Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Month: December, 2018


pope-francis[1]About a year ago Pope Francis caused a bit of a stir when he suggested in a TV interview that the clause in the Lord’s Prayer that reads “and lead us not into temptation” was not a good translation, “because it speaks of a God who induces temptation.”  He argued “a father won’t do that.  A father will immediately help you pull yourself up.  Satan’s the one leading you into temptation.  That’s Satan’s work.”  Since then the Italian Episcopal Conference has been working on an alternative rendering, and has recommended replacing the traditional phrasing with “abandon us not when in temptation.”  The Lord’s Prayer (Pater Noster – Our Father) is recited as part of the mass.

But is the revision a legitimate translation of the text?  Can “lead me not into temptation” be accurately rendered “abandon us not when in temptation”? The Greek original uses the verb “eisenenkes” which literally means “to bring into.”  The Latin Vulgate, however, uses the word “inducas” which could mean “to move, excite, persuade, induce, or seduce.”  “Induce us not to sin,” then, obviously would not be a good translation, and Pope Francis is correct: God does not induce us to sin.

But the standard English translation, “and lead us not into temptation,” does in fact accurately reflect the force of the Greek.  Translation experts will sometimes argue that a good translation would be “idea-for-idea” and not necessarily “word-for-word.”  This is commonly referred to as “dynamic equivalence.”  But in this case is “abandon us not when in temptation” really the dynamic equivalent of “lead us not into temptation”?  What did Jesus mean when He said these words?  And then there is the underlying theological problem: In what sense can it be said that God “leads us into temptation”?

Part of the answer lies in the meaning of the word “temptation.”  Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “temptation” as “the act of tempting or the state of being tempted, esp. to evil,” and defines the word “tempt” as “to entice to do wrong by promise of pleasure or gain: allure into evil: SEDUCE.”  But the Greek word peirasmos means “a trial, of ethical purpose and effect, whether good or evil” (Abbott-Smith).  In other words, it is a test or trial to determine the genuineness of something.  And that gives us a better idea of what it means to “lead us not into temptation.”

We can see a concrete example of how this actually works by looking at the temptation of Jesus.  We are told, just a few chapters earlier, that “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matt. 4:1; NKJV).  Here it is the Spirit who leads Jesus into the place of temptation, but it is the devil who does the actual tempting.  Jesus had fasted forty days and forty nights, and “afterward He was hungry (v. 2).  The tempter then comes to Him and says “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread” (v. 3).  Jesus refused, quoting Scripture instead.  Two more temptations followed, and again Jesus responded by quoting Scripture.  The passage then concludes by saying “Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him” (v. 11).

James makes it clear that “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.  But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed” (Jas. 1:13,14).  And yet the Bible also makes it clear that God is ultimately in control of the overall circumstances of our lives, and that He allows various trials and tribulations into our lives for several different reasons.  Part of it is to test the genuineness of our faith, and this, in turn, gives us the assurance of salvation (Jas. 1:2-4, 12; I Pet. 1:6-9).  And part of it is to increase our sanctification.  Trials serve to give us humility (II Cor. 12:7-10), patience ((Rom. 5:3,4), and the ability to comfort others (II Cor. 1:3-7).  But in it all genuine Christians are “kept by the power of God through faith” (I Pet. 1:5), and God has promised us that “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (I Cor. 10:13).

To change the wording, then, of the Lord’s Prayer from “lead us not into temptation” to “abandon us not when in temptation” probably does undue violence to the original.  It is one thing to explain the meaning of a difficult passage of Scripture; it is another thing to change the wording to reflect our own thinking on the subject.  While Pope Francis is correct in saying that the passage is easily misunderstood, he does want to put himself in the position of rewording what Jesus actually said!



The Conversion of Paul

The Conversion of Paul: Parmigianino, ca. 1530


So far we have seen that the Messiah will establish peace and justice on the earth, and that was certainly good news for ancient Israel.  But how will that come about?  And what does it mean for us individually?

The questions are addressed in the later prophecies found in chapters 40-66 of Isaiah.  [Most modern critics argue that this section of the book was not written by the Isaiah who lived in the 8th Century B.C. but by a “Second” and “Third Isaiah” who lived much later.  But this is based on the assumption that the 8th Century Isaiah could not have accurately predicted events that happened long after he had died.  But that assumption runs counter to everything that the Bible says about itself as being the inspired Word of God.  And conservative scholars point to the striking literary unity of the book and the fact that several New Testament authors quote passages from the second half of the book and attribute them to the 8th Century prophet.  We take it then that these were prophecies that came from the pen of Isaiah himself.]

