How to build a Post-Modern Church

How to build a Post-Modern Church

            The tried and true systems of the Western Church no longer work, as systems and programs which worked for decades are becoming obsolete at an alarming rate. This drastic shift in Western culture is forcing the church to change at a rate it has not experienced since the apostolic age and the current rate of change increases each year.

            In dealing with this tsunami of change we are forced to ask the question of what is the role of the Church in communicating the message of the gospel in a Post-Modern context? The answer comes not from tried and true methods from the Enlightenment Era but instead we shall see how the answer comes from the church letting go of its immovable institutional bedrock and embracing the era of plastic Christianity. A church which remains grounded doctrinally but is plastic and malleable in how it presents its message and interacts with the ever-shifting Western culture.

Living Under the Post-Modern Shadow of “Change” Culture

            We can look at the concept of culture as being the culmination of all of the ways of living as humans (including language, media, myths, writings, knowledge, science, art, religion, laws, etc.).” Culture is based on experience, thought and the ebbs and flows of people, so it is no shock that culture changes its values, goals or identity over the centuries. However, the struggle being faced today is that culture no longer takes centuries to change. Through modern marketing, the revolution in technology, and the shrinking global village ideas and thoughts are instantaneous. Whereas before an idea would be put in a book, distributed and years or decades later it would be part of the communal consciousness, now that process can take less than a minute.

            Through this instantaneous communication and sharing of ideas culture has become one of rapid change, where large scale celebrations, disagreements, and defining moments happen daily. The church overall has failed to adapt to this era of change and the juggernaut of technology and in many cases is still caught fighting the battles of the Enlightenment era. Which is no surprise because the church in the West is still marred by the death of Christendom.

The Unmourned Death of Christendom

            “The iron grip of dogma has been loosened,”[1] is how Newbigin summarizes how the Enlightenment era’s doctrines of Reason and Progress brought cultural emancipation from the institutional church. This shift in culture marked the end of Christian Europe as the people sought other sources such as the sciences to answer their foundational questions: “who am I,” “why am I here” and “where am I going.” We see that “a vast amount of what earlier ages and other cultures simply accepted as given facts of life are now subject to human decision,”[2] and often those decisions were the opposite opinion of the church.

            Unfortunately, the church’s reactions to Modernity consisted of withdrawal, accommodation, and resistance. This cultural retreat created a sociological vacuum which the patriarchs of the Enlightenment took advantage of and supplanted the church as one of the pillars of society. From that point on Christian faith was severely questioned or dismissed on the grounds that many of its claims could not be proven scientifically and that “Christianity’s historicity was not compatible with Modern historical criticism.”

            There is a feeling that the church never mourned its diminishment in the culture and simply sought to do business as usual” until everything went back to the way it was before. Grief and change were substituted with isolation and programs leaving the church missionally unprepared for the next seismic shift in culture.

A Post-Modern Picture

            From the embers of the Enlightenment and the age of Modernity came an unexpected shift in culture. Away went the intellectual imperialism of the Enlightenment and in came the emotional and relational age of Post-Modernity. Both cultures share a common thread of individualism, science and expression but beneath the surface are stark differences. In many ways Post-Modernity can be seen as a rebellion against the dogma of Modernity, which in itself was a rebellion against the dogma of the church.

            Whereas the key terms of Modernity were enlightenment, reason, freedom and progress, the Post-Modern mindset instead utilizes the key terms of feeling, deconstructionism, anti-narrative, meta, liquid, holistic and participation. Post-Moderns are seeking out a truth which works for them in their own individual context but is also compatible with their larger community. They are marked by tolerance of other’s beliefs,[3] a preference for practicality over theories and finding meaning through experiences. The aspect about Post-Modernism the church struggles with the most is how they believe that no single account of reality is privileged and that all are equally valid. Not only are all accounts valid but new ones are created at an astounding rate.

Looking Back to the First Century to Meet Today’s Needs

            Newbigin rightly points out that today “we live in a pagan society and not a secular society”[4] and we can argue that spirituality has reached a new peak of popularity. For instance, in Metro-Vancouver there are more metaphysical/spiritual bookstores than Christian bookstores. We see with Post-Moderns and their holistic approach a hunger for something more than cold empiricism, but they have also largely determined that the church cannot meet these needs. So, in many ways the contemporary church finds itself in the same place as the church of the apostolic age.

            Two thousand years ago “the Fathers wrestled with these issues in their pagan multi-cultural world, so we must do so again in ours.”[5] For the church to not just thrive but survive under this culture it must learn how to “be bilingual in their communal life… Congregations are responsible to learn the language of faith because they are created by the Spirit. But they are also responsible to learn the language of their specific setting because they are contextual.”[6]

            This was similar to the approach taken in the early Christian work the Letter to Diognetus which described Christians as blending into society in terms of language and dress but living by a higher code of conduct. Those early Christians were able to impact their culture because they knew how to navigate it. For contemporary Christians to have similar success they to must accept the culture they are in and learn how to relate to people within it. This is not a surrender to the ethics of the culture, but it is instead the acceptance that we must know how to speak its language, and how to empathize with its values.

A Three-Fold Plastic Church is the Answer

            The impact of Post-Modern ideology upon the church has involved a systematic reorganization of how the church “does church.” This is a culture where the Bible is seen more as an object of reflection rather than something to study. Stories and inspiration has replaced facts and doctrinal basics as people are more concerned about what the message makes them feel rather than on how the message changes or challenges them. Finally, we see the church having to emphasize a more relational type of theology which is commonly expressed through small group meetings and ministry.

            Through all of these forced changes the church has had to go through it can be difficult to maintain a sense of what the role of the church is in today’s society. What does become clear is for the church to maintain itself in this cultural season it has to learn how to let go of “what worked yesterday,” and begin to take on a more plastic (malleable) approach to ministry. An approach that is open to new ideas that may not work for more than a year or two. There must be a willingness to offer a variety of ministry options to meet the varied needs of communities which are become more complex each year.

Role of the Church

            First and foremost, the church exists in the world as the primary presence of God’s glory on this planet. The church is the visible and invisible union of all those in covenant relationship with Christ who gather together to worship, pray, learn and receive the tools necessary so they can go out into the world and fulfill the Great Commission. Given that the “church no longer has a privileged position within North American culture, it is rediscovering its fundamental missionary identity to live as a new community demonstrating God’s redemptive reign in the broader society.”[7]

            The core role of the church is to act as a base of operations for the members of the Kingdom of God in each community. Traditionally the role of the church was seen akin to a stone fortress, engineered to withstand attacks while providing a visible place of safety and escape from the wilderness. But in our contemporary era it could be better to envision the church as an aircraft carrier. A mobile facility able to move where it is needed to deploy others to accomplish the mission of the Kingdom. A cultural shift in the view of the role of the church however must be supported from the top down, as in a healthy contemporary church “the pastor’s primary role is to train and equip believers to use their gifts and talents to help build the kingdom.

