Part 5. The Statement of a Problem
Before getting to grips with today’s topic, I should like to thank those correspondents who have kindly written to correct me on a few historical points concerning the origin and growth of Pentecostalism. It would appear that I had not done my homework sufficiently. I had quoted Azusa Street as the start of the phenomenon in America, without making mention of another movement which, although less known, and certainly without the world-wide dissemination following, was nevertheless quite a dynamic centre of outpouring of spiritual gifts – I speak of Charles Fox Parham, who began the Bethel Bible College at Topeka, Kansas in the fall of 1900. It was on 1st January 1901 that the Spirit “fell” first on Agnes Ozman, and just a few days later on Charles Parham himself, with speaking in tongues. What I hadn’t realised was that William Seymour, the focal figure at Azusa Street, had attended classes at Bethel Bible College before beginning the Apostolic Faith Mission in Azusa Street. This brief notice will therefore provide a fuller picture of those exciting days at the beginning of the 20th century.
Another correction also needs to be given, concerning the outbreak of the newer movement half a century later. I had spoken of the conference here in England in 1967 as being highly significant, and so it was for us. But in America it began somewhat earlier. One brother has written to say, “In the late 50’s I went, with a pastor to a CFO (Camp’s Farthest Out) gathering where the atmosphere was drenched with the dew of heaven. Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Independents were all represented there, and experiencing a marvellous unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” I will add to that what I have just found on a website entitled “Religious Movements Homepage”, as follows –
It was not until mid-way through the century that Pentecostal ideas and style began to surface in mainline Protestant churches and would thus, spark a movement in the 50s and 60s that would be known by such names as the New Penetration, Neo-Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Renewal (Revival). Beginning officially in 1960, Dennis Bennett, priest over an Episcopalian congregation in Van Nuys, California announced that he had spoken in tongues. This movement soon spread into a network of independent charismatic churches and organizations which included Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists and Catholics, which all came to enjoy this outburst of speaking in tongues.
Please continue to send corrections (if necessary) because I do not claim to have a vast store of information at my finger tips, and I enjoy having the fellowship with you over these matters. Thank you once again.
Having now finished our brief historical survey, it is time to return to the Scriptures and begin our investigation of certain passages that are particularly connected with the time just prior to our Lord’s return. Today I want to ask a question. Tomorrow I shall hope to be able to provide a solution.
“No man knows the day or the hour, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but my Father only.” Matt.24:36
Much has been written on this statement, but I particularly want to dwell on the words “nor the Son”, which are omitted by the other Synoptic Evangelists. Is it not clear that our Lord was showing, by His words, an aspect of Hislimitations whilst in human form? To over-emphasise His Divinity (whilst human) is sometimes to the detriment of the true state of His Humanity. Pursuing this theme, I’d like to draw attention to a few verses which help in establishing a better understanding of our Lord’s position as a man. First of all, John 2:23-25 “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Feast of Passover, many believed in His name when they saw the miracles He was doing, but Jesus did not commit Himself to them because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should witness concerning man, because He knew what was in man.” On the surface this makes it seem as though He had a transparent view inside the minds and hearts of all whom He met, but in fact it means no more than what Paul wrote about later in terms of the gift of “discerning of spirits.” That which the Master had, was made available after His resurrection and ascension to members of the Church, with this difference – our Lord had the fulness, but we are only granted a partial ability. See this expressed by John elsewhere, in John 3:34, “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives not the Spirit by measure to Him.” In other words, Jesus possessed thewhole fount of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, whereas in and among Church members, “The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal, for to one is given a word of wisdom, another a word of knowledge, etc.” (1 Cor.12:7-8)
To understand what it was like for our Lord, one needs only to appreciate what it is like these days when believers have received certain gifts. I have heard of a certain man who had some degree of what our Lord possessed in being able to “see through” people, in other words, to recognise areas of deceit that might be completely hidden to others. I suppose this must have been the operation of the “spirit of discernment.” This is exactly what it was like for our Lord. Let us not go beyond that, and assume that He was still able to operate as He would have been able to whilst still in heaven.
A further passage in John is helpful here. 5:19 “The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father doing.” And again in verse 30, “I can do nothing of myself; as I hear, so I judge. . . I seek the will of my Father who sent me.” Here is the testimony of a Man under authority. When He says that He can do nothing of Himself, it must be understood that it a the result of choice, and not of restriction. As a man, He would have been able to do many things that other men could do, but He surrendered His will to that of His Father, and chose to speak only the words given from heaven, (the equivalent of the gift of prophecy in the church), and heal only those indicated by His Father. Here again, we find rich treasure as we compare His life-actions and words to those our heavenly Father would wish for us. But for the moment we are focusing more on the Lord’s humanity than the gifts in the Church.
