29. Realistic Expectations

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 29. Realistic Expectations

Matt 20:28   the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Expectations in Christ: Expectations are all about the future – what we anticipate will come. We have seen false expectations and we have seen growing expectations, but it is only when we come to the Son of God that we find truly realistic expectations of the future. Only in Jesus do we see a clarity of purpose and direction and clear knowledge of where it was all leading.  Indeed, we might say, that it is only in Christ are our own expectations accurate.

Even listening to John the Baptist, we sense a little uncertainty about the future but not in Jesus. John’s talk about an axe and fire and a winnowing fork (Mt 3:10-12) all have a strong Old Testament prophetic feeling about them, more of a feeling of judgment than anything else.

Jesus, on the other hand, came preaching that the kingdom of God had arrived, and he showed it as he cast out demons (Mk 1:25,26) and brought healing (Mk 3:5), both before the onlooking religious spectators who were amazed at the level of authority that was now there in their midst. When large crowds came he healed and delivered many (Mk 1:32-34). Matthew insisted he healed all of them (Mt 8:16). Being around Jesus was like being at a party – celebrations were the order of the day as the kingdom of God was expressed.

The Bigger Purpose: But that, of course, was only one part of Jesus’ reason for coming and admittedly it was a good reason, to reveal the love of the Father, to bring the blessing of heaven. But his bigger purpose – and it is bigger – is highlighted in our verse above: the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus was quite clear about that; his goal was to give his life as a sacrifice for sins. That was Jesus’ expectation and it was utterly fulfilled. Matthew is quite explicit about this: From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Mt 16:21) Again in Mt 17:22,23 and Mt 20:17-19 he says the same thing.

At the Last Supper “he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:27,28) From the outset, this had been his purpose, even as an angel had said to his earthly father, Joseph, over thirty years before: “you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Mt 1:21) It was his sacrificial death that achieved that.

Fulfilling the Task: It was left to the writer to the Hebrews to sum it all up: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2) When he rose from the dead and ascended back to heaven, there was immense joy at the fulfillment of the task for which he had been sent, fulfilling prophecies centuries old: “my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.” (Isa 53:11) It had not been an easy path, but it was one he had been sure about. Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, confronted by the awfulness of what was about to happen, he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Lk 22:42) Oh yes, he knew exactly what had to happen and why it had to happen and what would be accomplished.

The Conclusion: The wonder of that is revealed in John’s Revelation: “the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests, to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth,” (Rev 5:8-10) That was the end of his work, million upon millions of human beings, purchased (ransomed), made into a kingdom of priests to serve God and rule on the earth.

And Us. Now for us today, we as Christians, whatever else we believe, the above must be at the heart of our expectations. This is the work of Christ that has established us, and all that we are promised for our futures is because of Christ’s finished work on the Cross. We can do nothing to add to it, just live it out. He has done it and now it is just to be received, to be appropriated by faith. Everything about my future hinges on this. This is a realistic expectation because Jesus spoke out that expectation for us and now his word declares it clearly for us. Our futures are assured; all my expectations of the future are ‘in Christ’ and they are good expectations, they are what we call Christian hope. Rest in that and rejoice in it. Hallelujah!

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27. Authority

Short Meditations in John 5:  27. Authority

Jn 5:27  And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man

Authority is a strange thing. It is a word we often come across but rarely bother to define. We sometimes speak of power and authority in the same sentence and in one sense they are two sides of the same coin.

When the United Nations sees an unjust war, they consider first what legal right they have to intervene. When various countries agree to send in a peace force, the important thing, first of all, is that they have the authority granted by the UN under international law. They will have the right to act. But now if they are to be effective they assess the problem to be confronted to see how much opposition there is likely to be, and will gather sufficient troops to overwhelm that opposition. They are assessing, do they have the power or might to achieve the end of peace. Authority is about legal rights while power is about having the ability or might to bring change. However, wherever there is real authority, there will be power given with it to make it effective

Now Jesus has both authority and power. The classic instance for seeing this is the incident of the paralytic being let down through the roof and we read, “When Jesus saw their faith he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mk 2:5) The Jews watching starting questioning in their minds, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mk 2:7) and so Jesus responds, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” (v.10) and then turns to the paralytic and heals him, thus showing that he had the power that goes with real authority.

