Archive for category Theology
Thorns © 2017 Simon Peter Sutherland
In Matthew 27; 29, Mark 15; 17, John 19; 2, each of the three Gospel writers refer to an event in the life of Jesus Christ, where His head was pierced with a “crown of thorns”.
Gospel writers Matthew and John both use the same Greek to communicate this “crown of thorns” of which the Greek “stephanos” (crown) holds the meaning of a wreathe, or a badge of royalty.
In Israel today it is generally believed that these original thorns, were collected by a Roman soldier just a few yards or feet near the place where Jesus was mocked. These thorns according to a Syriac version are rendered “white thorns”. But sources claim there are more than 120 kinds of thistles and tares that grow in Israel, so it is difficult to determine the exact plant.
It is with the material plant in mind that I ponder upon the notion that it is often easy to focus our whole attention upon the physical side of Christ’s passion and the pain Jesus endured when the crown of thorns was twisted upon His head. Yet it should be noticed that the context of the Gospel passages prove that the Romans were mocking Jesus because of the claim He had to Royalty. This context implies that the original authors intentions were not exclusively intended to display the physical pain Jesus endured by the thorns, but the mockery He endured while permitting the Romans to inflict such wickedness upon Him. Jesus had laid down His power willingly that He might suffer for sin of those who tormented Him and for all mankind.
Research shows that Jesus was tormented by as many as 500 hundred soldiers at one time. The implications written about in Matthew 27: 27 where Jesus is delivered to the whole “garrison” or “band of soldiers” are that the whole number of soldiers to mock Jesus numbered as many as 500 or more men. This is made clear by Matthews use of the Greek “Speira” which is of Latin origin, meaning the root word derived from the language of the Romans. This word shows us that this troop was one tenth part of a Roman Legion.
We do not know how many of these soldiers twisted the crown upon Jesus’ head, but the text is translated in the plural sense. The ESV renders it “and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head”. Note the plural word ‘they‘.
These thorns are the subject of much interest and exploration. Writing in the 19th century, botanist and geologist Rev Prof. G. Henslow ascribed the thorn as “Paliurus aculeatus” which was known as ‘Christ’s thorn’. This was a flexible branch which bread the thorns in pairs and could easily be plaited into a crown shape to fit on our Lord’s head.
Evolutionists, at present, generally offer an unsatisfactory claim that thorns evolved as a defence mechanism, while Creationists generally believe that ‘thorns’ were created by God after the fall. This creation was centralised around God’s punishment of original sin. The claim is derived from Genesis 3: 17-19, more specifically verse 18 “thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you…”.
Part of that Old Testament judgement is revealed in the New Testament as the thorns being placed upon the head of Christ, penetrating His flesh, bones and blood, in the sacrificial offering of the second Adam as He took the sin of mankind upon Himself.
Most evidence for the location of the garden of Eden was stripped away during Noah’s flood, but it is my belief, though I cannot prove it, that the Garden of Gethsemane, where Christ was handed over, is the exact location of the garden of Eden. It is also my belief, though I cannot prove that either, that Golgotha, where Christ was crucified, was the exact location where the tree of life once stood in the garden of Eden. That the thorn which pierced Christ’s brow was taken from the exact location where God made the first thorn of Genesis 3: 18.
It is my belief that Jesus took upon Himself all aspects of the judgement that God had placed upon mankind through the law, and that the Roman soldiers crowned the Creator Himself with the thorns that He created on the very site that He had originally placed them. They may have been as large as one inch long.
Luther nailing his Thesis to the Church door © 2017 Simon Peter Sutherland
This year, 2017, is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
On the 31st October 1517, Augustinian Monk, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Thesis to the Church door at Wittenberg.
The Thesis itself was centralised around his criticism of the Roman Catholic Church, the Papacy, Purgatory, and the selling of indulgences.
Today such a move would not seem all that bold, but in his day, the content of Luther’s thesis was one of the most radical criticisms of the Catholic Church that anyone had ever read. It was the dawn of such a bold and impactful move that Luther’s life between 1517-1546 would suffer a great deal of turmoil and tribulation.
In 1521 Luther stood trial at the Diet of Worms and was told to renounce all of his writings by order of Pope Leo X. Luther refused and was excommunicated by the very Church he sought to defend and reform. The Pope put a bounty on his head and Luther was given shelter by Prince Frederick the wise, at the Wartburg Castle.
Luther had his opponents, but it is always good to have friends in high places!
At the Castle Luther spent his time translating the New Testament from Greek into German. Luther’s New Testament was published and what would follow for Luther would be a life of turmoil, religious intolerance and even war.
Luther wrote: “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger.”.