Three-Fold Approach

            To move from a mindset of a fortress to an aircraft carrier the contemporary Western church must first embrace a plastic approach to it missional methodology. Secondly it must embrace and employ a three-fold style of ministry which utilizes the head, the heart and the hands of the people. By the head I am speaking of the need for education and proper theology as typically seen in denominations such as Presbyterians and Baptists. The heart speaks of the desire for social change, and humanitarian efforts seen among the Liberal Mainline denominations. Finally, the hand speaks of the evangelistic actions taken by the Pentecostals and the Charismatics who rely more on the moving of the Holy Spirit.

            Typically, these three archetypes of ministry have been separated along denominational trench lines forged in the Enlightenment, leaving the church looking more like a WWI battlefield than the bride of Christ. If the church is to best reach the Post-Modern person, they have to offer all three of these ministry styles. No longer can we allow each group to use “the other’s one-sidedness to justify its own continuing lack of balance, and the division devastates the church’s witness and credibility. I believe that both types of one-sidedness are unbiblical and heretical.”[8]

            This is not a call for some ecumenical amalgamation but instead the reality is that each church must be strong in teaching the scriptures, they have to be outspoken through social actions and they have to be active in evangelism and the moving of the Holy Spirit. In many ways this three-fold approach is the next evolution of John Wesley’s Quadrilateral.

            The church then must be a multi-dimensional church, working in all arenas at once while remaining malleable enough to not get comfortable in certain programs or approaches to ministry. This view of ministry is not impossible and a variation of this has been successfully demonstrated at Te Atatu Christian Fellowship in Auckland New Zealand,[9] and in the concept of a “Shalom Revival” presented by Richard Sider where all three facets are employed simultaneously.[10]

Agents of Reconciliation and Change

            If the post-modern church can follow this malleable threefold approach to ministry, then it will be able to fully act as an agent of reconciliation and change. The church is called to embody in its life and witness the Good News to the world yet far too often it has instead hidden from painful matters in society and culture. The church in its unmourned state following the Enlightenment shied away from the world and became concerned only with the spiritual health of its remaining members. It then became increasingly silent on social issues, or in other instances became the perpetrators of injustices.

The church has felt safe in its preaching of the gospel but has forgotten that “right at the heart of salvation is the new redeemed community.”[11] A redeemed community that is separate from the larger culture but at the same time there is a responsibility to allow the church’s higher ethics to better society. Rather than use the strength of the church to impose its higher ethics upon those outside of the covenant community.

            This is where the church can act as agents of reconciliation, by first seeing itself as agents of community. Where community is prioritized avenues for reconciliation begin to be opened and a dialogue is possible either between the church and the larger community or by having the church play the role of mediator. This involves a shift in worldview from a concept of individual forgiveness of one’s soul to one which sees forgiveness as the source of healing of relationships. For if the church cannot model forgiveness, restoration, or social action, then the world in its fallen state will try to fill the vacuum.

Christians are to live by a higher standard and are obligated according to scripture, the examples of Christ and God’s very nature of reconciliation to take the initiative and call for change, peace, restoration and reconciliation, even if that means the church humbling itself publicly. The truth about the church is that if faithful it “will always challenge what is wrong in the status quo.”[12] If our gospel produces no such change in Christians then what is the point of the gospel in society at large?

A Post-Modern Gospel

            No matter what the culture may look like or demand “evangelism is the ultimate calling of the church,” and evangelism is simply the sharing of the gospel.  For the Western Post-Modern they are looking for a gospel experience where a Christian models the ethics of Christ and is willing to listen to them before preaching to them an unfiltered message of repentance, sin and new beginning. Old tricks or tracts won’t cut it anymore, people are looking to see the message of the gospel demonstrated to them before they are willing to listen to it. Which is why the three-fold approach is so important as action, doctrine and witness all need to be demonstrated.

            The core message of the cross has never changed, and we have to accept that mission and “witness is not about programs and method. It is about openly inviting others into the community of new humanity so they can experience the grace of God.”[13] The gospel is a gateway to a new and higher way of living through the atonement of Christ and in our reconciliation with God. In response to this gift we have an eternal expectation but at the same time the members of the church have a temporal responsibility on earth. A responsibility fueled by the fact that Christ’s reign has been inaugurated (already-not yet) in the earth leaving the church as the visible evidence of his presence who go out to proclaim the message of the cross.



            The church is the culmination of the people who have been changed by the Good News and have the responsibility to teach, witness, and offer acts of compassion to people in the world. The question is not which of these types of ministry the church will offer but whether or not they “are capable of integrating all three in a comprehensive, dynamic and consistent witness.”[14] This is the purpose of the three-fold approach and the plastic mindset the church needs to utilize to best engage with Post-Modern culture.

            “The church is not static; it is a living dynamic social and spiritual reality. This means that the organizational life of the church must be able to respond to growth, development and change.”[15] For the church the rate of change it is experiencing is staggering but through engagement with society and partnership with the Holy Spirit perhaps the church will no longer lag behind but learn once again how to be at the forefront of culture change and not just the victim of it.

[1] Leslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1986), 23.

[2] Newbigin, 17.

[3] Although at times this tolerance seems to be limited only to those who agree with them, as we see with the current state of social media and “cancel culture.”

[4] Leslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1986), X.

[5] T. A. Noble, “Christian Holiness and the Incarnation,” in Holy Trinity, Holy People: The Theology of Christian Perfecting (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2013), 158-179. 

[6] Craig Van Gelder, The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 169.

[7] Craig Van Gelder, The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 43.

[8] Ronald J. Sider, Good News and Good Works: A Theology for the Whole Gospel Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 17.

[9] Sider, 49-50.

[10] Sider, 190.

[11] Ronald J. Sider, Good News and Good Works: A Theology for the Whole Gospel Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 100.

[12] Ronald J. Sider, Good News and Good Works: A Theology for the Whole Gospel Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 77.

[13] Craig Van Gelder, The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 153.

[14] Orlando Costas.

[15] Craig Van Gelder, The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 158.

Creative Commons LicenseHow to build a Post-Modern Church Cameron Conway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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The Impact of Modernity on the Life of the Church

The Impact of Modernity on the Life of the Church

            The Enlightenment and the subsequent culture of Modernity represented a fundamental shift in how the church interacts with the world and how the world can exist without the church being its core cultural pillar. In his book Foolishness to the Greeks, Leslie Newbigin presents several ideas and factors to aid the church navigate the muddle waters of Modernity and the post-Christendom era. Newbigin encourages the church to throw off the dreams of theocracy and instead have a “missionary encounter” with Modernists by challenges the “whole way of perceiving, thinking, and living” within Modern culture.[1]

A Profile of Modernity

            Modernity represents a cultural reformation which challenged the very structure of the church and created space in culture for people to find answer life’s to questions outside of the Bible. The former Christocentric worldview had been replaced by one based on reason, independence, intellectual autonomy, personal freedom and the quest for unending progress. The resulting nation state model in the west contributed to the growth of the ideas of dependency on the Government, the separation of public and private lives, the freedom of choice and pragmatic capitalism.