Now in what we have been seeing Jesus saying in this chapter about giving life to raise the dead, he has thus far being speaking about power – the ability to achieve this. He has that power and we see him exercising it every time he healed someone. Now we have just said that power and authority have to go together to make them effective and so Jesus now puts the emphasis on his authority, his right to do these things, his right to impart spiritual and physical life.

By claiming this authority, he is again subtly implying that he is God but, so that he doesn’t make it too blatant, he attributes the reason for the authority to the fact that he is the Son of Man. Now of course that term came from the prophecies of Daniel and Ezekiel and was taken to mean one who would come from God, the expected Messiah, and all the Jews would know that. Every time Jesus used this term he was quietly declaring who he was. Here he links that with this ability to operate with this authority that grants or withholds ‘life’ and again links himself to God.

61. Conclusion: The Big Picture

Focus on Christ Meditations: 61.  Conclusion: The Big Picture

Isa 9:6,7   For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever

As we draw to the end of this series, how can we sum up all the things we have seen in these studies?  I’m not sure, but let’s have a go at creating a ‘painting by numbers’ big picture of the Christ. We must start as we did at the beginning, with the Old Testament and perhaps we might here expand the picture a little with wider references that are usually taken as referring to the Messiah, to help build the end picture. Then we must go on to consider his nature and his activity, and see where that leaves us.

The Expected One: The Jews expected One to come who would be: A prophet like Moses  (Deut 18:18), a ruling conqueror (Balaam’s prophecy – Num 24:17-19), a shepherd  (Ezek 34:23), a prince (Ezek 37:25), a ruler from Judah (Gen 49:10), the Seed of David with an everlasting kingdom  (2 Sam 7:12-), bringing the presence of God with him  (Isa 7:14), a ruler  (Isa 9:6-7), a Son of man coming with the clouds to rule  (Dan 7:13,14), God’s servant  (Isa 42:1-/49:1-/50:4-/52:13-). Thus they expected the coming one to be a combination of the Son of David, a great ruler, a prophetic messiah, a priestly messiah, a son of man and a suffering servant. It was a somewhat confusing picture.

His Divinity and Humanity: As the picture eventually becomes clear – and really that was not until long after he had ascended to heaven – we see a figure who is both God and man.

First, let’s remind ourselves of his divinity. As our verses above say, “He will be called….Mighty God.”  In the New Testament we see this confirmed. The word was God (Jn 1:1).  Jesus himself inferred it again and again e.g. In 5:18. The apostle Paul declared it again and again:  “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Col 2:9) and “Who, being in the very nature God. ..”  (Phil 2:6). The writer to the Hebrews spoke of him being without sin (Heb 4:15) which is only possible in deity!

But then his humanity: “You seek to kill me, a man who told you…” (Jn 8: 40) “Touch me and see; a ghost does not….” (Lk 24: 39). “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity”  (Heb 2:14) “Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well.” (Jn 4:6)

 His Activity: How, if asked, would you speak of all the activity of Jesus that we have seen in these studies, and even more in the New Testament? Let’s consider past, present and future:

Past Activity:  he came from heaven, he lived on earth, he taught widely, he healed the sick & raised the dead, he cast out demons, was falsely tried & crucified, he took our sins on the Cross, he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.

Present Activity: he draws people to God, he heals & delivers, he moves in affairs of world to bring about God’s purposes, he prepares the church for his second coming.

Future Activity:  he will return to earth, being seen by every person, he will take his followers to be with him, he will vanquish the enemy, and he will judge every person.

His Position Today: We need to expand on the above: He is at God’s right hand (Rom 8:34), his is crowned with glory (Heb 2:8,9), he is reigning (1 Cor 15:25), so all things are under his feet (Eph 1:22), with all authorities in submission to him (1 Pet 3:22) and his rule is increasing (Isa 9:7).

The Big Picture: Let’s conclude with a summary of all he did, is doing and will do:

  • Jesus left his glorious position in heaven to come to earth. Jn 17:5 / Jn 6:38
  • He put aside his glory and lived in human frailty. Phil 2:7
  • He was tempted in EVERY way we are, but he DIDN’T give way to sin. Heb 4:15
  • He came in perfect obedience to his Father in heaven. Heb 10:7 / Jn 5:19
  • He allowed the Holy Spirit to minister through him to heal the sick, deliver the demonised, raise the dead, and generally counter the works of Satan on earth. Lk 4:18,19 /  Mt 11:4,5
  • He was plotted against and falsely tried. Acts 4:27 / Isa 53:3,8 / Acts 2:23
  • He was beaten, tortured and crucified by Satan’s agents and was railed against by the demons hordes but never responded wrongly. Mt 27:26-30 / Psa 22:12,16
  • He took our sin upon himself on the Cross. 2 Cor 5:21 / 1 Pet 2:24 / Isa 53:12
  • He descended into hell to complete his punishment. 1 Pet 3:18-20
  • He rose from dead as proof of who he was. Acts 2:24 / Acts 17:31
  • He ascended into heaven to rule at his Father’s right hand. 1 Pet 3:22 / 1 Cor 15:25 / Eph 1:20-22 / Psa 110:1
  • He is now IN THE PROCESS of putting everything in subjection under his feet. 1 Cor 15: 24,25 / Eph 1:19-22   /  Eph 2:6,7
  • That process will be complete when he comes as conquering king. Rev 19:11-17 / 1 Thess 4:16,17 / Mt 24:27,30,31.

A Final Comment: The Biblical Testimony that we have considered in these studies, was written by about a dozen men, inspired by God. It had to be God because in no other way could this testimony be so uniform and coherent. If anyone would study these things seriously they must come to this conclusion: it is true, it happened, and is happening. We could have written considerably more on the way this kingdom of the Christ is being worked out today, but you have to stop somewhere!

The end conclusion must be a challenge to all those (ignorant – that’s not unkind, just factual) people who unwisely put Christianity alongside any other world religion and, even worse, put Jesus Christ alongside any other world or religious leader. That isn’t an option when you look at the records. You may try to deride the records but that says more about you than it does the records, that are of the highest level of integrity and trustworthiness. Accept the records for what they are, and you are confronted with a challenge that says, if you see the Christ as revealed here, you can never be the same again. He is unique, what he has done is unique, and one day we will all stand before him – and KNOW, and then we will be on our knees in worship or pleading. At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:10,11) Start it now.

19. Son of Man

Focus on Christ Meditations: 19.  Son of Man

Mt 8:20  Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head

We have just gone from considering Jesus Christ being the Logos, the Word, the reason behind all things, to Jesus of Nazareth, the human being, apparently with human origins. Now we come to a description of Jesus – Son of Man – that he uses a number of times of himself. This is worth noting, that this is a description that others don’t use of him but only he uses of himself.

The phrase comes first, I believe, in the psalms: what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (Psa 8:4 also Psa 80:17, 144:3) but its greatest use in the Old Testament is in Ezekiel where 93 times God uses this term to speak to Ezekiel, a term emphasizing the prophet’s humanity as he was addressed by the transcendent God. It also appears twice in Daniel in 7:13 and 8:17. It is interesting to note that whereas in the psalms it is a phrase that refers generally to human beings and comes with small-case ‘son’, in Ezekiel you will find its many uses are as a title with capital-letter ‘Son’ and this is also true of Jesus’ use of the phrase.

The words, “son of” are used literally hundreds of times in the Bible and invariably they show the relational link of son to father (highlighting background or origin) and so when we come to ‘son of man’ we see the emphasis on the relation of the individual to the human race at large. It is a constant reminder that we are frail and limited human beings and distinct from God. It is a little like the use of ‘Israel’ and ‘Jacob’; they are both the same person but the use of Jacob is a constant reminder of his origins – a conniving, scheming, cheating, twister. Israel reminds us of the one who has had dealings with and affirmation by God. When capital letters are employed – Son of Man – it is clearly a title that still makes that emphasis but even more strongly.

But why does Jesus use this term? In Matthew’s Gospel which emphasises the Jewish aspect of the Messiah and of his kingdom, it appears 27 times. (NB. In what follows, I have managed to pick up 78 uses of the term in the gospels, but my Bible dictionary says there are in fact 81 uses. Take my figures as ‘at least’). In Mark it appears 14 times and in Luke 24 times, and even in John whose big emphasis is on Jesus as the universal Son of God and who emphasises the relational aspect of divine Son to divine Father, the words appear 13 times, and so even John remembers its use and therefore its significance. Yet, why was it significant?

For that we have to go back to Dan 7:13,14 – “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” Now there we have lower case indicating just one who looked like an ordinary human being. But notice what we are told about this one.