In Isaiah 39:5-7 Isaiah had warned King Hezekiah of the coming Babylonian captivity of Israel.  This would have been disturbing news indeed.  But Chapter 40 begins by predicting a brighter future, and goes on to reassure Israel that God is sovereign (40:12-31) and faithful (41:8-20), and promises a future restoration.  But what will this restoration look like?  And how will it take place?

In Chapter 42 we are introduced to a figure who is described as the “Servant” of the Lord, and this Servant is clearly the Messiah himself.  God, speaking through the inspired prophet, says, “Behold!  My Servant whom I uphold, / My elect One in Whom My Soul delights!” (Isa. 42:1; NKJV).  On the one hand He is described as God’s “Servant” – Christ the Son of God plays a subordinate role to God the Father – and yet He is “Me Elect One in Whom My Soul delights.”  He enjoys a special relationship with God the Father.

The Servant, then, will “bring forth justice to the Gentiles” (v. 1).  What is surprising about this is that one would ordinarily think that the Messiah’s reign would primarily benefit the Jews – that they would be restored in the land and that the Messiah would reign over them.  But God has a broader purpose in mind, one that involves all mankind.

But how will He accomplish this?  The text goes on to say that “the coastlands shall wait for His law” (v. 4).  The “coastlands” were different countries scattered around the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean.  The law (Heb. “torah”) would be the instruction and directions given by the Servant himself.  For these the coastlands “wait” in patient expectation.  In other words, justice will prevail when human beings are subject to the will of God.

But the text goes on to say that God will give the Servant “as a covenant to the people” (v. 6).  This would point to the New Covenant that God will write on the hearts of believers and under which God will forgive their sins (Jer. 31:31-34; cf. Ezek. 36;24-27; 37:21-28).

But what kind of effect will this have on us as individuals?  The text describes it this way:  The Servant will be

“As a light to the Gentiles,

To open blind eyes,

To bring out prisoners from the prisons,

Those who sit in darkness from the prison house.”

(vv. 6,7).

At first this might seem like a reference to the Jewish captivity in Babylon.  But the text specifically refers to the role of the Servant, and says that He will be a light to the Gentiles.  Obviously something larger is in view here.  The blindness is a spiritual blindness, the inability to see spiritual reality.  The apostle Paul could describe the Gentiles as walking “in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated form the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (Eph.4:17-19).  But when we come to Christ we have “learned Christ” and “have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus” and are “renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Eph. 4:20-23).  We have become spiritually enlightened, and can now see and understand spiritual reality.

But the text also says that the Servant will “bring out prisoners from the prisons.”  Sin is a form of bondage.  Again the apostle Paul could say, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin” (Rom. 7:14), and “I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (7:23).  But when we become Christians, “our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.  For he who has died has been freed from sin” (Rom. 6:6,7).  Sin is a form of slavery, and salvation frees us from that slavery.

But His manner of doing this is striking.

“He will not cry out, nor raise His voice,

Nor cause His voice to be heard in the street.”

(v. 2)

When here on earth His manner was calm and gentle.  He did not scream nor shout, but He spoke as One who had authority (Matt. 7:28,29).

And then it says,

“A bruised reed He will not break,

And a smoking flax He will not quench . . .”

(v. 3)

The “bruised reed” and “smoking flax” point to people who have been hurt or wounded by what has happened to them.  They have been chastised by God and feel the pain.  But the Servant is gentle with them.  He does not break them or quench them.  They will live and see another day.

But to accomplish all this will be a terrible ordeal for the Servant himself. He will eventually have to endure the cross.  But the text says that “He will not fail nor be discouraged, / Till He has established justice in the earth . . .” (v. 4).

God’s method, then, is this: He will bring justice to the earth.  He will punish sin.  But He will also provide salvation, and that involves freeing individual human beings from their sin.  And so He comes to us, gently, shows us our sin, and offers us forgiveness through faith in Christ, the One who died for our sins.  And all of this was predicted seven centuries before Christ actually appeared on earth!  May we each find peace and joy in Him!





