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The blogs are short articles, almost like a “sermonette” compared to a sermon. They are on a variety of topics. Enjoy.
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THE VERSE WE ALL KNOW, YET DON’T

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).


John 3 16 bFor many Christians John 3:16 is their best known and most loved verse in the Bible. It has been called the “golden verse” of Scripture, one of the Bible’s most succinct summaries of the gospel, and the ultimate single-verse summary of God’s plan for humanity.   But many do not realize just how much meaning is packed into this one short verse –  its very familiarity often obscures its richness –  and it can be profitable to look at each part of the verse more closely:

“For…”The word “For” with which this verse begins points back to John’s previous statement that: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3:14-15). This refers, of course, to the bronze image of a serpent that God instructed Moses to place on a high pole for the healing of the Israelites who acknowledged their sin in the wilderness (Numbers 21:4-9). In that story, everyone who “looked at” the serpent was granted life, and in John’s Gospel we see Christ made it clear that in the same way whoever “believes” on him is granted eternal life (John 3:16).  Looking and believing are equal in these accounts of the same story –  faith is “looking” without the eyes, or beyond what the physical eyes see, to a reality that saves (see our article “Seeing Is Believing: The Serpent on the Stake”here).  That is the background to John 3:16 – that our belief is not just the acceptance of an abstract idea about God and what he has done, but an active looking to the Person who is salvation .

“God so loved…”We should also realize that when this verse tells us that God “so” loved the world, it does not mean God loved the world “so much.”  Instead, the Greek in which the verse was written clearly means God loved the world “in this way.” In other words, “God loved the world in this way – he gave his only son …” It’s an important difference.  The Old Testament often stresses God’s love (Isaiah 63:9; Hosea 11:1-4, etc.), but John 3:16 shows the way in which that love was expressed.

“the world…”The Greek word translated “world” is kosmoswhich can mean not just the physical world or universe, but also –  as in this case –  all the inhabitants of the world. Rather than just telling us that God loved people in general, “the world” emphasizes the all-inclusive and universal love that God displayed – love of everyone without exception.

“that he gave…”Giving is, of course, characteristic of the nature of God –  it is one of the things that most clearly defines him –  and the gift of his son is his greatest gift, eclipsing all others (Romans 8:32).  The gift was foreshadowed in the prophets, as Isaiah wrote: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…” (Isaiah 9:6).  

“his one and only son...”In this phrase John stresses that God’s love extended to giving his “one and only" son – a sacrifice that reminds us of the story of Abraham’s willingness to give up Isaac (Hebrews 11:17).  Here the expression marks the unique nature of the gift that God was willing to give (1 John 4:9).

“that whoever believes on him…”The word “whoever” signifies “everyone” and stresses again the universal nature of God’s gift and its availability to anyone who will accept it. John reiterates this truth a little later in the same chapter: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life …” (John 3:36).  Unseen in our English translations is the fact that the word “believes” is a “present participle” in the Greek of the New Testament – a verbal form that stresses continuity of action. The required belief is not just associated with a one-time emotional occurrence – it is ongoing, and it only those who continue to  believe who receive the gift (Matthew 24:13).

 “shall not perish but have eternal life.” Here we see as much stress on God’s desire that we do not perish (2 Peter 3:9) as on his desire to grant us life. The specific words “eternal life” are typical of the teaching of the apostle John, who uses them more than twice as many times as all the other Gospel writers combined. John here uses the expression in the present tense to stress that the life God offers us is not just life that we “shall” have at some future time, but spiritual life that begins now, in the present, and continues eternally from now.

The total message of this great verse is echoed by John in his first epistle: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9). But it is only in John 3:16, the verse we all know but do not always appreciate to the full, that the great message is so clearly and thoroughly explained.

R. Herbert (a pen name), Ph.D., was trained in biblical studies and Ancient Near Eastern languages and archaeology. He writes for a number of Christian venues as well as for his websites at LivingWithFaith.org and TacticalChristianity.org where you can also find his free e-books.

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Are You an Imitation?

 

Imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery - it's the sincerest form of learning.”
― George Bernard Shaw

imitationThe word “imitation” often has a negative connotation – we can think of imitation designer clothes that don’t look as good as the real items, imitation coffee or milk that doesn’t taste as good as the real thing, and many other examples.  Usually, the imitation is just not as good as the thing imitated – the real thing.

