1. The first concerns the final beatitude.
It will be remembered that eight beatitudes are generalizations in the third person (“Blessed are the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers,” etc.), while a ninth changes to the second person as Jesus addresses his disciples — “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11,12).
It is this analogy with the prophets which is arresting. The logic seems to be this — Jesus expects his followers to have to suffer for his sake (“on my account”), and then likens their persecution to that of the Old Testament prophets. Now those prophets suffered for their faithfulness to God, while the disciples of Jesus were to suffer for their faithfulness to him. The implication is unavoidable. If he is likening his disciples to God’s prophets (and he did later “send” them out as the prophets had been “sent” *see Matthew 10:1ff*), he is likening himself to God. As Chrysostom put it at the end of the fourth century, “He here ... covertly signifies his own dignity, and his equality in honor with him who begat him.”
2. A similar equivalent is implied in the two other examples.
When he warned them that a person who merely addressed him as “Lord, Lord” would not enter the kingdom of heaven, one would have expected him to go on “but he who submits to my lordship or “but he who obeys me as Lord.” And this is, in fact, what we find in Luke’s version of the Sermon, where calling him “Lord, Lord” is contrasted with obeying him by doing what he says. But according to Matthew 7:21 he continued, “but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” If, then, Jesus regarded obeying him as Lord and doing the Father’s will as equivalents, he was putting himself on a level with God.
It is all the more impressive because Jesus was not going out of his way to make an assertion about himself. Such was not his apparent purpose in the context. This token of his divine self-consciousness slipped out when he was speaking about something quite different – namely the meaning of true discipleship.
3. The same is true in the third example.
It comes in the following verses which are about the day of judgment and have already been mentioned. Everybody knew that God was the Judge. So did Jesus. He did not here advance a direct and specific claim that God had committed the judgment of the world to him. He just knew that on the last day people would appeal to him and that he would have the responsibility to pass sentence on them. And in saying so, he again equated himself with God.
Here, then, is your “original Jesus,” your “simple, harmless teacher of righteousness,” whose Sermon on the Mount contains “plain ethics and no dogmas”! Is this not what some have been claiming — that Jesus was just a “good man”?
We cannot escape the implication of all this. The claims of Jesus were indeed put forward so naturally, modestly and indirectly that many people never even notice them. (Perhaps some do not WANT to see them). But they are there. We cannot ignore them and still retain our integrity.
- He teaches with the authority of God and lays down the law of God.
- He expects people to build the house of their lives on his words, and adds that only those who do so are wise and will be safe.
- He says he, as both the Lord to be obeyed and the Savior to bestow blessing, has come to fulfil all things.
- He casts himself in the central role of the judgment-day drama.
- He speaks of God as his Father in a unique sense, and finally implies that what he does God does and that what people do to him they are doing to God.
Either the claims are true, or Jesus was suffering from what C. S. Lewis called a “rampant megalomania.” Can it be seriously maintained, however, that the lofty ethics of the Sermon on the Mount are the product of a deranged mind? It requires a high degree of cynicism to reach such a conclusion. The only alternative is to take Jesus at his word, and his claims at their face value. In this case, we must respond to his Sermon on the Mount with deadly seriousness. For here is his picture of God’s alternative society. These are the standards, the values and the priorities of the kingdom of God.
Too often the church has turned away from this challenge and sunk into a bourgeois, conformist respectability. At such times the church is almost indistinguishable from the world. It has lost its saltness. Its light is extinguished, and it repels all idealists. For it gives no evidence that it is God’s new society which is tasting already the joys and powers of the age to come. Only when the Christian community lives by Christ’s manifesto will the world be attracted and God be glorified. So when Jesus calls us to himself, it is to this that he calls us. For he is the Lord of the counter-culture.
The book from which this is excerpted is an exposition by John Stott on how the teachings of Jesus reveal that His disciples must remain citizens of another world than this one. Shouldn’t we all read the book? Jesus saves, and Jesus IS the Lord over all. His love compels US to follow Him as both our Savior and our Lord.
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“How should Christians relate to false prophets?” asks Jesus.In telling people to beware of false prophets, Jesus obviously assumed that some church leaders and teachers would be unworthy. He urges us to beware! There is no sense in putting on your garden gate the notice “Beware of the Dog” if all you have at home are a couple of cats and a budgerigar (or was that a canary?)! No, Jesus warned his followers of false prophets because already in the world there were men who wrongly claimed to speak for God.
