Liberty, Limits, and Love: An Example for Us Today in the Prohibitions of Acts 15:20

In Acts 15:1–35, the Jerusalem Council concluded that requiring Gentile believers to be circumcised and obey the Law was wrong (Acts 15:2, 5, 10, 19). Salvation is only “through the grace of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 15:11).1

At the same time, James did ask to “write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:20). While sexual immorality is obviously wrong (and worth mentioning because of its frequency among the Gentiles), it seems that the other three matters were somehow related to the law. The reason for their prohibition involved what was “read every Sabbath in the synagogues” from the Law of Moses, something done “from ancient generations” and “in every city” by “those who proclaim him” (Acts 15:21).

Using the Law, then, to figure out why these other three matters were forbidden, Leviticus 17:10–13 clearly forbids both the eating of blood (Lev 17:12, “No person among you shall eat blood”) and the eating of animals that had not been drained of their blood (Lev 17:13, “Any one… who takes in hunting any beast or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood”). This last prohibition seems to be the point of reference for “what has been strangled” (Acts 15:20). If an animal died by strangulation, it would not have been drained of its blood. If its meat were eaten, it would have been with the blood still in it. Thus, whether eating blood directly or in the meat of an animal, both were forbidden by the Law.

As to “the things polluted by idols” (Acts 15:20), this is also a matter of food, synonymous with “what has been sacrificed to idols” (Acts 15:29). While Paul would give further instruction on the matter in 1 Corinthians 8–10, James’s present concern (to which Paul gave no objections) was probably along the lines of Romans 14:15: “For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died” (cf. Rom 14:13–23). In other words, if the Gentiles really loved their Jewish Christian brothers, they would not eat things that the Jewish Christians denied and offend their sensitive consciences. The Gentiles would give up their liberty to eat these things so as not to hinder their fellowship (cf. 1 Cor 9:19–23).

In learning from how James led the church then, we see that one’s liberty is not a matter of license to do as one pleases in the presence of all. Rather, Christian love limits certain practices for the sake of fellowship with others. When it comes to something questionable, the church should always be more careful than not. Limiting one’s liberty is not necessarily legalism. If done correctly, it is an act of love.

  1. All quotations are from the ESV. []

Leaders Lead, and Congregations Decide: Congregationalism in Acts 15:1–35

I realize that a number of hierarchical models of church structure find their alleged home in Acts 15, but I personally believe that congregationalism comes to the fore when the text is carefully examined. In short, Acts 15 gives an example of two truths for congregationalism: leaders lead, and congregations decide. What follows below is more about the latter than the former.1

Both churches involved—Antioch and Jerusalem—example congregationalism in how they relate to a conflict at hand, namely, whether or not Gentile Christians were supposed to obey the Law of Moses.

Antioch

  • Paul, Barnabas, and others “were appointed” by their church in Antioch “to go up to Jerusalem” to settle the matter (Acts 15:2). If the identity of the party doing the appointing is not clear in Acts 15:2, it is made clear in Acts 15:3—these men were “sent on their way by the church,” that is, the church in Antioch.
  • Upon resolving the matter in Jerusalem, being something for the church as a whole (since, after all, it sent representatives to inquire on the matter), Paul, Barnabas, and the representatives from Jerusalem “gathered the congregation together” clarify for them the doctrine of the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:30; cf. 15:32).

Jerusalem

  • Upon the arrival of the representatives from Antioch, Jerusalem considered the matter as a church. Paul, Barnabas, and the others “were welcomed by the church,” along with its leaders, “the apostles and the elders” (Acts 15:4). After hearing a report of God’s work among the Gentiles (Acts 15:4), the church likewise was present to help resolve the conflict at hand—“all the assembly” was present (Acts 15:12).
  • The leaders led, and James was at the front in giving his judgment on the matter (Acts 15:13–21). At the same time, what “seemed good” to him in resolving the matter was also good to “the apostles and the elders” and “the whole church” (Acts 15:22). They had altogether “come to one accord” as to a resolution (Acts 15:25).
  • Demonstrated negatively, “some persons” teaching false doctrine and creating the conflict at hand went “out from us” (i.e., the Jerusalem church) and did so with “no instructions” from the leadership or the church (Acts 15:24; cf. 15:1). “Instructions” were apparently necessary for representing the church. The false teachers were consequently rebuked by the Jerusalem church in that its official letter was contrary to their teaching.
  • Positively put, Judas and Silas were sent by the church with instructions and an official letter. The church and its leaders were “the brothers… who had sent them,” that is, Judas and Silas (Acts 15:34). Having completed their mission in Antioch, they returned to report on the matter to their sending church in Jerusalem.

