Thursday, February 26, 2004

Sun, Moon and Stars

In Isaiah 13 we read of God's judgement of the very literal city of ancient Babylon by raising up the Medes to conquer them. We know that this event did happen in history. In 539 BC the Medes and Persians conquered Babylon destroyed the Babylonian Empire. In Isaiah 13:10 we read about the conquest of this historic city of Babylon by the Medes and Persians. Isaiah writes of this event “For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.”

This is not some event yet future to us that Isaiah is talking about. No; he is speaking of a time that is now long in the past, the destruction for the ancient Babylonian Empire. We can study this event in history. The prophecy of God's judgement against Babylon was literally fulfilled, but the "stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine" were not literal and these things did not literally happen then. The stars, sun and moon all still continued to shine when Babylon fell to the Medes. So what did the prophet mean by this prophesy?

In Isaiah 34 we read another interesting statement about God's judgement against the descendants of Esau (Idumea or Edom): Isaiah says “And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree. For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment.”

The descendants of Esau were very severely judged by God and they became a conquered and defeated people, but the apocryphal, prophetic language used by Isaiah was not to be understood as literal. The heavens were not literally rolled up as a scroll, and their host (stars) did not literally fall when Edom was destroyed.

The following quote is an excerpt from the Commentary of Jamieson, Fausset and Brown. They write "When Judah was captive in Babylon, Edom, in every way, insulted over her fallen mistress, killed many of those Jews whom the Chaldeans had left, and hence was held guilty of fratricide by God (Esau, their ancestor, having been brother to Jacob): this was the cause of the denunciations of the prophets against Edom ( Isa. 63:1 &c; Jer 49:7; Eze 25:12-14; 35:3-15; Joe. 1:19; Am 1:11,12; Ob 8,10,12-18; Mal 1:3,4) Nebuchadnezzar humbled Idumea accordingly."

We find in the prophesies of Isaiah very literal event: The judgement of Edom (Idumea) by another nation - Babylon, under the command of Nebuchadnezzar. In this event we find language about the heavens being effected by the earthly collapse of a pagan kingdom.

When read this kind of thing in Scripture we have to ask ourselves an important question. Were the heavens actually rolled together as a scroll when Edom fell to Nebuchadnezzar? The answer to our question is No! The reason is this is symbolic language used in the Scriptures to express the calamity involved in the fall of earthly kingdoms and powers.

If you recall ancient pagan kings were usually seen as the son of a pagan god. To the ancient pagans of the Middle East the sun, moon and stars were god’s themselves and the king and his princes were related to them. So when a kingdom fell it was as though the heavenly host of that pagan people were falling.

In Ezekiel 32 we read of God's judgement on Egypt by Babylon. The Babylonians defeated the Egyptians and ruled over them. We know this, it is well documented. From the prophet writings we find that this conquest is an act of divine judgement. This is what God says about His judgement on Egypt. “And when I shall put thee out, I will cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee, and set darkness upon thy land, saith the Lord GOD.” (Eze. 32:7-8)

We know the Egyptians were judged by God and in this judgement we read that the sun, moon and stars are said to go dark and no longer shine on the land. This is hyperbolic, apocryphal language used when the powers that be are shaken to the point of collapse, as Egypt was by the Babylonians and the Babylonians were by the Medes and Persians.

There are other examples like these in the Old Testament. The reason I bring them up is to make a point. This kind of language is found many times in the writings of the Old Testament prophets, but they are not literal and were not meant to be understood literally, yet the prophecies were literally fulfilled in time and history. The nations prophesied against were judged and defeated by their enemies that God raised up to judge them, but the imagery of the stars, sun and moon being darkened, and the sky rolling up like a scroll were not to be understood literally in the modern sense.

These things were symbolic (hyperbolic) language used to express the magnitude of God's judgement on these peoples.

Now lets look at a VERY important rule that must be used when we study God's Word "Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture," i.e. Scripture interprets Scripture. We are not to read into God's Word what we "think" it means. We are to look to God's Word and draw from it what it means to say. We must be careful to look and see if and how the Scriptures interpret themselves.

When we read in the New Testament the very same kind of apocryphal language that we find in the Old Testament we MUST allow the Old to direct us in how we are to understand what the New Testament writer is trying to say. So when we read about the sun, moon and stars being darkened in the New Testament it is than not to be understood literally in the New if it was not used literally in the Old.