            Western culture saw itself as the heralds of discovery who were unshackled from old superstition as the “the iron grip of dogma has been loosened.”[2] People were free to live as they pleased and contribute to the ongoing progress of the nation, family or business. Modernity produced a consumer-based culture ripe with choice and increasing dependency on technology and scientific advancement to provide comfort, prosperity and the answers which used to be given by the church. With the moral supremacy of the church seen as being dismantled the Modern person is left to follow “their own views about what is good and desirable, about what kind of life is to be admired, about what code of ethics should govern one’s private life”[3]

Absolute Confidence in Science and Technology

            Rather than perceiving the world as an organic created realm the ideas of Modernity present creation as a logically driven machine which can be studied, understood and manipulated, through a form of “reductionistic naturalism.”[4] This “mechanical view of the nature of ultimate reality”[5] prides itself on emphasising discrete parts of an object, idea, or problem in order to reduce it to its base purpose and usability. This worldview of absolute logic and reason held sway until the recent rise of post-modernism where the facts have been reduced in importance to allow for the feelings of the observer to influence the results. The church has first felt the wave of uncompromising logic in critiquing its stories but now faces the opposing force of objective (reader-response) emotionalism in determining the understandings of reality.

The Fascination with Political Systems

            In many ways the modern church finds itself in a similar position to the early church as it struggled with the Roman bureaucracy. “The early church didn’t seek out imperial protection as an official religion because it didn’t want to be confined to the private sphere.”[6] A similar ultimatum being given to it by the political system of Modernity which demands a separation within the individual between their public persona and the private person who is free to believe as they choose within their homes.

            The political quest for progress, reason and freedom has fueled the both the economic power of capitalism and government dependency through socialism. This has created a political landscape of two extremes which people are left to choose a secularized government which enables their own pursuit of happiness. However Post-Modernism is challenging this either-or approach by calling for all options to be included simultaneously. The desire for continuous order is being replaced with the desire to protest and change whereby all voices are heard equally at once, even when they disagree with each other. The idea is to be seen and heard with the hope that “caring” will be rewarded with “change” from those still loyal to the Modernist mindset.

Modernity and Its Impact on The Life and Ministry of The Church

            The church according to Newbigin cannot sustain a maintenance mindset with the hope of a return to Christendom but instead must instead grasp a missional mindset. Unfortunately “Christianity in its Protestant form has largely accepted relegation to the private sector,”[8] and has resisted in confronting the matters of reason, demythologization, pluralism and intellectual surrender. Newbigin in pages 133-150 lists seven methods for the church to use in better engaging the culture including a focus on eschatology, increased lay theology, a resistance to denominationalism and advocating for a pure doctrine of Freedom through the lens of Christ.

            The church has responded to this cultural crisis the three ways: the Fundamentalist wing sought doctrinal order and intellectual confrontation, the Liberal wing sought the betterment of humanity through humanitarianism, social justice and a focus of the internal state of the person, and the Pentecostal wing has rejected the demythologization of Modernity in favor of the Holy Spirit, evangelism and establishing a sub-culture of Christianity. Ideally for the church in the Post-Modern era to thrive it will have to merge all three of these streams together in order to provide intellectual answers, compassion and the power of God to the culture as it stands alongside mainstream culture.


            The church at this point cannot hope to conquer the culture but must instead be a viable option for those who see the limitations of Modernity and Post-Modernism. It can only be through a deliberate “missionary encounter” with contemporary culture that the church can challenge the “whole way of perceiving, thinking, and living that we call “modern Western culture”[9] by not hiding away in the private sphere but being a visible alternative to a culture which is increasingly losing sight of its purpose and any hope for the future.

[1] Leslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: The gospel and western culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986), 1.

[2] Newbigin, 23.

[3] Newbigin, 16.

[4] Wafik Wahba, PhD

[5] Newbigin, 66.

[6] Newbigin, 99-100.

[8] Newbigin, 19.

[9] Newbigin, 1.

Creative Commons LicenseThe Impact of Modernity on the Life of the Church Cameron Conway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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The Kingdom of God in the Gospel of Matthew

The Kingdom of God According to the Gospel of Matthew

            “Your kingdom come your will be done.” Jesus’ familiar words from the “Lord’s Prayer” evoke a sense of power and curiosity as we desire God to bring this kingdom to earth, but at the same time we question what it could look like. This idea of kingdom which may seem innocuous at first is in fact a crucial doctrinal issue in not only the Gospel of Matthew but for the entirety of the New Testament.

            Therefore, what exactly is the kingdom of God in the eyes of Matthew? We shall see how in the gospel of Matthew the kingdom of God is summed up as the process by which God becomes king in the world. We shall see how Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies and intertestamental allusions in a way which the author of the gospel uses to confirm the divine and kingly status of Jesus. This revelation is presented to the new covenant community who are being encouraged to remain faithful to their new heavenly king despite the persecution and cultural shunning they were receiving. This gospel then is a testimony of how the actions, teachings and parables of Jesus confirm his kingly rule and demonstrates how followers of this persecuted yet heavenly king are to live upon the earth.

What is the Kingdom of God?

            The kingdom we speak of is more than a theological or ethereal concept, it is one of the foundational pillars of understanding the scripture. Theologians such as Thomas Schreiner are correct when he speaks of the kingdom of God being “of prime importance in New Testament theology,”[1] and others speak of this applying to the entire Bible.[2] The kingdom of God then “serves as a leading image of Jesus’ mission.”[3] A mission marked by the fulfillment of God’s long awaited promises that He through Christ would assume full rulership of Earth and those created in His image.

            On a technical level “a kingdom involves at least three things: first, a king who rules; second, subjects who are ruled; and third, the actual exercise of the function of rulership.”[4] For Matthew’s original readers they would have been familiar with this concept through the political power of Rome and its local governors in Syria and Judea. In terms of Christ and His kingdom we can see how the terminology could better be understood as being “translated as “kingly rule,” “reign,” or “sovereignty” rather than “kingdom.””[5] These definitions goes beyond mere political borders and speak of a ruler being recognized through exercising authority and not just territorial control.

            Given the Jewish undertones of the gospel of Matthew it could be assumed that the author sought to apply verses such as 1 Chr. 28:5, 2 Chr 13:8, Ps 103:19 and 145:11-13 which speak of the power of the kingdom of YHWH. This data can be combined with various declaration in Psalms[6] which speak about God as being the king of Israel. The word for kingdom often used here is “the Hebrew malkut which means “rule, reign, dominion…When malkut is used of God, it almost always refers to his authority or to his rule as the heavenly King.”[7]

            Even with these allusions the phrase “Kingdom of God” is not found in this form in the canonized scriptures. However, we do find this phrase used elsewhere in apocryphal literature such as in Psalm of Solomon 17:3-4; “But we will hope in God our savior, because the strength of our God is forever with mercy, 4and the kingdom of our God is forever over the nations.”[8]

Original Audience and Context

Literary Context

            The Gospel of Matthew is written in a style of an ancient biography and perhaps more specifically as a “hero story”[9] with a plot, setting and characterization which emphasizes the author’s key points. The author of Matthew selected specific stories and structure to convey the realities of Jesus’ actions and words in a manner which will inspire his original audience. Jesus then is presented not just as being divine, but also king and savior and through this hero motif we see how the narrative unfolds.

