Friday, May 31, 2013

Matthew 10: The End Was Near (Cosmic language & the old covenant age)

In this post, I would like to identify two important aspects of biblical literature which I have not yet touched upon in this series: 1) Scripture's non-literal cosmic language of judgment & deliverance, and 2) its related themes about the end of tabernacle/temple worship and the old creation/old covenant. These are important for understanding Jesus' prophecy to his twelve apostles in Matthew chapter ten: "When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes."

In order to appreciate this statement a bit more, let's start with the first aspect mentioned above. 

Throughout the Old Testament we find multiple references to Yahweh coming in judgment and/or deliverance for His people: Isaiah 19:1-4; 31:1-7; 64:1-4; Psalm 18:1-19; 144:1-8. Perhaps the most important example among these is Psalm 18, which speaks in very clear cosmic and apocalyptic language:

A Psalm of David, the servant of the Lord, who addressed the words of this song to the Lord on the day when the Lord rescued him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction assailed me; the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears. Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry. Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water. Out of the brightness before him hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds. The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice, hailstones and coals of fire. And he sent out his arrows and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings and routed them. Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils. He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters. He rescued me from my strong enemy and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.

Let's stop and think about this imagery for a few moments. David describes the Lord "coming" down to deliver him according to his prayer. He also describes the earth rocking and the mountains shaking at the anger of the Lord. Glowing coals shoot out of the Lord, and smoke rises out of his nostrils. The Lord even rides on a cherub (an angel) that flies, and he "comes" swiftly on the wings of the wind. Thunder, hailstones, and coals of fire shoot down through the thick, dark clouds which surround Him. The Lord shoots out arrows of lighting, and by the breath of His nostrils the sea parts so that the ocean floor is laid bare before everyone. And all of this, as David says at the beginning of this Psalm, is a description of the Lord rescuing him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of King Saul. Obviously, this apocalyptic language is not literal, nor was it ever intended to be interpreted as literal occurrences at the time of the Lord's deliverance. Such language is describing a mighty deliverance --a deliverance so mighty that extraordinary cosmic language suits it best-- but it is not a description of literal cosmic events. 

This is but one Old Testament example cosmic and apocalyptic language which describes the Lord's judgment upon His enemies and the deliverance of His children. This, I contend, is virtually identical to the cosmic and apocalyptic language mentioned in Matthew 24, Luke 21, Acts 2, I Peter 3, and Jude 17. 

Second, we find themes surrounding the end of tabernacle/temple worship and its relationship with the old creation/old covenant. These themes become very apparent through a comparison of multiple new covenant references about the “last days,” “last time,” and end of the Old Covenant "age": I Cor. 10:11; Heb. 1:1-2; 9:1-10, 23-26; 10:19-25; Acts 2:14-21 (referencing Joel 2:27-32); II Tim. 3:1-5; I Peter 1:3-9, 20; 4:7-11; 5:4 (w/ reference to I Jn. 2:28-29); I John 2:18; Jude 17-23. Perhaps the most important examples among these are found throughout the book of Hebrews:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he framed the ages. (1:1-2)
Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron's staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section,1 performing their ritual duties, but into the second2 only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is a parable for that time into the present).3 According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various baptisms, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation. (9:1-10)
...Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. ...He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (9:23-26)
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain... let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith... Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who is promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (10:19-25)

In these passages, the author of Hebrews sees a certain "Day" drawing near, and the people of God are encouraged to stir up one another to love and good works, and to meet together regularly, and to hold fast the confession of their hope without wavering because that Day is drawing near. Before that the author speaks of Christ appearing at the "end of the ages." What ages? The ages which led up to the New Covenant and the inauguration of the Kingdom of heaven on earth. This "end of the ages" is also described as a "time of reformation" in which Jesus would pass through the first "tent" and into the real "Holy of Holies"; and these laws pertaining to the Old Covenant priesthood (with the high priest passing through the first "tent" into the "second" tent) are said to be "a parable of that time into the present.

In I Cor. 10:11, the apostle Paul uses similar language when he references God's judgments upon the disobedient people of Israel in the wilderness. And Paul says that "these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come." Clearly then, according to the apostle Paul, his own generation was living in the time when "the ages" would "end." But what "ages"? Well, in the mind of the author of Hebrews (and many people have argued that Paul was it's author), the answer was simple. The Mosaic tabernacle and it's laws taught the people of Israel that its own system of worship had to end and a better system had to be inaugurated at the end of that age. Ages would pass operating under the old covenant and it's tabernacle/temple system of worship, but a "time of reformation" was promised, according to the Mosaic Law's own "parable."