In all the above, the Jerusalem Council was mostly a matter between two churches—Antioch and Jerusalem. At the same time, it involved Christians Jews and Gentiles in general, so other churches received the letter as well (cf. Acts 15:23, “Syria and Cilicia”).  Representatives were sent by one church to inquire of another, and that church in turn sent its representatives back to the first church to give a clarification. After the hard work of carefully navigating the thorny issues involved, it all ended with “encouragement” and parting “in peace” (Acts 15:31, 33).  May God grant to us the same as churches navigate through conflicts today.

  1. All quotations below are from the ESV.  []

No Greater Place: Devotional Thoughts from Psalm 84

Psalm 84 holds a special place in the heart of many. Christians have come to worship and commented with the words of Psalm 84:10: “For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness” (KJV).

Charles Spurgeon introduced his thoughts on the psalm in this way: “If the twenty-third be the most popular, the one-hundred- and-third the most joyful, the one-hundred-and-nineteenth the most deeply experimental, the fifty-first the most plaintive, this is one of the most sweet of the Psalms of peace” (from The Treasury of David).

What about this psalm is so sweet and gives such peace?

On the one hand, it is an encouraging pilgrimage psalm—a psalm to be recited and even sung while traveling “the highways to Zion” (Ps 84:5), that is, making a pilgrimage from one’s home to the temple in Jerusalem, God’s “dwelling place,” “the courts of the LORD,” and “the house of my God” (Ps 84:1, 2, 10). And yet, though God’s presence is manifest in His temple, the psalmist’s true joy is ultimately found in “the living God” (Ps 84:2). The temple, its courts, and dwelling therein were not joyful ends in themselves. They were a central place to Israel’s worship, and God was the center of their worship.

On the other hand, it is also a psalm of trust. Knowing that those at the temple were “blessed” to be where God’s formal worship regularly took place (Ps 84:4), and knowing that even those on the journey to the temple were “blessed” by God’s strength to go there (Ps 84:5), the psalmist, whether at the temple in heart or person, was “blessed” because he was “one who trusts in” God, receiving every good things from Him (Ps 84:11–12).

While we may feel far removed from Israel and having a mandated central location for worship, there are some similarities between them and us today. Psalm 84 is just as alive to us as it was for them so long ago.

Consider the church’s weekly gathering on the day of the Lord. A local church meets together at a regular time and place each week. If our affection is properly for the Lord, we will long and even faint with desire to join His people in worshiping Him. We find strength day by day to sustain us between these gatherings to worship Him. At the end of the day, it is not the place or time of gathering that somehow gives us nostalgic joy. Our joy is found in worshiping the living God, something we can do in spirit anywhere and anytime.

Beyond this, we, too, are pilgrims but seeking a greater temple. We travel this spiritually arid world, making what springs we can, seeking the New Jerusalem, complete with its own special presence of God—it houses the throne of the Father and the Lamb. Like the psalmist who was strengthened by having the highways of Zion in his heart, so also we know the way to the New Jerusalem—through Jesus Christ who prepares this place for us. May we abide in Him, and may He abide in us, every step we take until we reach this heavenly glory.

A Passage for a Pastor Called to an Established Church

“Every pastor is an interim pastor.”