Edward Hicks, “The Peaceable Kingdom”


The composer Glenn Rudolph tells us that he was writing his choral piece “The Dream Isaiah Saw” in 2001 and that he was still in the process of writing it when the 911 terrorist attack occurred.  The words are based on Thomas H. Troeger’s  poem “Lion and Oxen Will Sleep in the Hay,” which in turn is based on a prophecy by Isaiah found in Isa. 11:6-9 which says, among other things, that

“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb . . .

And the lion shall eat straw like the ox . . .”


In his poem Mr. Troeger goes on to say,

“God will transfigure the violence concealed

deep in the heart and in systems of gain,

ripe for the judgment the Lord will ordain . . .”

Isaiah’s prophecy was written 2,700 years ago, and yet, as Mr. Rudolph noted, the problem it addresses still exists today.  Civil wars have torn apart Syria and Yemen, the Islamic State has come and gone, and crime and corruption have driven thousands from their homes in Central America.  And here at home we have seen a poisoned political atmosphere, accompanied by mass shootings and bomb threats.  Is there any real hope for peace in the world?

Isaiah paints an extraordinary picture of the wolf dwelling with the lamb and the leopard lying down with the young goat.  It is hard to know how far to take the imagery.  Wolves, leopards, lions and bears are all carnivorous animals, and it is hard to imagine bears grazing and lions eating straw, as is mentioned in verse 7 of the text.  But Romans 8:19-22 in the New Testament does tell us that “the creation was subjected to futility” but that at some point “the creation itself also will be from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”  And we are told elsewhere that in the future God “will cause wild beasts to cease from the land, and they [i.e. God’s people] will dwell safely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods” (Ezek. 34:25-30).  Apparently there will no longer be any wild animals.

Mr. Troeger, in his poem, says that

“God will transfigure the violence concealed

deep in the heart and systems of gain,

ripe for the judgment the Lord will ordain.”

But the question remains, how will this take place?  Is it a realistic expectation at all?  Isaiah’s text goes on to say,

“They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,

For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord

As the waters cover the sea” (v. 9).

The immediate context is Isaiah’s prophecy in Isa. 11:1-5 about the coming of the Messiah.  In keeping with the promises made to King David one of David’s descendants would someday occupy his throne.  “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, / And a Branch shall grow out of his roots” (v. 1 – the word translated “Rod” might better be rendered “shoot” – NASV, NRSV, ESV, NIV; Jesse was David’s father).

Isaiah then goes on to describe how this king will reign: “The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him ,” a Spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel and might.  In other words the Messiah will possess all the attributes necessary in a ruler if he is to be good and effective.

But ultimately that wisdom and knowledge must be grounded in “the fear of the Lord” (v. 2).  “His delight is in the fear of the Lord” (v. 3a).  In order to understand things aright one must understand them as God intended them to be.  God is the Creator; we live in a universe that was ordered and structured by Him.  In order to understand things properly we must understand His creative will and purpose.  And while we may have a natural human tendency to assert our independence and think in terms of our own individual self-interest, God is concerned that we acknowledge Him and do what is just and right and true.

The end result of Messiah’s reign is that “with righteousness He shall judge the poor, / And decide with equity for the meek of the earth . . .” (v. 4a).  In almost any human civilization – one that has achieved any degree of prosperity – there will be a tendency for the rich and powerful to take advantage of the weak and poor.  This sometimes results in the outright corruption of the judicial system, with judges that would “justify the wicked for a bribe, / And take away justice from the righteous man’ (Isa. 5:23).  In this sense Mr. Troeger is correct in condemning the “systems of gain.”  And he is correct in thinking that such systems are “ripe for the judgment the Lord will ordain.”  The rulings of the Messiah, Isaiah tells us, will be in strict conformity with the law and the facts of the case.

And how will all of this come about?  There is one sense in which the Messiah’s kingdom is already here on earth, in the hearts of believers; and another sense in which it will not be fully manifested until the Second Coming of Christ.  In the Parable of the Tares and the Wheat (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43) Jesus said that the tares of the wheat grow together until the end of the age, when “The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness . . . Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (vv. 41,43).

Isaiah goes on to say, “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, / For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord / As the waters cover the sea” (v. 9).  The key to world peace is for the world to know God – to know His will, intents and purposes, to live according to His will.  And what He intended for us is not that we should lie, cheat and steal, much less kill each other in war; but rather that we should “love the Lord with all your heart” and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Dt. 6:5; Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:34-40).  When we as human beings lose sight of the divine and eternal, when we forget that we are ultimately accountable to a Supreme Being, our Creator, for our actions, human life degenerates into an endless conflict of warring factions and “identity politics,” and that is where we are today.

