Finding the day for Easter?

It is reported that the disagreement between the eastern and western traditions of the Christian Church (regarding the right way of finding the true day upon which to celebrate Easter) is soon to be settled.

When I read this I was immediately reminded of a comment of an old Free Church (Presbyterian) theologian, who, having explained the grounds for the dispute over the day, finished the matter with the following comment:

“the truth all the while being, as we are firmly persuaded, that [the apostles] John and Peter and Paul did not keep Easter on any day, any more than we do.” (William Cunningham, Theological Lectures, p.488)

Meaning that the old school Presbyterians held firmly to the Biblical principle of observing in the worship of God only those things explicitly required in the Scripture. To do otherwise was to surrender the authority of Scripture to human tradition.

 

The sword of the state

Let every soul submit to the ruling authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the existing authorities are by God’s appointment. So that the one who resists authority resists that appointment of God. Those who set themselves against it shall receive judgment. For rulers are not a fear to good deeds, but to evil deeds. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have its praise. For it is the servant of God for your good. But if you do evil, fear! For it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant, an avenger of wrath to the one practicing evil. (Romans 13:1-4)

We don’t live in a nice world. Human sin has messed it up. In Romans, the apostle Paul tells what God did in Christ for his enemies. He lived a good life to replace the bad lives of his people, he died for the sins of his people and then rose from the dead to show that the judgment against those sins is finished. This work of Jesus reconciles people to God. By trusting Jesus Christ, we can know that we have peace with God. This is good news.

Yet, we still live in a messy world. In Chapter 13, Paul indicates that we should be thankful for civil governments. Their job is to restrain human evil as it manifests itself in violent crimes and war. According to the Bible, it is quite appropriate for civil governments to protect their people by dealing with those who threaten them.

The apostle Paul said that the state does not hold the sword in vain. The civil state is the servant of God. Its sword is for the protection of those who do good and for the fear of those who do evil.

Now the word ‘sword’ may include such things as fines for speeding or drink-driving, and having your driver’s licence cancelled. But, the use of the sword also implies that deadly force might justly be used in the work of protecting and punishing. In fact, the state has a God-given responsibility to use the sword in times of war or terror to protect its people from attack and to deal with those who do the attacking.

As individual Christians we are to love our enemies and tell them the good news of Jesus Christ; as a church we are to love our enemies and tell them the good news of Jesus Christ, but the state has the responsibility to protect and punish. Christians are not to hinder, but rather to encourage and pray for the state as it tries to fulfil that God-given responsibility.

Book Review — A short history of the church in scotland

A Short History of the Church in Scotland, AD 300 – 2015, New Melbourne Press, 2015.

In fewer than 130 pages, Rowland Ward has provided a very useful account of Scottish church history. The first thousand years are dealt with respectfully but briefly in two chapters in preparation for the main events of the post-reformation period. Since the days of John Knox and his fellow reformers, the struggle has been to establish and maintain in Scotland a protestant-reformed witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to assert and defend his sole right as king and head of the church.

As Ward points out, the reformers’ original intention was to establish one national church, built upon the principle that Christ rules the nations as well as the church, and that these two — the church and the state — were to act Christianly in their separate spheres. As it turned out, those who came to rule in Scotland had different agendas. Mary, Queen of Scots, was a convinced Roman Catholic and would not adopt the teaching or practice of the reformed church. Her son, James VI, preferred episcopacy to Presbyterianism and famously said, ‘No Bishop, No King’, and immediately began to provide the Scottish church with a cut-down version of bishops which the Presbyterians did not want. James’ son, Charles, issued a liturgy for the Scottish church, the use of which provoked a famous 1637 riot in Edinburgh. Charles II declared himself supreme over both the temporal and spiritual jurisdictions in his realm, and demanded all churchmen submit to him or lose his permission to preach. Things became grim as hundreds of ministers walked out of their churches and conducted unauthorised meetings in private homes and fields. These ministers faced large fines, imprisonment, and summary executions for resisting the royal will. Divisions between those Presbyterians who conformed and those who didn’t only added to the church’s troubles.

