Word Study #175 — John as the Turning Point

Lest I leave you with the impression that the previous study intends a dismissal of the significance of John the Baptist’s contribution to the Kingdom, let me hasten to append to that essay a quick survey of Jesus’ own evaluation of his cousin’s ministry. Please refer to the treatment of their relationship in #171 as well as #174, as supplements to the present document.
It may well be that, rather than diminishing his contribution, Jesus has suggested that John actually occupies a (if not “the”) significant turning-point of history!

Consider, for example, Jesus’ statement, recorded in both Matt.11:12-13 and Lk.16:6, that the Law and the Prophets were (in effect) “until John”, to which Luke added the contrasting “since then, the Kingdom of God is (present tense) being proclaimed!”
This meshes seamlessly with Mark’s statement (1:14) that after John’s arrest, Jesus appeared publicly announcing, “The time has been fulfilled : the Kingdom of God has arrived!” (both perfect tenses.)

If that time-line causes a problem for “flat-book” advocates who tirelessly trumpet only the first part of Jesus’ statement in Mt.5:17-18 that he did not come to destroy the law or the prophets, and that no part of either would “pass away”, please remind them not to forget his last phrase: “until it all happens [is fulfilled]! (See Mk.1:14 above.)
In his inaugural address (Lk.4:21), Jesus used the same theme: “Today the scripture has been fulfilled”, and as he headed for Jerusalem for the final time with his disciple group, it was with the blunt statement (Lk.18:31), “Look: we are going up into Jerusalem, and everything that has been written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be completed [fulfilled]!”

While it is certainly true that Jesus himself spoke of events that have yet to occur, he could not have been clearer in his declaration that he had personally fulfilled all that had been written before, and so long and so eagerly anticipated! The failure of those to whom he had been promised to welcome him as that fulfillment cannot negate its reality. And it was to those who did welcome him (Jn.1:12) that he gave the right “to become the children of God”. Notice, please, that Jesus did NOT apply that designation to “all people”, as is common in some modern circles.

John records several other discussions where Jesus used similar themes:
Jn.5:46-47: the matter-of-fact statement, “IF you were faithful to Moses, you would be faithful to me.”
Jn.6:30-35: making both a parallel and a distinction between the provision of manna in the desert and himself as the Bread of Life
Jn.7:19-24: critiquing advocates of the law who refuse to observe or obey it
Jn.8:37-45: emphasizing that behavior trumps pedigree in establishing one’s status before God.

A fuller examination of Matthew 11 yields interesting insight regarding Jesus and John. We are not told by any of the gospel writers how long John’s ministry had lasted before his “speaking truth to power” landed him in Herod’s dungeon. However, we can hardly blame him for his questions: that was rather shabby treatment for the “herald” of the long-awaited Messiah, and most likely NOT what John had expected as a result of his faithfulness! So he sent messengers to Jesus: “Is this for real? Or have I missed something?” A perfectly normal question.
Jesus’ answer is a catalog of evidence, which was apparently convincing to the messengers.

And then Jesus addressed the crowd about John’s work. No, this was not just a weirdo staging a demonstration in the desert. He was “more than a prophet” – he was indeed the promised “preparer of the road”. In fact, there was never anyone greater “born of women”! (v.11). The rest of that statement is puzzling, though. Despite his faithfulness, does John’s questioning under duress disqualify him from the Kingdom? I think, rather, that Jesus is again emphasizing the transition to whole new reality – a new creation!
Notice that John himself is not criticized: his fickle audiences are (v.12).
Violent people are assailing the Kingdom – perhaps trying to tailor it to their own expectations? – ever “since John.”
This is the context of the aforementioned statement (v.13) that “the law and prophets were until John.
Those who should know better are acting like squabbling children (16-18).
Cities who should have welcomed their King are compared unfavorably with ancient bastions of debauchery (20-24).

The latter part of the chapter (25-30), although it seems at first glance to be disconnected, actually provides a succinct summary of the new reality: there has been a massive paradigm shift!
“The wise and clever” (25) , although they have spent generations studying the old ways, simply have it all wrong.
In establishing his promised Kingdom, Jesus has done a new thing! This “new thing” is only accessible by revelation (25-27), and by careful training (29) in the yoke with the only One who knows the Father, understands the situation, and knows how it is supposed to operate! (Please see #77)

Our brother Jim suggested the perfect illustration, in a recent message, pointing out the significance of the sequence of events on the Mount of Transfiguration. The awe-struck disciples listen in on the conversation as Moses (representing the Law) and Elijah (representing the prophets) discuss with Jesus his coming departure, which he was about to “accomplish” (Lk.9:31) in Jerusalem. (see #191). Peter’s suggestion would have had plenty of precedent under the old system: the Old Testament is replete with examples of memorials being built in response to divine encounters. But after the voice of God out of the cloud identifies his Son, and instructs the frightened disciples to “Listen to him!”, they can see no one but Jesus! Having served their former purpose, the former spokesmen are gone!

“The Law and the prophets were (in effect) until John.
Since then, the Kingdom of God is being proclaimed!”
In the presence of the Son of God, the only appropriate response is to listen / obey.

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2 Responses to Word Study #175 — John as the Turning Point

  1. “the law and the prophets were until John – The law and the prophets continued to be the sole teachers till John came, who first began to proclaim the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and now, he who wishes to be made a partaker of the blessings of that kingdom must rush speedily into it.” (Clarke)
    All the misdeeds and warfare proclaimed by Christians was because they ignored Luke 16:16. Instead of solely embracing the preaching of the Kingdom they tried to marry the Old Way to the New. They wed the Gospel to the old, often erroneous Scriptures of the Jews, and made a hybrid God out of the old judgmental, vengeful, wrathful, warrior God of the Old Testament with the Loving Father God of Mercy and Peace that Jesus proclaimed to be the true God. This set up spiritual and mental confusion which eventually led to divisions, violence, crusades, inquisitions, mass pedophilia, hate and ultimately a new double-minded, false deity -an anti-God with 30,000 contradicting theologies, manifested as 30,000 religious groups all proclaiming to be the only ones with the truth.

  2. ruthpmartin says:

    Sad, but mainly true.

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