Seeking a Better Country

Life is one long, steady disappointment. This dawns on most people by their thirties. Childhood is all potentiality. The teenage years are all angst—but even angst betrays some hope, since it is only quiet outrage that things could be better. A person can still carry into his twenties the illusion that the world will soon…

A Theology of Disappointment — Southern Equip

Jesus Barleycorn Must Die

Most certainly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. (Jn. 12.24 WEB)

But now Christ has been raised from the dead. He became the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since death came by man, the resurrection of the dead also came by man. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then those who are Christ’s, at his coming. (1Cor. 15.20-23 WEB)

I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. (Rev. 1.18 WEB)

It had taken about sixteen centuries for the concept of “John Barleycorn” to be more or less a confused drinking song, though John Burn’s rendition still retained some Christian elements. I say confused since, if he is a corn (individual grain), he cannot be cut off at the knees. The song in Burn’s version switches from the grain of barley to the straw that holds up many grains in the head of barley. Also, if the farmer doesn’t retain some grain then he will not see the sprout from the ground for the next crop. The original parable gives a clear meaning applicable and fulfilling of a prior prophetic figure.

I am not against alcohol production, of course, it is one way to preserve an annual fruit or cereal crop and has the blessing of God. One could almost say that alcohol is the drug of Jews and Christians since it is featured in some of their observances. Careful moderation is the key for enjoying many of the good fruits given by God.

All the English translations of Jn. 12.24 that I have seen render sitou (sitos) as “wheat.” However, a careful student of scripture will translate it “barley.” The Koine Greek word sitos can refer to any cereal grain. So, why should it be translated “barley” in this instance? The rationale for “barley” comes from the “First Fruits” that were waved before the Lord during Passover. The first sheaves of barley in the Land of Israel ripened, presumably, around the area of the Jewish Temple (or possibly Southern Judah where barley was typical). The ripening or readiness of the barley (the Aviv) determined the start of the Israelite calendar year. The Jewish calendar was based on a lunar cycle which needed an intercalary month every few years. If the barley was not ready by the turn of the yearly cycle, an intercalation was necessary.

The first Redemptive Feast of the Jews was Passover starting on the 14th day of the first month (hence the ripening of the barley determined when the Passover would be held). Passover consisted of a cluster of observances: The Festival of Unleavened Bread, the sacrifice of the Lamb, and the waving of First Fruits (In this case, barley. The wheat harvest occurred later in the Spring when its First Fruits would be waved during the second Redemptive Festival of Shavuot-Pentecost, 50 days later.). Therefore, Jesus’ reference to grain in Jn. 12.24 should be “barley.”

The waving of the barley sheaf (First Fruits) was on the first Sunday after Passover (the day Christ arose becomes The Lord’s Day). Paul identifies Christ as these “First Fruits” in 1Cor. 15, the great resurrection chapter of the Christian faith.

Returning to John 12. 24, Jesus states His necessary death to redeem humanity, as well as the necessity of His disciples to die to themselves for them, in turn, to be fruitful. Technically speaking, Jesus didn’t need to die after becoming flesh (Jn. 1.14) since He was “The Author of Life” (Acts 3.15) . However, this great act of love and self-sacrifice ensured His bringing many to glorification (Heb. 2.10). He was “The Living One” who died voluntarily and who now has the keys of death and Hades to give eternal life to all who believe on Him (Rev. 1.18).

The Relationship Between Faith and Works

The Christian’s authentic service to God flow from their new nature. They are children of God and resemble Him in their attitudes and actions. “We love, because He first loved us.” Here is an article which expresses the roles of faith and disciple well.

