Lifting Jesus exposes the world’s darkness.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 March 2024

John 3.17-21.

God will judge the world at the end of time. Rv 20.11-15 But too many Christians have the false belief, and wanna have the false belief, and promote the false belief, that God is judging the world right now. Because they’re judging the world right now. It’s pure projection.

In contrast, Jesus says multiple times he isn’t here to judge the world, but save it. True of his first coming; true of his second. He’s coming back to save the world again; not by defeating sin and death again, but by personally leading all his followers (well, the ones who aren’t secretly hypocrites) to actually love our neighbors, make peace, and legitimately fix the world’s problems instead of sitting around waiting for him to do something. You know, do what he’s always taught us to do.

But since it’s way easier to just condemn the world and wash our hands of it, we usually do that. And adopt any beliefs which tell us Jesus thinks exactly like we do—that when he returns, he’s gonna burn the world down, kill all the wicked, and set up a New Jerusalem with only them in it. It’s a graceless, and therefore sick ’n twisted ’n totally unlike Jesus, version of things. It’s not good news; it’s evil.

In Jesus’s discourse with Nicodemus, he once again says it: His mission is to save the world. For God so loved the world that he saves those who trust him. Jn 3.16 And for those who don’t really trust him—including all the Christians who preach their own sick ’n twisted “gospel” instead of what Jesus actually teaches, because they don’t trust Jesus enough to actually care what he teaches—Jesus doesn’t have to judge them. Their actions pretty much do that for him.

Back to the discourse:

John 3.17-21 KWL
17 “For God doesn’t send his Son into the world
to judge the world,
but so that, through him, he might save the world.
18 One who trusts the Son is not judged.
One who doesn’t trust him, was already judged—
because they didn’t trust the name
of the only begotten Son of God.
19 This is the judgment:
The light came into the world.
People love the darkness more than the light,
for their works are evil.
20 Everyone who dabbles in meaningless stuff
hates the light,
and doesn’t come to the light
lest their works be rebuked.
21 One who does the truth
comes to the light,
so their works might be made known
because they were a labor done in God.”

Now this passage tends to confuse certain Christians—and certain pagans love to play dumb and deliberately let it confuse them—because in verse 17, Jesus says he’s not here to judge the world. (Or condemn the world; κρίνῃ/kríni, “he might critique,” can be translated either way.) Yet even though he says he’s not judging the world… verse 18 sure does make it look like he’s judging people who don’t trust him, and verses 19-21 sure do make it look like he’s judging people who embrace darkness instead of light.

But lemme point out the verb tenses here. Jesus isn’t here to (present-tense subjunctive) judge the world; but one who doesn’t trust the Son of God (perfect passive) was already condemned, at some point in the past. It’s the difference between a defendant on trial, and a convicted felon: One has yet to be judged, and the other’s been judged. And Jesus isn’t involved in either dude’s judgment. He’s actually here to save them both: If the convict wants parole, turn to Jesus! And if the defendant wants the verdict set aside, turn to Jesus!

So how do we know who’s a convict and who’s not? Simple. Jesus is the world’s light. If they’re not a convict, they’re happy to be in the light; it proves God is living and active in their lives. Jn 3.21 And if they are a convict, it’s just the opposite; they stick to the shadows, so they can hide their hypocrisy and disguise it as Christianity.

For God so loves the world.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 March 2024

John 3.14-17.

One of the first memory verses Christians are encourage to put into their brain is John 3.16, which many of us have memorized in the King James Version:

John 3.16 KJV
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

I’ve heard a number of sermons and sermon series about this verse. I’ve read entire books written about this verse. I’ve watched a crappy video series about this verse, which featured some really bad actors in a really long one-act play about how important this verse is. And many an Evangelical Christian has told me this is the gospel, all summed up in one verse. This is the good news. This is Christianity.

Yeah, it’s not. The gospel is what Jesus says it is, and he articulated it in Mark 1.15.

Mark 1.15 KJV
And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.

The kingdom of God is at hand. Not that John 3.16 is an unimportant or irrelevant verse at all! It tells us something vitally important about how the kingdom works—namely that we gotta believe in Jesus. And it reminds us a significant component of the kingdom is the age to come. But John 3.16 doesn’t mention the kingdom, and if you don’t know God has a kingdom and Jesus is its king, you don’t have the gospel. You have something about the gospel, but you’re missing a bunch of vital details.