All of these references, I contend, are describing the end of the Old Covenant along with it's essential tabernacle/temple, sacrificial, and priestly structure. Furthermore, I contend, that the cosmic and apocalyptic language of Matthew 24, Luke 21, Acts 2, I Peter 3, and Jude 17 describe the end of the old creation as it is symbolized and foreshadowed in the destruction of the temple/tabernacle system and it's laws which are structured with cosmic symbolism.4

1.  i.e. the Holy Place was the first section, or "tent," of the Tabernacle
2. i.e. the Most Holy Place (or "Holy of Holies") was the second section, or "tent," of the Tabernacle. According to the Law of Moses, the High priest was the only priest allowed into the second "tent," and he had to walk through the first tent to get to the second "tent." The author of Hebrews argues that this symbolism engraved in ceremonial law was "symbolic of the time now present."
3.  The Greek text says ἥτις παραβολὴ εἰς τὸν καιρὸν τὸν ἐνεστηκότα, which, if woodenly translated  would say: "which is a parable into the time then-to-now-present." That is why I translated the passage as saying: "which is a parable for that time into the present." The ESV translates this parenthetical remark as "(which is symbolic for the present age)." The NASB translates it this way: "which is a symbol for the present time." The NIV translates it this way: "This is an illustration for the present time." And finally, the NLT translates it this way: "This is an illustration pointing to the present time." 
4.  See L. Michael Morales, The Tabernacle Pre-Figured: Cosmic Mountain Ideology in Genesis and Exodus [Leuven-Paris-Walpole, MA: Peeters, 2012]; G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church's Mission: A biblical theology of the dwelling place of God [Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2004]; N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God [Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996]; Peter J. Leithart, A House For My Name: A Survey of the Old Testament [Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2000]; James B. Jordan, Through New Eyes: Developing A Biblical View of the World [Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1999]

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

John Owen: A Prophecy of Gospel Times Only

One of the last things I listed in one of my recent posts concerning Matthew chapter 10, I mentioned Hebrews 10:36-39 and II Peter 3:1-7 as apostolic references to the "coming of the Son of Man" in judgment upon Israel. Because those verses are often misunderstood by Christians today, I've taken the liberty to list a brief historical commentary from John Owen, the Prince of Puritans (or so he has been called), concerning those specific verses. For those who are unfamiliar with John Owen, he is recognized as one of the greatest biblical scholars among the English Puritans. 

But first, before we get to John Owen's comments, we need to get our bearings straight. So we'll start by reading the text of Hebrews 10:36-39:
For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, "Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him."  But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

Commenting on Hebrews 10:36-39 John Owen writes:

After [Jesus’] incarnation and ministry, he was now, with respect unto them, he that had come. …Yet after this [Jesus] was to come again. …He was to come for the punishment and destruction of his stubborn and inveterate adversaries. …Such as were declared enemies…

Of the first sort, were of the Jews, who slew him, who murdered him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and thereon continued their hatred against the gospel and all that made profession thereof. He was to come to “destroy those murderers, and to burn their city;” which fell out not long after writing of this epistle, and is properly intended in this place. See Matt. 24:3, 27, 30; 2 Pet. 3:4; Jude 14; Rev. 1:7; Mark 14:62; James 5:7,8.
For hereon ensued the deliverance of the church from the rage and persecution of the Jews, with the illustrious propagation of the gospel throughout the world.
…The Pagan Roman Empire was the second sort of his adversaries who were immediate enemies unto his gospel, and consequently to his person.1

Notice carefully that John Owen interpreted various references from Matthew 24, II Peter, Jude, Revelation, and James as though they all referred to the destruction of Jerusalem. This "coming" of the Son of Man was "for the punishment and destruction of his stubborn and inveterate adversaries." He then lists the 1st century Jews as the first of those adversaries! This was not an anti-semitic opinion of Owen. This was good exegesis of historical and biblical theology, straight out of the Scriptures -- the most Jewish bundle of literature to be found in the first century!
But notice also that John Owen specifically referred to II Peter 3:4. John Owen's comments on that apocalyptic portion of Scripture are very insightful. When commenting on 2 Peter 3:1-7 and it's description of a the old heaven and earth being destroyed and a new heavens and earth being created, John Owen appeals to Isaiah’s description of the Mosaic Covenant (Isa. 51):
The time when the work here mentioned, of planting the heavens, and laying the foundation of the earth, was performed by God, was when he “divided the sea” (v. 15), and gave the Law (v. 16), and said to Zion, “Thou art my people”—that is, when he took the children of Israel out of Egypt, and formed them in the wilderness into a church and state. Then he planted the heavens, and laid the foundation of the earth – made the new world. …And hence it is, that when mention is made of the destruction of a state and government, it is in that language that seems to set forth the end of the world. So Isaiah 34:4; which is yet but the destruction of the state of Edom. …And in our Savior Christ’s prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem, Matthew 24, he sets it out by expressions of the same importance. It is evidence then, that in the prophetical idiom and manner of speech, by “heavens” and “earth,” the civil and religious state and combination of men in the world, and the men of them, are often understood. …On this foundation I affirm that the heavens and earth here intended in this prophecy of Peter, the coming of the Lord, the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men, mentioned in the destruction of that heaven and earth, do all of them relate, not to the last and final judgment of the world, but to that utter desolation and destruction that was to be made of the Judaical church and state.2

