The kingdom of heaven prior to the final redemption can be likened to a partisan movement, such as Robin Hood and his men or the European freedom fighters that fought in Nazi occupied territory. The Partisans is a teaching on Hebrews 2 in light of Psalm 8 and the parable of Luke 19:12ff concerning all things in subjection to the Son and the revelation of the kingdom.
Lancaster’s sermons on Hebrews are always fascinating, but I really think he outdid himself with this one.
His goal for this sermon was to make it all the way through Hebrews 2. Last week we saw how Messiah is higher than the angels, and this week we explore, among other things, how Jesus had to be temporarily made a little lower than the angels, just as the rest of humanity is, in order to be elevated so that all things are put under his feet.
Lancaster cites this chapter as well as portions of 1 Corinthians 15 as something of a midrash on Psalm 8 and 110. In fact, Psalm 8 (I provided the link for your convenience) is a very significant quote used by the writer of Hebrews here:
For He did not subject to angels the world to come, concerning which we are speaking. But one has testified somewhere, saying,
“What is man, that You remember him?
Or the son of man, that You are concerned about him?
“You have made him for a little while lower than the angels;
You have crowned him with glory and honor,
And have appointed him over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things in subjection under his feet.”
For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him.
–Hebrews 2:5-8 (NASB)
Along with Psalm 110, we see that literally everything has been placed under King Messiah’s control and authority, everything in Heaven, on Earth, and in the age to come. There are no exceptions and further, that Messiah’s Kingship and authority are not to be realized in the future, but they exist in the present (at the time of the writing of Hebrews), that is, right now.
OK. That’s incredibly cool. Jesus is King. I hear that a lot in hymns at church. Problem is, as I look around, I don’t see a world ruled by the Messiah King. I don’t see all of Israel’s enemies defeated, all the Jewish people returned to their Land, a world-wide reign of total peace, a Temple of God in Jerusalem, the Spirit of God poured out on all flesh, or any of the other things the Prophets of old said would accompany the Kingship of Messiah.
So how can everything already be under Messiah’s authority if the Earth is still such an awful mess?
While they were listening to these things, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately. So He said, “A nobleman went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself, and then return. And he called ten of his slaves, and gave them ten minas and said to them, ‘Do business with this until I come back.’ But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ When he returned, after receiving the kingdom…
…But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence.”
–Luke 19:11-15, 27 (NASB)
You’ll probably want to read all of Luke 19:11-27 to get the full parable, but for the sake of the length of this missive, I quoted only the most relevant portions.
Jesus is speaking a parable about Herod, who escaped ancient Israel after being on the wrong end of a dispute, and ran off to Rome, and then due to circumstances you can learn in Lancaster’s sermon, was made King of Israel. Now he was King and given all authority as such while in Rome, but the people in Israel had no idea and they believed they were subject to their current pretender King.
Of course, as Lancaster said, Rome would have sent a dispatch ahead of Herod’s return announcing his Kingship and authority, but there would certainly be people who would not want to accept him. If it wouldn’t be more or less suicidal, the rebels could have sent a dispatch back saying, we don’t want to accept him as King. But the parable says that’s what happened.
Now Lancaster says we can apply this parable to Jesus as well. When he ascended, he sat at the right hand of the Father and at that point in time, everything was placed under his authority as King. But, he was (and is) still in a far away place, but he’s returning. It is also true that a “dispatch” has been sent to his Kingdom, that is, the world, saying that Jesus has been made King and that he already has authority, but people have responded that they want the current King and do not want the King who is currently far away and who will return only later (or as many atheists say, a King who does not exist at all).
The population under a not present Herod was divided into those who were loyal to the current King and those who were loyalist to the King who would return.
We are like that, too. Plenty of people, probably most people worldwide, are loyal to the current King of our world, but we who are believers are loyalists to the one we know is truly King and who will one day return.
Lancaster used the metaphor of Robin Hood and his Merry Men who were the Partisans or members of the Resistance movement of their day, working against the current King John but remaining loyal to the true King Richard, who one day would return. Only when King Richard returned would Robin and the loyalists be rewarded. Until that time, they were in constant danger.
And so it is with us. Actually, I was thinking of the Resistance movement in Nazi occupied France during World War 2 who were always in hiding, covertly committing acts of sabotage, struggling to make the way for the Allied invasion, and remaining loyal to the true authority over France. They were physically in a Nazi occupied land, living among them, eating, doing business, interacting with the occupiers, but they did not collaborate and were not of the subjects of the false “King”.
And so it is with us. Lancaster made great points about being slaves to the material world if you are a slave to the current King . But servants of the true King are free of the traps of the material world and fear of death in our loyalty to the King who has authority over Heaven, Earth, and the Messianic Age. Yet the Messianic Age is only a doorway to the furthest extent of Messiah’s Kingdom, the life in the world to come…eternity.
Being a “resistance fighter” is what it is to be a believer. We are loyalists to the coming King. We oppose the current King, who is the master of death, HaSatan, the adversary, “the devil.”
Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.
–Hebrews 2:14-15 (NASB)
Some midrashim equate HaSatan with the angel of death and others do not, but according to Lancaster, the writer of Hebrews spoke of the two as the same. If you thought this world was it and there was nothing else, then death is death and when you die, that’s it. Your reward is confined to this world so you might as well “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we all die.” Of course, that doesn’t mean all atheists are totally materialistic or can’t lead moral lives, but they are subjects only of the present world, so this is all they’ve got.