            It is also possible that the author of Matthew viewed his work as a continuation of the Old Testament and more specifically 2 Chronicles, the last book in the Tanakh. This is significant as 2 Chronicles emphasizes the genealogy of David, the destruction of Jerusalem and “ends with the commission to rebuild the temple.

Struggles of the Original Audience  

            The general consensus is that this gospel was written post-70AD to an audience feeling the aftereffects of the Roman-Jewish war and the renewed zeal of the surviving Pharisees trying to protect what was left of their faith. In following the post-70AD date we see a community of Jewish believers who were faced with a growing number of gentile converts as both struggled to fit into this new world. Matthew’s gospel had to preserve the traditions of the Jews to accommodate the gentiles and do it in a way which not only presented the truth of Christ but also demonstrated how they were to live within this new invisible kingdom.

Messianic Expectations

Longing for a King

            The original audience would have been familiar with the traditions of a coming Messiah who would rule the world from Jerusalem. Therefore, it is necessary that if we are “to understand the man from Nazareth, it is necessary to understand Judaism. More, it is necessary to see Jesus as firmly within Judaism rather than standing apart from it.”[10] The Messianic expectations of the coming King from the lineage of David who would rule the world stems from these intertestamental Jewish understandings. In many ways this “messianic hope was the response in early Judaism to the failure of the Davidic line to sustain even itself, much less the nation as a whole.”[11] It was the hope that God would no longer allow Israel to be oppressed by the likes of the Babylonians, Seleucids or the Romans.

Old Testament Promises

            The words of the prophet in Isaiah 40:9-11, 52:7-10 speaks of the theme of YHWH returning to Zion with imagery of a king, conqueror and as a comforter. This “theme is especially pronounced in Isaiah and grows out of the prophet’s vision of “My eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isa 6:5).”[12] But the most graphic expectation in the Old Testament comes from Daniel 7:13–14 where “a human being is ushered into the very presence of the “Ancient of Days” (i.e., God) and given universal dominion over the kingdoms of the earth.”[13] In this vision we witness YHWH upon his throne distributing his power and authority to a being like himself, yet also a human worthy of exercising eternal rulership. This “language takes us well beyond any normal idea of Messiahship such as the title ‘King of the Jews’ might have suggested.”[14]

            The words of Daniel was so clear that when Jesus confessed that “But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” The Sanhedrin knew instantly that Jesus was declaring himself to be the Son of Man from Daniel’s vision and was claiming the title of the coming eternal king. We see then that “Only in the New Testament were these mysteries fully revealed. The Old Testament, therefore, must be viewed in the light of a preparatory economy, which comes to its perfect fulfillment in Christ.”[15]

Apocryphal Influences

            The intertestamental writings are also a treasure trove of these messianic and kingdom expectations. For Matthew’s audience and the people Jesus encountered they would have been familiar with these writings and in many ways they shaped how Jesus’ hero story is portrayed in the gospels. For instance, in 1 Enoch “the elect people of God, including those who are resurrected (1 En. 22), will live in a final paradisiacal state on earth where God, whose throne is on a mountain, is an “eternal King,” “King of Kings,” or “King of the Universe.””[16]

            Along with the expectation of a coming messianic king there was also the hope of one being sent by God to once and for all to destroy Satan and his power. Assumption of Moses 10:1:3 declares that “his kingdom will appear throughout his whole creation. Then the devil will have an end. Yea, sorrow will be led away with him.”[17] A sentiment repeated in Jubilee 23:29-30

“all of their days they will be complete and live in peace and rejoicing and there will be no Satan and no evil (one) who will destroy, because all of their days will be days of blessing and healing.”[18]

Matthew’s original audience had a rich and varied expectation for a soon coming divine king who would restore the world, put an end to Satan and inaugurate the full rulership of God.

Matthew’s Use of the Kingdom of God

Kingdom of Heaven vs Kingdom of God

            First, the apparent division or differences between the concept of the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Heaven must be addressed. The reasoning for this use of “heaven” in place of “God” when speaking about the great kingdom is less of a doctrinal issue and is instead a matter of culture. Both terms mean the same thing and are interchangeable with one another, and in the case of Matthew his use of the “kingdom of heaven” is an attempt to follow the intertestamental protocol of avoiding saying the name of God (YHWH). The author of Matthew “is not speaking of a different kingdom but is simply using a very Jewish way of referring to the Creator.”[19] Understanding this we can then use “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” interchangeably.

Jesus as a Legal Descendant of David

            Matthew begins his discourse on the kingdom by first pointing out Jesus’ royal ancestry and confirms Jesus’ claim of leadership. From the beginning Jesus was recognized as a king but was misinterpreted as a natural competitor to Herod’s dynasty, a theme which continued up to the cross when Jesus was labeled the “king of the Jews” by Pilate. Theologically Jesus’ genealogy is important because it demonstrates how “the one promised in 2 Samuel 7, who will sit on David’s eternal throne, is now revealed to be more than just a man.”[20] Understanding this it is no wonder why “One of the most distinctive titles for Jesus in Matthew is Son of David. It occurs nine times, eight of which are unparalleled in any of the other Gospels, whereas Mark uses it only three times and Luke four.”[21]

John the Baptist

            Next Matthew moves to the introduction of John the Baptist whose mission was to preach repentance and announce the coming kingdom. John preached this message knowing “full well that the Jewish leaders are not fleeing from the coming wrath. This wrath forms part of the full arrival of the kingdom, which will lead to judgment of God’s enemies as well as blessing for his followers. ”[22] His declaration of “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”[23] leads into Jesus’ arrival and baptism where God announces his favor upon Jesus and in a way inaugurates his journey to kingship. In the narrative John plays the role of Elijah who was to herald the end of the age and usher in the coming king.

God as King

            Between John’s preaching and the theophany at Jesus’ baptism we see that this was no earthly king coming to set up a purely political kingdom. Rather it could be seen as God returning to his original intent for himself to be the king of Israel, making this a reversal of 1 Samuel 8-10 where the people rejected God’s kingship in favor of Saul. Therefore, this matter of Jesus’ kingship is of such importance to Matthew as:

Jesus ‘fulfils’ the institution of kingship in the Old Testament: he is the ‘son of David’, the ‘greater than Solomon’ (see on 12:3–4, 42)…The mission of Jesus was to establish God’s kingship. The phrase ‘the kingdom of God’ therefore points not to a specific situation or event, but to ‘God in control’, with all the breadth of meaning that that phrase could cover.[24]

Kingdom and authority exerted by God echoes back to the Exodus where God himself through the Angel of the LORD[25] lead and cared for the people. The idea is that God was taking back his rulership over creation and those in covenant community with Him. “Scripture begins with the declaration that God… is the sovereign ruler and King of the universe… the entire universe is God’s kingdom since he is presently Lord and King.”[26] It represents a return to Eden where the bridge between Heaven and Earth would be restored and expanded and God through Christ would once again be in total control of the world with a people loyal to himself.

