Archive for December 2015
Today marks Childermas, the remembrance of Herod the Great’s massacre of the male babies of Bethlehem:
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. (Matthew 2:16)
This was not the first massacre of Hebrew boys; Herod hearkens back to the Pharaoh of the Exodus:
Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” (Exodus 1:15-16)
And as we have previously considered, Matthew’s linking this to Hosea 11:1 is a subtle accusation that Herod has in fact become Pharaoh, and Israel has become Egypt.
Both Herod and Pharaoh were serpents trying to cut off the promised seed of Genesis 3:15. Blood shed unjustly calls for a blood avenger, and in each case God brought a redeemer (Moses, Jesus) through this shadow of death, and through that redeemer brought about the end of the tyrant who had sought a blood sacrifice for himself (through the ruin of Egypt, and the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70). While Jesus himself is the sacrifice that gives us life, it is interesting to consider that there were babies who were a kind of sacrifice that gave Jesus life. It is reassuring that God is not blind to the wrath of tyrants. He hears spilled blood crying from the ground, and he hears the patient prayers of his church for deliverance from the tyrant, and he answers: Pharaoh and the Herods were brought low.
Herod and Pharaoh were right to fear the coming seed, who “visit[s] the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Numbers 14:18). Jesus truly reigns here and now, and not just over the time to come. It is deeply reassuring to know that no suffering, no cry for help, is unseen or unheard by him, nor does it go to waste. Rightly does the church proclaim to kings and rulers:
Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve Yahweh with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2:10-12)
This of course has application for the church today experiencing various kinds of tyranny and persecution around the world, a world that has murdered more than a billion babies over the past generation. In spite of all this, because of all this, Jesus is coming. Make ready by taking refuge in him.
The book of Job is, first and foremost, presenting Job as a type of Jesus the suffering servant. Job is the perfect, upright man (Job 1-2), the exemplary righteous man (Ezek. 14), who speaks what is right (Job 42) as he wrestles with God seeking a resurrection-vindication.
And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)
Just as the Psalms are firstly the songs of Jesus, but become the songs of the church; Job also secondarily becomes a guide for the righteous to wrestle with God through our suffering and the suffering of our brothers. But unlike Job, our great accuser has now been cast out of heaven. More than that, while Job ascends into God’s presence only at the end of his story, we have access to God immediately and continually through Jesus in whom we have already ascended.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)
More than that, as the church we reign together with him.
[God] raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6)
Finally, the book of Job serves as a caution to us, a reminder that God calls his own son, and all who follow him, to temporary sufferings and deprivations of the privileges of sonship so that through our suffering he can achieve an even more glorious outcome. Here and now the redeemed do not deserve these sufferings, but just like the sufferings of Jesus, we endure them as soldiers on a mission to bring about a far greater good.
Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” (Matthew 17:26-27)
It is widely said that while it is fascinating to study Revelation, and frustrating that Christians disagree so widely over its interpretation, it is nonetheless ultimately encouraging that these differences of opinion matter little in how they impact day-to-day Christian living because we all agree that Jesus will win in the end. This is a nice sentiment, but I find it unconvincing because “the righteous shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17), and it matters greatly to our faith what it is that Jesus has already accomplished for his people. For example, consider Revelation 12:10-12:
And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”
If this event has yet to happen, then Christians may fear the accusations of Satan day and night (consider Job) and must reassure themselves regularly that Jesus is our intercessor (Rom. 8:34). But if Jesus and the early martyrs have already cast Satan out of heaven and bound him (Rev. 20:2), then Christians today enjoy a kind of security and freedom in the presence of God that goes beyond having an advocate to stand with us. We do not even have an accuser. And it is my firm belief that this is the case.
Consider one piece of internal evidence. We are told later in Revelation that “blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on” (Rev. 14:13). Clearly this cannot be talking about those who die after the second coming of Jesus. This must be referring either to those who die after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus or, as I think most probable, those who die after the vindication of Jesus in the final destruction of the old-covenant creation in AD 70.
Consider also the fact that it is angels who are mediators of the judgments in Revelation. We are told in Hebrews 1-2 that it was the old covenants whose messages were mediated by angels, in contrast with the new covenant where Jesus is the mediator. We are told that the world of the new covenant is not subjected to angels but to Jesus (Heb. 2:5). Elsewhere Jesus gives the keys of the kingdom to the apostles and elders of the church (Matt. 16), and Paul teaches that the second coming is a time where we will judge angels, not where angels will judge man (1 Cor. 6:3). Taken together, the angelic actions in Revelation seem much more likely to describe the destruction of the old-covenant creation during the first century than the final judgment. Revelation depicts the changing of the guard, the retirement of angelic elders and their replacement with human elders.
Lastly, we can identify the Babylon of Revelation with the first-century city of Jerusalem. One way we can do so is because she is represented as a good church (Israel) finally gone completely bad. She is called a prostitute (Rev. 17), a source of blasphemy and abomination (Rev. 17), and a house of demons and everything unclean (Rev. 18). This is the culmination of all of the denouncements of the old-covenant prophets. Jesus is finally making good on his threats and vindicating his name. But more than that, Revelation itself identifies Babylon as the “great city” (Rev. 16-18), which it has previously named as Jerusalem: “the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified” (Rev. 11:8).
Hebrews reminds us that presently everything is in subjection to Jesus, even though we do not see this visibly in every way (Heb. 2:8-9). History now is an outworking of Jesus’s present enthronement and authority chiefly through the sacrificial ministry of the gospel, and will end not with king Jesus receiving a new kingdom, but with his giving a completed kingdom to the Father (1 Cor. 15). Christians can rest confidently in Jesus’s present rule, which among many other blessings means that our accuser has already been cast down and bound.