The Story: Father Abraham Had Many Sons, Part 2 (The Blood Oath)

The blood oath

For thousands of years, men have sealed covenants in blood. In the Middle East, they used to say that they “cut a covenant,” meaning the covenanting parties cut their arms and sucked a bit of one another’s blood.

The mingling of blood was considered to bring the parties together so tightly they’d have to honor their words.

This practice gave way to the sharing of animal blood in a ceremony that surely seems strange to us today. Even today in some Middle Eastern societies, when a covenant, such as a marriage, is made, the heads of the household make a solemn pact that the wife will be faithful to her husband and that the husband will not abuse his wife. The two men take an animal, cut it in two, and then take turns walking between the two halves, stepping in and through the blood.

The ceremony has this meaning: if I do not keep my promise, you may do to me what we’ve done to this animal. The two men pledge their lives to seal the covenant. And in those societies today, when a husband beats his wife or the wife commits adultery, the head of the offender’s household is often found dead, killed by the other family in fulfillment of the oath.

Now consider God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15 –

(Gen 15:1-21 ESV) After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.”

4 Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars — if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

6 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

7 He also said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

8 But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

Notice the audacity of Abram’s question. He literally questioned whether he could take God’s word! We’d be terrified to ask such a question, but Abram did not have thousands of years of history with God. He believed in God, but God had not yet performed all the miracles of the Exodus. Abram’s faith was weak — but the point is that he had faith, not that he had great faith!

9 So the LORD said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” 10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. 12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.

13 Then the LORD said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates — 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

God wanted to assure Abraham of the certainly of his promise, and so he made a solemn covenant. Abraham’s end of the bargain was to have faith in God. God promised to make a great nation of Abraham’s descendants.

Before the ceremony, Abraham suffered “a thick and dreadful darkness” (v. 12), which means he was terrified. What was there to fear in making a covenant with God Almighty?

Well, we need to understand the meaning of “faith.” We take “faith” to mean that we accept the truth of what is said. We “believe” the person speaking. But the thought is deeper.

Josephus was a First Century Jew and a soldier. He tells a story of a soldier under his command who was disloyal. He caught him and threatened his life. He then told him to repent and be loyal to Josephus and he’d spare his life, giving him a second chance. Well, the word translated “be loyal” is what we translate in the Bible as “believe.” He literally told the soldier to “believe in me.” He didn’t claim to be deity. He just wanted the man’s loyalty. You see, “faith” includes “faithfulness.”

Abraham’s end of the covenant was not just intellectual assent, accepting God’s word as true. Abraham was to be loyal to God.

(Gen 18:19 NET) 19 “I have chosen [Abraham] so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just. Then the LORD will give to Abraham what he promised him.”

Indeed, the words “right” and “just” are almost always used in the Old Testament of God. God called Abraham so his descendants would be like God — indeed, in his image.

Now, imagine having God himself come to you and ask for a blood oath of loyalty. You could hardly say no! But then, would you really want to bet your life on your ability to keep your word — knowing that the penalty for a violation is death?

To firmly establish the seriousness of the covenant, God asked not for an animal, but every kind of animal used in sacrificial worship. Indeed, Abraham lined up each of the very animals that would later be used as a sacrifice under the Law of Moses centuries later!

But when night fell and it was time for God and Abraham to each walk between the animals and through the blood, an amazing thing happened. God passed through both as a torch of flame and as smoke pot. God went through twice — and Abraham didn’t pass through at all. (God is often referred to as smoke and fire. Exo 19:18; 2 Sam 22:9; Psa 18:8; Isa 4:5.)

Rather, when it was time for Abraham to walk in the blood, saying if I don’t keep my promise, you may do to me as we have done to these animals, God himself took the walk for Abraham — and only God. God promised to pay the penalty for Abraham!

Thousands of years later, God indeed paid the price for the sins of his people. This is the nature of God’s covenant with Abraham.

When Jesus died on the cross, it was indeed Jesus. But Jesus is God. It was God himself paying the price, just as he’d promised Abraham. This was not a Son appeasing the wrath of an unsympathetic, vengeful, hate-filled God. It was God dying for us in the only way God can die — by taking human form and surrendering heaven to walk among us as one of us. God himself suffered death to give us life. That’s how he dealt with his wrath. He gave himself for us.

As Paul said to the elders at Ephesus,

(Act 20:28 ESV) Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.

Paul declares that God obtained the church “with his own blood”! Paul declares plainly that it was God’s blood that was shed on the cross. Faith Why did God enter into this incredible covenant with Abraham? Well, because of Abraham’s faith.

(Gen 15:6 ESV) 6 And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

(Rom 4:2-4 ESV) 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.

Abraham was a good man in many respects, but he was deeply flawed. He had faith, but at times, his faith was weak. He was far from perfect. Indeed, he was a lot like the rest of us.

Conclusions

Notice these things —

• First, the covenant God made with Abraham saves us. God later added to and expanded the covenant, but Paul plainly says that God saves us because of his covenant with Abraham.

The old “dispensational” theory that the Patriarchal Age ended and was repealed is not really true. Rather than thinking in terms of dispensations, we should think in terms of covenants, and covenants aren’t repealed; they’re fulfilled.

