Rob Moll is the associate editor of ChristianityToday.com, the weekly newsletter of Christianity Today International, likely the most popular journal in the evangelical circles of Christendom. In the August 14 (2007) edition, Mr. Moll wrote:
I find Jesus a difficult person to understand. He calls his boldest disciple Satan. He furiously cleanses the temple. He tells ambiguous parables that confuse even his closest followers. Jesus attracts huge crowds only to perplex them by telling them to eat his flesh and drink his blood. After a lifetime of sermons, I have yet to understand Jesus, and I don’t expect to anytime soon (read the article here).
Some writers try to be “cute,” framing introductory paragraphs in shocking ways so as to elicit attention and entice readers into a more intense consideration of religious thought. One has no way of knowing if such was Mr. Moll’s intention in the misguided “teaser” cited above, but who can be sure? Such was more otherwise than wise. Allow me to illustrate how irreverently off-base these careless comments are.
Rebuke of Peter
Some six months before his death, Jesus began to more precisely inform his disciples of his impending maltreatment at the hands of Jewish leaders; these painful events would culminate in the Lord’s murder. Peter was shocked and did not hesitate to “rebuke” his Lord, explosively contradicting him with a strong expression, “this will never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22).
With a three-fold chastisement, Christ characterized his impetuous apostle as:
- Satan (i.e., Satan-like on the immediate occasion);
- a stumbling block; and
- one who is more yielding to emotional judgment than divine revelation (v. 23).
Peter, with his thoughtless zeal, would have the Savior detour around the cross. In that event, the whole race of sinful humanity—past, present, and future—would inhabit hell eternally. It was a devilish suggestion and worthy of strong rebuke. Doubtless, Peter himself subsequently was grateful for the disciplinary charge. The admonition is hardly one that is “difficult” to perceive.
Cleansing the Temple
There were two occasions on which Jesus drove out money-changers from the temple. One was near the commencement of his preaching ministry (John 2:13ff), and the other was during the final week before his death (Matthew 21:12). In neither case do the Gospel writers explicitly state that the Savior was “furious.” One may surmise that if he is so disposed, but it may be more accurate to describe his disposition as a thoroughly controlled, active, and dramatic rebuke.
The Lord had every right to do what he did. To refer to the temple as “my Father’s house” is a clear affirmation of his unique relationship with the Father (see also Matthew 17:24-27). Bernard observes that the expression “my Father” is used sixteen times in Matthew, four times in Luke, and twenty-seven times in John (1928, 91). The use of the singular pronoun “my” is an unequivocal affirmation of Jesus’ deity (cf. John 5:17-18; 20:17b), which is the theme of the Gospel of John (20:30-31).
When the disciples observed Christ’s vigorous actions, they were reminded of Psalm 69, and the saying: “Zeal for your house has eaten me up” (v. 9). Though the text had an initial application to David (cf. Romans 11:9), and the hostility to which he was subjected in his zeal for Jehovah, both John and Paul (Romans 15:3) see an ultimate fulfillment in Christ’s sufferings. This is recognized as a typological prophecy.
The disciples appear to have viewed the language of Psalm 69 as messianic in its ultimate import as they observed his actions on this occasion (cf. Malachi 3:1ff). Professor Franklin Johnson of the University of Chicago observed that in both the Hebrew and Septuagint (Greek version of the Old Testament) texts, the verb takes a past tense form, “has eaten me up.” Yet John changes it to a future tense, the design of which is “to show that he regards the psalm as Messianic, and this verse as a prediction of the zeal of Christ for the house of God” (1895, 323, cf. 77-78). The Lord doubtless was cognizant that he was fulfilling prophecy. And yet the writer under review appears to be critical of the Master’s actions.
The distinguished associate editor takes a backhanded slap at the Son of God by suggesting that his teaching was so deliberately obscure that not even his disciples understood him. Tragically, this teacher, who by reason of time ought to know better, needs to return to the nursery class of New Testament analysis (Hebrews 5:12).
Any serious student of the teaching of Jesus is aware that the Lord’s parables were carefully designed to be veiled to his critics, but, upon closer spiritual inquiry, were explained to honest souls who sought the truth. In his classic work, Biblical Hermeneutics, Milton Terry characterized the parables as “tests of character.” Those who were spiritually dull would not grasp the lessons nor care to pursue the material, and thus would operate under some restraint in seeking the Messiah’s death prematurely. But others, who were honest, as were the disciples (cf. Matthew 13:36; Mark 4:10), would seek out the Teacher and have the treasures of truth carefully explained to them (1890, 192; cf. Edersheim 1947, 579-580; Foster 1971, 599-560).
To criticize the teaching of the Son of God is an affront to the Father himself, for the Lord said: “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me” (John 7:16).
Eating and Drinking Flesh and Blood
Our critical friend is exasperated that the Savior would marshal huge crowds only to leave them “perplexed” by encouraging them to eat his flesh and drink his blood. The gentleman appears to have erred in the same fashion as the Roman Catholic Church has in its dogma of transubstantiation.
Even many novice students are aware of the intent of Christ’s instruction on this occasion (John 6:22ff). The verbs “eateth” and “drinketh” (vv. 54,56) are present tense forms, revealing that Jesus expected his auditors to be eating and drinking at that very moment. No cannibalism was enjoined; rather, as the Savior subsequently explained: “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh profits nothing: the words that I have spoken unto you are spirit, and are life” (v. 63). Only someone whose mind is captive to crass literalism misses the point here.
After making these trite and reckless charges against him who is the depository of “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3), the editor distressingly complains: “After a lifetime of sermons, I have yet to understand Jesus, and I don’t expect to anytime soon.”
Sadly, my concluding summation must be (a) Pity those who have had to listen to all those sermons. (b) The gentleman amply has demonstrated the reality of his confession, namely that he does not understand Jesus. (c) He has no business editing a religious journal that professes to represent “Christianity.”