The Manifold Wisdom Of God
"A voice came out of the cloud, saying,
'This is my beloved Son,
in whom I am well pleased.
Jesus took Peter, James and John up "on a high mountain" to pray. Little did they know what they were about to experience. (Matthew 17'1-8, Mark 9'2-8, Luke 9'28-36).
The Lord's Disciples had seen Him do some great things and heard Him speak some great words as they travelled around Israel with Him.
But this occasion stunned and scared them. They could not have guessed that the place of Jesus in their lives was about to be dramatically emphasised.
First of all, they were amazed when Jesus was "transfigured" before their eyes, radiating dazzingly. And Moses and Elijah appeared and spoke with Him. Also a bright cloud began to descend on them.
Then Peter did as Peter was known to do, which was to say something. So he began saying the first thing that came into his head.
But, almost like a reaction to the first word he said, "a voice came out of the cloud" declaring: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 17'1-8).
Obviously, it was the Father speaking. Next, the Father added the two most crucial words any Believer could hear: "Hear Him!”.
But it was not the first time that something like this had been declared. The Jews of the first century must have been aware of these words Moses:
"The Lord said to me: ... ‘I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren and will put my words in His mouth and He shall speak to them all that I command Him.
And it shall be that whoever will not hear my words, which He speaks in my name, I will require it of him’”, Deuteronomy 18’17-19.
Following Pentecost Peter reminded them of Moses' prophecy and pointed out that it had been fulfilled in the coming of Jesus of Nazareth:
"For Moses truly said to the fathers, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you.
And it shall be that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people'.
To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities’," Acts 3'22-23.
Stephen, on the day he was stoned to death he challenged the murderous Jews who confronted him. As part of relating some significant parts of Israel's history to them, he also reminded them:
"This is that Moses who said to the children of Israel, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear',” Acts 7'37.
WHY DID GOD SPEAK?
Back to the mountain. Our heavenly Father spoke emphatically. But why did He speak at all? Here's what Matthew said:
1 Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves;
2 and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.
3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.
4 Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!”
6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid.
7 But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.”
8 When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only (Matthew 17 NKJV).
Luke (9'33) points out that Peter spoke, "Not knowing what he said" when he blurted this out:
"Lord, it is good for us to be here; If you wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”.
At this point God interrupted:
"While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying,
'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!'"
God spoke because there were serious implications in what Peter had said and He intervened quickly to make two things very clear.
Moses and Elijah were men with great reputations and their appearance could have distracted the Disciples. But God ignored them. He told the Disciples that He was pleased with Jesus, His beloved Son. And He directed their attention to Him and commanded them to, "Hear Him".
His point was, and still is, that they were not to be distracted by the reputations of others, even if they are prophets and miracle workers.
What Jesus was saying, and doing, by bringing the Good News of the Kingdom is Jesus' message alone. He is God's Anointed One, God's Son, so "Hear Him"?
"And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid," Matthew 17'5-6.
Did the Father have to intervene? Well, what Peter blurted out seems to imply that Moses and Elijah be regarded as being on the same level as Jesus, the Father's beloved Son. That would mean that their words would carry the same weight of authority as those of His Son.
Great though they were, this is completely against God's will. The Father's interruption was absolute.
The word of Christ is far above Moses' words, and His miracles far above Elijah's. And that goes for every other voice that claims to present truth.
But does this raise the question of the position of the Old Testament? How is it to be read? That will be looked at later.
A BIG REMINDER
Interestingly, the Disciples, particularly Peter, had already heard Jesus declare that His word is above all others. He says: “I say to you” nine times in Matthew 5 alone (18, 20, 22, 26, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44).
There are His other phrases, too, like "he who hears these sayings of mine and does them”.
Also: "Heaven and earth will pass away but My words will by no means pass away,” Luke 21'33. And, "No one comes to the Father except through Me,” John 14’6.
When the Lord said, “I say to you”, He meant it. After the Holy Spirit came Believers, being born of the Spirit, came alive to Jesus' words. Affectionately, He says: “My sheep hear my voice" (John 10’27).
The Father's emphatic reminder to the Disciples to "Hear Him!" extends to all Believers, and more so to Saints who desire to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Timothy 2'15).
THE HOLY SPIRIT CONFIRMS
From the Day of Pentecost on many Jews became convinced that Jesus of Nazareth is their prophesied Messiah. And they received Him. But, as time went by, they needed special guidance and assurance about hearing the word of Christ because of their Old Testament orientation.
God met their need. He inspired a special letter to explain these things to them, and to all who received Christ after them.
Right at the start of the letter the Holy Spirit confirms what the Father had spoken to the three Disciples on that mountain, with these words:
"God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, Hebrews 1'1-2.
God spoke in time past to the fathers - by the prophets.
In these last days He speaks to us - by His Son.
These are history-making words indeed. However, on the surface, it might seem to make the Old Testament irrelevant. Nevertheless, the writer reveals, compares and contrasts the Old Covenant with the New Covenant as he is inspired by the Holy Spirit.
So how should Christ's New Covenant Kingdom Believers regard the Old Testament? What is the relationship between them?
THE PLACE OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
"How should we read the Old Testament?" This was a question a certain Bible College lecturer asked which he actually answered himself with: “Ask Jesus!”
Here are a few samples of what Jesus says:
1. He asserted that the Old Testament prophecies and types predict and foreshadow Him:
"’ ... all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me’ ... He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures,” Luke 24’44-45.
"The Scriptures ... are they which testify (bear witness) of Me,” John 5’39.
“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up,” John 3'14.