In context, this verse comes in the middle of Jesus instructing Nicodemus, right after he objected to people who think they know it all, and therefore won’t listen to him. He knows what heaven is like, for that’s where he came from. He knows his Father, and if you know him you’ll know his Father too. He is the only one who can make clear sense of God. So you kinda have to pay attention to him. And lift him up so others can see him, listen to him, and trust him too.

John 3.14-17 KWL
14 “Same as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness,
it’s likewise necessary to lift up the Son of Man,
15 so everyone who trusts in the Son of Man
{might not be destroyed,
but} might have life in the age to come.
16 For this is how God loves the world.
Therefore he gives his only-begotten Son,
so that everyone who trusts in him
might not be destroyed,
but might have life in the age to come.
17 For God doesn’t send his Son into the world
to judge the world,
but so that, through him, he might save the world.”

We gotta look at Jesus. He defines Christianity. Not a bible verse; not even a particularly good bible verse. Not a church, not a movement, certainly not popular Christian culture. Jesus alone; Jesus’s teachings and actions and life and power. That’s why God sent his Son into the world—to give us someone to follow and mimic.

Unfortunately too many people have bent this verse a whole bunch, and got us to focus not on Jesus’s life, but entirely on Jesus’s death.

It’s hard to teach people whose minds are made up.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 March 2024

John 3.9-13.

When Nicodemus came by night to suss out Jesus, our Lord began their discussion by talking about getting born again. Because we gotta be born again. Flesh and blood can’t inherit God’s kingdom. 1Co 15.50

Evangelical Christians tend to claim “being born again” is purely a spiritual transformation. Not a radical change of character into one which produces good fruit. Not a resurrection into eternal life. It’s how they avoid both trying to develop good fruit, and adopting a proper view of the second coming instead of the End Times bloodbath they’re kinda fantasizing about in which Jesus smites all their political foes.

Being born again is a deep, challenging idea. Which Nicodemus balked at… as people will do when they’re confronted with something which demands real, transformative change of them. He began with the typical skeptic’s joke of “What, you mean that literally?” Jn 3.4 No; you misunderstand how new life works. But now Nicodemus went with a different skeptic’s tack: “Okay, explain how this is gonna happen.” In other words, explain it so I can critique it.

But Jesus, who’s far wiser than most people realize, didn’t take the bait.

John 3.9-13 KWL
9 In reply Nicodemus tells him, “How can these things happen?”
10 In reply Jesus tells him, “You’re Israel’s teacher.
You don’t already know these things?
11 Amen amen! I promise you:
We’ve known what we’re talking about.
We’ve seen what we’re testifying about.
You people don’t receive our testimony.
12 If you don’t trust me when I tell you earthly things,
how will you trust me when I tell you heavenly things?
13 Nobody’s risen up to heaven
except the one who comes down from heaven:
The Son of Man.” {Who’s in heaven.}

Text that was added to the New Testament by the Textus Receptus (and therefore found in the King James Version and NKJV) are in braces: John didn’t actually write it, and Jesus didn’t actually say it. Wouldn’t make any sense if he did. If Jesus had told Nicodemus the Son of Man is in heaven, it’d imply Jesus isn’t the Son of Man, because Jesus was right there, on earth, teaching the Pharisee senator about himself. He’d have to give Nicodemus a whole extra lesson about how the Son of Man was on both heaven and earth at the same time. Which he wasn’t; the whole point of verse 13 is to tell him the Son of Man came down from heaven.

And yet we have Christians who think the Textus and KJV have it right; that somehow Jesus was in heaven at the same time he told Nicodemus he’d come down from there. Somehow he was in two places at once, ’cause despite being in a human body, he’s God and omnipresent at the same time. But this is a heresy which turns Jesus into the remote-control avatar of the heavenly Son of God, instead of being fully God. Nope; not going there! If “Who’s in heaven” is to be seriously considered part of the text of John (and it’s probably best we don’t), it’d have to be an additional comment of the author of John—reminding us the Son of Man is in heaven now, but at the time he was talking to Nicodemus, he wasn’t yet.

