Through the Bible with Les Feldick
LESSON 1 * PART 1 * BOOK 53
The Setting for James Through Jude
We’ve just finished the book of Hebrews, and now we’re starting book number 53 – and this will be as they’re normally called, the little Jewish epistles of James; I & II Peter; I, II, & III John and Jude. And whether we’ll get all of them into the next twelve programs, I’m not guaranteeing – but we’re going to start in this particular series with the little letter to James.Now, at least this first half hour is going to be exclusively introduction, because I don’t think any portion of Scripture has raised so many questions for us regarding the Grace Age, as this little book of James has (because of its legalism). And, consequently, many people get confused. People will say, “James says you can’t have faith unless you’ve got works. And Paul says you have faith without works. Well, what’s the deal?” We know that Scripture never contradicts for the sake of contradiction, so there has to be a logical, as well as a spiritual, answer for that dilemma.
So the first thing you want to realize is (as I’ve said over and over on the program), with every portion of Scripture that you read, before you even begin to pick it apart, you should ask yourself just two or three simple questions. Who’s writing? To whom is he writing? What are the circumstances around this writing? And this is exactly what we’re going to do before we even start any further introduction. Turn to James chapter 1, verse 1. The very first word, of course, tells you who is writing.
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,…” So it’s James who is writing. Now, we have to qualify again. Most are agreed that this is not the James of the original twelve who was beheaded quite early after Pentecost. But this is no doubt the James who was the half-brother of Jesus. He was the son of Joseph and Mary. He was also the James who became the head man of the Jerusalem church and, consequently, was the moderator of that great Jerusalem Counsel that we delve into over and over as Paul covers it in Galatians chapter 2, and as Luke records it in Acts 15. And those are both the same counsel in Jerusalem, which took place about 51 or 52 AD – over which this James was the moderator and also referred to by the Apostle Paul as a pillar in the Jerusalem church. And so we feel that this James is a legalist, par excellence. When we go back after a while and look at some of the things he emphasized (even after he realized that Paul was the Apostle of the Gentiles), it will come through that he indeed was a legalist. In verse 1 we also see to whom he is writing.
“…to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.” Now when you read something like that, the first thing you have to stop and analyze is: Who’s writing it? James. The James who was so intense on the legal aspect of Judaism. James who was the head honcho, instead of Peter, of the Jerusalem Jewish church. The church that you have starting there in Christ’s earthly ministry and so forth. But now, you see, as a result of Saul of Tarsus’ persecution, those believing Jews have been scared out of Jerusalem and scattered throughout the then-known world, especially in the eastern end of the Mediterranean.
And so, consequently, they were established in the Kingdom economy. Many of them had probably become believers during Christ’s earthly ministry – others in Peter’s ministry in the early Acts. But then, because of Saul’s persecution. they had to flee Jerusalem, and now they are scattered throughout the Roman Empire. Well, James is concerned about them, as well he should be, because he had, at one time, been the leader of that church. And so he is addressing this little epistle to those Jewish believers.
Now I can’t emphasize that enough. They are Jewish believers who as yet have not heard or understood Paul’s Gospel of Grace that you and I believe for our salvation and, consequently, it can be the legalistic treatise that it is without causing any flack amongst his followers because it was right in line with what they’d been hearing. Alright, in the same way, I’m going to have you turn to I Peter so that you will see that all these epistles now are written in the same flavor. They’re all coming out of the same bolt of cloth. Now, look at what Peter writes in verse 1 of chapter 1 of I Peter. And again, who is the writer? Peter. One of the Twelve. One of the main leaders of the Jerusalem church.
I Peter 1:1
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” Well, who were these scattered strangers? Again, Jewish believers who had been scattered out from that Jerusalem church because of Saul’s persecution. Well, when you continue on then, John doesn’t make it quite that distinct, but still, when you study the content, it’s all in that same area of thinking. It’s Jews who had embraced Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah but they were still practicing Judaism. The Temple is still operating. That won’t be destroyed until many years later. And so always get the connection that these little Jewish epistles are indeed written to Jewish believers.
I don’t call them Christians because the Bible doesn’t, but many people do. Remember believers were first called Christians at Antioch, and not Jerusalem. So they’re not Christians per se, they are Jewish believers in the Kingdom Gospel, and they believed for salvation that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel, but they’re still under the Law. They’re still practicing Temple worship. Nobody has told them not to so they’re not being disobedient. That fact had not been revealed to them yet.
So, James, Peter and John are writing to Jewish believers who have been scattered away from their home area of Jerusalem (and they are also facing hard times). Tribulation is right out in front of them. Now, amongst a lot of people who recognize that these letters are written to Jews, there are still two areas of thought. Some say that these were written to the Jews contemporary with their own day. In other words, Jewish congregations that had been established after they had scattered away from Jerusalem, but before the horrors of the 70 AD destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by Titus.
You’ve got to keep your time frame in mind. Now, I’m going to have to go slow or I’ll get myself all fouled up. You see, Pentecost was about 29 AD. Then, from Pentecost until Saul’s conversion, is about 7 or 8 years. Which makes Saul being converted around 37 AD – and he begins his ministry in 40 AD. And then you see from 40 until 64 or 65 AD, when he’s martyred, there’s another 24 years, where Paul is out doing his thing amongst the Gentiles; and during which time he writes his epistles.