Kingdom of God Through Preaching

            Matthew 4:17 records Jesus saying “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” and other exhortations imploring the people to recognize the season of God’s arrival. It was a message of change and reprioritization much like the prophets of old as “The message of the kingdom, preached by John, Jesus, and the disciples, included both the need for repentance and the announcement of the imminent coming of the kingdom.”[27]

            However, Jesus went beyond the call to repentance and the expectation of the kingdom. Following Matthew’s narrative of the temptation and arrival in Galilee we are presented with Jesus the teacher. Upon the mountain Jesus lays out the commands for how his people are to live under the laws of the new kingdom he was bringing to fruition. The Beatitudes portray a “family portrait of those who inhabit the blessed realm of the kingdom of God,”[28] and it teaches us how to live, pray and have faith in this new paradigm.

Kingdom of God Through Parables

            Beyond the discourses such as the Sermon on the Mount Jesus often conveyed the coming realities of the kingdom through the use of parables. Matthew 13 is a prime example of this use of parables and “illustrate how Jesus retells and even subverts competing understandings of Israel’s place in the divine drama.”[29] The weeds, the pearl, the hidden treasure and the net are used to show not only entry into the kingdom but the cost one must pay for citizenship. The parables in Matthew also furthers the use of divine ironic reversals in how many who expected to enjoy the Messiah’s benefits are the same ones being denied entry into the new kingdom, as we see with the parable of the vineyard in Matthew 21.

Kingdom of God in Action

            The greatest sign of the manifestation of the kingdom of God was seen in Jesus’ works of divine power and authority. Through divine healing, rebuking evil spirits or exerting control over nature Jesus is presented as having true and final authority over the natural realm. In many ways Matthew’s author paints his portrait of Jesus “by identifying him with Israel’s God. What is true of God is true of Jesus. In that vein, Jesus is often identified with the divine warrior motif found throughout the Old Testament (e.g., Ps 18:7–15; 24:7–10; 68:4; 104:1–3).”[30] The case of the calming of the storm in Matthew “is thick with Old Testament influence, particularly in Matthew’s retelling of the event. In the Old Testament, the sea symbolizes rebellion and hostility toward God’s creation… only the Lord has the ability to judge sea monsters and calm the chaotic waters” [31] (see also Ps. 74:13-14, 65:5-7, 89:6-10, 107:23-32, Ezk. 32:2, Dan. 7:2).

The Spiritual Dimension

            By exerting power and authority over creation, sickness and evil spirits Jesus states that through these signs the arrival of the kingdom has finally taken place. But with these announcements comes the warnings of rebellion, resistance and retaliation from both natural and spiritual forces. Going back to Matthew 4 we see how “Jesus’ victory over temptation appears to have prepared him to conquer the one who was the ultimate satanic prince of the Canaanites and of all wicked nations and to conquer the land in a way that Israel had not been able to.”[32]

            It is a one-sided battle which harkens back to earlier Apocryphal expectations of the coming Messiah destroying Satan. Jesus’ miracles and actions then are testimonies of his divine power and his authority over the fallen spiritual forces who control and enslave humanity. Jesus, by “Comparing a divided Satan to a divided kingdom strongly implies that Jesus understands his great foe as the head of a kingdom that, by further implication, opposes God’s kingdom.”[33] An opposition which is defeated to one degree at the cross but still active in other ways through humanity’s continued rebellion.

Already but Not-Yet

            While the author of Matthew portrays Jesus’ power and authority the coming kingdom seems to be a divided conquest. On the one hand there are tangible signs of an immediate inauguration but at the same time there seems to be an incompleteness to this newly arrived kingdom. The kingdom had established a foothold through Jesus but the totality of the conquest is far from over. Matthew’s audience is to be comforted by this realization that while the fulfillment of the kingdom is assured, they would have to endure as representatives or ambassadors of his established yet distant kingdom no matter where they lived. There is the hope then that the world is filled with embassies of the king but the fullness of that kingdom had not yet fully arrived.

Duty of Believers as Ambassadors of the Kingdom of God

            The concept of the kingdom in Matthew acts as an encouragement for his audience who had received adoption, redemption from sins and a restored relationship with God. Yet there is still work to be done and suffering which is to be endured. All of this speaks to not only an expectation of God’s involvement in the world but also an eternal hope. Matthew through the discourses and parables chosen for his hero story about Jesus lays out the expectations for the covenant community going forward. As the ultimate “mission of the kingdom includes both evangelism and edification, both worldwide proclamation and comprehensive teaching.”[34]

            Followers of Christ are to live with the expectations of God’s assistance and the reality of persecution, they are to proclaim a gospel of not only salvation from sins but also a loyalty to a truly divine king, unlike the self-assumed divinity of the Caesars. These disciples “must be prepared to give up everything that would stand in the way of wholehearted commitment to the priority of the kingdom of God, as emphasized in the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl merchant.”[35] The cost presented in the gospel is real but the rewards are ultimately greater than the cost therefore continued faithfulness to Christ despite persecution by Romans and Jewish religious leaders alike is a small price to pay for eternal citizenship in the already but not-yet kingdom of God.


            The ultimate meaning of the kingdom of God in the gospel of Matthew is the realization that finally after thousands of years of prophecy, wandering, suffering and expectations God has become king on the earth. Albeit in an already but not-yet fashion where the kingdom is marked by outposts and not assumed territory. Christ’s kingship is demonstrated through acts of authority, preaching and the call for his followers to spread the message of the coming eternal kingdom to the whole earth. From this place of expectation Matthew’s original audience was encouraged to endure suffering, persecution and the monotony of waiting as Christ’s kingdom remains present but still at a distance from its full eschatological power and authority.

            This does not mean that the kingdom is absent but instead “we may say the kingdom of God is present wherever the king is to be found. Jesus is present by his Spirit both in the church and in the world.”[36] The author of Matthew through his presentations of Jesus’ power, authority teaching, claims to Daniel 7, the titles of Son of Man, Son of David and revealed Messiah point towards the fact that the kingdom, its coming and our citizenship in it through the cross was a core narrative of the gospel.

[1] Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008), 41.

[2] Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenants: A Concise Biblical Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 243.

[3] Leland Ryken et al., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 478–479.

[4] Alva J. McClain, “The Greatness of the Kingdom,” Bibliotheca Sacra 112 (1955): 12.

[5] Dennis C. Duling, “Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven: OT, Early Judaism, and Hellenistic Usage,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 50.

