Soli Deo Gloria!

(all glory be to God)

Category: Theology

A matter of perspective

Perspective

Perspective

A little under a year ago, I taught a class on Hebrews 10.

28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?

Now, before I continue I should explain to those of you who weren’t in the class – that the author of Hebrews is warning Jewish Christians not to return to the sacrificial system in the Temple. He has made his case over the book that Christ’s sacrifice is once and for all, and unlike the Temple Sacrificial System is efficacious for all time. In other words, if you go back to the sacrificial system, you are slapping God in the face for sending His Son. If the blood of bulls and goats were sufficient, then why would God sacrifice that which is most Precious to Him (Jesus?).

Okay, that’s the argument – but I was thinking of the nature of perspectives.

Have you ever been miffed at someone? You have your case as to why they have wronged you, how they have treated you unfairly, etc, etc. You go to confront them, ready to unleash your wrath upon them. But then they speak and let you know what their feelings on the matter are. After that it might hit you, “Woah! I didn’t see this from their perspective!” Soon, your argument and hostile feelings fall apart.

I think this is how it will be with us and God. The person who tries to get right with God through their own good works is prepared to go before God’s throne and say, “God – I did all these good things, I was a righteous person – I did the best that I could!”.

The Lord of Heaven and Earth could then ask them a question like this, “If you could do all those things on your own, why did I have to send my Son? Why would I want to send Him to the Cross? To be humiliated, to suffer, to die at the hands of those whom He Himself created? Did I do those things for my own amusement since you are capable of saving yourself?”

At that point, the arguments that we have about our own righteousness will fall apart. We will have Insulted the Spirit of Grace. And we will see things from His perspective.

Review of “God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life”

Cover of "God at Work: Your Christian Voc...

Cover via Amazon

My pastor preached a sermon recently on what it means to have a vocation. He referenced a book by Gene Edward Veith Jr. called “God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life“. Given how remarkable the sermon was, I decided to pick up a copy for my Kindle – after all, I had a long 5 hour flight to WA coming up and could use some decent reading material.

I must say, this book does a fantastic job of illuminating just what the purpose of our vocations are. The author sets the stage with this quote:

Our relationship to God, then, has nothing to do with our works. Our relationships to other people, though, in the world God has placed us in, do involve our works. “In God’s sight it is actually faith that makes a person holy,” says Luther in his “Large Catechism”; “it alone serves God, while our works serve people”. As theologian Gustaf Wingren puts it, “God does not need our good works, but our neighbor does“.

That sets the foundational premise of the approach to tackling your vocation: serving one’s neighbor. This is a subtle, but incredibly important shift in how one view’s their life’s work. God hasn’t provided your vocation in order for you to climb the corporate ladder, or pursue fame and fortune – but rather to fulfill the second half of the Great Commandment: “To love people”.

For me, practically speaking I make video games for a living. This has transformed my viewpoint from, “how do I make something I can be proud of”, to: “how can I best entertain and serve the person who buys this game?” You see, that’s an incredibly profound shift in viewpoint from one that is ‘me centered’ to one that is ‘neighbor centered’. It means that our job provides us an opportunity to be Christ to those who purchase our goods and services.

I think Veith also does a brilliant job in defining vocation. These days we have come to define the word as our ‘career’. However, Veith is pretty good in going back to the original definition, which my Mac’s dictionary provides the origin as:

ORIGIN late Middle English : from Old French, or from Latin vocatio(n-), from vocare ‘to call.’

So he’s quite right in defining it as our calling. We are used to saying that our pastor or elders have a calling from God – but Veith is quite clear that God calls us to every station in life that we find ourselves in. God has called me to be a father. He has called my wife to be a mother who homeschools her children. He has called us to be children of our parents. He has called us to be citizens of the United States.

All of these things are callings that we have to be faithful to and treat as our vocation. Therefore, the book also touches upon how a Christian serves their country, how they serve their parents, how they serve their children, etc. The doctrine of vocation is therefore one of the most practical and useful bits of theology to grab a hold of.

Veith deals with ethical issues in a completely sensical way. Here’s an excerpt on his thinking on entertainment focused industries, which has always been a struggle for me since I work in one:

Those in the entertainment business-actors, filmmakers, musicians-enjoy a legitimate calling. Entertaining their neighbors, giving pleasure to them, and perhaps giving them insight (as good art always does) is a way of loving and serving them. But sometimes their directors push them to create the pleasure of sin in their audiences. Here the Christian in that vocation must draw the line. Being an actress may be a worthy vocation for a Christian, but doing a nude scene is no part of her divine calling. Musical talent is a remarkable gift from God, but playing in a Death Metal band that celebrates mayhem, sadism, and the occult can hardly be what God has in mind for the use of those gifts. Instead of corrupting their neighbors, Christian artists are called to serve them through their artistic gifts, which may create conflict with their nonbelieving colleagues. That is to say, like all Christians, they must battle the temptations of the world.

Great real world advise, and one that sees redeeming value in the arts and entertainment. Veith does a fantastic job in tying all of our vocations to the doctrine of Common Grace. That is, God shows His love for His Creation through people:

Thus human work is an imitation of God’s work, a participation in God’s creation and His creativity. Ruling, subduing, multiplying, causing plants to grow, making things-these are what God does, and yet God gives them as tasks to human beings.

