Saturday, August 20, 2016

Judas, the son of perdition

Was Judas predestined to be lost? I am about to support the position that Judas was not predestined to be lost; but I will first acknowledge that a passage within the Lord’s priestly prayer seems to support Judas’ destiny to perdition (hell).
When I was with them I kept them safe and watched over them in your name that you have given me. Not one of them was lost except the one destined for destruction, so that the scripture could be fulfilled.
(John 17:12, NET)
King James Version calls Judas “the son of perdition.”

Jesus seems to be claiming here that keeping his apostles or that losing one (Judas) was a fulfilment of scripture. We must take care to not place more burden upon a passage than it is intended to support. John 17:12 supports the truth that Judas’ loss was a fulfilment of scripture. It does not require that Judas’ loss was a fulfilment of a prophecy directly about Judas. I know of only a few passages that are quoted to show that Judas “fulfilled” scripture. One is quoted in Acts 1:20.
For it is written in the book of Psalms, `Let his
habitation become desolate, and let there be no one
to live in it'; and `His office let another take' (RSV).
The verse quotes from Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8. Psalm 69:25 speaks of David's enemies in the plural, not singular as Peter quoted it. Peter modified it a bit to apply to Judas. Peter’s use of the scripture was not to show that Judas was spoken about by David; but rather, something David said in Psalm 69:25 can be repeated in application to Judas. He is quoting it much like somebody today may
quote a famous speech and apply the quote to a contemporary event. Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. He is applying David’s words without applying David’s specific meaning. David’s situation regarding his enemies paralleled the apostles’ situation regarding Judas.

Peter also merged Psalm 69:25 with Psalm 109:8 to bolster his proposal, with classical language, that Judas’ apostolic vacancy needed to be filled. Psalm 109:8 is about an unrighteous judge, probably a priest, who tolerated mistreatment of the poor.

Jesus similarly applied Psalm 41:9, about David’s betrayal by Ahithaphel, to his current situation with Judas in John 13:18.
I am not speaking of you all; I know whom I have chosen; it is that the scripture may be fulfilled, `He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.' (RSV)
A reading of the Psalm reveals the passage is about neither Jesus nor Judas. In the same Psalm, verse 4 clearly does not apply to Jesus.
As for me, I said, "O LORD, be gracious to me; heal me, for I have sinned against thee" (Psalm 41:4, RSV)!
Thus, there seems to be no Old Testament prophecy directly about Judas or about his relationship to Jesus. We now return to our original question: Was Judas predestined to hell? Let us examine the evidence.

Judas left everything to follow Jesus (Mark 10:28=Matthew 19:27).

Judas was given authority to cast out demons, heal the sick and preach the gospel (Matthew 10:1-27).

Judas’ name was written in heaven (Luke 10:20).

He had a throne in heaven upon which he would judge Israel (Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30).

Although Jesus called Judas a devil (slanderer, John 6:70) he also called Peter “Satan” (adversary, Matthew 16:23).

Even Peter lost his salvation at one point (Mark 8:38; Matthew 10:33; cf, Matthew 26:34). Peter’s restoration to salvation required conversion, or
repentance (Luke 22:31-32).

Judas began his apostolic vocation on the right foot; but somewhere along the line he took a wrong turn, embraced a selfish attitude and hatched a plot against Jesus. The scriptures report in John 6:70-71 and 13:10-11, 26 that Jesus was aware of Judas’ plans.

Judas was not predestined for hell; but he became so destined by his own choices. He destined himself by embracing sickness in his heart. Another example of this kind of destiny is seen in Acts 13:48.
When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers (NRSV).
The reason these Gentiles were disposed (destined) to eternal life is because they were receptive to the gospel.
As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next sabbath (Acts 13:42, RSV).
Earlier, the Jews disrupted Paul’s sermon. He explained that the election, to be enjoyed by the Gentiles in just a few minutes, belonged to the Jews; but the Jews rejected it and thus were forfeiting their election.
And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:46, RSV)
Thus, in those few days, the Jews in that town prepared their own hearts to be unreceptive to the gospel and they disposed (destined) themselves against eternal life. On some later occasion, those same Jews might have chosen to be receptive and then oriented themselves towards a better destiny. We too should examine ourselves to determine if our hearts are receptive to the gospel. We must heed Paul’s warning that the Jews ignored.
Beware, therefore, that what the prophets said does not happen to you:
‘Look, you scoffers!
Be amazed and perish,
for in your days I am doing a work,
a work that you will never believe, even if
someone tells you.'" (Acts 13:40-41, NRSV).

Monday, August 15, 2016

Matthew 26:54, But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled?

Matthew 26:54
But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?

Jesus asked the above rhetorical question in response to one disciple's attempt to rescue Jesus from abduction by the Jews.

It can sometimes be frustrating when a Gospel writer tells us that a scripture was fulfilled but he does not tell us what particular scripture was fulfilled. In this case, he is not even clear what events were on their way to fulfilling scripture‒although we might suspect events such as the Lord's arrest, trial and crucifixion.

As we have already examined the way Matthew sees fulfilled scripture, we can be pretty confident about the nature of the scriptures he would have cited. He would have cited Old Testament scriptures that feature language that is easily recycled to fit the current event.

The book of Matthew was written for readers who appreciated that kind of scripture fulfillment; so such mention was particularly persuasive. When we look at the parallel accounts of this passage, this particular Matthean feature becomes more apparent.