• Second, God promised to bless all nations through Abraham. That blessing came through Jesus, but it was over 2,000 years later. The extension of God’s promises to the Gentiles is in fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham.

• Third, salvation is by faith because that’s the nature of God’s covenant with Abraham. Abraham believed, and so those who believe today become sons of Abraham. God promised to bless his descendants, and the true descendants of Abraham are those who share his faith.

(Gal 3:8-9 ESV) 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

• This is why Paul speaks in terms of the Gentiles being “grafted” into the Jewish tree.

(Rom 11:17-18 ESV) 17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.

Question:

1) What does this tell us about God?

a) That God keeps his promises, even across millennia.

b) That God rewards faith even when our works are very inadequate.

c) That “faith” is more than intellectual acceptance. Abraham didn’t just accept what God said was true. He acted on his beliefs — but his obedience was far from perfect. He did not merit God’s blessings. He did not earn them.

d) That God doesn’t willy nilly enact and repeal his covenants. God keeps his promises, and therefore he fulfills his covenants. God has a master plan — a narrative he began with Abraham, that reached its climax in Jesus, and is proceeding toward its ultimate conclusion even now. And we’re a part of his story — because we’re sons of Abraham.

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  1. “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” 10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half”
    ——————————————————————————
    Rather, when it was time for Abraham to walk in the blood, saying if I don’t keep my promise, you may do to me as we have done to these animals, God himself took the walk for Abraham — and only God. God promised to pay the penalty for Abraham!
    —————————————————————————-
    When Jesus died on the cross, it was indeed Jesus. But Jesus is God. It was God himself paying the price, just as he’d promised Abraham. This was not a Son appeasing the wrath of an unsympathetic, vengeful, hate-filled God. It was God dying for us in the only way God can die — by taking human form and surrendering heaven to walk among us as one of us. God himself suffered death to give us life. That’s how he dealt with his wrath. He gave himself for us.
    ————————————————————————–
    The ceremony has this meaning: if I do not keep my promise, you may do to me what we’ve done to this animal.
    ——————————————————————-
    Thousands of years later, God indeed paid the price for the sins of his people. This is the nature of God’s covenant with Abraham.
    ——————————————————-
    earlier Jay described a covenant made between to families, To express the seriousness of a covenant. “The two men take an animal, cut it in two, and then take turns walking between the two halves, stepping in and through the blood.
    Pardon me but I don’t seem to recall that Jesus died in such a manner. Nor do I recall that ” you or your offspring snall never sin, or the covenant is broken” was in the original covenant.

    Try as I might, I can’t figure out who, if anyone broke this covenant. So that God himself had to pay with his life. Sounds kind of like this places God on the same level as man, his creation.

  2. As we see in Gen 22:1 God did tempt/test Abraham’s trust/faith in what God told him. any man except Abraham (I dare say) might have been tempted to disobey God’s command, but not Abraham. He got his Son, his knife, his ass, and headed toward the mountians. Yes he was rewarded for his faith by another sacrifice, and God saw what he surely already knew, that Abraham truly loved his God.

    Pan forward a few thousand years we see Abrahams offspring (the Jews) in trouble, and we also see God’s love for Abraham, and his offspring has not deminished.
    Jhn 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

    As we plainly see God did not die on the cross, his only begotten son Jesus did, why did Jesus say “your will, not mine” because he loved his God as much as Abraham loved his God, and they were both the same God.Jesus said so, and I believe him.

  3. Pingback: Atonement: The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant, Part 3 | One In Jesus

  4. rbiser,

    It’s a fairly famous argument from N. T. Wright. I usually give the citation. Here’s the citation and quotation from Wright —

    Before we can consider this evidence, however, there is another point about Jesus’ context which is of great significance, and which has been, I think, more or less universally overlooked. If ‘repentance’ carries the overtone of ‘what Israel must do if her fortunes are to be restored’, it can also have a much more down-to-earth ring: to abandon revolutionary zeal. This is found in a setting strikingly reminiscent of the major introductory passage in the gospels (Mark 1:15/Matthew 4:17). The setting is a passage in Josephus’ autobiography.
    Josephus is describing an incident which took place in Galilee in around AD 66—that is, roughly when some of the synoptic traditions may have been achieving a settled shape. Josephus has gone to Galilee to sort out the turbulent factionalism there. A brigand chief called Jesus (there are twenty-one people by that name in the index to Josephus’ works; originality in naming children was evidently not prized highly among first-century Jews) makes a plot against Josephus’ life. Josephus manages to foil it. Then, he tells us, he called Jesus aside and told him

    that I was not ignorant of the plot which he had contrived against me …; I would, nevertheless, condone his actions if he would show repentance and prove his loyalty to me. All this he promised … [22]

    ‘If he would show repentance and prove his loyalty to me.’ The translation is accurate enough, but could just as well have been rendered ‘if he would repent and believe in me’ [23]. Josephus is requiring of this Jesus that he give up his brigandage, and trust him (Josephus) for a better way forward. ‘Repentance’, in this sense of abandoning revolutionary inclinations, is found elsewhere in the same narrative; so, for that matter, is ‘belief’, in the sense of trust in and loyalty to a leader. I find it somewhat remarkable that, in all the literature I have read about Jesus of Nazareth, only one writer even mentions the incident involving Josephus and the brigand Jesus, and even he makes no comment about the meaning of ‘repentance’ and ‘belief’ in the light of it. It is, I suggest, of considerable significance. This is what those words meant in Galilee in the 60s; by what logic do we insist that they meant something rather different, something perhaps more ‘personal’, ‘inward’ or ‘religious’, in Galilee in the 20s and 30s? Why should we use that ‘religious’ sense as the criterion for assessing whether Jesus of Nazareth could have said such a thing? He may well have meant more than Josephus; that must be seen by further historical investigation. He is highly unlikely to have meant less.

