A Possible Ambush, A Great Change, Matthew 12:22-28

Perhaps you have heard the advice that if you don’t have a good, sound argument, then find an argument that sounds good. Anyone interested in American politics sees that ploy in use all the time. But you can find people in the Gospels trying the very same tactic on Jesus.

The Jewish religious leaders, led by the scribes and Pharisees, had a problem on their hands. They had given a name to their pain, and that name was Jesus. We already know they were working on a plot to kill him (Matthew 12:14), but they had to be careful about his death to avoid any blame.

Might there be another way to stop Jesus?

Matthew 12:22-28

22 Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. 23 All the people were astonished and said, Could this be the Son of David?

24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.

25 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? 27 And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

Commentary

When you read this, the Dallas Cowboys will be preparing for the playoffs. As every football fan knows, when you have a powerful opponent, it is vital to scout them thoroughly and try to find some way to attack them. The Pharisees and their allies had been scouting Jesus from the beginning, but his abundant miracles, both healings and exorcisms, gave their efforts special urgency.

It is my opinion that the events we are looking into today may have been an ambush. The Pharisees knew Jesus would perform an exorcism, if the need arose, and they had prepared an argument that they hoped would place him in such danger that his life could be taken according to the law. Practicing magic or sorcery was a capital offense under Jewish religious law, so one promising line of attack was to convince the public that Jesus was a sorcerer.[1] Such a charge would put him on the wrong side of Roman law as well. As in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, Roman consent was necessary to execute anyone, but an aroused mob needs no consent. While this is speculation on my part, it fits the circumstances as we know them.

Matthew reports the miracle with remarkably few words (verse 22). Yet the few words present a man in abject misery, having an ongoing experience of blindness and inability to speak due to a demonic presence within him. This man is an archetype for a prisoner of Satan. Though the details are not stated, we can infer that Jesus cast out the demon, and muted it as well, because Mark informs us that, upon seeing Jesus, the unclean spirits would cry out, You are the Son of God (Mark 3:11). Jesus freed this man so he could both see and speak (Matthew 12:22).

Yet the words Matthew reports are those of the astonished witnesses: Could this be the Son of David? (verse 23). France notes that this is the first time in Matthew’s Gospel a crowd has used explicit messianic language about Jesus.[2] The significance of the crowds reaction is not lost on the Pharisees! They immediately respond with their prepared charge: It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons (verse 24). Beelzebul seems to have been a popular nickname for Satan, a name chosen for the crowds ears.

In making his first counterargument (verses 25-26), Jesus too relies on what is common knowledge; a demon king attacking his own forces would divide his own kingdom and lead to its fall. The people knew all about how internal divisions had torn Herod’s kingdom into many pieces after his death (see the map in the introduction). So, it made no sense for Satan to attack himself by empowering Jesus exorcisms.

How does unity among Christians play a vital role in accomplishing Jesus work among us and in our community? What about the effect of disunity?

Jesus makes his second counterargument in verse 27; his opponents have no right to criticize his exorcisms while approving exorcisms done by their own disciples.[3] Do not fail to notice verse 27b: So then, they will be your judges. In the final judgment, when the deeds of every person are evaluated by God, the disciples of the Pharisees will testify that they performed exorcisms on orders of their masters, bringing them shame for criticizing Jesus.

The idea that these false charges against Jesus were orchestrated finds support in Jewish sources making the same charge of sorcery or magic against Christians working miracles well into the second century after Christ came.[4] One such Jewish source talks about an early second-century rabbi who, when near death, tried to get a second rabbi to let a Christian enter and pray for him, but he died before he could finish the argument.[5] We all want miracles!

The Arrival of God’s Promised Rule

Matthew 12:28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

My guess is that the Pharisees were not expecting Jesus to meet their prepared charge with a strong defense. Worse for them, Jesus took the offensive (verse 28) with an effective, though indirect, claim to cast out demons by the Spirit of God. His audience knows what he is claiming, but his wording offers no effective way to charge him with anything.

This skirmish between Jesus and the Pharisees has the appearance of a strictly earthly struggle for religious control of Galilee, but Jesus is revealing developments in a much larger conflict. Jesus is ripping away parts of Satan’s kingdom and making them part of his own. He pulls back the concealing drape in verse 28.