I’ve seen that saying a few times, and the typical thought behind it is that every pastor will eventually hand off his ministry to a successor unless the Lord comes again. This saying helps us to keep our ministry in perspective, reminds us that the church is bigger than our individual ministries, and moves us to pray that the Lord will sustain His church since we can only do so much for so long.

Perhaps you, like me, are one of those successors, the next man in the lineup of interim pastors. You are not a church-planting pastor but a committed pastor who God is using to continue the ministry of a church that was established before your coming. How will our ministry endure? How can we minister in such a way so that our church will outlast us? Does the Bible give any specific guidance to us for this kind of ministry?

It does, actually, and below is a quick walk through a helpful passage, 1 Corinthians 3:10–15. When it comes to pastoring an already established church (or, in principle, coming in as a leader to an already existing Christian organization), we will consider 1) what you cannot do, 2) what you must do, and 3) what to expect when your ministry is over.

Let’s read the text first and then follow these three thoughts.

10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:10–15 ESV)

What You Cannot Do: Lay a New Foundation

Paul begins by speaking of “the grace of God given to” him to serve as an apostle, evangelist, and church planter. This grace enabled him to be “like a skilled master builder” who “laid a foundation” for the church, “which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 3:10–11). In other words, through the message of salvation through Jesus Christ, God used Paul to make disciples and plant a church in Corinth. This foundational message is the bedrock upon which every church is built. Therefore, “no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid” (1 Cor 3:11).

This being said, the one thing that you cannot do as a pastor coming into an established church is simple—you cannot preach another salvation, another Christ, or another anything that would effectively replace the foundation upon which your people are built. You will have effectively destroyed what foundation is there, and Paul has strong words for such a one: “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him” (1 Cor 3:17).

Do not lay a new foundation. Instead, consider our next point…

What You Must Do: Take Care in How You Build 

With the foundation of Jesus Christ already in place for an established church, our command is simple: “Let each one take care how he builds upon it” (1 Cor 3:10 ESV). We build, and we build carefully.

In context, an example of how to build a church upon something else is to build it upon someone else. Not understanding how the ministries of Paul, Apollos, and Peter (Cephas) complemented one another, people were dividing themselves as being followers of one or the other (cf. 1 Cor 3:4, 22). They were boasting in men, being motivated by pride, and thinking in terms of how to prosper the church through one personality or another instead of focusing on the gospel and Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Cor 3:18–23).

Given our proclivity to personal ambitions and the desire to magnify ourselves or others within the church, we must do exactly as Paul commands: “take care” in how we build. Don’t come to a church that preaches Christ and make it all about yourself or something else. Carefully build upon the good foundation of Jesus Christ that has already been laid. Let distinctives be distinctives, let tangents be tangents, and take care to make Jesus Christ central to your work.

One very good reason for carefully building is…

What You Can Expect When Your Ministry Is Over: Your Work Will Be Examined

Paul elaborates on his building illustration to speak of materials that will or will not burn away in the presence of fire. Whether “gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,” Paul’s mention of these materials is to show that, whatever the material may be, “each one’s work will be manifest” (1 Cor 3:12–13). Speaking of Christ’s return, he declares that “the Day will disclose it” (1 Cor 3:13). Again, “it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test the sort of work each has done” (1 Cor 3:13). In other words, Christ will come again and judge each work for its value and quality. We receive our due accordingly.

In considering these materials, gold, silver, and precious stones are not consumed by fire, whereas wood, hay, and straw are. Some ministries have lasting value, and others do not. Among the valuable, some have more value than others, and among the worthless, some are more worthless than others. The Lord will be their Judge.

As for the pastors of these ministries, and as for anyone who supports their ministries, the quality of their work is what determines their loss or reward. “If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:14–15 ESV).

Whatever your giftedness may be, build upon the foundation in such a way so that it survives the fire of judgment in time to come. Otherwise, while you may make it into the kingdom, it will not be with what your reward may have been. You “will be saved, but only as through fire.”

If Jesus Christ is the foundation upon which your church has been built, then lay no other foundation. Rather, build a ministry made of gold, silver, and precious stones on Him and no one or nothing else. He Himself will come again and examine your work and reward you accordingly.