After the revolution of 1688, which replaced the catholic James II with protestant William and Mary, the Scottish church had a more peaceful relationship with the crown, but the hope of ‘one nation, one church’ was fading. The small Episcopal church in Scotland was to be tolerated, and discontent with doctrinal decline in the Established Church led to the formation of a number of rival Presbyterian communities. By the 1780s, a majority of ministers in the Established church were seemingly indifferent to the gospel and Biblical truth. From about 1811 onwards, revivals, divisions, reunions, and subsequent deflections from — and rediscoveries of — gospel truth, have been features of church life in Scotland. Rowland Ward has managed to compress these and other events into a conveniently small package, while aiming to dispel some historical myths and to give an objective rather than a partisan account. This book may be ordered from the author ($15.00 including postage within Australia) rowland dot ward at gmail dot com .

The Message of the Cross — 1 Corinthians 1: 17-25

Is the Gospel lame nonsense? Does it need help from clever, well-connected people to do its work?

No. In this passage the apostle is in fact asserting the absolute sufficiency of the gospel message to do the work of building the church.

So why does Paul talk about the gospel, and gospel preaching, as foolishness?

Paul has to deal with one of the many problems that the Corinthians were happily creating for themselves. In too many ways these people, whom the apostle loved, were seriously out of control. They knew the gospel, but their mistaken views of the liberty that the gospel brings was weakening their church and their church’s witness.

At Corinth, divisions, boastful immorality, disdain for fellow believers, and spiritual pride were tearing the church apart. Paul begins in these verses to deal with their pride.

Firstly he brushes aside water baptism. He did not belittle the sacrament, far from it. But some people, it seems, were engaging in one-up-man-ship. The more important the baptiser, the more important the baptised, or so they claimed.

Paul had no interest in playing such games. He had not been sent to make water baptism the big issue, but rather to preach the gospel. It is not water baptism that determines a person’s place in the kingdom, but the gospel work of Jesus Christ.

The gospel is the great leveller. We all had rebelled against our creator and are all worthy of nothing except condemnation. Every Christian was once dead in trespasses and sins–without God and without hope in the world.

We were lost and would have perished in our sins, but it pleased God to save. God saved, not by sending an instruction book for self-improvement, but by sending his only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who for the salvation of his people, was born a human being, lived a perfectly good life to replace the bad lives of his people, and he died taking responsibility for the sins of his people. He rose to life again to give eternal life to his people.

Having done all that, he then gives repentance and faith to these people in order to ensure that they would trust him and be justified before God.

Nothing was left to chance; nothing was left for our sinful selves to achieve. Salvation comes to sinful people by the love of God, through the work of Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The gospel excludes boasting — unless it is boasting in the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is why Paul says that Christ sent him to make the gospel known, not in the wisdom of mere human reasoning, less the cross of Christ be made void,… of no effect,… empty.

There is a form of ‘wisdom’ that would make the gospel empty. Paul is not against preachers using their brains. He is not against carefully and prayerfully prepared sermons.

Paul is not against a thorough academic training for preachers. The ‘wisdom of reasoning’ that he rejects is that sort of reasoning that people value when they do not trust Jesus Christ.

As he writes:

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.

The problem of evangelism is not the intellectual quality of the message. It is not the fact that the message is really foolish. The problem of evangelism is the un-renewed minds of those who hear the message.

Paul later refers to this situation when he says that the unregenerate mind is at war with God (1 Cor. 2:14), and cannot and will not receive the gospel because the gospel is only accepted by a sinner when the Spirit of God changes the heart and mind of that sinner.

When this work of grace — this work of regeneration — comes to a sinner, they have the saving work of Christ applied to them. God accepts Christ’s death as their death, his good life a replacement for their bad life, and Christ’s resurrection ensures that they will a raised from the dead and acquitted on the day of judgment.

This is very important. We do not fix the problem of unbelief by trying to make the gospel more appealing to the mind of the unbeliever. We are not to force the message of the church to the mould of the world.

That would be to empty out the message of the cross of Christ. We cannot make the gospel more acceptable to the non-Christian by our clever ideas to improve the message, because the cross of Christ is necessarily offensive to anyone who is not born again. Any change we make to the message empties it.