Anyway. There’s a regular theme we see throughout John where Jesus tries to teach people something, but they can’t handle his teaching. This’d be one of those times.

Not because it’s impossible to understand Jesus! We give newbies the gospel of John, and they read it, and understand Jesus just fine. He’s deep, but he’s intelligible. John wrote most of his gospel in pretty basic Greek too, so most of the time it’s really easy to translate. Jesus uses tons of metaphors, but big deal; every culture has metaphors, and the ancient Hebrews were thoroughly familiar with metaphor; read Psalms and the Prophets sometime. Metaphor-a-rama.

The issue isn’t that Jesus goes over people’s heads. He doesn’t. The issue is people don’t want him in their heads. He’s too challenging! Too antithetical to the stuff people prefer to believe. Too contradictory to the stuff they grow up with, and take for granted. Too convicting.

And there’s another theme seen throughout John, which we also see right here in this passage: Jesus finds this rampant closed-mindedness really annoying.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

by K.W. Leslie, 17 March 2024

Pádraig of Ireland, whom we know as St. Patrick or St. Paddy, died 17 March 493. The ond custom is to celebrate saints’ days not on their birthday (which sometimes even they didn’t know), but on the day they died and went to paradise. So, happy St. Patrick’s Day.

In the United States, Irish Americans (and pretty much everyone else, ’cause the more the merrier) treat the day as a celebration of Irish culture. Thing is, Americans know bupkis about actual Irish culture. We barely know the difference between an Irish accent, a Scots accent, and a Yorkshire accent. What we do know is Guinness and Jameson—though we’ll settle for anything alcoholic, including beer filled with green food coloring. Me, I used to love McDonald’s “shamrock shakes,” though the last time I had one I found it way too sweet for my liking. It’s because they take an already-sugary vanilla shake, then add sugary green mint stuff. Oreos help, but I still much prefer adding mint and vanilla to a Starbucks Frappuccino.

Most American customs consist of drinking, eating stereotypical Irish food like corned beef and potatoes, parades in which the religious participants express varying degrees of outrage at all the irreligious participants, and all sorts of Irish distortions—some of ’em unknowingly offensive. British Americans used to treat Irish Americans like crap, bringing over their prejudices from the old country, and some of that hatred is still around. I have a few Irish ancestors myself (although way more of ’em are German, Dutch, and Scots), so I’ve not experienced that prejudice firsthand. But I have witnessed it.

Oh, and wearing green. American custom is to wear green, lest someone pinch you. But the color actually comes from the political struggle between the predominantly Protestant monarchists, and the predominantly Catholic socialists. Much like Americans use red and blue to signify party affiliation, the Irish use green and orange. And whenever we Americans wear green, we unwittingly declare we’re in favor of socialism and Catholicism. Now, as Americans you would think this is because we’re anti-monarchy (even though some Americans would be perfectly happy to anoint their favorite candidate as king), but really it’s because we don’t know any better and the socialists were very successful in publicizing green. If I gotta pick a color though, it’d be orange; I’m Protestant. Nothing against my Roman Catholic sisters and brothers! Like I said it’s if I gotta pick a color. I risk getting pinched over it, but I still prefer an informed choice over unthinkingly following the crowd.

If you’re Catholic, six years out of seven, St. Patrick’s Day custom is to beg your local bishop for a day off from Lenten fasting. ’Cause you don’t fast on Sunday, so in 2024 you automatically get a day off from Lent. Other years, saint’s days aren’t automatically feast days, so you just gotta hope your bishop hasn’t had it up to here with all the Catholics-in-name-only who are gonna take the day off regardless, and misbehave.

In any event, for Americans our holidays aren’t really about serious remembrance, but having a good time. Which really annoys our veterans every Veterans Day. Now imagine how Patrick feels, with people celebrating his day by puking into moonroofs.

The very, very little which popular culture knows about Patrick, is…

  • He drove snakes out of Ireland. (He actually didn’t.)
  • He liked to use shamrocks to explain trinity. (Badly.)
  • He once turned his walking stick into a tree. (Actually, people don’t know that story so well.)
  • He’s “a Catholic saint.” (Patrick predates Roman Catholicism by about 250 years, which is why Patrick’s also a saint in the Orthodox Church, same as St. Nicholas.)

