Who are these ‘rich people’ in verses 1-6? Probably not Christians actually, since the promised judgments against them are extremely severe and show none of the grace that believers would obtain. Many Old Testament prophets cried out God’s judgment upon the wealthy pagan nations. And, in general, the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, for example, were not wealthy at all – which is why Paul raised a financial collection for them in times of famine. So why does James even bother to mention these judgments here in a letter to Christians?
My guess is that he wanted to encourage those financially poor believers to be patient in their poverty, trusting in God and to realise that the unsaved rich would eventually come up against God’s justice. The phrase: “The Judge is standing at the door”, refers to the Second Coming of Christ, when all wrongs will be righted. The truth is that all lasting rewards will come with His Coming! (See verse 7.) The Apostle Paul (1 Timothy 6:17) accepts the fact that some believers can be very wealthy but commands them not to trust in that wealth (unlike the man who built bigger barns) but in God, and to be generous like God too.
Job was not patient, but he did persevere in the face of suffering. There is a difference. Perseverance produces in the end the purposes of God in our lives. Don’t give up!
Swearing oaths in certain circumstances is condemned by James (v12), and previously by Jesus (Matthew 5:33-37). Does this include the oath to tell the truth in a court of law? Maybe not. The point that Jesus made was that you cannot control the thing you are swearing about any more than you can control the number of hairs on your head! So don’t swear that you will do something in the future (unless you are God, that is!). But the truth about something that has already occurred – such as you might testify in a court case – is a different matter and might possibly be ‘sworn’ about, since you are certain of it.
If you are sick, call the church elders and ask them for prayer for healing. The ‘anointing with oil’ is understood two ways: either it is a symbol of the anointing of God’s grace, or else it is a common medication in First Century times. Two Greek words are used for ‘anoint’ in the New Testament: ‘chrio’ – which is used in the spiritual / symbolic sense, and ‘aleipho’, meaning to ‘rub with oil’. James uses the second on in this verse. So, in effect, he is saying to us: first call the elders of the church to pray for God’s healing; then find the best medical treatment you can get. However, Mark 6:13 describes the behaviour of Jesus’ disciples after he sent them out to the towns and villages: “They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them”. This verse does imply some spiritual symbolism to the anointing, I think.
I quite like the fact that there is no contradiction between God’s sovereignty and human intervention in healing. I will therefore go with a ‘both/and’ interpretation of 5:14. In any case, it is the prayer of faith that will see the sick person well. Faith is the certain knowledge of the things promised us. One day, we will have complete healing and health in Christ, with a new and perfect body, living in a new and perfect Kingdom. Faith drags future blessings into today. I don’t believe that there is complete healing for all people all the time – not in this present age; otherwise, no-one would ever die! Faith is our hearing of Christ’s ‘rhema’ word that he is willing to heal someone in the ‘now’. My theology of divine healing is now simply: ‘Jesus heals people’.
What we can be sure of is that, if we confess our sins, he will instantly forgive us our sins now. That kind of healing is totally for ‘now’. We should certainly always pray for one another in complete confidence about this. Our prayers, like Elijah’s, are powerful and effective. Rescuing sinners from the error of their ways is also a matter for the prayers and actions of wise believers.
We end the letter of James – which so many people mistakenly think is about ‘works’ – when a closer inspection shows us that it is entirely about ‘faith’. The need for faith, the proof and testing of faith, the purpose of faith, and the fruit of faith.
EZEKIEL 40 and 41
Ezekiel is now ‘whisked away’ in a vision to see God’s life-sized three-dimensional plans for the new city of Jerusalem. This vision is symbolic, and the city never ever existed like this. The imagery bears more resemblance to the New Jerusalem of Revelation Chapter 21, whose description is even more symbolic. Historically there have been two or three temples on this site: Solomon’s temple, the one built by Zerubbabel after the return from exile, and the enlarged version of this that was completed by Herod the Great just before Jesus’ time. None of these looked much like Ezekiel’s plans.
Ezekiel is now in Israel (in his dreams!) and meets a man who looked as though he had been sprayed with bronze paint. Bronze symbolises God’s righteous judgment. This man was busy measuring everything, based on the standard temple unit of the ‘long cubit’ (21 inches or 53 centimetres). In his hands were a measuring rod that was around 3 metres or 10 feet long, together with a measuring line – for measuring longer lengths. He sets to work measuring the wall that surrounds the temple area and discovers that it is 1 rod thick and 1 rod high (3 metres by 3 metres). That is some wall! It is tempting to translate these dimensions into metric or imperial measurements, but then you lose out on some of the symbolism of the original numbers in cubits.
We could go through all the dimensions of each aspect of this building, but their cumulative message is that the Lord is exact and precise in how he is to be approached and worshiped. You don’t just ‘saunter’ into the presence of Almighty God – with your hands in your pockets and a bored expression on your face – but a precise way needs to be followed. Certain rituals and sacrifices had to be observed before the worshipper could move from a distant relationship with the Lord to a close one. Under the Old Covenant, these rituals involved a large number of animal sacrifices and time-consuming cleansing arrangements. Even then, only certain individuals were permitted to approach close to the glory of God.
But these descriptions are regarded as symbolic of our New Covenant blessings, and of work that has already been done on our behalf. The finished work of Christ at Calvary fulfilled the precise sacrificial demands of a Holy God and enabled us to draw near into the presence of the Father without fear any longer. It is significant to notice what things were missing from Ezekiel’s vision of the temple, compared with the older historical ones:
- No wall of partition to separate the Gentiles outside from the Jews inside – previously the Gentiles had been given a separate courtyard. This fulfils Ephesians 2:13-15.
- No separate courtyard for women. This fulfils Galatians 3:28.
- No laver, or washstand, in fulfilment of Ezekiel 36:24-27 and John 15:3. We are now a priesthood that is already cleansed for ever.
- No table with ‘show bread’ on it, since Christ is our Bread of Life (Micah 5:4; John 6:35)
- No lampstand (‘Minora’) – Christ is the Light of the World (John 8:12; Isaiah 49:6)
- No golden altar of incense – it is our prayers that reach heaven (Revelation 5:8; 8:3-4)
- No veil between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place where the presence and glory of God dwelt (Isaiah 25:6-8; Matthew 27:51; Hebrews 10:19-22)
- No High Priest since Christ is now our Great High Priest. (Hebrews 7).
- No Ark of the Covenant (Jeremiah 3:16; John 10:30-33). God’s throne is everywhere now, and it doesn’t require the terms of the old covenant to provide him with a set place to dwell.
If you look at the Revelation 21 temple, it too misses out many of these items, being replaced by God himself, and his Son.
So, in many ways, this diagrammatic temple, described in picture language, is really the New Covenant church symbolized. You could approach this temple from the East, walking past the outside altar and see the Lord seated on his throne in the Holy of Holies with absolutely no barrier in between. All veils, walls of partition and separate courtyards have been swept away by the Great Architect, as he unites his people under one covenant. The Law with its demands, regulations, rituals, and commandments has been both redacted and fulfilled completely by Christ. We are the beneficiaries of his finished work, and we now have direct access to God.
Aren’t we blessed!