But, James is writing probably (as most commentaries that I’ve looked at, they all agree that it’s probably the first bit of New Testament that was ever written. And so he’s probably writing) in the early 50’s, maybe the late 50’s. At least there is no indication that he has any knowledge whatsoever, as yet, of Paul’s ministry amongst the Gentiles.Nothing that alludes to it at all. Peter, on the other hand, will now let us know that he definitely is writing after Paul’s ministry has been completed. And as Paul finishes up, while in prison in Rome no doubt, Peter is martyred shortly after he writes. And we can show that from II Peter then, because I want you to see that we’ve got two tremendous time frames here. We’ve got Jews of the dispersion right after Pentecost, up until the 70 AD destruction of the Temple. But then you leap 2,000 years, up in our own time and, once again, we’re going to have the same kind of Jews facing even worse tribulation, which is the seven years that are still in front of them.
And so these little epistles are written to Jews at both ends of the spectrum. They are written to Jewish believers who are facing the persecution of that day, leading up to the destruction of Rome, of Jerusalem, but also when we leap 2,000 years, it will be Jews who are facing the horrors of the seven-year Tribulation period. And so these little epistles will be appropriate at both ends of the spectrum. Now, as I was driving up here, I was just thinking – this group over here thinks that all this was written to the Jews of Peter’s, James’ and Paul’s day. You’ve got your other group who will say this was written to Jews facing the seven-year tribulation. Well, I’m going to step in where angels fear to tread and say, “Look fellows. You’re both right! They’re writing to Jews of the contemporary time, and also they’re writing to Jews at the end of time.”
Alright, here is the only indication that Peter has an awareness now of Paul’s revelations. And I believe that we’ve used these verses a hundred times. II Peter chapter 3 verse 15. And remember, Peter is now writing shortly before he’s martyred, and I think he and Paul were probably put to death at nearly the same time, within maybe a month. Now this is what Peter said:
II Peter 3:15
“And account (or understand) that the long-suffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;And of course, when we taught Hebrews, I specified that it’s the Book of Hebrews, I think, that Peter is alluding to that Paul had written to the Jews.
II Peter 3:16a
“As also in all his epistles, (Romans through Philemon) speaking in them of these things; (that is pertaining to salvation) in which (that is Romans through Philemon) are some things hard to be understood,…” Why? Peter was a legalist!! And just like legalists today, they have a hard time comprehending my message of grace. It just flies in their face. They say, “It can’t be that easy. It can’t be that simple. I’ve got to do something!” Well, that’s legalism and Peter was steeped in that. Peter was steeped in the Law. And so I can see why he writes that in Paul’s epistles of grace were things hard for a good Jew to understand. And then Peter goes on saying that he’s not alone. There are others that are going to be far more guilty.
II Peter 3:16b
“…which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest,…” (twist). If they use Paul’s epistles at all, that’s what they’ll do with them. They’ll twist them all out of shape to make them fit their own legalistic doctrine. Alright, Peter gives a warning, then, that they who do that in their unlearned state are in trouble.
II Peter 3:16c
“…as they do also the other scriptures, (which, of course, identifies Paul in with all the rest of our Bible) unto their own destruction.”
Now, I’m going to put our prophetic timeline on the board – and when I say prophetic, I mean the timeline that comes out of all of Scripture except Paul’s epistles.
Now, as we begin the timeline, we come all the way from Adam – and at 2,000 BC, it really starts getting interesting. And that’s the call of Abraham, or Abram, as we first know him. And out of that river of humanity, we have the appearance of the Nation of Israel, or the Jewish people. Now, find Genesis chapter 12 because we’re going to go back there for a moment – and there we find that Abraham is given the Covenant promises. And the whole idea now, as we come on up through the Old Testament prophets, is that, after Christ is crucified, buried and resurrected, He ascends back to glory forty days afterwards (according to Psalms 110 verse 1), where the Lord says, “Come sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.”
His enemies, then, were to be made His footstool during the seven years of Daniel’s prophecy. Daniel, chapter 9, where he delineates seven years of a treaty made between Israel and the nations of the world. Then in the middle of that treaty Israel is finally turned-on and is persecuted these last three and one half years like never before in all their history. That of course, would bring about, then, the Battle of Armageddon, and then the Second Coming, and Christ finally setting up the Kingdom. Now, many people don’t understand the concept of the earthly Kingdom. But I think those of you who have been listening to me now over the years are beginning to see how the Scriptures proclaim it.
So, coming out of that Old Testament prophecies, Christ came and had a ministry of three years. And I don’t know whether to put it on the board first or show it from the Scripture first. Maybe I should use the Scripture first. That’s more authoritative anyway. So I guess we’ll go ahead and read over in Genesis chapter 12, where it says:
“Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: 2. And I will make of thee a great nation,…” Now you see here’s already prophecy beginning. In fact I always say that true prophecy began here with the Nation of Israel, even though the Lord did give reference to His coming in Genesis 3:15. But true prophecy really starts right here. Here is where God is promising things that will come to pass in the future. That’s what prophecy is and that’s why I’m always holding this Book up above every other book on earth. There is not another book of religion or philosophy or anything you can name that can tell things hundreds and thousands of years into the future and be letter perfect; but this one does.
