A question about Deuteronomy 18:15-18. I know this passage refers to Christ but I was wondering why this couldn't refer to other prophets of Israel as well? Does this have a dual application?
It seems to me most of the prophets for instance Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc spoke on behalf of God and were commissioned by God as well. Just want clarification on this passage and can it have dual applications.
Thank you again in Christ our Lord
Hello my friend,
I think you are correct that the principles of this passage certainly apply to all of the prophets genuinely raised up by God, since God did raise up many prophets in Israel after Moses (one of whom, Elijah, will, along with Moses, also figure prominently in preparing for Christ's second advent return); but the passage itself is only truly fulfilled in Jesus Christ who is the Prophet. Here are some links:
Jesus alone fulfills the prophecy of the prophet (in BB 4A)
Who is the prophet Moses spoke of?
Is "the Prophet" of Deuteronomy 18:18 Muhammad?
In our dear Lord Jesus Christ,
Hello Dr Luginbill, I pray you continue to move forward and help others grow through your ministry.
I have been going over the story of Gideon a few times and it led me to a few questions about the prophecy given to him and whether or not what he did was conditioned by his desire to make sure that it was not a false prophecy.
1) In Gideon's defense, how was he to know if the angel that appeared to him was an angel of the LORD?
2) If Satan appears as an angel of light and can manipulate matter also, how is a believer to tell the difference?
3) If a believer genuinely wants to know if a message or direction is truly from God, how can he be at fault for wanting to make sure the message is from the right source?
Gideon was obedient once he was sure and obedience is an act of faith. So it's hard for me to understand why so many label Gideon as doubtful. If a voice came out the sky or an angel appeared to me with instructions, how would I know who is who? The anti-Christ will fool many with signs and wonders and I'm beginning to realize signs may not be the best way for supernatural beings to prove who they are. I think it should be based on character. God won't lie and is loving, merciful and long suffering.
Thanks in advance
It's a good point that we don't ever want to be accepting of any false prophecy and don't want to be fooled by the devil. On the other hand, it seems to me that it would be easier for the devil to make a fleece wet or dry than to appear in this fashion than it would have been to appear and speak as if he were God (so that if it were all a deception, the "fleece test" would have been an easy one for Satan to fake and thus pointless for Gideon to ask for). In fact, there are no outright appearances of Satan or demons to human beings ever recorded in the Bible with the one unique exception of Satan appearing to test Christ (he and his demons do of course possess unbelievers and animals for the purpose of influencing and deceiving, as in the serpent of Genesis chapter three). This lack would seem to be not because of any reticence on the devil's part but rather because of the "ground rules" under which he and his minions must operate (on pain of incarceration in the lightless Abyss for violating the restriction as they did in Genesis chapter six). So if we were to go just by scriptural examples, it seems that the devil is not allowed to appear to people and say "I am God" – that would indeed be an unfair thing and a very difficult test to pass, inasmuch as it would no doubt be nearly impossible for most of us, even perhaps the biblically literate and spiritually mature, to be able to tell the difference based on appearance.
That probably explains why Satan used the serpent (pretending to be God in an angelic manifestation of light would no doubt have made things easier for him), and why even in the good parallel you cite, the deception of antichrist and his false prophet, there is no direct angelic manifestation that might honestly be confused with divinity: the beast will appear as a man (and he is half human), not as an angel; his false prophet will animate an image – but it will be obvious that it is an image. God does not allow us to be tested beyond what we can actually handle (1Cor.10:13).
Finally, there does seem to be something special about "the real thing". In all of the other biblical examples of God (or elect angels) appearing to human beings, there is never any doubt about the fact that this is a godly and divine apparition (even in Zacharias' case where he doubts the prophecy but not the appearance: Lk.1:18-20). So I think we have to conclude that Gideon must have known this too (that is, that there was no doubt about the fact that at least this was a genuine messenger from the Lord if not the Lord Himself), with the result that the only workable explanation for his behavior is a less than solid faith. After all, at Judges 6:17 he says "give me a sign that it is really you talking to me" (!). If God were talking to me, I certainly hope I would never say something like "Is it really you God who are talking to me?" – because the question itself presupposes that I know very well that it is God (but lack something in my spiritual constitution). God was gracious to Gideon. The Lord (appearing in a Christophany), responded positively to this dubious request for a sign and touched His staff to Gideon's offering so that "fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread" (Jdg.6:21), whereupon Gideon responded:
"Alas, Sovereign LORD! I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face!"
Judges 6:22 NIV
Now we know for certain that at this point Gideon was in no doubt about the fact that he was receiving a message from God. And just in case we still didn't "get it", the author of Judges says about this, "Gideon realized that it was the angel of the LORD" (Jdg.6:22 NIV). And then Gideon built an altar to Him. Then he cut down the altar of Baal in response the Lord's command.
It is in this context – after all of that – that Gideon further tested the Lord with the fleece (twice). Further, in the context of the "fleece testing", Gideon doesn't seem to have any doubts about the fact that he has been dealing with the Lord through all this. What he lacks is confidence in the Lord's initial promise to deliver Israel through him. This can be seen as humility, I suppose, and we may compare Moses' repeated insistence to the Lord that he was not good at speaking so that the Lord should probably send someone else (which eventual "angered" the Lord – an anthropopathism, but indicative of the questionable nature of the continued diffidence on Moses' part). It's good to be humble; but it's not good to doubt the Lord's ability. He can make any coward a hero; He can cause any hero to fail. Gideon was a great believer; ad no doubt few of us would not also wish for some extra assurance if called upon to do something we feel is dramatically beyond our means. But all of this is certainly included in scripture for our benefit.
I think what we are supposed to do with this is think, "Gideon should have had more faith" . . . then realize that we often doubt and test the Lord in things that are far less dramatic than was the case here.
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in whom we have placed all of our faith for life eternal.
Thanks for the response, it is very helpful.
Just to side step a bit on the appearances of Satan. In the book of Job, Satan was going to and fro in the earth and WALKING up and down on it. Similarly, Jesus (I reason and assume so) was HEARD WALKING in the garden in Gen 3:8. The fallen in Gen 6 had children physically with daughters of men. And the visitors to Abraham, Lot, Jacob and Joshua all had physical bodies which lead me to believe that angels can appear in human form. But as we know, God may have set some boundaries which should not be crossed by the demons. Where is the line between being cautious and being naive? Not every dream or prophecy is from God and not every angel or preacher is of God too. Noah and Abraham made tremendous acts of faith, but I always wonder how they knew it was God who gave the instructions to the ark and the offering of Isaac? I know and believe there is a God, but I wonder how we would know he is He if he tried to speak to us? Is it more a matter of his sheep just knowing his voice (their/our Shepherd)? The patriarchs, judges and prophets all seemed to have just know. Does the Bible explain how they knew?
Thanks as always
Glad to help. On your further comments, please observe that all these manifestations are either Christophanies or the appearances of elect angels. There aren't any examples of such appearances by the devil or his minions. They are around us all the time, no doubt, and they do possess some unbelievers and influence many people, including occasionally Christians (this is all covered at the link in part 4 of the Satanic Rebellion series). But they are apparently not allowed to appear visibly themselves (not since the Genesis six incident, at any rate).
The entire plan of God is carefully constructed to allow the uncoerced function of the image of God within us: free will. But if God appeared in all His glory to an unbeliever, what would be the result except submission? But not necessarily from the heart. That is why our God is a God who deliberately "hides Himself" (Is.45:15) – to the extent that manifesting Himself beyond natural revelation (and the special revelation that is the province of believers only) would take away the essential reason why we are all here: to make the choice of an eternity with Him or without Him.
Given that imperative of the plan of God, it would be completely inconsistent for Him to allow a situation where it would be impossible for a believer to tell whether or not the apparition before him/her was God or the devil. Yes, Satan masquerades as "an angel of light" . . . but not literally and visibly to human eyes. Yes, Satan "walks to and fro" on the earth . . . but not visibly to our eyes.
I think your observation at the end here is spot on: we "hear His voice" and we know it instinctively. One may compare reading the Bible versus reading the Apocrypha: even in writing we can plainly see what is God's Word and what is not through the help of the Spirit who is in us. The bottom line here in my view is that God has never allowed a single case where there was any doubt that it was He who was talking, appearing, acting, whenever He has chosen to reveal Himself (the same with His servants in any angelic appearance you might name); and conversely He has never allowed the evil one or his minions to appear to believers directly in a way which would be capable of deceiving them through manifesting a glory that would be impossible for most if not all to resist seeing as divine.
I am quite sure that if the Lord spoke to you audibly or appeared to you visibly, there would be no doubt whatsoever about it – and that was surely true of all those in scripture who received this blessing. But we have a wonderful blessing that none of them ever had, however: we have entire Word of God complete (Heb.1:1-2; cf. 1Cor.13:9-10). And just as we know for certain the truth which floods into our hearts when we read it or hear it or hear it taught is true, so we will recognize the Lord when He does appear. For He will appear once more to gather us up when this age is over.
