Kingdom Uprising

Reclaiming Jesus' Hope, Gospel, and Way

Month: June 2015

Don’t You Know That the Saints Will Judge the World? (1 Corinthians 6.1-11)

My future determines my present. As I write these words I’m in training; I run almost every day. Each week I log over 50 miles on the road, in the woods, or in the park. October is pulling me forward like a magnet, determining my daily activities in June. This is because on October 13th, I intend to run a marathon. Running 26.2 miles is not something I can just go out and do. It requires months of intense and consistent training. Day after day, I put my shoes on and run countless hours so that on that one day, for about three hours, I will achieve my peak performance. Like someone whose signed up for a marathon, the coming kingdom should affect how we live in the present. This is what Paul is getting at when he writes the following.

1 Corinthians 6.1-11
1 When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! 4 So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 5 I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, 6 but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?

7 To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 But you yourselves wrong and defraud– even your own brothers! 9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Paul was bewildered that Christians were taking each other to court. He could barely believe that something so absurd could even happen. Of course, from an old covenant perspective, there is nothing wrong with taking one’s neighbor to court if there was a just cause. In fact, extensive provision was made for exactly such a scenario under the Mosaic Law. So, what was so shocking here? Why was Paul beside himself? There were two offenses: (1) they were taking their fellow Christians to court and (2) they were going to court before non-Christians. His core driving thought was expressed by the question: “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” Since the Corinthians disciples were destined to rule the world, could they not figure out how to do community without appealing to outsiders to settle matters? Was there not even one wise man among them before whom the two could go? In fact, Paul argues, it would be better to be defrauded than go before unbelievers since that would testify to the opposite of the kingdom message. Besides, the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom. Notice how the people’s future role as kingdom citizens was to affect how they lived. The first question is, “How will it be in the kingdom.” The next is, “How can I embody kingdom living now in this situation?”

Note how many times Paul mentions the future kingdom when he’s reproving the Corinthians. Over and again he brings their focus to their destiny. Look, you are going to rule the world one day, so I’m sure you can figure out this insignificant matter without having to go to unbelievers. The kingdom does not only give us hope for the future. It is not restricted to our gospel message. It also needs to affect what we do now. If we are the kingdom people, then we need to act like it.

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Gordon Fee on Living the Future Now

God effect[ed] ‘salvation in Christ,’ and thus creat[ed] a people for his name, whose present existence is thoroughly eschatological; predicated on the death and resurrection of Christ and the gift of the eschatological Spirit, God’s people are both ‘already’ and ‘not yet’ as they live the life of the future in the present, awaiting God’s final wrapup, the final consummation of ‘salvation in Christ.’

Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1995), 47.

The fact that the future has already begun…means two crucial things for Paul: that the consummation is absolutely guaranteed, and that present existence is therefore altogether determined by this reality. That is, one’s life in the present is not conditioned or determined by present exigencies, but by the singular reality that God’s people belong to the future that has already come present. Marked by Christ’s death and resurrection and identified as God’s people by the gift of the Spirit, they live the life of the future in the present, determined by its values and perspective, no matter what their present circumstances.

Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1995), 51.

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Promised Land on Steroids (Papias)

Papias was the overseer of the congregation at Hierapolis, a city through which a major road carried many travelers. As Christians came through, Papias would ask them if they had known the apostles and if they knew any sayings of Christ. Around the year a.d. 130 he composed five volumes called Expositions of the Sayings of the Lord from what he had learned. Sadly his work did not survive until today, though we can get glimpses of it through the quotations of a few later Christians like Irenaeus and Eusebius. Here is an excerpt from that book:

The blessing thus foretold undoubtedly belongs to the times of the kingdom, when the righteous will rise from the dead and reign, when creation, too, renewed and freed from bondage, will produce an abundance of food of all kinds from the dew of heaven and from the fertility of the earth, just as the elders, who saw John the disciple of the Lord, recalled having heard from him how the Lord used to teach about those times and say: ‘The days will come when vines will grow, each having ten thousand shoots, and on each shoot ten thousand branches, and on each branch ten thousand twigs, and on each twig ten thousand clusters, and in each cluster ten thousand grapes, and each grape when crushed will yield twenty-five measures of wine. And when one of the saints takes hold of a cluster, another cluster will cry out, ‘I am better, take me, bless the Lord through me.’ Similarly a grain of wheat will produce ten thousand heads, and every head will have ten thousand grains, and every grain ten pounds of fine flour, white and clean. And the other fruits, seeds, and grass will produce in similar proportions, and all the animals feeding on these fruits produced by the soil will in turn become peaceful and harmonious toward one another, and fully subject to humankind.

(Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.33.3-4, trans. Michael Holmes)

Although it is impossible to say whether or not Papias’ saying really goes back to the historical Jesus, we should not rule it out completely because of its outlandishness. Consider, for a moment, that when the children of Israel first entered the Promised Land, two men carried a single cluster of grapes along with some figs and pomegranates on a rod between them (Numbers 13.23). In the kingdom age, this idea of incredible abundance gets amplified. Take a look at these prophecies from Amos and Joel:

Amos 9.13 [ESV]
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “When the plowman will overtake the reaper And the treader of grapes him who sows seed; When the mountains will drip sweet wine And all the hills will be dissolved.

Joel 3.18 [ESV]
And in that day The mountains will drip with sweet wine, And the hills will flow with milk, And all the brooks of Judah will flow with water; And a spring will go out from the house of the LORD To water the valley of Shittim.

Furthermore, Papias’ statement about the taming of animals comes straight from Isaiah:

Isaiah 11.6-9 [ESV]
6 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. 7 The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. 9 They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

Whether or not Papias’ information really went back to Jesus does not affect the fact that Papias himself clearly believed in a kingdom coming to the earth in which the land would produce abundantly and animals would abstain from violence. Considering the fact that he wrote very early (around a.d. 130) and reportedly knew the apostle John, we cannot merely dismiss his testimony as one later Christian did when he wrote:

The same writer [Papias] has recorded other accounts as having come to him from unwritten tradition, certain strange parables of the Lord and teachings of his and some other statements of a more mythical character. Among other things he says that after the resurrection of the dead there will be a period of a thousand years when the kingdom of Christ will be set up in material form on this earth. These ideas, I suppose, he got through a misunderstanding of the apostolic accounts, not realizing that the things recorded in figurative language were spoken by them mystically. For he certainly appears to be a man of very little intelligence, as one may say judging from his own words.

(Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.31.3, trans. Michael Holmes)

So Papias is silly to accept scripture at face value instead of interpreting everything allegorically, like later Christians. (To read more about how anti-kingdom Christians used allegorical interpretation to undermine the idea of an earthly kingdom, see this article.) Ironically, I believe Papias intended the quote above to be taken figuratively. Obviously a grape cannot cry out, “I am better” nor can a head of grain contain 10,000 kernels. However, what does the exaggerated language mean? The saying teaches that the produce and grain of the earth in the kingdom will grow prolifically and that everyone will have enough food. Rather than people fighting over who gets the food, the food will fight over who gets the people. It is Eusebius who doesn’t “get it,” not Papias.

In conclusion, Papias stands as a strong witness to an early vibrant faith in the coming kingdom on earth–a time when God heals our world and causes it to flourish abundantly. Like Amos and Joel before him, Papias envisioned the kingdom age in terms of agricultural abundance rather than a disembodied flight to the celestial realm.

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History in the Making (Psalm 110)

Time for a little trivia! What Old Testament scripture is the most frequently quoted scripture in the New Testament?

In case you hadn’t already figured it out from the subject of the article, Psalm 110 is the most quoted scripture in the New Testament, and it can be found a total of 33 times! That sure says something about the importance that the New Testament writers placed on this biblical passage!

Let’s take a look at this popular text:

Psalm 110 [NASB]
 1 The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand
Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”

2 The LORD will stretch forth
Your strong scepter from Zion, saying,
“Rule in the midst of Your enemies.”
3 Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power;
In holy array, from the womb of the dawn,
Your youth are to You as the dew.

4 The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind,
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

5 The Lord is at Your right hand;
He will shatter kings in the day of His wrath.
6 He will judge among the nations,
He will fill them with corpses,
He will shatter the chief men over a broad country.
7 He will drink from the brook by the wayside;
Therefore He will lift up His head.

In the New Testament, the first verse of this psalm is regularly applied to Jesus. In this way, the writers of the New Testament are identifying Jesus as the Davidic ruler to whom this psalm ultimately points, the one who is currently seated at the right hand of God in heaven and waiting for Yahweh, the LORD, to subdue his enemies before him.

