It has become popular and trendy of late to state that Jesus is central to interpreting who God is and also in understanding the Bible. This is often accompanied by the accusation that many “Christians” are guilty of biblio-idolatry which is a fancy term for worship of the book vs. worship of Jesus. Many excellent articles, posts and books have been written about the entire Bible being about and pointing to Jesus and that He is the fulfillment of everything written about God. We are rightly encouraged to interpret everything in the Bible through the lens of what Jesus said and did, rather than a “flat reading” of scripture which essentially places every word found in the book on an equal footing with Jesus’ words and deeds. The fancy term for this is a “Jesus-centred hermeneutic”. All good stuff and wise counsel.
There are two challenges with this Jesus is central approach that are worth addressing. The first is that if we are to be honest in taking it, we need to admit that our primary source of knowledge of Jesus’ words and deeds comes from the Bible itself. However, this can be addressed through a disciplined interpretative approach to the material. A challenging but not impossible task and also not the purpose of this post.
The second challenge has more to do with human nature and our profound ability to only hear what we want to hear and filter out those things that do not fit our worldview or beliefs. This is a huge issue in the recent Jesus-centred hermeneutic trend. Put another way, whenever a claim is made for a Jesus is central approach the first question we should be asking is – which Jesus is central? After all, did he not say that many would come in His name who were not to be believed? That would imply that some type of discernment would be required to decide whether to believe them or not.
Some recent examples the require our discernment:
- Politicians of every stripe claim to be representing “Christian” values (code for I have Jesus’ interests at heart).
- The recent furor at Wheaton College where a professor stated that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.
- A surge in discussion and claims of various forms of universalism. This manifests in all kinds of views such as “everyone will be saved“, “everyone is already saved“, “the kingdom of God is in you whether you believe or not“
- Removal of responsibility or accountability with statements like “God is all love and acceptance because that’s who Jesus was” and “you don’t have to do anything to receive from Jesus/God“.
There is no doubt that the Jesus is central perspective is trending in a big way but again it needs to be asked, which Jesus is central? If we are going to take this path seriously then everything Jesus said and did must be taken into account, not just the parts that make us feel warm, fuzzy, loved and included. After all, it is easy to follow someone who constantly loves, hugs, cuddles and heals us isn’t it? This seems to be the aspect of Jesus that is getting most of the attention these days on social media. Note that it was also the aspect of Jesus that drew the huge crowds in His day. What if He is more complex than that? It wasn’t until He revealed the other facets of who He was and placed responsibility on them or described what it would cost to follow Him that the crowds diminished.
In 2015, a NASA spacecraft sent back a rarely seen image of the side of the moon we do not see from earth. It took significant effort and commitment to acquire and share this image in comparison to the one most often seen and shared. Similarly, the loving, accepting, universalist view of Jesus is getting much attention of late. Often it is contrasted with the harsh, judgemental view of the biblio-idolaters which is actually low hanging fruit and not all that difficult. It is far more challenging to present a full perspective of God in human form, much like the challenge of observing the far side of the moon. As a first step toward this, we feel compelled to shine some light on other aspects of Jesus. Working on the assumption that we can trust the primary sources of His words and deeds, the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we surveyed those accounts of His life and found the following:
- Ten references of Jesus or God involved in throwing someone into “darkness, fire, hell, outside, sea or depths”
- Four references of Jesus saying “away or depart from me”
- Sixteen cause and effect statements (e.g. if/then, unless, whoever does, etc.) In other words it is necessary to do something to receive something.
These are just the key points that caught our attention that should give everyone pause to consider which Jesus is central in their worldview. Note that we are not trying to argue doctrines of eternal judgement and torment, predestination or any other weighty subject but only suggesting that what we believe, do and say matters and has consequences. However, don’t just take our word for it but read the passages yourself and let them sink in. They are included in the second portion of this post for your reference.
By all means, adopt a Jesus centred hermeneutic. It will dramatically change your view of God and understanding of difficult passages of scripture. However, while doing so, make sure you don’t create a Jesus of your own imagination by leaving out the challenging bits. After all, which Jesus is central to your worldview?
…continue for all scripture references
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matt 6:13,14
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” Matt 6:21-23
“I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matt 8:11,12
“Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. Matt 11:20
“Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven, is my brother and sister and mother” Matt 12:48-58
“The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matt 13:41,42
“This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matt 13:49,50
After lambasting the teachers of the law and Pharisees with seven woes throughout Matthew chapter 23 he finishes with this: “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” Matt 23:33
“But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time, and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matt 24:48-50
The parable of the talents in Matthew chapter 24 concludes with this “And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matt 24:30
In the sheep and goats passage “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Matt 25:41 and “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Matt 25:46
“If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when him comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” Mark 8:38
“And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ‘their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’” Mark 9:42-48
“I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Mark 10:15
“If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” Luke 9:26
“But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ’Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The Kingdom of God is near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. Woe to you Korazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you have been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgement than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths.” Luke 10:10-15
“Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering. Luke 11:52
“I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before me, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God.” Luke 12:8,9
“But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming’, and he then begins to beat the menservants and maidservants and to eat and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.” Luke 12:45,46
“But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Luke 13:5
Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us’ but he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from’ then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you and you taught in our streets’ but he will reply ‘ I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!” Luke 13:23-27
The parable of the ten minas (similar to the parable of the talents) in Luke chapter 19 concludes with this “But for those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them – bring them here and kill them in front of me.” Luke 19:27
“I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” John 3:3
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” John 3:16-18
“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed from death unto life.” John 5:24
“Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.” John 5:28,29
“For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raised him up on the last day.” John 6:40
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” John 6:53:54
“You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.” John 8:23,24
“You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire…The reason you do not hear me is that you do not belong to God.” John 8:44,47
“If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” John 8:51
“The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe me because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:25-28
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” John 11:25,26
“When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come into the world to judge the world, but to save it. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him on the last day.” John 12:47,48