The if-statement in verse 28 has a form meaning that it must be taken as true for the sake of argument. As a matter of fact, we know the if-statement to be true. Jesus does drive out demons by the Spirit of God. That means the matching conclusion is true as well: then the kingdom of God has come upon you (verse 28b). Jesus is warning his opponents that his decisive victory over the demonic spirits by the Spirit of God is a clear sign that God’s rule has come through him. To oppose Jesus is to oppose God.

What are the implications of such an effortless victory by Jesus over Satan? What does this victory say about Jesus ability to help you defeat spiritual enemies in your own life?

The person who best develops the meaning of the phrase the kingdom of God has come upon you (verse 28) is Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary when he explains Luke 11:20. Bock points out that Jesus demonstration of saving authority demands a decision: Jesus is perceived as ruling over God’s many salvation benefits. He has the authority to distribute them to anyone who responds to his message.[6] Bock points out that the presence of Jesus rule within believers, through the indwelling Holy Spirit, looks forward to his coming physical rule over the earth.

Have you made a decision about the reign of Jesus over your life? If not, what is standing in your way?

Copyright 2017 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1]Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew(Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 361.

[2] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007)477.

[3] Keener, Matthew,363.

[4] Keener, Matthew, 362.

[5] Keener, Matthew, 362.

[6] Darrell L. Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996), 1081.

Taking the Role of Servant, Matthew 12:15-21

If you look around, it is not hard to find people who are quietly trying to make their way through life. They don’t get on TV or find themselves as the subject of a best-selling book. Perhaps you are one of those quiet, diligent people.

On the other hand, we also have those seeking to be the center of attention, making frequent selfies, posting their smallest movements on Facebook and otherwise wanting to be noticed and highly valued by others.

Though the world of the first century was very different from ours, these two types of people were still around. The quiet people trying to get through their lives were among those coming in throngs to find Jesus and get help. The more self-concerned and self-assertive group was led by the Pharisees and scribes in their constant effort to be seen as godly men helping — or making! — others be godly too, at least according to their rules for godliness.

Which groups did Jesus identify with? What kind of man was he?

Matthew 12:15-21

15 Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. 16 He warned them not to tell others about him. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

18 Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
19 He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
20 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
21 In his name the nations will put their hope.

What did Jesus tell the people he healed?

Commentary

As we have seen, Jesus declared that it was lawful to do good on the Sabbath and did just that by healing a man with a withered hand (Matthew 12:13). What Jesus considered lawful, the Pharisees considered awful — I couldn’t resist — so they began plotting to kill him (Matthew 12:14). These were the facts occupying Jesus’ mind as we begin verse 15.

Osborne provides a sound overview of verses 15-21 by saying, As the Pharisees plot violence against the Son of God, Jesus takes the lowly path, serving God and humankind.[1] This contrast is a key point of the section.

In saying that Jesus “withdrew from that place,” Matthew uses a Greek verb (anachoreo) that indicates a retreat to safety, something Jesus has already done several times to avoid direct conflict with his opponents. The day will come (in Jerusalem) when he will confront the Pharisees and put them to shame, but now such action would misdirect his mission. It would lead to premature trial and crucifixion, if not his outright murder.

Sometimes withdrawal from conflict can better serve God's purposes. For example, maintaining unity within a group of believers might require avoidance of conflict. What similar examples occur to you?

Instead of dealing with the Pharisees and their endless plotting, Jesus spent his hours healing illnesses among the large crowd that followed him (verse 15b). He commanded them to be silent about their healing (verse 16) so that no further trouble might erupt; the Pharisees were right on the point of behaving with violence. Matthew shows us that Jesus, in taking this peaceful, caring approach, was fulfilling the role of God’s special servant, as revealed by the prophet Isaiah many centuries earlier (verse 17).

By quoting this famous passage from Isaiah, Matthew implies a question: who is behaving like the servant of Yahweh? In theory, there might be two alternatives: either the Pharisees or Jesus. The Pharisees certainly see themselves as God’s servant and want honor from others as well. Matthew has shown us that Jesus is the Messiah, and the Messiah had long been considered a prime candidate to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy. So, Matthew is obviously presenting Jesus as the fulfillment of this role. To demonstrate that Matthew is right, we need to examine the prophecy itself.

Matthew 12:18 (“Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations”) corresponds to Isaiah 42:1. This part is easy because in Matthew 3:17, at Jesus baptism by John, the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus, and the Father declared him to be his Son in whom he was well pleased. While we have not yet had many developments about the nations, the healing of the Roman centurion’s servant was accomplished along with a declaration from Jesus that many would come from the east and the west to take the place of the Jews who were disloyal to God (Matthew 8:513). Obviously, Jesus has satisfied this prophecy, while the self-declared defenders of the faith, the Pharisees, have not.