Now, this was the trap into which the church at Corinth was in danger of falling.

Many in Corinth at that time thought the message of Jesus was too bland, too plain, too last week (compare 1 Cor. 10:7-10). They wanted the message of the church to be intellectually impressive for the outsider. They wanted it to fit the spirit of their age.

Now, this is a very different attitude to that of Paul when he says that he becomes all things to all men (1 Cor. 9) . Paul worked hard to understand the people to whom he took the gospel. His approach in presenting the gospel might vary according to the background of the people he met. But the gospel message he did not change at all.

Presbyterianism has experienced this gospel-emptying unfaithfulness in its own history. Many Presbyterian churches in the past have become Unitarian through their accommodation to the wisdom of the age. How did this happen?

After the gospel had brought salvation to sinners, it also began the work of conforming people to the mind of Christ. Over the years, public morals were improved, and good morals were encouraged. When moral people saw the difference between themselves (good Presbyterians) and the less moral, they begin to think that they were not the ones who needed Jesus as saviour but only needed to follow him as an example. With the growth of education (Presbyterians love education) they also began to doubt miracles as a hangover from a less informed, superstitious age.

The result was that they no longer saw the need for a saviour who is both God and man, neither did they see a need for his substitutionary death, nor his rising from the dead to deal with sin. The Corinthians were heading this way as 1 Cor. 15 suggests.

The Church of England also suffered from this attitude in the nineteenth century. The Rev. Frederick William Robertson hated the gospel of Jesus. He worked hard to empty the cross of Christ. He spoke on this passage in July 1851 and did so in order to conceal the message of the cross. He taught from this passage that Jesus is our human example, and a human example is better than impersonal signs and abstract philosophies. That’s all.

So Paul attacked this gospel-emptying-attitude with ironic force. He uses the words ‘wise’ and ‘foolish’, ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ to convey deliberately opposite meanings.

Where is the wise, where is the scribe, where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of world. For by the wisdom of God, the world by its wisdom did not know God, but it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe.

The wisdom of this age is foolishness. Scholars are pretty good at describing the disaster of the human condition, but they have no real idea of its origin or its cure.

  • Psychology tell sufferers to stop believing the lies that they tell themselves, and to believe the lies that the psychologist tells them instead.
  • World religions, even some that go under the name of Christian, offer programs for self-improvement (life is suffering, suffering comes from desire, reduce desire) or promote the benefits of community support.
  • Some scientists tells us that life came about by a process of time and chance and that all human emotions, human will and human development came as a result of environmental conditioning and chemical reactions.
  • Some educationists claim that, if people are sufficiently informed about drug use, or domestic violence, or sexually transmitted diseases, then all will be well.

Every failure of these sorts of programs is met with calls for more money for further research and education.

All human programs for self-improvement fail, because they all begin with the mistaken view that people are basically good. The only problem is their economic, political, social circumstances or their poor education.

Foolishness. The ‘wise’ of this world will not and cannot arrive at the solution by their own wisdom.

What these wise theories and programs could not do, God did by sending his Son to rescue the hopeless.

Jesus came into the worse of circumstances, suffered the abuse of sinners, was falsely accused and condemned, was subjected to a criminal’s death by public execution, and yet by these means and by this person, God made foolish the wisdom of this age.

The rebel world thought it had sorted the problem of Jesus and had removed the inconvenient preacher. But God overturned that ‘wisdom’ by raising the Lord Jesus from the dead. The resurrection means that the sins of those for whom Jesus died are dead and gone.

God also made many of his enemies his friends by Jesus Christ. By the resurrection of Jesus, God brings renewed life to those who trust Christ. He gives new attitudes to bad people. By Jesus people receive a new relationship with our creator, freedom from condemnation, and everlasting life.

What we could not and would not do by our wisdom, God accomplished in wisdom by his Son.

The Jews were offended by the cross–cursed is anyone who is hanged on a tree.

The Greeks thought that the resurrection from the dead was a joke.

But God saves those whom his calls by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This is the message of the cross. God forgives sins in the name and authority of Jesus Christ on the basis of the things that Jesus alone did. In this way God destroys the wisdom of the wise and the understanding of the prudent. He brings some to repentance and faith through the gospel message, thereby changing their minds and attitudes. Others reject that message, stay in their sin and reap the consequences of rebellion.