That means He is the one who Jews, and Gentiles, are to take notice of. In short, all Believers are to relate to the OT in the same way as He did:
2. He confirmed that the Old Testament people were real persons:
Like Abel and Zechariah: "from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah who perished between the altar and the temple,“ Luke 11’51.
And Abraham: “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM,” (John 8’56-58).
3. He also confirmed that Genesis chapters 1-11 are historical:
" ... from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female,” Mark 10'6.
"Remember Lot’s wife”, Luke 17’32.
"For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark," Matthew 24’38.
Jesus shows that the Old Testament is what straightforward reading of it conveys it to be: literal, historical, prophetical, typological, poetical. And that the people are real persons living real lives.
All these things show that the Old Testament is to be included in the thinking of Believers. And especially to anyone who wishes to have a leading ministry, the Holy Spirit says:
"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth," 2 Timothy 2'15.
And in doing that remember to obey the Father and hear Jesus.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OT/NT
People come into contact with the Bible in a number of ways. They hear it from someone, or read a bit of it or see the amazing effect of it in someone else's life.
As a result they receive Christ and are born again and understanding the Bible is crucial to growing in Christ. That has to begin somewhere and the best place to start is the Gospel of John chapter 1. After that simply become familiar with the New Testament.
But, later, when branching out from the New Testament to the Old, how should we read the Old Testament when the time comes?
It is at this point that it's important to understand the relationship they have to each other.
When the Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost He brought the ability for Believers to understand the Old and New Testaments more fully.
As was said earlier, the letter to the Hebrew Believers (chapter 1, verse 1) points out that, in the Old, God spoke only to Israel by the Prophets. But "in these last days" He has spoken exclusively to us (Hebrew Believers and Gentile Believers) by His Son.
So what about the difference between the testaments, and how should we relate to them? One way to help clarify basic difference is the idea of FOR and TO: "For" is to possess and to hold, and "To" is to obey
1. The Old Testament carried the revelation of God for Israel. It was for them to possess and to them to obey.
(However, it is also for Believers to possess but it is not to them to obey. More on that later.)
2. The New Testament carries the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. It is for Believers to possess and to them to obey.
This is a very important distinction which became clear when the Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost. He inspired Peter to lead the Apostles, so he began preaching and teaching the Good News of Jesus the Messiah and His New Covenant Kingdom of God to the Jews.
Many Jews received Christ and went on to receive the Apostles' teachings and began to grow in Christ.
As time went on the New Covenant Kingdom teachings emerged in writing. The majority are found in the scriptures of Acts 2'1 to Revelation 3'22 and some in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Christ's New Covenant, then, is different to the Old. And the difference is profound. Firstly, the apostle Paul writes that the Old Covenant was "Glorious". But the New Covenant is "More Glorious". Here's what he says:
"But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious?
For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory.
For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels.
For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious," 2 Corinthians 3'7-11.
So from these words the Old Covenant was:
"the ministry of death"
"the ministry of condemnation"
"is passing away".
And the New Covenant is:
"the ministry of the Spirit
the "ministry of righteousness"
"much more glorious"
That's profound difference. And that difference is what Christ's New Covenant Kingdom word is all about. All Disciples can possess it, know it, hear it, do it and grow by it.
Peter describes how big this spiritual New Covenant difference is to all Believers:
"Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ. To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord,
as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue,
by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust," Peter 2:1'2-3.
What wonderful words! And among them is the wonderful understanding that "His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness". His divine power is the Holy Spirit. And His presence in a Believer's life is the big difference.
While the Old Testament is indispensable, it cannot minister life and godliness. They come only through the Lord Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit.
The Old Testament presents the great truths of creation, history (of man, of the world, of Israel), prophecy, typology and wonderful examples of the people of faith.
But above all those things, the Old Testament foreshadows Christ and His New Covenant Kingdom. Together, the Old and New Testaments are the "whole counsel of God".
A NEW COVENANT FOR ALL
To the Jews first
While Jesus came firstly to the Jews as their Messiah and King He also came as the Saviour of the world (1 John 1'14). After the Holy Spirit came that pattern was continued.
In addition to Moses' prophecy regarding the Prophet who would come later the prophet Jeremiah prophesied regarding the New Covenant (31'31-34).
Referring to that prophecy, Hebrews 8'6-11 provides the context of it and that it came about in Christ:
"But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.
For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second.
Because finding fault with them, He says: 'Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah
- not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD.
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
None of them shall teach his neighbour, and none his brother, saying, "Know the Lord," for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.
For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more'.
In that He says, 'A new covenant,' He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away".
Then to the Gentiles
Romans 4 is all about faith, and verse 17 relates God as saying to Abraham: "I have made you a father of many nations". Galatians 3'8 expands on it:
"And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, 'In you all the nations shall be blessed'", Galatians 3'8.
Acts 26'23 states "that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles."
Luke in 2'32 reports Simeon's prophecy of Jesus being "A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel".
"God so loved the world"!
ONE NEW HUMANITY
Jesus achieved a new thing for humanity: Animosity and hatred can be replaced with love and unity.
That comes about when someone receives Christ. Through Him both Jew and Gentile are formed into a new humanity. Ephesians 2'14-18 says:
"He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation,
having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace,
and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.
And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father".
"Looking unto Jesus,
the author and finisher of our faith,
“And the common people heard Him gladly," Mark 12'37.
Prayer. Father, thank you that Jesus is the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls and we can hear Him over and above any other.
Thank you, too, for giving us the Holy Spirit so we can possess, experience and rejoice in Christ's New Covenant Kingdom teachings and understandings.