How does replacing disloyal Jews with loyal Gentiles demonstrate proclaiming justice to the nations?

Matthew 12:19 (“He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets”) corresponds to Isaiah 42:2. It is easy to show that the Pharisees have been regularly initiating disputes with Jesus and his disciples. Matthew 9:1-15 has the dispute over Jesus healing and forgiving sins as well as the controversy over his eating with tax collectors and sinners. We also recall Jesus teaching on the mountain to beware those who pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners to be seen by others (Matthew 6:5), a clear reference to the Pharisees.

Matthew 12:20 (“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory”) matches Isaiah 42:3. France gives us great clarity here.[2] A cracked or bent reed could no longer serve its intended purpose; the same was true of a barely smoldering lamp wick. Many would throw these broken or spent things away without a thought. But the reed and the wick are metaphors for broken and hurting people, the very ones Jesus was busy healing and restoring to a meaningful life.

This image of brokenness represents so many of us. How did Jesus rescue you from a desperate life, going nowhere? If that is not your story, how has the great healer improved your life?

The final clause of verse 20 (“till he has brought justice through to victory”) needs explanation. Jesus will continue to lift up those broken people seeking him until the day when final justice is achieved through his victory over sin, death and Satan. It is easy to understand why the nations will put their hope in Jesus (verse 21) because no one else can bring about justice!

In short, we have the Pharisees busy plotting murder while Jesus is busy healing and caring for deeply hurting people. The contrast could hardly be greater, and it is obvious who is fulfilling Isaiah 42:3 (Matthew 12:20).

Copyright 2016 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010)462.

[2] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007)472-73.

Where To Seek God, Matthew 11:25-27

It would be hard to improve on the words of Mark Lilla: “To most humans, curiosity about higher things comes naturally, its indifference to them that must be learned.”[1]

Matthew 11:25-27

25 At that time Jesus said, I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

27 All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

What does this text say about what is hidden and what is revealed?

Commentary

At times Bible translators can be too smart for their own good! You would not think that the simple words Jesus said (verse 25) could be tricky, but we will look a little closer. Actually, the Greek here says something like: “Jesus answered and said” (NASB). But most English versions have collapsed the two verbs into just one, arguing that this was required by English style. Not so fast!

Recent research, made practical by use of computers and biblical databases, indicates that Bible passages in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) using the “answered and said” pattern (in Greek, of course) turn out to be important statements.[2]

So, what vital truth is Jesus revealing to us in the wake of this importance-marker in verse 25? These verses are difficult to unravel because we have to make some educated guesses about the meaning of these things: the wise and learned and little children. So, we had best get to it.

Osborne offers us a useful summary when he says, “God reveals his truths only to those who open themselves up to him with a childlike simplicity and receptivity, not to those who in their pride and self-sufficiency feel no need for it.”[3] By this reading, the little children (verse 25) are those who have responded to Jesus and accepted who his miracles prove him to be. This group of God-seekers occasionally includes centurions (Matthew 8:59) and synagogue leaders (Matthew 9:18), but more often includes tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 11:19).

We have also seen that the religious leadership, led by the scribes and Pharisees, are lining up to oppose Jesus, and they seem to have convinced the bulk of the population in Capernaum, Bethsaida and Chorazin to follow their lead. Jesus has already denounced that entire group and made it clear that they are on the broad road that leads to destruction. So, this group comprises the wise and the learned from whom the things revealed in and through Jesus are hidden (verse 25).

What cross-pressures exist in our own culture that try to convince us not to value Jesus or, indeed, to value any honor paid to God?

France ably points out that Jesus’ disciples, diverse as they are, represent an alternate community that the world does not value. This alternate community has repented and is trying to learn how to live according to the humble, compassionate, God-honoring values that Jesus has taught. It is they alone who can know the truth about God and his Son.[4]

Note carefully that hiding the truth from the wise and learned and revealing it to the little children happens according to what is pleasing to the Father. France clarifies this division when he says, “The basis of this division is not an arbitrary selection, but the fundamental principle of divine revelation, that it comes to those who are open to it, but finds no response with those who think they know better.”[5]

There is no ground here for any of the anti-intellectualism that has sometimes plagued Christianity in America. Openness to the truth is not a function of education or social class. A good example of what Jesus is talking about occurs when he is interrogated by Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea:
Jesus: “The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37).
Pilate: “What is truth?” (John 18:38).