And that’s about it. Some stories about Patrick are also borrowed from the life of Bishop Palladius—whom the bishop of Rome, Celestine 1, sent to evangelize Ireland a few decades before Patrick came to Ireland. So those aren’t legit Patrick stories. People tell ’em anyway.

When in doubt, go to the historical sources. So below, I’ve provided the Confession of St. Patrick, his testimony. Comes from James O’Leary’s translation. Scripture references and minor edits were added by me.

You have to be born again.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 March 2024

John 3.3-8.

“Born again” has become a Christianese cliché, a phrase we use to mean we’ve come to Jesus, and now we’re all different. And no, you might not be able to see we’re any different, ’cause we still act like the same fruitless, raging jerks you’ll find at political rallies and sporting events. But no, really, we’re born again! We said the sinner’s prayer (possibly years ago) and now we’re new creations in Christ. Bible says so.

Is that anything at all like what Jesus is talking about? Well it’s like what Jesus is talking about; it’s borrowing his idea that some sort of spiritual transformation has happened in a Christian’s life. Problem is, this spiritual transformation, if it’s valid, produces good fruit. That’s the part Christians tend to skip over, because plenty of “born again” Christians haven’t changed at all, and the only fruit they produce is excuses for why all their definitions for the Spirit’s fruit don’t sound at all like basic commonsense definitions should. Why their definitions kinda sound like they’re making excuses for why they have no such fruit.

In short it’s hypocrisy. Let’s not do that.

As popular Christianity would have it, “I’ve been born again” pretty much means “I believe Jesus individually saves me from hell.” Sometimes they also correctly believe he saves us from sin and death. So, y’know, they have one basic orthodox belief. One. Whether they get more of ’em, or whether they produce good fruit, or whether they follow Jesus’s teachings and stop sinning, are entirely different deals. As you’ve seen.

Now let’s look at Jesus’s expectation. As he explained it to Nicodemus:

John 3.3-10 KWL
3 In reply Jesus tells him, “Amen amen! I promise you:
Unless one is born all over again,
one cannot see God’s kingdom.”
4 Nicodemus tells Jesus, “How can a person, being old, be born?
One can’t enter one’s mother’s womb a second time and be born.”
5 Jesus answers, “Amen amen! I promise you:
Unless one is born out of ‘water’ and Spirit,
one cannot enter God’s kingdom.
6 One who was born out of flesh, is flesh.
One who was born out of Spirit, is spirit.
7 You ought not wonder because I tell you
that you have to be born all over again.
8 The Spirit blows wherever he wants.
You hear his voice,
but you didn’t know where he comes from,
nor where he goes.
Same with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Briefly I should mention the “born out of ‘water’ ” bit. I, and many commentators, are pretty sure Jesus uses “water” as a euphemism for bodily fluids. Some of ’em think it refers to the woman’s water breaking during childbirth; some of ’em think it refers to semen. In general it means what physically has to happen before a baby is made. And getting born of the Spirit is what spiritually has to happen before a Christian is made.

The Greek word πνεῦμα/néfma can mean both “wind” and “spirit” and “[Holy] Spirit.” (So can the Aramaic word רוּחַ/ruákh.) Translators have to determine from the context of the passage which definition is correct. You notice most bibles go with “wind” in verse 8: “The wind bloweth where it listeth,” has the KJV. I went with “Spirit” for a few reasons. One is Jesus may mean wind, but he meant for Nicodemus to simultaneously think of both wind and the Holy Spirit; the statement is true of both the wind and the Holy Spirit. One can detect the Spirit’s activity—one can hear his φωνὴν/fonín, “sound, voice”—but does that really mean we know what he’s up to? Not necessarily. Likewise do we know what the Spirit does within us? Not necessarily.

Should we? Well, yeah! Pay attention to him! Follow him. Don’t just dismiss what he’s doing, and presume he’ll just grow fruit within us without any participation on our part. Because it doesn’t work that way at all—as demonstrated by all the fleshly Christians in the world who make “born again” sound like a silly joke to pagans.

Introducing Nicodemus.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 March 2024

John 3.1-4.