But there is one type of imitation that is perfectly acceptable - in fact desirable:  when God himself is involved in the process of imitation.  The first chapter of Genesis clearly tells us that God made an imitation when he made the first human.  “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…. So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them…” (Genesis 1:26-27).  And, of course, when God had done this,  God looked at the imitation he had made and “God saw… it was very good” (vs. 31).

Naturally, the imitation God made of himself was not endowed with the power, wisdom, goodness and countless other qualities that God has, but it had a small measure of these qualities – just enough to show the family likeness – and  it was good, but it wasn’t as like the original as might be possible.

In most cases, if you have an imitation of something, that’s what you are stuck with.  It’s always going to be a kind of second-class item.  But the interesting thing about the imitation that God made is that it was upgradable.  God made the imitation of himself with the ability for countless ongoing upgrades – with the potential to make the imitation ever more like the original.  In one sense, that’s what life is – or should be – all about: taking the opportunity to fulfill that potential.

So this kind of imitation is not wrong – or in any way second class.  It’s something we should all be doing in our lives – seeking to be a better imitation of God.  You may not have thought about it this way, but that was what Jesus himself was doing, on a daily basis, during His physical life.  Notice what he said in this regard: “… the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19).   Jesus plainly says that even though he was the Son of God, his focus was on imitating God.  He knew the Father and constantly imitated him in his actions and thoughts.

How do we do this?  Although we do not have the unique knowledge of God that Jesus had, fortunately, God has made available clear templates and instructions for us to follow to continuously “upgrade” ourselves to become increasingly better imitations.

First, we can imitate the original by getting to know God better through in-depth study of his word, not just in looking to see what it says, but looking to see what it says about him.  It’s a different approach when we don’t just read the story, but read the story like we would read the instructions for updating the software on our computers – carefully, and focusing on what the words are showing us that we should do to successfully make the upgrade.

Second, we can imitate good copies.  God has given us the examples of his trained and trusted servants who closely imitate him. This is why the apostle Paul repeatedly stresses that we need to look at his example and that of others to the extent that they imitate Christ.  Look at these instances of what Paul says about this: 

“Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus …”  (1 Corinthians 4:16).

“We did this… in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate” (2 Thessalonians 3:9).

These words of Paul dovetail with those found in the Book of Hebrews:

 “… imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (Hebrews 6:12).

“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).

Third, we can pray specifically for help in becoming a better imitation.   Notice in Philippians Paul tells us something about imitating. He says we should “… have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5), and after discussing this he then goes on to say “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (vs. 12).  If we are praying for God’s will in our lives, we should be getting his help to better imitate him and those he has changed – and we can pray for this specifically.

We need to remember that humans are actually programmed to imitate. That’s how we learn language, social skills, and countless other things.  It’s in our natures to imitate, and God put that there for a reason.  As a result, we must be careful, as John says, that we “do not imitate what is evil, but what is good” (3 John 1:11a).  If we are diligently studying, watching and praying to better imitate the model we have been given, God will continue his work in us and our spiritual imitation of his nature will truly be “very good.”

 

R. Herbert (a pen name), Ph.D., was trained in biblical studies and Ancient Near Eastern languages and archaeology. He writes for a number of Christian venues as well as for his websites at LivingWithFaith.org and TacticalChristianity.org where you can also find his free e-books. 

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THE WAR PRIEST

Although many Christians have never heard of the biblical “War Priest,” a study of the concept is worthwhile as it can help us more fully understand the roles of the One who became the promised Messiah.  In the Bible, this role is only mentioned once specifically, and then only briefly, in Deuteronomy 20:1-3:

“When you go to war against your enemies … do not be afraid of them, because the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you. When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army. He shall say: “Hear, Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them.”

It is easy to assume, reading these verses, that “the priest” is the High Priest who officiated in the Tabernacle or Temple, but Jewish commentary and tradition as found recorded in the tractates of the Talmud unanimously state that this priest was, in fact, a “Second High Priest” who was called the “Priest Anointed for War”  (Tractate Sotah 8:1). Deuteronomy itself gives us little information, but it would appear that the priest was someone who would have been present with the army, as the text does not say the priest “shall come and address the army” but that he would “come forward” – the Hebrew signifying coming from among the army rather than to it.  This would perhaps indicate, as tradition affirms, that before battles the War Priest was responsible for preparing the warriors, making sure they were fit for battle and rejecting any he felt were unfit for the fight.

