Ss lesson082513.commentary


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God Completes His Story

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Ss lesson082513.commentary

  1. 1. 1 | P a g e Commentary Week of August 25, 2013 God Completes the Story Focal Passage Outline and Scripture Passages: The Plan (John 14:1-3) The Place (Rev. 21:1-4; 22:1-5) The Promise (Rev. 22:12-14) Background Passages: John 14:1-4; Revelation 21:1–22:21 Focal Passages: John 14:1-3; Revelation 21:1-4; 22:1-5, 12-14 What This Lesson Is About: God’s Story comes full circle. The perfect fellowship of God and humans in the Garden of Eden, destroyed by sin, will again become the experience of believers. God’s people will live in His full presence for all eternity. How This Lesson Can Impact Your Life: This lesson will help you live in joyful anticipation of Christ’s return and spending eternity in heaven with Jesus. God’s Plan Fulfilled - Luke 24:36-53: Luke reported Jesus’ final commission, instruction, and ascension (24:36-53). Just as Luke 12 opened with the hope of Old Testament promise fulfilled, so Luke 24:43-47 returns to the central theme of Jesus the Messiah as the fulfillment of God’s plan and promise. Jesus’ final Gospel appearance yields a commission, a plan, and a promise. The disciples were reminded again that Scripture taught the suffering and exaltation of Messiah. Jesus also told them that they were called as witnesses to preach repentance. The plan was to go to all the nations, starting from Jerusalem. The promise was the gift of the Father, the Holy Spirit (24:49; 3:15-17). As the Baptist promised, so it had come to pass. Enabling power from heaven, from on high, would come in the distribution of the Spirit upon those who had responded to the message of Jesus (Acts 2:16-39). Jesus’ ascension (Luke 24:50-53) pictures the exaltation He predicted at His trial (22:69). God’s plan does not involve a dead Messiah but one who sits at God’s side. In exaltation, Jesus is vindicated, and the plan to reach all nations of people goes on. Jesus, the Messiah, is Lord of all, so the message can go to all (Acts 2:14-40; 10:34-43). The Gospel of Luke closes with the disciples rejoicing that out of the ashes of apparent defeat, victory and promise arose. The new way was still alive, and the risen Lord showed the way. Theophilus could be reassured (1:1-4), while the history continues in Acts. The Apostles Minister in Jerusalem – Acts 1:1-11 Prologue: Ascension Acts begins where the Gospel of Luke ended. Luke began his second volume with a prologue that explicitly linked Acts with Luke’s Gospel (Acts 1:1). It also reminded Luke’s readers of the events that ended the Gospel, especially Jesus’ ascension and promise of the Holy Spirit. The first section also contains what is often considered the ―programmatic‖ statement for Acts (1:8). This verse provides an outline for the rest of Acts, a ―map‖ for the spread of the gospel. Jesus told His disciples that the power of the Holy Spirit would give them the ability to witness ―in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." It is no coincidence that Acts narrates the unhindered movement of the gospel message from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria, and ultimately throughout the Roman Empire.
  2. 2. 2 | P a g e Finally, this section closes with a note of hope for the disciples at the ascension. As they stood on the mountaintop, peering into the heavens for one last glimpse of Jesus, they were reminded of Jesus’ return. Summary - Acts 2:42-47 Acts contains many summary passages. On the surface, these summaries separate the narrated activities of the apostles. They provide transitions between those narratives. Usually they prepare the reader for events that will follow. The summaries focus attention on the church itself and offer information about what is happening to the Christian community. This first summary in Acts provides a picture of the church immediately after its beginnings. The picture is one of maturing discipleship. The new converts were being taught, they continued to worship in the temple, and they were unified economically and spiritually. Finally, God was continuing to add ―to their number daily‖ (2:47). The church was not only surviving, but it also was growing. Comment For 33 years, my wife and I have made an annual pilgrimage to visit our families. We live over 1,000 miles from our parents. Once, heading home after a pleasant Christmas visit, we encountered snow, ice, and then rain. Traffic was snarled in every city. We witnessed many accidents. Normally the trip home takes 19 hours; that particular year we were in the car over 26 hours. We felt encouraged and relieved as we entered our home state and saw the first signs for our city. In a short time, we were home. Finally, we found comfort and rest. Living the Christian life is like taking a long journey. We encounter delays, interruptions, and hardships all along the way. Often we grow weary of life in this sin-laden world. Yet, God encourages us to press on because He already has revealed the completion of His story. He wants the promise of Christ’s return and of heaven to encourage us. We need not live in fear of the end time because God has a home for us where we can be renewed. The Plan (John 14:1-3) 1 “Your heart must not be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you. 3 If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also. John 14:1-3 is part of Jesus’ farewell discourse, extending from 13:1–17:26. Jesus uttered this discourse to prepare His disciples for life after His return to the Father. The disciples were troubled by Jesus’ announcement of His imminent departure (13:36). Jesus sought to comfort His anxious disciples. Jesus encouraged His disciples to believe in Him. Jesus commanded His disciples not to let their heart be troubled. The heart represented one’s innermost feelings and thoughts. Knowing Jesus would not be around to guide them much longer, the disciples grew anxious. Troubled referred to agitation and could be physical (waters of Bethesda, 5:7) or spiritual (Jesus’ spirit, announcing one disciple would betray Him, 13:21). Troubled meant unsettled or disturbed. Instead of being troubled, Jesus called His disciples to believe. Believe occurs twice in the verse. The particular verb form can either make a statement or issue a command. Thus, interpreters have a variety of legitimate choices in translating this verse:
  3. 3. 3 | P a g e 1. You believe in God (statement) and you believe in Me (statement). According to this translation, Jesus merely stated the fact His disciples’ heart did not need to be troubled because they already believed in God and in Jesus. 2. You believe in God (statement), believe also in Me (command). According to this translation, Jesus stated the reality of His disciples’ belief in God and called on them to believe in Him also. By trusting in Jesus as they already trusted in God, their hearts would be comforted. 3. Believe in God (command); believe also in Me (command). According to this translation, He commanded belief in God and in Jesus as the way to quiet their troubled heart. This is the preferred rendering in the Holman Christian Standard Bible with a note suggesting the second option. 4. Believe in God (command) even as you believe in Me (statement). According to this translation, Jesus commanded His disciples to have faith in God even as they already believed in Jesus. Of these four possibilities, I prefer the second option. Jesus’ disciples demonstrated a basic faith in God. As Jesus prepared for His departure, His disciples needed to believe in Him the same way. In all four translations, God and Jesus (“Me”) are considered equals. Jesus assured His disciples He would prepare a place for them in heaven. He stated the reality that “in My Father’s house,” known to us as heaven, “are many dwelling places.” The King James Version reads ―mansions,‖ a word used to denote the magnificence and grandeur of heaven. The Greek word for either dwelling places or ―mansions‖ refers to rooms or abodes within a larger house. Jesus sought to stress to His disciples God had a place for them in His house. He underscored this truth by assuring them He would have told them if that was not the case. His departure would not be permanent. Instead, He was going away to prepare a place for them. In the Greek text, Jesus posed this as a question, ―But if not, would I have told you all that I was going to prepare a place for you all?