Marana Tha! O our Lord, return!
In the Name of the One who is the Word of God Himself, Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior.
Do you think that Ahitophel's hanging of himself has parallel's to Judas' death? Furthermore, should II Samuel 23:34 combined with II Samuel 11:3 imply that Ahitophel is Bathsheba's grandfather, would his rebellion be part of the curse that Nathan prophesied in II Samuel 12:11?
First, there is a parallel, but I don't think it has any prophetic significance; it's not mentioned in the New Testament and there is no obvious typology between Ahithophel and Judas. Ahithophel had a legitimate grudge against David (though acting on grudges especially in rebelling against divinely established authority is clearly not something a believer should ever consider doing) – Judas never received anything from our Lord but good.
Yes, Ahithophel was Bathsheba's grandfather, and that probably explains his motive in joining the conspiracy. But Nathan's prophecy was directed only at David; Ahithophel made his own choices, including the illegitimate one to take his own life.
Hey Bob hope your doing a well. I was wondering if you could give some insight. I recently just started doing a small group Bible study and where going through the minor prophets right now. We were reading Zephaniah last night and came to Zeph.1:7 where it speaks of the Lord preparing a sacrifice, we couldn't really determine if this messianic or if we're the guest that were the sacrifice; could you explain this?
And second in Zeph.2:3 we couldn't figure out what was meant by the "perhaps" I've looked up commentaries on Biblehub and am still not sure what is meant by the perhaps. Do you have any thoughts?
Good to hear from you, my friend. On your first question about Zephaniah 1:7-8, this "sacrifice" is the battle of Armageddon where antichrist's armies are "sacrificed" to animals (instead of the other way around):
(17) And I saw a single angel having taken his stand in front of the sun. And he cried out in a loud voice, saying to all the birds flying in the sky, "Come, gather together for the great banquet of God, (18) that you may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of generals, and the flesh of horses and those who ride upon them, and the flesh of all [these wicked men], free and slave, small and great [alike]".
(17) And you, son of man, thus says the Lord God, "Call to the birds, everything on the wing, and to every beast of the field. Assemble them together so that they may come. Gather them from everywhere for My sacrifice 'which I am going to sacrifice for all of you [birds and beasts of prey], a great sacrifice upon the mountains of Israel. And you shall eat fat and drink blood, (18) the flesh of warriors you will eat, and the blood of princes you will drink – [as if they were] rams, lambs, and goats, fattened bulls of Bashan, all of them. (19) For you shall eat fat until you are sated, and you shall drink blood until you are drunk from My sacrifice which I shall sacrifice for you. (20) And you will be sated at My table [with] horses and their riders, warriors and all the men of war'", says the Lord God.
This is covered at the link: "The Invitation to the Slaughter" in CT 5. Also, here is something from a previously posted Q/A response:
It is certainly true that the cross is the "great sacrifice" by which we are saved. However, it is also true that Armageddon is sometimes called a sacrifice as well because of the great slaughter which will attend it (Is.34:6 NIV: "For the LORD has a sacrifice in Bozrah and a great slaughter in the land of Edom"; cf. Rev.19:17-21). So I think this is a case of the "Day of the Lord Paradigm", wherein near contemporary fulfillment of a judgment (in Zephaniah's time) is deliberately contrasted by the Spirit to the ultimate day of divine judgment at our Lord's return: "for the Day of the Lord is near" (Zeph.1:7).
On Zephaniah 2:3, "perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger" (NIV), the Hebrew adverb 'ulay (אוּלַי) does mean "perhaps", but I think its force is meant to be applied not to God's decision making (if that seems to be the problem here) but instead to the decision making of the recipients of the prophecy. These people are receiving the message of the Lord but that does not mean that they will conform to it in their hearts. So both in the near term (the incipient disaster) and in the far term (the crisis preceding the "Day of the Lord" which is referred to by analogy to make the point clear: the "Day of the Lord Paradigm"), just because a command is given does not mean it will be responded to. "Perhaps" it will, and in such cases we know for certain that our Lord is merciful and will shelter all those who do flee to Him for deliverance, just as He has promised.
Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full and the vats overflow— so great is their wickedness! Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. The sun and moon will be darkened, and the stars no longer shine. The LORD will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the heavens will tremble. But the LORD will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.
Joel 3:13-16 NIV
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Wow I would of never connected it like that the more I read it tho it makes sense! Thank you Bob and with perhaps that makes sense God's character is pretty consistent "repent or perish" like Jesus taught so that also makes sense. At first I was reading it like if you repent maybe God will shelter you or maybe he won't. Thanks for the insight my friend. How are you doing by that way. What's been going on in your life. And is there anything I can pray for you about?
You're most welcome, my friend!
We are "hanging in and hanging on" here in Louisville.
I appreciate any and all prayers for myself, my family and this ministry – keeping you in mine as well.
In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,
An interesting passage in Luke 19, which is unique only to Luke:
"As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, 'If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.' " (Luke 19:41-44)
While it is possible that this may have a future application to the second coming, I see an immediate application to the destruction of Jerusalem, because he is saying this in response to Jerusalem not truly recognizing and believing just who exactly he is (God).
I certainly don't discount that inasmuch as as God Jesus certainly knew that Jerusalem was soon going to be destroyed, and there are of course many instances of multiple fulfillment of prophecies in scripture (see the link). Compare also:
And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
Matthew 24:2 NKJV
Jesus turned and said to them, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then " ‘they will say to the mountains, "Fall on us!" and to the hills, "Cover us!" ’ [Hosea 10:8] For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?"
Luke 23:28-31 NIV
While the quotation from Hosea in the passage quoted immediately above (repeated in Revelation 6:16) is directed at the second advent, our Lord certainly also had a more immediate catastrophe in mind here, one which would fall upon many of those He addressed.
In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,
Please, please tell me what is significant about this date 2026.
I ran a Google search on it, because my 4 yo who has never stepped foot in a church told me God told him there some stuff about this year. I don't feel comfortable elaborating but good vs evil is a start.
Good to make your acquaintance.
There is nothing in the Bible about specific years according to the system we use today in the modern world. That is because our "B.C. / A.D." system was only invented in the 6th century A.D. (before that everyone in the west used the Roman system: A.U.C., calculating from the traditional date for the founding of Rome).
In my teachings on Ichthys I have used all the biblical information available to set out what I believe scripture teaches about the length of the Church Age (our present time) and therefore about the likely date of the commencement of the Tribulation. That is the significance of 2026, that is, it is the likely date of the beginning of the end times.
Human history is broken down, from the divine (correct) point of view, into seven "days" which are each a millennium long. It's not too difficult to deduce from a careful reading of the dates provided in the Old Testament that approximately 4,000 years elapsed between the fall of Adam and Eve and the birth of Christ. We also know that when our Lord returns He will rule for a thousand literal years. That leaves, according to the seven millennial day interpretation (which is buttressed and illuminated by the seven days of re-creation in Genesis chapter one), two thousand years. Adding those two thousand years to the date of our Lord's crucifixion and resurrection (i.e., 33 A.D.) brings us to the year 2033. Subtracting the seven years of the Tribulation gives us 2026 as the probable start of the end times.
Let me stress that this is an interpretation rather than a "prophecy" or a "prediction", and that it is based upon an analysis of scripture which anyone can do for him/herself. I have given you the shorthand version above. For a more detailed presentation, please see the link: "The Seven Millennial Days"
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
In Judaism, a mantic is like a prophet except that he receives his knowledge from intuition, not from interpreting dreams and signs and not from direct oracles from God himself.
In II Kings 3:15, Elisha is inquired to seek a prophetic vision of how the future war with Moab will turn out, and reluctantly agrees. But first, he consults a harpist and after the harpist is done playing correctly communicates the future.
Does music have the power to evoke spiritual knowledge? If not, why did Elisha request a harpist?
There is certainly a thing called by myself and others "prophetic ecstasy", as in the case of John in Revelation who says that he was "in the Spirit" when he received these prophecies (Rev.1:10; 4:2). Since "the spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets" (1Cor.14:32 NIV), we may be sure that "manic" is not an appropriate description of what is going on in 2nd Kings 3:11-19; nor is that the impression anyone reading this in a standard English version would get. Elisha does call for a harpist, true enough, and does receive the prophecy after the playing begins, but all that the Hebrew says about the reception itself is that "the hand of the Lord came upon Him" (v.15), and that is entirely consistent with the "in the Spirit" descriptions of the New Testament. So why the harpist? We all know – or we certainly should know – that music has a powerful emotional effect (it was used by Saul to ward off his demon-induced depression); in the midst of a camp of soldiers and being riled up with godly ire on account of the actions of these kings, Elisha was in no state to commune with the Lord – but the music helped him set his concentration on God and His message, and, no doubt in response to prayer, the Lord answered with the prophecy recorded . . . and the deliverance.
