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Showing posts with label #Advent. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Advent. Show all posts

30 May 2019

Ascension: When Jesus got raptured.

Forty days after Easter, Jesus left. For now.

On Thursday, 15 May 33 (if we take Luke’s count of 40 days Ac 1.3 literally, and not as an estimate) this happened.

Acts 1.6-9 KWL
6 So when they came together, the apostles questioned Jesus:
“Master, is it at this time you’re restoring the Kingdom of Israel?”
7 Jesus told them, “It’s not for you to know times or timing.
That, the Father sets by his own free will.
8 But you’ll all get power: The Holy Spirit is coming upon you.
You’ll be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the world.”
9 Saying this as they watched him, Jesus was raptured.
A cloud concealed him from their eyes.

Christians call this Jesus’s ascension, and celebrate it 40 days after Easter—and 10 days before Pentecost Sunday. ’Cause it’s when Jesus went up, or ascended, into heaven, to stand in service or sit in judgment, at the Father’s right. Ac 2.33, 7.55-56

Various people who don’t believe Christians are getting raptured when Jesus returns love to point out the word “rapture” isn’t in the bible, but that’s only because their favorite translations don’t use it. Rapture simply means “lifted up,” and since ἐπήρθη/epírthi (KJV “he was taken up”) means the very same thing, there’s no reason to translate it otherwise. Jesus got raptured, and we’re getting raptured to join his forces when he returns.

’Cause what goes up must come down.

20 December 2018

Rachel weeping for her children.

When a Babylonian king killed the children of one town… and when an Edomite king killed the children of another.

Jeremiah 31.15-17.

A pet peeve of mine is by Noël Regney and Shayne Baker’s historically inaccurate Christmas song “Do You Hear What I Hear?” In it, when Jesus gets born, a night wind tells a little lamb of the nativity. The lamb tells a shepherd boy, who then tells a mighty king, who then tells the people everywhere. In real life, the mighty king responded a bit more like this:

Said the king to the soldiers at his gate:
“Massacre the toddlers!
Everyone below two years old:
Massacre the toddlers!
Slay all, slay all, leave my rivals dead
Put your spears through this child's head
Put your spears through this child's head

Not at all heartwarming, but that’s Herod bar Antipater for ya.

Matthew 2.16-18 KWL
16 Then Herod, seeing he was made a fool of by the Zoroastrians, was enraged.
Sending agents, he destroyed all the children in Bethlehem and the whole area around it,
from two years old and under, according to the time he exacted from the Zoroastrians.
17 Thus was the word of the prophet Jeremiah fulfilled, saying,
18 “A voice was heard in Ramáh: Weeping and great lament.
‘Rachel’ weeps for her children and doesn’t want comfort: They’re gone.” Jr 31.15

We don‘t find this massacre recorded anywhere but in Matthew, but Herod committed much greater atrocities, so the other histories focus more on those. In any event the bit I wish to zero in on today would be how Jesus fulfills Jeremiah’s word about “Rachel’ weeping for her children.

Christians incorrectly presume Jeremiah was prophesying about Jesus. Nope; not even close. It’s not what fulfillment means either: Matthew didn’t mean Jeremiah’s prophecy had come to pass by Herod slaughtering the children. Only that Jeremiah’s words describing a previous historical event, likewise describe this historical event. Arguably describe it better than they did the previous event. History repeated itself.

To the ancients, history repeating itself was a sign of order instead of chaos. A hint God is in control of history. Which is why Matthew and the other apostles fished through the Old Testament for examples of how Jesus’s situation was just like other situations in the bible. Coincidence? They thought not.

I know: Certain Christians are really fond of the idea Jeremiah foretold Jesus. And he did! But not with this passage. This passage is about Nabú-kudúrri-usúr 2 (KJV “Nebuchadnezzar”) demolishing Ramáh, a town in a whole other tribe.

17 December 2018

Not allowed to rot.

The apostles were pretty sure this one line in a psalm was fulfilled by Jesus.

Psalm 16.10.

Previously I referred to King David ben Jesse as “the prophet David.” Somebody actually tried to correct me for saying so. I remind you a prophet is someone who hears God and shares what he hears: By that metric David’s obviously a prophet. Considering all the Spirit-inspired psalms he wrote, David’s got more actual prophecy in the bible than Elijah and Elisha combined.

Jesus recognized David as a prophet, Lk 20.41-44 and taught his students to do likewise. Ac 2.30 This is why the apostles had no problem using David for proof texts when they taught about Jesus. One verse they particularly liked to use was David’s line, lo-tittén khacídkha li-reót šakhát/“You don’t give [over] your beloved to see rottenness.” Or in better English, “You don’t allow your beloved to rot.” Ps 16.10 Both Simon Peter and Paul of Tarsus quoted it in Acts—Peter in chapter 2, Paul in 13.

Acts 2.22-28 KWL
22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words! Jesus the Nazarene is a man endorsed by God to you
by power, wondrous things, and miracles which God did through him in your midst,
just as you know personally.
23 This Jesus, by the decided counsel and foreknowledge of God,
was given into lawless Roman hands, crucified, and killed.
24 But God raised Jesus up, loosing death’s pains.
For it’s impossible for Jesus to be held by death.
25 For David spoke of him: ‘I foresee the Master before me, throughout all.
Because he’s at my right hand, lest I might be shaken.
26 For this reason my heart rejoices and my tongue exults. Again: My flesh will dwell in hope,
27 because you won’t abandon my soul to the afterlife, nor allow your Righteous One to rot.
28 You make the road of life known to me. You’ll fill me with joy with your face.’ ” Ps 16.8-11
Acts 13.34-37 KWL
34 “Because God raised Jesus from the dead, no longer to go back to rotting,
he said this: ‘I’ll give you the righteous, faithful David.’ Is 55.3
35 Because David also said in another place,
‘You won’t allow your Righteous One to rot.’ “ Ps 16.10

When Jesus died, he was only dead two days before the Father raised him the third day. His corpse wasn’t in the sepulcher long enough for decay to happen. So Jesus’s situation sounds exactly like this line from David’s psalm. To the apostles and their listeners, Jesus absolutely fulfilled it. Better than David himself.

Acts 2.29-30 KWL
29 “Men—brothers—if I may boldly speak to you about the patriarch David:
He died, was entombed, and his monument is among us to this day.
30 Thus, as a prophet, knowing God swore an oath to him—
one from the fruit of David’s loins is to sit on his throne—
31 he who foresaw, spoke about Messiah’s resurrection:
He’s neither left behind in the afterlife, nor did his body rot.
32 God raised this Jesus. All us apostles are his witnesses.”
Acts 13.36-37 KWL
36 “After serving God’s will to his own generation, David ‘slept,’ was gathered to his ancestors,
and rotted— 37 and Jesus, whom God raised, didn’t rot.”

Now. Because your average Christian nowadays doesn’t understand how fulfillment works in the bible, they immediately assume David’s psalm is a specific prophecy about Jesus. It’s actually not, as you can tell when you actually read the psalm.

14 December 2018

The heir to David’s throne.

Yeah, the prophecy’s about Solomon. But Jesus fulfills quite a lot of it.