‖ Jesus assured His disciples by connecting His departure to preparation for their permanent stay in heaven. Jesus promised His disciples He would return to take them home. He pledged, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself.” Jesus sought to comfort troubled disciples. God’s Story would conclude only when they were settled into their dwelling places within His Father’s house. Jesus’ statement, “I will come back and receive you to Myself,” should suffice to stifle all who would deny the second coming of Christ. Not only will Jesus come back; He will come back for the specific purpose of receiving His disciples to Himself. He emphasized this truth with the statement, “so that where I am you may be also.” As His disciples fretted over Jesus’ imminent absence, He pointed them to His permanent presence with them. What about us? Do we live in anticipation of Christ’s second coming? When this long journey gets tough, we do not have to live in fear of hard times or of death. Instead, we can live with the joyful assurance Jesus is preparing a place for us to spend eternity with Him. Belief in God and in Jesus comforts our hearts during the worst times. The Place (Rev. 21:1-4; 22:1-5) 21: 1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea no longer existed. 2 I also saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. 3 Then I heard a loud voice from the throne:
  4. 4. 4 | P a g e Look! God’s dwelling is with humanity and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away. ................................ 22: 1 Then he showed me the river of living water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the broad street of the city. The tree of life was on both sides of the river, bearing 12 kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations, 3 and there will no longer be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His slaves will serve Him. 4 They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. 5 Night will no longer exist, and people will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will give them light. In addition, they will reign forever and ever. I arrived home after a long trip to Israel, Jordan, and Egypt. The tour was exhausting, making the trip home more taxing. Once I arrived at the airport, I still had a two-hour drive to my home. My wife was standing in the yard waiting for me. I jumped out of the car, ran past her, and kissed the carpet in my living room. I was glad to be home. I told this story to my students at Mississippi College. Then I asked how many believed the story ended that way. Truth is I kissed my wife not the carpet. Without her, my home would be just another house. As we talk about our eternal home, let us not make the mistake of thinking the dwelling place is the important thing. Heaven would not be heaven without Jesus’ presence; He makes our dwelling place an eternal home. As Revelation 21 begins, Satan and unbelievers have been judged and eternally banished. God’s Story concludes with a glimpse of the wonderful things He has prepared for those believing in Jesus. The Book of Revelation is a vision of God’s provision for His people and His conclusion to the Story. A new heaven and a new earth indicates John’s reverence for Scripture as he recalled God’s promises in Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22. Peter referred to the new heaven and new earth as the home of righteousness (2 Pet. 3:13). The phrase refers to God’s new creation. Revelation was written in the apocalyptic genre. A notable feature of apocalyptic literature was the dichotomy between the present evil world and the coming perfect world. The new enters precisely because the old has passed away. John encouraged persecuted Christians living under a Roman regime that blended religion, politics, and economics. Christians refusing to pledge allegiance to the emperor faced property confiscation, imprisonment, or martyrdom. John wrote the Revelation from the isle of Patmos, where Rome had banished him for failing to honor the emperor over Jesus. Separated from his beloved church in Ephesus by the Aegean Sea, John envisioned a new heaven and a new earth where the sea no longer existed. God’s people would dwell together. The old heaven and earth would give way to God’s new and perfect creation. John saw the new Jerusalem, which he called the Holy City. In Revelation, Rome was pictured as a whore. Thus, the apocalyptic dichotomy calls for a parallel analogy of the new reality. In contrast to unholy Rome, the new Jerusalem is the Holy City. Both Rome and Jerusalem in the Revelation are metaphors for the people who make up those cities. Rome represents all peoples and governments who set themselves against God. New Jerusalem represents all who put their faith in Jesus. Coming down out of heaven pointed to God as the source of the new city.
  5. 5. 5 | P a g e John utilized a second metaphor, describing the city as being prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. Prepared derives from the same Greek term used in John 14:2-3, tying Jesus’ words of preparing a place for His followers in His Father’s house to this new Jerusalem. The analogy of the bride was a common metaphor for the relationship between God and His people (Hos. 2:20; Eph. 5:32; Rev. 21:9-10). John not only saw wondrous things, he heard wondrous things too. He heard a loud voice, one he could not ignore. The voice declared, “God’s dwelling is with humanity.” Dwelling calls to mind ―tabernacle‖ in our June 30 lesson and relates to the verb used in John 1:14 (the Word ―took up residence‖ among us). Will live renders the same verb. In the new creation, God’s desire for unbroken fellowship with His people is fulfilled. The covenant relationship, so stressed by human unfaithfulness in the first earth, will give way to the new earth wherein they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God (see Hos. 2:23). This perfect union of God and His people fulfills God’s promise made first to Abraham and repeated many times throughout the Scriptures (Gen. 17:7; Ex. 6:7; Lev. 26:12; Jer. 7:23; 11:4; 24:7; 30:22). In the new creation, God will wipe away every tear from His peoples’ eyes. Sorrow will be a thing of the past. Anything associated with sadness will be eliminated including, death, grief, crying, and pain. These will no longer exist, passing away with the old order. John, overwhelmed by the splendor of the Holy City, described it in additional details in 21:5-27. John saw the river of living water (22:1). A life-giving river featured prominently in Ezekiel’s vision of God’s restoration (Ezek. 47:1-12). Ezekiel’s words appropriately can be applied to the new creation, ―there will be life everywhere the river goes‖ (v. 9b). In Ezekiel, the river flows from the temple; in Revelation, it flows from God’s throne. The two ideas are closely related; indeed the most holy place in the tabernacle and later in the temple was where God was ―enthroned‖ above the cherubim (Isa. 37:14-16; Ps. 99:1). That the throne is of God and of the Lamb conveys the equality of the two. John saw the tree of life on both sides of the river. Roman cities typically featured a central, north- south street called a cardo, cutting through the heart of the city. In the new Jerusalem, the key feature will be the river of living water flowing down the middle of the broad street. The tree of life, accessible to people before sin (Gen. 2:9, 16-17), was guarded after they sinned by cherubim to prevent Adam and his descendants from eating its fruit (3:24). In the new creation, the tree of life will be on both sides of the river, providing easy access to people on both sides. The fruit every month represents an abundant food supply; the idea of leaves for healing derives from Ezekiel 47:12. John declared the curse of sin would have no part in the new order. Zechariah had prophesied the removal of the curse (Zech. 14:11). Jesus redeemed believers from the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13). Most notably the sin that shattered Eden’s bliss resulted in the cursing of the serpent and ground (Gen. 3:14-19). Adam and Eve’s lives were thrown into turmoil and despair. Revelation 22:1-5 restores the losses of Genesis 3:1-19. In 1719, Isaac Watts captured the essence of Revelation 22:3 in his third stanza of ―Joy to the World‖: No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found.