So why does Paul call the preaching of this message, ‘foolishness’?

He is using the attitude of some in Corinth against them.

They had called preaching foolishness, but Paul shows that this alleged foolishness is God’s way of achieving what all the wise ones of the world continually failed to do. Gospel preaching gives hope and safety to sinful, condemned people.

Paul tells us that the alleged foolishness of God—gospel preaching—is wiser than the wisdom of this age. The weakness of God that is allegedly seen in the message of the cross is stronger than the might of this age.

The church must not get too clever or sophisticated for itself. It must not say to itself that no one will listen to gospel preaching today and suggest that we must replace it with stories, or personal testimonies, or film nights, or social advice.

The word that Paul uses for ‘preaching’ is that which denotes a herald. A herald was the messenger of the king. The herald was to deliver the message that the king entrusted to him, and the herald was to deliver that message with all the authority of the one who sent him.

Woe to that herald who messed with the King’s message. Woe to the people who refused to hear that message.

Jews demand a sign, Greeks seek for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified … the wisdom of God and the power of God.

Aaron’s golden calf and New Testament practice

In writing to the Corinthians, Paul had a number of problems to deal with. Although the church held to the gospel teaching of the apostles, it was nevertheless out of control in serious ways.

By the time the tenth chapter is reached, Paul had addressed their divisions, spiritual pride, open approval of sexual immorality, their willingness to sue one another and their unwillingness to deny themselves for the sake of weaker fellow Christians.

At the tenth chapter, Paul brings a warning: don’t presume that you are a Christian simply because you are a church member and enjoy the outward benefits of a gospel ministry.

To illustrate his point, Paul refers to the church in the wilderness — the church that was established when God saved the children of Abraham from Egyptian slavery by the Passover event, and He then brought them through the Red Sea by miracle. God then kept them alive in the desert by means of ‘manna’ and water produced from a rock, which also were saving miracles.

All these events, though real and historical, point those who read of them to that great rescue that Jesus provided when he came as a human being to live for his people, die for his people and rise again for his people.

Paul indicates this by referring to some of these Old Testament events in New Testament terms. The crossing of the Red Sea he likened to baptism. The eating of the manna and drinking the rock-water Paul likened to the Lord’s supper. These Old Testament events, implies Paul, were Covenant affirming events. Further, the implication is that the Old Testament and the New Testament churches were in fact one church whose shared hope was the covenant of God.

In Genesis 3 God promised fallen Adam and Eve a saviour who would re-establish a right relationship between God and human beings, which relationship Adam had messed up by his sin. God’s covenant was that He would act to reclaim a people for Himself, and that the people whom He saves would acknowledge Him as their God and live as His people.

Back to the church in the desert. They had been saved from the Angel of Death by the blood of a lamb, they had been brought safely through the Red Sea, and they heard God’s law that was for his people. They were publicly associated with God by several outward ties, but many of them were not pleasing to Him.

Many were not pleasing to God because they rejected Christ, whom Paul says ‘followed them’. Only Jesus Christ lived a human life that was pleasing to God. Those who trust Jesus Christ are associated with him by the new birth. These people become pleasing to God when they trust Christ.

How did these Old Testament people reject Christ? Many took the outward benefits without the inward change of regeneration. They did not see themselves as lost sinners. They did not believe God’s word. They did not look beyond the outward ritual of the sacrifices that they brought to God. They were playing ‘church’ rather than trusting the saviour who was represented to them in the sacrifices that God had instituted.

Paul’s warning to the Corinthians was that they too might possess all the outward benefits of a church (gospel preaching, the sacraments, fellowship, prayer) and yet not really be trusting the Lord Jesus Christ as He is offered in the gospel. They too might be playing church while rejecting Christ.

Paul then gives a number of negative examples from the church in the desert that the church in Corinth would do well to avoid. He refers to them all as exhibiting the reality of evil desires. The first evil desire was Idolatry. I’ll just talk about this one today.