Because Cardinal Stephen Langton divided the gospel of John into chapters in the late 1100s, people tend to read John 3 without bothering to read the verses which come right before it. So they kinda miss the context where Jesus knows he can’t fully trust anyone. It’s kinda important to be aware of, because the very next thing in the gospel is when Nicodemus comes to visit him.

And the message Nicodemus brings him? “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God.” Jn 3.2 KJV Who’s the “we”? The Judean senate. Nicodemus is an ἄρχων/árhon, “first-rank person,” a word often translated as “prince,” but this does not mean the son of a king or another prince; it means the number-one guy in the country. Or a member of the top caste, or someone from one of the most prominent families in Judea. Nicodemus’s family was important enough, rich enough, politically powerful enough, for him to buy a seat and a vote in their συνέδριον/synédrion (NIV “Sanhedrin,” KJV “council”), the assembly led by the head priest which ran everything in Judea which the Romans didn’t.

So the Judean senate knew Jesus is a teacher who came from God.

And… so what?

Did it mean they respected him as someone sent from God? Listened to him? Carefully considered whatever he taught, and once they determined it jibes with the scriptures and God’s character, followed him? Invited him to speak before the senate, and kept records of his wisdom? Invited him to lunch, at least?

Nope. They ignored him. Except for one senator, who went to visit Jesus at night so he’d be less likely to be seen publicly talking with our Lord in temple or synagogue or the streets.

Like John said, Jesus didn’t trust ’em with himself, because he’s fully aware of what’s in people. Jn 2.24-25 He knew exactly why the senate realized he came from God, but wouldn’t acknowledge him: It’d mean they’d have to repent. They’d have to stop compromising the worship of God and the following of his Law because of their pursuit of political power. They’d have to stop being hypocrites.

But they weren’t gonna make any such changes. Because they didn’t fear God—same as the unjust judge in Jesus’s Persistent Widow Story. (No doubt Jesus based that judge on actual judges in the senate, and his hearers knew exactly the kind of unjust judge he was talking about.) Didn’t follow God at all… yet arrogantly figured he was guaranteed a spot in God’s kingdom because he was a descendant of Abraham. Same as the self-described Christians in our country who assume they’re guaranteed a spot too, because they once said the sinner’s prayer.

Anyway. Nicodemus came with what he thought was good news for Jesus: Hey, in case you were wondering (’cause none of us ever said anything about it), we actually think you’re legitimately from God! You unofficially have our thumbs-up. Great news, huh?

But no, that’s not gonna cut it with Jesus. It’s not enough for them to recognize Jesus comes from God. You wanna see God’s kingdom—the one Messiah’s gonna personally inaugurate into the world—you have to be born again.

John 3.1-4 KWL
1 There’s a person from the Pharisees, Nicodemus by name,
a leader of the Judeans.
2 At night, this Nicodemus comes to Jesus
and tells him, “Rabbi, we knew you, a teacher, came from God:
No one can do these milestones which you do
unless God is with them.”
3 In reply Jesus tells him, “Amen amen! I promise you:
Unless one is born all over again,
one cannot see God’s kingdom.”
4 Nicodemus tells Jesus, “How can a person, being old, be born?
One can’t enter one’s mother’s womb a second time and be born.”

Being born again is a big concept, and I’ll get to it in another article. Today I’m just gonna focus on Nicodemus: Who this guy is, why it’s a big deal for him to come to Jesus, why what Jesus taught him blindsided him, but why it was a big deal for both him and us Christians. After all, part of Jesus’s lesson to Nicodemus has John 3.16 in it y’know.

Jesus knows you’re gonna fail him.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 March 2024

John 2.23-25.

At the end of John 2 there’s this odd statement, which ties right together with chapter 3, which I’ll talk about at that time. It’s where John discusses Jesus’s new fans.

John 2.23-25 KWL
23 While Jesus is in Jerusalem,
at Passover, at the feast,
many trust in his name,
seeing his milestones which he did.
24 Jesus himself isn’t trusting them with himself,
because of the knowledge he has of everyone,
25 for he has no need of anyone testifying about people:
He’s aware of what is in people.