  6. 6. 6 | P a g e Kendell Easley1 noted in his commentary on Revelation, the curse is the seventh thing that will no longer exist in eternity following the elimination of the sea, death, mourning, crying, pain, and night.1 God’s people will be free and as His people will serve Him. God’s people will see His face. In the first creation, to look on God’s face results in death because God is too magnificent to behold directly. God hid Moses in a rock crevice and covered him with His hand, preventing Moses from seeing His face (Ex. 33:20-23). In the new creation, God allows people to see His face, meaning they will enjoy direct access to Him. His name … on their foreheads marks them as God’s people, recipients of His blessings and protection. Earlier in the Revelation, angels put God’s seal on His people’s foreheads to protect them from the plagues (Rev. 7:1-3). Conversely, those who rebelled against God received the beast’s mark on their foreheads or right hands (13:16-17; 14:9-11; 16:2; 19:20). Both groups, those with God’s name … on their foreheads and those with the mark of the beast, share in the destiny of the one to whom they pledged their allegiance. Those who took the beast’s mark share his eternal punishment; God’s people share His blessings, especially the joy of seeing His face. The new creation is characterized by perpetual day. Throughout God’s story, darkness served as a metaphor for sin and judgment (1 Sam. 2:9; Ps. 74:20; John 3:19). In the new creation, night will no longer exist. On Patmos, God showed John the new creation completely void of darkness and night. People used lamplight to see by night and sunlight to see by day. In the new creation, neither lamplight nor sunlight will be necessary. The Lord God will give them light, reflecting the psalmist’s praise, ―The LORD is God and has given us light‖ (Ps. 118:27a). The people of God also will reign forever and ever. Their reign will be characterized by their obedience and reverence to God, for they will serve Him. They will reign by extending God’s reign, doing what He wills, picturing perfect harmony between God and His people. Forever and ever refers to an eternity with no possibility of sin, death, or pain. The Promise (Rev. 22:12-14) 12 “Look! I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me to repay each person according to what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. 14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. Jesus reminded His beleaguered people He was coming quickly. The term quickly refers to ―how‖ He will come not to ―when‖ He will come. No one but God knows when Jesus will come! Whenever He does come, He will come too quickly for people to change their allegiances. Jesus could come before you finish reading this lesson or tarry for another 2,000 years. Therefore, He challenged His disciples to live by faith, doing His work every day, for no one knows the hour of His coming. He also promised rewards to those He found working when He returns (Matt. 24:44-46). Thus, Jesus reminded John, “My reward is with Me.” Rewards will be matched to what each person has done for Christ. We must remember salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The reward Jesus spoke of pertains to blessings He will bestow on those who already believe and serve Him (2 Cor. 5:10). 1 Kendell H. Easley, Revelation, vol. 12 in Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville: Holman Reference, 1998), 415.
  7. 7. 7 | P a g e Jesus is the sum total of God’s righteousness to repay each person according to what he has done. The three expressions the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End, essentially say the same thing and point to the all-sovereign and eternal nature of Christ. Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, appearing at the beginning and the end. We might say Jesus is the A-Z. God was first called the Alpha and the Omega (Rev. 1:8). Here Jesus applied the title to Himself. Those who wash their robes are blessed. The phrase wash their robes is clarified by the statement, ―made them white in the blood of the Lamb‖ (7:14). To wash their robes meant they trusted in Jesus’ death on the cross as God’s cure for sin. The term blessed is an adjective, occurring seven times in Revelation (1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9 [fortunate]; 20:6; 22:7, 14). The word carries connotations of being happy, advantaged, and rewarded. Because they wash their robes, they have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. The word right renders the Greek term for ―authority.‖ Just as Jesus gave them the right or authority to be children of God (John 1:12), He also gave them the right to the tree of life. Both verses express the same truth. Because of sin, Adam and Eve were barred from the tree of life (Gen. 3:22-24). By faith, access to the tree of life is restored. The city refers to God’s new Jerusalem, the Holy City (Rev. 21:2). The appropriate way to enter a city was by the gates. All other methods involved mischief, conflict, or terror. In Revelation, we come full circle. The first creation, marred by sin, is replaced with a new creation. The tree of life, guarded from human access because of sin, is easily accessible because Christ’s blood washes the sin away. The curse of Genesis 3:14-19 is replaced with the blessing of Revelation 22:14. The fellowship between God and people, broken by Adam and Eve’s rebellion, is restored through Jesus’ obedience. We must get ready for Jesus’ return, knowing what we do in this life has eternal consequences. God’s people living in God’s house for all eternity provides the perfect conclusion to God’s Story. Biblical Truths of This Lesson in Focus • Knowing we will spend eternity with Jesus enables us to weather life’s storms. • Our eternal home will be a place of perfect harmony and deep relationship with God. • We can live in joyful anticipation of Christ’s return and spending eternity with Jesus. Sidebar: How These Events Fit into God’s Grand Story God’s entire Story focuses on His desire for fellowship with those whom He created in His image. Sin broke fellowship; faith in Jesus restores it. Yet, believers have to live in a sin-laden world, waiting for Christ’s return. God revealed the completion of His Story by promising Christ’s return. Jesus is preparing a place in His Father’s house for all believers and will come to take them to be with Him forever.