Commenting just a few verses later, on 2 Peter 3:13, John Owen says:
“But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” What is that promise? Where may we find it? Why, we have it in the very words and letter, Isaiah 65:17. Now, when shall this be that God will create these “new heavens and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness”? Saith Peter, “It shall be after the coming of the Lord, after that judgment and destruction of ungodly men, who obey not the Gospel, that I foretell.” But now it is evidence, from this place of Isaiah, with chapter 66:21-22, that this is a prophecy of Gospel times only; and that the planting of these new heavens is nothing but the creation of Gospel ordinances to endure forever. The same thing is expressed in Hebrews 12:26-28.3

Commenting on Hebrews 12:26-29 [which quotes Haggai 2:6 and describes the “shaking” of “heaven and earth”], John Owen says:
It is the dealing of God with the Church, and the alterations which he would make in the state thereof, concerning which the apostle treats. It is therefore the heavens and earth of Mosaical worship, and the Judaical church-state, with the earth of their political state belonging thereunto, that are here intended. These were they that were shaken at the coming of Christ, and so shaken, as shortly after to be removed and taken away, for the introduction of the more heavenly worship… and immovable evangelical church-state. This was the greatest commotion and alteration that God ever made in the heavens and earth of the church, and which was to be made once only…  
This is the conclusion of the whole argumentative part of this epistle, that which was aimed at from the beginning. Having fully proved the excellency of the gospel, and state of the church therein, above that under the law, and confirmed it by an examination of all the concernments of the one and of the other, as we have seen; he now declares from the Scripture, according to his usual way of dealing with those Hebrews, that all the ancient institutions of worship, and the whole church-state of the old covenant, were now to be removed and taken away; and that to make way for a better state, more glorious, and that which should never be subject to change or alteration.4

1.  John Owen, An Exposition of Hebrews, [Marshallton, DE: N.F.C.E., 1969 reprint] Vol. 4, pp. 583-584. Brackets mine.
2.  John Owen, Works, [London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1965-68] Vol. 9, p. 134. Italics mine.
3.  Ibid. Bold and Italics mine.
4.  Ibid., Vol. 7, p. 366f

Monday, May 27, 2013

Eusebius' Proof of the Gospel

Eusebius, the Roman historian and Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine who lived from 263A.D. to 339A.D., is famous for writing works on early Church history and the life of Constantine. But there is another work which he wrote which is not very famous in our current generation, primarily because it's hard to find an english translation of the original Latin manuscript. That work was called Demonstratio Evangelica. Translated into English, that title means "The Proof of the Gospel." In Eusebius' Proof of the Gospel, he describes a number of historical events in connection with Jesus' prophecy as recorded in Matthew 24 and Luke 21. Commenting on those prophecies of Jesus, Eusebius writes:

But who would not be surprised at the fulfillment of a prophecy which revealed that the Jewish people would undergo these sufferings in the days of the Lord? For as soon as Jesus our Lord and Savior had come and the Jews had outraged Him, everything that had been predicted was fulfilled against them without exception 500 years after the prediction: from the time of Pontius Pilate to the sieges under Nero, Titus and Vespasian they were never free from all kinds of successive calamities, as you may gather from the history of Flavius Josephus... For after the coming of our savior Jesus Christ, their city, Jerusalem itself, and the whole system and institutions of the Mosaic worship were destroyed; and at once they underwent captivity in mind as well as body, in refusing to accept the Savior and Ransomer of the souls of men, him Who came to preach release to those enslaved by evil demons, and giving of sight to those blind in mind.1
And from that time a succession of all kinds of troubles afflicted the whole nation and their city until the last war against them, and the final siege, in which destruction rushed on them like a flood2 with all kinds of misery of famine3, plague4 and sword5, and all who had conspired against the Savior in their youth were cut off.6
When, then, we see that was of old foretold for the nations fulfilled in our day, and when the lamentation and wailing that was predicted for the Jews, and the burning of the Temple and its utter desolation, can also be seen even now to have occurred according to the prediction, surely we must also agree that the King who was prophesied, the Christ of God, has come, since the signs of His coming have been shown in each instance I have treated to have been clearly fulfilled.7