2 Samuel 7.1-17.

In the 11th century BC the tribes of Israel grew tired of being led by head priests and judges. The previous head priest, Eli, had let his corrupt sons run amok; the current judge, Samuel, likewise had easily-bribed sons unfit to assume their father’s job. Clearly there are some serious problems with hereditary leadership, but the Hebrews stupidly didn’t recognize this (and therefore request democratically elected leaders with fixed terms—not that we elect our best people either). The descendants of Israel demanded Samuel procure them a king. Nevermind the LORD God being their king; Is 33.22, 43.15 they wanted a human king, like all the other nations had. 1Sa 8.5 So Israel got a king.

Kings suck, and Israel’s first two kings were typical rubbish. Like most politicians, Saul preferred pleasing the crowds to following God. His son Ishbaal was really just his uncle’s puppet. But the third king, the prophet David, was a standout: He was far from perfect, but he was bananas for the LORD, tried to follow him wholeheartedly, and the LORD figured this was a king he could work with. Not for nothing does the rest of the Old Testament compare every single king with David.

David conquered the Jebusite town of Jerusalem and made it his capital. He built himself a nice cedar palace in it. (Bit of a status symbol in a land where most houses were made of brick or stone.) Then one day he got to musing:

2 Samuel 7.1-3 KWL
1 This happened when King David sat in his house,
at a time the LORD gave him rest from all his enemies around.
2 King David told the prophet Nathan, “Please look: I sit in a cedar house.
And yet the God-box sits in the middle of sheets.”
3 Nathan told King David, “Whatever’s in your mind, go and do!—for the LORD’s with you.”

The arún ha-Elohím/“box of God,” which we more often call the Ark of the Covenant, was the gold box which contained the Ten Commandments, among other artifacts, representing the LORD’s formal relationship with Israel. He instructed Moses how to build the tent to keep it in, and the head priests had kept it in this tent ever since. And David felt it weird that he got a house, but the God-box got a tent. Shouldn’t it be the other way round? It’s just common sense.

But that night the LORD set Nathan straight: He never asked for a house.

2 Samuel 7.4-7 KWL
4 But this happened that night: The LORD’s word came to Nathan to say,
5 “Go tell my slave David the LORD says this:
You? You build a house for me to sit in?
6 From the day I brought Israel’s descendants from Egypt to this very day,
I’ve not sat in a house; I walk. In tent, in tabernacle.
7 In everywhere I walked with all Israel’s descendants, did I speak a word to one of Israel’s tribes?
When I instructed my people Israel’s pastor, did I say, ‘Why don’t you build me a cedar house?’ ”

See, that’s the downside of temples. Church buildings too. We too often think of them as our God-boxes. That’s where God is… and that’s where God stays. But I’m not discussing the validity of temples today; there’s a declaration the LORD makes in this prophecy which Christians love to apply to Jesus. It’s right here:

2 Samuel 7.8-17 KWL
8 “Now, tell my slave David the LORD of War says this:
I myself took you from the ranch, from following the flock, to become ruler over my people Israel.
9 I’m with you everywhere you go. I cut off all your enemies before your face.
I make you a name as great as the greatest names who live in the land.
10 I set a place for my people Israel, and plant a tabernacle under them.
They aren’t disturbed further. Iniquity’s children humiliate them, as they did at first, no more.
11 Like the days I commissioned judges over my people Israel,
I give you rest from all your enemies.
Now the LORD tells you he, the LORD, makes you that house.
12 When your days are complete and you rest with your ancestors,
I raise your seed after you, one who comes forth from your innards.
I establish his kingdom.
13 He builds a house for my name.
I establish the throne of his kingdom for eons.
14 I become a father to him, and he becomes a son to me.
When he commits evil, I correct him with mortal canes, with Adam’s descendants’ whips.
15 My love isn’t taken from him,
like I took it from Saul, whom I removed from your face.
16 Your house and kingdom are guaranteed, before your face, for eons.
Your throne becomes established for eons.”
17 Nathan spoke all these words, all this vision, to David.

Now. This is obviously a prophecy about Solomon, the son of David who built the first temple of YHWH in Jerusalem, who hadn’t been born yet. It also applies to David and Solomon’s descendants: The rest of the house of David, which ruled Jerusalem till the Babylonians invaded—and briefly ruled Jerusalem again when the Persians made David’s direct descendant Zerubbabel governor of Jerusalem.

But by Jesus’s day, David’s house wasn’t in charge anymore. The Maccabees, a family of head priests, stepped into the power vacuum after they overthrew the Seleucids; they evolved into the Hasmoneans; then Herod overthrew them; then the Caesars overthrew the Herods. The Davids hadn’t been in charge for centuries. But according to Nathan’s prophecy, the Davids would be in charge ad-olám/“for time,” which most folks interpret as “for all time,” i.e. forever. So… if God promised David the throne forever, at some point one of the house of David had to retake the throne, right?

And as both Jesus’s genealogies clearly state, Jesus is from the house of David. The gospel of Matthew even begins,

Matthew 1.1 KJV
The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

God made sure his Son had a biological claim to the throne. And since Jesus literally rules forever, in so doing, David’s house also literally rules forever. Looks like the LORD wasn’t just being hyperbolic.

12 December 2018

Is there a prophecy of Jesus’s hometown?

Not really.

Matthew 2.23.

From the third century BC onward, Judeans began to move to the land where northern Israel’s tribes used to live before the Assyrians deported them. Namely in the galíl/“circle” of northern gentile cities—or as 1 Maccabees called it, “the Galilee of the gentiles.” 1Mc 5.15 They wanted to reclaim that land for Israel.

Nazareth was one of the towns they founded. So are all the other towns whose names you don’t find in the Old Testament. Likely Joseph and Mary’s grandparents were among the first settlers of that village. It wasn’t that old a settlement. Didn’t exist in Old Testament times. Wasn’t a town any prophet could point to, and say “That’s where Messiah is gonna grow up.” Though Micah did identify Messiah’s birthplace.

However, Christians are pretty sure one of the prophets did identify Jesus’s hometown, ’cause it says so in the bible!

Matthew 2.22-23 KWL
22 Hearing Archelaus Herod was made Judea’s king after his father Antipater Herod, Joseph feared to go there.
After negotiating in a dream, he went back to a part of the Galilee.
23 Joseph came to settle in a city called Nazareth.
This may fulfill the saying through the prophet: “He’ll be called ‘Nazarene.’ ”

And that is how Jesus became Jesus the Nazarene: His parents moved back to Nazareth and raised him there, far away from the murderous Herods. (Well, till Antipas Herod got made king of the Galilee, but that’s not for another year or so.)

Okay, so the prophet declared Jesus “will be called ‘Nazarene’ ” Great! Which prophet?

Here’s where Christians get stymied. This is not a quote of any bible verse we know about. Certain bibles like to put the addresses of Old Testament quotes in the footnotes, but you’ll notice many bibles don’t even bother. ’Cause it’s not found in the scriptures. At all. Not even in the books the Orthodox and Catholics include in their Old Testaments. It’s nowhere.