Luther was no perfect man, but his reformation was a quest for perfection.
Every generation of Christians from the 16th to the 21st century have been inspired or have benefited in some way from the work that Luther began. There were even men who lived centuries prior to Luther who by the same Spirit sought to bring reform and renewal to the Church of their days.
Each quest has been a struggle. But the Word of God cannot be broken!
The Reformation is far from over.
Reform is not a thing of the past, it is an ongoing future. All of us, whether we be preachers or simply Christians have a part to play in the widespread movement of reform.
It is true that complaining is not always a popular thing. Today in our hyper positive thin world, the masses generally like a more positive, uplifting message rather than doom and gloom. But where would we be today if Luther and the Reformers kept silent and looked at the positives rather than the predominant errors of so many Churches?
The sad truth is that there is much to complain about and logic knows that a light does not come on without the negative too. When God said “Let there be light” He was not speaking about the darkness. But after the darkness came the light.
The 16th century Reformation had a saying: ‘Post Tenebrass Lux‘ It was a Latin phrase meaning ‘Light after darkness‘.
Today, the Christian Church in England is in a dark time. There really is no point in ignoring that. Where would we be today if the Reformers had never recognised that the Church was in an age of darkness because they were stooped up in a weak and crowd pleasing positive message? Where would we be if they had never criticised the errors of the Roman Catholic Church? Where would we be if they had looked at the positives of Rome and failed to judge? They would not have hoped for light.
This year, in 2017 each one of us, wherever we are, can write our ninety-five Thesis and live in hope that the body of Christ is not done for!
Each one of us can stand against the widespread errors and deceitful doctrines of corrupt Churches. Even in the face of danger, excommunication, slander and fear based fundamentalism, each one of us can stand boldly and love our Bibles and say before God and man; ‘my conscience is captive to the Word of God, and to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other God help me.‘
“Therefore, from the birth of Christ to the death of Commodus are a total of one hundred ninety-four years, one month, and thirteen days. There are those who have calculated not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day. They say that it took place in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus, on the twenty-fifth day of Pachon [May 20] … Others say that He was born on the twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth day of Pharmuthi [April 19 or 20]”
Clement of Alexandria (c. 195)
Following on from my previous post concerning the birth of Jesus and my expressive doubts that the Bible even remotely claims that Jesus was born on December 25th, I continue on with this polemical theme, and in this post, consider a historic claim made by Clement of Alexandria in the 2nd century AD.
For those readers who may never have heard or read anything of Clement of Alexandria, his life is worth looking into. With that in mind permit me to spend a few moments relaying some things concerning his life and work.
Clement of Alexandria was born c. 150 AD in Athens, Greece and is believed to have died in Jerusalem c. 215 or 220 AD. He was a Christian Theologian and is venerated as a ‘Church father’ and his writings provide us with important source material concerning the beliefs and claims of the ante-Nicene Church fathers.
He wrote on such varied ethical topics as eating, drinking, laughter, filthy speaking, clothes, true beauty, ear rings, hair, Government, and behaviour in public baths. He also wrote concerning human arts, the necessity of understanding the Scriptures and Greek Philosophy. Clement wrote concerning the Septuagint and the comparison between the ancient Greeks with the Hebrews. Indeed, much of our understanding of early Christianity and the views of early Christians comes directly from the writings of the early ante-Nicene Church fathers.
A number of Clement’s works have fully survived. Here is a list of three of them.
- The Protrepticus
- The Paedagogus
- The Stromata
On embracing Christianity, Clement travelled extensively over Greece, Italy, and Jerusalem seeking instructions and teaching from “the most eminent teachers” of his day. He was recommended by Alexander, the Bishop of Jerusalem and Origen was one of his pupils. Church historian Eusebius also speaks well of him. Clement taught that Jesus Christ was the personal saviour of men and the living Word of God and he affirmed the Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures.
As part of Clement’s research and historic record of his day, the claim he made that “Others say that He (Jesus) was born on the twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth day of Pharmuthi [April 19 or 20]” may well be the earliest known reference to the actual birth date of Jesus?
It is with all this in mind that when a historic Church father of this calibre made such a historic claim that Jesus was not believed in his day to have been born on December 25th or anywhere near that date but in either April or May, I feel I must point out; it really is irrelevant whether a modern person agrees with Clement or not. He wrote what he wrote regardless!
With this in mind it is certainly clear we need no emphasis on ‘historic revisionism’ since it may well be more historically consistent to claim Nisan as Jesus’ birth date rather than December and we can be certain that neither Matthew or Luke made any references to the birth of Jesus as taking place in winter. On the contrary, as I stated in my previous article, “it is more probable that He was born at Nisan which took place in the spring”. And it seems by all accounts that Ecclesiastical history may well affirm this too!