1.  Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel, translated by W. J. Ferrar [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1981] 2:26-27
2.  Dan. 9:26
3.  Matt. 24:7
4.  Luke 21:21
5.  Luke 21:24
6.  Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel, translated by W. J. Ferrar [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1981] 2:138  (c.f. 2:403)
7.  Ibid.  2:147

Instructions to the Twelve (B and B')

In the previous post on Matthew, I covered the first and last sections (A and A') of chapter ten together. And as you also may recall, Matthew chapter ten is structured according to the following chiasm:

A)  Instructions to the twelve apostles  (10:5-15)
   B)  Persecution and family division  (10:16-23)
      C)  Enemies of the Master’s household  (10:24-25)
         D1)  Consolation of the twelve: "Do not fear them..." (10:26-27)
            D2)  "Do not fear those who... but Fear Him who can..." (10:28-30)
         D3)  Consolation of the twelve: "Do not fear, therefore..." (10:31-33)
      C’)  Enemies of the Master’s household  (10:34-36)
   B’)  Persecution and family division  (10:37-39)
A’)  Reception of the twelve apostles  (10:40-42)

The next two parallel sections are B and B', and both of them describe persecution and family division (as noted above and below). In both sections (B & B'), Matthew records these words of Jesus to his twelve apostles:
Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the Father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. 

...Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 

Now, I realize that I've said this before in an earlier post, but for the sake of unmistakable emphasis I'm going to repeat myself. There is a very good reason why Jesus took his twelve apostles aside and told them that they would be delivered over to courts, flogged in their synagogues, and dragged before governors and kings to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. It is because the Son of Man was going to come upon that generation in judgment.

I also realize that I've said this before, but for the sake of protecting myself against prejudicial, egotistic, premillenial brethren who read this post and feel the need to scold me for teaching "unbiblical" views, I'm going to repeat myself. There is a very good reason why Jesus took his twelve apostles aside and told them that they didn't need to be anxious about how they were to speak or what they were to say, and that what they were to say was promised to be given by the Holy Spirit to them in that hour. It was because the Son of Man was going to come upon that generation in judgment. 

And last of all, I realize that I've said this before too, but for the sake of abundant clarity, I'm going to repeat myself one more time. There is a very good reason why they would be hated by all for the sake of Jesus' name, and why only those who would endure to the end would be saved, and why those who would not lose their life for Jesus' sake would not find life. It was because the Son of Man was going to come upon that generation in judgment. 

Of course, you didn't need me to emphasize this for you. Everything you needed to know was spoken just as clearly by Jesus. He said these very words (in section B above):
When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

From the context itself, it's obvious that whenever the Son of Man was prophesied to "come" and visit, he would be coming upon all of the towns of Israel and before all twelve apostles could go through all of them. This exact language about the Son of Man coming in judgment is mentioned in multiple places throughout Matthew's gospel, which should lead us to believe that they're all talking about the exact same time-frame and events. For example, in Matthew 16:24-28, Jesus tell his disciples again that:
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. ...For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.

Notice Jesus' own repeated emphasis upon the very close time-frame in which this "coming" of the Son of Man would take place. It's as though Jesus insisted on repeating himself over and over again for the sake of abundant clarity. (Sound familiar?) Jesus repeats this same message again; this time, it's in Matthew 23:32-39, where we find Jesus condemning the ungodly rulers of Israel within Herod's idolatrous temple, and lamenting over Jerusalem and it's temple's soon-coming destruction:
Fill up, then, the measure of your Fathers! You serpents! You brood of vipers! How are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth... Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate!

In the very next verses of Matthew' gospel, we find Jesus standing outside of the temple and prophesying against Jerusalem; and in this prophecy we find identical statements with the prophecy of Jesus in Matthew 10 (B & B'). Furthermore, Jesus' prophecy clarifies Matthew 10 by explicitly describing this "coming" of the Son of Man as the destruction of Jerusalem and it's idolatrous temple at "the end" of the Old Covenant "age." Matthew 24:1-21 says that:
Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, "You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down." As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age? And Jesus answered them, "See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end [of the age] is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of the birth pains. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And the gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas, for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! ... For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.

In Luke's gospel, we find the exact same recording of Jesus' prophecy against Israel, only stated in Luke's own words (and for a difference audience than Matthew, of course). Do yourself a big favor and pay very close attention to the identical prophecy of Jesus here in Luke 21:10-24, and compare it with the statements of Jesus above in Matthew 10:16-23 (section B & B' above). Luke writes:
Then [Jesus] said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name's sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives. But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are the days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. Alas for women who are pregnant in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled." 