Some Christians are gonna insist it is so in the bible—it’s gotta be!—and stretch various Old Testament verses like crazy in order to make them fit. Probably the most popular stretch is to point to when the prophets talked about Messiah being an offshoot (KJV “branch”). This, they claim, really meant Nazareth—because nechér/“offshoot” sounds a little like Nadzarét/“Nazareth.” Some of ’em claim “offshoot” is what the town’s name means in the first place: As a Judean settlement, it’s meant to be an offshoot of that province.

The verse they like to point to most is in Isaiah, where it speaks of Messiah, the offshoot/descendant of Jesse ben Ovéd, father of the great King David.

Isaiah 11.1-5 KWL
1 A sprout goes out from Jesse’s stem; an offshoot of his roots produces fruit.
2 The LORD’s Spirit rests on him, a Spirit of wisdom and knowledge,
a Spirit of firmness and strength, a Spirit of cleverness and respect for the LORD.
3 He enlarges people’s respect for the LORD.
He doesn’t judge by how his eyes see them, or correct by how his ears hear them.
4 He righteously judges the poor. He plainly corrects the land’s meek.
He smites the land with his mouth’s scepter. He kills the wicked with his lips’ breath.
5 Rightness belts his waist. Steadiness belts his loins.

This prophecy can of course describe David himself… but seeing as Isaiah lived four centuries later, it’s not David. Nor the king of Jerusalem at the time, Hezekiah ben Ahaz. It’s a future king, a future messiah; it’s Jesus of course.

But as I said, it takes a really big stretch of vocabulary to claim this reference to a nechér means Messiah is gonna be called a Nazarene. Not that Christians don’t try to stretch it just that far.

10 December 2018

“Out of Egypt I called my Son.”

The Lord called Israel out of Egypt… and 15 centuries later, called Jesus out of Egypt too.

Hosea 11.1.

When we fulfill scripture, we’re doing as it says. When Jesus says “Love one another,” Jn 13.34 and we do it, we’re fulfilling it.

I know: When people usually talk about fulfillment, we assume it means someone’s doing as predicted. When Jesus fulfilled the scriptures, we assume this means the scriptures prophesied specifically about Jesus, and Jesus did as the prophesies foretold. Sometimes that’s absolutely true. But sometimes it’s really not, and this confuses Christians all the time.

Confused me too, when I was a kid and first learned about taking the scriptures in context. Because I actually read the Old Testament, and read those passages in context… and wondered, “How on earth is that a prophecy about Jesus?” Well, turns out it wasn’t. The author wasn’t writing about Jesus at all. Nor was the Holy Spirit secretly dropping clues about stuff Jesus would eventually do.

Yet Jesus did fulfill these scriptures. Because he did as the scriptures say. True, the scriptures weren’t saying it about him. Yet Jesus did those things too—and in a greater way than the original situation. A fully-filled way, if you wanna be corny about it: A fulfilled way.

Or in some cases a less full way. Take this passage from Hosea, which is about the LORD’s difficult relationship with rebellious Israel.

Hosea 11.1-8 KWL
1 “For I love Israel. I called my son from Egypt.
2 But the Baals called to them, so they turned their faces from me.
They sacrificed to Baals and burned incense to idols.
3 I taught Efraim to walk—and he took hold of the Baals’ arms.
The Ephraimites don’t even know I cured them!
4 I dragged them from their slave chains with ropes of love.
To them I became like those who take the bit from their mouths, loose them, and feed them.
5 Israel won’t return to Egypt’s territory: Assyria is the king of those who refuse to repent.
6 Assyria’s sword wounds Israel’s cities, destroys his limbs, and eats up his plans.
7 My people insist on quitting me. They call upon the One God, but I can’t exalt them.
8 How can I give to you, Efraim? Can I reward you, Israel?
Must I give you what I did Admah? Must I place you where I placed the Chevohites?
My heart is overthrown within me: My compassion is all hot.”

The LORD freed Israel, whom here he calls “my son,” Ho 11.1 and freed him from Egypt and raised him… and Israel/Ephraim instead worshiped the nasty Baals and shattered their relationship with God into pieces. Much of Hosea is about this very topic, although sometimes it compares Israel to an adulterous wife, and here to a rebellious son.

And yet Matthew decided to quote Hosea in speaking of the LORD’s absolutely-not-rebellious-at-all Son:

Matthew 2.13-15 KWL
13 As the Zoroastrians returned, look: The Lord’s angel appeared to Joseph in a dream,
saying, “Get up. Take the child and his mother. Go to Egypt. Be there as long as I tell you.
Herod is about to look for the child, to destroy him.“
14 Getting up, Joseph took the child and his mother that night,
and escaped to Egypt, 15 and was there till Herod’s death.
Thus might the Lord’s word through his prophet be fulfilled,
saying, “I called my son out of Egypt.” Ho 11.1

Um… when the LORD said that bit in Hosea, he wasn’t talking about Jesus. It says right there in verse 1, “When Israel was a child…” Not Jesus; Israel. Not the good son who never, ever rebelled against his Father; the nation which arguably did nothing but rebel.

So is Matthew quoting Hosea out of context? Nah. Because Jesus didn’t accomplish the prophecy; he only fulfilled it. He did the same thing. He was in Egypt, same as Israel was once in Egypt, though as a political refugee not a slave. And at the right time, Jesus’s heavenly Father had Jesus’s adoptive father take their Son back to the promised land.

07 December 2018

The star coming out of Jacob.

Christians list it among the verses predicting Jesus. It really doesn’t.

Numbers 24.17.

The Hebrews of the Exodus weren’t the only Hebrews in the middle east. There were other Hebrew nations, who probably spoke Hebrew same as the descendants of Israel whom Moses led. Namely:

  • The ISHMAELITES, descended from Abraham’s oldest son Ishmael.
  • The MIDIANITES, descended from Abraham’s sixth son Midian. (What, you didn’t know Abraham had more sons than just Isaac and Ishmael? Ge 25.1-2 Lots of people don’t. See what happens when you skip parts of the bible?)
  • The MOABITES and AMMONITES, descended from Abraham’s nephew Lot.
  • The EDOMITES, descended from Israel’s brother Esau.
  • Plus Abraham’s son fourth son Yoqšan is the grandfather of “Ašurím and Letuším and Lehummím,” Ge 25.3 names which have a plural -im ending, which therefore means they’re not individuals but tribes.

Israel’s family went to Egypt to dodge a famine, but Ishmael, Lot, Esau, Midian, and Yoqšan’s families had stayed in the area and become their own nations. Over time some of those nations assimilated with Israel and became today’s Jews; the rest became today’s Arabs.

I bring them up ’cause Moab’s king, Baláq ben Chippór, was terrified the Israelis might ruin his nation. So he hired a mercenary prophet named Balám ben Beór to curse them, because word had it Balám’s blessings and curses stuck. But Balám wouldn’t curse Israel, ’cause the LORD got to him first and ordered him not to. Instead all Balám prophesied were blessings. Like this one.

Numbers 24.15-19 KWL
15 Balám lifted up this declaration and said, “The whisper of Balám, Beor’s son.
The whisper of the noble whose eyes are open.
16 The whisper of the hearer of God’s words, who knows the Highest’s plans,
sees the Almighty’s vision, falling in a trance with eyes uncovered.
17 I’m not seeing him just now; I’m not beholding him near just now:
A star proceeds from Jacob. A scepter rises from Israel.
It shatters Moab’s sides. It tears down all Šet’s children.
18 Edom becomes occupied. Seir is occupied by its enemies. Israel does mightily well.
19 One from Jacob reigns, and destroys the city’s survivors.”