Like many in our society today, Pilate had no confidence that truth could be had anywhere! He left to address the crowd before Jesus could answer.

Where do people in our culture turn to find the truth? If they become frustrated in the search, to what alternatives do they turn?

When verse 27 speaks of all things being committed to Jesus by the Father, it must certainly include what Jesus has taught about God’s reign, the authority to work miracles that he has demonstrated, and (in this verse) it includes revealing the Father to those whom the Son deems receptive. It is also true that the Father has committed to the Son “all authority in heaven and earth” (Matthew 28:18), as revealed in the Great Commission.

Of special interest is the final clause of verse 27: “No one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” This is an astounding thing for anyone to say, except for the fact that Jesus is the Son! Osborne captures this when he says: “This is tantamount to a declaration of the deity of Christ. He is more than an Agent; he is the Revealer!”[6]

An even closer look focuses on “those to whom the Son chooses to reveal [the Father]” (verse 27b). “Chooses” is a loaded translation for this Greek verb; HCSB translates better with “anyone to whom the Son desires to reveal him.” In fact, a more careful look at the grammar here yields interesting results. The Greek verb is present tense, usually implying an ongoing action. The specific wording of this section involves repeated action, regardless of the time element.[7] The action relates to anyone or whoever meets the condition of openness to God and his reign.

So, whether in the first century or the twenty-first century, Jesus repeatedly finds those who want to know God, and he, in turn, fulfills his ongoing desire to make the Father known to them. Otherwise, you and I would have never found out!

Copyright 2016 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Mark Lilla, “The Hidden Lesson of Montaigne,”New York Review of Books 58, no. 5 (March 24, 2011): 20.

[2] Mavis M. Leung, The Discourse Function of apokrithe kai eipen (He Answered and Said) in the Gospel of John, Bibliotheca Sacra 171 (July-September 2014) 307-327. See also France, Matthew, 439, footnote 1.

[3] Grant R. Osborne, Matthew, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010)440.

[4] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007)441.

[5] France, Matthew, 443.

[6] Osborne, Matthew, 441.

[7] BDAG-3, an, used with a relative pronoun to mean whoever, (meaning b. beta), q.v.

Missed Opportunities to Find Rest, Matthew 11:20-24

Many who use this blogconsider themselves sports fans. Another large group of our readers prefer movies. If mixed together, these two groups can resemble oil and water in relation to their preferences, but they have one thing in common. Every sports event and every movie comes to an end at a certain time.

Actually, we are all accustomed to this idea on a broader basis. Every day, week, month, year, decade, century, or millennium comes to an end. So does every life. No one takes the streets to protest the end of Tuesday, November 19, 2016.

Why is it that we can get so much pushback from declaring that a day is coming on which this age and this world will end — a day of judgment? Perhaps the difference is that the day of judgment will be personal; there will be winners and losers. Ecstatic winners. Inconsolable losers.

Is there a way to influence the judge in our favor? Who is the judge? Jesus, the Son of Man and Son of God, will judge our individual cases, and he has commanded all to repent and submit to the reign of God while each has opportunity.

Some failed to listen or comply, and today we will learn of their end. Or, will it be the end of the beginning, with far worse to follow?

Matthew 11:20-24

20 Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

Commentary

Here our secular society must consider a troubling possibility from their viewpoint: if Jesus actually had the authority and the power to overrule the natural order by working miracles, as all ancient sources say, then might he also have the authority to bring the existing natural order to an end? Those committed to a world run exclusively by humans and not by God will bring every tool of denial and distraction into play to keep that question quiet!

Verse 20 has a hidden quality that I want to bring to your attention. While the NIV’s translation “then Jesus began to denounce the towns” is accurate, the underlying Greek verb emphasizes the subject, Jesus.[1] Criticism is so common in our society that we scarcely give it a thought. But, when Jesus denounces you, it’s time to go to red alert! The initial Greek verb typically means to rule or govern, but that verb takes on the meaning “begin” in many contexts, possibly because a person with authority can begin something that lasts. Jesus began things that no one could stop!