    [22] Jos. Life 110 (tr. Thackeray in LCL).
    [23] ei melloi metanoesein kai pistos emoi genesesthai

    N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1996), 250–251.

  5. From Testimonium Flavianum “About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.” Antiq. of the Jews, Book 18, Ch.3 Josephus was a Hellenistic Jew that wrote mostly second hand commentaries about the Jews in the Bible and the Jews and thier contact with the Romans. He interestingly writes about Jesus, but doesn’t seem to be a follower of Jesus.
    In regards to a covenant, numerous times in the NT scripture we are told “let your yes be yes and you no be no” and yet the action of immersion (in to Christ death) placed you into Christ.

  6. Hi Jay,

    Wright and repentance

    Wright almost makes it sound as if Josephus had a friendly political chat with the brigand leader, managing to persuade him to stop his mad rush into revolt against Rome, to abandon his revolutionary inclinations and to trust Josephus for a better way forward (The Challenge of Jesus).

    As you point out, he brigand had planned to kill Josephus, Josephus trapped him, separated him from his band and made him promise to stop trying to kill him (Josephus) – at the point of a sword, on pain of death. The brigand, not surprisingly, agreed.
    He probably did have a bit of a “religious” experience! Nearer to God at any rate!

    Even in this case, the brigand, who was anti-Rome, and the Sepphorites (who sponsored his attack on Josephus), who were pro-Rome, were not being asked to change their political views towards Rome as much as being threatened to change their behaviour towards Josephus.

    Nate Mihelis points out, Wright claims without lexical evidence that “repent” has a “specific and indeed political meaning”.

    Wright begrudgingly acknowledges that Jesus may well have meant more than Wright believes Josephus did – “that there were indeed religious and theological dimensions to his invitation”, though that “must be seen by further historical investigation” (why does Wright not just study what the Bible says in context?), he illogically insists that ALL uses of the word “repent” MUST include Wright’s new-found political meaning. “We dare not screen out these meanings .. – we cannot suppose that (Jesus) meant less.” “He is highly unlikely to have meant less.”

    As Nate puts it
    “By what logic you ask? Well for starters, that’s NOT what it meant in Josephus day either. .. this is a raging exegetical fallacy.”
    “For starters, metanoia and metanoeo simply mean “repentance” or “turning” and “to repent” or “to turn” respectively. What exactly is to be turned from depends on the context in which it is used. To import what it is that one is turning from in a given context into the lexical meaning or semantic range of the word is just plain wrong. It’s sloppy lexicography.”

    “Further more, to take that imported meaning and apply it to all other contexts, especially those that clearly indicate something explicit that is to be turned from is even more dangerous exegetically, not to mention theologically.”

    “Let me offer a modern day example: Say you read the Mapquest directions that I recently used to get from VA to NH. You would see something to the effect of “turn right off of St. Luke’s Blvd on to Great Bridge Blvd.” Suppose you wanted to determine just what I meant by “turn.” Well, a little historical/geographical research reveals that St. Luke’s Blvd is a dead end side street and Great Bridge is a major thoroughfare. You conclude that “turning” is a technical term used for street navigation and is particularly useful in describing the move from a lightly traveled street to a major road. This is fine and good, until you hear someone ask to “turn the light off” or “turn in your assignments” or “tossing and turning” etc ad nauseum.”

    Jay, you are an elder, a Sunday school teacher and a lawyer. We look to people like you to see through this sort of reasoning.

  7. E. McAdams,

    I wrote,

    Josephus was a First Century Jew and a soldier. He tells a story of a soldier under his command who was disloyal. He caught him and threatened his life. He then told him to repent and be loyal to Josephus and he’d spare his life, giving him a second chance. Well, the word translated “be loyal” is what we translate in the Bible as “believe.” He literally told the soldier to “believe in me.” He didn’t claim to be deity. He just wanted the man’s loyalty. You see, “faith” includes “faithfulness.”

    How then do you impute to me every argument made by Wright from this information? The only assertion I made in this post has to do with the meaning of “faith” — which I don’t think you even dispute.