  8. 8. 8 | P a g e DIGGING DEEPER: How These Events Fit into God’s Grand Story: From the beginning, God’s Story included the mission of His people to be a blessing to all nations (Gen. 12:3b), serving them as a kingdom of priests and holy nation (Ex. 19:6). God called His Servant to be a light to the Jews and to the Gentiles (Isa. 49:6). Jesus fulfilled the role of being a light even to the Gentiles (Luke 2:32). The church was to become His royal priesthood and holy nation, proclaiming His praises (1 Pet. 2:9). SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN. How do these events fit into God’s grand plan? After Jesus rose from the dead, He gave instructions to His followers about what to do between the time He was with the Father and His return. The establishment of the church was part of God’s plan, and Jesus already had explained to His disciples that they would be an integral part of that plan, at least in the early stages. The coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost inaugurated a new era in God’s plan of redemption. Since the Messiah had come into the world, died, and come back from the dead, the forgiveness of sins could be proclaimed to all nations and God’s invisible kingdom would expand throughout the globe. The citizens of this kingdom conquer God’s enemies through love, suffering, and sharing the gospel with the lost so they may enter this kingdom by faith in the crucified and risen Messiah. This aspect of the kingdom, which has been in effect as part of God’s grand story for about 2,000 years now, will continue until Jesus returns. SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN. Background Context: Luke 24 contains a series of resurrection appearances Jesus made during His 40 days on earth prior to His ascension (Acts 1:3), as do Matthew 28 and John 20—21. The events in the last part of Luke 24 likely occurred just prior to Jesus’ ascension, and it is at this point that Jesus prepared His disciples for their task after He would no longer be with them. The Book of Acts picks up where Luke’s Gospel ends, which is not surprising since both were written by Luke. Just before Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples asked Him a question consistent with Messianic expectation among the Jews in the first century. King David and King Solomon reigned 40 years each over Israel, and this 80-year period was the only time in Hebrew history that Israel was the dominant power in the Mediterranean world. This golden era of the Hebrew monarchy ended with Solomon’s death and the division of the kingdom into two weak nations, Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Eventually, both nations went into exile because of covenant disobedience. Assyria took Israel into captivity in 721 BC, and the monarchy ended when Babylon took Judah into captivity and destroyed both Jerusalem and the temple in 586 BC. After the Babylonian captivity ended, the monarchy was not restored. No king ever sat on the throne of Israel or Judah again. However, the Old Testament promised that a son of David would become a Messianic title—one that the disciples had heard applied to Jesus. Therefore, it is not surprising that the disciples in Acts 1—in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection— would wonder if the time had come. Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost covers Acts 2:14-36. Peter proclaimed that Jesus of Nazareth, the One who was crucified, was raised from the dead and is both Lord and Messiah. The response of the crowd was to ask how to be saved (v. 37). Peter told them to repent (vv.38-40). SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.
  9. 9. 9 | P a g e ASCENSION OF CHRIST: The ascension of Christ is that occasion when at the close of His earthly ministry the risen Christ Jesus was taken up into heaven. It was a moment of joy for the disciples; for He said they were to be His witnesses among all the people of the earth. It was a moment of worship, for He blessed them with His outstretched hands and promised His power for the mission He had assigned to their care (Luke 24:47-51; Acts 1:2-3, 8-9). Some have a problem thinking of Jesus ―going up‖ into heaven. However, for Luke to note that from the disciple’s perspective Jesus was taken up from them is completely natural. Jesus was taken up, much as a father picks up his child and carries him away. Luke described the event this way; ―After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight‖ (Acts 1:9). The cloud symbolized the mysterious, majestic presence of God with His people (compare Luke 9:34-35 and Exodus 13:21-22). A careful reading of Luke and Acts raises the question about when the ascension occurred. Luke 24 seems to imply that Jesus was taken up into heaven in the late evening of the day He arose. But Luke’s account in Acts clearly says the ascension happened forty days after the resurrection (Acts 1:3). Though several suggestions have been made to harmonize these accounts, two explanations provide the most plausible solution. 1. Jesus did in fact ascend to heaven on Sunday evening as Luke 24 indicates. However, He returned to the earth for special appearances throughout the forty days until a second public ascension happened as described in Acts 1:3. John’s account of the resurrection appearance lends weight to this line of reasoning. On Easter morning Jesus said to Mary Magdalene, ―Do not hold on to me for I have not yet returned to the Father‖ (John 20:17). One week later He invited Thomas: ―Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side‖ (John 20:27). Apparently He had ascended on Sunday night and returned to be with the disciples a week later (John 20:26). 2. Others suggest that Jesus was raised up and glorified in one great exaltation early on Sunday morning. He returned for each of the appearances throughout the day and through the forty days as the risen and glorified Son of God. Peter Toon calls this the ―secret and invisible‖ ascension that was followed for the benefit of the disciples forty days later by the ―visible symbolic demonstration‖ of that earlier ascension. The ascension means that the humanity of God’s creation into which He emptied Himself at the incarnation (Phil 2:7) has been taken into glory. All things human can be redeemed from the effects of sin, so that what God intended from the beginning (see Gen 1:31, ―It was very good‖) can now be fully achieved. The ascension means that Christians are never without a voice before the Father. Jesus, the Great High Priest, lives now in glory to intercede for His brothers and sisters (Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25). The ascension means that the heavenly reign of our Lord has begun, and one day what is now dimly seen will be fully realized as He becomes all in all (see Eph 1:20-23; Rev 3:21). It means that God the Father is fully satisfied with the Son and has seated Him at the Father’s right hand, where He reigns as our Great High Priest (Heb 1:3; see 1 Pet 3:22). The ascension is a visible reminder that Jesus has left the task of world missions to His disciples, empowered by the Holy Spirit whose work would not start until Jesus went away (John 16:7; Acts 1:8). The ascension is the sign that Jesus will come again to receive His people unto Himself (Acts 1:11). The description of the ascension is the dramatic assertion that Jesus was taken up into heaven to be with the Father with whom He reigns then, now, and forever. SOURCE: Holman Bible Handbook; General Editor David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee
  10. 10. 10 | P a g e ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND READING: John’s Vision The River of the Water of Life By Kendell Easley, Kendell Easley is professor of Christian studies in the School of Christian Studies and director of the Stephen Olford Center at Union University, Jackson TN. CITIES CANNOT GROW without plenty of water. Thus, rivers such as the Tigris, Euphrates, and Nile featured notably in the early development of civilization. Rivers also played a key role in Israel’s history, for better or worse. The Nile turned to blood under God’s curse. The Jordan stopped its flow so the people could enter the promised land. The Jordan, of course, was the most prominent river in the land of Israel, yet its life-giving flow terminated in the Dead Sea—the very opposite of life. But let us back up. Mankind entered history with a river-fed garden at center stage. Genesis 2 tantalizes us with bare glimpses that make us long for what our first parents lost: the Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, and Euphrates Rivers flowed from Eden and watered all the land; the tree of life was there (Gen. 2:11-14). Alas, in Genesis 3 the serpent showed up, tempting our first parents. God exiled them, yet with the divine promise that the woman’s seed would eventually crush the serpent’s head. The rest of the biblical narrative unfolds the Creator’s loving plan to fulfill His promise, rescue the fallen race, and restore all things. The last three chapters of Revelation show that the story of Genesis 1—3 comes full circle. The wicked old serpent is cast into the fiery lake forever; the Lamb has conquered; the New Jerusalem descends. At first the city seems, well, like a magnificent fortified city, with walls and gates, foundations and golden streets. As John’s account advances, however, he describes the city center as Eden regained, but even more. Revelation 22 says the tree of life is back, but this tree is better than Eden’s. It bears a crop of fruit every month, and its leaves bring health. What’s more, none of the citizens are ever denied access to the tree. No more cherubim and flaming sword to turn people aside (Gen. 3:24). Then there’s ―the river of living water‖1 that flows from God’s throne (Rev. 22:1). It is the water supply for all who dwell with the Lamb.2 What would the first readers of Revelation have understood by this account of a dazzling, crystal river? First, recall Ezekiel’s glorious vision of the restoration of Israel’s temple and land (Ezek. 40—48).3 A prominent feature was the miraculous river of life (47:1-12). It began as a trickle from the temple but grew into a deep river, with lush forest growth on both banks. All kinds of fruit trees bore fruit monthly, and the leaves had healing value. The river flowed eastward and ended in what used to be the Dead Sea. But in Ezekiel’s vision the sea now teemed with fish—another reversal of death’s curse. This was all supernatural, unlike any earthly river ever.4 No doubt early readers of Revelation who knew their Scriptures would have recognized that John’s river of living water was both parallel to, and greater than, the river of Ezekiel 47. Second, think of the connections in John’s Gospel.5 Jesus’ encounter with a woman of Samaria at Jacob’s well is obvious (John 4). The thirst-quenching power of the well water paled beside Jesus’ gift of living water. If someone drank His water, their thirst would be eternally quenched. Further, ―the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up within him for eternal life‖ (v. 14).6 Third, and even more important was Jesus’ declaration when He dramatically arrived in Jerusalem for the last day of the Festival of Tabernacles (John 7). This was an annual autumn festival recalling Israel’s years of living in tents (tabernacles) during their time in the wilderness.
  11. 11. 11 | P a g e The custom was for Jewish priests in procession to draw water into a golden pitcher from Jerusalem’s water supply and then pour it onto the temple altar. This ceremony commemorated God miraculously providing water during Israel’s long wilderness wanderings (Ex. 17:1-7; Num. 20:2-13). Imagine Jesus shouting out—perhaps at the moment the priest poured the ceremonial water—―If anyone is thirsty, he should come to Me and drink!‖ (John 7:37). The water God provided through Moses did not ultimately matter; the people still died. The water Jesus gave had eternal value.7 Then Jesus made the astonishing promise: ―The one who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him‖ (v. 38). Neither Jesus nor John identified what Scripture He had in mind. The best ―living water‖ texts are Ezekiel 47:1-12 and Zechariah 14:8, but these do not speak of God’s people being a source of blessing to others. Passages that speak of God’s people as a river of blessing to others included Proverbs 4:23 and Isaiah 58:11, but they do not use ―living water‖ language. Notice that John immediately interpreted that Jesus’ living water was His gift of the Holy Spirit to all who believed in Him (John 7:39). The promise is true—Spirit-filled believers are a blessing to others. In conclusion, we see the following threads coming together in Revelation 22’s portrayal of the river of living water: Humanity began in a place (a garden) God furnished with a lavish and abundant river. The culmination of God’s plan for His people describes them as living in a place (a city) that provides even lusher, everlasting abundance. The prophet Ezekiel foresaw a restoration that featured a miraculous, life-giving river flowing from the temple. In Revelation 22, the life-giving river—like Ezekiel’s but even better—flowed from the very throne of God. Jesus’ promise, first made to the Samaritan woman, to give thirst-quenching ―living water‖ (resulting in eternal life to all who receive it from Him), finds glorious eternal fulfillment in Revelation’s river of living water. After all, the source of both rivers is Jesus, the Lamb of God. Jesus’ promise made at the Festival of Tabernacles suggests that even in the final restoration of all things, God’s people, still in possession of Jesus’ life-giving Holy Spirit, will be eternal blessings to others—to those others who will also be enjoying that heavenly, river-fed city come down to earth. 1. All Scripture quotations are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). 2. Revelation 7:17 actually anticipates the river of Revelation 22: ―The Lamb who is at the center of the throne will shepherd them; He will guide them to springs of living waters.‖ 3. This is not the place to discuss the diverse interpretations of Ezekiel’s vision. See introduction to the Book of Ezekiel in The Holman Illustrated Study Bible (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2006), 1139. 4. The living water passage in Ezekiel 47 parallels another prophecy about God’s promise of restoration in Zechariah 14:8. 5. Because John’s Gospel and the Book of Revelation came from the same writer, we may suppose that the first readers of Revelation also knew the Fourth Gospel. 6. Isaiah 12:3 may have been on Jesus’ mind: ―You will joyfully draw water from the springs of salvation.‖ 7. Isaiah 55:1 may have been on Jesus’ mind. In the context, the Lord was promising ultimate salvation (Isa. 55:3). Jesus may also have thought of God’s condemnation of Israel through Jeremiah (Jer. 2:13). SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Vol. 39, No. 4; Summer 2013.