Nisan falls in March-April, and Clement claims Jesus’ birth date as either April 19th or 20th which is almost upon us. So, since this really is not a divisive issue, may I humbly suggest that believers and followers of Jesus Christ consider this history as we approach the coming months and the season of Nisan.
Every year over the Christmas season I focus my mind distinctly upon the incarnate life of Christ as written in the Gospels. I often read Matthew and Luke’s narrative concerning the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem in the ancient Kingdom of Judah.
Many studies have been done to draw insights out from the Gospels to uncover the facts that surrounded Jesus’ birth. Questions are often asked: was Jesus really born on December 25th? Was He really born in a stable?
Over the many years of my being a Christian and desiring to know more about the incarnate life of Christ, I have approached the narratives from many perspectives and over recent years I have focused on His life from the perspective of Jesus as “the lamb of God” (John 1: 29).
From this perspective everything that Jesus did had to be a complete fulfilment of the requirements laid down by God concerning the sacrificial lambs offered up in the Temple. Lambs were to be perfect and without blemish (Exodus 12: 5, 1 Peter 1: 19) Jesus was perfect being without sin (1 John 3: 5, 2 Corinthians 5: 21, Hebrews 4: 15)
Likewise, the lambs which were reared to be offered up as Temple sacrifices were born in Bethlehem and sure enough, when they were firstborn were ‘wrapped up in swaddling cloths’ as Jesus was for a sign (Luke 2: 12). Yes, Jesus was born with the sacrificial Lambs.
Sadly for many, these points and necessities concerning the sacrificial lambs do not point to Jesus being born in December, but it is more probable that He was born at Nisan which took place in the spring.
Nisan is by far a more significant time since 14 Nisan marks the Fast of the firstborn, Jesus being the ‘firstborn among many brethren’ (Romans 8: 29, Colossians 1: 15) and 15 Nisan marks the birth of Isaac, whom demonstrates as a type or shadow of Christ. 15-21 Nisan marks the Passover when Jesus was crucified as the Passover lamb and 15 marks the Exodus from Egypt, which again was a foreshadow of Christ who delivered His people from the bondage of sin.
Obviously none of this proves that Jesus Christ wasn’t born in December, however if indeed He was born in Nisan it would be far more fitting with Scripture to consider it, since it is also on 17 Nisan that the ark of Noah came to rest upon the mountains of Ararat, which again speaks of Christ who is our eternal rest.
I like and enjoy Christmas and I too have my own traditions. These traditions include reading a fresh the nativity story from the Gospels, putting up the Christmas tree early while watching a Christmas movie and also reading ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens.
Yet even though I like tradition, I refuse to let it override Scripture.
Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign, Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” Isaiah 7: 14
The virgin birth of Jesus Christ has been controversial topic for centuries. In the 2nd century, a Greek philosopher and a critique of Christianity named Celsus, claimed that Jesus was the son of a Roman soldier named Pantera. This claim has sparked debate that Mary was the victim of a rape and that Jesus was the product of that. But the story has very little historic backbone to it.
In 1952, a Bible translation called the Revised Standard Version was published. This translation rendered “a virgin” of Isaiah 7: 14 as “young woman”.
The translation appeared to be in direct contrast to the KJV and caused considerable controversy in its day and gave zest to the King James only movement. One of the arguments presented by critics of the RSV was that the rendering of ‘a virgin’ could be traced back to the oldest translation of the Old Testament known to exist. This translation is the Septuagint (LXX) and is a Greek translation of the Old Testament dating to the 3rd century BC.
likewise, we know the early Church believed Isaiah 7: 14 meant ‘a virgin’ since the ancient Apostles creed, puts the miracle of the Virgin birth this way:
- “Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of the Virgin Mary.”
The problem is that in the RSV, the text of Isaiah can be read to deny the virgin birth, however, Luke’s gospel according to the RSV may not appear to deny the virgin birth, since the claims are quite clear by exposition.
However, for many people today, the virgin birth is about as real as Rudolf pulling Santa’s sleigh, yet these views are nothing new. In fact, when we read the New Testament, we see Joseph and Mary wrestling a little with it too.
In Matthew 1: 20 we read that Joseph “thought about these things” and then had a dream. Clearly he was troubled by the situation and was logical, he must have thought Mary had been unfaithful to him and Matthew recorded that he planned to divorce her quietly (Matthew 1: 19). Likewise Mary’s response to the angel who told her she would give birth to a son was likewise logical and reasonable “how can this be, since I do not know a man” (Luke 1: 34. NKJV). The angel told Mary the miraculous conception would be of “the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1: 35. NKJV). Mary’s question was reasonable and shows that people can reason and ask questions concerning God and faith.