By comparing the language of Matthew 10, Matthew 24, and Luke 21, it is obvious that Jesus was prophesying about a soon-coming judgment upon the land of Israel. "These are the days of vengeance," Jesus said, "to fulfill all that is written."  What?  Is Jesus saying that the Old Covenant scriptures and prophets spoke of the end of the Old Covenant age and a day in which the Lord would come in judgment upon that land and that temple (Herod's Temple)? Jesus certainly seems to have thought so. 

Also, notice carefully that in the place where Matthew records the words,  "When you see the Abomination of desolation standing in the midst of the Holy Place," Luke interprets that very same statement as meaning, "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies..." That would be a very odd statement for Jesus to tell his disciples if he intended that as a prophecy for future generations thousands of years later on in history.

Continuing this same train of thought, but just a few verses later in Matthew's gospel, Jesus speaks with abundant clarity about when these judgments would take place. He says they would take place in his generationMatthew 24:23-34 reads
...If anyone says to you, "Look! Here is the Messiah!" or "There he is!" do not believe it. For false Messiahs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, "Look! he is in the wilderness," do not go out. If they say, "Look! He is in the inner rooms," do not believe it. For as lightening comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the land will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. ...From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 

Luke 21:25-33 records these exact same words of Jesus, immediately after the parallel reference above. Make no mistake about this. The prophecy of Luke 21 and Matthew 24 are describing the exact same events. 

And finally, in case you were skeptical about this very near time-references about Jesus "coming" in judgment, Matthew 26:60-65 should seal the deal. In these verses, Jesus stands before the High Priest of Israel and many of the Jewish Rulers of Jerusalem, and it is there that we find Matthew recording these details:
At last, two [witnesses] came forward and said, "This man [Jesus] said, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.'" And the high priest stood up and said, "Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?" But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, "I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God." Jesus said to him, "You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven." Then the high priest tore his robes and said, "He has uttered blasphemy!"

You may want to call me a heretic. You may even want to accuse me of engaging in some kind of theological jujitsu. But if you want to make a rational exegesis of the biblical text, what you cannot accuse me of being is crazy. I am not the one who repeatedly clarified that the Son of Man would come upon that first century generation of Israel in judgment. Jesus taught that message. If you've got a problem with that message, take it up with Jesus. And once you're done with Jesus (as if you could possibly win), you may also want to consider taking it up with his apostles too. They also taught what Jesus prophesied, namely this exact same soon "coming" of Christ in judgment upon Israel (II Thess. 2:1-7; I John 2:28-29; James 5:7-8; Rev. 1:1-7; Heb. 10:36-39; II Pet. 3:1-7).

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A prayer about falling away again, by John Calvin

John Calvin
A Prayer About Falling Away Again
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou hast not only of late adopted us as thy children before we were born, and as thou hast been pleased to sign us, as soon as we came forth from our mother's womb, with the symbol of that holy redemption, which has been obtained for us by the blood of thy only begotten Son, though we have by our ingratitude renounced so great a benefit --- O grant, that being mindful of our defection and unfaithfulness, of which we are all guilty, and for which thou hast justly rejected us, we may now with true humility and obedience of faith embrace the grace of thy gospel now again offered to us, by which thou reconcilest thyself to us; and grant that we may steadfastly persevere in pure faith, so as never to turn aside from the true obedience of faith, but to advance more and more in the knowledge of thy mercy, that having strong and deep roots, and being firmly grounded in the confidence of sure faith, we may never fall away from the true worship of thee, until thou at length receivest us into that eternal kingdom, which has been procured for us by the blood of thy only Son. Amen.1

1.  John Calvin, Commentary on Hosea 2:4-5 [Grand Rapids, MI; Baker House Book, 1989 reprint] p. 85

Friday, May 24, 2013

Fallen from God's favor, part 4

I'm sure the photo above looks very confusing to you, so don't try to interpret what it all means just yet. I promise that it will make a lot more sense by the end of this post.

In three previous posts I covered the essentials of what Calvin taught concerning the biblical warning of "falling away." Now what I would like to do next is summarize all of the information contained in this series of posts (see parts onetwo, and three). But in order to piece all of Calvin's technical theological jargon together, it will help us to go back first and restate what was fundamental to Calvin's soteriology;that way, if we have any misunderstandings of our own, we can identify and reassess them along the way. But remember, we must ultimately commit to what God's Word says, not John Calvin. Yet this series of posts is primarily focused upon what John Calvin understood God's Word to teach. Let's now try to summarize what we've learned so far.