The Dark Side of Self-Discipline

Ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern Slavery

Here is a study of some forms of slavery and their rationale in ancient times. This study does not examine ancient Greek or Roman slavery, for which we also have abundant literature, nor the slavery occurring among the Israelites. Israelite slavery was probably adopted, in part, from the surrounding cultural milieu in which they interacted. This topic of Israelite slavery could be studied more thoroughly, it seems. Nevertheless, the geographical aspect of Israel was a land bridge, a choke point, between the two great fertile areas in the Mediterranean World. The Fertile Crescent wasn’t a crescent at all. It mostly resembled the shape of a dumbbell. God had placed Israel in the center of all the turmoil and action of the ancient world ( Ezekiel 5.5). In many ways, Israel benefitted and, to a degree, controlled the overland trading routes. The powerful and independent Kingdom of Tyre saw this lucrative opportunity when Israel fell to the Babylonians (Ezekiel 26.2). Tyre already controlled the sea routes and, with the addition of this land bridge, would have a monopoly on that region’s trade. All this historical information serves as a backdrop helping readers make sense of the message of the bible.

Do Facts Care about Your Feelings? — Southern Equip

“Facts don’t care about your feelings.” So says the pinned tweet on bestselling author and popular conservative podcast host Ben Shapiro’s Twitter account. Is it a fact that facts don’t care about our feelings? What are our other options? Friedrich Schleiermacher had an answer that Shapiro (and orthodox Christians) wouldn’t appreciate. The father of liberal…

Do Facts Care about Your Feelings? — Southern Equip

The Letter to the Church of Laodicea is Probably Our “Ephesians”

“To the Ephesians,” in bibles of today, is most likely a later addition inserted into the Greek texts. It can be said with certainty that copies of this letter found its way to Ephesus since Paul meant it as a circular letter. A scribe who copied the text probably felt the need to designate it, and since his copy was in Ephesus, thought the letter was addressed to this church. Every church in the region, of course, wanted to retain a copy for itself, and the route of transmission, ultimately, became obscured. Paul ministered in Ephesus for nearly three years and knew the elders of that church intimately, as Acts 20.16ff so poignantly reveals. Eph. 1.15 states that Paul only “heard about their faith,” a statement hardly comporting with Paul’s trials and ministry in that city, along with the Acts 20 episode. There is not one personal reference in the whole of “Ephesians” which diverges from his pattern of personal address in his other epistles.

Here is a very nice map and good background concerning Laodicea:

The cities of Hierapolis, Laodicea, and Colosse–all of which are referenced in Colossians 4:13–were located within about 12 miles (19 km) of each other along the Lycus River in the region of Phrygia. Two main Roman roads heading east joined at Laodicea and continued on to Apamea and Iconium. Though Paul almost certainly passed through…

Cities of the Lycus Valley — Bible Mapper Blog

The Ignored Witness of Benevolence

The Gospel Sent Abroad

The Holy Spirit, presumably speaking through the Christian prophets ministering in Antioch, indicated the intent to further the message of Christ in Cyprus and Asia Minor. God commissioned Paul and Barnabas to preach the Gospel, first, to the Jews in the synagogues, and then to everyone else. They were sent by the church, which meant that the church financially supplied them the funds to travel and sustain them. It also seems clear that both the leadership of teachers and prophets, along with the church, would continue to pray for them while Barnabas and Saul (Paul) fulfilled this mission (Acts 13. 1-3). This endeavor, instituted by God, is commonly known as “Paul’s First Missionary Journey.”

After considerable success, along with miraculous signs both on Cyprus and Asia Minor, Barnabas and Paul arrived in Lystra where Paul healed a man lame from birth, who had the faith to be healed, after listening to the message of the Gospel Paul was preaching. This event sparked a misguided reaction among the Pagans of this city. They referred to the apostles as Zeus and Hermes and wanted to sacrifice animals to them thinking they were these gods come down to them. Barnabas and Paul tore their clothes, which, to moderns, probably seems strange.

Excursus on Tearing of Clothes

This “tearing of clothes” seems to be a universal sign of distress and outrage in the bible, along with indicating strong disapproval, the rationale being a ruining of a valuable commodity. Before the invention of modern weaving machines and automation associated with clothing production, all garments were made by hand and thus very costly. All the spinning of yarn, weaving, sewing and assembling the articles of dress were individually made, taking a great deal of manual and meticulous labor. Therefore, to rend one’s garments showed opprobrium in reaction to some saying or event.