A question I often asked myself when I was a child was; why did the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel go to Joseph? And why do the genealogies of Matthew and Luke differ? Many years later, I learned there is a very distinct reason for the two genealogies. Matthew’s genealogy differs to Luke’s genealogy for very distinct reasons:
Matthew’s genealogy proceeds forwards from Abraham to Joseph. While Luke’s genealogy moves backwards from Jesus to Adam. Matthew’s genealogy represents the legitimate, legal, royal line unto Jesus’ legal father, as in stepfather, while the genealogy of Jesus recorded for us by Luke represents Mary’s lineage.
Matthew’s genealogy represents the legitimate, legal, royal line unto Jesus’ legal father, as in stepfather. The genealogy of Jesus recorded for us by Luke through Mary’s lineage. This connects all the way back to Adam, as needs must to connect Christ as direct decent from Adam that He in the likeness of flesh, might take upon Himself the sins of the world.
Research shows that King Jeconiah is mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy and thus reveals a very distinct reason for the virgin birth.
In Jeremiah 22: 30 the prophet wrote;
- “Thus says the Lord; Write this man down as childless, A man who shall prosper in his days; for none of his descendants shall prosper, Sitting on the throne of David, And ruling anymore in Judah.”
This is the reason why a virgin birth had to happen, because if Jesus had been the actual biological son of Joseph, then Jesus would have been part of this curse and thus could not be King of Israel.
If not for this curse, then Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather would have been the legitimate King of Israel. This is why the Angel referred to Joseph as “Joseph, thou son of David” Matthew 1: 20. The Angel did not refer to Joseph as ‘the’ Son of David, but ‘son of David’. Seventeen verses in the New Testament name Jesus as the Son of David and Matthew recorded that when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a Donkey, the people hailed “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Matthew 20: 9) Jesus the King was clearly next in line for the throne and Paul also affirmed this claim in Romans 1: 3, 2 Timothy 2: 8.
This curse written by the prophet Jeremiah did not come upon Mary or her descendants because she was not a descendant in the lineage of Jeconiah.
The people of ancient Jerusalem and the Babylonian Kings (the wise men) knew these things and this is why they asked:
- “Where is He who is born King of the Jews”. Matthew 2: 2
The claim to the throne of Jesus as the true King of Israel was known not only by the Jewish people, but by Greeks and by Romans. The Gospels record that the claim of Jesus as King was written by Pontius Pilate and placed upon Jesus’ cross.
- Matthew 27: 37 “This is Jesus the King of the Jews”
- Mark 15: 26 “The King of the Jews”
- Luke 23: 38 “This is the King of the Jews”
- John 19: 19 “Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews”
The claim of Jesus as King was written in “Greek, Latin and Hebrew” and in John 18: 34 Jesus questions Pilate on whether or not the claim that He Himself was King came from Pilate or from other people. “Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?”
That question should be asked by all of us; do we say things about Jesus because others tell us these things or do they come from ourselves? It must be a fact that since Christianity has impacted this world so strongly that every human being must at some point ask the question of who Jesus Christ truly was and is. If He was truly the Son of God, which I believe He was, then He is the most important person who has ever lived or ever will live. And if He wasn’t the Son of God then who was He and how strong a case can be assembled to make each and every individual wage eternity upon their answer?
I believe that Jesus was who He said He was and that is why I hold Him and His commands in such high royal esteem. I believe He is the only way to God and His miracles, healing’s and resurrection stand as firm proofs of that.
The question is; when He returns, will He take the throne in a literal sense?
Thursday 12th November 2015 saw the 400th anniversary of 17th century Puritan Theologian, hymn writer and minister Richard Baxter.
Richard Baxter was born on 12th November 1615 and died 8th December 1691. He is famed for being minister at Kidderminster. He was a towering figure in the nonconformist movement. He lived through the English Civil war.
He was a great Christian man and a true witness to the life of Christ. He wrote many books, which are still published even to this day and his work “the Saints everlasting rest” is one of my favoured works in all of Christianity.
Baxter interpreted Scripture that Christ died for ‘all mankind’ in the sense of Christ dying for sins, not only for the elect. The substitutionary atonement of Christ was available for all men in Adam, no one was excluded. The atonement was available for all who believe in Jesus Christ and that no man was excluded from believing in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.