You see, Jesus is not currently present on the Earth in bodily form. He no longer (ordinarily) heals the sick directly. He uses doctors. He no longer feeds masses of people with miraculous multiplication of bread. He uses farmers. He does not punish the wicked criminals directly (on this Earth) – He uses Law Enforcement Officers. He doesn’t rule the nations directly, He uses the world’s rulers and authorities. God is ruling through means. God provides through means. And this is something else that Veith puts forth with tremendous clarity.

Overall, I cannot recommend the book highly enough. Veith is a Lutheran Theologian and so will differ in some slight ways from those of us who hold to Calvinist/Classical Reformed Theology. But none of those issues really pop up in this book and so I am urging all of my friends to read this book unreservedly. One of the best things I’ve read this year.

Regulative Principle of Worship

John Calvin

John Calvin

Last week our Pastor preached on the Regulative Principle of Worship. Given all of the contrary teaching found in the evangelical church, I thought that it was a fine time to reflect upon the wisdom in the Regulative (or rather Prescriptive) Principle of Worship.

Summary of the Regulative Principle

For those unaware, one can sum up the Regulative Principle as: “Worshiping God only in the way He has prescribed”. Now the trick in all of this is to figure out what God has prescribed (and on this, all sorts of sincere believers who hold to the RPW may differ) – but this is the key principle that should guide a discussion on the Regulative Principle vs. its opposite, which is: “What God has not prohibited is lawful for worship”, or the so-called Normative Principle which is the stance that most of the Western Evangelical church has taken.

Backlash

Immediately, in response to the RPW, our fallen nature wants to say, “No, as long as my worship to God is sincere – then God will accept it!”. And while an element of this may be true – I want to look at how the Regulative Principle is actually there to protect you from the abuses of the Church – and is not there to impinge upon your freedoms (always a hot-button issue here in the West). We’ll examine that in some detail after we start with some issues that lay the foundation for the Regulative Principle.

The Holiness of God

One of the things that has struck me since diving into Reformed theology is the emphasis that it places upon the holiness of God. You see, a lot of evangelical traditions will place an emphasis on the holiness of God when it comes to soteriology – that is that you need to be saved from the affronts you have made to a holy God.

However, then we seem to forget this attribute of God. It’s almost like we believe God has become tame and become our doting old grandfather because of Jesus’ work on the Cross. And while God’s wrath is averted and there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, our God is still a Holy God. And we seem to forget this, and treat Him like he’s our fraternity brother. But I want us to see something from the New Testament that says, “hold on one minute!”, “God is still fearsome!”

Turn to Hebrews 12:28 and see what the author has to say:

28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

You see? There still is acceptable worship to God, and our attitude is to be one of reverence and awe, because our God is a consuming fire. All too often, we treat God like He’s a tame lion (to use a Narnia reference if I may).

Continuity in the Bible

All too often we look at our Bible and see that it is split into a part called the “Old Testament” and a part called the “New Testament”. Due to predominant Dispensational thinking (thankfully rolling back as of late) in American Christianity – we treat God as if He’s had two different characters, and that the Church is something completely discontinuous from Israel.

But this is a big deal, as the early church only had the Old Testament as their Scriptures, and would have patterned most of their practices against it. In some cases, this was incorrect due to the New Administration of the Covenant of Grace (the once and for-all sacrifice of Jesus abolishing elements of the Ceremonial and Sacrificial System for instance). This is where the New Testament has a lot to teach us – thus giving us the book of Hebrews for instance (stop doing those things!!), Galatians, etc.

When the early Church got to worship, they worshiped in the synagogues – and would have kept many of the same “regulative principles” that fell under the old administration of the Covenant.

But ultimately, God’s nature hasn’t changed – He still stands in judgement over worship offered to Him. And we dare to enter His presence in such a non-chalant manner!

The Reformers were reacting to Abuses in Worship

This is key, and something we forget – because Church History is not a strong area of teaching in the American Church. But let’s remember something, the Reformers were responding to the Roman Church’s abuses in worship. Veneration of icons, Statues of the Saints, Incense, Bells, Worship of the Eucharist, Holy Relics, etc, etc. were all being found in the Roman Church!

The Reformers wanted to rid the Church of these practices, and return to a Biblical understanding of what was permitted under Worship to the Triune God. Binding the consciences of those who come to Worship Corporately was something that they would have been keen to avoid. The truly believed that Jesus (and only Jesus) is the Lord of your conscience and so they would have trembled before adding elements of worship that would be unbiblical. This is important, and we will return to it in a moment.

Were the Reformers Pharisees? Hardly!

Some will say, “this sounds like Pharisaical behavior!” Which to me is an amusing argument. Think for a moment about what the Pharisees did. They added to the Law, and made the people follow elements not Prescribed by God.

The Reformers on the other hand are careful to do the opposite. Rather than add to what God has commanded, they are careful to avoid adding any burdens to those who are worshiping Corporately. Rather, it is those who ask you to, “Raise your hands if you believe in the Gospel, with your head bowed and your eyes closed” who are tampering with worship and adding unbiblical elements. Same with altar calls, entertainment driven “worship” elements, etc. All of those experiential elements just take us back to Rome.

What if you had choices in where you could worship?

I think a lot of people would be more understanding of the RPW if they thought about the fact that in many places in the world, you still have no choices as to where you can worship. We would understand that as well, if we didn’t have modern transportation. Within a 5 minute drive from me, I can go to a Reformed MegaChurch, a Charismatic Church, a Bible Church, and a Reformed Presbyterian Church.

If I felt weirded out by the Charismania in the Charismatic Church, I could go to the MegaChurch. If I didn’t like the shallow worship music in the MegaChurch, I can go to the Reformed Presbyterian Church.