Chorazin and Bethsaida lay to the north and east of Capernaum, neither very far away. Archaeology has shown them to be similar in size to Capernaum.[2] In verse 21, Jesus presents us with an if-clause which is contrary to fact since no such miracles were done in Tyre and Sidon. [Stop and consider the implications of Jesus telling us what would have actually happened in a different place and millennium!] Blomberg explains that Tyre and Sidon, in ancient Phoenicia, were paradigms of Israel’s ancient enemies.[3] So, Jesus is shaming these Jewish cities as less responsive to God than those pagan cities already condemned to terrible retribution.

According to one notable authority, “woe” is an interjection that means “how greatly one will suffer” or “what terrible pain will come to one.”[4] The phrase “woe to you” occurs twenty-two times in Isaiah and always marks those who have set themselves against God and his purposes.

These particular towns received the unique honor of having miracles worked within their bounds to benefit people they all knew. After seeing an astonishing shower of God’s kindness from Jesus, the mass of people and their leaders still failed to heed his call for repentance. As R. T. France suggests, these towns seem content to go on as if nothing has changed; they have no clue what the reign of God means.[5]

Verse 22 should have sent chills down the spines of all in Chorazin and Bethsaida who were not committed to Jesus. For Jews to hear that the historically-hated Gentiles from Tyre and Sidon would find judgment day more bearable than a Jewish town would have resulted in profound shock and anger.

But Jesus saves his most searing rebuke for Capernaum (verse 23). Those Jews familiar with Isaiah’s taunts against the proud king of Babylon (Isaiah 14:13, 15) would have found such mocking words used in relation to the pride of Capernaum in verse 23. Just as Babylon had considered itself above all others and untouchable, so Capernaum swelled with unjustified pride. Was it not only prosperous and favorably positioned but also the home of the great healer and exorcist of Galilee — Jesus?

But, Jesus says that Capernaum, like the proud king of Babylon, will not ascend to the heavens; it will descend to Hades, the place of the dead (verse 23). Why? Because Capernaum failed to repent after seeing the miracles performed by Jesus, miracles that would have brought Sodom to its knees and spared it from total destruction. In Israelite minds, Sodom was the epitome of the wickedness.

There is, apparently, more than one way to receive God’s severe punishment. One is to indulge in the deepest depravity like Sodom (Genesis 19:1-29). Another is to have the greatest possible revelation from Jesus himself and then refuse his command to repent and submit to the reign of God. Jesus firmly declares that those failing to heed his words and his miraculous deeds, performed before their eyes, will receive God’s severest treatment on the day of judgment.

Copyright 2016 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] The Greek verb archo is in the middle voice.

[2] R. T. France,The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 438.

[3] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992) 191.

[4] L&N, ouai, “how greatly one will suffer ,” q.v.

[5] France, Matthew, 438.

Exposition of Daniel 1:17-21 Yahweh causes Daniel’s rise

Daniel 1:17-21

17 To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.

18 At the end of the time set by the king to bring them into his service, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. 20 In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.

21 And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.

Commentary

While it was true that Nebuchadnezzar had sent Daniel and his friends into training, it was Yahweh who granted them mastery by giving them knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning (verse 17). Not least, they knew the true God and could disregard the false gods of Babylon. They also knew to steer clear of divination and sorcery, which were forbidden in the law (Deut. 18:10-12). For an example of how the Babylonians commonly used such practices to make decisions during military campaigns, see Ezekiel 21:18-24 with special attention to Ezek. 21:21.

Not only did God enable the four young men to read cuneiform tablets written in Akkadian, but he also granted to Daniel the special skill of understanding “all visions and dreams” (ESV) not “all kinds of visions and dreams” (NIV). Yahweh did not make Daniel the master of dream categories; he made Daniel the precise interpreter or any individual dream by giving him the exact interpretation when required. This will become plain in chapter 2. In effect, Daniel became the channel for God’s interpretation of any dream whose meaning was to be made known to others.

Wood supports the above interpretation of verse 17 when he says:

This gift was entirely from God. Daniel could not learn the technique of true vision and dream interpretation. There is point to noting this here, for the Babylonians believed one could do so. In fact, much of the literature in which the young men would have had to become proficient concerned such techniques. … The four Judeans would have had to reject all such thinking, as they recognized that true revelation could come only from God, and as he pleased.[1]

In time, the day of reckoning came for Nebuchadnezzar to personally interview every candidate trained for service in his government (verses 18-20). This kind of attention to detail is plainly what made him one of the most formidable rulers of ancient times. By showing the king’s meticulous care, Daniel sets the stage for the unfolding of the king’s shrewd actions in chapter 2.

