The Eternal Scandalon
Rom.9:33 - As it is written, Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling block and rock of offense: and whosever believes in Him shall not be ashamed.
I Cor 1:23 - But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block and unto the Greeks foolishness;
I Pet.2:6-8 - Wherefore also it is contained in the Scripture, Behold I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious, and he that believes on Him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe He is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense, even to those who stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.
The word in the Greek is σκανδαλον, which is translated “stumbling block” and transliterated in English “scandalon”. In a broad and colloquial sense we would say “scandal” and in the minds of men Jesus and His claims are scandalous. They are so absurd and so outrageous as to be a scandalon or scandalous. And as you can see from Scripture, it is Jesus Himself that is a scandalon to the hearts and minds of unbelievers. They can accept love, and they can accept mercy, and they can accept grace, but they stumble over Jesus which is the chief cornerstone without which the house of faith falls down and withers.
The man, the God man Jesus, is the first step of faith through which salvation is only possible. The disciples believed Him to be the Messiah, the One who the prophets of the Old Testament foretold. Not just another prophet and not just another teacher. Not just an anointed seer and not just a spokesman for God. Not just another Moses and not just another David. No, they said He was the Son of God, or as the Jewish mind would understand, God Himself in the flesh. And that is the eternal scandalon over which many continue to stumble.
In John’s gospel in chapter eight Jesus begins to refer to Himself as the light of the world. Of course the Pharisees took immediate offense that His witness about Himself was not true, but they just provided the Lord with an opportunity to add to His already growing scandalon. The Lord Jesus moves into some very uncomfortable territory as He claims that the two witnesses about who He is are the Father and Himself.(vs.18). And He presses further still by saying that He is from above while they shall die in their sins because they will not believe He is who He says He is.
Jesus prophesies of His own death in verse 28, and with that many believed on Him. The Jews begin to argue with Jesus about their heritage which they say is of Abraham, their father. Jesus points out their unbelief and His relationship to Father God. But then the Jews claim that Jesus is demon possessed because Christ said “If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.” And with that they ask if Jesus considers Himself greater than Abraham because Abraham is dead. You see the continuing transition? Jesus moves the conversation to the eternal and to the divine. And then Jesus makes a startling and arresting statement,
“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad”.
Now He has completely crossed the line and they seize upon His seeming contradiction. If Jesus is not even fifty years old how can He claim to have seen Abraham? Hold on tight, because Jesus will now use a term we call the tetragammaton. It is the four consonant for God’s name which God gave to Moses. And the Lord God said that YHWH was “I AM THAT I AM”. Isaiah later shortened it to “I AM” without removing the power and the mystery. So Jesus says, “Before Abraham, I AM”.
What was He saying? The Jews knew what He was implying and they took up stones to kill Him because they knew that Jesus had just said He was God. Not just a god, but the One True God, YHWH. He was claiming to be the God of Moses, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Jacob. He used the tetragrammaton “eγώ εἰμί” in the Greek text meaning I am. This was the capstone of Christ’s scandalon and it is the stumbling block that without the Holy Spirit cannot be overcome. It isn’t just what Jesus said that was scandalous, it was the entire idea that anyone could be God. Jesus came right out and said He was God and that anyone who sees Him sees the Father God. Scandalous.
A modern Jewish Rabbi named Jacob Neusner wrote a book in 2000 titled “A Rabbi talks with Jesus”. In this book Rabbi Neusner imagines himself sitting and listening to Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount. He listens intently to hear Jesus deconstruct the Torah, the law. But as he listens, he hears Jesus teach such unfolding depths of the Torah that he is mesmerized when he imagines himself returning to the group of rabbis. These rabbis ask Rabbi Neusner “Did Jesus leave anything out of the Torah when He taught?”
Rabbi Neusner replies, “No, He left nothing out”.
The rabbis then ask Rabbi Neusner, “Did Jesus add anything to the Torah?”
Rabbi Neusner replies, “He added only one thing, Himself.”
And with this, Rabbi Neusner admits that he cannot accept this from Jesus because if Jesus adds only Himself to the law, the Torah, it suggests that Jesus is above the law and indeed the embodiment of the law. And Rabbi Neusner says he must reject that because there is only one being above the law and that is Yahweh, God Himself. So if Rabbi Neusner is going to receive the Sermon on the Mount, he must accept Jesus as the Son of God.
So what we have in this book written by Rabbi Neusner is evidence that even Jewish scholars who examine the gospel writings with no bias to Jesus come to the conclusion that Jesus claimed to be God even though men like Rabbi Neusner reject Him in that context. And they reject the claims of Jesus because they are scandalous and He Himself is a scandalon.
One day in eternity, all unbelievers will realize that Jesus was the only way to redemption and reconciliation with Almighty God. He who was born in Bethlehem, He who walked to dust of this earth, He who shared over three years with 12 ordinary Jews, He who spoke on the hillsides of Judea, He, Jesus, was the Creator of the universe dressed in human form and coming to die. It was He who parted the Red Sea, He who met Moses on Mt. Sinai, He who spoke to Abraham, He who anointed King David, and it was He who John the Baptist announced.
It was Jesus who made the mountains, Jesus who made the oceans, Jesus who made Adam, Jesus who created the stars, it was Jesus who spoke everything into existence. And it was Jesus who was punished, Jesus who was beaten, Jesus who was mocked, Jesus who was betrayed, Jesus who suffered and died for our sins, and it was Jesus who rose bodily from the coldness of death for us.
It was Jesus who the apostles preached and died for, Jesus who anointed the early men of God, Jesus who received Stephen into glory, Jesus who called the Apostle Paul, Jesus who used Martin Luther, Jesus whose power brought mighty revivals, and it was Jesus whose message the missionaries carry into the uttermost parts of the world.
The entire Creation and redemption is centered around this Jesus, who is Almighty God Himself, and many cannot and will not see Him as who He is, for them, He is a stumbling block. And even for those who will be separated from God forever, Jesus will remain a scandalon, a stumbling block. How could they end up in hell? How could God have overlooked their good works? How could God have only provided one way to heaven? How could heaven be gained only by faith? For them, all these redemptive truths are much too scandalous, and the claims of Jesus being the most scandalous.
The eternal scandalon.