So we can shop for a church that suits our matter of ‘style’ and our level of understanding of Biblical things. However, for the vast majority of the people living in the last 2,000 years you’d have no choice. What if the only church in my neighborhood was the Charismatic Church with its dancers bounding on the stage, and the ‘worship leader’ asking you to ‘raise your hands if you were feeling the Spirit move?’ Your conscience would be bound to such unbiblical practices!

However, if we only stick to Biblical practices, we wouldn’t have this issue – and all churches would be a safe place to worship. The RPW is to protect the congregation. Not to limit their freedoms. Please keep that in mind.

Conclusion

God gets to determine what is proper worship, not the worshiper. He stands in judgement over our worship, and He is Holy. Also, the RPW protects congregations from abusive practices in worship, and keeping the believer from having to engage in practices that may violate their conscience.

Once you buy into those premises, the RPW should make a whole lot of sense.

Loving God and Loving People – in the Ten Commandments

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments...

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments

Just a small post this morning about Jesus’ teaching on the Greatest Commandment, and it’s reflection in the Ten Commandments.

Jesus was once asked, “What is the greatest commandment in the Law?”. Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:34-39).

If we look at the Ten Commandments (which is the summary of the Moral Law), we can see that the commandments are indeed structured in this twofold division. Here are the Ten Commandments for review:

  1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
  2. You shall not make any graven images.
  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
  4. Remember the Lord’s Day to keep it Holy.
  5. Honor your mother and father.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet.

As you can see, the Ten Commandments are structured in this exact way. The first 4 commandments (in red) involve loving God, and the next 6 (in blue) involve loving people.

Out of Egypt I called My Son

The Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt (paint...

Exodus from Egypt

In Matthew’s Gospel, we read that after the Magi visited Jesus and His family, Joseph was warned to flee to Egypt since Herod was coming after Jesus. In Matthew 2:14-15 we read:

14 So he got up, took the child and His mother during the night, and escaped to Egypt. 15 He stayed there until Herod’s death, so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: Out of Egypt I called My Son.

The verse that Matthew cites is Hosea 11:1, and Matthew’s citation of this is actually slightly problematic. This is because Hosea clearly did not write this as a prophecy (it is a reference to the Exodus) – it is a statement of fact, Israel is called God’s firstborn son in Exodus 4:22:

Then you will say to Pharaoh: This is what the Lord says: Israel is My firstborn son.

The solution to this problem is actually an easy one – because the NT authors often see things in the OT as types and shadows of the reality that is to come in the Messiah (see the book of Hebrews for an extensive example!). And in this case, Matthew sees Israel as typological of the Son of God.

We don’t really have to spend much energy proving this as we see that Jesus is called the firstborn Son of God in the New Testament in the fullest, truest sense possible (particularly, see Colossians 1:15 for His preceding any created nation).

Parallels between Israel and Jesus

In Matthew’s Gospel (in particular) we see striking parallels between Israel and Jesus. Notice that where Israel fails, Jesus triumphs. Here are some that I note [and yes, one parallel is taken from John’s Gospel!]:

Isaac, the son of promise of Abraham was conceived supernaturally of a woman whose womb had been “dried up.” Jesus was conceived supernaturally through the Holy Spirit.
Israel was called out of Egypt. We saw from Matthew’s quote of Hosea that Jesus too was called out of Egypt.
Israel was in the wilderness for 40 years, they had manna from heaven but were faithless. Jesus went without food in the wilderness for 40 days, and was tempted but faithful.When Satan tempts Jesus to turn stones to bread He quotes Deuteronomy and says, “Man must not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the word of God”. 

Incredibly the full quote in Deuteronomy 8:3 goes like this: “He humbled you by letting you go hungry; then He gave you manna to eat, which you and your fathers had not known, so that you might learn that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

So in this statement – Jesus Himself is alluding to the parallels to the Israelites in the desert and Himself!

Israel was called to be a light to the nations  (Ps 67) and failed in this. Jesus says that He is the light of the world (John 8:12). And where Israel failed to be a light, we see that Jesus is the Light of the World and has attracted men of all nations to Him.

Where Israel failed, Jesus triumphed. It was a mere Shadow of the Reality who is, who was and is to come.

The Servant Songs (Who is the Servant?)

Most of you are probably familiar with the 4 servant songs in Isaiah (Isaiah 42-53). And it is hard to dispute that the Servant being spoken of is Jesus. However, take a look back at Isaiah 41 – and who does God call His servant? Isaiah 41:8 says:

8 But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, descendant of Abraham, My friend — 9 I brought  you from the ends of the earth and called you from its farthest corners. I said to you: You are My servant; I have chosen you and not rejected you. 10 Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with My righteous right hand.

Now it is obvious as we read on in the Servant Songs that the servant cannot possibly be National Israel, as it becomes pretty clear that the True Servant isn’t a Nation, but a single person. In addition, the Servant possess qualities that Israel never possessed (such as being without deceit, or violence, etc.).

Therefore, 700 years before Matthew writes, the Servant Songs in Isaiah also illustrate that Jesus is the fulfillment of everything Israel was meant to be.

Where Israel fails, Jesus succeeds. Jesus is the True Israel – the True Servant. Which I believe is the point that Paul will make in Galatians 3:16:

16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say “and to seeds,” as though referring to many, but and to your seed, referring to one, who is Christ.

The true seed of Abraham is Jesus Christ. The Nation of Israel was a shadow.