  12. 12. 12 | P a g e A Place Prepared By Robert E. Jones, pastor of Euclid Avenue Baptist Church, Bristol, Virginia. HEAVEN IS A PROMINENT NEW TESTAMENT THEME. The Greek word translated ―heaven‖ (ouranos) is found some 243 times in the New Testament.1 The promise of an eternal dwelling place in God’s presence for those who have experienced new-birth salvation brings hope and encouragement. One prominent New Testament passage about heaven is John 14:1-6. Although the word ouranos is not found there, clearly the Lord’s teaching focuses on heaven as a prepared place for believers. Since the ultimate goal for every believer is to dwell eternally in the Lord’s presence, this passage has been a message of hope, assurance, and encouragement for Christians down through the ages. The passage’s context is the Lord’s imminent departure from the earth that posed several serious questions for the disciples. By dealing with those concerns, Jesus sought to relieve some of the disciples’ anxiety over Jesus’ return to the Father. Jesus began by using the permissive form of the imperative, a milder way of issuing a command. He did not want His followers to become emotionally distraught over His departure. The verb John used in verse 1, tanassein, makes this clear, for the word occurs twice in John’s Gospel to refer to Jesus’ emotions (11:33; 13:21). Their emotional assurance would be anchored in their personal faith. They believed in God; therefore, they also should believe in Jesus. (14:1). Both forms of the verb pisteuo (―believe‖) here can mean either a stated reality (the imperative mood). Many translators choose the indicative mood for the first use of the word and the imperative mood for the second use. The second half of verse 1 is therefore usually rendered: ―You believe in God, believe also in Me.‖ This would include, of course, believing everything Jesus said about His departure and return, as well as the dwelling places He was going to prepare for them. Jesus then moved quickly to give His disciples an excellent reason for not worrying about His departure by addressing the subject of His Father’s house. The Greek word translated ―house‖ (oikia) is used three ways in the New Testament: (1) literally to refer to a building; (2) to refer to the dwelling place for the soul (2 Cor. 5:1); and (3) as used here in John 14 to refer to heaven as God’s dwelling place.2 In the Father’s eternal dwelling place are many other ―dwelling places,‖ Jesus taught. The exact meaning of the Greek term monai here is disputed. The Latin Vulgate’s use of the term mansions, which can mean ―stations‖ or ―temporary lodgings‖ for travelers on a journey,3 seems to have influenced the translation ―mansions.‖ This has led some interpreters, beginning with the early church father Origen, to view heaven as a place of various stages or levels through which the soul moved until finally reaching its permanent residence. This interpretation does not mesh with the meaning of monai, however. The word derives from the verb meno, which simply means ―to remain or abide.‖4 This is a fairly common word John used in his writings to describe various things in which believers abide, including God’s house. The cognate mone (singular) is found only twice in John’s Gospel (14:2, 23). In 14:2 the word describes the goal of salvation to which believers go after their earthly separation. There is no sense of stopping places inherent in the word. Rather, it expresses the idea of permanence. This view is supported further by verse 23 where mone is the permanent dwelling place of the Father and the Son in the hearts of believers. Jesus spoke these words in the temple’s shadow, which was commonly called ―the Father’s house,‖ and where there were many shelters for weary travelers to rest.5 This is the picture of heaven Jesus emphasized here, a place where God’s children can rest eternally from their toilsome journey through life. Jesus then assured His disciples that what He was telling them was absolute truth. If there were not these many dwelling places in His Father’s house, He would have told them. As a result of this emphatic statement, we know Jesus intended for the disciples to take His words as literally true.
  13. 13. 13 | P a g e Since adequate room existed in the Father’s house for all the disciples, Jesus informed them that He was going to prepare these dwelling places more personally for them (v.2). Clearly this phrase refers to the Lord’s ascension back to heaven after His crucifixion and resurrection. John wrote the statement in the form of a conditional sentence. In the Greek text this is a third class conditional sentence, meaning that while the action is not taking place in the present, it will occur in the future. After His ascension into heaven, Jesus would indeed prepare a personal place for each of His followers. The word topos (―place‖) in its oldest sense meant ―a defined place,‖ ―a specific territory.‖6 In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the word even referred specifically to the Jerusalem temple. The reference here, then, is to a specific place in heaven. The term topos occurs twice in Revelation 12:6-8 to refer to specific places, on relating to a prepared place in the wilderness for the fleeing woman (v.6) and another referring to the place in heaven that the fallen angels at one time had occupied (v.7b-8).. Some have compared Jesus’ promise to go and prepare a place in heaven for His followers to Hebrews 6:20 where the writer referred to Jesus entering the most holy place in the heavenly temple as a ―forerunner‖ on our behalf.7 Clearly, then Jesus gave both a specific and explicit promise and meant for us to take it in this sense. Once Jesus had made the proper preparation in heaven, He would then return for His people and personally receive them (John 14:3). We probably should understand these words in terms of the parousia (Christ’s return) as Paul expressed it in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, rather than as an immediate return to gather together the disciples and take them with Him. In 1 Thessalonians Jesus is described as gathering His people in the air after the resurrection of bodies from the grave. John repeated this idea of Jesus’ return in 21:22, using the same verb as in 14:3 (ercomai). The purpose for Jesus’ return (v. 3) is that all believers may be where Jesus is in heaven, Paul’s stated desire in 2 Corinthians 5:8. Whether the context is the death of the believer or the Lord’s return, the point is the same. The eternal home of all disciples is in the Lord’s presence and constitutes a specially prepared place in the Father’s house. John then closed this passage with a brief interchange between Jesus and Thomas. To further relieve the disciples’ anxiety over His words, Jesus affirmed that they knew both their ultimate destination as well as the way to it (John 14:4). Thomas countered they did not possess this knowledge (v.5), to which Jesus responded in a clear, definite way. Their ultimate destination was the Father’s house and Jesus was the only way for them to get there (v.6). Jesus is ―the way and the truth and the life‖ (NIV) and personal faith in Him remains the only way to the Father’s house. One other passage in the New Testament refers to heaven as ―a prepared place,‖ Revelation 21:1-4, where the context is a new heaven and earth. In his vision John saw a new Jerusalem prepared as Christ’s bride. The verb translated ―prepared‖ (etoimazo) is the same word used in John 14:2-3. The word means to make appropriate preparations or to keep things in a state of readiness.8 John described this new Jerusalem figuratively as a bride prepared for Christ, but it may also refer to the new eternal place of abode for God’s people. The Father’s presence is described explicitly as ―the tabernacle of God‖ (Rev. 21:3, KJV) clearly emphasizing the Father’s presence dwelling with His people, a picture not unlike John 14. 1. See Robert Young, Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible (Nashville, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982), 471-72. 2. Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago; The University of Chicago Press, 1957), 559-60 3. R. V. G. Tasker, ―John‖ in Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), 171.