Baxter’s Theological position on the universal offering of salvation was not favoured by the majority Calvinists of his day and he ran into conflict with John Owen, the author of ‘the death of death in the death of Christ’. Owen believed that the sacrifice of Christ granted nothing for the none-elect and the doctrine of ‘double predestination’ was a logical conclusion to the doctrines of predestination, election and reprobation.
Baxter believed the doctrine of ‘limited atonement’ in the 5 point Calvinist sense, was inconsistent with the Bible and I agree with Baxter that Christ is available as Saviour for all mankind and I believe the Scriptures affirm this explicitly.
If I had only four books to choose from, my first would obviously be the King James Bible, then the Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, the third would be the Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and my final would be “Saints everlasting rest” by Richard Baxter. My reason for these choices is that the Bible is the absolute measuring line and rule of faith and practice for any Christian: the ‘Imitation of Christ’ helps me with humility and devotion: The ‘Foxe’s Book of Martyrs’ offers remembrance of our own Christian history, showing us where we have come from proceeding the Apostolic era to the Reformation and the ‘Saints everlasting rest” shows me quite clearly where Christians are going.
When I read ‘Saints everlasting rest’ I look forward to heaven.
I am truly thankful to men like Richard Baxter who stood up for Biblical truth and fell out of favour with many for doing so and I am thankful to God for His outpouring of love upon His people, showing us time and time again the treasures and glorious future He has stored up for those who love Him.
“For the time is come, that judgement must begin at the house of God; and if it first start with us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?. ” 1 Peter 4: 17
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. The time has come for you to re-examine the Scriptures, and cease to deny those which do not reaffirm your message.
Too long have your teachers embraced a loyalty within their hearts to the Separatist theories and histories which landed on your shores so long ago.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I know you love the Scriptures and are loyal to them, but the reason why some of you wrestle with the Scriptures, is because they speak contrary to some of the doctrines of which you hold dear. It is time for change.
Too long have your teachers upheld Scripture in one place, while denying them in another. I know that they are loyal to the Truth and I know they try and be loyal to Scripture, but they have another love in their hearts. The loyalty to their much loved friends and historical people, has taken the pure milk of the word out of their hearts.
Friends; you need not be loyal to the doctrines upheld by your close friends, pastors, beloved teachers, historical people and their books. Our loyalty is to God alone and the Scriptures which He has set in their place. And if a doctrine has no place in Scripture, it should have no place within our hearts.
On the basis of Scripture and in the quest for Truth, I appeal to you to re-think your position with Scripture and plain reason.
If you open your hearts to what Scripture says, the Scripture will come into you and breathe. But if you shut up your hearts and close your minds, you alone will close them up.
Remember that you who uphold and teach doctrines, will be judged more highly than those who do not . This is why James wrote, “My brethren be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation” (James 3: 1.)
With that Truth in mind, I urge you for the good of yourselves and all people; be not be like those of old who affirmed Salvation for themselves, while denying it for others. All the while, looking at the decline of your own while denying their Salvation at the same time. For, if this be an untruth, you will receive judgement for teaching it.
I appeal to you who know the Scriptures, to spend some time in the close examination of them once again. For it is the Church which is to be judged by the Scriptures, not the Scriptures by the Church. It is the Body of Christ to whom the message of Salvation has been entrusted. And she cannot be alarmed by her country’s denial of Scripture, while she herself denies them too.
I appeal to you this day, to re-examine the Scriptures and seek the Lord who gave them. To seek the Word of the Prophets and Apostles who wrote them down and sent the Words to you by the Power of the Holy Spirit sent from Heaven.
The Scripture says “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” 1 Peter 1: 2. Through which is revealed the original purpose of God, to indiscriminately bring Salvation both to Jews and Gentiles, who are elect according to the foreknowledge of God, in which, if it follows that if no man is excluded from calling upon God, Salvation must be ready available for him.
I urge and plead with you to re-examine your hearts and minds and be not like those of old, who were chosen, but in the time of Our Lord did deny salvation for everyone, but themselves alone. They too used Scripture to affirm it.
Brothers and sisters, I plead with you, on behalf of Truth and the souls of those who are perishing and the pure testimony of divine Scripture, ‘gird up the loins of your minds, be sober and repent’. And if you have tasted that the Lord be gracious to you, remember His grace towards others, who were like yourselves, not the people of God, even so should you be merciful, as you yourselves have obtained mercy.
If the doctrine of ‘Limited Atonement’ be true, then it is not a ‘doctrine of Grace’. It is a doctrine of damnation for all those who either cannot, or will not believe in it.
Dearly beloved, judgement is coming, but it will not come until the house of God is set in order first. Time is short, I beseech you, as strangers yet as brothers and sisters, to submit yourselves to every Word of God. And pray, pray, pray.’