We too fail, yet Jesus was victorious – on our behalf

Israel wasn’t the only one to fail. We failed. We fail. We will fail. Yet Jesus was victorious where we would have failed. As the book of Hebrews says:

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

What an amazing thing it is to know that God has experienced every temptation we have faced, yet was triumphant. Because of this He can sympathize with us, and so we have confidence to approach His throne. No ‘god’ in any man made religion can make this claim. No other god could know what it is to be tempted, to face hunger, to face rejection by his friends, to be spat upon by those whom he came to save. Only Jesus knows what it is to be a frail human being.

No words can express the amazement we should have that the Infinite Creator can sympathize with finite creatures such as ourselves. What an Awesome and Great God we have!

Philip and the Eunuch

Shaded relief map of Ethiopia.

Ethiopia

I was reading through Acts 8, and didn’t recognize a couple of things that I ought to have previously. The first is that the Ethiopian is probably the first Gentile convert in the early Church (the Church had been exclusively Jewish up to this point). The more famous conversion story of a Gentile is in Acts 10 (Cornelius, and Jesus’ revelation to Peter that the dietary laws were lifted).

I’ve often glossed over the implications of what it meant that this man was a eunuch however. And this turns out to be quite significant if we look at the Mosaic Law. Deuteronomy 23:1 says:

No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord.

What is the assembly of the LORD? This is what A Handbook on Deuteronomy by UBS has to say about this verse (FYI: the UBS commentary series is used to assist translators who translate the Bible into other languages):

Shall not enter the assembly of the Lord: this sounds like going into an assembly hall. But what it means is “shall not belong to the assembly” or “… the Lord’s people” (tev,cev). The Hebrew word qahal is translated in the Septuagint by ekklesia, which is the Greek word in the New Testament translated “church.”

Other commentators on this verse also mention that this was to prohibit practices found in other cultures that the LORD found detestable. If you remember a lot of societies would castrate young men for various reasons (for instance, it is widely assumed that Daniel was made a eunuch when taken to Babylon), but such a thing was detestable to the LORD.

It is curious that this man was reading Isaiah (see Acts 8:32), as Isaiah contains a passage full of hope for eunuchs (in light of Deuteronomy 23:1 above). See Isaiah 56:3-5:

No foreigner who has converted to the Lord should say, “The Lord will exclude me from His people”; and the eunuch should not say, “Look, I am a dried-up tree.” For the Lord says this: “For the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold firmly to My covenant, I will give them, in My house and within My walls, a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters. I will give each of them an everlasting name that will never be cut off.

So there was a message of hope for the eunuchs inside of Isaiah – which I would guess is a good reason why this Ethiopian was reading the book. Is it any small wonder that he was full of joy (Acts 8:39) once Philip told him the good news about Jesus (Acts 8:35) and he believed (Acts 8:37)?

The next thing that struck me is that it is incorrect when certain people claim that the Church (ekklesia) is a new construct of the New Testament. Instead, the Church is the Assembly of God – which is a continuation of the qahal (Hebrew) in the Old Testament. The Church isn’t something new and different that just popped up sight unseen! In fact qahal is translated ekklesia in the Septuagint!

The Church doesn’t replace anything as some people charge Reformed Theologians as teaching, instead it is (as Paul states) the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16) – a continuation and expansion of the faithful remnant of Israel. God’s assembly has been expanded to include Jew and Gentile now. As Paul states so forcefully in Galatians 3:

There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one  in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.

The promise given to Abraham has been fulfilled in Abraham’s seed – Jesus Christ. There is no more Jew or Greek. The dividing wall has been torn down. And more directly to this issue at hand is Ephesians 2:

12 At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise,  with no hope  and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood  of the •Messiah. 14 For He is our peace, who made both groups one  and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh, 15 He did away with the law of the commandments in regulations, so that He might create  in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. 16 He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross and put the hostility to death by it.  17 When Christ came, He proclaimed the good news  of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  18 For through Him we both have access  by one Spirit to the Father.  19 So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,  with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. 21 The whole building is being fitted together  in Him and is growing into a holy sanctuary in the Lord,  22 in whom you also are being built together  for God’s dwelling  in the Spirit.

What an amazing way to see God’s prophesy in Isaiah go from promise to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. What great hope the eunuchs of the world have, as well as the Jew, the sinner and tax collector. We who were once without hope and God have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah. Thanks be to God!

Josephus verifies Jesus

The destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem.

The destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem.

I have been reading up on the variety of millennial views as of late. Trying to understand each viewpoint. Early in my Christian life, I had been taught about things like secret raptures, and a variety of other dispensational “Left Behind” style theologies. Actually studying the texts has led me away from these early dispensational views and into the Covenant Theology of the Reformers. But that’s a discussion for another time.

Currently, I am reading “A Case for Amillenialism” by Kim Riddlebarger and his exposition of the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24). He references the Jewish historian Josephus to paint a picture of what happened during the sacking of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in 70 A.D and I was struck by how horrifying it was.

If we hold to the idea of prophetic foreshortening and that the tribulation Jesus describes is both a picture of the tribulation in 70 A.D, as well as the fuller, future tribulation to come. If what the Jews experienced in the 1st Century is merely the type for the Tribulation – then we are in some serious trouble as we prepare for Jesus’ Second Advent. Here is a portion of the Olivet Discourse:

Matthew 24:1-22 (HCSB):

24 As Jesus left and was going out of the temple complex,  His disciples  came up and called His attention to the temple buildings. 2 Then He replied to them, “Don’t you see all these things? I assure you: Not one stone will be left here on another that will not be thrown down!”