How to Preach So That Disciples Persevere: An Example in Acts 14:21–22

The life and teaching of Christian leaders plays a part in the salvation of those who hear us (1 Tim 4:16). It’s important that we know how to speak God’s Word in such a way so as to move others to persevere. We should work at it. God is obviously the one to do such a work, but He can work all the more through those who work hard at their preaching and teaching. This being said, let’s learn something of how to preach for others to persevere in Acts 14:21–22.

Luke records of Paul and Barnabas, “21 When they had preached the gospel to that city [Derbe] and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21–22 ESV).

In Acts 14:22, we see the content of the preaching of Paul and Barnabas to churches that needed to persevere in the face of persecution. Paul and Barnabas would repeat this ministry again in Acts 15:35 and Paul alone in Acts 18:22–23. It was a ministry of preaching and teaching to people who faced persecution and needed to persevere.

Their preaching in Acts 14:22 is given three descriptions, instructive for us as preachers today who likewise want to see disciples persevere. Our preaching should include…

“Strengthening the souls of the disciples” 

To “strengthen” (epistērizō) is “to cause someone to become stronger in the sense of more firm and unchanging in attitude or belief” (Louw-Nida). It overlaps with the related verb “strengthen” in Acts 18:23 (stērizō—same verb minus the prepositional affix; Paul was “strengthening all the disciples”—same place, same activity later on). What is said for stērizō could be said for epistērizō. From other uses of this verb, then, we could say that…

Preachers strengthen the souls of the disciples through teaching and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ (Rom 1:11–12; 16:26). While God uses believers to strengthen one another, it is ultimately Him and His Son who strengthen believers through the Spirit (cf. 2 Thess 2:17; 3:3; 1 Pet 5:10).

“Encouraging them to continue in the faith” 

The verb behind “encouraging” (parakaleō) is variously translated in other verses as “urge,” “exhort,” “appeal,” “beg,” “implore,” “plead,” “invite,” “ask,” depending on each context. While we should not pack every possible sense of the verb into each usage, noting this range of translation helps us understand something of what Paul and Barnabas were doing in their preaching. They were passionately persuading their fellow believers “to continue in the faith.” “The faith” involved their belief, yes, but it also involved the content of their faith, the doctrine of Jesus Christ and salvation through Him at the very least. So then, just as it was for Paul and Barnabas, so also it is for us today…

Preachers should preach in such a way so as to exhort, appeal, and urge their fellow believers to continue believing what they have believed and to continue to live according thereto.

“Saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God”

With this description, we have a particular instance of what Paul and Barnabas were “saying”—“through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” As noted above, the Jews had chased Paul and Barnabas out of these cities before. Harassing the Christians thereafter likely took place as well. They probably saw upon Paul the marks of his stoning. Whether verbal, physical, by one, or by many, “tribulations” would come. Knowing that persecutions will come…

Preachers must warn others of persecution that might come and that persevering even through this will bring them into the kingdom of God.

This may all sound rather mundane and obvious, but it is a matter of whether or not some may enter the kingdom of God. We strengthen and encourage and warn give hope for the sake of those who hear. So, ask yourself: How well do I really work at preaching the gospel with precision and power in order to strengthen the souls of those who hear me? How often do I earnestly appeal to these dear disciples to truly persevere in what they believe and hold to be true? And how often do I warn them of what tribulations may come in this life and encourage them of the kingdom that will come?

Hopefully we are already attempting to preach like the example we see in Acts 14:22. If not, we need to brush up and put some work into what we say from God to others (cf. 1 Tim 5:17). May God help all of us who preach to strengthen, encourage, warn, and give hope to His disciples!

Preach, Be Bold, Conversion, Repeat: The Cycle of Events in Acts 13:44–52 and 14:1–7

Within Paul’s first missionary journey to the Gentiles in Acts 13–14, Luke gives two quick accounts in Acts 13:44–52 and Acts 14:1–7 to show the play-by-play of how events usually transpired in the cities that were evangelized.