[6] Ps 44:4; 48:2; 68:24; 74:12; 84:3; 93:1; 95:3; 98:6; 99:4; 145:1

[7] Walter A. Elwell and Philip Wesley Comfort, Tyndale Bible Dictionary, Tyndale Reference Library (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 775.

[8] Rick Brannan et al., eds., The Lexham English Septuagint (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012), Ps Sol 17:3–4.

[9] Leland Ryken, Jesus the Hero: A Guided Literary Study of the Gospels, Reading the Bible as Literature (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016), 35–36.

[10] Ben Witherington III, The Indelible Image: The Theological and Ethical Thought World of the New Testament: The Individual Witnesses, vol. 1 (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 68–69.

[11] Witherington III, 71.

[12] Craig A. Evans, “Inaugurating the Kingdom of God and Defeating the Kingdom of Satan,” Bulletin for Biblical Research, Vol. 15, 2005, 51.

[13] Craig L. Blomberg, “Matthew,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI;  Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic;  Apollos, 2007), 33.

[14] R. T. France, Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 1, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 50.

[15] H. Orton Wiley, Christian Theology, vol. 2 (Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1940–1952), 144.

[16] Dennis C. Duling, “Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven: OT, Early Judaism, and Hellenistic Usage,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 51.

[17] James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 1 (New York; London: Yale University Press, 1983), 931.

[18] Craig A. Evans, “Inaugurating the Kingdom of God and Defeating the Kingdom of Satan,” Bulletin for Biblical Research, Vol. 15, 2005, 56.

[19] Barney Kasdan, Matthew Presents Yeshua, King Messiah: A Messianic Commentary (Clarksville, MD: Messianic Jewish Publishers, 2011), 29.

[20] Sandra L. Richter, The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 216.

[21] Craig Blomberg, Matthew, vol. 22, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 28.

[22] Blomberg, 1992, 78.

[23] Scriptures taken from the ESV unless otherwise noted.

[24] R. T. France, Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 1, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 48–49.

[25] Likely a preincarnate form of the Son as seen in the conversation with Abraham and the pre-70AD Jewish concept of the Second YHWH.

[26] Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenants: A Concise Biblical Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 243.

[27] Mark L. Bailey, “The Doctrine of the Kingdom in Matthew 13,” Bibliotheca Sacra 156 (1999): 443.

[28] Leland Ryken et al., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 480.

[29] N. T. Wright and Michael F. Bird, The New Testament in Its World: An Introduction to the History, Literature, and Theology of the First Christians (London; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic; SPCK, 2019), 204.

[30] G. K. Beale and Benjamin L. Gladd, The Story Retold: A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic: An Imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2020), 44.

[31] Beale, 2020, 45.

[32] G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, ed. D. A. Carson, vol. 17, New Studies in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL; England: InterVarsity Press; Apollos, 2004), 173.

[33] Craig A. Evans, “Inaugurating the Kingdom of God and Defeating the Kingdom of Satan,” Bulletin for Biblical Research, Vol. 15, 2005, 67.

[34] Mark L. Bailey, “The Doctrine of the Kingdom in Matthew 13,” Bibliotheca Sacra 156 (1999): 448.

[35] Bailey, 447.

[36] Gerald Bray, “The Kingdom of God,” in Lexham Survey of Theology, ed. Mark Ward et al. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018).

Creative Commons LicenseThe Kingdom of God in the Gospel of Matthew Cameron Conway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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The Role of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts

The Role of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts

Throughout the book of Acts we encounter the growing forces which we know today as the church and the kingdom of God. From cover to cover of this book we see the systematic expansion of the gospel from Jerusalem to the majority of the Roman world in only a few decades. This level of achievement is frankly not possible through human might and wisdom alone, there must have been another factor driving this growth. That factor is the Holy Spirit, but exactly what role did the Holy Spirit play in the birth and expansion of the church?

The Holy Spirit Makes Everything Possible

“Throughout Luke’s narrative there are references to the promise, gift, outpouring, baptism, fullness, power, witness and guidance of the Holy Spirit. It would be impossible to explain the progression of the gospel apart from the work of the Spirit.”[1] For it was the Spirit which made it possible for the believers to perform the ministry they did, have the protection necessary to not be immediately wiped out and provided the miraculous confirmations to the words of the gospel. We can look at the role of the Spirit in Acts and in the early church in many ways, he is the both the wind and the fire, he is the ship and the sea and he is the road and the horse. All of these examples demonstrate to us that the Holy Spirit is both the agent of movement and the producer of the means required to be moved. A fire left calm will burn out, a ship outside of water does not move and a horse travels much farther on a road then on muddy fields.

On the theological level we understand that “he Spirit is God’s control, authority, and presence in the world. That is to say, he is the Lord. As Jesus is Prophet, Priest, and King, the Spirit is God’s authoritative word, his abiding and mediating presence, and his powerful control over all things.”[2] The Holy Spirit is the power of God upon the earth, for by the Spirit Jesus performed many miracles, had prophetic insight into people and experienced resurrection from the dead. For it was by the Holy Spirit in which Jesus was able to move in his divine nature upon the earth, and now that same spirit rests upon Jesus’ followers.

Everything Begins at Pentecost

In the first two chapters of Acts we are presented with the Holy Spirit which will come in power and immerse Christ’s followers into himself. Not only will Christ’s followers be covered externally with the Spirit like the prophets of old, but the Spirit will come to live within them just as it did with Jesus. This is why the feast of Pentecost in 30AD is such a monumental day for the church, it was the day it tapped into the power of God and to its full potential. From this point on the Holy Spirit plays leading role.

At Pentecost the apostles experience something entirely different from when they were sent out to the villages two by two in the gospels. Now they were filled with the Spirit who carried the authority of the risen Christ. Immediately they were endued with the ability to speak in tongues and were filled to the point of appearing drunk. It is then that Peter stood up and gave the first sermon of the church, one which was guided by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit spoke through Peter and confirmed his presence among the 120 and at least 3,000 people came into the kingdom. This confirms Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:20, “for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

In many other instances with the likes of Peter, Paul, Stephen, Philip we see the Holy Spirit being upon them and speaking through them in order for the gospel to be spread. “This implies that the Spirit inspires the preaching itself. This does not mean that the Spirit is only the force behind the proclamation (subjective genitive) as he also proves the validity of the words themselves (objective genitive), illuminating the preaching to the hearers, resulting in faith.”[3] The Holy Spirit does not only provide the words but also the faith and boldness to proclaim them, as we witnessed with Stephen. He must have been aware that his closing remarks would enrage the Sanhedrin since he was accusing the of many things, but at the same time he saw the Spirit and was given a vision to prepare him for his end.

The Holy Spirit Moving in Power

While many stop at the works of illumination and inspiration by the Spirit the book of Acts demonstrates another level of His involvement, acts of power. We consistently see in the development of the early church a pattern of the Spirit sending people to specific places, the word being preached and miracles manifesting to confirm the words. Stott proclaims that, “Moreover, the word and the signs would goo together, the signs and wonders confirming the word proclaimed with boldness.”[4] This was not limited to only the apostles as we see the likes of Philip witnessing the same pattern by the Holy Spirit.

