatological judgment. A theme that Paul no doubt has in mind when he quotes this passage here. The distinction of the people of God, those who are righteous, shall have life by believing. Then also by drawing upon Galatians 3, in which the same passage is quoted, we see that those who believe are justified (declared righteous) by faith (believing). In this Paul redefines the people of God as those who have faith in the righteous activity of God in Christ.

                      Romans 1:18-5:11 – The Jew First

                      1:18-32 – As we have noted before, the Jewish mentality of the first century was working within the story of exile and exodus. For most Jews this meant that they were still in exile under the Roman oppressors and that they were to ‘live faithfully’ until the moment of God’s vindication over the nations. This was only galvanized within the Jewish people a negative view of the Gentiles that surrounded them. Although this outlook was always present within the Jewish worldview from the time of the giving of the law, it was further solidified when the exilic Jews upon rehearsing the words of the pre-exilic and exilic prophets understood that it was due to their sin that they were in exile, especially the sin of mixing with the nations. Due to the staunch ideal of separation from the Gentiles and the negative few that it bred, Paul seemingly decides to start his argument for the demonstration God’s righteousness in typical Jewish style in his condemnation of them. In adding his voice to the already well-used argument, Paul would have no doubt elicited Jewish sympathy and approval.

                      But Paul is clearly not working from a typical Jewish worldview and his words are laced with bitter truth that if swallowed both the Gentile and the Jew will no doubt be left without defense. Paul begins his argument by emphasizing that ‘all ungodliness and unrighteousness’ is an affront to the knowledge of God and against the truth of who He is. Then drawing upon the witness of creation, in which God’s eternal power and divinity are clearly evidenced (v. 19; c.f. Rom 10:18), Paul justifies the wrath of God would being revealed on those who do not glorify or honor God through it. For Paul the witness of creation is enough ‘proof’ that to deny God that fundamental right of honor because of it is worthy of the wrath of God.

                      Paul begins to narrow in to expose the key issue that was at the heart of the matter. Those Gentile nations, although having a base understanding of who God was, chose to harness that power into images. For Paul he saw the nature of creation was of such a sort that it was evident that God could be nothing like it. Therefore in attempting to make something in His image it was already to have failed and to serve something totally unlike God. This however is even more acutely strained when we see specifically within the Exodus story, God revealing Himself and commanding that no images be made in His likeness – a command that Israel is mournfully too quick to break. Finally, Paul targets something, which in his mind is the natural progression from idolatry. He saw that if we defile the one in whose image we were created it was only a matter of time until we defile the image itself. Due to their idolatry God gave them over to uncleanness and a debased mind. Therefore in this Paul draws upon the Jewish sentiment and ideology while silently, and possible unnoticeably, placing the noose of condemnation around the neck of Israel as well.

                      “They made a calf in Horeb and worshiped a metal image. 20They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.21They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt” (Ps 106:19-21)

                      “But my people did not listen to my voice, Israel would not submit to me 12So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels” (Ps 81:11-12)

                      2:1-16 – The person being addressed with the ‘therefore’ of Romans 2:1 is no mere moral man but a self-righteous Jew who leans upon the law as his basis for self-exaltation. Although it is more than probable that such a moral Gentile may apply this correctly to himself, the flow of the argument itself suggests the primary target is the Jew. From what has been mentioned in Romans 1 concerning the pagans who ‘ do not glorify God, nor were thankful’, this designation was a sort of title that was common to Jews of the time. They, Israel, were the chosen people of God called to be the lights to the Gentiles – pagan god-denying people filled with all unrighteousness. It is striking if you look at the flow of Romans in relation to the OT prophet Amos. Amos who draws a circle of condemnation on the nations around Israel like a noose only to pull it in the next chapter catching the self exalted Jew in his trap. Paul here does much of the same. He draws on the Jewish sensibility of being the people of the covenant and therefore those who, in their estimation, do glorify God and are thankful. They are those who know the rightness of God’s judgment (vs.2). However, Paul in his mastery has laid a trap that is inescapable. Drawing on the allusions within the previous section to Psalm 81 and 106, Paul has scriptural evidence of their own unfaithfulness. Paul condemns them that if they are to hold fast to their cultural markers and self-righteous attitude then they will exclude themselves from God plan, thus treasuring up the wrath of God.

