“Boanerges”Categories: Iron sharpens iron
It’s dangerous to tie small details in one book of the Bible to offhand remarks in another. It often descends into the kinds of weird, numerology-based superstition that quickly turn cultic and idolatrous. These 66 books were written by dozens of hands, over more than 1500 years, and not every fine point is intended as a deliberate, technical commentary on every other fine point. However, there is one hand that crafted and shaped the entire thing, as Peter reminds us:
No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2Pe 1.20-21)
Paul pushes it a hair farther, saying that not only obvious prophecy, but “all Scripture is breathed out by God” (2Ti 3.16-17).
On top of that, most of the Bible is, as I’ve heard it aptly described using a modern analogy, hyperlinked. That is to say, much of the text is interactive with other parts of the text, including quotations, allusions, direct and indirect references, and an underpinning of common understanding that so saturates the whole, that you can’t fully understand Hebrews, without having a solid awareness of Genesis and the Psalms, as well as the Law of Moses, and the Major Prophets, and the Minor Prophets, too—so, the entire Old Testament. Likewise, all of the laws and regulations of the Old Law were “a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Co 2.17), so that you can’t fully comprehend the Old Testament, either, without seeing its fulfillment in the New.
So, while we must be careful and discerning, we also ought to avail ourselves of the vast wealth of lessons found even in the minute details of God’s extended letter to mankind. Many of these tidbits can stick with us for a lifetime, springing to mind when we encounter a similar scenario, helping us along our way as we strive to be like our Redeemer and to take actions that please him. One of these lessons is found in the connection between two details, one of which is found in Mark’s Gospel, the other in Luke’s.
Mark casually tells us, as he is listing off the twelve apostles early in his book, that to James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Jesus “gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder” (Mk 3.17). He leaves is at that, offering no explanation and immediately moving on to the others on the list. Well, thanks a lot, Mark! It sounds like there’s a story behind that, but he piques our interest, and then leaves us hanging.
Luke, however, helps to explain. Whether he deliberately included this detail in order to explain what Mark had written is a matter of pure speculation, as is the question whether Jesus gave them this nickname solely as a result of the incident we’re about to examine; but it’s fair to say that the incident shines a light on the character of James and John, which surely was, one way or another, the reason behind the affectionate appellation Jesus gave them.
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, [Jesus] set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village. (Lk 9.51-56)
Jesus pronounced clear judgments pretty routinely, and warned sinners of the fate that awaited them, of the unquenchable fire of hell. Additionally, James and John had, so to speak, clicked all of the hyperlinks and connected the dots between Sodom (Ge 19), Egypt (Ex 9), Carmel (1Ki 18), and the road to Ekron (2Ki 1), and thus over-applied the principle of God’s righteous anger and judgment on those who shamelessly reject him. We can see pretty easily what they had in mind and how they got there, but it’s also obvious, from Jesus’ response if nothing else, that they went a little overboard!
My wife once encountered a man in an environment uncomfortable to her, who just creeped her out. When she voiced this to our oldest son (four years old at the time), he very thoughtfully replied without a hint of jest, “I could kill him for you.” The look of joint alarm and amusement that accompanied her verbal response probably compares closely to the look that was on Jesus’ face after James and John made their suggestion. There’s something slightly humorous about the childishness of jumping to such a misguided and extreme solution, and it shows the level of spiritual maturity James and John had attained, by this time. They had loud, powerful words to say—warnings of violent, destructive, and unpredictable flashes of fire from the sky. But they lacked the ability to back it up, they lacked precise direction, they lacked the sense to wield such power properly. They were…thunderous.
What does this teach us? Perhaps many things. The most important is to confine our judgements to the ones God pronounces, and not presume a higher level of authority than we really possess. People are passionate about the things that matter to them, and often moral imperatives are (quite rightly) near and dear to our hearts. It’s easy to develop a malevolence—a desire to see harm done, or even to actively participate in doing harm—toward those whom we deem unrighteous, but we must remember that doling out rewards and consequences to all of humanity is God’s job, not ours. It’s a good thing, too, because every one of us would make a mess of that process, while conveniently ignoring our own worst shortcomings. Destruction will come to the wicked, and Jesus will wield that sword himself (ever read Revelation?); but remember that his purpose is salvation, not destruction (Jn 3.17, 12.47). Make sure that you’re on the proper side of the battleground, and busy yourself with bringing others out of his line of fire.