In Samaria, Macedonia, Asia and all other places where the kingdom expanded into the Spirit moved through healings and other miracles. Paul gained the attention of Sergius Paullus by the blinding of the sorcerer. Peter saw the region of Joppa open up from because of the resurrection of Tabitha, days after Pentecost Peter and John saw the crippled healed. Philip performed wonders in Samaria beyond the ability of the famous Elymas. In each instance, the Holy Spirit was proclaiming that Jesus is the Messiah and that these men were not just speaking empty words.

We also witness to the fact that the Godhead is unified in the expansion of the kingdom as “we also might view this unity of activity with an eye toward the special function of each member of the Trinity: the executive is the Father, the architect is the Son, and the contractor is the Holy Spirit.”[5] Paul himself commented on this synthesis of the Holy Spirit moving in words (inspiration) and power in 1 Corinthians 2:4-5, “4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”

Just as the Spirit confirmed Jesus’ words so now he does the same through his followers. By this manifestation of the Spirit combined with the words the people who heard the preaching were not just left to judge the words alone but witnessed the accompanying confirmations of the Spirit. Yet one is not exclusive without the other as miracles do not preclude preaching, and preaching does not render unnecessary miracles. For it is the same Spirit which empowers believers to do both and without the Holy Spirit neither can be accomplished.

The Holy Spirit Guided the Early Church

Beyond the Holy Spirit’s guidance in what to preach, He also directed the apostles and evangelists of the early church where to preach. At the beginning the twelve received the words of Jesus that the Gospel would spread from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria and then to the ends of the earth. Yet they did not receive a timeline or a step by step check list of when to visit a town, when to visit it and who in the town they were to preach to. That responsibility fell upon the Holy Spirit who guided people to the right town, at the right time to speak to the right person. Philip for example was divinely lead to go into the wilderness along to road, where he found the Ethiopian official who believed and carried the gospel home with him. An entire region outside of Judea would not receive the gospel because Philip went where the Spirit told him to go.

We see a similar example with Peter when he was sent for by Cornelius, if it hadn’t of been for the vision he may have refused the offer and the doctrinally critical conversion of Cornelius wouldn’t of happened and the gospel would not have gone to the Gentiles. Again, with Paul who through the Spirit was (for a time) forbidden from going to Asia. “Luke does not give the precise way in which the Holy Spirit imparts his will to the apostles, but the most likely means was through the gift of prophecy possessed by Silas (15:32). What is important here is that God sometimes intervenes in man’s best intentions.”[6] It was not that the Spirit didn’t want the gospel to be preached in Asia but that His timetable knew it was better for Paul to go to Macedonia first.

It becomes clear then that through the persecutions and the leading of the Spirit the church expanded according to the planning of the Holy Spirit and not man. If not for the spirit the kingdom could have remained confined in Jerusalem or Judea for centuries, and the divide between Jewish believers and Gentile believers could of taken even longer to mend.

Not only would regions and peoples have been excluded from the kingdom but key people as well. For it was by the Spirit that Saul was converted, commissioned and sent out to preach the gospel. We see the Holy Spirit as the light which encountered him on the road to Damascus, then we see the Spirit speaking to Ananias to heal Saul and to give him his commission to preach. This call to preach to the Gentiles came again to Paul by Jesus (through the Spirit) who numerous times offered encouragement, warning and direction. It can be argued that without the movement of the Spirit Saul would have remained the persecutor of the church and the Greco-Roman world would have looked much different in terms of the kingdom of God.

The Holy Spirit Confirms the Gospel

Aside from these three outward activities of speaking, working of miracles, and given direction there is another way in which the Spirit moved in the book of Acts, by acting as the confirmation of one’s repentance. Peter spoke bluntly about this on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:38;

38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

Jesus spoke in Gethsemane of the Holy Spirit coming as the confirming sign of his presence and as our comforter to lead us into truth. The presence of the Holy Spirit alone in a person contributed greatly to the maintaining of the expanded kingdom of God. This is because “the Holy Spirit bears witness to the believer’s sonship… This is not just an inner feeling. It is a Divine witness of a new relationship brought about by the Holy Spirit; and when it is accomplished, He is the One Who testifies to its reality.”[7] Beyond the compelling words heard and miraculous seen the new believers were rooted and grounded in their belief by this abiding presence, which lasts much longer than words or sights.


Understanding all which has been spoken we clearly see the role that the Holy Spirit played in the birth and expansion of the church. First the Holy Spirit provided inspiration, illumination, recollection and revelation to the believers so they could preach the gospel and argue from the scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah. Secondly the Holy Spirit would then confirm these words through healings, miracles and prophetic insights. Third the Spirit acted as the confirmation sign that a person was a believer in Christ. Lastly the Holy Spirit acted as a living blueprint for how the Kingdom of God was to expand, providing the time, place, opportunities and people who would best respond to the gospel so the local church could be established.

This movement of the Holy Spirt was not a one-generation event. As even today “We need to receive the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit in our lives and our ministries, to the greatest extent possible, in order to serve God well in our world.” Both then and now the Holy Spirit is recognized as the living presence of God which is active in the earth to bring about the expansion of the kingdom and the spread of the gospel into the hearts of all people.

Occurrences of the Holy Spirit in ActsThe Holy Spirit’s activity or role described  
1:2Gives instructions
1:5The one who will baptize(fill) the believers
1:8Bringer of power
1:16Inspirer of David’s words
1:26The one who chose Judas’ replacement
2:4The one the 120 were filled with
2:5The giver of new languages
2:14-38The inspirer of Peter’s sermon
2:17The part of God poured out on the people
2:18The enabler of prophecy
2:33Given to Christ to give to us
2:38The gift given in exchange for repentance
3:6-8The healer of the cripple
4:8Gives power and inspiration to Peter’s words
4:25Inspirer of David’s words
4:31The living presence of God in the believers
5:3Representation of God among the people
5:9Representation of God among the people
5:12Performer of signs and wonders
5:32A witness to what was done to Christ
6:3Giver of wisdom
6:5Evidence of God in Stephen
6:10Defender of Christ
7:51The one resisted by the unrepentant
7:56Giver of Stephen’s heavenly vision
8:6Performer of signs and wonders
8:15-17The one who will baptize(fill) the believers
8:19-20Transferred between believer’ hands
8:26-29Giver of direction to Philip
8:39Performer of a miracle
9:3The light on the road to Damascus
9:10-15The one who spoke to Ananias and commissioned Saul
9:17The one who will baptize(fill) the believers
9:18Healer of Paul’s blindness
9:31The comforter
9:40The power greater than death
10:19Interpreter and giver of Peter’ vision
10:38The anointing on Jesus
10:44-47The one who will baptize(fill) the believers
11:12Interpreter and giver of Peter’ vision
11:15-16The one who will baptize(fill) the believers
11:21Enabler of the church’s success in Antioch
11:24Confirmation of God’s presence in someone
11:28Giver of prophecy
12:10-11Peter’s deliverer from prison (along with an angel)
12:23Killed Herod for his self-idolatry
13:2, 4Giver of instruction and ministry commissioning
13:11Made the sorcerer blind
13:52Confirmation of God’s presence in someone
14:9-10Performed a healing
15:8Gift from God
15:28Gives confirmation to the decision of the council
16:6-7Giver of direction and ministry plans
16:9Giver of dreams and visions
16:26Sent an earthquake to Paul’s prison
17:23The unknown God?
18:9Giver of dreams and visions
19:2, 6The one who will baptize(fill) the believers
19:11-12Performer of miracles
19:21Giver of direction and ministry plans
20:10The power greater than death
20:22-23Foreteller of Paul’s upcoming troubles
20:28The appointer of overseers
21:4, 11Foreteller of Paul’s upcoming troubles
22:6The light on the road to Damascus
22:13Healed Paul’s blindness
22:14The giver of Paul’s commission
23:11(through Jesus) Giver of dreams and visions
26:12The light on the road to Damascus
26:16-18The giver of Paul’s commission
28:3Protected Paul from the viper (and shipwreck)
28:8Performer of healing
28:25-27Inspirer of Isaiah’s words