What was absolutely fundamental for Calvin was his belief that the Scriptures  speak clearly of God's unchangeable plan for the entire world and course of all history (not merely human history). That unchangeable plan includes his secret will to select whomever he wanted for himself, according to a decree which he (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) made from eternity past. Calvin described these as God's eternally elect. 

However, Calvin did not believe that salvation was described merely in terms of an unchangeable, predestined plan. He also firmly believed that the Scriptures everywhere describe mankind as having a free will according to their spiritual nature. That is to say, Calvin did not see a logical contradiction between God's eternal, predestinating plan and that plan including the free, natural ability for men to make choices. The only thing which man could not do, according to Calvin, was make choices contrary to their spiritual nature; which is to say that spiritually dead men could only make spiritually dead choices, and without the Holy Spirit's work of regeneration, there could be no ultimate salvation for anyone born in sin.

But the comprehensive scope of salvation went far beyond that for Calvin. Not only was salvation according to God's eternal decree and plan, and not only was man accountable for the free choices he makes according to his nature, but Calvin also understood salvation in terms of a gracious eternal covenant. And that eternal covenant has always been the same in substance, even though it differed in its administration before and after the cross of Christ. Without this gracious covenant, there could be no union between God and man in any sense or at any time, even before humanity fell into sin through Adam.2

Moreover, Calvin noticed that in numerous places of the Biblical narrative, this gracious covenant of God was always bilateral. And because it was bilateral, the biblical language of God's unconditional faithfulness and man's conditional faithfulness was reconciled. That is to say, this gracious bilateral covenant is unconditional from God's vantage point, but conditional from man's vantage point. (We learned this in the second part of this series.) And so, from God's own vantage point, God will always be faithful to the terms of his covenant. It would be impossible for God to be unfaithful. However, with those whom God has placed in a covenant relationship with him, the covenant can be broken, violated, and blasphemed by man. 

Furthermore, according to Calvin, all those graciously placed within God's covenant have really been adopted into God's family, being cared for by him in a manner which receives more favor and blessing than those whom he denies entrance. Calvin calls this gracious placement into God's covenant a "common covenant," a "common adoption," and God's "general election." And so, for those in this general election, all of God's promised blessings and curses are promised, and from man's vantage point, they can indeed fall away from God's favor by their own covenant infidelity, or they can persevere in faithful obedience to the Lord who bought them. But from God's vantage point, there is a "secret" eternal election known only to God himself -- an election which God has not revealed to anyone, nor has he even promised to ever disclose at any time to anyone. Far too often we, in our sin, presume that God ought not to keep his eternally elect a secret from us, so that we can understand why he works salvation a certain way. However, what is worse is that by doing so, we presume that we, in our finite minds, could understand why an infinite God works salvation that way, when in fact we have no other reason (other than sinful pride) to believe we could. This he does to humble our sinful minds and persuade us that salvation flows from the wellspring of his free mercy.

From this commitment to Scriptural language, Calvin was also comfortable declaring God's promises to Christians, even though he didn't personally know which of them were eternally elect. Calvin thought that man could definitely know who was generally elect, just not eternally elect. And so, he declared all the promised blessings of God to the generally elect, even though he understood that not all Christians would embrace God's promises in faith. Such embracing would necessitate more than outward grace and mercy; something more than the general blessings attendant to living within God's covenant household. For Calvin, what men need to embrace God's promises in faith (without hypocrisy) is a working of inner grace, given by God's Spirit of regeneration. And for those who are regenerate, there is an indissoluble bond between Christ which will enable them to persevere to the end of their covenant relationship with God, even if they sometimes lack personal assurance because of their sins.

For those who are not regenerate and do not receive this inner grace, there is indeed a dissoluble bond; but there is a real covenantal bond nonetheless. Those whom God has graciously placed in covenant with him can really fall away from that covenant, thereby falling away from God's favor and all the blessings attendant to it as promised. And again, for those who are regenerate (and God only knows), God's favor preserves them until the end. They persevere because God preserves them. But concerning those within the Church who are truly unregenerate (and God only knows), there was no question in Calvin's mind that people in the New Covenant era can, by their ingratitude, fail to persevere in God's favor. Commenting on Romans 11:22, Calvin writes:
They indeed who have been illuminated by the Lord ought always to think of perseverance; for they continue not in the goodness of God, who having for a time responded to the call of God, do at length begin to loathe the kingdom of heaven, and thus by their ingratitude justly deserve to be blinded again.3