We come across false prophets (teachers) on numerous occasions in the Old Testament, and Jesus seems to have regarded the Pharisees and Sadducees of His day in the same light. “Blind leaders of the blind,” he called them. He also implied that “blind leaders” would increase, and that the period preceding the end would be characterized not only by the world-wide spread of the gospel but also by the rise of such teachers as would lead many astray.
We hear of false prophets in nearly every New Testament letter. They are called either pseudo prophets as here (prophets presumably because they claimed divine inspiration), or pseudo apostles (because they claimed apostolic authority, 2 Corinthians 11:13) or pseudo teachers (2 Peter 2:1) or even pseudo Christs (because they made messianic pretensions or denied that Jesus was the Christ come in the flesh, Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22: cf 1 John 2:18,22).But each WAS pseudo, and pseudo is the Greek word for a lie. The history of the Christian church has been a long and dreary story of controversy with false teachers. Their value, in the overruling providence of God, is that they have presented the church with a challenge to think out and define the truth, but they have caused much damage. I fear there are still many teachers in today’s church who ARE false.
In telling us to beware of false prophets Jesus made another assumption, namely that there is such a thing as an objective standard of truth from which the falsehood of the false prophets is to be distinguished. The very notion of false prophets is meaningless otherwise. In biblical days a true prophet was one who taught the truth by divine inspiration, and a false prophet was one who claimed the same divine inspiration but actually promulgated partial truth or complete untruth.Jeremiah contrasted them in these terms: false prophets “speak visions of their own minds,” while true prophets “stand in the council of the Lord,” “hear his word,” “proclaim it to the people,” and “speak from the mouth of the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:16,18,22). Again, “let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream; but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat?” (Jeremiah 23:28).
So in referring to certain teachers as false prophets, it is clear that Jesus was no syncretist, teaching that contradictory opinions were in reality complementary insights into the same truth. Jesus instead held that truth and falsehood excluded one another, and that those who propagate lies in God’s name are false prophets, of whom his followers must beware. Having noted these assumptions Jesus made and the warnings he gave, we are now ready to look at the test or tests he told us to apply.
Jesus changed his metaphor from sheep and wolves to trees and their fruit, from the sheep’s clothing which a wolf may wear to the fruit which a tree must bear. In so doing he moved from the risk of non-recognition to the means of recognition. Although we may indeed sometimes mistake a wolf for a sheep, he seems to say, we cannot make the same mistake with a tree. No tree can hide its identity for long. Sooner or later it betrays itself – by its fruit or its lack of fruit. A wolf may disguise itself; a tree cannot. Noxious weeds like thorns and thistles simply cannot produce edible fruit like grapes and figs.
Not only is the character of the fruit determined by the tree (a fig tree bearing figs and a vine grapes), but its condition too (every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit, 17). Indeed, a sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit (18). And the day of judgment will finalize the difference, as when non-fruitbearing trees are cut down and burnt (19). Therefore (for this is the conclusion which Jesus emphasizes twice) you will know them by their fruits (16,20). What are these fruits which identify false and true prophets?The first kind of fruit by which false prophets reveal their true identity is in the realm of character and conduct. In Jesus’ own allegory of the vine fruitfulness evidently means Christlikeness – in fact what Paul later termed the fruit of the Spirit. This being so, whenever we see in a teacher the meekness and gentleness of Christ, his love, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control, we have reason to believe him to be true, not false. On the other hand, whenever these qualities are missing, and the works of the flesh are more apparent than the fruit of the Spirit, especially enmity, impurity, jealousy and self-indulgence, we are justified in suspecting that the prophet is an impostor, however pretentious his claims and specious his teaching.
But a prophet’s fruits are not only his character and manner of life. Indeed, interpreters who confine them to life are, in my opinion, mistaken wrote Calvin. A second fruit is the man’s actual teaching. This is strongly suggested by the other use Jesus made of the same fruit-tree metaphor: The tree is known by the fruit. You brood of vipers! how can you speak good when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned (Matthew 12:33-37; cf. Luke 6:45).