Some Christians read this passage and immediately think, “Ah, it’s the divinity. Jesus doesn’t trust people because he’s God, and still has God’s infinite knowledge of who people are, what they’re like, and what everyone’s secret, selfish motives are.”

Others read it and figure, “Ah, Jesus understands basic human depravity. He knows all humans are inherently selfish, and without the Holy Spirit that’s all we’ll ever be. So he knows better than to trust any of ’em.”

So which of the two does Jesus have?—full divine knowledge of the cosmos, or a generic understanding of a typical human trait? Well, I believe when God became human, he had to surrender his divine power, which includes his full divine knowledge of the cosmos, because all that data cannot physically fit into 2 pounds of brain matter. Your brain holds 2½ petabytes max. That’s a lot of data (it’s 20 quadrillion bits), but it’s nowhere near enough to know everything about ancient Jerusalem, much less the whole ancient world, and even less the 8 billion humans on today’s world.

Yeah, some Christians balk at that idea, because to their minds, God is power. Jesus without power wouldn’t be God. Problem is, Jesus with all that divine power wouldn’t authentically be human. He’d only be pretending to be human, and that’d make him a hypocrite, and hypocrisy is the one thing which annoys Jesus most.

So Jesus surrendered his power. But he can still tap God’s power same as we can: He has the Holy Spirit without limit, Jn 3.34 and the Spirit is just as infinitely powerful and knowledgeable as ever. If Jesus wants to know anything about anyone, the Spirit knows and will tell him. If Jesus wants to know just what kind of darkness lies in the heart of every other human being, the Spirit can give him a quick summary: Human depravity. We’re all messed up because we prioritize ourselves over other people and God.

And whether Jesus gained his knowledge through divine omniscience, or simply knowing about basic human depravity, it really doesn’t matter: He knows. He can’t trust other people. Not fully. They will fail. Even the best of them will fail him. Even his best student, Simon Peter; even the students who were family members, like James and John; they mean well, but they’re only human.

Even us. Even me. Even you. You will fail him. Sorry, but don’t kid yourself.

And don’t beat yourself up about it either. He already knows you’re gonna fail him. He loves you anyway. Wants you to follow him anyway. Wants you, once you fail, to repent, come back to him, and keep taking care of his sheep, same as Peter. Jn 21.17 Try not to fail, but if you do fail, you still have Jesus. 1Jn 2.1 Who won’t fail.

But other than Jesus, people fail. So don’t be so gobsmacked when they do!

Knock the temple down?

by K.W. Leslie, 11 March 2024

John 2.18-22.

During the first Passover we read of in the gospel of John, our Lord goes into temple, sees people selling animals in the Gentile Court, makes a whip, and drives the merchants out.

In the synoptic gospels, Jesus got critiqued for it either the next morning, Mk 11.27-33, Mt 21.23-27 or days later. Lk 20.1-8 But in John it seems he got pushback immediately. Now it could’ve happened much later; John wasn’t always too worried about chronology. (As you’ll see when he briefly talks about Jesus rising from the dead.) John preferred to stick to themes, not timeline.

Nevertheless here’s the story.

John 2.18-22 KWL
18 So in reply, the Judeans tell Jesus,
“What milestone do you show us that you can do this?”
19 In reply Jesus tells them, “Break down this shrine.
In three days I’ll raise it.”
20 So the Judeans say, “This shrine took 46 years to build.
And you, in three days, will raise it?”
21 This Jesus is speaking of the shrine of his body,
22 so when he’s raised from the dead,
his students will remember he says this,
and believe the scripture, and the word Jesus says.

Okay. So Jesus shows up in temple, starts knocking stuff over, starts bossing people around. And in the context of the Judean culture and Hebrew religion, this means one of three things:

  • This guy legitimately hears the LORD and was ordered to speak for him, and is telling them to do this stuff because the LORD said so.
  • This guy works for the Romans, or the Judean senate, or some other civic authority with the power to actually decree these things.
  • This guy’s a nut.

Same as if he showed up in one of our churches and ordered the pastors to shut down the bookstore. Either the LORD decreed it, or he’s from the city or county and thinks they’re breaking the law, or he’s a nut.