Both the Matthew and the Luke accounts came either from Mark or from a source that Mark copied verbatim. I definitely do not have room to defend that claim; but I will leave it to you, if you doubt me, to do a little bit of your own research on the Synoptic Gospels and of Marcan priority.

In Mark, Jesus is quoted as saying, "But let the scriptures be fulfilled" (Mark 14:49). Luke omits the mention of fulfilled scripture in that account altogether.

Mark's account of Jesus' quote indicates that the priests and soldiers would be fulfilling scripture if they continued on their current course and that Jesus is prepared for that particular course. Luke dropped Mark's account of the Lord's mention of scripture fulfillment.

Matthew, on the other hand, worked the quote into a rebuke of the disciple who attempted to rescue Jesus from the soldiers. In Matthew's presentation, it is Jesus, not the soldiers, who is in a position to change the course of these events. In Mark, Jesus informs the soldiers that it is in their power to change the course of these events but Jesus invites them to continue on the current course. In Matthew, Jesus informs the disciple(s) that it is in his (Jesus') power to alter the current course of events and he chooses to let them proceed as they are going.

The reader was never intended to be impressed by the mention of scripture fulfillment. If we were so intended, we would have been told what scriptures were being fulfilled. What should impress us is that it was indeed possible for Jesus to avoid the course for which he had steeled himself. It was in the power of the soldiers to chose to not arrest Jesus. (According to John 18:6, the soldiers knew Jesus' true identity).

These alternate possibilities are not theoretical. Jesus really could have called for divine rescue. The soldiers could have really chosen to set Jesus free. Fulfilling the scriptures (whatever scriptures the evangelists had in mind) was not destiny. In this circumstance, it was by the choices of all the actors involved.

Our own actions are also our choices. They are not choices fixed in theoretical time. If we have a choice, it is a real choice. God expects us to make righteous choices.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Hebrews 10:5-7 and Christ's sacrifice

Hebrews 10:5-7 quotes Psalm 40:6-8. When a New Testament writer quotes something from the Old Testament, it is always profitable to try to analyze the particular quoted passage. What is the original meaning of the text? Why did the New Testament writer select that particular text. How does the text support the message of the New Testament writer?
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
    but a body you have prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
    you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’
    (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).” (Hebrews 10:5-7)
The Hebrews author is making an argument in chapter 10. The writer is pursuing an argument that "involves the transitory character of the levitical sacrifices and the permanent character of what Christ has done. The author has found an ideal text for this purpose" (Hagner 154). He concludes with verse 10.
And it is by God's will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:10)
That is, the levitical system of offering sacrifices is no longer an effective human appeal to God for paying for sins. In fact, according to the writer, it never was an effective appeal to God.
For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10:4)
And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. (Hebrews 10:11)
The writer also observes that, if Christ's sacrifice succeeded where the levitical system failed, it is time for the levitical system to disappear.
He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. (Hebrews 10:9b)
This theme began earlier in Hebrews and was stated concisely in 8:13.
In speaking of "a new covenant," he has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear.
Not surprisingly, the writer of Psalm 40 was not speaking specifically about Jesus. However, the psalmist's meaning relates closely to that of the Hebrews author. The psalmist is promoting the value that obedience is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22). God intends for the king to learn God's will and to obey it, not to disobey and resort to sacrifices. The psalm focuses upon worship and preaching.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40:3)
I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
    I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    from the great congregation. (Psalm 40:10)
In the middle, there appears our text of interest, emphasizing that God prefers obedience and study to sacrifice.
Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
    but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
    you have not required.
Then I said, “Here I am;
    in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do your will, O my God;
    your law is within my heart.” (Psalm 40:6-8)
Wait a minute! What is this stuff about an "open ear" in verse 6? Hebrews 10:5 is talking about a prepared body, not an open ear. Did the Hebrews writer deliberately misquote the verse in order to make his point? Not really. The author is preferring the reading of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Septuagint.
Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not; but a body hast thou prepared me: whole-burnt-offering and sacrifice for sin thou didst not require (Brenton).
On the Greek "body" rather than Hebrew "ears," F. F. Bruce says, "It is... an interpretative paraphrase of the Hebrew text. The Greek translator evidently regarded the Hebrew wording as an instance of pars pro toto; the 'digging' or hollowing out of the ears is part of the total work of fashioning a human body" (240, cf. Hagner 154). God formed the ears, along with the rest of the body, to function in the human vocation of obedience.

Now, the Hebrews author is invoking the Greek version of that verse appreciating how the language works in application to the Lord's own bodily sacrifice that is able to forgive sins.
But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, "he sat down at the right hand of God." (Hebrews 10:12)
The Hebrews author invokes the language of the psalm as applicable to Jesus. "We should understand our author to mean that the words of the psalm express the attitude Jesus had in his heart and mind as he lived on earth. His incarnation was itself a living expression of the sentiment of the words from this psalm" (McClister 335).

There is much in the New Testament about the Lord's attitude, self-sacrifice and willingness. We are encouraged to emulate the mind of Christ.

Philippians 2:5; 1 John 4:2; 2 John 7

Cited:
Brenton, Loncelot. The Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and English. Hendrickson, 1851, 1998.
Bruce, F. F. Hebrews. NICNT. Eerdmans, 1990.
Hagner, Donald. Hebrews. UBCS. Baker, 1990.
McClister, David. Hebrews. Florida College Press, 2010.