We read in Matt. 24, Luke 21 and Revelation examples of this same type of judgement where the stars fall from the heavens etc… Simplistic literalism will only cause us to wrongly divide God's Word of Truth. We must let the Scriptures interpret the Scripture and we must not the nightly news, the latest book by Hal Lindsey or some other “prophecy expert” interpret the Scriptures for us. I fear there is a lot of this going on when it comes to "prophecy" in our day.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Christ Commandments and the Great Commission

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:19-20)

These words of Jesus have rightly been considered the marching orders of Christ to His Church. That is true, but we often miss what those orders are. The command of the Great Commission is not to "GO." It does not show up clearly in most English translations, but the word go in this verse is, in the original Greek, a passive participle and not a verb.

Ok. And what does that mean? It means that what we read as go should literally be translated "as you are going." As we go about our daily life, we are to be about doing what Christ has commanded here. We are to "make disciples." That’s the command in this sentence. A disciple is a vastly different thing than a convert. A disciple is a student of Christ and His holy Word (the whole Bible).

When someone is converted to the Christian faith they have reached the point where we can then start to obey the Great Commission with them. It is then that they can become a disciple of Christ. It is important to remember that making converts (i.e. evangelism) is certainly presupposed in the Great Commission, but it is not part of the commission itself.

What are disciples to be taught? Jesus doesn't leave this up to us or what we feel. He tells us the answer in verse 20. He says "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." That, my friends, is a very tall order.

In a previous blog I showed the importance of keeping Christ commandments. We saw how observing of God’s Commands is vital in the Christian life. It is clear that St. James and St. John both wrote that one who doesn't do as Christ commanded has a dead faith and such a dead faith is not a saving faith. Here again we see, in the commission of Jesus to his Church, the important it is for us to "observe all things whatsoever I [i.e. Jesus] commanded."

So we are to be learners and doers of Christ's commandments and "as we are going" we are to teach others to be learners and doers of Christ commands. Getting someone to pray a "sinners prayer" is not the demand of the great commission. The commission is to teach those that come to Christ to obey and do all that He commanded.

We see in the Great Commission what Paul said in Ephesians. "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." (Eph. 2:10) We are saved unto good works.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Keep Commandments?

God’s people are saved from their sins by His grace through faith. Paul makes this very clear in his epistle to the Ephesians. He says: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:2-9). I have heard that quote countless times, and I thoroughly agree with my brothers who stress that salvation is all of God and grace is His unmerited favour to us. But many times these same brothers forget what Paul says in verse ten. He writes "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10)

We are saved UNTO good works. Our good works are a vital aspect of our Christian life. They are so vital that James, in his epistle to the universal (catholic) church, said in chapter two "Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works." (James 2:17,18)

James makes clear that someone who claims faith in Christ, but has no works (fruit) that are in line with true faith has a dead faith. Such faith is not true faith, and therefore it is not saving faith, because true/saving faith in Jesus will produce good works. James asked a rhetorical question to make this very point. He wrote in verse fourteen of chapter two "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?" The obvious answer is an emphatic No, because as James stresses true faith will produce good works in the believer.

Many folks will respond "but we are under grace not law." Such people are referring to Paul’s statement in his letter to the Church at Rome (Romans 6:14), but the context in which I have so often heard this statement made shows a gross misunderstanding of Paul, and the Law/Grace distinctions.

The law of God condemns all who are fallen in Adam, and especially those that know God’s Word, but have rejected Christ. God’s law is a holy reflection of the very character and nature of God himself. (I am not talking of the ceremonial law, which was a shadow that pointed out to the Old Covenant believer his sinfulness and his need for the saviour to come. That aspect of the Old Covenant economy is clearly done away with in the New Covenant). It is not just a coincidence that the longest chapter in the whole Bible (Ps. 119) is a song of praise to God and the holiness and goodness of His law that He has graciously given to His people.

Paul, led by the Holy Spirit, knew that men can and would distort the scriptural teaching on the matter of God’s law and faith. He makes make these statements about the law and faith in Roman’s chapter three. "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (28). So far so good; we are not and can not be saved by the law because of sin (Adam’s and our own) the law already condemns us all. But Paul is not yet finished; he goes on to say in verse thirty-one "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law."