Now if Jesus worked for the Romans, they’d probably do everything he told them. And protest a lot, because the priests had Roman citizenship and would demand their rights, and a fair trial, and maybe get the governor fired if they could.

But if Jesus works for the LORD… well, they figured they likewise worked for the LORD, and surely they could figure out whether the LORD had decided to upset their comfortable status quo by sending ’em a prophet or judge. So they wanted proof Jesus was a prophet of the LORD: Give us something which might confirm you’re legitimate.

And that… is actually a valid request. We’re supposed to test prophets. Not just accept they’re prophets because they have a website, and business cards printed up, and introduce themselves as “Prophet Whatshisname” whenever they say hello to people. All sorts of people claim that title, and way too many of them are talking to mental sock puppets instead of God. We need evidence. ’Cause if it’s really God, he can stand up to scrutiny. And fakes can’t.

Now no, they weren’t asking for a trick. Like Moses turning his staff into a snake, or spontaneously sprouting leprosy, or turning water to blood. Ex 4.1-9 Any illusionist can create one of those; the Egyptian illusionists certainly did. They were looking for a σημεῖον/simeíon, “milestone,” an event which couldn’t be self-fulfilling or coincidental. Typically this’d be an event which would happen in the near future.

And… well, Jesus gave ’em one. His own resurrection. Break him down, and in three days he’ll rise again. Which they did; which he did.

When Jesus got out the whip.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 March 2024

John 2.12-17.

Since we’re here, let’s just start with the story.

John 2.12-17 KWL
12 After the wedding, Jesus goes down to Capharnaum
with his mother, his siblings, and his students.
Not many days do they stay there;
13 it’s nearly the Judeans’ Passover,
and Jesus goes up to Jerusalem.
14 In temple Jesus finds cattle, sheep, and pigeon sellers,
and cashiers taking up residence.
15 Making a whip out of ropes,
Jesus throws everyone, plus sheep and cattle, out of temple.
He pours out the cashiers’ coins.
He flips over the tables.
16 He tells the pigeon sellers, “Get these things out of here!
Don’t make my Father’s house a market-house!”
17 Jesus’s students recalled it’s written,
“The zeal of your house will eat me up.” Ps 69.9

In the other gospels, Jesus kicked the merchants out of temple during Holy Week, Mk 11.15-17, Mt 21.12-13, Lk 19.45-46 meaning the week before Passover in the year 33. In John it takes place at Passover in the year 27, as deduced by how long the temple’d been under renovation. Jn 2.20 Hence the debate among scholars is whether Jesus kicked the merchants out of temple

  1. once in the year 33, but the gospels don’t have their facts straight, or
  2. twice—once in 27 at beginning of his mission, and once again in 33 before he was killed.

And let’s not rule out the possibility Jesus did this every single time he went to temple—in John’s gospel we read of the first time, and in the synoptic gospels we read of the last. Because why would Jesus drive the merchants out once, then put up with them for years thereafter, then right before he died finally drive them out again? I mean, it wasn’t okay for them to go back to business for all the years inbetween; wouldn’t Jesus have kept at them?

Funny thing is, the most common theory is it happened once, on Holy Week. Even the inerrantists in the churches where I was raised, teach it happened once. They wouldn’t overtly say only once, but that’s how they’d teach it: They’d say today’s passage came from Mark or Matthew or Luke… and they’d fill in some of the blanks in the story with John, implying this is all the same event.

One of the most obvious blanks they’d fill in from John: The whip. Because Jesus didn’t have a whip in the synoptic gospels. Really! Read ’em for yourself.

Mark 11.15-17 KJV
15 And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; 16 and would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. 17 And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.
Matthew 21.12-13 KJV
12 And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, 13 and said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.
Luke 19.45-46 KJV
45 And he went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought; 46 saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves.

Yep, no whip! But man do Christians love that image of Jesus with a whip. So they deliberately swipe it from John. Didn’t matter if they believed the story in John happened at another time; they just couldn’t pass up the idea of Jesus giving the merchants a good whipping. I leave it to you as to whether prioritizing the whip over the textual integrity suggests something sorta demented about them.

The less-common but popular variant of this theory is it still happened only once—but at the beginning of Jesus’s mission, following John’s timetable. Not during Holy Week. So why do the synoptic gospels put it there? ’Cause it’s more dramatic.