To illustrate the danger of idolatry, Paul refers to the Old Testament incident of the golden calf. Moses was away receiving the law that was to guide the church to Christ. Aaron had a crowd pressing him to give them gods (Exodus 32:1 and Acts 7:40) to lead them because Moses, to their mind, had abandoned them. So Aaron causes a golden calf to be made.

Two separate things seem to be happening here. The people wanted ‘gods’ (elohim), which might imply gods other than the covenant God of Israel. This was contrary to the First Commandment that the people had already heard from the God who had rescued them from Egypt.

Aaron, however, was aiming to bring the people to focus on Yahweh, the true God by means of the calf. When the calf was finished, Aaron said, ‘This is your God (Elohim) who brought you out of the land of Egypt’ and he appointed a feast to Yahweh for the following day. This broke the Second Commandment which forbids the worship of the true God by idols.

The Hebrew language uses the same plural word to mean ‘gods’ or ‘God’ depending on the context. The people wanted ‘gods’, and Aaron used the same word to point them to ‘God’ who revealed Himself to Moses as Yahweh.

Idolatry is a two-edged sword. It can be the worship of false gods. It can also be the worship of the true God by inappropriate means.

Aaron’s aim in using a golden calf was perhaps ‘noble’, but making a calf to direct people to Yahweh was utterly wrong. We could say that Aaron was trying to be ‘seeker-sensitive’, and he thought that the calf would be an aid to worship. But, to introduce matter into the worship of God contrary to His word simply because it is appealing to people in the church (to keep them there) and might be attractive to people outside, is wrong.

We are not to be inventive in managing the public worship of God. God’s worship is His. It is His word, not our changing preferences, that ought to determine the content and means of worship. The golden calf incident was a failure of leadership on Aaron’s part. It is a failure that the New Testament church needs to avoid if things are not to end badly.

The Bread of Life — John 6:25-40

People tend to be environmentalists. I don’t mean conservationists. I mean that people seem to take Rousseau’s view of the human condition: people are born free but everywhere they are in chains. In short, the idea is that “I’m a good person, but my circumstances inhibit that goodness from expressing itself”.

For example, the way politics works these days. The opposite sides tend to say that

  • ‘people are ok, but their circumstances mess things up.’ So, political parties promise to fix the social and economic environment
    • socialists say the need is to regulate the means of production and distribution and then people will be free and happy.
    • economic liberals say that the need is to cut red tape to enable markets and jobs to grow and then people will be free and happy.
  • both views are secular,
  • both views ignore the problem of our sinful rebellion against our creator.
  • neither have a solution for the real problems of life and death.

The church has not been free of this sort of environmentalism. A hundred years ago, there was the social gospel where improving the social and economic circumstances of the poor was the whole message and purpose of the church. The gospel of salvation from sin disappeared. Then, fifty years ago, there was liberation theology, where “resurrection” came to mean “insurrection”. The idea was for the church to encourage violent revolution to free the people from their chains. Again, the real message of Jesus was reinterpreted to remove the gospel.

In John chapter 6, the social gospel and liberation theology combine to try to wedge Jesus into the sinful mould of the crowd.

Jesus’ contemporaries thought they had two main problems — the Romans and getting their daily bread.

Earlier in John 6, there is the account of Jesus feeding 5000 people, in a deserted place, with a few small loaves and a couple of fish. After everyone had eaten their fill, there were 12 large baskets of crumbs left over. It was an extraordinary miracle.

Being fed miraculously in a desert had powerful associations in the minds of those who were there. Moses long ago had feed the people of Israel in a desert. In fact, God had saved Israel from a foreign nation that had enslaved them and had given Israel Moses as a leader. Moses himself had said that God would later send someone like him to lead and save them.

Maybe, these people thought, Jesus was the one. He might be the one to save them from the Romans. He might be the one to take away the burden of getting the food that they need to live. They were right about the link to Moses, but for the wrong reasons.

So they chased after Jesus with a good deal of enthusiasm. His response is not what they had expected.

 v. 26 Truly, truly, I say to you that you seek me, not because you saw signs (e.g., the miraculous supply of food), but because you ate and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life. This food the Son of man shall give you, for God the Father has set his seal on him.