Because several English versions (NIV, ESV, NET and NLT) use the word “magicians” to describe some of the king’s counselors in Dan. 1:20b, we should clarify this term. The English word “magician” leads us to think of various illusions and tricks we have seen on television. But that is not anywhere close to the function Daniel mentions. The standard Hebrew lexicon offers “soothsayer-priests”[2] and HCSB skillfully translates using “diviner-priest.” Miller further describes the role of the diviner-priests:

Supposedly in touch with the world of the spirits and the gods, these individuals were advisers to the king on virtually every matter. They employed rites and spells intended to heal, exorcise demons, or counter an evil spell placed upon the sufferer. Omens were studied in order to understand the future, and astrology played an important part in this activity.[3]

Before you sneer at the idea of a powerful ruler being guided by such arcane advice, consider that one of our most popular American presidents is known to have used the advice of an astrologer in making and executing many decisions. In Nebuchadnezzar’s time there was no reason to hide such advisers; they served in an official capacity.

Chapter 1 records the steady rise of Daniel and his companions. They began as royal captives swept up in punitive conquest (verses 2-3). By maintaining their special diet as a symbol of loyalty to Yahweh, the four are seen by their overseer to be superior in appearance to all other trainees (verse 15). When Nebuchadnezzar examines their skill, they demonstrate superiority to all the diviner-priests and enchanters in Babylon (verse 20). At the beginning of the chapter no one is paying much attention to Daniel and his friends, but by the close of their training, the king values them above all his other advisers. The king has unwittingly recognized the skills Yahweh has given to these young men, and the chapter closes with the note that Daniel’s career extended throughout the Neo-Babylonian empire and into the reign of Cyrus the Great of Persia (verse 21).

Copyright 2015 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. These materials were originally prepared for use at Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Leon Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973)43.

[2] HALOT, chartum, soothsayer-priest, q.v.

[3] Stephen R. Miller, Daniel, The New American Commentary (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1994)72.

Exposition of Daniel 11:36-45 The Antichrist seeks total control

Daniel 11:36-45

36 The king will do as he pleases. He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods. He will be successful until the time of wrath is completed, for what has been determined must take place. 37 He will show no regard for the gods of his ancestors or for the one desired by women, nor will he regard any god, but will exalt himself above them all. 38 Instead of them, he will honor a god of fortresses; a god unknown to his ancestors he will honor with gold and silver, with precious stones and costly gifts. 39 He will attack the mightiest fortresses with the help of a foreign god and will greatly honor those who acknowledge him. He will make them rulers over many people and will distribute the land at a price.

40 At the time of the end the king of the South will engage him in battle, and the king of the North will storm out against him with chariots and cavalry and a great fleet of ships. He will invade many countries and sweep through them like a flood. 41 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. 42 He will extend his power over many countries; Egypt will not escape. 43 He will gain control of the treasures of gold and silver and all the riches of Egypt, with the Libyans and Cushites in submission. 44 But reports from the east and the north will alarm him, and he will set out in a great rage to destroy and annihilate many. 45 He will pitch his royal tents between the seas at the beautiful holy mountain. Yet he will come to his end, and no one will help him.

Commentary

As has happened with every vision in Daniel, the angel’s prophecy leaps ahead without warning to the seventieth seven-of-years and its cunning, proud, powerful, Satan-inspired ruler. We recall that this entire prophecy came in response to Daniel’s prayer about the Jews and the desolation of Jerusalem (Dan. 9:24). The story is not directly about us, but it is not impossible that some of us may live to see this day, and our Lord has commanded all of us to be ready for his unexpected return (Matt. 24:44).

Many things can be said about why verses 36-45 do not apply the Antiochus IV. For full discussion of those reasons, see Chisholm[1], Wood[2] and Miller.[3] Here, let it suffice to say that the resurrection of the righteous occurs right after God brings the rule of the evil king described in this passage to an end (Dan. 12:2). As Wood notes, “Since the Antichrist has been presented in the three prior revelational times of Daniel, one should not be surprised to have him set forth in this fourth time as well.”[4]

Miller explains the structure of this section: “Now the most notorious tyrant who will ever live is introduced into the narrative. First, Antichrist’s evil character is related (11:36-39); then his wars are described (11:40-45).”[5] Though any comparison of any modern figure to the Antichrist will fail to match his evil actions, Adolph Hitler probably gives the best hint of what the Antichrist will be like because of the twin goals of conquering the world and exterminating the Jews.