    However, I think Wright is largely right on this point, if we carefully think through what he’s saying. Here is what Wright actually wrote,

    Before we can consider this evidence, however, there is another point about Jesus’ context which is of great significance, and which has been, I think, more or less universally overlooked. If ‘repentance’ carries the overtone of ‘what Israel must do if her fortunes are to be restored’, it can also have a much more down-to-earth ring: to abandon revolutionary zeal. This is found in a setting strikingly reminiscent of the major introductory passage in the gospels (Mark 1:15/Matthew 4:17). The setting is a passage in Josephus’ autobiography.
    Josephus is describing an incident which took place in Galilee in around AD 66—that is, roughly when some of the synoptic traditions may have been achieving a settled shape. Josephus has gone to Galilee to sort out the turbulent factionalism there. A brigand chief called Jesus (there are twenty-one people by that name in the index to Josephus’ works; originality in naming children was evidently not prized highly among first-century Jews) makes a plot against Josephus’ life. Josephus manages to foil it. Then, he tells us, he called Jesus aside and told him

    that I was not ignorant of the plot which he had contrived against me …; I would, nevertheless, condone his actions if he would show repentance and prove his loyalty to me. All this he promised …

    ‘If he would show repentance and prove his loyalty to me.’ The translation is accurate enough, but could just as well have been rendered ‘if he would repent and believe in me’. Josephus is requiring of this Jesus that he give up his brigandage, and trust him (Josephus) for a better way forward. ‘Repentance’, in this sense of abandoning revolutionary inclinations, is found elsewhere in the same narrative; so, for that matter, is ‘belief’, in the sense of trust in and loyalty to a leader. I find it somewhat remarkable that, in all the literature I have read about Jesus of Nazareth, only one writer even mentions the incident involving Josephus and the brigand Jesus, and even he makes no comment about the meaning of ‘repentance’ and ‘belief’ in the light of it. It is, I suggest, of considerable significance. This is what those words meant in Galilee in the 60s; by what logic do we insist that they meant something rather different, something perhaps more ‘personal’, ‘inward’ or ‘religious’, in Galilee in the 20s and 30s? Why should we use that ‘religious’ sense as the criterion for assessing whether Jesus of Nazareth could have said such a thing? He may well have meant more than Josephus; that must be seen by further historical investigation. He is highly unlikely to have meant less.

    N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1996), 250–251.

    So while it’s certainly true that “repent” takes on a range of meanings depending on context, it’s fair for Wright to argue against the traditional reading that “repent” ALWAYS means “stop engaging in immoral acts.” It certainly can and sometimes takes on that meaning in scripture, but it’s not the default or only meaning.

    For example, in Acts 2:38, I think Peter was calling on the Jews to repent of their unbelief in Jesus as Messiah. “Repent” in that verses means “believe that Jesus is the Messiah.”

    And that kind of repentance has huge political implications, because “Messiah” means “King.” How can someone declare loyalty to Jesus as King without there being political implications?

    Wright was speaking in particular of Mark 1:15 and Matt 4:17: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” There were moral implications, but the change that ultimately was required for salvation was faith in Jesus. Obviously, Jesus had not yet revealed himself to be the Messiah, but preparation for the Kingdom surely included preparing to believe in the Messiah whom God would soon reveal.

    Wright continues,

    The most plausible historical reconstruction of Jesus’ call to repent brings together, I suggest, the two emphases we have now sketched (returning to YHWH so that the exile may come to an end; renunciation of nationalist violence). It was an eschatological call, not the summons of a moralistic reformer. And it was a political call, summoning Israel as a nation to abandon one set of agendas and embrace another. ‘Repentance’ in Jesus’ first-century context is not to be conceived simply as one feature within the timeless landscape of a non-historical religion. That is the mistake of many Christian writers, who, ignoring the perfectly clear place of that sort of repentance within day-to-day Jewish life and teaching, have imagined that Jesus invented the idea and so became unpopular. But it would be equally wrong to imagine that Jesus—still understood as a preacher of timeless truths—did not make repentance thematic, because, as a preacher of ‘timeless truths’, he had no need to. Rather, precisely as a would-be prophet, and a prophet of the eschaton at that, he summoned Israel to a once-for-all national repentance, such as would be necessary for the exile to end at last. This was not simply the ‘repentance’ that any human being, any Jew, might use if, aware of sin, they decided to say sorry and make amends. It is the single great repentance which would characterize the true people of YHWH at the moment when their god became king. What is more, this repentance seems to have little to do with the official structures of the Jewish system. True repentance, it seems, consisted rather in adherence and allegiance to Jesus himself.

    N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1996), 251–252.

    And I think that’s exactly right. The call to the Jews was not merely for moral reformation. Ultimately, it was also a call to accept Jesus as Messiah (the theme of Peter’s sermon in Acts 2) — in a time and at a place where Herod was titled “King of the Jews” by Caesar. To acknowledge Jesus as Messiah (Anointed One or King) was to declare loyalty to Jesus over and above Herod and Caesar. That was political — but not just political.

    The question of loyalty was called soon afterwards when, in Asia Minor, authorities began persecuting Christians for refusing to offer sacrifice to Caesar as a god. Many Christians were tortured and killed in the most horrific ways imaginable (you really don’t want to read the accounts) because they understood the political implications of confessing Jesus.

    Now, I Googled Nate Mehilis and you seem to be referring to his blog post at http://nathanmihelis.blogspot.com/2007/01/repentance-from-what.html. But Wright is not arguing that Jesus is opposed to moral reform for converts. Plenty of verses unambiguously say so. So this is not a real issue.

    Rather, Wright’s concern is to define “repent” in the context of the coming Kingdom in the Gospels especially. Repent from what? What change is required to enter the Kingdom?