 Jesus told the people that they were chasing him for the wrong reasons. Their minds were fixed on temporary problems and were ignoring their eternal problem. They thought their big problems were the Romans and the scarcity of food. They had no thought as to how they might be made right with God. Either they did not see that they had a sin problem, or they had come to think that there was no solution and had given up, deciding to eat, drink and be merry because tomorrow they die.

Jesus offered them eternal life. He told them that he was the one commissioned by the Father to give it. God the Father had set his seal on Jesus.

The people’s response was to ask about conditions — what must we do to get this life from God?

v. 29 Jesus said, ‘This is the work of God, that you trust the one whom he has sent.’

 This statement has a double edge:

  • eternal life is gift received by faith in Jesus Christ, nothing else is required but faith.
  • God is the one who works that faith in the heart of rebels.

How did the people respond to this offer of eternal life?

 v. 30 What sign will you do that we might believe you?

 It might seem a strange question coming from a crowd that had chased after Jesus because he had fed 5000 of them the previous day with only a few loaves and a couple of fish. Jesus had given signs that were more than sufficient to establish his credentials. But what sign did the people want now? More free food.

  •  they did not believe that God had commissioned Jesus to give eternal life to them.
  • they only wanted their immediate needs met. They were like Esau who sold his birth right for a bowl of soup — they, like Esau, were profane.

The people asked for bread from heaven like the food that Moses gave.

Jesus told them that manna was not what they needed. Manna did not give everlasting life — v. 49 “Your fathers ate manna in the desert and are dead”. But, confusion prevailed on the part of the people. Jesus used their word ‘bread’, which they hoped would give them an easier life here and now, as a metaphor for himself as the giver of eternal life.

 v. 33 The bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

 They continued to think of manna and their stomachs. So Jesus spoke in a way designed to shake the people out of their wrong ideas. He aimed to turn their stomachs if they only thought of lunch rather than redemption.

 Jesus said: (v. 35) “I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me will never hunger, the one who believes me will never thirst.”

 Jesus goes to say that, unless people ate his flesh and drank his blood they had no life — they were dead. This is stomach-turning, but Jesus was not referring to some gruesome meal, but to his death as the only way for sinners to have eternal life.

The eating/drinking of his flesh and blood does not refer to the Mass, or the Lord’s supper, but it refers to his actual death in our place, and our need to recognise that he alone deals with our sin and sustains our lives.

If we are to have eternal life, we must to listen to Jesus and believe what he says, but here lies a big problem. We are not wired to listen to Jesus. All people, since Adam’s sin, are rebels from birth.

 v. 36 I have told you (said Jesus) that you have seen me (do signs) and you have not believed.

 Yet Jesus does not despair, because

 v. 37 ‘All that the father has given me will come to me and whoever comes to me, I will in no way cast out.’

 Our personal inability to believe Jesus is a great and persistent weakness in human beings. It is the indicator of our sinful attitudes. All the evidence in the world, all the best arguments, all the love that the church might show cannot of themselves produce saving faith in a sinner.

The statement by Paul, that we are ‘dead in our sins’ until the love of God is given to us by the Holy Spirit, is illustrated in this passage.

No one is saved without faith in Jesus Christ.

  • No has the ability in themselves to trust Jesus.
  • Yet people do trust and are saved from sin and death.
  • And Jesus does give eternal life to those who come to him.

How do we reconcile these seemingly contrary statements

 v. 37 All that the Father gives to me will come to me, says Jesus.

 Salvation is by Grace — God rescues his enemies by Jesus Christ because he wants to, and the choice as to who will be saved is up to God.

God’s choice is not based upon our words, deeds or attitudes, nor is it based upon the things we might do after we become Christians. It is not because we happen to be born into a particular family. It is God’s free and kingly will, not our sinful wills, that brings people to faith in Jesus. This teaching of Jesus is not to cause despair for sinners, but to give hope and assurance to them. Without God’s loving decision to save some, none would be saved. In fact, because of God’s mercy, many will be saved.

 v . 37 “Whoever comes to me, says Jesus, I will in no way cast out”

and

v. 39 “Of all that the Father has given me, says Jesus, I will not lose (destroy) any”

 How can Jesus be so confident of this? Because he was going to die and rise again for his people.