You might say that the Antichrist takes everything Antiochus IV did and scales those things up. Antiochus stamped his coins “god manifest,” meaning he was a god or like a god. The Antichrist will exalt and magnify himself above every god (verse 36). The verbal forms make clear that he will do this personally; it will not exclusively be done by having others praise him. To properly exalt himself, he must cut down rivals, and he will do so by speaking against Yahweh with: “unheard-of things” (NIV), “presumptuous things” (NET), “outrageous things” (HCSB). No one has ever heard the monstrous blasphemies that the Antichrist will use against the God of gods (verse 36).

Remember that in all these things God is showing his people where their rebellion has led them. Whether knowingly or not, they have aspired to be princes in hell, and he will show them the true face of what they will find there. As horrible as this process will be, it will finish transgression (Dan. 9:24), the rebellion of Abraham’s children against Yahweh and his Messiah. Accordingly, the Antichrist will be successful until the time of wrath is completed (verse 36b). The seventieth seven-of-years is like Belshazzar’s feast (Daniel 5) in that the Antichrist will have his way until the party comes to an abrupt, crushing end.

While directing the devotion of all toward himself, the Antichrist himself will worship military power (“a god of fortresses”), apparently in hope of subjugating those parts of the world not yet under his control (verse 39). Miller says: “The peoples of the world will be so impressed by his might that they will say: ‘Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?’ (Rev. 13:4).”[6]

Certain world powers will see what is coming and fight! The terms king of the South and king of the North describe two such opponents, with the directions North and South being defined in relation to Israel (the Beautiful Land of verse 41). It is unclear just who these kings will be, but we take the king of the North to be the person called Gog in Ezekiel 38:2, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, kingdoms located (during Daniels and Ezekiel’s time) in the area of modern Turkey.[7] In taking this view, we follow the outline of events defined by Bible scholar Dwight Pentecost[8], who takes this combined northern invasion and southern attack (verse 40) as the trigger-events forcing the Antichrist to break his covenant with Israel (Dan. 9:27) and invade Israel himself (verse 41).

Yahweh will tear apart the invading king of the North, Gog, and his allies, in a terrifying display of might (Ezek. 38:18-23) that lets many nations clearly see his power and identity. The Antichrist will then invade Israel and also seize territory toward the south, into Egypt and beyond (verses 41-43).

In spite of his victories, the Antichrist will face new threats from the east and north described in verse 44. In response, the Antichrist will set up his headquarters between the seas at the beautiful holy mountain (verse 45). The seas in question are the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea, with the beautiful holy mountain being Mount Zion in Jerusalem. Wood explains somberly, According to Zechariah 13:8-9, he will by this time have brought either death or captivity to two-thirds of the inhabitants of the land, indicating an appalling destruction.[9]

Given the nature of these events, the angels mention of the Antichrist’s end is very restrained (verse 45b). Centuries will pass before another angel reveals to the Apostle John the sudden opening of another front in the great campaign of Armageddon when heaven opens (Rev. 19:11) and the stunning splendor of the King of kings and Lord of lords rides forth at the head of heaven’s armies to stomp the winepress of the furious wrath of God, the All-Powerful (Rev. 19:15b NET). The so-called battle likely takes just seconds as the Antichrist is hurled alive into the lake of fire and the gathered kings and armies are slain by a word from Jesus the Messiah (Rev. 19:19-21).

Truly I am God, I have no peer;

I am God, and there is none like me,

who announces the end from the beginning

and reveals beforehand what has not yet occurred,

who says, My plan will be realized,

I will accomplish what I desire,

Isaiah 46:9b-10 NET

Copyright 2015 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1]Robert B. Chisholm, Handbook on the Prophets (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 324-5.

[2] Leon Wood, A Commentary on Daniel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973)304-5.

[3] Stephen R. Miller, Daniel, The New American Commentary (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1994)305-6.

[4] Wood, Daniel, 305.

[5] Miller, Daniel, 306.

[6] Miller, Daniel, 308.

[7] Daniel I. Block, The Book of Ezekiel, Chapters 2548, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998) 436.

[8] Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1964) 356.

[9] Wood, Daniel, 314.

Exposition of Romans 5:6-8, Love and Death — Christ Gave Both

Part of the problem in being a twenty-first century American is that the idea that God loves us has been around for a long time. Indeed, that is by far the most popular theological idea even among people who do not think Jesus is anyone special.

