Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Continuation of the Progressive Revelation of God, its Climax and the Jews' Response (John 16:12-22)

This is my personal summary of Rev Dr Stephen Tong's sermons on 18 Nov, 25 Nov and 2 Dec 2012 in STEMI Expository Preaching at True Way Presbyterian Church Singapore. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 16:12-22

Jesus said that although there were many things He wanted to tell the disciples, they were not able to absorb them now. This implies that Jesus, being God, is infinite but his disciples are finite. There was no way to force this 'all truth' into the disciples' brain, so Jesus would not tell them now. 

Jesus also said that he were to go away very soon. This implies that his death and resurrection were near. But Jesus would not delay his leaving, so now there is a problem - how were he going to tell the disciples those things (in future) if he were to leave them behind now?

This could only mean one thing - that Somebody else would continue the revelation. Even though Jesus Christ were to leave the earth now, revelation had not ended yet and the Holy Spirit would continue this revelation. This can be seen from v 13, '...the Holy Spirit, He will guide you into all truth.'

This revelation is one with the focus on the righteousness of God. This statement in v13 covers 2 aspects:

1. Totality of the quantity: 'all truth'
This statement, '...the Holy Spirit, He will guide you into all truth' is sometimes interpreted wrongly to mean, that anyone without in-depth studying can simply pray and the Holy Spirit will reveal to him or her. Those who do this, often dispose of established schools of thoughts in theology, claim that their received revelation is truth, and then even write them down.

2. Ending point of the revelation 
Man is created, limited, and polluted, therefore he cannot understand God's truth properly. Therefore he needs the Holy Spirit to guide him (Note: This does not mean that he does not need to study in order to understand Scriptures). The coming of the Holy Spirit is good, especially since Jesus' disciples were in dangerous earth without Jesus. 

It is here that the Bible talks about the continuation of the revelation of God since the beginning of Old Testament until the end of New Testament. The revelation since the beginning of the Old Testament until now had culminated in the Person Jesus Christ. Although Jesus Christ were to leave now, this revelation was progressive. From now onward  the revelation will be continued and concluded by the Holy Spirit. The Bible says that the Word has been given to you once and for all (i.e. it has ended)

What sort of ending? From its essence, God's revelation is about life and how to live out our faith (i.e. about our spirit, our spirit's worth and how our conscience is to fear God). God has revealed to us all things pertaining to such matters but not every single thing in life. Therefore 'all' truth does not mean everything, but only every single thing related to life and faith. Likewise, this revelation will end by talking about the ending of life and faith, i.e. the Endtime.

In the Old Testament, the Law was given to Israelites to lead them to God and the Prophets were given to rebuke Israelites because they has trespassed the Law. However there is a higher purpose for both the Law and the Prophets: To point to Jesus Christ. The purpose of the Law is for the gospel and the purpose of having prophets is also for the gospel. This can be seen from all the prophecies concerning Jesus Christ. The Israelites were proud of the Law and the Prophets, because they thought by having and obeying the Law completely, they could have eternal life (Even though there was a major difference. The Sadducees held that the revelation of God ended with the Law. The Pharisees held that the revelation ended with the Prophets). However, both are wrong because Jesus pointed out that the Law and the Prophets about the Messiah ended with John the Baptist, and the Holy Spirit will come and lead them into all truth. If they were right, then who Jesus Christ was? In John 5, Jesus told the Jews, 'You study the Scriptures and think that there is eternal life, but you are not willing to come to Me.' 

This means that Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. It implies that the final aim of the Bible is not the Bible per se, but it is to lead people to Jesus Christ. He is the true final manifestation of God's righteousness i.e. the Old Testament conceives the New Testament and the New Testament accomplishes the Old Testament. The Old Testament is the preparation, in Jesus Christ we find the fulfillment. The Old Testament is the shadow, Jesus Christ is the body. In Romans 3:21 it says, 'But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it.' However, although Jesus Christ as the righteousness of God was 'manifested apart from the Law,' what Jesus Christ says fulfills the Law and the Prophets, so it is not possible to find something in Jesus that is outside the Law and the Prophets. In other words, it is not possible to separate Jesus Christ from the Law and Prophets.

God the Son speaks what comes from God the Father. Now Jesus said, God the Spirit will speak what comes from God the Son. Just as the Son was completely obedient to the Father, the Holy Spirit also was completely obedient to God the Father and the Son. Therefore the revelation of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit therefore surpasses that of the prophets. 

The most important testimony of God to man is the righteousness of God i.e. the righteousness fulfilled in Jesus Christ. However Jesus declared, 'But unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees, you cannot enter the kingdom of God' (The righteousness of Pharisees: with all your might do good works). Yet God hates that kind of righteousness, because God is not One whom you can beg to let you enter the kingdom of God based on your own effort. The righteousness that God is looking for, is the one fulfilled in Jesus Christ and now imputed to those who believe in Him (Note: The Chinese translation of the Bible "加上" i.e. "added unto" and the Indonesian one is not accurate. The original meaning in Greek is to be imputed, i.e. transformed and considered yours).

The fact that the Law and the Prophets testify that Jesus Christ is God's righteousness was illustrated by a historical event called the transfiguration. This is the only time in the biblical history and mankind history that the Gospel, the Law and the Prophets meet. Jesus Christ represented the Gospel, Moses represented the Law, and Elijah represented the Prophet. During the transfiguration of Jesus Christ, God's righteousness appeared in glory like the sun (The One who fulfilled the Law is here. The One who transcends the Law has appeared in history). Moses and Elijah appeared to affirm the scripture that says that the Law and the Prophets testify to God's righteousness. 