If we aren’t subjects of the King of this world but of the true King who has authority over everything, not just the Earth, and who is promised to return to deliver a Kingdom that is much finer and more just, a Kingdom of absolute peace and knowledge of God, then we don’t have to be afraid of or limited by the threat of death. We don’t accept death. Death is the enemy. Death can be personified. We oppose death.
Lancaster covered the Biblical rationale for why Jesus was made King and exalted over all, and it’s not just because he’s the Son of God and the Divine Logos. Believe it or not, he actually had to do something and he had a choice about whether or not to do it…that is he had to die. You can listen to the recording to get all the details and I highly recommend that you do, for it shows that in his victory over death, by dying for us all, we, as believers, also conquered and more, we became brothers (I’ll say more on that in a moment).
So the two interrelated themes of most of Hebrews 2 as Lancaster sees them, are that we, as believers, are loyalists to the coming true King and not the current pretender on the Throne, and that the defeat of death by Messiah not only was a choice on his part, but granted those of us who are his subjects eternal life. It was that conquest by Messiah that merited him a name above all names and his being granted authority over all things in existence right now, even though we can’t currently see his full control in our present world.
Lancaster delivered a fabulous interpretation of both themes and I strongly recommend that you listen to this sermon to get the full details.
What Did I Learn?
Although Christianity applies everything written in the New Testament as automatically applying to the Church, that is the body of Gentile believers that includes those Jewish people who have converted and assimilated into Gentile Christianity, Lancaster reminds us that the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews was Jewish and he was writing to an entirely Jewish audience.
When the writer of Hebrews says Messiah refers to his followers as “brothers” (verse 12) and “children” (verse 13), he was talking about Israel, the Jewish people. There’s no direct connection that says he was applying those words to Gentile believers as well. Lancaster believes this ultimately includes all non-Jewish disciples of the Master as “brothers,” but I don’t think it’s that simple.
John 20:17 is one of the verses that shows Jesus referring to the disciples as “brothers” after his resurrection, so there was something in his death and resurrection that changed his relationship to the Jewish people, something the Jewish believers received as a result of Messiah’s trial in dying. However, Jesus and the writer of Hebrews are talking to Jewish people.
I’ve been having a conversation with a Jewish believer in the discussion thread on another of my blog posts about the role and relationship between believing Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic Jewish synagogue context. He believes in distinctiveness in identity, but that Gentiles should have equal access to resources and honors (aliyot, for instance) in the Messianic Jewish community. Others have commented that even if Jews and Gentiles should attend the same Messianic group, it would be justifiable for a separation (something like how men and women are separated in Orthodox synagogues, mirroring the court of the women in Herod’s temple) between Jews and Gentiles to exist.
My view is that Messianic Judaism, like the present and coming Kingdom of God, is a process, not a point event. There is going to be variability between different congregations based on tradition and history, at least until the coming of Messiah, just like there will be a slow revelation of evidence of Messiah’s Kingship, starting in the Gospels and ultimately culminating only with the King’s return.
Some months ago, I read Yann Martel’s novel Life of Pi, which I thoroughly enjoyed. At the point when Pi (you’ll have to have read the novel or have seen the film to understand what I’m about to say) realizes he’s sharing a small lifeboat with an adult Bengal Tiger, he realizes how unsafe this is (a huge understatement) and rapidly forms a small, makeshift raft, tying it to the lifeboat, and then launching it behind the larger vessel. This becomes his haven from the Tiger until he eventually learns how to “convince” the Tiger they can co-exist on the lifeboat.
I sometimes see that as the current relationship between Jews and Gentiles within the very specific context of Messianic Judaism. We are struggling with many things as “resistance fighters” in an unholy Kingdom and one of our struggles is how the different populations in the body of Messiah are supposed to interact, especially with the centuries long history of enmity between Jews and Christians. One way is to expect one population to assimilate into the other.
Historically, Gentile Christianity has demanded Jews to assimilate into them as a consequence of worship of the Jewish Messiah. In much more recent times, certain groups organized under “Hebrew Roots” have expected Gentiles to “assimilate” into a quasi-Jewish religious and cultural body (with varying degrees of “Jewishness”) becoming a single identity.
Other more Jewish aspects of Messianic Judaism, in partial reparation for past injuries, require a wholly Jewish environment in which to live and be Messianic Jews. Gentiles are welcome, but with the understanding that they are entering a Jewish environment as Gentiles. No compromises, no assimilation.
Pi on the raft and the Tiger in the lifeboat…for now.
The writer of Hebrews didn’t account for the presence of Gentiles at all in his sermon and we should do the same. But while this sermon clarifies a good many things for us, well “me” anyway, it doesn’t paint a portrait of Jewish/Gentile relationships in Messiah. Israel is Messiah’s brother, and the Jewish people are his children. It is only faith that allows me to take some small comfort that as a Gentile disciple and subject of the Messiah King, for he has dominion over everything including all the Gentile nations, that I may be called a “brother” and “child” too, though not in the same way as Israel, for Messiah is Israel’s first-born from the dead.
Not quite as dramatic or heroic as being a partisan, a resistance fighter, or one of Robin Hood’s Merry Men, but I’ll accept whatever seat at the table I’m offered. As Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliot) said in the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), “At my age, I’m prepared to take a few things on faith.”