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Rightly Understanding God’s Word: Learning Context, Part 2, by Craig S. Keener

16. Knocking at the Door in Revelation 3:20

Here Jesus knocks not at the door of the individual sinner, but rather at the door of a church that was acting like one! Whereas Jesus had set before another church an open door, inviting them into His presence despite the false accusations of their persecutors (Rev 3:8), He was here locked out of another church. Ancient hospitality required sharing food with a guest, but the Laodicean church had locked Jesus out by their arrogant self-sufficiency (3:17-18). He wanted these Christians to repent and express again their need for Him (3:19).


17. God gave His Son in John 3:16

The context is clear that God gave His Son (3:16) when Jesus was lifted up (3:14-15). In the context of the rest of the Gospel of John, this must mean that He was “lifted up” on the cross (see 8:28; 12:32-33). God gave His Son when Jesus died for our sins.


18. Seeking First the Kingdom in Matthew 6:33

‘Faith’ in this context means not a momentary burst of conviction, but a perseverance tested by trials and time that endures in light of God’s promises for the future.

Jewish people sometimes used Gentiles—non-Jews, who were usually what they would have regarded as “pagans”—as examples of what upright Jews should avoid. “Pagans” seek food, drink, and clothing, Jesus said, but you should not seek these things (6:31-32). Instead, Jesus’ followers should seek His kingdom, and these other things—the basic necessities of life—would be taken care of (6:33). It may be no coincidence that Jesus had just taught His disciples to pray first for the agendas of God’s kingdom (6:9-10) and only after that for their own basic needs (6:11-13).


19. Christ’s Ambassadors in 2 Corinthians 5:20

In every or almost every instance of “we” in the preceding chapters (and probably even in 5:21 which follows, though that is debated), Paul refers to himself and his ministry colleagues. Probably in 5:20, then, Paul also refers not to all Christians as ambassadors, but only to those who are bringing God’s message of reconciliation. After all, those he is entreating to be reconciled to God are the Christians in Corinth, who are not ambassadors but those who need ambassadors to them (6:1-2)! Perhaps ideally all Christians should be bringing God’s message of reconciliation, but in practice most of the Christians in Corinth weren’t. The Corinthian Christians were acting like non-Christians, so Paul and his colleagues act as representatives for Christ’s righteousness to them, just as Christ represented our sin for us on the cross (5:21).


20. Witnesses in Hebrews 12:1

In this case not all translations make equally clear the terms in the context related to the term for “witnesses” in 12:1. The concept, however, is evident in at least some of them. In the preceding context, God frequently “testified as a witness” or provided “testimony as a witness” that His servants had proved faithful (11:2, 4-5, 39). It is therefore possible that the author speaks of the righteous listed in Hebrews 11 as those who also testified what they knew about God. These may be not “witnesses” like those who watch a sports match in a stadium, but rather those who “witness” for or “testify” about the truth they have discovered about God.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Fall 2003

About the Author: Craig S. Keener, Ph.D. (Duke University), is F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is author of many books, including Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Baker Academic, 2011), the bestselling IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels, Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today, and commentaries on Acts, Matthew, John, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, and Revelation. In addition to having written more than seventy academic articles, several booklets and more than 150 popular-level articles, Craig is is the New Testament editor (and author of most New Testament notes) for the The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. He is married to Dr. Médine Moussounga Keener, who is from the Republic of Congo, and together they have worked for ethnic reconciliation in North America and Africa. Craig and Médine wrote Impossible Love: The True Story of an African Civil War, Miracles and Hope against All Odds (Chosen, 2016) to share their story. Twitter: @keener_craig

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