3 While He was sitting on the •Mount of Olives, the disciples approached Him privately and said, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what is the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?”

4 Then Jesus replied to them: “Watch out that no one deceives  you.  5 For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the •Messiah,’ and they will deceive many.   6 You are going to hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, because these things must take place, but the end is not yet.  7 For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines   and earthquakes in various places.   8 All these events are the beginning of birth pains.

9 “Then they will hand you over for persecution,  and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of My name.   10 Then many will take offense, betray one another and hate one another.  11 Many false prophets  will rise up and deceive many.  12 Because lawlessness  will multiply, the love of many will grow cold.  13 But the one who endures to the end will be delivered.   14 This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world  as a testimony to all nations.  And then the end will come.

15 “So when you see the abomination that causes desolation, spoken of by the prophet Daniel,  standing in the holy place”  (let the reader understand ),  16 “then those in Judea must flee to the mountains!  17 A man on the housetop  must not come down to get things out of his house.   18 And a man in the field must not go back to get his clothes.  19 Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days!  20 Pray that your escape may not be in winter or on a Sabbath.  21 For at that time there will be great tribulation,  the kind that hasn’t taken place from the beginning of the world until now and never will again!  22 Unless those days were limited, no one would  survive.  But those days will be limited because of the elect.

I’ve read this passage many times before, and even though Jesus’ words are ominous, I guess it feels rather abstract due to the mystery of it all. Woe to us if we take His words and warnings lightly! Luke 21:20-24 is a slightly more detailed picture of what was to happen to Jerusalem:

20 “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies,  then recognize that its desolation  has come near.  21 Then those in Judea must flee  to the mountains!  Those inside the city  must leave it, and those who are in the country must not enter it,  22 because these are days of vengeance  to fulfill all the things that are written.  23 Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days,  for there will be great distress in the land  and wrath against this people.  24 They will fall by the edge of the sword  and be led captive into all the nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

And so, reading through the The Wars of the Jews by Josephus I was struck by something so horrifying about the siege of Jerusalem that it immediately made me refer back to what Jesus said in Matthew 24:19/Luke 21:23 (Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days!). Josephus recounts this frightful episode where a starving mother actually kills and roasts her own baby for food. Here is an excerpt (The Wars of the Jews, Book 6, Chapter 3):

There was a certain woman that dwelt beyond Jordan, her name was Mary; her father was Eleazar, of the village Bethezub, which signifies the House of Hyssop. She was eminent for her family and her wealth, and had fled away to Jerusalem with the rest of the multitude, and was with them besieged therein at this time. (202) The other effects of this woman had been already seized upon; such I mean as she had brought with her out of Perea, and removed to the city. What she had treasured up besides, as also what food she had contrived to save, had been also carried off by the rapacious guards, who came every day running into her house for that purpose. (203) This put the poor woman into a very great passion, and by the frequent reproaches and imprecations she cast at these rapacious villains, she had provoked them to anger against her; (204) but none of them, either out of the indignation she had raised against herself, or out of the commiseration of her case, would take away her life; and if she found any food, she perceived her labors were for others, and not for herself; and it was now become impossible for her anyway to find anymore food, while the famine pierced through her very bowels and marrow, when also her passion was fired to a degree beyond the famine itself; nor did she consult with anything but with her passion and the necessity she was in. She then attempted a most unnatural thing; (205) and snatching up her son, who was a child sucking at her breast, she said, “O, thou miserable infant! For whom shall I preserve thee in this war, this famine, and this sedition? (206) As to the war with the Romans, if they preserve our lives, we must be slaves! This famine also will destroy us, even before that slavery comes upon us:—yet are these seditious rogues more terrible than both the other. (207) Come on; be thou my food, and be thou a fury to these seditious varlets and a byword to the world, which is all that is now wanting to complete the calamities of us Jews.” (208) As soon as she had said this she slew her son; and then roasted him, and ate the one half of him, and kept the other half by her concealed. (209) Upon this the seditous came in presently, and smelling the horrid scent of this food, they threatened her, that they would cut her throat immediately if she did not show them what food she had gotten ready. She replied, that she had saved a very fine portion of it for them; and withal uncovered what was left of her son. (210) Hereupon they were seized with a horror and amazement of mind, and stood astonished at the sight; when she said to them, “This is mine own son; and what hath been done was mine own doing! Come, eat of this food; for I have eaten of it myself! (211) Do not you pretend to be either more tender than a woman, or more compassionate than a mother; but if you be so scrupulous and do abominate this my sacrifice, as I have eaten the one half, let the rest be reserved for me also.” (212) After which, those men went out trembling, being never so much affrighted at anything as they were at this, and with some difficulty they left the rest of that meat to the mother. Upon which the whole city was full of this horrid action immediately; and while every body laid his miserable case before their own eyes, they trembled, as if this unheard-of action had been by themselves.

What a sad, horrifying picture of the tribulation that those in Jerusalem had to face. And again, what a horrifying type of what is to come before the end.