The psalm goes on to say that Yahweh will extend the power of this Davidic ruler out from Zion, Jerusalem, and give him the authority to reign “in the midst of his enemies” and to crush opposing rulers and nations of the earth “in the day of his wrath.” Sure sounds like this Davidic ruler will be reigning over (and on) the earth, doesn’t it?

Well, that’s because he will be. In fact, that’s the good news that Jesus went around proclaiming: namely, that God, through his appointed agent Jesus, would establish God’s kingdom on the earth, and with it bring the justice and peace of God’s government into the created realm once again.

So, as you have probably figured out, we have yet to see this psalm brought to complete fulfillment because we are waiting on Yahweh to send back his son from heaven. When he returns, he will destroy those who oppose God and establish God’s just government.

Come, Lord Jesus!

 

 

 

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City in the Sky? (Hebrews 11.16)

Church hymnals are filled with songs envisioning the day we fly away to a city in the sky and walk celestial streets of gold. Cherished as these hymns may be, a closer look at the Hall of Faith chapter in Hebrews reveals a very different picture of the heavenly Jerusalem.

Hebrews 11:13-16 (NKJV)
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14 For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. 15 And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.

Many Christians assume this passage teaches that our planet is little more than a pit stop on the road to heaven. The traditional interpretation is summed up well by the opening stanza of the famous gospel song “This World is Not My Home”:

“This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue;
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.” [1]

But how well does this tradition hold up under scriptural scrutiny? In the verses leading up to the passage in question, the author zeroes in on the faith of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Sarah. The Hebrew audience of this letter was well acquainted with the promise given to Israel’s patriarchs in response to their acts of faith. God specifically told Abraham that he and his progeny would one day be the permanent owners of Canaan:

Genesis 17:8 (NKJV)
Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.

At the time God made this promise, the land of Canaan was owned and inhabited by other people. Abraham and his family left a comfortable life in Ur only to become tent-dwelling transients in a foreign land.  Far from owning Canaan, Abraham had to ask the native Hittites for property to use as a burial ground (Gen. 23:4). This is why the author of Hebrews tells us in Heb. 11:9 that Abraham “dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country.”

The Greek word rendered “land” in 11:9 is ge, which has a range of meanings in scripture depending upon the context. It appears over 200 times in the New Testament and is variously translated earth, land, ground, country, and world. The word as it is used in Heb. 11:9 clearly refers to the land of Canaan. But when ge appears again just four verses later in Heb. 11:13, most translations render it differently. Here we read that the patriarchs confessed they were “strangers and pilgrims on the earth (ge).”

This gives the impression that the saints were not at home on our planet and yearned instead for an extra-terrestrial dwelling. Yet such a notion clashes with the context established in 11:9, which is about Abraham and his family living like strangers on a particular tract of land that God had promised to give them for an eternal home. Heb. 11:13 commends the patriarchs not because they died believing they would leave planet earth for heaven, but because they died believing God would one day fulfill his promise to give them Canaan. Thus a more consistent reading of 11:13 would be “strangers and pilgrims on the land (ge).”

Ultimately Abraham did not own so much as a foot of the land that was promised to him (Acts 7:5). However, according to Heb. 11:10, he died anticipating “the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” This city is described as “heavenly” in 11:16,[2] and identified as the “heavenly Jerusalem” in 12:10. Paul called it the “Jerusalem above” in Gal. 4:26,[3] while Jesus said that it “comes down from my God out of heaven” in Rev. 3:12.

More than a few Christians have taken this language to mean that the New Jerusalem is an invisible city floating in heaven. But it turns out that similar expressions are often used in scripture to denote things accomplished by the hand of heaven. For example, James wrote that every good gift is “from above” and “comes down from the Father of lights” (Jas. 1:17). Jesus once asked the Pharisees whether or not the baptism of John was “from heaven” (Mk. 11:30). And the author of Hebrews referred to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as the “heavenly gift” (Heb. 6:4).

These things are of course experienced on earth, with the point being that they were brought about by the God of heaven as opposed to some other source. Likewise, the “heavenly Jerusalem” is not describing a metropolis floating somewhere in the stratosphere, but rather a city on earth that will be established and inhabited by God himself.