Again, keep in mind that Calvin believed there were general blessings attendant to being placed within this covenant of grace and adopted into God's family in this general sense. And so, when Calvin saw the Scriptures teaching that man can fall away from God's favor in some sense, as in Romans 11:22, he deduced that it must not be referring to the eternally elect. Rather, it is a real warning given to all who are generally elect, in a common adoption and covenant. Calvin comments further in this regard:
...But as he [Paul] speaks not of the elect individually, but of the whole body, a condition is added, if they continued in his kindness. I indeed allow, that as soon as any one abuses God's goodness, he deserves to be deprived of the offered favor; but it would be improper to say of any one of the godly particularly, that God had mercy on him when he chose him, provided he would continue in his mercy; for the perseverance of faith, which completes in us the effect of God's grace, flows from election itself. Paul then teaches us, that the Gentiles were admitted into the hope of eternal life on the condition, that they by their gratitude retained possession of it.4 

Notice that Calvin considers it "improper" to tell any particular "godly" person that God chose to show mercy in choosing him (or her) on the condition that he (or she) would continue in his mercy, i.e. continually please him by not abusing his goodness in any way. Calvin says it's improper to think this way because the "godly" persevere in faith according to God's election. Whenever a covenant member abuses God's goodness, he deserves to be deprived of the offered favor. However, according to Calvin, God's mercy endures upon that "godly" person according to God's election. For the eternally elect, God's mercy endures forever. For others among the generally elect, they receive God's mercy for a time, but are justly deprived of it according to their ingratitude.

Now, I realize that all of this might a little overwhelming, and may even take a while to process. You might even have a few serious questions lingering in the back of your mind, waiting for some kind of clear resolution. For example, you might be wondering, "Why would God place someone in a covenant with Him, with all of its attendant blessings and curses, yet not work a special inner grace with them all?" I know that's a question which lingered in my mind when I first studied these views of Calvin. My own thoughts on this matter are that because we are sinful, it's healthier for us to wonder why God would show mercy upon sinners at all. The fact that man is sinful and that God does indeed show mercy toward sinners is sufficient for us to give him all the glory and praise and adoration humanly possible. 

Another question which might be raised is how one enters into this covenant of grace with God. Calvin speaks as though he has a clear-cut idea about how to identify covenant members. And to answer that, Calvin offers his own thoughts on the matter. He appeals to Romans 11:22 and Paul's language of being "cut off" from Christ and "grafted in" to covenant with him:  
But if it be asked respecting individuals, "How any one could be cut off from the grafting, and how after excision, he could be grafted again," bear in mind, that there are three modes of insition,5 and and two modes of excision. For instance, the children of the faithful are ingrafted, to whom the promise belongs according to the covenant made with the fathers; ingrafted are also they who  indeed receive the seed of the gospel, but it strikes no root, or it is choked before it brings any fruit; and thirdly the [eternally] elect are ingrafted, who are illuminated unto eternal life according to the immutable purpose of God.6
The first [i.e. born into the covenant through believing parents, having their membership ratified through baptism] are cut off, when they refuse the promise given to their fathers, or do not receive it on account of their ingratitude; the second [i.e. those former strangers of the covenant who later attach themselves to the Christian church with hypocritical faith] are cut off, when the seed is withered and destroyed; and as the danger of this impends over all, with regard to their own nature, it must be allowed that this warning which Paul gives belongs in a certain way to the faithful [among the generally elect], lest they indulge themselves in the sloth of the flesh. But with regard to the present passage, it is enough for us to know that the vengeance which God has executed on the jews is pronounced on the Gentiles, in case they become like them.7

And so, in Calvin's assessment of the Scriptural language, there are those who are grafted into Christ through birth under believing parents because God's promise is to those believing parents and to their children after them. Such grafting into Christ is covenantal in the general or "common" sense (not necessarily granting regeneration to the child). And so, because all such children are truly grafted in, as ratified through their baptism, the warning is given to all that they could truly be cut off. Likewise, Calvin describes those who are grafted in through a profession of faith. (Based upon other comments from Calvin, he believed that such outsiders of the covenant should receive baptism once they professed faith in Christ.) And if their faith is hypocritical, they too can be cut off because they were truly in covenant with Christ. And finally, Calvin mentions those who are grafted in---using the Scriptural language of election according to God's unchangeable purpose---who still need to heed God's warnings and persevere in faithful obedience to him, "lest they indulge themselves in the sloth of the flesh," as Calvin says, thereby displeasing God and incurring his covenantal curses for a time. 

What I find most refreshing about these views of Calvin is that he never tries to pry into the secret will of God. Nor did he jump on the bandwagon of Christian tradition. Instead, Calvin labored diligently in the Word of God, wrestling with it's difficult doctrines and ultimately reaching the conclusion that Christians, because they are in covenant with God, can fall away from God's favor. Strangers to God's covenant receive no promise of such favor, and consequently can have no hope of salvation. Far too often, modern day Calvinists are quick to presume that being grafted into God's covenant of grace necessitates God's regenerating grace as well. Many of them even speak as though "election" and "adoption" can only refer to those included in God's eternal, predestinating, regenerating favor. But from the looks of John Calvin's own words, he would have definitely disagreed. Calvin took the warning of falling away from the covenant of grace seriously.  Lord willing, may we also learn to do the same. 

