Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
1 Maccabees 12 – Jonathan decides that it is not enough to be siding with Trypho and his attempt to set the child-king Antiochus up.
Jonathan continues to use “triangulation” as a policy; he sends people to Rome and Sparta to build other alliances against the Hellenists. He sends letters and ambassadors to renew or initiate treaties of friendship. The author includes a copy of the letter Jonathan sends to the Spartans. It reminds them of good relations in the past and speaks of the terrible wars that have encircled them. They have tried to appeal to Heaven for aid but now they are also appealing to Rome and to the Spartans.
When Demetrius comes again to make war on them, Jonathan tries to divert them to Hamath so as to keep them away from Jerusalem. Hamath is on the northern border of Syria. They learn that Demetrius plans a night raid and they prepare for it.
When the troops of Demetrius learn somehow that the Jews know their plan and are preparing to meet it, they become afraid and decide to withdraw after lighting fires to cover their retreat. Meanwhile Jonathan’s brother, Simon, takes Joppa to keep it out of the hands of the Seleucids.
Jonathan returns to Jerusalem and meets with the elders there; he convinces them to build fortresses in Judaea and to make the walls of Jerusalem higher and to isolate the city even commercially.
Then the story returns to Trypho. He decides he would much rather be king himself than have the young Antiochus on the throne. He fears that Jonathan might not support that plan. So Trypho decides he must wage war against Jonathan. He fools Jonathan, into thinking he is going to even turn the city of Antioch [Ptolemais] over to him. He convinces Jonathan that he can trust him, but when Jonathan comes to Antioch, Trypho seizes him, puts some of Jonathan’s men to the sword, and holds Jonathan himself captive.
Some escape and return to Jerusalem. There “they mourned for Jonathan and his companions and were in great fear; and all Israel mourned deeply” (12:52). This chapter makes it sound that Jonathan has been killed, but he will show up again in chapter 13 as a captive, so I am assuming he was not dead yet. The chapter ends with the pagans all around Israel exulting in their weakness and planning to wipe them out.
An important letter – combining elements that are strongly emphasized in Quaker thought but really important to all Christian groups.
1 John 1 – The prologue to the Gospel according to John says in verse 14 that the Word with God in the beginning was “made flesh, and dwelt among us.” It is this that John writes of in this letter: “Something which has existed since the beginning, that we have heard, and we have seen with our own eyes; that we have watched and touched with our hands: the Word, who is life—this is our subject” (1:1).
John wants to tell us about this all so we too “may be in union with [them], as [they] are in union with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1:3).
The central message is this: “God is light; there is no darkness in him at all. If we say that we are in union with God while we are living in darkness, we are lying because we are not living the truth. But if we live our lives in the light, as he is in the light, we are in union with one another and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1:4).
This reality of sin is not something we can deny but “if we acknowledge our sins, then God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and purify us from everything that is wrong” (1:9).
1 John 2 - John wants us to realize that we can live differently, not caged in our sinful natures. Jesus is our eternal “advocate with the Father” (2:1). But it is not enough to just say we know God through Christ; we must show it in the way we live. “We can be sure that we are in God only when the one who claims to be living in him is living the same kind of life as Christ lived”(2:6).
This is nothing NEW. It is the same expectation God had of us since He created us. It is the same old commandment (2:7). But it is new as well because “the night is over and the real light is already shining” (2:8). It is all about love. “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the dark. But anyone who loves his brother is living in the light and need not be afraid of stumbling” (2:9-10).
So while sin is real and we must break with it by submitting to the commandment that we love our “brothers,” we can only do this if we detach ourselves from worldly desires. “The love of the Father cannot be in any man who loves the world because nothing the world has to offer—the sensual body, the lustful eye, pride in possessions—could ever come from the Father but only from the world; and the world, with all it craves for, is coming to an end; but anyone who does the will of God remains for ever” (2:15-17).
John, like Peter before him, and really all the early apostles and teachers of Christianity, is convinced that the end times are near. Here he says, “these are the last days . . . and now several antichrists have already appeared” (2:18). These antichrists are “rivals of Christ” (2:19) who have arisen from the Christian community itself; but he says they have left. “The man who denies that Jesus is the Christ—he is the liar, he is Antichrist; and he is denying the Father as well as the On, because no one who has the Father can deny the Son, and to acknowledge the Son is to have the Father as well” (2:22-23).
“Keep alive in yourselves what you were taught in the beginning; as long as what you were taught in the beginning is alive in you, you will live in the Son and in the Father” (2:24). The “anointing [Christ] gave teaches [us] everything” we need to know - what you received from him remains in you, so that you do not need anyone to teach you.
The content of this letter, the ideas expressed in it, were incredibly important to early Friends; and I would say that much of what John says here still remains central to Quakers. But I think many Quakers would have trouble with some of John’s words about the Word here. He is very concerned that people NOT FORGET that this Word was FLESH in Jesus Christ.
It might be interesting for Friends to know that the Catholic Catechism also teaches this same lesson in section 427: “[E]verything is taught with reference to him – and it is Christ alone who teaches – anyone else teaches to the extent that he is Christ’s spokesman. . .” And I like also that the Catechism teaches in #430 something I felt I first learned when I studied early Quaker writings that in “Jesus, God recapitulates all of his history of salvation on behalf of men.”