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
God's grace is the best, but music is the second best. I love music so much that I'd rather be blind than deaf.
Even people with severe brain degeneration react powerfully to music, which even has the power to momentarily restore their personality. Music is something special.
Yes, music is something special (e.g., Rev.5:9; 14:3). But it can be something bad as well when it influences people in the wrong direction or excites the emotions to no particular good purpose. A good part of spiritual growth is getting to the point where our emotions are no longer directing and defining us but where we are leading them, even when they are reluctant to follow. Music often makes that a more difficult task (depending on the music, depending on the words, depending on the circumstances, depending on the person).
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Thank you for your last email and the scripture guidance you always supply me with.
I have come across a man, an anti Trinity person who says Zachariah 12 has already taken place in the new testament; then I seen another 'take' on this by maybe a non Christian; here is his web site below and when you have time can you scrutinize it with your expertise? I thought it was in the last days.
You are correct, of course. The weird things people who don't believe in the Bible will say about the Bible apparently have no limits. As to this chapter, one thing I read in it is:
On that day I will set out to destroy all the nations that attack Jerusalem.
The only way to think that this does not refer to the battle of Armageddon or to think that it has somehow been fulfilled is to "spiritualize" or "allegorize" it to the point where it means nothing at all like what it actually says. We know from many such passages that the Lord will destroy the armies of antichrist, assembled from the nations of the world, at the battle of Armageddon at the second advent (see the link). The second advent hasn't happened and neither has the prophecy this passage contains. And the rest of the chapter seems to me to be clearly enough eschatological on the face of it to render all such objections moot . . . for anyone who believes that the Bible really means what it says. Once it means something else, then a proponent of such a method can indeed prove anything with any passage.
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I was reading this famous quote from the Gospel of John: "'Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.' He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad." (Jn.11:50; cf. Jn.18:14)
It seems that even unbelievers, if they occupied certain offices in the OT economy, would receive spiritual gifts like prophecy.
In this case, Caiaphas' prophecy at John 11:50-52 was a one-time thing in this absolutely unique situation at the conjunction of the ages with the coming of the Messiah to fulfill all the prophecies about Him and His taking away of the sins of the world (cf. e.g., Ps.22:6ff; Is.53:1ff.; Mk.9:12; Lk.9:22; 17:25; 24:26). So I wouldn't categorize it as a gift. Being the high priest at that time, Caiaphas had the office through which God has historical prophesied to His people (in addition to raising up particular prophets for special purposes), and the Spirit used him to fulfill this prophecy – quite apart from his will (he had no idea what his words meant in terms of the prophecy itself).
Thus this also becomes the fulfillment of Moses’ wish that all of God’s people would become prophets: "Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!" (Numbers 11:29). This cannot be satisfied by all of God’s people being saved – they had always been saved by faith in the coming of Christ. Moses wished that they would become "prophets" – to have the powers of prophecy, healing, miracles, like he did.
How do you interpret Moses' words here (Num.11:29)?
Prophecy is a gift wherein the person empowered speaks the very message of God. It would be wonderful if everyone spoke the very words of God. Paul says essentially the same thing and for the same reason when he says "I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied" (1Cor.14:5 NKJV). As it is, however, God has a reason for everything. This world exists to demonstrate how we will use the free will, the image of God we have been given, how we will respond to the truth and how we will accept true authority. Being entrusted with God's message directly from God is a massive responsibility and very few believers in the history of the world have had the humility to handle such a responsibility well for any length of time. Moses was "was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth" (Num.12:3 NIV), and the same was true of Paul (they are very similar in many respects). So while "it would be nice" if such were true, "people being people", it's not going to happen any time soon, and there would be many abuses and disastrous spiritual failures on the part of those who received things they couldn't handle if it did.
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Jacob's Prophecy of Levi: What's this all about? "Your anger is cruel and pitiless. You are despicable people. Therefore you'll get the highest honors in heaven and a super special priesthood." (Genesis 49:5-7)
This refers to the brothers' attack on the town of Shechem to avenge the rape of their sister, Dinah (Gen.34:1ff.). Levi was awarded the priesthood for preferring the Lord to his own brethren when the people were running wild in the "golden calf incident" (Ex.32:25-26; Deut.33:8-11).
Both prophecies came true. Instead of having a definite place of inheritance, along with Simeon, Levi was dispersed within the boundaries of the land, but Levi was also set aside to serve as a priest to God.
In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,
What's this passage all about?
When these people, or a prophet or a priest, ask you, ‘What is the message from the Lord?’ say to them, ‘What message? I will forsake you, declares the Lord.’ If a prophet or a priest or anyone else claims, ‘This is a message from the Lord,’ I will punish them and their household. This is what each of you keeps saying to your friends and other Israelites: ‘What is the Lord’s answer?’ or ‘What has the Lord spoken?’ But you must not mention ‘a message from the Lord’ again, because each one’s word becomes their own message. So you distort the words of the living God, the Lord Almighty, our God. This is what you keep saying to a prophet: ‘What is the Lord’s answer to you?’ or ‘What has the Lord spoken?’ Although you claim, ‘This is a message from the Lord,’ this is what the Lord says: You used the words, ‘This is a message from the Lord,’ even though I told you that you must not claim, ‘This is a message from the Lord.’ Therefore, I will surely forget you and cast you out of my presence along with the city I gave to you and your ancestors. I will bring on you everlasting disgrace—everlasting shame that will not be forgotten."
Jeremiah 23:33-40 NIV
The people of Israel had not been interested in God's opinion or His words . . . or in Him at all . . . for many years, and that continued even after they witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem (as so well illustrated by the remnant commissioning Jeremiah to seek the Lord's "word" and then immediately doing the very opposite of what He told them to do in going to Egypt instead of staying in the land thereafter). Before this, there were, however, many false prophets who claimed to have a "word of the Lord" when in fact the Lord had not sent them. So it is both chilling and ironic that Jeremiah is sent to them to tell them to stop claiming that they have anything do with the Lord whatsoever. Had they or the people taken this prohibition to heart, perhaps it would have caused them sorrow as to their sorry spiritual state; but by continuing to invent their own god and claim it was "the Lord", they only confirmed and hastened the discipline to come.
We see a lot of this today as well, especially in cases where putative "Christian ministers" claim to be receiving information directly from God – a sure sign, just as in Jeremiah's day, that exactly the opposite is true. And a similarly horrendous judgment is in store for Babylon as well. The main difference is that today there is no Jeremiah or similar prophet actually commissioned by the Lord to give a prophecy such as Jeremiah gives here (Jer.23:33ff.), not, at least, until Moses and Elijah return. But we do have the entire Bible.
In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,
I thought something similar to the "shibboleth" incident was happening: God said to Jeremiah that he will never preface his true prophecies with "a message from the Lord," so he must warn any prophet claimed the moment he says those words that he will be punished for being a false prophet, because if their message were truly for God, they would know not to use the phrase "a message from the Lord"!
The word in question is מַשָּׂא massa' or "burden" or "oracle" or "message", and it used at times by legitimate prophets of legitimate prophecies (e.g., Is.21:11; 22:1; Ezek.12:10; Nah.1:1; Hos.1:1; 9:1).
I am rereading your series on "The Coming Tribulation," and I noticed this section for the first time:
"It is more than interesting to note that Christ's message about the seven eras of the Church Age is given on earth, because it has been played out on earth, but that the vision of the heavenly scene on the threshold of the Tribulation (i.e., the content of chapters 4-7) takes place in heaven, because it is played out in heaven. The trends of the Church Age have been in large part a function of the collective decisions of earthly believers over the past two millennia, but the unleashing of the final epoch in Satan's control of the earth will be initiated in heaven by God's will and according to His time table."
Never took note of that before.
This is a strong proof that the seven churches prophecy is for the the Church Age and not for the Tribulation which follows.
Keeping you in my prayers,
In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,
"He will also invade the Beautiful Land. Many countries will fall, but Edom, Moab and the leaders of Ammon will be delivered from his hand." (Dan. 11:41)
Edom and Moab no longer exist, and there seems to be no prospect for them to briefly come into existence. So how cant his prophecy be fulfilled?
These are prophecies wherein the (future) geography of these places is correct for the Armageddon campaign. Indeed, how else would Daniel refer to these places except via the (at that time) longstanding national divisions?
During the Tribulation, these places will be contiguous with the safe haven described in Revelation chapter 12 (see the link).
Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,
Psalms are often essentially prayers and I have been wondering if it is at all correct that we consider at least some of them as historical accounts of the supplications of ancient Israel, which would mean (similarly as it's the case with the book of Acts), that although the historical record is accurate, not all prayers themselves may be in full accordance with God's word. I know it's probably not the case and the Psalms are inspired word of God as they are, but I thought I would ask.