                      Paul then takes up an interesting and controversial train of thought. In view here Paul is seeking to lay low the Jewish ideology of self-righteous exclusion based on works. He condemns them and then affirms the fundamental reality within the Jewish faith, that those who do good will be rewarded, while those who act wickedly will be judge. However, Paul adds a twist to the traditional adage. Namely that this applies to the Jew first and also the Gentile.

                      2:17-29 – Now for the first time in the letter, Paul names his imaginary dialogue partner, or interlocutor (v 17). It is unlikely that Paul has a specific Jew in mind here, rather he picks up on the key features of the Jews as a whole in order to bring them further into his grasp. He starts with a list of traits that a Jew would consider both admirable and evidence of his distinction from the Gentiles. However, this seemingly agreeable attitude is short lived for Paul. He condemns the Jew for ‘boasting in the law’ while simultaneously breaking it. Paul seeks to remind them that they themselves are in exile for the very same reasons that they seek to condemn the Gentiles. The reference of Isaiah 52 and Ezekiel 36 ‘the name of God is blasphemed among the nations because of you’ brings this reality home in their minds all too starkly. They were only too aware of their past failings and how now they wait in hope. Although Israel had its land and its temple, they themselves understood that God’s final action to bring Israel back from the four corners of the earth had yet to be fulfilled. The attitude that was needed, according to Paul, was humility rather than pride. The exile and its affects caused the Jew to bolster himself in his ethnic identity exemplified in circumcision and adherence to Torah blinding them to its true purpose, namely repentance and faith.

                      Again as in vv. 14-16, Paul brings a peculiar logic into the argument. He talks about the Gentile man, as uncircumcised, who obeys the law and thus can be regarded as circumcised, or within the people of God. The nuance of these few verses cannot be understated. Paul is not deconstructing the traditional understanding of what it means to be a Jew in favor of a ‘spiritualized Jew’, rather he is emphasizing the correct criteria that is necessary to be a true Jew. As Kasemann indicates “The reference is not a spiritualizing one to a denationalized Jew liberated for pure humanity but an eschatological one to the working of the Spirit.”[4] Paul’s emphasis is on the fact that the Jew, or circumcised man, is to be the true expression of God’s eschatological plan for what a Jew should be – one inwardly, circumcised in heart by the Spirit. For Paul this is a climax of God’s plan for the Jewish people in relation to the New Covenant.

                      He is seeking to emphasize that if a Gentile can become a part of the people of God by obeying the law, even while uncircumcised, surely then a Jew, who is circumcised, should obey the law from the heart by the Spirit. It then begs the question of whether a Christian Gentile is at least implied within these two portions of scripture. Due to the connection of v.15 and v.29, I believe this is the case. Those Gentiles who obey the law by the Spirit having the law written on the their heart are indeed Christians. This is not however the primary emphasis of this passage and it does certainly not imply that a true Jew can be either Jew or Gentile.

                      3:1-20 – Paul then preempts the question from his imaginary partner concerning the value of being a Jew, especially after Paul states that a Gentile can partake of the same glory that is offered to the Jew (2:6-7; 10; 27). It is important to note here that Paul has not spiritualized these terms into oblivion; a Jew and circumcision still retain their classic meaning. With the question of value Paul declares that there is much value, especially that they are the people who have received the word of God (2:17).

                      Now Paul directs the discussion towards the key issue, that of Israel’s inability to keep the law and thus to be recipients of God’s glory and righteousness. The question of whether God is faithful even though His people of faithless, is flatly denies. This section acts as an outline presentation of what he will discuss later.  Paul finds God in the right although it seems that he has been unfaithful. This is a theme that Paul only hints at here, but will further expounds in chapter 9-11.