First, Paul would attend a synagogue on the Sabbath and preach the word of the Lord (Acts 13:44; 14:1). There was something of a method to this in Paul’s statement, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you” (Acts 13:46), that is, to Jews. Perhaps Israel’s special calling by God among the nations inclined Paul to preach to his own people first.

Second, though some Jews would believe, many would not and would even verbally contradict Paul in the settings where he spoke (Acts 13:45–46; 14:2). This included attacks on both the content of the message and the messenger himself.

Third, instead of backing off and finding a more receptive response elsewhere, Paul and Barnabas responded by boldly preaching God’s Word (Acts 13:46; 14:3). Since the opposition was not yet a threat to their lives, they stayed on and preached all the more.

Fourth, many people believed as a result of the bold witness of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:48; 14:1, 4). Some people believed when the gospel was preached initially, and others came to believe later as it was boldly preached in the midst of opposition.

Fifth, opposition to the gospel became organized and violent (Acts 13:50; 14:5–6). Whether leading the city’s elite to expel Paul and Barnabas or even execute them by stoning, Paul and Barnabas eventually did leave these cities out of fear for their lives. But it was not without a rebuke—“they shook the dust form their feet against them” when they left from Antioch to Iconium (Acts 13:51).

Sixth, the work of God continued in the disciples left behind and with the messengers who journeyed on (Acts 13:51–52; 14:7). Though their evangelists were forced away, the disciples in Antioch “were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52). After leaving Iconium, Paul and Barnabas “continued to preach the gospel (Acts 14:7). God is powerful to use persecution as a means of spreading His Word.

From the above, we can learn from Paul and Barnabas. We must preach the gospel and preach it boldly, even when opposition comes. Then, should a persecution come that threatens one’s very life, while men can hurt our bodies but not our souls, we do not unnecessarily put ourselves in harm’s way. Finally, even when organized persecution targets Christianity’s leaders and somehow removes them from a work, God will continue the work that they left behind, and those leaders take the gospel with them wherever they might go.

Christian Leaders Must Boldly Preach God’s Word

Two themes every leader should notice in Acts 13:44–14:7 are the Word and preaching boldly.

As for the first theme, the Word is called “the word of the Lord” (Acts 13:44, 48, 49), “the word of God” (Acts 13:46), and “the word of grace” (Acts 14:3). It is characterized by its source and author, that being the Lord God. From the context, it is also something that people gather to hear (Acts 13:44), imparts eternal life to those who accept it (Acts 13:46), which is evidenced through rejoicing and glorifying this very Word (Acts 13:48). As God blesses, it can spread throughout a region (Acts 13:49). Being a means to salvation, God’s kindness to those who believe, it is characterized by grace (Acts 14:3).

Being of such importance, a matter of eternal life or death, it is no surprise that this Word must be preached boldly, our second theme, especially in opposition. Acts 13:44–52 and Acts 14:1–7 record two accounts that are similar for their chain of events: the gospel was preached, the Jews opposed the preachers, the gospel was preached boldly, many believed, and organized persecution chased the messengers away. Nonetheless, believers remained behind, and the gospel continued to go forward.

But just what is this boldness when it comes to boldly preaching the gospel? One lexicon describes the act of preaching boldly as to “speak freely, openly, fearlessly” (BDAG). Similarly, when the noun boldness is used, it can mean “courage, confidence, boldness, fearlessness” (BDAG). From Acts, preaching boldly and boldness is something that marked the preaching of the gospel by the apostles (Acts 2:29; 4:13; 9:27, 28; 13:46; 14:3; 18:26; 19:8; 26:26; 28:31). The whole church prayed for this boldness and spoke accordingly as well (Acts 4:29, 31). Paul requested others to pray that his preaching would be with boldness, “as I ought to speak” (Eph 6:19–20). It is an open, fearless, courageous, and confident manner of preaching. It stems from a love for God, a conviction concerning His truth, and an intense desire to see it savingly at work in the hearts of those who hear it.