    Most evangelical teaching assumes, without proof, that passages such as Acts 2:38, Mark 1:15 and Matt 4:17 are speaking of moral reformation ONLY, and denominations such as the Churches of Christ, formed in the revival preaching of the Second Great Awakening, emphasize moral reformation to the point of EXCLUDING ALL ELSE. And yet Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 doesn’t speak to moral reformation. It speaks to Jesus as Messiah and the Spirit outpoured and Jesus resurrected and therefore LORD! The change that was required for foremost change for denial of Jesus to faith in Jesus.

    In Acts 3, Peter again preaches faith in Jesus as Messiah – and then asks for repentance —

    (Act 3:12-19 NET) 12 When Peter saw this, he declared to the people, “Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this? Why do you stare at us as if we had made this man walk by our own power or piety? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our forefathers, has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate after he had decided to release him. 14 But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a man who was a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the Originator of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this fact we are witnesses! 16 And on the basis of faith in Jesus’ name, his very name has made this man– whom you see and know– strong. The faith that is through Jesus has given him this complete health in the presence of you all. 17 ¶ And now, brothers, I know you acted in ignorance, as your rulers did too. 18 But the things God foretold long ago through all the prophets– that his Christ would suffer– he has fulfilled in this way. 19 Therefore repent and turn back so that your sins may be wiped out,

    Again, unless we assume that “repent” means “moral reformation,” the sermon itself is all about faith in Jesus as Messiah — and forgiveness of sins comes from faith in Jesus. That hardly means that Jesus’ converts may continue to live in sin.

    In short, it’s a false choice (dichotomy) to insist that “repent” must be either about sin or political. It’s both, but the emphasis in Acts 2 and 3 is repentance to accept Jesus as KING — which is obviously political, except Americans hear that and find it very uncomfortable because we compartmentalize our politics from church. Church is about morality. Politics is something else. Wright is arguing that we need to see the political implications of the call to repentance — WITHOUT suggesting that therefore sin is ok for a Christian.

    And there are many implications. For example, many Christians believe that Christianity is about being good, moral people, and they figure they can be good, moral people apart from the church, Jesus, and the sacraments.

    Some see faith in Jesus as solely about Gentile conversion and not necessary for Jews. (These are people who’ve not read Acts.)

    Some see faith in Jesus as personal and not about how we vote or what parties we support. Politics is outside of Christianity and so we can personally love others while supporting political positions that hurt others. If Jesus is not Messiah — King — we can compartmentalize and give Jesus just enough to save us — our morality.

    But “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” calls for much, much more. It calls for complete surrender of everything to Jesus — not just our morality but our politics and our loyalties and everything else there is.

    (Sorry for being long winded. My wife is out of town and I’m bored.)

  8. Hi Jay,
    I have to go to work now so the reply will have to wait a few days – exam week.

    In a nutshell, I note that Wright tweaks the definition of key words in this way to side-line sin & confession and put politics in centre stage.
    Messiah = King; Gospel = announcement that someone has become king;..

    As you said, repentance involves everything, including confessing sin; Gospel includes announcement that Jesus died for our sins; Messiah also signifies Jesus our High Priest & Prophet.

    Wright (and McKnight) compartmentalise and stress King to exclusion of Saviour. We have replaced one unbalanced view with another.

    Catch up with you in a while,

    Eric

  9. Hi Jay,
    You are correct, my comment on Wright and repentance does not really sit well in this topic area.

    Do you want me to remove it or to post it elsewhere?

    I posted it here as, when I searched last night for Wright’s quote on repentance I found only 4 sites that had it – one was Wright’s book and the other three were your posts on this site.
    (That plus I had noticed over the past few months that you are a fan of Wright and McKnight, then I noticed that you are an Elder AND a lawyer – perfect combination to judge Wright’s logic. When I saw all that, I “uploaded” my frustration with Wright’s definitions, sorry.)

    Perhaps I should have put in on one of the other two posts?

    Best Regards from sunny France,
    Eric

  10. Repent- to change one mind or turn from previouis thinking. The context determines what is truned from and what is turned to, but usually it is wordliness or sin to Jesus or
    God or spiritualness. Repentance ins’t hard to define as it has one definition and occurs only 36 times and allows the context to determine the starting point and finishing point. I don’t doubt that the word or concept carries with it a sense of faith or belief as we place our faith or belief in one thing or another. It has always been my contention, since about a year ago, that things like faith, hope, etc. doesn’t begin with Jesus, we simply place our faith, hope in Jesus, as apart from the world. It is a shift. When Peter stated to sink Jesus said, “o ye of little faith.” to argue that Peter had turned from faith in the power of Jesus to faith in the power of the waves.

  11. Jay said,

    “For example, in Acts 2:38, I think Peter was calling on the Jews to repent of their unbelief in Jesus as Messiah. “Repent” in that verses means “believe that Jesus is the Messiah.”

    Jay, I’m a little confused here(nothing new). I believe in one of your posts I made the connection that Peter was basically exhorting those Jews who had called for Jesus’ crucifixion, (for they were “pricked in their hearts” after he says they had crucified the man God approved) to repent. That would seem logical to me.”Whom you have crucified.” Someone posted in response ( I think you-if not you, please forgive me) that the group there that day was probably not comprised of those who had called for his death through the inciting of the religious rulers. Ok,Then why does he lay blame upon them for killing him? I suppose in the national sense anything done by some of the citizens of that country makes the whole nation responsible – I get that. Not all Germans put Jews to death in World War 2, but we hold the nations responsible. That certainly is possible.