                      He continues by answering the question concerning God’s righteousness in judging the people of his choosing and in doing so introduces a key theme throughout this section. It is mentioned briefly in v. 6 and explicitly in v. 19-20 (Gal 3:22-23). It is the idea that the law was introduced to contain and identify sin and that within these parameters God would ultimately bring judgment on sin, thus creating a standard against which sin in measured and, through the Messiah, a place where sin would no longer have dominion. The other side of the coin is seen in that while God judges and ultimately redeems those who are judged within  (or found within the one who is judged on their behalf v. 25), those who are outside, in the world, are judged with the same measure without the redemptive quality. So when Paul concludes that he has charged both Jews and Gentiles as under sin it must be read as the Jews who are within and then by the same measure those Gentiles who are without are found to be under sin (2:12).

                      3:21-26 – He now again restates the primary theme throughout the letter expanding it and further adding layers of meaning to the original statement (1:16-17). Following from what has been said about the law in the verses before, Paul declares that the righteous and faithful activity of God has been unveiled outside of the law, although it is rooted firmly within the Jewish tradition. Again this draws on the Galatians theme of the law having transitory and temporary nature until the time of Christ. The righteous action of God is now revealed through the ‘faithfulness of Jesus Christ’[5] for any and all who believe. Further, because Christ stood in the place and took the wrath (propitiation) that was destined for the people of God and then the world (v.5-7;19) the means of redemption have changed from works of law to faith. The boundaries have been broadened to incorporate all who have faith, seeing that the issue of sin is evident within Israel as well as without and therefore no work of the law could justify only the effect

                      3:27-4:25 – Due to the saving action of God being revealed apart from the law in the faithfulness of Christ, Paul asks what is then the confidence that we have that we are the people of God. It is no longer works, but faith that is the distinctive of the people of God. Paul’s main argument in Romans 4 is in support of his belief that the people of God, Jew and Gentile, are now one family under one God by faith.

                      Paul as the primary evidence of this belief uses the example of Abraham. Abraham was counted righteous before God before the act of circumcision, thus it enables him to be the father of both those who are circumcised and those who are not. The basis of this headship is faith, due to the fact that this was the necessary component for Abraham’s righteousness under both before and after circumcision. Again this does not negate the distinctive of either part of the whole family, as we shall see in Romans 9-11.

                      More to come –


                      BIBLIOGRAPHY –

                      Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, in NICNT, ed. Gordon D. Fee (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1996).

                      Ben Witherington and Darlene Hyatt, Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2004).

                      Mark A. Seifrid, Romans, in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2007).

                      Ernst Kasemann, Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1980).

                      Leon Morris, Epistle to the Romans, in The Pillar New Testament Commentary, ed. D.A. Carson (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1988).

                      Robert Jewett, Romans, in The Cambridge Companion to St. Paul, ed. James .D.G Dunn (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003).

                      N. Thomas Wright, Romans, in The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville, Abington Press, 2002)

                      [1] Robert Jewett, Romans, in The Cambridge Companion to St. Paul, ed. James .D.G Dunn (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003), 93.

                      [2] Righteousness of God in the Old Testament as God’s eschatological deliverance – Mic 7:9; Is. 46:13; 50:5-8.

                      [3] Ben Witherington III, Pauls Letter to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2004), 49

                      [4] Ernst Kasemann, Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1980), 75.

                      [5] N. Thomas Wright, Romans, in The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville, Abington Press, 2002),470.

                      Posted by: jonathancombrink | May 7, 2009

                      Watch this!

                      This guy Josh Garrels has a true prophetic spirit on him. His lyrics and music are unbelievable! Here he confronts consumerism and the spirit of Babylon with the kingdom! If you have a heart for justice and Gods kingdom you’ll love this…

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