I think we have to look at all facets of a book or in this case chapter. In one sense, all the books of the Bible are historical records. However, there is a difference between the utterance of a prophet empowered by the Spirit and the recording by a prophet of a historical event, even of words actually spoken. What Jezebel is recorded as saying was of course not inspired by the Holy Spirit. But all of the Psalms, as with all of the other prophetic books, are just that, prophecy in the Spirit. Which is why we find our Lord saying the following:
He said to them, "How then does David in the Spirit call Him 'Lord,' saying . . . [quote of Psalm 110:1]:
Matthew 23:43 NKJV
In his explanation of 2 Peter 1:20-21 Thiessen writes:
The "prophecy of Scripture" refers primarily, if not exclusively, to the prophecies of the Old Testament. Peter has encouraged the study of prophecy (v.19); but he adds that no one must interpret it just as he likes, for prophecy was not given by the will of man, and so it cannot be interpreted by the will of man. God gives both the prophecy and the interpretation of prophecy. It "came" or "was brought" (the same Greek word as in v. 18, where it is rendered "borne" out of heaven), and "men spake from God", i.e., as mouth-pieces of God, not by their own will, but as they were "borne along by the Holy Spirit".
So Thiessen interprets verse 20 as speaking of interpretation of prophecy, whereas I would have thought that the origin of it is meant, so rather than saying that "prophecy is not of private interpretation", the verse means that "no prophecy came as a result of one's own interpretation". Could you explain?
You are absolutely correct. T' has caved into liberal viewpoint here. If Peter had meant to say "every interpretation of prophecy" in v.20 he could have done so; what he does say is "every prophecy". We may add to this that if T' were correct about the meaning, the next verse would be largely superfluous as a proof because the fact that prophecy itself is of divine origin has no bearing upon whether or not an interpretation of it is inspired.
Keil and Delitzsch write:
The commission which the prophet received, reads as though it were quite irreconcilable with the fact that God, as the Good, can only will what is good. But our earlier doctrinarians have suggested the true solution, when they affirm that God does not harden men positive aut effective, since His true will and direct work are man's salvation, but occasionaliter et eventualiter, since the offers and displays of salvation which man receives necessarily serve to fill up the measure of his sins, and judicialiter so far as it is the judicial will of God, that what was originally ordained for men's salvation should result after all in judgment, in the case of any man upon whom grace has ceased to work, because all its ways and means have been completely exhausted. It is not only the loving will of God which is good, but also the wrathful will into which His loving will changes, when determinately and obstinately resisted. There is a self-hardening in evil, which renders a man thoroughly incorrigible, and which, regarded as the fruit of his moral behaviour, is no less a judicial punishment inflicted by God, than self-induced guilt on the part of man. The two are bound up in one another, inasmuch as sin from its very nature bears its own punishment, which consists in the wrath of God excited by sin. For just as in all the good that men do, the active principle is the love of God; so in all the harm that they do, the active principle is the wrath of God. An evil act in itself is the result of self-determination proceeding from a man's own will; but evil, regarded as the mischief in which evil acting quickly issues, is the result of the inherent wrath of God, which is the obverse of His inherent love; and when a man hardens himself in evil, it is the inward working of God's peremptory wrath. To this wrath Israel had delivered itself up through its continued obstinacy in sinning. And consequently the Lord now proceeded to shut the door of repentance against His people. Nevertheless He directed the prophet to preach repentance, because the judgment of hardness suspended over the people as a whole did not preclude the possibility of the salvation of individuals.
This explanation, although not the clearest, does seem reasonable. I find this view particularly interesting:
There is a self-hardening in evil, which renders a man thoroughly incorrigible, and which, regarded as the fruit of his moral behaviour, is no less a judicial punishment inflicted by God, than self-induced guilt on the part of man. The two are bound up in one another, inasmuch as sin from its very nature bears its own punishment, which consists in the wrath of God excited by sin.
So Keil and Delitzsch suggest that what we have here is both a judicial punishment inflicted by God as well as self-induced guilt - God's wrath and the sin through which it has been kindled. Do you agree with such an explanation?
"Hardness of heart" is both 1) a self-chosen path, and 2) a necessary result of negative behavior because of the way the Lord has constructed the human heart to respond when it accepts or rejects the truth. I don't know that I would want to frame it in "judicial" terms; this is a natural psychological phenomenon that occurs because God made us the way He made us: if we accept the truth, it changes us for the good; if we reject it, some lie is necessarily accepted in its place and it changes us for the worse (hardening of heart; see the link).
On Isaiah chapter six, since our Lord uses these verses in His own teaching, I take it that they have both an immediate application to Isaiah's generation and are also a description of Jesus' generation? Should we also take them as referring to the last days predating our Lord's Second Coming (which seems to be suggested by Isaiah 6:13, a verse which you use as a post-Armageddon reference)?
The principle holds true for any group or people who reject the truth; there is, it is true, a three-fold parallel between the Jewish people under paganism, under legalism ("this generation"), and those who remain stiff-necked in spite of the revival ministry of Moses and Elijah during the Tribulation. In the last case, however, there will be those who repent upon Christ's return, and they seem to be the majority (so that is different; see the link).
At the end of Isaiah 32, Keil and Delitzsch give a lengthy comment on the prophecies foreseeing the destruction of Jerusalem from the preceding chapters. In this note they discuss the fact that some these prophecies were not actually fulfilled through Assyria, despite seemingly referring specifically to that time. I would appreciate your comments on this note, I'm not sure how we should interpret these chapters. I know that there are many prophecies which refer to the end time, but it looks as if not all difficulties can be explained in that way.
This concludes the four woes, from which the fifth, that immediately follows, is distinguished by the fact, that in the former the Assyrian troubles are still in the future, whereas the fifth places us in the very midst of them. The prophet commenced (Isaiah 28:1-4) with the destruction of Samaria; he then threatened Judah and Jerusalem also. But it is uncommonly difficult to combine the different features of the threat into a complete picture. Sifting even to a small remnant is a leading thought, which runs through the threat. And we also read throughout the whole, that Asshur will meet with its own destruction in front of that very Jerusalem which it is seeking to destroy. But the prophet also knows, on the one hand, that Jerusalem is besieged by the Assyrians, and will not be rescued till the besieged city has been brought to the last extremity (Isaiah 29:1., Isaiah 31:4.); and, on the other hand, that this will reach even to the falling of the towers (Isaiah 30:25), the overthrow of the wall of the state (Isaiah 30:13-14), the devastation of the land, and the destruction of Jerusalem itself (Isaiah 32:12.); and for both of these he fixes the limit of a year (Isaiah 29:1; Isaiah 32:10). This double threat may be explained in the following manner. The judgments which Israel has still to endure, and the period of glory that will follow them, lie before the mental eye of the prophet like a long deep diorama. While threatening the existing generation, he penetrates more or less deeply into the judgments which lie in perspective before him. He threatens at one time merely a siege that will continue till it is brought to the utmost extremity; at another time utter destruction. But the imperial power intended, by which this double calamity is to be brought upon Judah, must be Assyria; since the prophet knew of no other in the earliest years of Hezekiah, when these threatening addresses were uttered. And this gives rise to another difficulty. Not only was the worst prediction - namely, that of the destruction of Jerusalem - not fulfilled; but even the milder prophecy - namely, that of a siege, which would bring them to the deepest distress - was not accomplished. There never was any actual siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrians. The explanation of this is, that, according to Jeremiah 18:7-8, and Jeremiah 18:9, Jeremiah 18:10, neither the threatenings of punishment nor the promises of blessing uttered by the prophets were so unconditional, that they were certain to be fulfilled and that with absolute necessity, at such and such a time, or upon such and such a generation. The threatened punishment might be repealed or modified, if repentance ensued on the part of the persons threatened (Jonah 3:4; 1 Kings 21:29; 2 Kings 22:15-20; 2 Chronicles 12:5-8). The words of the prophecy did not on that account fall to the ground. If they produced repentance, they answered the very purpose for which they were intended; but if the circumstances which called for punishment should return, their force returned as well in all its fulness. If the judgment was one irrevocably determined, it was merely delayed by this, to be discharged upon the generation which should be ripest for it. And we have also an express historical testimony, which shows that this is the way in which the non-fulfilment of what Isaiah threatened as about to take place within a year is to be accounted for. Not only Isaiah, but also his contemporary Micah, threatened, that along with the judgment upon Samaria, the same judgment would also burst upon Jerusalem. Zion would be ploughed as a field, Jerusalem would be laid in ruins, and the temple mountain would be turned into a wooded height (Micah 3:12). This prophecy belongs to the first year of Hezekiah's reign, for it was then that the book of Micah was composed. But we read in Jeremiah 26:18-19, that, in their alarm at this prophecy, Hezekiah and all Judah repented, and that Jehovah withdrew His threat in consequence. Thus, in the very first year of Hezekiah, a change for the better took place in Judah; and this was necessarily followed by the withdrawal of Isaiah's threatenings, just as those threatenings had co-operated in the production of this conversion (see Caspari, Micha, p. 160ff.). Not one of the three threats (Isaiah 29:1-4;Isaiah 32:9-14; Micah 3:12), which form an ascending climax, was fulfilled. Previous threatenings so far recovered their original force, when the insincerity of the conversion became apparent, that the Assyrians did unquestionably march through Judah, devastating everything as they went along. But because of Hezekiah's self-humiliation and faith, the threat was turned from that time forward into a promise. In direct opposition to his former threatening, Isaiah now promised that Jerusalem would not be besieged by the Assyrians (Isaiah 37:33-35), but that, before the siege was actually established, Assyria would fall under the walls of Jerusalem.