The Old Testament overwhelmingly confirms this fact. Numerous prophecies declare that the very same Jerusalem stained by sin and struck with tribulation will one day be cleansed and wondrously restored by God. Below is just a small sampling of these prophecies about the Holy City on Mount Zion:

Psalm 102:13-16
You will arise and have pity on Zion; it is the time to favor her; the appointed time has come. 14 For your servants hold her stones dear and have pity on her dust. 15 Nations will fear the name of the LORD, and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory. 16 For the LORD builds up Zion; he appears in his glory;

Isaiah 52:1-2
Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city; for there shall no more come into you the uncircumcised and the unclean. 2 Shake yourself from the dust and arise; be seated, O Jerusalem; loose the bonds from your neck, O captive daughter of Zion.

Isaiah 54:11-12
O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted, behold, I will set your stones in antimony, and lay your foundations with sapphires. 12 I will make your pinnacles of agate, your gates of carbuncles, and all your wall of precious stones.

Isaiah 60:14-15
The sons of those who afflicted you shall come bending low to you, and all who despised you shall bow down at your feet; they shall call you the City of the LORD, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel. 15 Whereas you have been forsaken and hated, with no one passing through, I will make you majestic forever, a joy from age to age.

Zechariah 8:3
Thus says the LORD: I have returned to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the LORD of hosts, the holy mountain.

Zechariah 14:9-10
And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one. 10 The whole land shall be turned into a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem. But Jerusalem shall remain aloft on its site from the Gate of Benjamin to the place of the former gate, to the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananel to the king’s winepresses.

Zephaniah 3:14-17
Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! 15 The LORD has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. 16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. 17 The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”

Micah 4:6-8
In that day, declares the LORD, I will assemble the lame and gather those who have been driven away and those whom I have afflicted; 7 and the lame I will make the remnant, and those who were cast off, a strong nation; and the LORD will reign over them in Mount Zion from this time forth and forevermore. 8 And you, O tower of the flock, hill of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, the former dominion shall come, kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem.

Scripture makes it abundantly clear that the New Jerusalem is in fact Jerusalem Renewed. Abraham didn’t have the benefit of all these prophecies, but Hebrews 7:1-10 points out that he received an allegorical glimpse of the Messianic Kingdom when he met the mysterious priest Melchizedek (Gen. 14:14-20). This priest also happened to be the king of a city in Canaan called Salem, the ancient name for Jerusalem (Ps. 76:2). The name Melchizedek means “King of Righteousness” and the title King of Salem means “King of Peace.”

Melchizedek was a type of the resurrected Christ, foreshadowing Abraham’s future Messianic descendant who would one day reign from Jerusalem in righteousness and peace (Ps. 110, Isa. 9:7). Abraham acknowledged the superiority of Melchizedek by tithing ten percent of his war spoils to the priest-king. In so doing, Israel’s patriarch showed that he was looking forward to the day when the supreme High Priest and King takes his rightful place as ruler of Jerusalem and all the ends of the earth (Ps. 2:6-8).

How did Abraham and the rest of the saints expect to arrive at the New Jerusalem? Hebrews 11 answers this question by weaving the theme of resurrection throughout the chapter (11:19, 22, 35). The 11:22 reference to the faith of Joseph on his deathbed beautifully illustrates the true hope of the saints. In that scene Joseph made his relatives swear to take his bones along when Israel made the exodus from Egypt to Canaan (Gen. 50:24-25). The Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown commentary explains:

“In faith he looked to God’s promise of Canaan being fulfilled and desired that his bones should rest there: testifying thus: (1) that he had no doubt of his posterity obtaining the promised land: and (2) that he believed in the resurrection of the body, and the enjoyment in it of the heavenly Canaan.” [4]

This world is indeed our home, but this present age and all of its sorrows are only temporary, thanks be to God. An age is coming when “the righteous shall inherit the land and dwell upon it forever” (Ps. 37:29 ). In that day we will behold the heavenly Jerusalem – not a city in the sky, but a city right here on our planet, restored and transformed into the very capital of heaven’s kingdom on earth.


[1] Brumley, Albert E. “This World is Not My Home.” 1965.

[2] The word “country” that appears in most translations of Heb. 11:16 is not in the original Greek and has been supplied by the translators.

[3] At the return of Christ, the mountainous regions surrounding Jerusalem will be leveled while Jerusalem will remain aloft in her place on Mount Zion, resulting in the literal elevation of the city above all her neighbors (Zech. 14:10, Mic. 4:1). Perhaps Paul had this in mind when he mentioned the “Jerusalem above.”

[4] Jamieson, R. (1871). Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. http://biblehub.com/commentaries/jfb/hebrews/11.htm.

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