Sounds more like a curse on Moab/Šet and Edom/Seir. (Those are different names for the same nations, just like Jacob/Israel.)

Through Balám, the LORD was clearly telling Baláq his nightmare would come true: Israel would eventually smite them. And smite Edom.

The star and scepter Balám spoke of are the ancient symbols (and still the present-day symbols) of a king. But bear in mind Israel had no king. The closest thing they had to a king was a head priest—and a thousand years later the head priests did become kings, but that’s leapfrogging a few centuries of the first monarchy—namely Saul, David and his descendants, and Jeroboam and the various Ephraimite dynasties. Saul’s kingdom was three centuries away, and till then Israel was randomly led by prophets, priests, and libertarian anarchy. No sign of any star and scepter for a long time.

So yeah, it’s a prophecy of a future king of Israel. Which, to be honest, isn’t that miraculous a thing to foretell. Nations need leadership, and in those pre-democracy days it meant one guy would find a reason to declare himself king, eliminate his competition, rule, and leave his throne to a competent son… or an incompetent one who’d quickly be overthrown. Predicting a king was sorta commonsense.

The miraculous part was stating this king would smite Edom and Moab, and win. Which David eventually did, 300 years later. Hence this is considered a messianic prophecy, ’cause David was God’s mašiakh/“messiah,” his anointed king.

And if it’s about one messiah, Christians tend to figure it’s also a prophecy about our Messiah, Jesus the Nazarene.

05 December 2018

The prophet like Moses.

Yeah, Moses meant any prophet. But this passage especially applies to Jesus.

Deuteronomy 18.15-19.

In the 15th century BC, God saved the Hebrews.

Their ancestors had moved to Egypt to ride out a famine, and settled in a land called Goshen. (Which we nowadays call the Sinai Peninsula, even though Sinai’s actually on the other side of the Dead Sea, in Arabia. Ga 4.25 If the maps in your bible say otherwise, the mapmakers oughta actually read their bibles.) But some years later the Egyptians decided to press the Hebrews into slavery, and that was their situation when Moses was born… and 80 years later when the LORD sent Moses to lead ’em out of slavery. Ten plagues later, Moses led the Hebrews across the Dead Sea into Arabia, and the LORD drowned the Egyptian army behind them. And that is what Jews today celebrate every Passover.

Moses tried to lead the Hebrews to a land the LORD originally promised to Abraham; they called it Canaan, Israelis call it Israel, Palestinians call it Palestine, and we call it whatever the folks we side with most call it. The Hebrews balked, so the LORD had that generation die off in Arabia. Forty years later, a dying 120-year-old Moses addressed the next generation who was now ready to invade Canaan, and reminded them what the LORD had taught their people in the Arabian desert. We call that address Deuteronomy, from the Greek for “second Law.”

In Deuteronomy Moses told the Hebrews to follow the LORD—who, contrary to popular pagan belief, does not speak through “signs” or fortune-telling or astrology. He speaks through prophets. Like Moses.

Deuteronomy 18.9-22 KWL
9 “When you enter the land which your LORD God gives you,
don’t even try to learn to do the revolting things these nations do.
10 Like one who passes their son or daughter through fire:
Such a person mustn’t be found among you!
Nor anyone ‘reading the cards,’ anyone ‘reading the stars,’ augury, spells,
11 good-luck charms, consulting the spirits, talking to the dead.
12 For anyone doing these things is revolting to the LORD.
These revulsions are why your LORD God is driving them away from your faces.
13 You must become flawless with your LORD God.
14 For these nations you drive out: They listen to those ‘reading the stars’ and ‘reading the cards.’
As for you, your LORD God doesn’t allow you to do so.
15 Your LORD God raises up for you, from within you, from your family, a prophet.
You must listen to them!
16 It’s like you asked of your LORD God at Khorév, on the assembly day,
saying, ‘I don’t want to hear my LORD God’s voice any more!
I don’t want to see this great fire any further! I don’t want to die!’
17 The LORD told me, ‘What they say is fine.
18 I’m raising up prophets for them, from among their family, like you.
I put my words in their mouth. They speak to the people everything I command them.
19 When anyone won’t listen to my words, which my prophet speaks in my name,
I myself demand accountability from them.
20 However, the prophet who presumes to speak in my name
what I’ve not ordered them to speak, or what was spoken in the name of other gods:
This prophet dies.
21 When you say in your heart, “How do we identify a word not spoken by the LORD?”:
22 When the prophet speaks in the LORD’s name, and it’s not my word:
It’s not something the LORD’s spoken; it won’t come to anything.
The prophet spoke it in pride. Don’t fear them.’ ”

Yeah, you probably know Jews and Christians who dabble in astrology, fortune-telling, good-luck charms, spiritualists, spells, and all that crap anyway. They shouldn’t be. God doesn’t talk through any of that. He uses prophets. Prophets wrote bible, so he uses bible. And that’s it. He doesn’t need to communicate any other way.

03 December 2018

The TXAB Advent Calendar.

When the Christmas season well and truly begins.

The word advent comes from the Latin advenire/“come to [someplace].” Who’s coming to someplace? Jesus. Coming to earth. Either the first time around, around the year 7 BC, which is what we celebrate with Christmas; or the second time around, in the future, to take possession of his kingdom.

Four Sundays before Christmas is Advent Sunday—the start of the advent season, the Christmas season, and the Christian year. And if you’re counting down from today, the text below will update automatically, through the power of Javascript. Here are the number of days till (or of) Christmas:

Javascript isn’t working this Christmas!

Many Evangelicals only know about advent from commercial advent calendars, which count down from 1 December instead of the ever-changing date of Advent Sunday. Each “day” on these calendars usually contain a treat; I prefer chocolate, and I know a growing number of alcoholics others who prefer wine. Manufacturers don’t wanna keep changing the product every year, so you’re kinda stuck with 25-day advent calendars, even though some years there are 28 days in advent. Plus 28 treats!—so we’re getting shafted. But that’s what happens when we let Mammonists determine the Christmas season.

Of course, commercializing the tradition is an irritating way to remember it, ’cause the point of advent is to be the antidote for rampant materialism. We’re to focus on Jesus. Not social custom. Not gift-giving. Not all the stuff we’re expected to do every single year. Jesus. We claim he’s the reason for the season; now it’s time to take that saying seriously, instead of using it as an excuse to browbeat clerks into telling us “Merry Christmas” like we prefer.

Part of getting ready for Jesus’s second advent is to stop being this sort of argumentative, frenzied, self-focused consumers, and start behaving like he’s coming back. ’Cause he is. Maybe not for the whole world just yet; he’s still trying to save everybody. But at some point you’re gonna die. (As will I. As will everyone.) So he’s coming for you personally. Are you ready?