Where I would see a potential mistake in their interpretation is in the middle of this note:
But the imperial power intended, by which this double calamity is to be brought upon Judah, must be Assyria; since the prophet knew of no other in the earliest years of Hezekiah, when these threatening addresses were uttered.
I'm not sure if it necessarily has to be Assyria because Isaiah knew of no other enemy. It seems that if these prophecies should be applied to Babylon, the difficulties would be resolved. Is there a reason in your opinion why we cannot apply prophet's words to Babylon's conquest?
K&D like so many others want to strip prophecy of its prophetic qualities. It's a prophecy, which means that it provides information about the future which is otherwise unknowable apart from God's revelation of it to us. That includes information about the suffering of the Messiah (Is.53:1ff.), information about the Millennium and the preceding Tribulation (passim), and also information about Babylon, both the nearer term successor to Assyria and also eschatological Babylon. Sometimes these things are blended in order to make a point, namely, to impress upon the recipients the importance and thrust of present near term prophecies by way of reference to the model of eschatological prophecies. I call the phenomenon, common in the OT prophets, "the Day of the Lord paradigm" (it does have variations, as here, but the same thing is going on); see the link in CT 1, "Hermeneutic Issues".
What destruction is Isaiah referring to in this passage? Is it the day of the Lord, Christ's Second Coming? Verse 4 seems to apply to the final destruction of heaven and earth which precedes the eternal state:
Isaiah 34:4 (NASB)
4 And all the host of heaven will wear away,
And the sky will be rolled up like a scroll;
All their hosts will also wither away
As a leaf withers from the vine,
Or as one withers from the fig tree.
See previous CT 1 hermeneutic section reference; where the issue of prophecy and its interpretation as it applies to eschatology is discussed. This passage you quote is an example of multiple fulfillment; it applies both to the celestial phenomena accompanying the second advent and also to the rolling up of the old heavens and earth and their replacement with the New Heavens and New Earth at the end of human history (compare Rev.6:14 [2nd Adv.] with Rev.20:11 [end of history]).
Keil and Delitzsch write:
And the bright noon-day background of his prophecies is no longer the realized idea of the kingdom of prophecy - realized, that is to say, in the one person of the Messiah, whose form had lost the sharp outlines of chapters 7-12 even in the prophecies of Hezekiah's time - but the parousia of Jehovah, which all flesh would see. It was the revelation of the mystery of the incarnation of God, for which all this was intended to prepare the way. And there was no other way in which that could be done, than by completing the perfect portrait of the Messiah in the light of the ultimate future, so that both the factors in the prophecy might be assimilated.
I'm not entirely clear about the points made here. It seems that Keil and Delizsch draw a distinction between the person of the Messiah and the parousia of Jehovah, but weren't they both the same thing - our Lord coming in the flesh?
I can't speak to their confusion. In the NT, the parousia is the second advent, almost exclusively; the Latin translation for that is adventus. We may speak of a first and second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and also an "advent" of the Father as I do (see the link); I believe K&D were amillenialists – which would go a long way towards explaining why they are confused about eschatology.
Therefore the ranking [of the cherubs] in Revelation 4:7 (Lion-Bullock-Man-Eagle) has the following significance:
"The symbol of the historical Age of Israel is placed first.
"The symbol of the coming Kingdom of Israel is placed last.
"These two symbols enclose the two symbols of the predominantly gentile ages, of which . . .
"The symbol of the Age of the Gentiles is placed first.
"The symbol of the Church Age (where gentiles are grafted into Israel) is placed next to it.
"Thus Israel and Kingdom Israel enclose the gentiles and the mystery gentiles (Eph.3:6).
One thought that occurred to me when going through this is whether we can really know if John has had this symbolism in mind here, rather than, for example, describing the four cherubs in an order different to Ezekiel?
It is an open question as to how much prophets understand of what they prophecy when they prophecy it. The Spirit uses John's talents and perspective but not without making sure that the precise message He means to convey is conveyed in precisely the right way. Furthermore, this layout is the layout that actually exists; John saw it and wrote it down. The analysis provided above is correct – assuming that the symbolism has been correctly interpreted. I can't tell you if John fully grasped the symbolism at the time (we have all the time we wish to try and figure these things out); I can tell you that the description is correct and also that the analysis is correct if the interpretation of the symbolism is correct (which I believe it is).
In 1 John 4:2, is "the spirit of God" the Holy Spirit (as, for example, in Gen 1:2), or does it mean "the unseen influence of God"? What about the "spirit of truth" in verse 6? I ask because of what you write in CT3A about the mystery of lawlessness and how it relates to the "spirit of the antichrist" and the "spirit of error" in this 1 John passage (both of which deal with the influence of Satan). You say there:
In that passage [i.e., 1 John 4:1-6] "spirit" refers to an unseen influence in exactly the same way as "mystery" does in the phrase "mystery of lawlessness".
I suppose the Holy Spirit is an "unseen influence" in this regard, but I was just curious if you viewed these things as a concept separate from Him in particular.
This is what I have written so far on the passage:
Verse two gives us the classic test of orthodoxy: if someone confesses that Jesus has "come in the flesh", they are saying that He is God incarnate, the God-man (cf. John 1:14). More properly, they are affirming the hypostatic union, the doctrine that Christ was (and is) both fully divine and fully human. In a sense they are also confessing his judgement for our sins, death, and resurrection — the gospel message as it is commonly defined. He came, and in so doing, He accomplished the payment for our sins, payment that we would have otherwise been hopelessly incapable of providing.
In verses 3 to 6, John distinguishes between two types of teachers: those of God, and those of the devil. The language here can be difficult, so let’s break it down:
A "spirit" in this context is a teacher, one we are testing per 1 John 4:1.
A "spirit from God" (v.2) is a teacher under the control of God.
A "spirit not from God" (v.3) is a teacher under the control of Satan (v.4 "he who is in the world").
This passage is somewhat confusing because John uses the word for spirit (Gk. pneuma) both in the sense of teachers and in the sense of unseen supernatural influence. Humans are dichotomous beings (flesh and spirit, cf. Galatians 5:17), so by John referring to humans as "spirits", he is emphasizing this aspect of our nature.
Now, the key to interpreting this passage is this: the things that distinguish "spirits from God" from "spirits not from God" are God’s invisible influence and Satan’s invisible influence. (In this passage, spirit, when not used of teachers, is referring to an unseen influence — another meaning of the Greek word pneuma is wind, which we feel without seeing). Spirits (teachers) from God, those who confess that Jesus has come in the flesh, will always be under the influence of God, and spirits (teachers) not from God, those that do not confess Jesus, will always be under the influence of Satan (whether they know it consciously or not). In verse 6, God’s influence (the spirit of God in v.2) is the spirit of truth, and Satan’s influence (the spirit of the antichrist in v.3) is the spirit of error. We know Satan is in mind here because of a parallel passage: 2 John 1:7.
In 2 John 1:7 the complement to people who deny Jesus is "this is the deceiver and the antichrist" instead of "this is the spirit of the antichrist". We know elsewhere from scripture that Satan is the deceiver (cf. John 8:44; Revelation 12:9), so therefore Satan and his influence is what is in mind here. There is much more that could be said about this identification (see CT3A, starting at the last paragraph of page 33), but for now hopefully the above is sufficient. Also of note is that the antichrist (instead of the "many antichrists" already here, cf. 1 John 2:18) is an important eschatological figure distinct from Satan himself. He is referred to by other titles in scripture as well: "the prince who is to come" (Daniel 9:26), "the man of lawlessness" (2 Thessalonians 2:3), and "the beast" (Revelation 13).
What verses 2 and 3 are saying, in effect:
You can see God and His influence behind the teachers that confess that Jesus Christ came in the flesh. However, you can see Satan and his influence behind the teachers that do not confess Jesus.
As you can see, I am currently not identifying the Holy Spirit directly in my treatment (rather, I am taking the "spirit of God" to be the logical antithesis to the "spirit of the antichrist" — so the unseen influence of God), and I want to make sure that this is correct before sharing with my friends.