Mr. Troeger, in his poem, says, “Little Child, whose bed is straw / take new lodging in my heart.”  Jesus told Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).  In the short run we can find peace and happiness by repenting of our sin, going to Christ in faith, and being reconciled to God.  But peace on earth as a whole awaits the Second Coming of Christ.  Even so, come, Lord Jesus!



Fra Angelico: The Annunciation


We have seen , then, that “unto us a Child is born, / Unto us a Son is given . . .” (Isa. 9:6; NKJV).  But who or what exactly was this Child?  The text goes on to make it clear that this was no ordinary human being.

“And His name will be called

Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father,

Prince of Peace.”

First of all, He will be called “wonderful Counsellor” (the two words probably go together – cf. NASV, ESV, NIV).  The fate of a nation often hangs on the decisions made by its leader.  But the Messiah will be a “wonderful Counsellor.”  He will decide cases wisely and make plans carefully, and He will do it in a way that is most compelling.

But then He is called “Mighty God.”  What is especially significant about this is that the Child is specifically called “God” – the verse points directly to the deity of Christ.  But He is specifically referred to as “Mighty God” – “El Gibor” in the Hebrew text.  As a noun “gibor” refers to a strong, valiant man, a mighty warrior.  In this context it describes God as One who is fighting for His people. “Who is this King of glory? / The Lord strong and mighty, / The Lord mighty in battle” (Ps. 24:8).

And then the Child is called “Everlasting Father.”  Tragically many younger people today have a hard time relating to a human father.  Too many of them have been neglected or abused by their own fathers.  But God is a father the way fathers should be.  He has a loving concern for His children, protected them and supplying their need.  “As a father pities his children, / So the Lord pities those who fear Him” (Ps. 103:13).  And whereas human fathers eventually die and are no longer a part of our lives, this Child is the “everlasting Father” – He will always be there to take care of our needs.

And finally the Child is called “Prince of Peace.”  He will be the ruler or administrator who will bring about peace.  But “peace” is much more than the mere absence of war or conflict.  The underlying Hebrew word “shalom” signifies a state of rest or tranquility that comes when our needs have been met and we are at peace with our fellow human beings.  It is a state of completeness and fulfillment.  And in a nation it comes when it is ruled wisely.

In short, the Messiah will possess all the attributes of a wise and effective ruler.

Moreover we are told that He will sit

“Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,

To order it and establish it with judgment and justice. . .”

\                                                                                   (Isa. 9:7)

He will be an heir of David and restore David’s kingdom in fulfillment of the promises originally made to David (II Sam. 7:8-16; II Chron. 17:3-14; Ps. 89).  And here again we can see the fulfillment of prophecy in the birth of Jesus.  He was born in the city of David (Bethlehem) and His earthly parents were descendants of David.  He is, in fact, the rightful heir to King David’s throne.

When He comes to set up His kingdom it will be marked by “judgment and justice.”  “Judgment” is the act of judging, of making decisions in cases in a manner that conforms to the law.  “Justice” or “righteousness” as it might better be rendered (NASV, ESV), is conformity with the law – not half-hearted compliance with a set of external regulations.  Thus the reign of Messiah will stand in sharp contrast with current human government, with all of its dishonesty and corruption.  And the passage concludes by saying, “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” (v. 7).

And what are the implications for those of us living today?  There is a sense in which the kingdom is already present now among believers.  “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13,14).  But while we are here on earth we live “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”  Therefore we are called to be “blameless and harmless, children of God without fault” (Phil. 2:15).

We live in perilous times.  The world is becoming increasing hostile to Christian belief and practice.  But the reign of Messiah becomes a reality in our hearts when we turn from our sins and go to Christ in faith.  And we wait for His return at the end of the age to establish His kingdom upon the earth.  Let us watch and pray accordingly.



Lorenzo di Credi, “The “Annunciation”


One of the questions Jesus had to confront during His earthly ministry was whether or not He really was He claimed to be – the promised Messiah.  For that matter we face the same question today: how do we know that He was the Son of God, the Messiah?  And part of the answer to that question lies in the prophecies that were made centuries earlier concerning the Messiah.  And some of the most important of these prophecies were made by Isaiah.