[1] John Stott, The Message of Acts (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 33.

[2] John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006), 162.

[3] Simo Frestadius, “The Spirit and Wisdom in 1 Corinthians 2:1–13,” ed. Paul Elbert, Journal of Biblical and Pneumatological Research 3 (2011): 68–69.

[4] John Stott, The Message of Acts (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 100.

[5] Jack W. Hayford. Hayford’s Bible Handbook (Nashville, TN; Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995).

[6] William H. Baker, “Acts,” in Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, vol. 3, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995), 909.

[7] Guy P. Duffield and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, Foundations of Pentecostal Theology (Los Angeles, CA: L.I.F.E. Bible College, 1983), 277.

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Personal Responsibility and The Judgment Of God

Personal Responsibility and the Judgement of God

One of the common themes which ties the minor and major prophets together is the threat of the judgment of God against His covenant people because of their sins. Repeatedly God used the prophets to warn the people that their current course of action would lead to divinely allowed calamity. We see in the exilic era of Judah the people began to believe that they had been unjustly punished for the sins of their ancestors. Was this accusation against God correct or did the people miss the point of the judgment they had endured. This leads us to the larger question, what is the correlation between personal responsibility and God’s judgment on his people?

A Proverb about the Judgment of God

During the exilic era and even in the years leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem the people had adopted their own parable to explain what had happened to them. “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” This proverb is understood to mean “Children atone for the misdeeds of their fathers, or the sins of the fathers are visited on their innocent children.”[1] Through this understanding the people believed that in their eyes they were innocent and did not deserve the calamity which they had experienced.

This complaint from the people did not escape the ears of God nor the prophets as both Jeremiah and Ezekiel addressed this complaint. First Jeremiah stated in 31:28-30;

28 And it shall come to pass that as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring harm, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, declares the Lord. 29 In those days they shall no longer say: “‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ 30 But everyone shall die for his own iniquity. Each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.” (ESV)

Here we have the image which “depicts a person’s involuntary reaction to an extremely unpleasant taste. Since experience cannot be transferred, the saying implies that the children’s suffering for their parents’ sin is unnatural.” [2] God is attempting to assure the people that it is their actions which will bring the sourness into their own lives.

Years later in another country Ezekiel also faced the same complaint from the people taken in the earlier exile to Babylon, in 18:1-4 the prophet states;

“The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.” (ESV)

Ezekiel and Personal Responsibility

The effect of time is evident as “Jeremiah looked forward to the day when this proverb would no longer be used; but Ezekiel insists that it should cease forthwith.”[3] On a theological level “Ezekiel was a pioneer in developing the doctrine of individual responsibility”[4] and tried to demonstrate that the people in exile with him were there because of their own participation in their parent’s sins. The covenant people which had been compared to sheep, children and a wife had come to the theological conclusion that they could act in whatever manner they chose and not face judgment because of the presence of YHWH in the temple and the covenant of Moses.

We see then that the judgment of God fell upon Judah not because of the sins of previous generations but because the present generation continued in the sins of their fathers. While there were reprieves under Josiah and Hezekiah the overall atmosphere of the nation had remained spiritually corrupt. The people did not recognize the grace given to them but continued to act in whatever manner they pleased, for they assumed that God would only bring good things upon them as long as they maintained the rituals. This belief also created the acceptance of the prophets which would do nothing more say pleasing words to the people and assured eternal protection of Jerusalem. It is these same prophets which held influence over the priesthood which would go on to reject and assault Jeremiah.

The Judgment of God on His Stubborn Sheep

Those who witnessed the destruction accomplished by Babylon only did so because they like misguided sheep continued in the rutted path their others set out. Despite warnings from the true prophets they did amend their hearts or ways. “The Lord had expected from his people fidelity (honesty/truth), wisdom and the practice of godliness. Instead, graft, power, cheating, greed and perfidy were the order of the day.”[5] Therefore, the judgment of God was just upon them, as they were not innocent of the crimes of their ancestors because they themselves were also committing them. The people had lost sight of living in a real covenantal relationship with God and settled for the routine religiosity they had adopted. The words of Hosea 6:6 were far from their hearts, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

Even with the covenant which they had put their trust in, the people ignored Moses’ warning in Deuteronomy 24:16. “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.” The people also ignored the long line of potential curses in Deuteronomy 28 and the promise of destruction in exchange for covenant unfaithfulness in Deuteronomy 7. Among all of this evidence “here the belief that God had no direct concern with the individual is opposed: the fact that God will restore the innocent descendants of the original exiles affirms the doctrine of individual responsibility for sin.”[6]


Now then what is the correlation between personal responsibility and the judgment of God on his people? It is a correlation that God will not judge a child for the actions of their parents if they do not do as their parents did. Conversely a wicked child would not be spared judgment because of the righteousness of their parents. Each generation is judged upon their own actions, and what we saw with the destruction of Samaria and Jerusalem was God’s intervention against a generation which did not repent but made the deplorable actions of their ancestors look like child’s play. Even when God acted in judgment He always did so as a last resort when the people refused to repent and whenever judgment was passed a remnant was preserved and a hope was given to the few that did not share in the sins of the nation.

[1] Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 8 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 279–280.

     [2] John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), Eze 18:2.

[3] John B. Taylor, Ezekiel: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 22, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1969), 148.

[4] Duane A. Garrett, “Ezekiel, Theology Of,” Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 231.

[5] William VanGemeren. Interpreting The Prophetic Word (Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 1990), 302

[6] B. M. Pickering, “Jeremiah,” in A New Commentary on Holy Scripture: Including the Apocrypha, vol. 1 (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1942), 506.

Creative Commons LicensePersonal Responsibility and The Judgment Of God Cameron Conway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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