Luke 12.35-48 KWL
35 “Be people whose toolbelts are on, whose lamps are burning.
36 You should be like people waiting for their own master when he returns from weddings:
He arrives, knocks, and they can quickly unlock the door for him.
37 These slaves are awesome. The returning master will find them alert.
Amen, I promise you the master will put on a towel and have them recline to eat,
and he’ll come in to serve them.
38 Even at the second hour after sunrise, even at the third, he can come and find them ready.
These slaves are awesome.
39 (You should know: If the homeowner knew what time the burglar came,
he’d never permit him to break into his house.)
40 You be ready: The Son of Man comes at the time you don’t expect.”
41 Simon Peter said, “Master, are you saying this parable for us or for everyone?”
42 Master Jesus said, It’s to whoever’s a faithful, wise butler.
The master puts the butler over his waiters, giving them their trays at the right times.
43 This slave is awesome when the master, coming to the butler, will find them doing this job.
44 I tell you the truth: The master will put the butler in charge of everything.
45 But when this slave says in their mind, ‘My master delays in coming,’
and might start beating the boys and girls, or eating, drinking, and getting drunk,
46 that slave’s master will come on a day they don’t expect, at a time they don’t know,
and will cut them down to size, and assign them a position with the unreliable slaves.
47 That slave who knew their master’s will, and didn’t prepare, nor do his will: They’ll get skinned.
48 The one who didn’t know, who did what deserved a smack: They’ll get skinned a little.
To everyone who’s given much, much is sought from them.
To those with much set before them, more will be asked back.”

Do you know what our master expects of you? ’Cause he’s coming when we won’t expect.

22 December 2017

Set your hearts for Jesus’s return.

Before Jesus returns, there’s a whole lot of lawbreaking.

Different scholars have different ways they wanna interpret the Greek word parusía/“[second] coming.” Most of the time “appearance” or “coming” or “return.” When used to describe what Jesus is up to, it has more of a sense of “arrival,” or even “invasion.” Certain gutless commentators leave it untranslated, and just refer to Jesus’s parousia, as if it’s too difficult a concept to convert into English. Rubbish: The popular idea of “second coming” works just fine to describe it, 1Th 3.13 so that’s how I translate it.

Today I wanna point to Jesus’s brother James, and how he referred to it:

James 5.7-8 KWL
7 So be patient, fellow Christians, till the Master’s second coming.
Look, the farmer awaits the land’s precious fruit,
patient about it till they can get early- and late-season rain.
8 Be patient yourselves as well. Strengthen your minds:
The Master’s second coming has come near.

So. Ever since Jesus’s rapture, Christians have expected him to return at any time. True, he’s taking a mighty long time, but as I regularly point out, he’s trying to save everyone he can, and may put it off a great deal longer. Regardless, he’s one day coming for you individually. And me. And everyone else on the planet. Everybody dies, and we don’t always know when. So be ready.

James used the analogy of a farmer who looked forward to his crops. And yeah, at the time James wrote this, a few things had to happen before Jesus returned. In the analogy, the farmer had to wait through early- and late-season rains. Most Christians accept the idea the “early-season rain” has already happened in some form. Not all of us are agreed the “late-season rain” has happened yet. I figure they have; others insist it’s part of a future End Times timeline.

But either way, Jesus is taking his time about returning. And either way, we need to be patient. Which is a serious struggle for those Christians who want him to return today, and wrest our governments away from the fools and opportunists who currently have the reins. Much easier to have Jesus fix everything, than clean up our own messes. (And some of us are hoping Jesus does so with a whole lot of bloodshed; and yes, that’s seriously f---ed up of them. They need to get saved.) The End takes place on Jesus’s timetable, and not our timelines. If we gotta wait, we gotta wait. Still, let’s be ready.

18 December 2017

Apostasy before the second coming.

Before Jesus returns, there’s a whole lot of lawbreaking.

Before Jesus returns, bad stuff was predicted to happen. Both by Jesus, who described some of the events 40 years hence when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem; and here by Paul, Silas, and Timothy when they reminded the people of Thessaloniki that there’d first be a time of apostasy.

2 Thessalonians 2.1-12 KWL
1 We should ask you, fellow Christians, about the second coming of our Master, Christ Jesus,
and how we’ll be gathered together with him.
2 It’s so your minds won’t be shaken up, nor go into a panic,
whenever some spirit, message, or letter (like those from us) claims the Lord’s Day has come.
3 Don’t let anyone trick you in any way: Nothing happens till the apostasy comes first,
till the lawbreaking person, the child of destruction, is revealed—
4 the antagonist, the one exalting himself over everything called “god” and “worshipful,”
so much so he sits in God’s temple and claims he’s a god himself.
5 Don’t you remember the things I told you when I was still with you?
6 Now, you know who holds him back so he can be revealed in his own time:
7 The secret of the lawbreaker is already working—
but only till the one holding him back can come out of the way.
8 Then the lawbreaker will be revealed—whom Master Jesus will take out with his mouth’s breath.
He’ll abolish the lawbreaker at the manifestation of his second coming:
9 This is the coming against Satan’s works in every power, “miracle,” and fake wonder;
10 in every unrighteous trick towards those destroying themselves.
For fake miracles don’t accept the love of truth in their salvation.
11 Through it, God sends them off with their belief in fakes, in powerful error.
12 Thus everyone can be judged who didn’t trust truth, but were pleased with wrongness.

Popular Christian culture tends to call this “lawbreaking person” the Antichrist (with a capital A, as opposed to any old antichrist who just doesn’t like Christ or Christianity), and figure he’s the same as the beast of Revelation 13. There are also a bunch of wacky myths about how evil he’ll be and what he’ll do, but I won’t go into them today. Suffice to say he’s basically Bizarro Jesus: Like Bizarro Superman, who’s like Superman on Opposite Day, Antichrist supposedly does everything Christ does, but for evil and twisted reasons.

But Christians are actually disagreed as to whether such an Antichrist still needs to show up first. After all, it’s been 20 centuries since the apostles wrote to the Thessalonians, and many antichrists, many lawbreakers, have come and gone… and fulfilled this prediction many, many times already. And if this is the case, nothing more needs to happen before Jesus returns.

Still, some Christians really have their hearts set on this Bizarro Jesus version of the beast, and are anxiously awaiting him far more than they’re hopefully awaiting Jesus.

15 December 2017

No, seriously: When’s Jesus returning? He’s taking forever!

Because even in the first century, people grew tired of waiting.

2 Peter 3.1-9

I’ve been writing about the scriptures on Jesus’s second advent, or second coming. And of course I had to point out we don’t know when that’ll be. The events which were meant to come before his return, happened. There’s nothing left to hinder it—so it can happen at any time.

This being the case, people want that day to be today. Right now. ’Cause they’re suffering, or ’cause current events are awful, or ’cause they’re in a hurry to live under Jesus’s direct rule. Either way, come Lord Jesus! But he hasn’t yet.

And sometimes people give up hope of him ever returning. Which was the mindset Simon Peter had to deal with in his second letter.

2 Peter 3.1-4 KWL
1 Now this, beloved: I wrote you a second letter in which I awaken you to a purely-thought reminder—
2 to remember the words the holy prophets and your apostles foretold,
commands of our Master and Savior.
3 Know this first: In the last days, mockers will come to mock,
following however their own desires are going, 4 saying,
“How’s the promise of his second coming meant to work?—since the church fathers died over it,
same as everyone continues to die from the beginning of creation.”