My view is Jesus kicked the merchants out of temple more than once. Maybe every time he went to temple. Maybe that’s why he had a whip in John, but not the other gospels: They learned their lesson by the time Holy Week came around.

Jesus provides six kegs for a drunken party.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 March 2024

John 2.6-11.

Continuing the story from yesterday. Yes, I’m aware this article has a provocative title. But read verse 10: The wedding planner pointed out you don’t serve wine like this when the guests are good and drunk, because they wouldn’t appreciate it. Indicating they were good and drunk.

Every time I’ve written about or taught on this passage, I run into someone who insists Jesus did not make wine. There’s a popular claim among Christian churches which don’t drink alcohol (and I’m part of the Assemblies of God, which is a whole denomination which doesn’t approve of alcohol) that Jesus actually made “new wine.” Because it’s new, they say, it hasn’t had the chance to be fermented. Ergo it’s actually grape juice.

If you’ve never heard that interpretation before, great! Me, I didn’t hear it till adulthood, and I’ve found it’s all over the place. It’s even wormed its way into children’s books.

Children’s book
From a children’s book in which Jesus turns water into “juice.”

This spin on the story makes no logical sense—for two reasons.

First, if the guests had only been drinking grape juice this whole time, how would they be insensible to how good Jesus’s “juice” is? Wouldn’t they easily be able to tell? I mean, if I’ve been drinking one of those 10-percent-juice drinks which are mostly pear juice with grape flavor added, and you swap it with 100-percent-grape-juice Welch’s, I’m gonna know. Even though I’m no grape-juice connoisseur.

Second, the bible brings up “new wine” multiple times, and in no way is it a reference to grape juice.

Hosea 4.11 KJV
Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart.

By “heart,” Hosea meant the part of us we think with; really the mind. Now, in what way does grape juice dull the mind? True, it’s full of sugar, and it’s a little hard to focus when you’re full of sugar… but one’s mind isn’t gone in the same way as when horniness or alcohol seize a person.

Matthew 9.17 KJV
Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.

If you’ve ever made wine, you probably know wine bottles don’t break in the fermentation process, which is precisely why winemakers use ’em. The translators of the KJV apparently didn’t know squat about winemaking, and ἀσκοὺς/askús actually means “wineskins,” not “bottles.” And old wineskins could burst when wine fermented further. But they’d need to be somewhat fermented in the first place… i.e. they’d need to be wine, not grape juice. Jesus also points out the old wine is better than the new stuff, Lk 5.39 indicating he and the people of his culture preferred the fermented stuff. Which ain’t grape juice.

Acts 2.13 KJV
Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine.

In context this verse is about the apostles speaking in tongues on the first Pentecost. Some recognized the tongues as their own foreign languages, and some mocked and said the apostles must’ve been drinking. Drinkng grape juice? Clearly not, and Simon Peter points out it’s too early in the morning for anyone to be drunk Ac 2.15 —and how can you be drunk on grape juice?

Nah. As the children’s book makes clear, some Christians have been indoctrinated with this “Jesus made juice” idea for as long as they can remember, and think it’s true because of course they would. How often do people seriously question something they’ve heard all their lives? (Not enough, obviously!)

Likewise there’s a popular interpretation that first-century Jews watered down their wine: They didn’t drink pure wine, but a mixture of 50 percent water and 50 percent wine. Or 90 percent water and 10 percent wine; just enough wine to kill bacteria, because you couldn’t trust water back then. Watering down wine in order to party longer was a pagan Greek practice, and these folks assume Jews did it too. But nope; it’s also rubbish. Partly because these wedding guests in this story got drunk; plus there are all those admonitions in the bible to watch out for wine because it’ll get you drunk, so there was clearly something which required people to watch out!

Jesus made actual wine. Stuff just as fermented, just as strong, as the stuff Jews regularly drank at parties. Better quality of course; betcha it didn’t taste like feet at all. (Hey, no feet had ever touched it!) When God provides, he doesn’t provide inferior stuff or pathetic substitutes. We do that; we get stingy, and figure people don’t deserve the best… and should be happy to get anything, including inferior substitutes. God doesn’t think that way at all, and neither should his kids.