First of all this is a vision of heaven and this one comes before God – “there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.” Second, he is divinely appointed – “He was given authority, glory and sovereign power.”  Third, as a result of this, “all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him.” (You only worship divinity). Fourth, he is made a ruler with an eternal and indestructible kingdom: “His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” That is incredible, a person in human form, who can stand before Almighty God, and who is equipped to be an eternal ruler and who receives the worship of all mankind. No wonder the scribes and the teachers and the religious leaders scratched their heads over this – and no wonder Jesus takes and uses this simple little phrase so many times of himself.

When Jesus eventually stands on trial before the high priest, we see, “the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?”  “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mk 14:61,62) where Jesus purposely affirms he is the Christ and then goes on to link it with the prophetic Son of Man clearly linking it to the Daniel prophecy which the high priest understands as a claim to divinity and thus, in his eyes at least, to blasphemy.

In Matthew, Jesus’ use of the term shows us him showing the human side of the term: 8:20 having no home, 11:18,19 eating and drinking with sinners, 12:32 one who can be spoken against, 13:37 one who is a sower of the word of God, 16:13 one over whom questions can be asked, 20:18  & 26:24,45 and one who will be betrayed. Yet equally, if not more strongly, the divine side of the term: 9:5,6 one who has authority to forgive sins and heal, 12:8 one who is Lord of the Sabbath, 12:40 one who will die and rise from the dead after three days, 13:41 one who will judge all sin, 10:23, 16:28, 24:27 one who will return in power, 17:9 one having been raised from the dead, 17:12 after having suffered unjustly, 20:27,28 having given his life as a ransom for many, 19:28 and one who will rule eternally in heaven.

This prophetic term is thus one of the strongest used of Jesus revealing his incredible claims that accord perfectly with the prophetic scriptures. The term emphasizes the humanity of the Messiah on one hand – Son of Man – but at the same time brings to the fore the prophetic being seen in Daniel in heaven. Perhaps we should also add that the use of the term so many times in Ezekiel also implies by Jesus use of the same term, that he was emphasizing his role as God’s prophetic servant. As Jesus uses it so many times, it seems there is a multi-faceted message being conveyed – the prophetic messiah in human form, coming as a prophetic servant, coming to draw alongside us in our humanity while at the same time establishing God’s eternal kingdom on earth. Wow!

To reflect upon: scroll back to the Daniel verses and marvel again at the wonder of this being who is revealed there. Worship him.

7. Ezekiel’s Mission

Meditations from Ezekiel: 7.  Ezekiel’s Mission

Ezek 2:1,2   He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.

God’s personal communication: From the strange nature of chapter 1, as we move into chapter 2 we move into simple straight forward instruction. Now it is almost so obvious that we don’t usually think about it, but what we find behind all that we have read so far in this book, is that the Lord is revealing something of Himself and His glory because He has a message to convey to Ezekiel and the Lord wants the message to come in the overall context of the heavenly vision. Now of course He could have sent a single angel to convey this message to Ezekiel as we find with such figures that we have referred to previously, Gideon, Zechariah and Mary, but when it comes to calling a prophet it seems God appears to speak to the prophet personally. (See Jeremiah or Isaiah, for example) The point is that God has a task for Ezekiel and when we speak of his calling, we refer to what God calls him to do for the rest of his life. Observe.

Son of Man:He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” Note, ‘Son of Man’ a designation used over 90 times in Ezekiel emphasizing his humanity. The Lord knows his frailty as a human being and will provide accordingly, but also it may be He uses this designation to keep Ezekiel in a humble perspective because he is going to be the recipient of amazing prophecy and there is always a danger in that. The apostle Paul said the Lord had given him a ‘thorn in the flesh’ to counter any pride that the enormity of revelation he received might stir up in him (see 2Cor 12:7). C.S.Lewis had Aslan the Lion refer to the children as “son and daughters of Adam”, his way of conveying the same thing, but perhaps it also reminds us that we are part of the sinful human race and we constantly need God’s mercy and grace.

Empowered: Ezekiel is flat on his face so the Lord instructs him to stand up because He wants to speak to him face to face, but, “As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.” (v.2) The power of the holy Spirit accompanies God’s words and it is the Spirit who raised him up. When God instructs, He also enables.

Directions: Then comes the message we’ve been waiting for all this time: “He said: “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, `This is what the Sovereign LORD says.’” (v.3,4) He is going to receive words from God and he is to convey those words to the Israelites there in Babylon, and maybe those words will get back to Israel and Jerusalem as well. He is to be under no illusions about this task for the Lord sees that this people “are obstinate and stubborn”. On what does He base that assessment? On the fact that He has sent His word to Israel again and again and again, calling them away from idolatry and back to Himself but, in His words, they had been in rebellion and revolt against Him for decades, if not centuries.