    However, the large Pentecost crowd was comprised of perhaps hundreds, if not thousands, of Jews who had come from outside the homeland who knew probably little, if anything, about who Jesus was. So, I’m not sure how they could feel any guilt about not believing that Jesus was the Messiah. So, if we have it that the crowd was not made up of at least quite a few who had called for Jesus’ death, then I’m not sure why it says,”they were pricked in their hearts.” To me that means they were convicted by the weight of evidence against them they had crucified Messiah(of course they acted in ignorance not knowing who Jesus was) though they should have looked more carefully at the evidence of his life. But by their convicted hearts it tells me that they now believe that Jesus is Messiah. Why feel guilt if you aren’t convinced he was Messiah? Why feel guilt if you lived somewhere else and had no intimate knowledge of Jesus, unless you now believe he died for your sins? So, for Peter to urge them(those pricked who cried out what they should do- to now believe)- seems, well, redundant. They were saying in essence,”We believe we crucified Messiah, either through personally being there and calling for his death or by virtue that he had to die for their sins in general. So, what do we need to do?” Peter responds, “OK, believe that Jesus is Messiah.” Ok , you’ve convinced us of our error, we believe he was Messiah, now what? Seem redundant?

    Of course Peter could have just been addressing the whole crowd in general in his response because he said,” let everyone of you”(who does Peter respond to? To those who asked, “what do we do” or the whole crowd?) Of course it is a moot point if the idea is that all who hear the good news need to repent(the whole crowd) or turn from their sins, but if repent means repent of not “believing in Jesus” and he’s addressing those asking the question who now believe in Jesus, there would be no need to “repent” but only “be baptized” upon their new belief. If repent means turn from sin in general, (as in John the Baptist’s command) and turn to God through God’s Messiah, (the one John spoke of who was coming) then all in the crowd that day(save those already disciples) would need to do that. In that sense believing Jesus is Messiah, is understood. Only those convicted(convinced-who believe) would gladly receive the words of Peter and repent and be baptized.

    In chapter 3:26 Peter again concludes a similar sermon by saying,” God having raised up his servant, sent him first to you, to bless each one who will turn from his Evil Ways.” Again, for one to turn from their evil ways or iniquities(KJV) is predicated on belief that Jesus is Lord. But there still is the idea of everyone has to forsake their evil ways. Not just the evil of unbelief.

  12. Hi Monty, Jay and others,

    I’m not sure I am adding anything to Monty’s comments as I am approaching it from an other angle – and my brain hurts from marking exam papers and trying to understand Wright.

    Last night I took a break from marking and read up on Repentance in Scripture. It was overwhelmingly about sinners,remorse, turning from sin, forgiveness etc, so much so that I stopped and asked myself why I was studying the subject. Ah yes, I remembered, it was because Wright says repentance is about abandoning revolutionary inclinations.

    Although there are a couple of passages where that could arguably be the case, Acts 2 is one of them as pointed out by Jay, the overwhelming majority of passages makes in clear that the gospel message involved a call to turn from plain old sin to get forgiven. To get into the Kingdom we had to have our sin dealt with. It was prophesied that Messiah would become King, but it was also prophesied that He would die for our sin-Kingdom-exclusion problem.

    I was going to tackle Acts 2 as I suspect that it includes aspects of the above also, but my brain finally fried reading “Jesus and the Victory of God” to make sure I had clearly understood Wright’s position.
    He seems to claim that people had no problem confessing that they were sinners, it happened all the time apparently. Hence Christ’s controversial message was nothing as trivial as that.
    My impression however (need to check it out) is that the “righteous” religious leaders got well and truly ticked off with Jesus as he kept pointing out that they were dirty, vile, hypocritical sinners – clean on the outside and disgusting inside. They at least appeared to have a problem with this “sin & repentance” business.

    It is my impression that many people would have accepted Jesus as King if He had led them against Rome, however this emphasis on repenting of sin before they could enter the Kingdom was less popular.
    Sorry it all that is incoherent

    Time for a cup of tea and a headache tablet. I’ll follow Monty’s (and other) posts when I can

    Regards to you all,
    Eric

  13. Goooooooooooood morning (my time) Guys.
    I reread what I wrote last night and, yes, it is not very coherent, with spelling mistakes as well. Sorry.

    Jay, I cant make corrections
    🙁

    The one thing I would change in the bright morning light is
    “It is my impression that many people would have accepted Jesus as King, *even/especially* if He had led them against Rome, however…” as they were not all violent zealots. They did however expect from (selective) prophesies that Messiah would free them from the bondage of Rome, not from the bondage of sin.

    Have a good day, Eric

  14. Acts 2:38 “Repent and be baptized.” Peter was giving them the answer to the question “what must we do to be saved?”.
    What must we do? They wanted to know what action to take? They had already turned thier hearts to God, but not thier lives. Peter gives them a plan of action. Repent (turn from your previous ways to Godly ways) and be baptized (immersion). They were told to act on thier conviction of Jesus as the savior to be in Christ. Commit.

  15. Dwight , you bring up a good point. Peter didn’t give them a step to complete to receive forgiveness but a new path to begin in becoming Jesus’ disciple. Forgiveness in the moment and baptized into the name of their new Messiah(king), a lifetime commitment to live as he directs. To follow the rabbi. Teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.