So then, since a person’s heart is revealed by his words in the same way a tree is known by its fruit, we have a responsibility to test a teacher by his teaching. The apostle John gives us an example of this, for the Asian churches to which he wrote had been invaded by false teachers. Like Jesus he warned the brethren to NOT be deceived, but rather to test the spirits (i.e. speakers/teachers claiming inspiration) to see whether they are of God (1 John 2:26; 4:1).
He encouraged them to look in their teachers for righteousness and love, and to reject as spurious both the unrighteous and the unloving. But to these moral tests he added a doctrinal one. In general this was whether the message of the teacher was in accord with the original apostolic instruction (e.g. 1 John 2:24; 4:6), and in particular whether the prophet confessed Jesus as the Christ come in the flesh, thus acknowledging his divine-human person. (1 John 2:22,23; 4:2,3; 2 John 7-9).
Ray remarks — Anyone is a FALSE teacher who denies that Jesus existed WITH God in the beginning of earthly time and always WAS God (even then being called the WORD of God). But false doctrine includes any man claiming that what is false is really true, or that what God said He didn’t really mean, or that He really meant to say more than He said.
A now-popular theory is that all religions are good and equal in their results. Many teachers in our public schools and in universities are sure that this is the position they are required to take in the classroom. Some teach so because they believe this impossibility is correct. Others do so because they believe the Supreme Court of our land now requires neutrality in religion.
Sensible people will realize that black is not white, that good is not bad, and that lies are not true. Some religions are false. They lead only to death for those who follow that faith. Some religions are foolish, making men miserable and terrified throughout their days in addition to bringing eternal death.
Jesus claimed He was God, then proved it by coming forth from the grave alive again. Many miracles provided proof of His claims while He was on earth. The greatest proof was His resurrection. He taught that only those who accepted Him as their Lord would be saved from death and Hell. Any conflicting claim is false.
Only those who OBEY the gospel of Christ are headed for Heaven. Jesus is the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE. Christian doctrine calls for us to believe and confess by our words and our lives that we do believe that Jesus is Himself God. He is our only hope for eternity. Every other religion than Christianity offers only false hopes.
We who are IN Christ surely should speak out boldly to tell others that Jesus is risen from the dead. Those who BELIEVE that fact and act upon it can be saved regardless of their skin color or their gender or their antecedents. ALL who are alive are welcome to turn to Jesus for salvation. Jesus saves. Jesus loves even the unlovely. In Him we can live both in this world and in the worlds to come.
It’s important that we not accept false claims made by false teachers. Some who claim to speak for God are lying. They promise what will NOT come to pass. They lead astray all who follow them. The Bible teaches truth. Every person should read and believe the Bible. Then we need to test what any “prophet” says against what we know from our study the Word of God says. The Bible is true. Yet some quote Bible passages as if they taught the false doctrine the false teacher teaches and appears to believe.
We each need to read and study the Bible! We need to test spiritual guides by more than whether or not we LIKE them and like what they say.
This is the end of Viewpoint tract CD-B02. Preceding material is available as Viewpoint tract CD-B02 in a size suitable for mailing in a #10 envelope. JOHN STOTT continued:The sixteenth-century reformers, who were accused by the Church of Rome of being innovators and false teachers, defended themselves by the doctrinal test Jesus speaks of in the Sermon on the Mount. The reformers appealed to Scripture and maintained that their teaching was not the introduction of something new but the recovery of something old, namely the original gospel of Christ and his apostles. It was rather the medieval Catholics who had departed from the faith into error.
“Cling to the pure Word of God,” cried Luther, for then you will be able to “recognize the judge” who is right. Calvin made the same emphasis: “All doctrines must be brought to the Word of God as the standard,” for “in judging the false prophets the rule of faith (i.e. Scripture) holds the chief place.” Calvin also went a step further than this in drawing attention to the motives of false teachers in addition to the substance of their teaching: “Under the fruits the manner of teaching is itself included ..., for Christ proves that he was sent by God from this consideration, that he seeks not his own glory, but the glory of the Father who sent him” (John 7:18).
In examining a teacher’s credentials, then, we have to examine both his character and his message. Bishop Ryle summed it up well: “Sound doctrine and holy living are the marks of true prophets.”
Then I think there is a third test which we must apply to teachers, and this concerns their influence. We have to ask ourselves what effect their teaching has on their followers. Sometimes the falsity of false teaching is not immediately apparent when we look at a teacher’s behavior and system, but becomes apparent only in its disastrous results. This is what Paul meant when he wrote of error’s tendency to *eat its way like gangrene* (2 Timothy 2:17).