There are some other more general descriptions that Josephus gives us of the sacking of Jerusalem. The Wars of the Jews, Book 6, Chapter 1:

Thus did the miseries of Jerusalem grow worse and worse every day, and the seditious were still more irritated by the calamities they were under, even while the famine preyed upon themselves, after it had preyed upon the people. (2) And indeed the multitude of carcasses that lay in heaps one upon another, was a horrible sight, and produced a pestilential stench, which was a hindrance to those that would make sallies out of the city and fight the enemy: but as those were to go in battle-array, who had been already used to ten thousand murders, and must tread upon those dead bodies as they marched along, (3) so were not they terrified, or did they pity men as they marched over them; nor did they deem this affront offered to the deceased to be any ill omen to themselves; (4) but as they had their right hands already polluted with the murders of their own countrymen, and in that condition ran out to fight with foreigners, they seem to me to have cast a reproach upon God himself, as if he were too slow in punishing them; for the war was not now gone on with as if they had any hope of victory; for they gloried after a brutish manner in that despair of deliverance they were already in. (5) And now the Romans, although they were greatly distressed in getting together their materials, raised their banks in one-and-twenty days, after they had cut down all the trees that were in the country that adjoined to the city, and that for ninety furlongs round about, as I have already related. (6) And, truly, the very view itself of the country was a melancholy thing; for those places which were before adorned with trees and pleasant gardens were now become a desolate country every way, and its trees were all cut down: (7) nor could any foreigner that had formerly seen Judea and the most beautiful suburbs of the city, and now saw it as a desert, but lament and mourn sadly at so great a change; (8) for the war had laid all signs of beauty quite waste; nor, if anyone that had known the place before, had come on a sudden to it now, would he have known it again; but though he were at the city itself, yet would he have inquired for it notwithstanding.

Seeing the state of Judea must have been heart-breaking. The early Christians remaining in Judea would have recalled Jesus’ words in the Olivet Discourse and fled to the mountains. As for the abomination that causes desolation that Jesus and Daniel (hundreds of years before Jesus) spoke of, this is what Josephus writes:

(316) And now the Romans, upon the flight of the seditious into the city, and upon the burning of the holy house itself, and of all the buildings round about it, brought their ensigns to the temple, and set them over against its eastern gate; and there did they offer sacrifices to them, and there did they make Titus imperator, with the greatest acclamations of joy.

Thus Jesus’ words and those of Daniel before Him came to pass. Here’s what Daniel had to write about these things in Daniel 9:

26 After those 62 weeks the Messiah will be cut off and will have nothing.
The people of the coming prince will destroy the city  and the sanctuary.
The  end will come with a flood, and until the end there will be  war;
desolations are decreed.
27 He will make a firm covenant with many for one week,
but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and offering.
And the abomination of desolation will be on a wing  of the temple
until the decreed destruction is poured out on the desolator.”

And as for Jesus saying that not one stone will remain of the temple? Here’s what Josephus records (The Wars of the Jews, Book 7):

Now, as soon as the army had no more people to slay or to plunder, because there remained none to be objects of their fury (for they would not have spared any, had there remained any other such work to be done) Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and temple, but should leave as many of the towers standing as were of the greatest eminency; that is, Phasaelus, and Hippicus, and Mariamne, and so much of the wall as enclosed the city on the west side. (2) This wall was spared, in order to afford a camp for such as were to lie in garrison; as were the towers also spared, in order to demonstrate to posterity what kind of city it was, and how well fortified, which the Roman valor had subdued; (3) but for all the rest of the wall, it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited. (4) This was the end which Jerusalem came to by the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind.

So what do I take from all of this? One, that the Bible continues to prove itself trustworthy. That the words from the Lord that its Prophets give us come to pass. And therefore, we can trust what our Lord says will happen in the future. I’m constantly amazed by this.

Second, the Great Tribulation (when it comes) will not be pretty. The troubles we see in the world right now, are probably minor compared to what is to come. Just see what happened to Jerusalem. Read through Josephus’ accounts – they are not pretty. If that’s a prototype of what is to come, then the world is going to experience some deep, dark days, with suffering that is unprecedented.

Unfortunately, I also do not expect any sort of ‘secret rapture’ to take the ekklesia (Church) out of this world like Dispensationalists believe. I expect that the elect will be in this world (see Matt 24:22) in the midst of it. Just as the Church was present for the Tribulation in 70 A.D in Jerusalem, so will the Church be here for the Great Tribulation before He returns in power and glory. But the comforting thing is this – the Church will spend the rest of Eternity with the King once He emerges victorious against the presently evil world. And we will also spend it with redeemed resurrection bodies, in a New Heavens and New Earth, to reign with Him and praise Him forever and ever.

To Him be the Glory Forever! Amen.

On “Mediums” and the Bible

The Shade of Samuel Invoked by Saul

Shade of Samuel?

Since our son was born a few days ago, I’ve been at home this week. My wife was flipping through the cesspool known as Daytime TV, and we landed on a talk show that had a ‘medium’ on it. You know the routine, folks like these claim to have the power to contact ‘the other side’, and have the ability to talk to your loved ones. This woman was no different, she did the same old schtick that went something like this:

‘Psychic’: I’m getting a letter, someone with a J or a G. Does anyone know anyone who has passed with a name that starts with a J or a G?

Victim: Oh yeah, my grandfather George! He recently passed away!