Now Ezekiel is given some helpful encouragement: “And whether they listen or fail to listen–for they are a rebellious house–they will know that a prophet has been among them.” (v.5)  i.e. it’s not down to you whether they respond; all you have to do is bring the message with the result that they will know you are a prophet from me and will never be able to say they didn’t know what I want.

But then He brings a stronger instruction: “And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. Do not be afraid of what they say or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious house. You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious. But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not rebel like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.” (v.6-8) Three times he is told not to be afraid of the people. Yes, they are obstinate, yes, they will reject you, yes, they may even oppose you, but you don’t need to be afraid of them. All you need to worry about is that you convey my word to them; don’t be like them and disregard or rebel against what I am saying to you.

Now we may understand the context a little more, the incredible vision of chapter 1, of which these verses are still part. The enormity of heaven and the powers of heaven are behind you Ezekiel, the Lord God Almighty is with you and sending you. His might and authority go with you.

And Us? Now there are similarities and differences here from what we experience. First of all we have been called and the result of our calling is that we are now Christians, we are part of the body of Christ and individually members of it (1 Cor 12:27). As such God has plans and purposes for each of us:  “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) Moreover God will gift us with whatever we need to do whatever He calls us to do: “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” (Rom 12:4-6)

The big difference for us is that neither you nor I are called to speak to a whole nation (There may be someone out there called to speak to a community of whatever size) but most of us will operate with the leading, the calling, the empowering and the gifting that God gives to us as PART of the body of Christ, the Church. In general terms we are all called to be witnesses to Christ whenever we have the opportunity, but a few of us will be called to be evangelists, some pastors and teachers and so on.

How we are ‘called’: Now honesty demands that I acknowledge that few Christians sense a very specific call to a particular ministry. Some do and that may be you, but many of us find we get ‘called’ by dint of circumstances or heart yearning and opportunity. What will happen is that we find a particular desire or even burden on our hearts and this the Lord uses to lead us into His ‘good works’ (Mt 5:16) that He knows you will be good at. That may be being merciful to the needy, it may be teaching Sunday School, or it may be bringing prophetic encouragement, the range is extensive. But here’s the thing: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor 12:27) that we’ve already quotes but which needs emphasizing. YOU and EACH ONE, those are the words to note. Every single Christian is a member of the body of Christ and the purpose of that analogy is to get us thinking and doing the WORKS of Jesus. The works of God for Ezekiel will be conveying His message to His people. That’s what will be coming in an intriguing variety of ways. Watch this space.

27. When Jesus Returns

Meditations in 1 John : 27 : When Jesus Comes

1 John  2:28   And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.

John has, in this letter, been encouraging the church to stand firm in the truth, obeying God’s commands, expressing God’s love, resisting the spirit of the world and the distorted ‘truths’ of those who have left the truth and formed their own doctrines that were different from the apostles’ teaching. Above all he has been encouraging them to stand firm in their relationship with the Lord, fellowshipping with the Father and the Son. The Christian faith is to be a mix of responding to the will of God as revealed in His word, and responding to His will, as the Holy Spirit prompts, energises and guides and teaches us. This latter element comes out of the fellowship with have with the indwelling Spirit, the presence of God within us.

Now it is that John gives us another reason to hang on in there, resisting the world, sin and the enemy. We will never know when Jesus is coming back but we must always be ready for it. Let’s just focus on his Second Coming for a moment.

In his general teaching Jesus told a parable about the owner of a vineyard who went away, had dealings from a distance with the tenants he left in charge of the vineyard, but then eventually returned (see Mt 21:33-41) But he also taught more specifically about it: as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man,” (Mt 24:27) and “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory,” (Mt 24:30) and When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.” (Mt 25:31)  The same thing was stated very explicitly by the two angels when Jesus ascended: “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)

It was also taught by the early church, for example, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God,” (1 Thess 4:16) which is in the context of Jesus’ words about his coming again. In his second letter he also wrote, “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come.” (2 Thess 2:1,2)