  14. 14. 14 | P a g e 4. F. Hauck, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, trans. (Grand Rapids; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), 4:574-80. 5. William E. Hull, ―John‖ in The Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville Broadman Press, 1970), 333. 6. Helmut Koster, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, trans. (Grand Rapids; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), 8:187. 7. Raymond E. Brown, ―The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI,‖ The Anchor Bible, vol. 29A (New York; Doubleday and Company, 1970), 620. 8. Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich, 316. SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Winter 2002-03 Background of the Church as the Bride of Christ By Darryl Wood, Pastor, Moulton Baptist Church, Moulton, Alabama THE BRIDE TAKES CENTER STAGE at any wedding. Wedding traditions vary greatly from one culture to another. Whether in twentieth-century America, first-century New Testament times, or eighth- century Israel, the bride occupies a primary role in the wedding tradition. New Testament writers used the bridal imagery widely. Those passages that make specific allusions to the unique relationship between Christ and the church as His bride draw attention for this study. Paul used the image twice (2 Cor. 11:1-2; Eph. 5:22-23). John the Baptist saw the link between the bride and her bridegroom – Jesus (John 3:29). Finally, references to the church as they appear in the Book of Revelation (19:7; 21:2, 9; 22:17).1 The specifics of context and interpretation differ with each of these passages. But, in each case the writers employed the bridal image to illustrate a point – Christ’s connection to His church. Additionally, these writers shared a common Jewish background. Their familiarity with the Old Testament, where the concept of the bride also served an illustrative purpose, makes it the logical place to search for the basis of the use of nuptial imagery in the New Testament. This article attempts to answer these questions. 1) What representative Old Testament passages form the background for the bridal imagery? And how do these passages use the image? 2) What distinctive characteristics of this imagery impacted New Testament writers? And, how does a knowledge of that background aid an understanding the New Testament use of the image? Nuptial imagery appears throughout the Old Testament. The union of Adam and Eve set the tone for the Hebrew marriage concept. ―For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh‖ (Gen. 2:24).2 A complete, unselfish commitment by the man to his wife pervaded this human alliance. They were united as in no other type of human relationship. Even the parent-child affiliation became secondary to the husband-wife relationship.3 A second reference from the Pentateuch (Ex. 3:15) is foundational for understanding the use of the bridal image by the prophets. Yahweh chose Israel to be His people. Yahweh called Moses to lead Israel from Egyptian bondage. He served as God’s instrument to His chosen nation. This covenant idea undergrids the more explicit bridal imagery of the prophets. Yahweh chose Israel and promised to protect her. In return, He expected obedience.4 The prophetic use of the nuptial concept holds the greatest significance for this study. The Book of Hosea provides the most explicit use of the image. In this book, a tender picture unfolds of God’s love for Israel as His wife. God said, ―You will call Me Ishi [My husband]‖ (Hos. 2:16). And, He promised, ―I will betroth you to Me forever‖ (Hos. 2:19).
  15. 15. 15 | P a g e Hosea used the tragic relationship with his own wife to illustrate the association between God and Israel, Hosea married Gomer even though she bore a shameful reputation as an adulteress. She refused to remain faithful to her marriage commitment and involved herself in an adulterous relationship. God told Hosea to redeem Gomer at his own expense from the person with whom she lived and bring her home (Hos. 3:1-2). Hosea obeyed. He returned her to his home. There he restrained her gently. He enforced an abstention from normal marriage relations. Hosea said, ―You shall stay with me for many days. You shall not play the harlot, nor shall you have a man; so I will also be toward you‖ (Hos. 3:3). This withdrawal of marriage rights served as a form of discipline to correct Gomer from her wayward lifestyle. Hosea applied this circumstance directly to the relationship of God as Husband to Israel as His wife (Hos. 3:4-5). Israel acted unfaithfully like Gomer. The adulterous actions of the nation – the bride – obstructed a right relationship with the Husband – God. He loved Israel anyway and devised a plan to bring her back from sin. God planned the coming exile as a period of restraint. He hoped the hardship and separation from their homeland would cause Israel to commit herself anew to Him. Thus, the exile served a compassionate rather than a punitive purpose. Out of His great love for Israel, God used this act of discipline to persuade Israel to turn her attention to Him. Later prophets also used nuptial language to explain the exile and its result. The Northern Kingdom of Israel persisted in unfaithfulness. Eventually they suffered deportation at the hands of the Assyrians. Jeremiah preached to the equally unfaithful Southern Kingdom of Judah. He wrote of God’s lament toward Judah, ―I remember concerning you the devotion of your youth. The love of your betrothals‖ (Jer. 2:2). God felt a sense of betrayal as a husband abandoned by a wife. Jeremiah warned Judah. He compared them with the adulterous Israel. He recorded that the Lord said, ―And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also‖ )Jer. 3:8). Judah, too, committed adultery in her relationship with God. Ezekiel developed the theme even further. The parable of Ezekiel 16 depicts how God rescued Jerusalem as an abandoned newborn. He found her and met her needs. When she became a woman, He ―entered into a covenant‖ with her and she became His (Ezek. 16:8). Numerous benefits came to Jerusalem through this relationship (Ezek. 16:9-14). Sadly the nation ―played the harlot‖ and squandered the gifts bestowed by her Husband (Ezek. 16:15). The nation rejected God and worshiped other gods. Such unfaithfulness necessitated punishment – the nation’s lovers would turn against her (Ezek. 16:35-43). A similar idea surfaced in Ezekiel 23. There the Lord had two unfaithful wives named Oholia (the Northern Kingdom) and Oholibah (the Southern Kingdom) (Ezek. 23:4). Ezekiel recounted how each nation chose to ally itself with other nations against God’s will. Oholah ―played the harlot‖ with Assyria (Ezek. 23:5). Oholibah ―lusted after‖ Assyria and was ―defiled‖ by the Babylonians (Ezek. 232:12, 17). In each case, God allowed the lovers to turn against His unfaithful people. Exile resulted. Always God punished His chosen for a purpose. Was that purpose accomplished? Isaiah provided the positive answer. Through the ordeal of exile, God’s people returned to Him and received forgiveness. Nuptial imagery abounds. As Zion (God’s people) admitted their wayward status, He promised to treat her as a ―bride‖ and to encircle her with children (Isa. 49:18, 21-23). God canceled the ―certificate of divorce‖ and welcomed the wife home (Isa. 50:1).