Isaiah’s prophecies came during a particularly difficult time in ancient Israel’s history.  The nation at that time was divided between two competing states, the kingdom of Israel in the north (also called Ephraim or Samaria), and the kingdom of Judah in the south.  Worried about the growing power of Assyria in the north, the northern kingdom Israel formed an alliance with neighboring Syria (Damascus), and together they threatened Judah which had refused to join the alliance.  The newly crowned king of Judah, Ahaz, appealed to the Assyrians for help, and the Assyrians in 734 B.C. invaded Palestine.  The northern and northeastern parts of Israel were annexed to the Assyrian Empire.

But the Jews were God’s chosen people.  How could all of this have happened to them?  Isaiah makes it clear that this was a judgment from God on a nation that had grown worldly and corrupt.  While the external forms of worship had been maintained, idolatry was widespread, as well as political corruption.  And God made it clear what He expected from them:

“Learn to do good;

Seek justice,

Rebuke the oppressor,

Defend the fatherless,

Plead for the widow.”

(Isa. 1:17; NKJV)

It was for their failure to live up to God’s standards of morality that war and devastation had come upon them, and eventually captivity.

It was in this context, then, that Isaiah’s remarkable prophecies came.  Isaiah describes the deep gloom that would fall upon the country as it would be invaded by the Assyrians: “Then they will look to the earth, see trouble and darkness, gloom of anguish; and they will be driven into darkness” (Isa. 8:22).  But in wrath God remembers mercy, and Israel is still God’s chosen people.  And so, in the midst of this dire prophecy comes a remarkable promise: “Nevertheless the gloom will not be upon her who is distressed” (9:1) – or, as we might better understand it “But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish” – NASV.  And then, referring specifically to two tribes in the north of Israel, Zebulon and Naphtali, it says,

“The people who walked in darkness

Have seen a great light;

Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,

Upon them a light has shined.”


But how was this prophecy fulfilled?  And when?  The specific area mentioned (“Galilee of the Gentiles”) was part of the northern kingdom that was annexed to Assyria in approximately 733 B.C.  The next several verses speak of God having broken the rod of the oppressor, “For every warrior’s sandal from the noisy battle, / And garments rolled in blood,/ Will be used for burning and fuel of fire” (9:5).  But war would continue to be a fact of life in that area for many centuries to come.

But the text goes on to explain:

“For unto a Child is born,

Unto us a Son is given;

And the government will be upon His shoulder . . .”


In other words, the prophecy looks forward to nothing less than the birth of Christ.  And remarkably, when the Messiah, Jesus, did come, He began His public ministry, not in Jerusalem, the center of Jewish religious life, but in the north, in Galilee.  He grew up in Nazareth, located in the former territory of Zebulon, and His first miracle was performed in nearby Cana.  And much of His subsequent ministry was centered in Capernaum, located on the Sea of Galilee in what had been the territory of Naphtali.  It was a direct fulfillment of this prophecy.

But in what sense could it be said that “The people who walked in darkness / Have seen a great light” and “Upon them a light has shined” (9:2)?  Jesus would say that “I am the light of the world.  He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12), and “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness” (John 12:46).  The darkness, then, is not just the gloom of war and turmoil, and it does not just affect the people of ancient Galilee.  It is deeper and more pervasive than that.  It is the spiritual darkness that has engulfed the entire human race.  It is our self-centeredness, and our inability to see beyond our own immediate self-interest, that keeps us from acting as we ought.  This is the underlying cause of the crime, corruption, poverty and war that afflicts human society.  And into this sin-cursed world came the Son of God, bringing truth and salvation.  He is the light of the world.

And how will this light come into the world?

“For unto us a Child is born,

Unto us a Son is given . . .”

The Messiah would come into the world in the form of human child.  But, as we shall see, He was no ordinary human being.

The fact that the Messiah would come into the world and spend much of His ministry in Galilee is a remarkable testimony to the grace of God toward miserable sinners.  Israel had brought its troubles upon itself.  It fully deserved divine punishment.  But in wrath God remembered mercy (Hab. 3:2) and sent His Son to that very part of the country that had born the brunt of His wrath.

But it is even more true of all of those of us who have been saved by grace.  We were all lost sinners, all on our way to hell.   We were in spiritual darkness, and cared not for the things of God.  And yet in one way or another God brought us undeserving sinners to Christ to receive the forgiveness of our sins and changed lives.  We are now heirs of heaven.  Praise be to His holy name!