‘Psychic’: Yes, it is your grandfather George — and he has this message to tell you: “He loves you very much, and knows that you miss him – but some day you will be together with him”

Victim: <sobs, overcome with tears, in remembrance of their loved one and the loving, affirming message to them>

Call me a skeptic, but this is really a very simple parlor trick – albeit one that takes a bit of skill (and fast talking skills) to do well. For those of you who haven’t caught on yet — this is known as Cold Reading (Wikipedia). Check the article out at some point, but three curious observations of my own:

  1. The psychic never has a clear reading on who they have contacted ‘on the other side’, but requires a victim in the audience to tell them who they are talking to. Weirdly enough ‘spirits’ give you their first letter of their name.
  2. As soon as the victim tells the ‘psychic’ the name of the loved one, they immediately have an incredibly clear revelation to give! They go from vague to direct in the span of a minute or less!
  3. And then they always have some sort of feel-good syrupy message. Has anyone ever given a message like: “I am angry that your sister Mary Beth is a drunk and beats her kids – tell her to stop it!”. And the spirits seem to never want to engage in a conversation, instead they just dispense your fortune like a cookie in a Chinese restaurant.

For all of these reasons and more, it is easy to discern what actually is (or is not) happening when one of these charlatans shows up.

But thinking about this led me to recall an incident in the Bible – it is the time when Saul went to seek a medium (something prohibited by the Mosaic Law, and punishable by death) to contact the Prophet Samuel about battle plans against the Philistines. The LORD had refused to answer Saul when consulted via prophets, and so he took the unusual and illegal move to contact a medium. From 1 Samuel 28:

8 So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman. “Consult a spirit for me,” he said, “and bring up for me the one I name.”

9 But the woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?”

10 Saul swore to her by the Lord, “As surely as the LORD lives, you will not be punished for this.”

11 Then the woman asked, “Whom shall I bring up for you?”

“Bring up Samuel,” he said.

12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!”

Now this passage is actually a bit controversial in the realm of Biblical Scholarship. Some believe that the Witch of Endor (yes, this medium lived in Endor – and not the ones with the Ewoks) did not actually contact Samuel, but that an evil spirit instead came up (some great theologians such as Matthew Henry and John Calvin took this position). Others believe that it was indeed Samuel (in fact, this is probably the modern prevailing opinion) as that is what the text states. That is a topic for another day. However, I wanted to zero in on the bold/italic portion of the text.

I think this woman was a charlatan, and was surprised that she was able to actually conjure up a spirit. I think she was probably another huckster separating fools from their money. To actually see Samuel come up made her cry out loud.

I wonder what would happen if these phonies actually did encounter whatever it is that they attempted to communicate with. They’d probably need a change of underwear.

Look at verse 10 for the hubris and arrogance of Saul. He makes an oath to her on the LORD(!) telling her that she would not be punished. This is outrageous, given that it is God who gives the command that those who practice such things should be put to death. And this is hypocritical of Saul when it was he who had been cleansing the land of mediums (1 Samuel 28:3)! This is interesting isn’t it and seems to speak to our fallen human nature. We are often eager to follow God’s laws until it causes conflict of self-interest. In that case, anything goes. I know it’s a struggle that I have had to deal with.

That said, I want to look at the Mosaic Law briefly. The law against mediums and the like are repeated in a couple of places in the Pentateuch, but I like Deuteronomy 18:9-13:

9 When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, 11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and because of these detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. 13 You must be blameless before the LORD your God.

To bring this back to be relevant to the New Covenant / Old Covenants shedding light on each other theme I started with the previous post – I want to speak briefly about the concept that the “New Testament God” has a different character from “The Old Testament God”. Some of these objections have to do with the fact that God commanded the Israelites to conquer the promised land.

But look at verse 9 here – there is no moral equivalence between the Israelites and the inhabitants of the land that they conquered. It is not right to burn your sons and daughters to your ‘god’. And that was a common practice in the land that the Israelites were to enter into. For those of you who believe that all cultures are equivalent: Does a culture that burns their infants on a pyre to their god in the hopes to appease them have the same moral standing as a culture that states: “Love your neighbor as yourself”?

In the New Testament, the Old unfolds

St. Augustine wrote this:

Novum Testamentum in vetere latet
Vetus in novo patet

For those of us who don’t understand Latin (like myself), this is translated:

Only in the New Covenant does the Old unfold,
And hidden lies the New Testament in the Old.

This is a very important principle to understand, as it is the New Testament that sheds light on the Old Testament. And what Augustine says here is key — the New Testament is hidden inside of the Old. As this has become a recurring theme in my studies as of late,  I thought I’d create a series of posts about how the Old Testament unfolds in light of  of the New Testament.

But first, some words from Jesus. There is an important verse in John’s Gospel account. It is John 17:6:

6 “I have revealed you [the Father] to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.

and continuing down to verse 26:

25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

So there is this sense that God the Father was never really made known, until Jesus revealed Him to us. This has vast implications of course, one of the major ones is that the Nation of Israel (the firstborn son in Exodus) didn’t truly understand the Father, even with the Revelation at Sinai and the continuing revelations throughout the Prophets.

And so, here again is this consistent theme in that the Old Testament has to be interpreted in light of the revelation brought to us through the Christ (Messiah). Also important to note: the New Testament never contradicts the Old Testament, but it casts light and Reveals what is contained inside of it. And once Christ is shown in the New Testament, suddenly things become much clearer in the Old and the shadowy archetypes in the Old Testament are shown to be pointers to Christ.

As a simple example of this, let’s look at a classic passage from the Fall of Man. Genesis 3:15 (I prefer NASB’s translation here, we’ll see why in a moment):

And I [God] will put enmity
Between you [the serpent/Satan] and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”

This is a great passage, and is considered to be the proto-evangelium (first gospel). If you discard the New Testament from your Bible, then this passage appears to be nothing more than a description about the descendants of the snake and the descendants of the woman. And who can argue that snakes and men have a fairly contentious relationship?