  16. Monty, Dwight and E,

    I’m working up a series called Exile and Repentance for early July. Your input and questioning is invaluable, so pls don’t take my lack. Of participation as a lack of interest. I’m finding your comments immensely helpful.

  17. I think maybe the two most important words that are under rated are when Jesus said, “Follow me.” This means following Jesus’ teachings, but also His path. This is what he wanted from His disciples. He didn’t tell them to go to the Temple, to do things, but follow His lead in word and deed. Perhaps this is what God wanted all along, even from the beginning in regards to His will. In Israel’s leaving from Egypt, they followed God to safety. Following God was supposed to lead to God. When he stopped and turned around there we are and He knows us as His. Even in Exile God was there to be followed, even when they didn’t have access to the Temple, they had access to God. But we have to turn from the world and our past to Follow Jesus.

  18. Hi Jay
    “Exile and Repentance”

    Big subject.

    Perhaps a key is to understand what got them exiled in the first place.

    Regards, Eric

  19. Hi Jay,
    I dont have the brain power to unpack this.

    A key theme/thread through the whole of Scripture is Rest and entering God’s Rest.

    It is my impression that Israel’s Babylonian captivity was a result of failure to observe the Sabbatical years (2 Chr. 36:20-21), 70 of them apparently, presumably over a total period of 490 years) and also the rules pertaining to the jubilees and how the poor etc were treated.

    Daniel realised that the captivity would last 70 years but also that an aspect of it would last 70×7 years. Daniel 9:24-27

    As I remember, Jews expected Messiah’s coming to occur on a jubilee year and to usher in all the promises associated with the jubilee. Jesus appears to have made this point when He started His ministry.

    Just some suggestions for you to chew on for your series of talks.
    Regards, Eric

  20. E. McAdams,

    Exile and Repentance is proving a formidable exegetical and writing task. Meaning I’m having just all kinds of fun pulling these materials together. I’m rarely right as to what the readers get most excited about (other than baptism and instrumental music — always get huge numbers), so no one else may give a rip, but I’m finding my reading of the Gospels and Acts transformed. Soon to come … Lord willing and the creeks don’t rise.

  21. E. McAdams,

    Daniel makes my head hurt. This commentary makes more sense than most —

    The view accepted here is that the decree to Ezra in 458 B.C. is the correct starting point for the seventy sevens, but a survey of the events contained in the first sixty-nine sevens is necessary to demonstrate the appropriateness of this option.
    During this period, a number of significant events would transpire. Jerusalem would be restored, but most importantly an Anointed One would come who would be “cut off.” Sometime after this last occurrence, Jerusalem and the temple would again be destroyed during a time of war.
    A total of sixty-nine sevens (seven sevens plus sixty-two sevens) would pass, and then a momentous event would take place, the “Anointed One, the ruler,” would come. “Anointed One” is a translation of the Hebrew māšîaḥ also rendered “Messiah” (KJV, NASB). Māšîaḥ was a term that could designate kings and priests. Thus it seems that this “Anointed One” must be either a priest, a king, or someone who is both.
    Hebrew nāgîd (“ruler”) may refer to a leader, “ruler” (NIV), or prince (NRSV, NASB, KJV). The term may also denote a priest, but this is rare. Therefore an anointed one would come who would be a leader, prince, or king of the Jewish people.
    Christians have traditionally identified this “Anointed One” as Jesus Christ, who is called in the New Testament both king and priest. Without doubt the requirements of the text could be fulfilled in him. Although some question might still linger concerning the identification based solely on the information provided in v. 25, the description in the following verse of “the Anointed One” being “cut off” and the teaching concerning Messiah’s person and work elsewhere in Scripture confirm that this individual is Jesus Christ.
    Moreover, a prediction of the coming Messiah in this context would be expected. In v. 24 Daniel was told that sin would come to an end, an atonement for sin would be made, everlasting righteousness would come, and all prophecy would be fulfilled. Scripture is clear that it would be the Messiah who would atone for sin by offering himself as the perfect sacrifice and would put an end to sin and bring in everlasting righteousness.
    Jesus is called the “Anointed One” (Messiah, i.e., Christ) because he was anointed by the Holy Spirit to do his work. He is both priest and king (cf. Zech 6:13; Ps 110:4; Matt 27:11; Heb 4:14–15; 5:6). He is called the “ruler” because he is the king of the universe and someday will personally rule the earth from his throne in Jerusalem. Young comments that Daniel was to look for one who was both an anointed one and a ruler and “when such a one appeared, the prophecy would be fulfilled.”
    The coming of the Messiah at the end of sixty-nine sevens could refer to Christ’s birth, his baptism, or his presentation to Israel as its promised Messiah on Palm Sunday. Jesus’ baptism is the most likely choice since it was at that time that Jesus officially took upon himself the role of the Messiah and began his public ministry.
    How does the coming of Christ relate to the chronology of the seventy sevens? Scholars who hold that the sevens are symbolic of indefinite periods believe that no exact timetable is involved. For example, Young (cited above) maintains that the period from Cyrus (538 B.C.) until the first advent of Christ covered sixty-nine sevens, and this period merely happened to equal about 550 years.
    Those who begin the sevens in 445 B.C. are faced with a dilemma; 483 years after 445 B.C. comes to A.D. 39, a date well after the time of Christ. To solve this problem Anderson argued that the 483 years are years of 360 prophetic days rather than years of 365 days. He calculated that from the decree to Nehemiah given on March 14, 445 B.C. (Neh 2:1) until the triumphal entry of Christ on April 6, A.D. 32, there were 173,880 days. At this time Christ presented himself to Israel as their Messiah. Christ was rejected, and the sixty-nine sevens came to an end. Though in some instances in prophecy, notably Daniel and Revelation, a year is rounded off to 360 days, Archer has convincingly demonstrated that the Jews followed a 365-day year.82
    Not only is the 360-day year theory unlikely, but a major problem with Anderson’s view is that most consider that Christ was not crucified in A.D. 32 but in A.D. 30. If so, Anderson’s calculations will not work. Hoehner has basically taken Anderson’s view and updated it. He begins the seventy weeks on March 5, 444 B.C. and understands the sixty-ninth week to have concluded on March 30, A.D. 33, which he calculates was the day of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He continues to accept the 360-day prophetical year, however, with its seemingly insurmountable problems and espouses the date of A.D. 33 as the year of Christ’s crucifixion.
    Other scholars (e.g., Archer, Wood, Payne) believe that the decree of Artaxerxes I to Ezra in 458 B.C. (or 457) is the beginning point of the seventy sevens. If this view is correct, 483 years after 458 B.C. would result in a date of A.D. 26, the time when many scholars believe Christ was baptized and began his public ministry as the Messiah. Jesus’ anointing for ministry came at his baptism (cf. Matt 3:16); thus he became the “Anointed One” at that time, an amazing fulfillment of prophecy.
    Daniel separated the first sixty-nine sevens into two parts: seven sevens and sixty-two sevens. Evidently something significant was due to occur seven sevens (forty-nine years) after the sevens began. If the decree was given in 458 B.C., the date of this event would be 409 B.C. Since the restoration of the city under Nehemiah and Ezra is specifically alluded to in the latter part of v. 25, the completion of their rebuilding projects apparently marked the end of the first seven sevens or forty-nine years. In the Elephantine Papyri another man is stated to be governor of Judah in 407 B.C., indicating that Nehemiah had passed from the scene by that time. Thus a date of 409 B.C. for the end of Nehemiah’s work is possible.