Bringing together what information we can from Jewish tradition, we find that this priest was apparently specially anointed for his position and role. According to the Talmud, the High Priest serving in the Temple was of the highest rank, but the role of the War Priest was of greater significance than that of the “Deputy High Priest” (Tractate Nazir 47b) – hence the naming of the War Priest as the “Second High Priest.”

The first War Priest mentioned in the Old Testament was apparently Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron (Exodus 6:25), who personally executed an Israelite man and a Midianite woman for their immorality and so ended a plague sent to punish the Israelites for their sin in regard to prohibited relations with Midian (Numbers 25:1-9).  Phinehas served as War Priest according to the Talmud (Tractate Sotah 43a), as we see in Numbers 31:6:  “Moses sent them into battle, a thousand from each tribe, along with Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, who took with him articles from the sanctuary and the trumpets for signaling.” His role as War Priest is made even more explicit in the later Jewish commentary Midrash Rabbah which states of Elisheba the wife of Aaron (Exodus 6:23) that  “… her husband was High Priest, her two sons were both Deputy High Priests, Phinehas her grandson was a Priest Anointed for War.”

As an anointed priest, the War Priest was a type of “messiah” (anointed), and elsewhere in Midrash Rabbah the War Priest is called the “War Messiah.” In fact, the Midrash contains an interesting tradition that the “four craftsmen” of Zechariah 1:20 were to be equated with Elijah, the Messiah, Melchizedek, and the War Messiah (Midrash Rabbah - Song of Songs 2:8-13).   This is interesting because in the New Testament, Elijah and Melchizedek are both clearly linked to the Messiah, and the inclusion of the War Messiah in the same group leads us to consider that individual in terms of one of the messianic roles of Christ. 

For the most part, the New Testament stresses the priestly role of Christ as an atoning one parallel to the work of the Temple High Priest – as in the detailed analogy given in the Book of Hebrews (Hebrews 5, 7-10), of course.  But although it does not draw the comparison directly, the New Testament also shows Christ fulfilling a separate priestly role – more like that of the War Priest – at his return.  Usually we think of the Messiah’s return as being that of a king, which it is, of course, yet the language of the Book of Revelation:  “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war” (Revelation 19:11) is largely reflective of scriptures such as Isaiah 59:17 where:  “He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance, and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak” – in which the comparison is often not primarily one of kingship, but of judgment and war.

Ultimately, the concept of the War Priest and the symbolic linking of his role to the Messiah are post-biblical and speculative.  Yet some of the traditions seem to be ancient ones.  Judas Maccabaeus, who led the Jewish Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire (167–160 BCE), is said to have done what the War Priest was to do (1 Maccabees 3:56), and it is interesting that of all the priests, only the High Priest and the War Priest are said to have been personally anointed – and thus could be said to be parallels of the Anointed One, the promised Messiah.  

While every King, High Priest and “Priest Anointed for War" was individually anointed, according to Exodus the sons of Aaron, representing the whole group of regular priests, only received a semi-anointing or sprinkling (nazah) after the service of consecration (Exodus 29:21). This “sprinkling” was apparently not repeated and is said to have been for the group for posterity (Exodus 40:15 – where the forms of the word mashaḥ mean only that the priests received oil and do not confirm the manner in which it was applied).  Interestingly, this kind of situation was found in other nations of the ancient Near East and is seen in the Amarna Letters (51:4–9), where an individual proclaims his authority based on his grandfather's anointing.

But whether tradition is correct in claiming a distinct office for the “War Priest” or not,  it is clear that while the  Messiah fulfilled the role of the Temple High Priest at His first coming, at His second coming His preeminent role will be not one of atonement, but of war. In that sense, the second coming of the Messiah will certainly be parallel to the role understood to have been that of the priest called the “War Messiah,” the “Priest Anointed for War.”

R. Herbert (a pen name) holds a Ph.D. in biblical and ancient Near Eastern languages, archaeology, and culture.  He writes for a number of Christian venues as well as for his websites at LivingWithFaith.org and TacticalChristianity.org where you can find many of his other articles and free eBooks.

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