Finally, a few closing thoughts for my "Reformed" or Calvinist friends: 

  • In what ways do Calvin's views differ from yours?
  • In what senses do you see the Scriptures using terms like covenant, elect, regenerate, saved, adopted, and Christian? 
  • How does salvation in terms of a covenant make you feel? 
    • Does a conditional covenant challenge your willingness to obey God?
    • Does God's promise of unconditional faithfulness to his covenant, including both blessings and curses, worry you?
  • Do Calvin's views of Scripture affect the way you think of the "elect"?
    • How does this affect the way you view those who have been baptized into the Body of Christ?
    • Are they Christians?
    • Are they among God's elect in your eyes?
    • Does God view baptized children of believers the same way as he does the children of your anti-Christian, atheist neighbors?
  • Do Calvin's views affect the way you view ungrateful members of the Christian Church?
    • Do you treat them as "elect"? 
    • Do you think of them as family members of God's household?
    • Should they be taught to trust and obey God in order to please Him?
    • Should they be taught to "continue in God's kindness," to "continue in the faith"?
    • Should they be warned about "losing their own stability" (II Peter. 3:17) and "falling away from grace" (Gal. 5:4) if they don't "continue in God's kindness" (Rom. 11:21)?  

1.  Soteriology is doctrine concerning entire scope of salvation
2.  Even in heaven, God's elect will be united to him in this covenant. However, in heaven, man will be fully redeemed, justified, sanctified, and glorified; and so he will not be able to sin, even though he will be completely free according to that spiritual nature of his. The same is true concerning Adam and Eve before the Fall. Before the fall, man was created righteous, but with the ability to resist sinful temptations or make sinful choices. After the fall, all men are born in sin and left with the ability to only make sinful choices. Their choices, nevertheless, are genuine choices according to their nature. Likewise, the redeemed in this life (prior to heaven) are given a regenerate heart, and thereby are given a renewed ability to resist sinful temptations and make choices which actually please God. 
3.  Peter Lillback, The Binding of God: Calvin's Role in the Development of Covenant Theology [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001] p. 220   
4.  Ibid. Italics mine.
5.  Insition means the taking in or adding through grafting.
6.  Peter Lillback, The Binding of God: Calvin's Role in the Development of Covenant Theology [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001] p. 221  Brackets mine.
7.  Ibid. p. 222

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Who is Michael the Archangel?

In Kenneth Gentry's audio lectures on the book of Revelation, aptly titled The Divorce of Israel, he discusses a few things about Michael the Archangel which I had never considered previously. He notes that Revelation 12:7-9 describes, in symbolic language, a war in heaven between Michael and the Dragon, Satan. According to Gentry, Michael appears most famously in Dan 10:13, 21 and 12:1 where he is presented as the defender of the Church against her enemies.  Interestingly, we learn in the New Testament that this is the exclusive task of the Son of God (Eph 1:19-23; Eph 5:23; Mt 16:18). A similar impression is left with the "angel" or "messenger" of the Lord in Exodus 3:2, 8, and Judges 6:11-17.

Furthermore, in Jude 9, “Michael” is called the “archangel,” which means "the ruler of angels" in Greek. Interestingly, elsewhere in Scripture we learn that Jesus is the one who comes with "his angels" in the glory of his Father (Matt. 16:27). In Matthew 13:41 we find again that Jesus will "send his angels" and gather out of his kingdom all lawbreakers. Elsewhere we are also told that he will send out "his angels" with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from one end of heaven to the other (Matt. 24:31). In Paul's letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 4:16), he mentions that "The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel...". Paul says elsewhere that, "when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels," he will grant relief to those who have afflicted his people (2 Thess. 1:7). 

Drawing from the well of Old Testament allusions, it also seems as though this very same archangel--this ruler of the angelic hosts--is the one who confronts Joshua in the promised land (Joshua 5:14-15). 

Finally, Gentry argues, the Hebrew meaning of “Michael” is significant. Michael means “who is like God?” and is based on Exodus 15:11 and Psalm 89:6-7, which suggests that this one who performs the task of God's Son and is the ruler of all angelic hosts is also a distinct messenger of God's likeness (cf. Ps 35:10; 71:19; 113:5; Isa 40:18, 25; 44:7; 46:5; 49:19; Jer 50:44). There truly is no other like God, yet Michael is like the Son of God, the Ruler of angels, the messenger of Yahweh.