The amazing thing is that reasonably intelligent, well-informed people, who read the newspaper and know a little history, would find it next to impossible to give you one good reason why God should not hate humankind in view of how we have behaved!

(NET) Romans 5:6-8

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 (For rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person perhaps someone might possibly dare to die.) 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Commentary

This group of three verses is remarkable by any standard. First, Paul uses three words to describe our condition before Christ took action: we were helpless, ungodly sinners. Second, we are told that God responded to our desperate situation with love and death. Indeed, each of the three Greek sentences ends with the same Greek verb for death (ἀποθνῄσκω) — clearly intentional.

From a theological viewpoint — something you should definitely strive to develop — it is vital to see that before we trusted in Christ we were helpless (5:6) to save ourselves from Gods wrath. Osborne says, “This does not mean that human beings are incapable of good — John Calvin, the Protestant reformer, called this ‘common grace,’ the ability of the natural person to do good since all are made in the image of God — but it conveys that they can do nothing that will make them right with God.”[1]

In relation to the word translated “ungodly” (5:6), the Greek adjective ἀσεβής here means “pertaining to violating norms for a proper relation to deity, irreverent, impious, ungodly.”[2] It is more than sad that contemporary American society is filled with such people, who pay no attention whatever to God. Secularism marginalizes God more now than at any time in a thousand years.

We have looked at the bad-news part of Romans 5:6, but the good news utterly overwhelms the bad news: “at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (5:6b). C.E.B. Cranfield says, “For Christ’s death on behalf of sinners compare . . . 3:25; 4:25; 6:10; 7:4; 8:32; 14:15 (in the last two of these passages [the Greek preposition] huper is used, as it is here [5:6] and also in a good many other NT passages dealing with the same subject).”[3] Next we will discuss why that is important.

Huper — meaning “for, in behalf of, for the sake of”[4] — is one of the few Greek words that every serious student of the New Testament should know about because it stresses that Jesus died as our substitute. See also 2 Cor. 5:14, Gal. 3:13 and John 11:50. The preposition also occurs three more times in Romans 5:7-8.

Romans 5:7 is a comparative verse in which Paul presents the absolute most you can expect in terms of human love. Rarely, one person might dare to die for some other deserving person, described as either righteous or good. Such behavior is rare enough that we widely honor the sacrifice it requires. Think of the firemen rushing into the burning World Trade Center to help others during the 9/11 attack by terrorists.

But God has done so much more in “his own love” (5:8) than the greatest acts of human love. Christ, the beloved Son of God, keeps on demonstrating God’s love toward us in that he died for the helpless, ungodly sinners — the very ones also called God’s enemies (5:8). Seeing the desperate plight of sinful, lost humanity, God did not sit in heaven feeling affection for us and yet doing nothing. Christ came among us to suffer and die for us.

Grant Osborne rightly says:

This is the primary point Paul is making. Christ did not die for righteous people or for friends; he died for sinful human beings in all their degrading depravity, for those who “suppress the truth by their wickedness” (1:18) and do “not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God (1:28), who are “filled with every kind of wickedness, evil greed and depravity” (1:29). Therefore we deserved to experience the wrath of God and eternal judgment, but Christ took our punishment upon himself and paid the penalty in our place, thereby procuring redemption on our behalf (3:21-26).[5]

Gods love brings death and offers life

An ancient church father known as Ambrosiaster once said: “If Christ gave himself up to death at the right time for those who were unbelievers and enemies of God . . . how much more will he protect us with his help if we believe in him!”[6]

1. We will take a moment to review: (1) the penalty for sin is death (Rom. 1:32), and (2) you may pay the penalty either with your own death or use the death of Jesus instead (Rom. 5:8). Which will you choose? Keep in mind that not to decide is a decision in itself; you are not in a fail-safe position if you have never trusted in Christ!

2. Why do you think Christ was willing to die in your place? How does the extent of God's love for you, expressed in Christ's death, make you feel?

Each day’s lesson begins with a six-word theme. Here is another one:
Jesus Christ died in your place. Praise God forever!

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 132.

[2] BDAG-3, ἀσεβής, ungodly, q.v.

[3] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 264.

[4] BDAG-3, huper, on behalf of, q.v.

[5] Osborne, Romans, 134.

[6] Gerald Bray, ed., Romans, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998) 131.