Its gangrenous progress is seen when it upsets people’s faith, (2 Timothy 2:18), promotes ungodliness (2 Timothy 2:16) and causes bitter divisions (e.g. 1 Timothy 6:4,5; 2 Timothy 2:23; Titus 1:11; 3:9). Sound teaching, by contrast, produces faith, love and godliness (e.g. 1 Timothy 1:4,5; 4:7; 6:3; 2 Timothy 3:16,17; Titus 1:1).
Of course the application of the fruit test is not altogether simple or straightforward. For fruit takes time to grow and ripen. We have to wait for it patiently. We also need an opportunity to examine it closely, for it is not always possible to recognize a tree and its fruit from a distance. Indeed, even at close quarters we may at first miss the symptoms of disease in the tree or the presence of a maggot in the fruit.
To apply this to a teacher, what is needed is not a superficial estimate of his standing in the church, but a close and critical scrutiny of his character, conduct, message, motives, and influence. This warning of Jesus gives no encouragement, however, either to become suspicious of everybody or to take up as our hobby the disreputable sport known as heresy-hunting. Rather it is a solemn reminder that there are fallen teachers in the church and that we are to be on our guard. Truth matters, for it is God’s church, whereas error is devilish and destructive.
If we care for God’s truth and for God’s church, we must take Christ’s warning seriously. He and his disciples place the responsibility for the church’s doctrinal purity partly on the shoulders of Christian leaders (whether bishops or other chief pastors), but also and especially upon each congregation. The local church has more power than it often realizes or uses in deciding to which teachers it will listen. Jesus Christ’s “Beware of false prophets” is addressed to us all. If the church had heeded his warning and applied his tests, it would not be in the parlous state of theological and moral confusion in which it finds itself today.
With this paragraph Jesus concludes his delineation of a Christian’s relationships. As we now look back and bring them together, we see how rich and varied they are. In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches:
As a brother the Christian hates hypocrisy, criticizes himself and seeks to give constructive moral support to others.
As an evangelist he prizes the gospel pearl so highly that he refuses to expose it to scornful rejection by hardened sinners.
As a lover, he is resolved to behave towards others as he would like them to behave towards him.
As a child he looks humbly and trustfully to his heavenly Father to give him all the good gifts he needs.
As a traveler on the hard and narrow way, he enjoys fellowship with his fellow pilgrims and keeps his eye on the goal of life.
As a champion of God’s revealed truth, he heeds Christ’s warning to be watchful for false teachers who would pervert it and to ravage Christ's flock.
Ray remarks — Any of us CAN be led astray just as Eve and Adam were. Satan’s wiles can still deceive. Jesus calls for us to carefully examine what we hear and see, discarding what is not true and learning to love what IS true. If we go astray, we’re not still on the right path, and we alone must bear the responsibility. God loves us. Jesus will save us!
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In Acts 1:1-5, Luke prepares his readers for those unique men of God who had become “apostles” of Jesus Christ. We have already noted that the ascension was the watershed between the two phases — earthly and heavenly — of the ministry of Jesus Christ. Now we need to note that he was not “taken up to heaven,” until after he had given instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.
This is clearly emphasized in the Greek sentence, which reads literally: “until the day when, having instructed his chosen apostles through the Holy Spirit, he was taken up.” Thus, before ending his personal ministry on earth, Jesus deliberately made provision for its continuance, still on earth (through the apostles) but from heaven (through the Holy Spirit). Because the apostles occupied a unique position, they also received unique equipment. Luke outlines four stages —
1. Jesus chose them. They were the *apostles he had chosen.* Luke has used the same verb *eklegomai* in his account of the calling and choice by Jesus of the Twelve, “whom he also designated apostles” (Luke 6:13; cf. John 6:70), and he is about to use it again when two men are proposed to fill the vacancy left by Judas. The believers pray “Lord... show us which of these two you have chosen” (24).
Significantly the same verb is also used later in connection with Paul. The risen Lord describes him to Ananias as “my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles…” (9:15). Ananias conveys this message to Paul: “The God of our fathers has chosen you... You will be his witness…” (22:14,15).
It is thus emphasized that all the apostles (the Twelve, Matthias and Paul) were neither self-appointed, nor appointed by any human being, committee, synod or church, but were directly and personally chosen and appointed by Jesus Christ himself.