See, the expectation of the first Christians was—same as now—that Jesus could return at any time. During their lifetimes, they expected. They hoped. They waited. If anyone’d told them Jesus still wouldn’t return for more than 20 centuries, I doubt they’d believe it. (Of course, if you spoke to them now, from their vantage point in paradise I’m pretty sure they have a better idea of what Jesus is up to.)

But you know how impatient humans can get. Even in the first century, they were taking crap from those naysayers who were wondering just how much time Jesus needed to put together his heavenly invasion. After all, the first generation of Christians were dying off. And didn’t Jesus say they’d live to see his return? Mk 13.30, Mt 24.34, Lk 21.32 (Not really. But you know how people will take any hint and just go nuts with it. Jn 21.22-23)

So part of the reason Simon wrote 2 Peter was to remind his readers of their original conviction. 2Pe 3.1 Either you trust what the prophets and apostles taught you, or you don’t. And they did warn us about naysayers, who follow their own urges instead of God’s messengers, 2Pe 3.3 who spin the second coming till it suits them better. Sometimes by imagining Jesus never will come; that instead we all die and go to him. Sometimes by creating intricate seven-year tribulational scenarios. However they work.

08 December 2017

When is Jesus returning?

He doesn’t say. Not that this stops us from guessing.

Jesus is returning. But when?

That’s the question every Christian asks, whether it’s in the front of the back of our minds. When’s Jesus coming back? Sooner rather than later, we hope—though considering the past 20 centuries, he’s taking an awfully long time to get round to it.

What did Jesus himself have to say about it? Well, this. You’re not gonna like it.

Mark 13.32-37 KWL
32 Nobody’s known about that day or the hour.
Neither the heavenly angels, nor the Son. Just the Father.
33 Look. Stay awake. You don’t know when it’s time.
34 It’s like a person abroad, who left his home.
He empowered his employees to do their jobs—and he ordered the doorman so he’d stay awake.
35 So stay awake! You don’t know when the master of the house returns.
Evening? Midnight? Sunrise? Morning? 36 When he suddenly arrives, don’t let him find you asleep.
37 What I tell you, I tell everyone: Stay awake!”

In short: “I dunno. And even if I knew, I’m not telling. You just need to be continually ready for it. On your toes. No slacking. Alert. Stay awake!”

Well, some of us can handle that command. Others really can’t. It’s why they’re running round like Chicken Little: “The sky’s falling! The End is near!” Everything they see in the news—contrary to Jesus’s instructions that these sorts of things will happen, but it doesn’t make it the End yet Mk 13.7-8 —is nonetheless treated as if it fulfills End Times prophecy. “Prophecy scholars” have us all wound up fearing all sorts of boogeymen which, no fooling, aren’t even in the bible. Aren’t even hinted about in the bible—they have way more to do with the prophecy scholars’ loopy politics than scripture. It’s all dark Christianity and irrational panic. Stuff that’s far more devilish than godly.

On the other extreme, there are the Christians who are pretty sure Jesus is never coming back. ’Cause it’s been 1,984 years since he ascended to heaven, and assuming a conservative 30 years per generation, that’s 66 generations ago. (And don’t go reading anything into that number, wouldya? Yeesh.) Since Jesus doesn’t appear to be in any rush to return, patiently waiting for as many to be saved as possible, 2Pe 3.9 he might take another 66 generations to finish the job. If ever.

Yeah, I don’t think it’s wise to adopt either extreme. Jesus fully intends to come back. If he’s not returning for the world for another generation or two, bear in mind he’s totally coming for you personally. You’re gonna die someday. So will I. So will everyone. We don’t know when that will be. “Stay awake” is as good advice for our personal day of reckoning, as it is for the world’s.

06 December 2017

The Son of Man’s returning. And everyone will see it.

It’s gonna be really obvious he’s come back.

When Jesus returns, it’s not gonna be a secret second coming. It’s not gonna be an event which only takes place metaphorically, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim; where they believe God’s kingdom began in 1914 but Jesus isn’t coming to earth till the final battle.

It’s not gonna be a secret gnostic event, which only the chosen few know about. It’s not gonna be a secret rapture, where the Christians vanish and go to be with Jesus, and the rest of the planet has to wait seven years. It’s not secret. It’s nice and visible and obvious. As Jesus himself describes.

Matthew 24.23-28 KWL
23 “Then when anyone might tell you, ‘Look! Here’s Messiah!’ or ‘He’s here!’ don’t believe it:
24 Fake messiahs and fake prophets will arise, and will give great signs and wonders to deceive you.
If possible, to deceive God’s chosen people too.
25 Look, I’m forewarning you 26 so when people tell you, ‘Look, he’s in the wilderness!’ you don’t go out;
‘Look, he’s in the inner room!’ you don’t believe it.
27 For just as lightning comes from the east and appears in the west,
so will be the Son of Man’s second coming.
28 Wherever a corpse may be, there one will find eagles.”

That last line tends to confuse people—“Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather” is how the NIV puts it. Certain dark Christians like to claim it implies judgment—that when Jesus returns, he’ll kill all the sinners, and carrion birds will feast on their flesh. Rv 19.8 ’Cause they take Revelation literally, but that’s not how to appropriately interpret it.

It’s not a judgment. It’s an epigram. “Where there’s a corpse, there’s eagles” is like saying, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” or “If it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.” If it obviously looks like Jesus has returned, that’s what happened. But if there’s anything iffy, or secretive, or “spiritual” about it—if it looks like nothing, but only “the chosen few” know about it—it’s a con. It is nothing.

When you read the Left Behind novels, or watch any of the movies where all the world’s Christians mysteriously vanish, you notice there are always pagans who argue, “We don’t know what that was,” and deny the disappearances had anything to do with Jesus. After all, Jesus didn’t appear! And if all the Christians in a given town vanish overnight, shouldn’t you suspect foul play? Doesn’t this secret-rapture idea make it disturbingly easy for anti-Christians to wipe us out and blame it on Jesus?

Thing is, it’s not at all how the scriptures describe the actual second coming of the Son of Man. Not Jesus, nor his apostles. It’ll be so obvious, everyone will see it, and know precisely what’s happening. Whether they believe their own eyes or not.

04 December 2017

Jesus describes his second coming.

The first hint we get that he’s bodily coming to earth more than once.

The first hint we have that Jesus is arranging a second coming—that he’s not taking possession of his kingdom during his first coming—appears in the Olivet Discourse, the bit in Mark 13, Matthew 24-25, and Luke 21, where Jesus answered his students’ question about a future disaster he’d just casually referred to. Mk 13.1-2, Mt 24.1-2, Lk 21.5-6

In each gospel’s version of the discourse, Jesus brought up the persecution of his followers, a particular time of great suffering which’d take place in Jerusalem, and fake Messiahs and prophets who’d try to lead them astray. But afterwards, this:

Mark 13.24-27 KWL
24 “But in those days after that suffering:
‘The sun will be darkened and the moon won’t give its light.’ Ek 32.7
25 The stars will be falling from the skies; the heavenly powers will be shaken.
26 Then people will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ Da 7.13 with great power and glory.
27 Then he’ll send angels, and gather together his chosen ones from the four winds,
from the earth’s edge to heaven’s edge.”