However, the fascinating portion of this is how seed is considered a singular. Note how it states “He shall bruise you on the head”. Is it curious that the descendant of the woman will bruise the snake God is talking to? And not the descendants of the snake?

And notice how God is talking of the woman’s seed. Curious. Usually, we speak of the man’s seed. Hold that thought.

Anyway, if you read this passage in the Old Testament, you might brush this off as some sort of poetic license or something. But if you flip over to the New Testament, it appears as if the authors see something more meaningful here.

Galatians 3:16

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.

In Genesis 12, God tells Abraham that he will give the land to his offspring (literally: seed). Paul says, “No” — he meant seed in the singular, not the plural. Which makes sense if you believe that the Messiah was to come from Abraham’s lineage, and would fulfill the following:

I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you
.”

That the seed would be a blessing for all peoples on earth. That’s precisely what we believe Jesus Christ’s ministry did, allowing all people (not just those of Jewish descent) to have a relationship with the Living God. This is a profound promise given to Abraham in Genesis 12, and one that the Nation of Israel surely did not fulfill on its own. Instead, a single descendant of Abraham was responsible for spreading the Word of God to all nations. Representatives from almost every nation now sing Psalms of worship to the One True God. And it is all due to the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.

Now, look a few verses down in Galatians:

Galatians 4:4

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law,

One cannot help but think that Paul was thinking of Genesis 3:15 when he wrote this. The promise of the seed of the woman has been fulfilled in Christ. Jesus was born only of Mary’s ‘seed’, and was conceived via the Holy Spirit. Therefore, He truly fulfills the promise given to Eve in the Garden by God. Given Paul’s argument of Abraham’s seed – one cannot help but think that this is the same argument he would be making in interpreting Genesis 3:15.

Since we did touch on the promises given to Abraham a little bit here, look at what Jesus says about Abraham:

John 8:56

Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

Abraham rejoiced — he clearly saw that the promise of the blessing was fulfilled in Christ!

So once again — the New Testament is not in any way contradicting the Old Testament, but instead it reveals much more clearly what was being promised in Genesis. We often think of this promise in Genesis 3:15 as being given to Eve (and yes, it was) — but equally it was given to the serpent, who is also called the following in the book of Revelation:

Revelation 12:9

And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

Remember, God keeps His promises. Even to Satan.

Romans 5:12-21

Zampieri - Adam et Ève (détail)

“The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” -Genesis 3:12 (Adam blames God and Eve for his own sin. So it begins!)

Sometimes I gloss over a passage of scripture, especially when I think to myself, “Yeah, I know this doctrine” and then find myself breezing over the text. Reading Systematic Theologies, learning doctrine, etc. can sometimes make me speed read through Scripture. I’m trying to be more deliberate as of late, and have been doing so in some passages of the theological masterpiece that is the book of Romans.

I was reading through Romans 5:12-21 and the lightbulb just suddenly clicked in my head the other day, and I thought I’d share it. Not only does Paul describe the doctrine of Original Sin in this passage, but he proves it and I’d forgotten how good Paul is at doing that. This is what I love about the epistles in the New Testament. It isn’t simply thus saith the Lord, but it treats us as thinking, rational adults and often seeks to show us why something is true.

In this passage, Paul will prove to us why it is that God counts us guilty in Adam even if we could somehow avoid transgressions against the Law. And he will prove it by showing us that once upon a time, there was a group of people who could avoid having their personal sins counted against them!

Romans 5:12-21

12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—

13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many.

16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification.

17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.

19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

20 The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,

21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Here is a summation of what Paul is saying. Remember, this is very important!

  1. Sin and death entered the world through Adam (v.12)
    1. Remember, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Death comes about due to sin.
    2. Adam was warned that death would come to him if he violated God’s commandment: If you eat of the fruit, you will surely die.
  2. However, sin cannot be imputed when there is no Law (v.13)
    1. Also see Romans 4:15: “for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation
  3. Yet there was death between the time of Adam and the time of Moses! (v. 14)
    1. Note: The one law that was given to Adam and Eve could not be violated by their descendants, as their descendants could not eat the fruit. Therefore, their descendants could not sin in that fashion. And their other sins (murder, adultery, etc.) could not be held against them because the Law had not been given yet. And still, they died!
  4. We also note: the single transgression of Adam resulted in condemnation to all (v. 15)

Conclusion?

The conclusion one is left with is that in some sense mankind is held guilty in Adam even during the time period in which sin couldn’t be counted against us (before the Law of Moses). This is the doctrine of Original Sin. We are held guilty in some sense because of Adam, our forefather. That we share in his guilt even though we ourselves didn’t physically eat from the fruit!

To be fair, this is a hard doctrine for Western man to accept. Liberal Christianity seems to have abandoned it, or relegate it to the same pile of ‘unpleasantness’ as predestination, Hell, etc. But this is pretty clearly what Paul is teaching. This argument is buttressed even further with Paul’s comparison between Adam and Christ.

And in some ways, the most important part is the flip side of guilt in Adam. For, if condemnation came through the first Adam, and it brought death — a powerful force, then how much greater will the gift come to those who are in the Second Adam (Christ)!

Remember, this is the same formula used. If we are found in Christ, then His righteousness is imputed onto us (v. 17-19). And all we have to do is receive this free gift (16). One act of disobedience brought death (Adam). One act of obedience brought life (Christ).

So who represents you before God? Adam, or Christ?