    Stephen R. Miller, Daniel, The New American Commentary, (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 18:263–266.

  22. Jay,

    The “cutting of the covenant” in Gen 15 is fascinating. I first heard this story from RVL in the MP3s that you link to elsewhere.

    Given work / travel, I have not had the time to devote to NT Wright’s Justification that I had hopes…and I find that I need a lot of time to fully unpack Wright’s thinking in this book. Anyway, Gen 15 is a key passage for Wright, especially in how he relates the seed promise / descendants promise / land promise / exile to Gal 2:15 – 4:11 and Rom 3:21 – 4:25. While Wright rightly sees connections with these themes in Paul’s writing, he doesn’t seem to address the covenant ceremony in Gen 15 and it’s meanings, at least as far as I have been able to determine in Wright’s books.

    Jay, I am intrigued by the points that you bring up in this post, and I wonder if the consequences of this covenant ceremony have even deeper theological meanings.

    For example, RVL indicates that Abram was terrified because he knew that neither he nor his descendants could be faithful to the covenant. Consequently, God (Jesus?) walked through the animals on behalf of Abram and his descendants, effectively pointing to the cross. I get that. Makes perfect sense to me.

    I wonder if we can take this further into the NT. In Gal 2:15-16, Paul writes:
    “15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” (ESV. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001)

    Could Paul have this covenant ceremony in mind, at least in part, with this passage. Paul makes clear that “we Jews know” that a person is not justified by works of the Law. As a covenant, the Law of Moses was an extension of the Abrahamic covenant. Did Jews recall Gen 15 when they considered faithfulness to covenants? Clearly, they “knew” that they would fall short just as Abram knew he would fall short. Does Paul remind them in this passage that despite our shortcomings, we believed in Christ and are justified by faith in Christ…i.e. pistes Christou…i.e. the faithfulness of the Messiah…i.e. God walking through the animals in Gen 15 for Abram and his spiritual descendants because WE CAN’T BE FAITHFUL on our own? Because we sin, we can’t be saved by works of the law; therefore, we need the smoking fireboat or the blazing torch to walk through for us as a perfect Israelite.

    Sorry for the stream of consciousness here. Just trying to get it all straight in my head. What do you think?

  23. Just want to share a few links that I recently found.

    https://www.biblicaltraining.org/user/login?destination=node/118448&autologout_timeout=1Japan 1-2-S3-S4

    Seminar-level classes by Mounce (Greek), Stein, Blomberg, Bock (Luke-Acts), Schreiner, Beale, Waltke (Proverbs), Witherington, Moo (Romans), Thielman, Guthrie…a veritable who’s-who of modern scholars and authors. You may have to create an account before gaining access to all the content, but there is no cost or obligation.

    Also, Beale’s lectures on the Revelation is here: http://www.monergism.com/blog/exposition-revelation-mp3-series-g-k-beale

    Keener’s lectures on Matthew and Acts are here: http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/DigitalCourses/00_DigitalBiblicalStudiesCourses.html