Christian leadership (i.e., leading a number of Christians in some manner) is inseparable from boldly preaching God’s Word. This being said, from what we have seen above, we could say that our leadership will often be as effective as we boldly preach God’s Word. There should be something evident to our followers that we are convinced of the truth that we preach, that they should be convinced of it themselves, that it is a matter of their eternal life or death, and that God’s saving grace is theirs to have if they only believe His Word. We speak of these things without fear of what may come, and in fact, with courage because we anticipate the grace that God will give through the message that is preached.

May God move us as leaders to boldly preach His Word!

 

God Raised Jesus for You

One of the reasons that God raised Jesus from the dead involves believers like you and me. Paul states, “And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David’” (Acts 13:34 ESV).

In the phrase “he raised him,” it is the Father who raised Jesus. The “he” who “has spoken” is the Father who spoke in Isaiah 55:3, the quotation that ends Acts 13:34. But when the Father says, “I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David,” the “you” is plural, just as in the Hebrew of Isa 55:3. This “you” refers to the readers of Isaiah, and for Paul, his listeners, both Jews and Gentiles (cf. Acts 13:13–16).

In other words, this quotation of Isa 55:3 does not directly prophesy the resurrection of Christ as, say, Ps 16:10, quoted in Acts 13:35. It does, however, imply that there must be a resurrection because of what is promised. If the Christ had been put to death (cf. Acts 13:26–29), then He would necessarily be raised from the dead in order for God’s people to enjoy the blessings promised to them.

And just what are these blessings? In Isa 55, they involve hearing God, coming to Him, and finding life for the soul (Isa 55:3a). They include forsaking unrighteous thoughts to think the thoughts of God and find pardon and compassion in Him (Isa 55:6–9). These are the blessings of salvation that come from repenting of one’s sin and placing one’s faith in Christ in order to find forgiveness and freedom in Him (cf. Acts 13:38–39).

Isaiah promised these spiritual blessings through the Davidic King all throughout his book. The child who would sit on David’s throne would eliminate gloom, anguish, and darkness and give light, joy, and peace instead (Isa 9:1–7). The shoot from the stump of Jesse would judge the poor with perfect righteousness, treat the meek with equity, and rid His enemies with a word (Isa 11:1–4). The chosen Servant would bring justice to the nations, establish His law upon the earth, and be the light that opens blind eyes, frees the prisoners, and breaks them out of their dungeons (Isa 42:1–7). He would be the Servant who brings Israel back to God and be the light who brings salvation to the ends of the earth (Isa 49:1–6). His proclamation has been and continues to be good news to the poor, healing for the brokenhearted, and liberty to the captives (Isa 61:1–3).

If God has promised these blessings to His people by means of the covenant He made with David, then He has promised to them through Jesus, the Davidic King. If the King was killed, then God had to raise Him from the dead. Only then could we still receive the blessings promised to us.

Praise God that Jesus was raised for us to have eternal spiritual blessings through Him!

Psalm 2:7 in the NT: The Announcement of a King

In Acts 13:32–33, Paul teaches that the promise of a Davidic king who would rule forever (cf. Acts 13:22–23) has been fulfilled in part through the resurrection of Jesus. Since Jesus had been put to death (cf. Acts 13:26–29), God raised Him up in order for Ps 2:7 to remain true of Him: “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.”

Psalm 2:7 was written by David and could be applied to Himself. He had been begotten by God as His son in the sense that He was the king of Israel. This language echoes the covenant God promised to David concerning the kings of Israel in his line: “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son” (2 Sam 7:14). Likewise, Ps 89:26–27 says of the Davidic king, “He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father’…And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.” The greatest application of these words is obviously to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Psalm 2:7 is applied to Jesus multiple times in the NT. He was first announced as God’s kingly Son at Hs baptism. The Father declared from heaven, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17; see also Mark 1:11 and Luke 3:22). With the addition of “beloved,” the first phrase of the Father’s words quotes Ps 2:7. The second phrase is a quotation of Isaiah 42:1, identifying Jesus as Isaiah’s suffering Servant.