Also, Moses and Elijah had to appear because there was a very important event in God's revelation about to happen - Jesus Christ death and resurrection. This is because the most important event in the revelation during Moses' time was the Passover Lamb. In the Law, it was written that this lamb should be without blemish and sacrificed, and the priest is to cleanse and pray for himself first before cleansing and praying for the people. Jesus Christ were to be killed and sacrificed as the Passover Lamb. In Jesus' death, physically it was a man's blood, but it was God's own blood that was sacrificed. In the revelation during Elijah's time, Elijah was known as the one who asked God to send fire down to consume his sacrificial offering (Note: In this transfiguration, Elijah represents all the prophets).

Revelation in Other Religions

Christians believe that only because God reveals Himself can we know God. However Christians need to know when revelation will end if they believe that it has an end. Here is the main difference between Christianity and other religions: There is an endpoint of revelation.

Middle East and Western religions are different from Eastern religion because the former has a concept of revelation, but Eastern religions do not. The concept of revelation definitely did not start from the east. To be more accurate, we can even say that the more eastern a religion is, the less it fits to be called a religion. For example, Confucianism does not talk about eternity and worship although Confucianism is profound in teaching morality, possibly surpassing other religions' understanding in this. The Chinese during the Tang dynasty felt things lacking in Taoism and Confucianism so they sent  Tang Xuanzuang to India to learn Buddhism. Later on he went on to train 1000 monks to copy the Buddhist scriptures, which resulted in the Tripitaka. This implies that the Chinese knew that their system lack concepts of eternity and worship. But even so, the Buddhist scriptures from India do not tell whom they should worship. Therefore we can see that they neither have the concept of revelation nor know whom their religion comes from. In contrast, in Judaism it is very clear that a living God revealed himself to man with great power, establishing the relationship between man with Himself and other beings. Unity in theme in his revelation is not a problem because this is the revelation of the only true God. God is eternal and self-existing. He is faithful to himself in preaching about himself. He is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. He does not lie. Therefore the wholeness of his revelation reflects the lacking of other religions. For example, comparing commandments in Buddhism with the Ten Commandments, the former seem fragmented.

Only 3 religions claim they come from revelation: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And all 3 claim that they bring revelations from the same one God. If Zoroastrianism is compared with these 3 religions, we will realise that the former is also quite insignificant. It first assumes that dualism is true (that good and evil exist forever) and following this system, it cannot tell us how things will end. But the revelation of the Bible tells us that from eternity past to eternity future there is only one self-existing, everlasting and absolute God. There are other visions but they cannot co-exist with God. One day they will be destroyed, and God will give us victory and eternal mystery. This gives man a faith with foundations that are overflowing with assurance, full of purpose and full of hope. 

Verses 16-19 mean that in a few days, when Jesus was going to be crucified, the disciples will feel very dejected. However in another few days, the disciples sadness will turn to joy. This tells us 2 things:
1. The Suffering of Christ (the Cross)
2. The Resurrection of Christ (the Crown)

Israel's Response to The Suffering Christ

The Jews had always thought that Isaiah 52-53 refers to their suffering as the people of God. However Christians could immediately recognise these passages as referring to Jesus Christ's suffering. The latter were able to do so because in Acts 8 Philip the Evangelist under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit explained these passages this way. The former had never understood the Old Testament this way. 

The cross of Jesus would turn into his crown. His suffering would turn into his glory. The death would turn into resurrection. This tells us that it is a necessary step in the plan of God. It is also a necessary step for the maturing of spirituality. It is also, a necessary step from church failure to church victory. This is a mystery that many Christians do not understand.

To the Jews, re-establishing the throne of Israel can only happen with the coming of the Messiah. The Israelites waited very long but nothing happened. In their concept the Messiah is the One who will deliver them from political colonizers. But God's will is not to solve just physical matters but also the spiritual matters: sin.

The Disciples' Response to The Suffering Christ

Peter accepted Jesus as the Christ, but not the fact that Christ must die. Peter and all the disciples were still expecting a Messiah that can do miracles (even though they did not see Jesus as a military leader). The disciples have selfish nationalistic agenda for Jesus Christ. A few days before the transfiguration, Peter acknowledged correctly that Jesus was the Christ. He had correct Christology (which can only come from the correct revelation). For this Jesus, Jesus praised and promised Peter, 'I will build my church upon this rock'. So next, Jesus revealed to Peter that He would die. Sadly, Peter's response to this was to reject such suffering. It may seem to be a very healthy wish for Jesus to live forever to protect them disciples, but only the suffering Christ can become the glorious Christ. This is opposite to Israel's understanding of Christ. They cannot accept a 'hopeless' Christ. It is no wonder that all the disciples went back to fishing after Jesus Christ had died.

In verses 21-22, Jesus then illustrated this truth by something that only women could appreciate fully. A woman going to give birth is very anxious. She is suffering extremely, so her courage is to be respected much more than a man's macho bravery. But after the child has been born, she no longer remembers her suffering, for her joy has gotten the better of her. In the same way, Jesus suffered greatly by dying on the cross to 'give birth' to the church. It was absolutely necessary for Jesus to suffer before being glorified in 'giving birth' to the church. There is no church if Jesus Christ did not suffer.


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