The thing that our sin earns is death. But, Jesus never sinned, yet he died. The only way the sinless Son of Man could die was if he took responsibility for the sins of other people. After Jesus died for others, he rose from the dead. His resurrection indicates that the sins for which he died are judged and finished with. They are gone. If they were not finished with, then Jesus would have stayed in the grave, as he had taken responsibility for them. As Jesus has risen from the dead, the sins of his people are judged and gone. Because the sins of God’s people are gone, they may have life in Jesus Christ.

So then, Jesus has the authority to raise his people from the dead on the last day, just as he told these people in John chapter 6.

God was manifest in the flesh — 1 Timothy 3:16

The incarnation of God the Son was and is essential for our salvation.

God became a man

  • not so that God might gain an understand of us — not just to walk a mile in our shoes, as it were.
  • not primarily to be an example for us so that we might simply do as he did.

But rather, God became man to

  • work righteousness for us as a human being,
  • be both priest and sacrifice for us (that is, to die), and
  • bring us to life by his resurrection.

Only a person who is both God and man could do this for sinners.

Now, there is an alleged difficulty with the text. A few ancient Greek manuscripts read ‘who was manifest in the flesh’ and a few others read ‘which was manifest in the flesh’.

I argue that the true reading is not ‘who’, not ‘which’, but ‘God’. The word ‘mystery’ is neuter in gender while “godliness” is feminine, but “who” is masculine! The pronoun must agree with its antecedent. It is bad grammar to accept ‘who’ in this place. That is why people who think ‘who’ is the correct reading very rarely translate it as who, but rather as ‘He’. That is, the word ‘who’ does not make sense in context in either Greek or English.

How might these readings be explained?

The word ‘God’, in ancient Greek, could be abbreviated as ΘC. A line was drawn above these letters to indicate the abbreviation. The relative pronoun ‘who’ was written as OC, and ‘which’ in Greek was written O (see below).

God who which

Note that the only graphical difference between ‘god’ and ‘who’ are a short line within an O to make a Θ, and a longer line above to indicate the abbreviation. It is likely that these two lines faded over time due to continual use, and finally looked as if it had been written as OC instead of ΘC. Thus ‘who’ replaced ‘God’ in subsequent copies. The reading ‘which’ O, is a likely scribal correction of OC to something that made grammatical sense in context.

Nevertheless, 98.5% of Greek manuscripts (all available manuscripts are copies) say “God”, and the reading ‘God’ is older than the surviving Greek manuscripts that contain it as the reading appears in the works of some early Christian writers.

Now, orthodox people who think the reading is ‘who’, often say that the ‘who’ refers to Christ. Seems ok, but if the true reading were really ‘who’ and the reference is to Christ, then Jehovah Witnesses, Gnostics, Arians, Unitarians, all could agree. The problem is that they will only accept a Christ who is not really God and man in one person.

The assumed reference to Christ is no remedy against untruth. The mere man Aaron was a ‘Christ’ as was every high priest, because they were anointed (= Christ in Greek) with oil when they were made priest. The mere man King David was a Christ, as every king of Israel was a Christ because they too were anointed with oil .

Simply saying ‘Christ’ is the word referred to by ‘who’ is not true to the context.

Even Trinitarians who accept the ‘who’ reading, stick to Christ as the one referred to by ‘who’, because, I suspect, they are ashamed to reject ‘God’ as the correct reading, yet say ‘God’ is the antecedent of ‘who’.

But above all the great mystery revealed IS that the God became a human being for our salvation.

2 Corinthians 5:19-20 (God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself).

A mere man, even a good mere man could not save (see Ps 49:7 and Ezek 14:4 & 20).

Only God has the right and ability to do for others what we cannot do for ourselves. As God says “I, even I, am the LORD, And there is no saviour besides Me.” Isaiah 43:10-11

Yet God cannot die, and our Saviour had to die as our substitute in order to deal finally with our sin. So, our saviour must be man as well (Matt 1:21, Luke 2:11).

There is no mystery in a mere man appearing in the flesh, that is why Paul did write: God was manifest in the flesh.