The Witness

It almost seems strange after the crowd’s actions that Paul would have the presence of mind to deliver a theological summary of God’s work toward humanity before His sending of the Messiah. Paul, however, seemed to always be immersed in the scriptures, owing to his Jewish upbringing and training, along with studying his scrolls and parchments after his Christian conversion (2Tim. 4.13). Paul insisted to the crowd that he was not special in his nature or righteousness but that the Good News he was bringing had power to save:

“Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.  In past generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways;  yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good—giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy.” (Acts 14.15-17 NRSV).

Paul insisted that, although God left humans to follow their own imaginings, still He was kind to them. God created mankind and everything to sustain them, even filling them with joy and satisfaction from the good produce He created. Jesus also affirmed this same idea in Mt. 5.45: that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (NIV). This, of course, is an ancient truth, recognized in the Book of Job: Is there any number to his armies? Upon whom does his light not arise? (ESV). The Psalmist also states: The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made (Ps.145.9 ESV).

How did the majority of humans respond to this kindness? Were they kind in return to their fellows and not go to war against them? Did they quit their foolish superstitions and seek the truth? Did they stop relying upon their own devices in their daily lives? Were they forgiving toward others and not exact revenge?

There were some, however, who intersected with the Israelites and turned to God. Judah took Tamar, a Canaanite, and fathered Perez whose line God used to bring Jesus (Mt. 1.3). Possibly, some of the “mixed multitude” who came out of Egypt under Moses converted to the Lord. They were obviously impressed with the one sent to rescue the Israelites from Pharaoh’s power (Ex.11.2). Rahab the harlot hid the Israelite spies and also became an ancestor of the Messiah (Mt.1.5). During the time of David, Uriah the Hittite proved more righteous than David in the instance of Bathsheba (Mt.1.6). Also, David’s guard, the Cherithites and Pelathites were Philistines who possibly converted and intermarried with the Hebrews (1Chron. 18.17). Some of David’s “mighty men” were Gittites, Philistines from Gath, who probably converted to the God of Israel.

Is there an application to Christians today from these accounts of contact with outsiders who turned to the Lord? I believe there definitely is, especially during the era of David who was zealously dedicated to the Lord. God will use those who love Him to touch other needy souls when they see the Lord and His glory displayed in a Christian’s life. As Christians, we need to be faithful and trust Him to touch those with whom we are integrated in our daily lives.

Paul Message to the Athenian Philosophers

During the so-called “Second Missionary Journey of Paul,” he went to the Synagogue and marketplace of Athens and reasoned with whomever would listen. Previously, Paul was distressed because of all the idolatry in this city. It seems that the Athenians’ response to God giving them their very life’s breath did not bear any fruit:

So Paul stood before the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I see that you are very religious in all respects. For as I went around and observed closely your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: ‘To an unknown god.’ Therefore what you worship without knowing it, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives life and breath and everything to everyone. From one man he made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times and the fixed limits of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope around for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move about and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ So since we are God’s offspring, we should not think the deity is like gold or silver or stone, an image made by human skill and imagination. Therefore, although God has overlooked such times of ignorance, he now commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom he designated, having provided proof to everyone by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17. 22-31 NET)

The Athenians’ reaction to Paul’s speech was mixed. Some scoffed, while others wanted to hear about the Message further, and several believed. Therefore, it can be observed that natural revelation, often termed “Common Grace” is not salvific in itself despite the normal expected response. Both in the Lystra incident and at Athens, people remained idolaters, despite God’s goodness toward them. This Common Grace really acted as a confirmation of sinfulness much as good works confirms the filial nature of Christians. It was only after Paul’s faithful preaching that the Spirit worked in some to receive the truth.