2. Jesus showed himself to the apostles. The other evangelists have indicated that Jesus appointed the twelve “that they might be with him” and so be uniquely qualified to bear witness to him (Mark 3:14; John 15:27; cf. Acts 22:14-15). The foundation witnesses had to be eyewitnesses (Luke 1:2). The successor to Judas, Peter said, had to be someone who had been with the Twelve the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us” (1:21-22). And in particular he must be “a witness with us of his resurrection” (1:22, cf. 10:41). So, *after his sufferings,* the risen Lord *showed himself to these men* (3).
Luke stresses this. Jesus gave them *many convincing proofs* (*tekmerion* is a “convincing, decisive proof” – BAGD) *that he was alive*, which continued *over a period of forty days*. During this time *he appeared to them (becoming visible), spoke about the kingdom of God* (so that they heard as well as saw him) and *on one occasion* at least *was eating with them*, which indicated that he was no ghost, but could be touched (10:41; cf. Luke 24:41-43 and John 21:10ff).
He thus presented himself to their senses: their eyes, ears and hands. Such an objective experience of the risen Lord was an indispensable qualification of an apostle, which explains why Paul could be one (1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:8ff) and James (1 Corinthians 15:7) and why there have been no comparable apostles since, and can be none today.
3. Jesus commanded or commissioned them. In addition to speaking to them about the kingdom of God (3) and the Holy Spirit (4-5), which we shall consider further in the next chapter, he gave them *certain instructions through the Holy Spirit* (who inspired all his teaching, cf. Luke 4:18).
What were these instructions? It is interesting that the Bezan or Western text answers this question by adding “the apostles whom he had chosen and commanded to preach the gospel.” If this is correct, then the risen Lord’s instruction was no other than his great commission, which Luke has already recorded at the end of his gospel in terms of preaching repentance and forgiveness in his name to all nations (Luke 24:27), and which Jesus will soon repeat in terms of being his witnesses to the ends of the earth (1:8).
This, then, adds a further feature to the portrait of the apostle. *Apostolos* was an envoy, delegate or ambassador, sent out with a message and carrying the authority of the sender. Thus Jesus chose his apostles, and showed himself to them after the resurrection, as preliminaries to sending them out to preach and teach in his name.
4. Jesus promised (and provided) them the Holy Spirit. In the Upper Room, according to John, Jesus had already promised the apostles that the Spirit of truth would both remind them of what he had taught them (John 14:26) and supplement it with what he had not been able to teach them (John 16:12ff). Now Jesus commands them to wait in Jerusalem until the promised gift has been received (4). It was his Father’s promise (4a, presumably through such Old Testament prophecies as Joel 2:28ff, Isaiah 32:15 and Ezekiel 36:27), his own promise (since Jesus had himself repeated it during his ministry, 4b), and John the Baptist’s, who had called the “gift” or “promise” a “baptism” (5). Jesus now echoes John’s words and adds that the thrice-repeated promise (“the promised Holy Spirit,” 2:33) is to be fulfilled *in a few days*. So they must wait. Not until God has fulfilled his promise and they have been “clothed with power from on high,” can they fulfill their commission (Luke 24:49).
Here, then, was the fourfold equipping of the apostles of Christ. Of course in a secondary sense all disciples of Jesus can claim that he has chosen us, revealed himself to us, commissioned us as his witnesses, and both promised and given us his Spirit. Nevertheless, it is not to these general privileges that Luke here refers, but to the special qualifications of an apostle — a personal appointment as an apostle by Jesus, an eyewitness experience of the historical Jesus, an authorizing and commissioning by Jesus to speak in his name, and the empowering Spirit of Jesus to inspire their teaching. It was primarily these uniquely qualified men through whom Jesus continued “to do and to teach,” and to whom Luke intends to introduce us in the Acts. — John R. W. Stott, of England.
Ray remarks — Many Christians today seem to know little about Luke’s history of the early church and the acts of Christ’s apostles. It’s a thrilling story — one we all should know. And no man since the apostles we read of in the inspired Book has ever been qualified to be an apostle of the Christ. We are ALL called to witness for our God about His unique Son, but we are not empowered AS APOSTLES for Him. None should claim apostolic powers unless they CAN raise the dead and heal miraculously, and unless they have in fact seen and companied with the risen Lord.
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