Another example of our Lord’s incomplete knowledge is in the choice of His disciples. At the outset of His ministry He gathered nearly a hundred men about Him, from whom He later divided into two groups, known as the seventy and the twelve. Before selecting the twelve He spent the whole night in prayer, to find His Father’s will. (Luke 6:12) When day dawned He returned from His mountain retreat and selected twelve men, who were then named, ending with“Judas Iscariot, who became the betrayer.” This is the exact form of the Greek, showing that Judas was not a betrayer to begin with, in fact if the Greek of Mark 14:10 is to be accepted, it reads “And Judas Iscariot, the one of the twelve” in other words, the first of the twelve. Why do I bring up this matter here? Because I believe that Jesusdidn’t know who was to be His betrayer when He chose the disciples. I am fully aware of John 6:64, where we read, “Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who believed not, and who was the one betraying Him.” But did His Father say to Him, “I want you to choose A, B, C, D, etc, and also Judas, who will betray you in the end.” Or did He say to Him, “I want you to choose A, B, C, D, etc. but I tell you even now, one of those men will betray you”? I believe it to have been the latter, but because of Jesus’ keen insight into the “nature of man”, He soon became aware of the propensities of these men, and recognised in Judas the seeds of rebellion.
This form of exegesis is not popular. I’ve looked at several commentaries, and they all seem to say that Jesus’ knowledge of Judas was conveyed to Him by His Father, and was a reflection of His omniscience, but surely this flies in the face of what we have been saying about our Lord’s humanity? That degree of omniscience had been laid aside on taking the form of human flesh. This is the wonder of our Lord’s faith and life, that within the restrictions that we allendure, He remained faithful and sinless to the end, “seeing that He Himself was also compassed about with infirmity.” (Heb.5:2) However, in an article by J.G.Tasker, I found this comment. “Jesus knew from the beginning . . . Needless difficulties are occasioned when ‘from the beginning’ is regarded as referring to any period before the call of Judas; the thought seems to be that Jesus perceived ‘from the beginning’ of His intercourse with Judas the spirit that was in him. Hence the statement is wrongly interpreted in a fatalistic sense. The rendering ‘Jesus knew who it was that would betray Him’ has the advantage of suggesting that Jesus discerned the thoughts and intents of His unfaithful Apostle , and knew that ‘the germ of the traitor spirit was already in the heart of Judas.'” I concur with that appraisal of the passage. By the grace of the Lord, He kept His knowledge a secret until the end, in the hope that Judas might change as a result of the three years ministry.
All this preamble is an attempt to get at the truth of certain words our Lord used concerning the time of His return. There is no doubt at all, from reading the whole of the New Testament, that the early Christians expected our Lord’s return in their lifetime. One only needs refer to the sorrow expressed to Paul from Thessalonica about “those who have fallen asleep”, as though the friends and relatives of the dead were fearful they’d missed out on a great event. Paul then goes on to explain that in fact the “dead in Christ” will rise first! In other words, rather than being sad for them, they were to know that these dead friends would receive their new bodies before those who are “alive and remain.” The way he expresses himself in this 4th chapter of 1 Thessalonians is geared to that thought. But understand Paul’s own expectation when he said, We who are alive and remain.” Others may die, but Paul (at that stage in his career) expected to be alive for the return of his Lord.
Take another passage, this time from John 21:23. “This saying went abroad among the brethren, that that disciple (i.e. John) should not die, but Jesus had not said to him, he shall not die, but even if he tarry till I come, what is that to you?” The misinterpretation placed by Peter on the Lord’s words is clear enough to us as we read. But what about the Lord’s statement? If He knew that there would be a 2,000 years interval before His return, would He have made such a comment? One cannot be sure of course. But the suggestion could be there, that He Himself believed in a short work, and a soon return. Perhaps it was reflected in His words to the disciples, “I will come again and receive you to myself.” (John 14:3) Is it wrong to assume that our Lord was thinking along these lines, when He had declared that He didn’t know the day or hour of His return? It is not attributing falsehood to Him by making such a suggestion. He was not deceiving His disciples.
If what I have said so far is accepted as a working hypothesis, then we must ask ourselves why it never worked out in that fashion. It is not wrong to ask questions of this kind. Difficult verses in the Bible should cause us to wait and pray for enlightenment, rather than be used to undermine faith, which is sadly to be found in some writings. Tomorrow I shall try to answer this question.