Where is the Kingdom of God Presently?

The Kingdom in Heaven

The Kingdom of God is now both in heaven and on earth. However, they are in different guises. Christians are citizens of the New Jerusalem (Gal. 4.26, Phil. 3.20) and are now ambassadors on earth (2Cor. 5.20). Clearly, an ambassador is an alien in the country where they serve; they represent a foreign entity. This is what Abraham was as he stood alone in his relationships with the Egyptians and Philistines, among whom he lived: For he [Abraham] was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Heb. 11.10 NIV). Also, the other heroes of faith that are referenced by the preacher of the sermon that comprises the book of Hebrews: All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. (Heb.11.13 NIV).

The Kingdom on Earth

The Kingdom of God on earth is in a compromised condition since it has been infiltrated by the sons of the evil one. Just as in the O.T., there are false prophets and evil people among the saints (2Pet. 2.1, Acts 20.30). Jesus gave three parables in Mt. 13 to describe the Kingdom on earth in the interim of His two appearances. In the parable of the “weeds-zizania” (wheat and tares in some versions), found in vss. 24-30, Jesus indicates that the devil is responsible for this infiltration. Also, these evil people are not to be rooted out by the holy angels until the final disposition (vs.30). These “weeds” (zizania) are characterized as looking like the wheat in its early stages of growth, but, ultimately, they were weeds that were often infected by a fungus, which was a poison that could kill its eaters. This is an apt picture, since those who follow these “weeds” will not be nourished, but, instead, be led astray.

In Vss. 31-32 of Mt. 13 is the “parable of the mustard seed,” which starts out as a small seed, yet grows to the largest garden plant that was typical in that locale. Today, Christianity accounts for 31% of the globe’s demographic and is the largest religion of the world. A feature of this “large tree,” however, is the “birds of the heaven” would find a place to perch in it. This is a reference to evil spirits (who inhabit humans) that still have access to heaven and have not yet received their sentence (see Eph.6.12: “spiritual wickedness in the heavenlies,” among other verses). Earlier in this same chapter, Matthew records Jesus using this same term for the birds who snatched up the seed on the path, in vs.4, and are equated with the devil’s legions (vs. 19).

The earthly Kingdom of God can also be compared to leaven (yeast), which puffs up the wheat dough, in that it appears larger than it really is. In reality, only a few will be saved relative to those who claim Christ. Paul tells the Corinthians to whom he ministered that they were an unleavened loaf, one of substance, like the Passover bread eaten during that festival (1Cor. 5. 6-8). Here, Paul reproves this church for being proud (boasting), which resembles the action of leaven. He tells them to rid themselves of things which pertained to their former life before they came to know the Lord: “malice and wickedness.” It’s not that they were not saved, but that the evil impulse needs to be countered and suppressed in the same way as he would later encourage them in this letter (1Cor.9.24-27).

I realize that, historically, most Christian thinkers have not brought out the negative aspects of the two later parables. Nevertheless, I am not the only one who sees the references to evil contained in these parables.

Characteristics of the Citizens of the Kingdom

Matthew gives two parables of Jesus, in 13.44-46 (“Treasure in the Field” and “Pearl of Great Price”), to show aspects of those who turn to Christ on earth, the real citizens of the Kingdom. These two parables describe the dedication of those, who on earth, have finally found the treasure of Christ after a prolonged search. These parables speak of the characteristic of total surrender of the seekers who found the treasure they were looking for: the truth of the King and His salvation.

The Kingdom’s Net

The Kingdom of God will have many adherents is what the “Parable of the Net” is about, as spoken of in Mt.13. 47-50. This is obviously not about those who claim Christ and those who don’t, since Jesus is speaking about what the Kingdom of Heaven is like (or the Kingdom of God, a synonym). Here, Jesus indicates a division and separation of the righteous and wicked in His Kingdom at the judgment. This net description is like the parable of the weeds since the wicked will be removed first from among the righteous who remain.