So John is speaking into familiar teaching: Jesus will come back – so when he does, ensure you live in the way I have been speaking about “so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him.”  It is very similar teaching to that of Jesus when he said on one occasion, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8)  Living in this fallen world is often confusing. Things happen and we wonder why. Things go wrong, people get ill, have accidents, even die and we wonder why. Injustice occurs and we wonder where God is.  People come with strange teaching and confusion hangs in the air. The fact of the matter is that God is working in His world all the time but often it is not possible for us, it seems, to discern what He is doing. Do you remember Jesus said, “My Father is always at his work to this very day,” (Jn 5:17) and of course the apostle Paul wrote, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,” (Rom 8:28) which suggests that the Lord is always working on our behalf. But the truth is that we may not be able to see what He seems to be doing in our circumstances sometimes. So all around us things happen which often involve us, and the big question always is, how will I respond to this?  If Jesus returned in the middle of these trying circumstances, how would he find us acting? Will he find us holding on in faith, refusing to give way and live like the rest of the world, grumbling and being all out for self, or will he find us doing the things the Spirit has been leading us to do?

I’m not sure if it is a good illustration but it comes to mind in this context. One of the funniest examples of being caught out by Jesus when he turns up occurs in John 21 when the disciples had been told by Jesus to go to Galileeand wait for him there. So they go and they wait … and wait… until eventually impatient Peter says, “I’m going out to fish.” (Jn 21:3) Some of the others join him and they spend the night catching nothing. Come the morning Jesus appears on the shore and tells then to throw the net out on the other side and they catch a great haul. When they get to the shore they find that Jesus has already made a fire and he’s already cooking fish!!!  Jesus calmly instructs them to pull their catch in and come and eat and it is not until after the meal that he helps Peter confront his recent past.

What I like about that illustration is that he didn’t chide them for their impatience but instead he blessed them with a big catch and then fed them. Will Jesus find me doing my own fishing – or his fishing, when he returns? I hope it will be doing his works but I’m sufficiently aware of my own shortcomings that I have to say that I know it will need to be with his grace. May we be “confident and unashamed” when he returns!

18. Son of Man

Jesus in John’s Gospel : 18 : Jesus, the Son of Man

Jn 1:51 He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.

There are times in Scripture when we read words, phrases or sentences and take them granted and really don’t think much what they really mean. This phrase, ‘Son of Man’ is one such phrase.  Matthew’s Gospel uses this phrase over 30 times, the less prophetic and shorter Mark’s Gospel, 13 times, the longer Luke’s Gospel, 23 times and John’s Gospel portraying the ‘big picture’ only 12 times.

To take the phrase at face value, pretending we had no other knowledge about it, we would say it simply means a human being, a son of a man. C.S.Lewis in his Narnia stories refers to the children as “sons and daughters of Adam.” We can take that to simply mean human children.  Now one of the interesting things about this phrase is that when it comes up in the New Testament it is always Jesus referring to himself, so we might say that this is Jesus emphasizing his humanity.

However, there was also a very strong Messianic sense in which it was being used. In the Old Testament, the only times it was used were in Ezekiel (over 90 times) and in Daniel. In Ezekiel it is used of Ezekiel himself by God, very much a reminder to Ezekiel of his humanity and weakness.  In Daniel we find: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed (Dan 7:13,14) The other reference in Daniel (8:17), like Ezekiel is simply referring to Daniel’s humanity.  Thus we have one unusual single reference which the Jews built upon to refer, with many other prophetic verses, to the Messiah. Look again, therefore, at the content of that significant verse.

There is, first, a figure appearing who has human likeness. Second, he comes with the clouds of heaven which means he comes from heaven. Third, he has access to God himself. Fourth, he is given great authority and glory and supreme (sovereign) power. Fifth, people from every nation worship him. Sixth, his rule will be for ever and seventh, it will never be destroyed (or be over come by another – implied). This amazing picture is of a human figure with eternal dimensions to be an all-powerful ruler. No wonder the Jews were excited by this prophecy!

Now Jesus clearly applies this title to himself, but there were two responses to it. In John 12 we find: Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified… when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself’…. The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ will remain forever, so how can you say, `The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this `Son of Man’?” (Jn 12:23,32,34) i.e. questioning unbelief. Now consider the blind man in John 9: Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ ‘Who is he, sir?’ the man asked. ‘Tell me so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said, ‘You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.’ Then the man said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him.” (Jn 9:35-38), i.e. open-hearted belief.  Read again the Daniel 7 verses above. Have you ‘seen’ Jesus like this – and worshipped him?