Your brother in Christ,
I like your synopsis: this passage is indeed all about comparing true prophets and true teachers who are guided by the Holy Spirit with false prophets and false teachers who are motivated by the evil one – the ultimate example of which is antichrist. Here is how I translate the passage:
(1) Beloved, don't believe every spirit [of every so-called prophet], but test the spirits [of these "prophets" to see] whether [or not] they are from God. For many false prophets have gone out into the world. (2) By this [test] you [will] know [whether or not a person has] the Spirit of God. Any spirit (i.e., a person or organization) which professes that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, (3) but any spirit which does not profess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not from God. And this [latter] is the [spirit] of the antichrist, which you have heard about, that he is coming, and [even] now [his spirit] is already in the world.
1st John 4:1-3
The word pneuma occurs in this passage five times (and is understood so as needing to be filled in twice more). The word does mean "influence" or "person expressing the viewpoint of such and such influence" in all of these cases except in the first sentence of verse two where it means the Holy Spirit. This is clear in that instance both from the description in the context and also especially because He is there called "the Spirit of God". He obviously influences us too, so it is a case of influence vs. influence, but God's influence comes through His Spirit . . . and through the "spirits" who are influenced by Him (i.e., believers).
Does this answer your question? Feel free to write me back about any of this.
Hope your term is ending up in fine fashion, my friend!
In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,
That answered the heart of my question. I just want to make sure I wrap up a few other loose ends:
1) In the Greek, is there a definite article before "Spirit of God" in verse two? Your emphasis would seem to indicate so, but I can't tell from the interlinear.
2) Is there significance to identifying a "person expressing the viewpoint of such and such influence" as a prophet instead of a teacher? I know the law already gives tests for false prophets in Deuteronomy 13 and Deuteronomy 18, and I had always read this passage with "teachers" in mind instead. How do we know what John was thinking here?
3) Do we identify "the spirit of truth" in verse 6 as the Holy Spirit as well? Most versions do in the English by capitalizing Spirit there, but you said that verse 2 was the only place where the Holy Spirit was in mind. I just want to make sure I'm understanding you correctly.
As to finishing, this last week has been rather busy settling housing arrangements, financial aid, and the like.
1) Yes there is a definite article in the case of "the Spirit of God" (it occurs directly before pneuma).
2) Prophets foretold, but they also "forth-told"; so they were teachers in every important sense of the word as well. In NT times, "false prophets" were false teachers as well as false "foretellers". Whether or not they claimed to have a direct, personal message from God, what they taught was false and did not come from God. The same, of course, is true today – 1st John 2:18 tells us that there were "many antichrists" abroad even in John's day – and will be until our Lord returns.
3) That is how I would take it as well (i.e., "Spirit of truth" = the HS). Of course the Spirit's influence is true: the Word of truth is the Spirit's weapon (Eph.6:17), so all who express the truth are in effect the Spirit's instruments as well.
You have some exciting things ahead of you, that is for certain! I hope and pray that you take pains to enjoy this wonderful coming experience.
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I don't quite understand what you are agreeing with when you say "That is how I would take it as well." Either way, I understand that the meaning is not terribly different, but it seems to me that either this phrase A) has the Holy Spirit in mind explicitly, or B) does not (and is instead using "spirit of truth" in a general sense in opposition to the "spirit of error"). So is it A or B?
What I mean is that the Spirit is clearly the Spirit in this passage where He is identified as "the Holy Spirit". When it comes to "spirit" used as influence, the word may refer to human beings, or to a general influence. But general influences in this context and generally in scripture are either divine (in which case they are empowered by the Holy Spirit) or satanic (in which case they are empowered by the evil one), and that is also true of human beings when referred to as "spirits" because said "spirit" or "human being under someone's influence" will always be of one camp or the other (cf. Gal.5:17). So while I take verse six to be referring to the Holy Spirit, it is true that a person who is teaching the truth under the influence of the Holy Spirit is, in this discussion and passage "a spirit [who expresses] the truth" as opposed to the other alternative in verse six, "a spirit [who expresses] falsehood".
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
As we (myself and the study group I'm leading) finish up our study of 1 John, we come to this passage, which is apparently thought by many to be the most difficult to interpret in this epistle (even ignoring the comma and related debate, which obfuscates the true issues at play). I've been praying for you and your deliverance since you said last week was difficult. Please do take your time and get to this as life allows.
During our time together (especially when we were studying John's careful wording in the first several sentences of 1 John 1), I made the point that some of John's doctrinal focus in this epistle is combating incipient Gnosticism. In its introduction to 1 John, the NIV Study Bible talks both of Cerinthianism (Divine Jesus joined the man named Jesus at His baptism and left before the Crucifixion) and Docetism (because all flesh is "evil and corrupt", Jesus only had the appearance of true humanity, but was actually only spirit). Of course, Jesus is actually both fully human and fully divine, and the hypostatic union is what John is bearing witness about throughout His letter, refuting both positions.
When preparing for this week, I've come across two primary interpretations of this passage. The first says that John primarily has Docetism in mind when writing. As you write: [W]hat John is trying to say in this passage ... [is] to demonstrate to Gnostic opponents that Jesus was a true human being: John is also the one who reports that when Jesus' body was pierced by the lance "blood and water" came out (Jn.19:34) – and this could never have happened if He were an "aeon". This evidence, testified to by the Spirit (who inspired John's gospel) constitute "the three" who give witness here.
Regarding 1 John 5:6 you wrote: John's purpose in this passage is to demonstrate to Gnostic opponents that Jesus was a true human being: John is also the one who reports that when Jesus' body was pierced by the lance "blood and water" came out (Jn.19:34) – and this could never have happened if He were an "aeon". This evidence of "blood and water" is joined by the testimony of the Spirit (who inspired John's gospel), so that together they constitute "the three" who give witness to the truth of Jesus' true humanity. It may seem odd to us in our day and age where heresies involving the doctrine of Jesus Christ tend to doubt His deity, but in antiquity there were many attacks on the genuine nature of His humanity, and that is what John is addressing here (we find similar defenses against Gnosticism in Peter chapter 2 and throughout Paul's corpus, in Colossians and Ephesians in particular).
In that case the "blood and water" should be taken as literal blood and literal water, as opposed to our Lord's sacrifice and the water of the word?
You wrote: The "blood and water" of John 19:34 are literal, and that is the best sense of 1st John 5:6 too (not that John wouldn't have been aware that blood and water have symbolic meanings too). John's purpose here is the refutation of incipient Gnosticism which claimed that our Lord was an "aeon" which/who did not have an actual, physical human body – but "the Spirit testifies" to the truth of His humanity, and this is strong evidence, John being himself an eyewitness to this event.
Some present an argument against this interpretation that if both water and blood referred to the same witness of His corporeality, they wouldn't be used as separate arguments in the next passages:
This would be the obvious interpretation, and would be entirely clear, if John did not immediately speak of the "water" and the "blood" as "separate" witnesses, each as bearing witness to an important point, "as" separate as the "Spirit" and the "water," or the "Spirit" and the "blood;" whereas, if he refers to the mingled water and blood flowing from his side, they both witness only the same fact, to wit, his death.
What is your take on this?
You wrote: In the actual Greek, "Spirit" occurs also in verse 6a (see the link for discussion); but after the three are listed sequentially, in the second half of the verse, 6b, blood and water are separated out, then John adds, "and the Spirit is the One who gives [this] testimony". What testimony is this, if not that Jesus is truly human as evidenced by the water and the blood to which the Spirit testifies? John therefore encapsulates the two between two references to the three, and thus emphasizes the two in conjunction with the testimony of the Third, the Spirit. The objection does not, therefore, "hold water", and stems no doubt from misreading the genuine text. The whole "Johanine comma" corruption has made this particular passage and issue much more difficult than it needs to be (see the link).
As best I can tell, this interpretation is saying that here John is paraphrasing John 19:34 to show that Jesus was a human being and not simply an immaterial spirit – he could bleed and die.