At the Transfiguration, the Father again identified Jesus in terms of Ps 2:7 and Isa 42:1, adding Deut 18:15 as well—Jesus was the greater Prophet to come (Deut 18:15, “it is to him you shall listen”). The Father stated, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matt 17:5; see also Mark 9:7 and Luke 9:35).

Two NT letters mention Ps 2:7 as well. Peter recounts the Transfiguration in 2 Pet 1:17, and Heb 1:5 and 5:5 quote Ps 2:7 in application to Christ to show how He is superior to angels and the Levitical priests.

But, while Jesus has been announced as the Davidic king, He is yet to sit on David’s throne in Jerusalem. Just as David was anointed king and given the Spirit but waited for a time for his kingdom (cf. 1 Sam 16:1–13), so also Jesus was baptized, received the Spirit, and waits for a kingdom all His own as well (cf. Rev 3:21). The difference between David and Jesus, however, is that, while David was on the run from His enemies until he became king, Jesus currently sits enthroned with the Father over all things until He comes again to put down His enemies and take His earthly kingdom to Himself (Heb 10:12–13). When He does come, “then he will sit on his glorious throne” (Matt 25:31). What a glorious day for the Son that will be!

Why a Tree and Not a Cross?

Acts records three times in gospel explanations that Jesus hung on a tree (Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29). Why speak of a tree? Why refer to the material of the cross instead of the cross itself?

Luke likely wanted his readers to assume that Peter and Paul explained in full what Luke had recorded in short. The mention of a tree would recall Deut 21:22–23, and, assuming the tree was explained as it was in Gal 3:10–14 and 1 Pet 2:24, perhaps Deut 27:26 and Lev 18:5 were recalled as well.

Consider Deut 21:22–23: “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance” (ESV). 

Deut 21:22–23 taught that, for criminals who died in a tree as a means of capital punishment (perhaps by noose, or, in Christ’s case, crucifixion), the criminal was cursed by God. But what is this curse? 

Galatians 3:10–14 answers this question: “10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’ 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ 12 But the law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them.’ 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (ESV).

Gal 3:10 quotes Deut 27:26 to promise a curse to those who do not perfectly obey the Law. On the other hand, Gal 3:12 quotes Lev 18:5 to promise life to those who obey the Law’s commandments. In being contrasted with life that comes to the obedient, the curse is thus death for the disobedient—a death that is physical, spiritual, and eternal. The curse implies the absence of faith and thus the righteousness of God (Gal 3:11). The curse also implies the absence of the Spirit (Gal 3:14). The curse, then, is death to the one who disbelieves and disobeys God.

Assumed in Gal 3 is that no one perfectly obeys the Law and that all are therefore under this curse (cf. Gal 3:10). Thankfully, we find in Gal 3:13 that our sinless Christ was cursed for us by dying on the tree to redeem us from this curse. He lived a life of perfect obedience to the Law and then died a death that He did not deserve for those who indeed deserved it. By faith in Him, we find our curse removed and receive the Spirit, righteousness, and life (Gal 3:14).

Peter teaches the same truths in mentioning the tree as well. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Pet 2:24 ESV). 1 Pet 2:24 teaches that the purpose for Christ dying on the tree was to bear our sins, and that, by believing in Him, we would die to sin and live to righteousness.

So why mention the tree and not the cross? To speak of the tree recalled the curse of death for breaking God’s Law, and all deserve this curse because everyone has broken God’s Law (cf. Deut 21:22–23; 27:26). But Christ did not sin and did not deserve the tree. He deserved life for perfectly obeying the Law (cf. Gal 3:12). In dying such a death, then, He was able to take the curse of the Law upon Himself for others who had sinned (cf. Gal 3:13; 1 Pet 2:24a). When these sinners place their faith in Him, they find the curse removed and receive life and righteousness instead (cf. Gal 3:11, 14; 1 Pet 2:24b).

By recalling the tree, so also would one recall a trail of gospel truths. Praise God for sending Christ to die on the tree!