  16. 16. 16 | P a g e God, as ―Husband,‖ dispelled His feelings of desertion and grief. He exchanged them for acceptance and love for His ―wife‖ (Isa. 54:5-6). The people proclaimed their joy at being clothed with God’s righteousness ―as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland. And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels‖ (Isa. 61:10). Thus God restored Israel to her previous joyous relationship with Himself. No longer were they ―Forsaken‖ or ―Desolate.‖ Instead they were called ―My delight is in her‖ and ―Married‖ (Isa. 62:3-4). With the complete forgiveness that only God can give, He restored Israel fully to her right relationship with Him just like a bridegroom in happy union with his first love.5 Two other Old Testament passages, Psalm 45 and the Song of Solomon, use extensive bridal imagery in the context of human love. Gradually these works came to be interpreted as illustrations of the love God demonstrated for Israel as well.6 This was consistent with the prophetic use of the image. Some scholars argue that later Jewish rabbis saw these passages as a picture of the coming Messiah who would save the people. Whether this interpretation predated and thus influenced the New Testament writers or developed after New Testament times is uncertain.7 Psalm 45 celebrated the marriage of the King. Great joy accompanied the union of the royal and his bride. The bridegroom received praise (vv.1-9). Then a commendation of the bride completed the psalm (vv.10- 17). A sense of the pivotal nature of the event heightens the psalm. A royal wedding carried significance not only for the couple but for the whole nation. Perhaps the messianic connection to this psalm developed from such statements as ―Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever‖ (v. 6) and ―Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated wickedness; Therefore God, Thy God, has anointed Thee‖ (v.7). These appear to be more than praise to a human king. The wording depict divine honor. The Song of Solomon contains the most secular language of the Old Testament related to the bridal imagery. In poems to each other, the man and woman expressed a shared love and commitment. Important attributes of the relationship include mutual admiration and faithfulness. The writer employed the term ―bride‖ as part of the language that described the love uniting the couple (4:8 – 5:1). Jewish interpreters of the first century A.D. allegorized the Song of Solomon to picture God’s love for His people Israel.8 What aspect of the bridal imagery of the Old Testament impacted the New Testament writers? And how does a knowledge of that background aid in the interpretation of the concept in the New Testament? First, the prophets utilized the unique human relationship of marriage to illustrate a greater divine truth. They depicted God’s people as His bride (wife). This comparison provided an understandable explanation of God’s love and commitment for His chosen people. Ir resembled the love between a bride and groom. New Testament writers also found this comparison to be an effective illustration for their purposes. At the same time, all Old Testament applications of the image cannot be pressed on the New Testament. Numerous distinctives exist between Israel as the bride of God and the church as the bride of Christ. For example, the prophets emphasized God’s efforts to reclaim His unfaithful bride. That differs from the New Testament look toward the establishment of a perfect relationship between Christ and His new bride.9 In the New Testament, the bridal concept includes an eschatological gaze toward the Messianic Age. The Old Testament passages speak to Israel’s historical situation.
  17. 17. 17 | P a g e Second, the Old Testament writers stressed the unique nature of the union between God and His people. This relationship carried mutual benefits. The bride and groom depended on each other. When God bound Himself to His people in covenant, He promised to be faithful to them. He accepted the responsibility to protect them when they needed defense. When the people strayed in their devotion, God exhibited a patient, forgiving nature toward them.10 Such love by God, however, sometimes required corrective action as well as tender acceptance. The exile represented a time of loving discipline and produced a changed attitude toward God. Likewise, in the New Testament, the bond between Christ and the church involves a close, personal relationship (see Eph. 5:22-33). Out of that union the church realizes a special blessing. Christ gave His life for those He loves. Ultimately, the close companionship the church enjoys with God never again will be disrupted (see Rev. 21 – 22). Another common element generally associated with weddings is the joy the bride and groom find in each other. Especially when Israel returned to God from an unfaithful, adulterous lifestyle. God received the people with great joy. This same theme of the joyful association between Christ and the church appears in the New Testament. Of particular interest is the excited bride making preparation for her Bridegroom (Rev. 21:2, 9). The New Testament writers who used the bridal imagery came to their work with two thing in common. First, each had a strong background in the Old Testament. It provided a base from which to explain their thoughts. They understood how the chosen people of God related to Him as His bride. Second, they wrote from a widespread cultural knowledge of marriage and its meaning. Their readers identified with this illustration out of daily life. Under God’s inspiration, the ―bride‖ served as a natural image to illustrate the deeper relationship between Christ and the church. 1. Paul S. Minear, Images of the Church in the New Testament (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), 54-56. 2. This and subsequent Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible. The Lockman Foundation, 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977. Used by permission. 3. The significance of this verse is highlighted since Paul quoted it in Ephesians 5:31 and stated that he made ―reference to Christ and the church‖ (Eph. 5:32). 4. Claude Chavasse, The Bride of Christ: An Enquiry into the Nuptial Element in Early Christianity (London: The Religious Book Club, n.d.), 23. This work contains a thorough outline of the Old Testament passages related to the bridal imagery. 5. I. A. Muirhead, ―The Bride of Christ,‖ Scottish Journal of Theology 5 (1952): 177. 6. Ernest Best, One Body in Christ: A Study in the Relationship of the Church to Christ in the Epistles of Paul (London: S P C K, 1955), 169. 7. Chavasse, 35-37. 8. Joachim Jeremias, The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol.4 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1967), 1102. See also Chavasse, 42-45. 9. Claude Welch, The Reality of the Church (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958), 133-34. 10. Jeremias, 1101. 11. SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Spring 1997