For example, King Cyrus, the king of Medes and Persia who finally gave the decree to Israel to go back after their 70 years of captivity and rebuild the Temple. Cyrus was named 150 years beforehand in the Word of God. And history substantiates it, so there’s no room for argument. And that’s just one little instance.
Christ’s first coming, all the prophecies in the Old Testament concerning His birth at Bethlehem and His suffering, His resurrection – it was all back there. It was all prophesied and all fulfilled to the jot and tittle. Now, of course, there’s still a lot left to be fulfilled but we can trust that if this much has been, the rest will be. And that’s where we have to place our faith. Now continuing on.
“And I will make of thee a great nation,…”
Now I always have to stop on some of these things. We’re so programmed today to think in terms of America and Russia and some of the other great highly populated nations; and then we look at the little Nation of Israel and how could God called them a great nation. Well, you’ve got to remember that back in antiquity, Israel, by the time they came out of Egypt with 5-7 million people, were the largest single group on the planet. And so in the language of antiquity they were a great nation.
“…and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: 3. And I will bless them that bless thee, (Israel) and curse him that curseth thee: (Israel) and in thee (Abraham! And here’s the part where you and I become intrinsically involved) shall all families of the earth be blessed.” What do I mean? Well the Book that you’ve got in front of you, every word of it was written by a Jew, out of the offspring of Abraham. Jesus of Nazareth, our Redeemer, our Savior, our Coming Lord, a Jew, born out of the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Alright, so when the Old Testament said that in this man all the earth would be blessed, it was through Israel.
Now, we’re going to leap up several hundred years and come all the way up to Exodus chapter 19. Remember this is all just an introduction to these little Jewish epistles. That’s a long way around but I think it’s necessary because so many people just can’t comprehend why we would have these little Jewish epistles back here at the end of our New Testament that are still directed to the Jew and are still legalistic and have nothing to do with Paul’s Gospel of Grace. That’s what I’m attempting to do. I’m hoping I can make it understandable.
“And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.” Now Israel had just come out of Egypt and they’re gathered around Mt. Sinai. It’s been a miraculous exodus and now God is making promises again, that they were to be a kingdom of priests. Now what’s a kingdom? Well, it’s a governmental jurisdiction. It’s an area over which there is a given authority. Now, Israel then, is going to be a kingdom, not of just rank-and-file people, but priests. Every Jew would be a priest of Jehovah. Oh, not a high priest that would go in behind the veil, but a go-between. And all the religions of the world have their priesthood, who are just simply go-betweens between the ordinary man out there, as we say in the street, and his god, whether it be Buddha, or Shinto or whatever, they all have their priesthood.
Our Catholic people have their priest. Well, what’s his roll? He’s the go-between, between his parishioner and God. That’s their teaching. Well, every Jew was to have someday become, then, a priest of Jehovah. That’s the promise. Now don’t lose sight of that as we come up through the Old Testament promises; and the whole idea of setting apart the Nation of Israel was to prepare them for this priesthood.
Now, come with me to Isaiah. My, I won’t even get half-way through this all afternoon. I was wondering this morning how in the world I would stretch the Book of James through 4 programs, but I don’t think we’re going to have any trouble. Isaiah 42, and the whole idea of what I’m doing here is to show you that on the basis of the Abrahamic Covenant, the Nation of Israel appears; they are to be the vehicle through whom God would deal with the whole human race by giving us the Word of God. But also by preparing the Nation for the coming of the King and His Kingdom in which time they could evangelize the non-Jewish world.
Now, I’d better stop a moment. You see, most of us can’t quite get it out of our craw, when we look at it in this light, that Jesus told Nicodemus, in John chapter 3, that you must be born again, that unless you are born again, you cannot enter the kingdom of Heaven. Well, you see, we’ve just naturally gotten the idea then, that what Jesus was talking about is that no one could come into this earthly kingdom short of the new birth. Well, that is true. No one is going to go into the kingdom except believers. But in the Old Testament economy that does not become evident. It’s quite the opposite, that Israel would go in and become the subjects of their King of kings and Lord of lords and they, in turn, would bring the masses of the Gentiles to a knowledge of their King and their Redeemer.
That was the Old Testament concept. And that of course, changes when we see that Israel is going to reject it. But if you can, just put that aside for the time being, that nobody but believers can go into this coming earthly Kingdom. We’re going to see here in the Old Testament that Israel would go in and evangelize those around them.
“Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: (now we’re talking about an individual. Who is it? The Messiah. Jesus of Nazareth. Alright) he shall bring forth judgment (or rule or authority) to the Gentiles.”
God hadn’t forgotten about the Gentiles even back then. Oh, granted they’re going down the river to their doom by the millions, but God hasn’t forgotten about them. The day is coming, even in the Old Testament program, that Israel would be able to bring the salvation message to all these Gentiles by bringing them to a knowledge of their Messiah.