The second interpretation says that John primarily has Cerinthianism in mind when writing:
[...] Thus the most satisfactory interpretation takes water as a reference to Jesus’ baptism (at the outset of His earthly ministry) and blood as a reference to His death on the cross. This was Tertullian’s view (c. 160/170-c. 215/220). It is the best view because in the context, John is emphasizing the historical foundations of the faith. Both His baptism and the cross are historic experiences that bear witness to Jesus’ divine-human person. At each of these events, the Father intervened in a miraculous way to bear testimony to His Son. At Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit descended on Him as a dove and the voice from heaven declared (Matt. 3:17), "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased." At His crucifixion, the sky was darkened, the earth quaked, numerous resurrections took place, and the veil in the Temple was torn from top to bottom (Matt. 27:51-53). This interpretation also fits with what we know of the historical setting of 1 John. The Cerenthian Gnostics, whom John refutes throughout the letter, taught that Jesus was a mere man upon whom "the Christ" descended at His baptism and from whom "the Christ" departed before His death. These false teachers could not conceive of how a divine Savior could have died on the cross. To refute this serious heresy, John shows that Jesus was the Christ (God’s Anointed) before His baptism, where that fact was authenticated by the Spirit. "Came" implies that He came to earth from heaven. Since the Gnostics agreed that Jesus was the Christ at His baptism, John adds (5:6b), "not with the water only, but with the water and the blood." This is to say that He was the Christ during and after His crucifixion. Then John adds (5:6c-8): "It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement." As mentioned, the Holy Spirit bore witness to Jesus at His baptism and at His death. Spurgeon (ibid., "The Three Witnesses," #1187, p. 552) points out that in Leviticus 8, when the priests were consecrated, they were washed with water, anointed with oil (a type of the Holy Spirit), and the blood of a sacrificial ram was applied to their ear, thumb, and toe. Even so, Jesus our great High Priest was washed with water at His baptism, anointed by the Spirit, and offered His own blood as the final and sufficient sacrifice for our sins. John’s point here is that God has borne witness to His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Spirit of truth bore witness to Jesus at His baptism, when He identified with sinners, although He Himself did not need to be cleansed. He testified of Jesus throughout His earthly ministry, through His miracles, His teaching, and His obedient life. He bore witness to Jesus as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, initially through John the Baptist’s witness (John 1:29), but supremely at the cross. He confirmed that witness through the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead (Rom. 1:4). The Spirit bore further witness when, in fulfillment of Jesus’ promise, He descended on the church at the Day of Pentecost. He further affirmed the witness to Jesus through the miracles that the apostles performed. We have that witness in the New Testament. Thus John’s point is that God’s threefold witness to His Son—the Spirit, the water, and the blood—is trustworthy. In a court of law, truth is established when numerous witnesses say the same thing and when those witnesses are shown to have credible character. John shows us that the three witnesses all agree, and they are not just the testimony of men, but of God Himself.
As best I can tell, this interpretation is saying that here John is making an unrelated point to John 19:34 – that Jesus' position as the God-man is shown through His baptism (water) and crucifixion/judgment for our sins (blood).
I have uncertainties and reservations about both interpretations. In regards to the first one, the page I linked dismissed it in the following way:
[...] Some link this passage with John 19:34-35, where John testifies to the blood and water that flowed from the spear wound in Jesus’ side. Augustine and some other ancient commentators held this view. At first glance it seems logical since John wrote both passages. Both texts emphasize the water and the blood, and both emphasize the idea of testimony. But the similarities are not so close upon further examination. In 1 John, Jesus came by water and blood, whereas in the Gospel, it was blood and water that came out of Jesus. In 1 John, the water and blood bear witness to Jesus, whereas in the Gospel, John bears witness to the blood and water. In 1 John, the water and blood seem to bear witness to Jesus’ divine-human person, whereas in the Gospel, the blood and water bear witness to Jesus’ human death, and perhaps to the salvation provided by it.
(I don't agree with that last bit – it was God's judgement of Jesus in our place that provides salvation, not his physical death)
Here is how I would phrase the questions:
1) If John had John 19:34 in mind when writing 1 John 5:6-8, what exactly does the the statement "This is the One who came by water, blood, and Spirit" mean? More specifically, what meaning does "came" take here?
2) What does "not by means of water only but by means of water and blood" mean? Why would John make this distinction if not to combat the Cerinthians who did believe that Jesus "came by the water" (i.e., was divine at the point of His baptism), but did not believe that Jesus "came by blood" (i.e., was divine at the point of His crucifixion)? If "water" in John 19:34 is literal, and is to be taken literally here as well, is its only purpose in the argument to serve as another "witness"?
3) It seems to me you contradict yourself by quoting 1 John 5:6-8 here. You appear to be using it to support the water=Word metaphor (which is of course plenty attested to in scripture without this verse). I don't understand how you can say the water is literal and then say the water is metaphorical. Am I misunderstanding something you wrote in the emails or how you are using it here?
4) I'm sure what you are saying here is helpful and elucidating, but I'm afraid I can't follow the meaning of it:
In the actual Greek, "Spirit" occurs also in verse 6a (see the link for discussion); but after the three are listed sequentially, in the second half of the verse, 6b, blood and water are separated out, then John adds, "and the Spirit is the One who gives [this] testimony". What testimony is this, if not that Jesus is truly human as evidenced by the water and the blood to which the Spirit testifies? John therefore encapsulates the two between two references to the three, and thus emphasizes the two in conjunction with the testimony of the Third, the Spirit.
Could you explain in greater detail how the above gives us basis to still link "not by means of water only but by means of water and blood" back to John 19:34, despite John seemingly drawing a meaningful difference between the two?
Of course, the other side has problems too. Elsewhere in scripture, as your last link above demonstrates, "water" does equal "Word". To my knowledge, nowhere else in scripture is it instead equated with Christ's baptism. So this would be a case of interpreting without precedent (or "assuming") -- always shaky ground to stand on. In fact, aside from scriptures supporting the idea that there were supernatural occurrences at Jesus' baptism and crucifixion, there is very little other scripture quoted in support of this view at all (Spurgeon and Tertullian are not scripture). It is also assumed that John was writing to combat the Cerinthians specifically, and this is what 5:6b has in mind. In short, at least in this piece, the view is supported more from assumption than exegesis.
This passage has certainly slipped my understanding, and I'm going to have to give a most unsatisfying answer when it comes up tonight during our last study together. I'm confident, however, that God will make it clear to me with time... and with the help of patient people who bear with me at every turn!
P.S. – Since I'm going to be leaving my friends rather permanently in the next month, would you be comfortable if I CC'd them on further correspondence on this passage to get them comfortable with the idea of contacting you directly with questions? I have been acting as a middle man of sorts, and, well, I won't be able to fulfill this role soon. They're familiar with Ichthys since we've been drawing material from the Peter Series all semester, but I think they are a little bit too shy to email you – and I don't want to leave without giving them someone else they can turn to with questions when I'm not there physically.
First let me say that I would be most happy to have you copy your friends, or for them to email me directly should they wish to do so.
I will do my best to answer your four questions here. However, I would like to state at the outset that "scripture means what it means", by which I mean that there is tendency in theology to "go beyond what is written". I am very fond, as you know, of the "two extreme sides of the road both leading to a ditch" analogy, because I feel it reflects what scripture often presents, namely, two extremes that seem to recommend themselves because of their polar opposition to each other – when in fact the truth is the middle and has a foot in both camps (the actually harmonious coexistence and inextricable nature of predestination and free will being a prime example). In this regard, on the one hand the oft-repeated evangelical saw "if the plain sense of scripture makes sense seek no other sense" is a recipe for sticking one's head ostrich-like into the sands of ignorance, on the other hand it is also true that getting too deeply into the weeds of complicated exegesis and theological arguments that are so involved and complex it is prima facie impossible that the original writer would even have been thinking in such terms is also spiritual quicksand. A short way of saying that this "problem" is more complicated than the simplifiers would like to admit, and not as complicated as the professional theologians writing to get tenure hope it to be.
1) John is a very simple and conceptual writer. He puts things in an almost figurative way even in making declarative remarks. "Come" (erchomai) is one of the most common verbs in all of ancient Greek. Were you or I (or certainly any chair-holding theologian) to write this passage, instead of saying "This is the One who came through water, blood and Spirit", we would undoubtedly say something like
. . . "Jesus came into the world, though God, as a genuine human being, and His genuine humanity was manifest on the cross (cross-reference to the gospel) when His body was pierced and blood and water came forth – something that a spirit or aion would not possess; and also by the witness of the Holy Spirit who prior to that, at that time, and now as well witnesses to the truth of who Jesus really is . . . for all those who really are willing to accept the truth (unlike these Jewish mystics who are trying to upset you with all their foolish ideas which now forces me to address this issue again)". . .
And some (like myself) would feel the need to explain even further. But surely "This is the One who came through water, blood and Spirit" is far more powerful and inspiring – not to mention economical. John wrote as he wrote. The Spirit conveyed the Spirit's perfect message, but did not waive or eliminate John's personality and style; rather He made full use of them. John expresses things quite differently from Paul, but we are blessed to have both modes of expressing the same exact truths. For we are all different, and benefit from hearing the truth from a number of different vantage points of scriptural writers.
2) It's a good question and a good point (n.b., John changes the preposition here from dia to en, a fact that emphasizes the general nature of this proposition and argues against getting too dogmatic about specifics). However, since John wanted to emphasize blood, how else was he supposed to say this? I suppose he could have left the water out in the first place, but that would have the dual disadvantages of making the reference to the gospel unclear on the one hand, and of leading some to think that blood was meant figuratively on the other – and besides, water and blood really did pour forth (that was what actually happened). We do not really have any clear idea of all of the strains of false teaching afoot in John's day. Our sources are very scanty and very late, so that to posit two main strains of a formalized Gnosticism at this time is to ignore the "wild-west" nature of the teaching of mystical ideas that seems from all the evidence I have seen to have held sway at that time. From John's point of view, therefore, the main thing was to emphasize that Christ did have actual blood – so that He was an actual human being. If by emphasizing the blood we have of necessity a secondary emphasizing of the water as a result, well, that would probably not be all bad from John's point of view, whether or not he had some specific Gnostic teaching in mind, be it related to baptism or other cleansing rituals or even some false idea of which we are today not privy: "sure Jesus had water, but not blood, because only real human beings have blood" or some such thing. After all, water and blood were essential elements in some views of cosmology, so their meaning and significance in such contexts would be differently felt than today.