Where’s Jesus during this suffering and persecution? Apparently not here. Which meant he was gonna leave. Which is not what his students were expecting. Even though he repeatedly told ’em they were going to Jerusalem where he’d be killed, Mk 8.31-32, 9.31, 10.33 they expected they were going to Jerusalem for him to conquer it. Even after he was raised, they expected him to take it over at that time! Ac 1.6 Fond beliefs are awfully hard to give up.

I don’t blame ’em for wanting Jesus to take over Jerusalem immediately. I want him to do that too. But first things first. First the period of suffering, like the bit where Jerusalem fell to the Romans, who performed horrible atrocities on its inhabitants in the year 70. Then the persecution of Jesus’s followers, which—despite large breaks, and powerful sanctuary nations like the United States—continue to this very day, in the millions, far more than there have ever been. And of course fake Messiahs and prophets, which we have in the States as well, ’cause comfortable Christians are way easier to lead astray than those who depend on God minute by minute.

The conditions are right for Jesus to return at any instant. The sooner the better. Come Lord Jesus!

04 January 2017

It’s 4 January. It’s still Christmas. And this fact annoys you.

All the way back in 2016, my church decided it was time to begin our 21-day Daniel fast on the first Sunday of the month. Specifically this was Sunday, 3 January 2016. Welcome back from the holidays, folks; no doughnut for you.

“Really not appropriate to schedule a fast for a feast day,” I pointed out to one of my fellow church attendees.

SHE. “Feast day? This is a feast day?”
ME. “It’s still Christmas.”
SHE. “Christmas was two Fridays ago.”
ME. “Christmas began two Fridays ago. And ends tomorrow. It lasts 12 days, remember?
SHE.What lasts 12 days?”
ME. “Christmas. Remember the song? ‘On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…’ and each day the singer just kept getting more and more birds? ’Cause Christmas has 12 days.”
SHE. “Who celebrates it for 12 days?”
ME.I celebrate it for 12 days. I’m still eating cookies.”
SHE. “Well, you can do that if you like. I took the tree down the day after Christmas.”
ME. “You mean the second day of Christmas.”
SHE. [irritated scoff]

Tell many a Christian that today’s the 11th day of Christmas, and that’s the response you’ll get from them. The irritated scoff. Christmas ended last month. And good riddance. They were so done with the holiday once Christmas dinner was over. And if they weren’t, the hassle of returning Christmas gifts did it for ’em.

Like I said back in my advent article, a lot of people have adopted the mindset our popular culture foists upon ’em. To them, the Christmas season begins on Black Friday, ends 25 December, and the rest is just aftermath and cleanup. Put the decorations away as soon as possible, ’cause it’s time to concentrate on the new year. And the stores are already selling Valentine’s Day items. (“Already? Are you kidding me?”)

But if you’ve burnt out on Christmas, it’s because you’ve not really been celebrating Christmas. You’ve been celebrating the awful Mammonist substitute the stories peddle. Our churches unwittingly help ’em do it too. We perpetuate the idea of a one-day holiday, a frenzy of gifts and toys and events, and a slapped-on veneer of “Remember the reason for the season!”

In fact Christmas is primarily about how Christ the savior is born. If you’re doing Christmas correctly, and someone brings up the word “Christmas” after the 25th, that’s the mental image which should’ve immediately popped into your mind. Not decorations, toys, and obligations. Jesus has come. ’Cause if your first response is to scoff… you did it wrong.

23 December 2016

The Son of Man.

Something Jesus calls himself… which reminds us he’s Messiah.

One of Jesus’s favorite ways to refer to himself is as the Son of Man. It was a way of saying, yet not overtly saying, he’s Messiah.

Y’see, people of Jesus’s day who knew their bible would immediately catch the meaning. And people who don’t know the bible—didn’t then, don’t now—would simply assume it’s an odd choice of words, and ignore it as irrelevant. Same as they do Jesus’s parables.

The meaning comes from Daniel. In his book, Daniel described various apocalyptic visions of the then-distant future. (Most of it is most definitely in our past, ’cause the angels explicitly stated it had to do with the Persian and Greek empires—though you’ll still get a few End Times loons who insist it has to do with the future of Iran and the European Union. Anyway.) Daniel was informed about Messiah’s first coming, as well as his second.

In one of his visions, where the Ancient of Days judged the world, Daniel saw what he identified as a Son of Man. And the reason the folks of Jesus’s day were quite familiar with this passage, was ’cause Daniel actually wrote it in their language, Aramaic. Not Hebrew, like most of the Old Testament.

Daniel 7.13-14 KWL
13 I dreamt a prophetic vision that night: Look, someone like a Son of Man!
Coming in the heavens’ clouds, approaching the Ancient of Days, coming near to him.
14 The Ancient gave the Son authority, honor, and the kingdom,
and every people, nation, and language, who’ll bow to his authority.
His authority is permanent: It never passes away.
His kingdom can never be destroyed.

This is a future kingdom, one God sets up, with his chosen king running the show. By the time Daniel wrote this, the kings of Israel were gone; had been for years. So clearly this vision is about Messiah—but a future Messiah, who’d not just rule Israel and the Jews, but the entire planet.

Yep, this is the very bible reference Jesus had in mind whenever he called himself the Son of Man. We know this ’cause he quoted it. During his trial before the Judean Senate, the head priest demanded to know whether Jesus considered himself Messiah, and Jesus broke his typical silence and gave a definitive answer.

Mark 14.61-62 KWL
61 For Jesus was silent, and answered no one.
Again, the head priest questioned Jesus, and said to him,
“You’re Messiah, the son of the blessed one?”
62 Jesus said, “I am.
And you’ll see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power,
coming with the heavenly clouds.”

True, the Senate were outraged by this answer and condemned him to death for it. Mk 14.64 But there should be no question what Jesus meant throughout the gospels by Son of Man.

20 December 2016

Christ is born in Bethlehem.

Where Micah foretold Messiah’s birthplace.

Around 5 BC, a crowd of Zoroastrian astrologers came to Jerusalem looking for “the newborn king of Judea,” Mt 2.2 freaking out the province largely because its paranoid king, Herod bar Antipater. Mt 2.3 They knew it was only a matter of time before Herod starting killing people over it. As he later did.

Figuring he oughta learn where Messiah was expected to come from, Herod turned to Jerusalem’s head priests and scribes.

Matthew 2.4-9 KWL
4 Gathering all the head priests and scribes of the people,
Herod was asking them, “Where’s Messiah born?”
5 They told him, “In Bethlehem, Judea. This was written by the prophet:
6 ‘You, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are in no way the least of Judah’s rulers:
A leader will come from you who will shepherd my people, Israel.’” Mc 5.2
7 Then Herod, secretly summoning the Zoroastrians, grilled them on the time the star appeared.
8 Sending them to Bethlehem, he said, “Go search carefully for the child.
Once you find him, send news to me so I might also go bow before him.”
9 On hearing the king, they went.