3) I suppose I am having it both ways to some degree in the link you quote ("water of the Word" in BB 5); however, I often make the distinction between interpretation and application. The water in our passage is literal (interpretation), but it does call to mind, especially in the context of the Spirit bearing witness along with the water, the idea of the water of the Word (application), and it is not perhaps unfair to think that such would be in the minds of anyone reading this passage who was well-versed in scripture (even if they understood the interpretation correctly). It would suit the hermeneutic tastes of many to suppress the allusion (application) in favor of being Simon-pure about the interpretation, but in my view it would be a mistake to go that far inasmuch as the allusion is definitely there too (in my opinion).
The blood and the water are literally blood and water. However, literal things symbolize other things all the time. In the context of the cross, blood, literal blood, of course also symbolizes Christ's sacrifice for us (as you also saw); and water, literal water, can also symbolize the truth of the Word of God in the context of the Living Word's sacrifice for us.
4) The prose is a little dense, but it's my attempt to elucidate the effect of the Greek word order which has the Spirit separate from the two and bearing witness to them in an emphatic way. That begs the question of just what the Spirit is testifying to in regard to the water and the blood – and to me (in the context of the gospel reference) it is obvious that this testimony is directed to the humanity of Christ (so that John is opposing false Gnostic ideas; Q.E.D.).
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to make sure that I understand John 19:34ff properly before continuing much of the present discussion, since I believe this is part of my roadblock to full comprehension. In my reading I came across a fellow's dissertation on this verse (here; a synopsis of the study starts on page 117), which I didn't particularly agree with, but it gave me some good food for thought. Like we've done in the past, I'm going to outline my current understanding, and then you can correct me if I err on some point.
John includes 19:34 as a means of demonstrating our Lord's humanity; his testimony in verse 35 is a testimony of Christ's humanity ("The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe."). Believe what? Believe that Jesus was a human being, not a purely spiritual being lacking any form of corporeality (what the Gnostics called called an "aeon").
The blood and water of this verse are literal -- when the soldier pierced Jesus' side literal blood and literal "water" came out (questions about the nature of this "water" are below). John's statement is one of historical fact. This does not, however, mean that the verses are not allowed to have more layers of meaning on top of this. We also view the crucifixion and judgment of Christ in our place as a historical reality, but certainly we don't disallow all the many symbols attached to it! So too here. It's just a matter of determining what symbolic meaning blood and water do have, if any. (It is also possible for literal things to be just literal things in scripture, but it is imperative that this be a judgment made for each and every case individually).
I take Jn.19:36 as John calling Jesus the Passover lamb, in fulfillment of Exodus 12:48 and Numbers 9:12 (and perhaps Psalm 34:20? Could you comment on the applicability of this verse here -- specifically, the fact that it shows up in a seemingly non-Messianic Psalm?). It is only through the blood of Christ that we are spared from God's judgment. The referent of this verse is not the piercing of Jesus' side but the soldier's unfulfilled intention to break His legs.
Jn.19:37 is a bit trickier. The dissertation linked above attempts to use its connection with Zechariah 12:10 to make the case for present eschatological fulfillment at the time John witnessed this (i.e., the final fulfillment of this prophecy was at the time Christ was pierced rather than some point in the future). It then uses this rather forced view to attempt to draw even more connections with later parts of the book, including Zechariah 13:1 and Zechariah 14:8 (seeing Christ himself as the fountain in 13:1, and as the eschatological temple in 14:8). I am much more in agreement with Bob, however, who sees this verse as being a reference to the Jews looking upon Christ at His second coming (see "The Repentance of Israel" in CT 5), and the other two verses also referring to things at this future time rather than Christ himself. This mean's John's quote here is saying more along the lines of "Look: the Jews pierced Him at this point; they'll remember this when He comes in glory." That this is the case is almost irrefutable given the latter of part of Zechariah 14:10: "they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son." At the point of Christ's piercing, this was certainly not the case with the majority of the Jews, so "the looking" (at least in final fulfillment) must also be in the future.
Now, in terms of things I am uncertain on, there are primarily two:
1) The nature of the "water" in 19:34. Is the origin of the "water" in this verse physiological (e.g., here) or supernatural (as in a miraculous outpouring not originating from the physiology of Christ's body)? Is the water to be understood as chemically H2O, or what the ancients would have perceived as "water" (the fluid from the pecardial and pleural effusions of the link above)?
2) The symbolic meaning of the water (and in the context of our discussion, whether or not it is the same as the meaning in 1 John 5:6-8). The dissertation linked above claims that the water represents a fulfillment of the OT Levitical concept of "water of uncleanness" (i.e., the water from Christ's side makes us "clean" just as the blood paid for our sin-- this view is related to interpreting Zechariah 13:1 and 14:8 with Christ in mind), as well as the Holy Spirit per John 7:37-39 -- he claims that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (i.e., the water) "positionally" happened at this point and was only later "fully realized" at Pentecost. Several other views are given here (the water being typologically related to Eve I reject as being prima facie too forced). On first inspection, it also seems improbable that the water here is related to the Holy Spirit in any way because that would necessarily demand that John 19:34 and 1 John 5:6-8 be interpreted discretely (the Holy Spirit already being mentioned in 1 John 5:6-8). Of course, the water here could also not carry symbolic meaning at all. What is your take?
This seems to me a good amount to start with. Notice that your response for question three (3) from our last exchange found its way into my explanation of John 19:34 (viz., things can be literal but also take on symbolic meaning -- what you say makes sense!). I suppose we may have a case of not defining terms here, but in my mind, understanding the full symbolic meaning of an object falls under the umbrella of interpretation not application -- once you've properly discerned the full meaning in context, then and only then can you use it in building doctrinal positions.
Yours in Jesus Christ, our dear Lord and Savior,
I think you put these things very well. Points:
1) The analogy of the lamb to our Lord is found in every single animal sacrifice of the Old Testament, even before the Law. The blood of the victim is always an analogy to the blood of Christ, literal blood (wherein is "the life") representing the spiritual death of Christ on the cross wherein He atoned for all sin. Here is another pertinent OT passage to keep in mind on this point:
Though He was oppressed and afflicted, like a lamb led to slaughter He did not open His mouth, and like a ewe before her shearers He did not open His mouth.
On Psalm 34:20, there are bits of prophecy relevant to the Messiah throughout the Old Testament and throughout the Psalms (our Lord as the model righteous person – and in fact the only truly righteous One who thus had a full claim on all such promises).
2) On the water in 1st John 5:6-8: the water is literal water harkening back to the depiction in the gospel of John. Since the gospel had already been written, the testimony of the literal water and literal blood which demonstrated Christ's true humanity now "speak" as witnesses to all who read that gospel (not just to those who saw the event). But we are justified to understand that this literal water and literal blood which are mentioned for this specific purpose have, as is always the case, a symbolic reference too. In the same way that a lamb is just a lamb, but a lamb being sacrificed is both a lamb and a symbol of Christ, so water is water and blood is blood, but water and blood in the context of our Lord's sacrifice on the cross for us all surely cannot be considered to be bereft of the obvious symbolism of the sacrifice of Christ (blood) and the Word which communicates it for salvation to all who believe (water) – especially in the context of the Spirit being the One "who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth".
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
While ultimately the questions here will resolve back to 1 John 5, I specifically had the interpretation of John 19:34 in mind last email, the logic being that if John is quoting or alluding to this verse, we must of a necessity understand John 19:34 properly to understand 1 John 5:6-8.
With this in mind, and with most of the prose removed, my questions were essentially these:
1) Did the water in John 19:34 have a natural origin (some physiological explanation), or are we supposed to understand it as having some sort of overtly miraculous divine origin? Does it matter?
2) What does the water mean in John 19:34? Is there any significance to the fact that it came "out of" Christ?
I think I might be getting a little bit hung up here on differentiating between the two locations in scripture -- i.e., the water in John 19 is the same as the water in 1 John 5 so we interpret it all the same?
Yours in Christ,
I'm no MD, but I have heard that after death blood begins to resolve into serum and plasma (i.e., "water and blood" to anyone not tied to modern-day medical definitions). This was not unknown to the ancient world as most people had seen far more dead bodies than we have. So, yes, it was "real" and without anything supernatural having taken place in regard to the process of the body after death – which is the whole point of John's comments.
Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,