The scribes answered with a loose translation of Micah 5.2, which pinpointed Jerusalem’s suburb of Bethlehem, about 3 kilometers away. The Canaanites called it Efratá/“fruitful,” but by the time Genesis was written the Hebrews had renamed it Beit Lekhém/“bread house.” Ge 35.16, 19 Still, the Hebrews tended to refer to it as “Bethlehem-Efratá” to distinguish it from the other Bethlehem in the tribe of Zebulun. Js 19.15 Don’t mix up your Bethlehems. God didn’t.

Bethlehem was a small settlement; small enough to get skipped in various Old Testament censuses. But it wasn’t unknown. Israel’s judge Ivchán (the one with the 60 kids) was from there, Jg 12.8-10 and King David ben Jesse was from there. 1Sa 17.12 So the town had two great rulers come from it already.

The prophecies of Micah of Moreshét were largely about how the LORD was tired of the evil which went on in Israel, and he was coming down to Jerusalem and Samaria to sort things out. Mc 1.3 Micah figured the LORD was coming to judge—you know, that part of the cycle of history.

But in reading it, you’ll notice Micah wasn’t only talking about the LORD dealing with the issues and worries of the then-present day. The terms he used include a lot about final judgment, not just one judgment among many. Finally sorting out Israel, not just currently sorting things out. Stuff that happens in the last days, not just the usual near-future prophecies.

In other words, Micah includes some prophecies about Messiah and the End Times.

13 December 2016

Jesus, our Immanuel.

Why “fulfillment” isn’t about when predictions come true.

Isaiah 7.14

Matthew 1.22-23 KWL
22 All this happened so the Lord’s word through the prophet could be fulfilled,
saying, 23 “Look, the maiden will have a child in the womb,
and they will declare his name Immanúël, which is translated ‘God with us.’” Is 7.14

This one’s probably the most famous “Messianic prophecy”… which, it turns out, isn’t. Seriously, isn’t.

Back in 735BC, King Radyán of Damascus, Aram (KJV “Rezin the king of Syria”) joined forces with King Peqákh ben Remalyáhu of Samaria, Ephraim (KJV “Pekah the son of Remaliah”) to attack Jerusalem. 2Ki 16.5 Laid siege to it. Didn’t look good.

The prophets Isaiah ben Amóch and his son Sheüryahsúv had come to King Akház ben Yotám (KJV “Ahaz son of Jotham”) with good news from the LORD: Aram and Ephraim’s plans would come to nothing.

Isaiah 7.10-17 KWL
10 The LORD’s word to Akház, saying, 11 “Request a sign from your LORD God,
made deep as a grave, or made high as outer space.”
12 Akház said, “I won’t ask.
I won’t test the LORD.”
13 Isaiah said, “House of David, listen please.
It takes little for you to tire people, because you also tire God.
14 For this, my Master himself is giving you a sign.
Look, a pregnant maiden gave birth to a son.
She declared his name Immánuël/‘God with us.’
15 He’ll eat curds and honey,
and learn to reject evil and choose good.
16 But before the boy learns to reject evil and choose good,
the nations you fear will be laid waste before the face of two kings.
17 The LORD is bringing upon you, your people, and your father’s house days which haven’t been
since the days before Ephraim turned away from Judah to Assyria’s king.”

Meaning the days before Peqákh had allied Ephraim with the Assyrian Empire, back when there was relative peace in the region.

God had Akház’s back. Proof? Little Immánuël.

We don’t know the situation of the “pregnant maiden” whom Isaiah pointed out. Was she pregnant at the time? Dunno. Usually fathers would name their kids, but maybe he died in the siege. Regardless, she wasn’t killed by the invaders, and named her boy Immánuël. It doesn’t take toddlers long to learn right from wrong; the “terrible twos” are what happens when they test those boundaries. And in fact the siege would lift relatively soon: Aram and Ephraim would abandon Judah to fight for their lives against the Assyrians. And lose.

So what does this story have to do with Jesus? Nothing.

But it’s got a lot of significant similarities, which is why Matthew pointed to it.

09 December 2016

Messiah and Melchizedek.

How some obscure Old Testament priest-king got so mixed up with Jesus.

Psalm 110 is a Messianic psalm, a psalm about God’s mešíakh/“anointed [ruler],” one of the kings of ancient Israel. Since Jesus is the last Messiah, it applies to him too. I’ll discuss the whole psalm another time, but today I’m gonna zoom in on just this one verse:

Psalm 110.4 KWL
The LORD swore, and isn’t turning back from it:
“You’re a priest, eternally, in the manner of Melchizédek.”

Melchizédek (Hebrew melkhí chédeq/“king [of] rightness”) is probably a title, not a name. He appeared once in the bible; he never appeared again, but he sure got everyone’s attention: David in this psalm, and the writer of Hebrews in her interpretation of the psalm.

The Canaanite king Khedorlaómer of Elam, and his allies, conquered Sodom and dragged its people into slavery. Among them was Lot ben Haran, the nephew of Avrám ben Terah, whom the LORD later renamed Abraham. Ge 17.5 So Avrám took his private army (yeah, he had a private army; dude was rich) and rescued Lot. Ge 14.1-17 And then Melchizédek suddenly, briefly, showed up.

Genesis 14.18-20 KWL
18 King Melchizédek of Salém brought out bread and wine.
He was a priest of the Highest God, 19 and blessed Avrám and said,
“Avrám is blessed by the Highest God, owner of the heavens and earth.
20 The Highest God is blessed: He handed your opponents to you.”
Avrám gave Melchizédek a tithe from everything.

“Highest God” (Hebrew El Elyón, Greek Theós Ýpsistos) is what pagans tend to call God. ’Cause they don’t know his name; they don’t know what he calls himself; they only know he’s God. And not just any god—’cause these pagans believed in all sorts of gods—but the highest God. The God beyond all the other gods. Higher than even their king-gods, like Odin or Zeus. Often the god who created the other gods—the one the gods considered God. Any time you encounter a polytheist (a worshiper of multiple gods) who really knows their religion, ask ’em about their highest God. Most will know exactly who you mean. Some will hem and haw, and try to make it sound like no, there are lots of gods—but in the end, they admit they know there’s a top God. This’d be the God. Our God.

I know; lots of Christians insist a pagan’s highest god can’t be our God, can’t be the Father of Christ Jesus. ’Cause these pagans are so wrong. I get their concerns. But look at it this way: If someone seriously misrepresented who George Washington was (say, Mason Weems, just so he could sell books), does this mean there’s not a real Washington at the back of all the made-up stories? Of course there is; and some pagan’s idea of the Highest God does have the LORD at its core. We just need to scrape off all the fictions, and get ’em to follow him.

Anyway, this was the God whom Melchizédek knew, and Avrám recognized they followed the very same God. Avrám called him El Shadda’í/“God Almighty,” Ex 6.3 and Melchizédek called him El Elyón. Same El—same God. Same as when Christians call him Jehovah and Jews call him haShem. (And then we gotta go and call him Jesus, and freak the Jews out. But anyway.) This recognition meant Melchizédek could bless Avrám, and Avrám could receive it. And bless Melchizédek right back with a tithe—a portion, usually a tenth—of the spoils of war.

Christians have analyzed this Genesis appearance like crazy. Sometimes a little too crazy, but I’ll get to that.