Paul does not give us an either-or / law-grace distinction. The law can not save us. It can only condemn us, because we are sinners and sin by its very definition is a transgression of the law of God. We are saved by grace through faith, but the faith of a true believer will cause him to desire to keep God’s law. Let’s look at Christ’s Word’s on this matter.

If ye love me, keep my commandments. (John 14:15)

He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. (John 14:21)

Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me. (John 14:23,24)

If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love. (John 15:10)

Many years after the Apostle heard Jesus speak these Word’s on night before His crucifixion, he (John) wrote similar things in his own short epistles. John wrote "And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." (1John 2:3,4) These are strong Words! For anyone who professes to know Christ and shows no evidence in his/her life, these words should scare him to death. Because according to St. John that individual is likely on the road to hell and that is why Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, tells them (and us also) to work out their salvation with fear and trembling.

Now back to John's epistles, because he is not finished. He says:

And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us. (1John 3:24)

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. (1John 5:2)

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. (1John 5:3)

John continued this theme in his second epistle. He wrote "And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it" (2John 1:6). We find this again in the very last book of the Bible, which is also written by this same John. Lets look at Revelation.

And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Rev. 12:17)

Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus. (Rev. 14:12)

Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city
. (Rev. 22:14)

Notice that John ties keeping the commandments very close to salvation itself. They are almost indistinguishable here in John’s writing (just as in James). That is because the Scriptures make clear good works (keeping the Commandments of God) will accompany true, saving faith.

Jesus makes clear that those that know Him (the regenerate/saved) will love Him and that love for Him will cause them to keep His commandments. Remember what Christ said : "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled " (Matt. 5:17,18).Don’t forget that a jot and tittle is the equivalent of our dot of an "I" or the cross of a "T." God’s Law stands till the end of time. It is a reflection of His nature and so God’s law can not cease to be His, and therefore our, standard of righteousness.

The question is "Can we accept Jesus as Saviour and not as Lord?" The answer from Scripture is a resounding "No." These Scriptures include the Whole Council of God, which includes everything from Genesis to Revelation.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Baptismal Regeneration?

Some one wrote me and asked “What are your thoughts on the debate about baptismal regeneration?"

Here is my short response:

I believe there are two extremes on this question.

One extreme makes water baptism to be an almost magical event. They believe that sins are truly washed away with the waters of baptism and there is no salvation outside of actual baptism. I disagree with this point.

The other extreme is that there is nothing more to baptism than an outward showing and a memorial of Christ death and resurrection. (Zwinglian/Baptist view) I disagree here too.

I believe the truth is between the two extremes. Baptism is a sacrament that truly does something (covenantally speaking). It unites us to the Church of Jesus Christ, where there is salvation. We are covenantally joined to Christ at baptism whether we mean it or not. It's like a marriage ceremony. If a man goes through the ceremony he becomes joined to his wife and is one with her. He may or may not be sincere when he takes the vow, but this does not change the objective fact that he is now married and a husband. He is responsible to be faithful to his vow and should be held accountable for it.

There is no magic in the marriage ceremony, but the status of the persons involved in it is truly changed in the eyes of both God and man. The same is true in baptism. Those that have been baptized are truly in covenant with Christ. Are they truly born again? Christ knows; you and I do not. We cannot see into their hearts, just as we cannot see into the heart of the new husband, but covenantally we are, with our baptism, now outwardly and objectively in Christ.

If a man and woman have sex the night before their marriage, he and she have committed the sin of fornication, but after they are married then the sexual relations between them are holy and beautiful before God. The only difference between sex before marriage and sex after marriage is a ceremony, but that covenant ceremony (marriage), while not magical, dramatically changes the relationship between a man and a women in the sight of God. Sex before the marriage ceremony is a terrible sin, but afterwards it is holy.

We live in an age where ceremony is not held in high esteem, but in the Word of God ceremonies are of great importance. Baptism is such a ceremony. Without baptism we are objectively counted as being of the world, but with it we are covenantally joined to Christ.

There are now and always have been those in Christ (i.e. baptised), who are not believers, and this is why we find numerous statements like the following in Scripture:

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

One must first be connected to the vine if he is a branch that is cut off and burned. I believe it is clear here that all those that are branches are not born again, because if they were they would continue to abide in Christ. All the branches are truly, covenantally connected to Christ. Those that do not continue to abide in Him are cut off and thrown into the fire as are those unbelievers outside the covenant.

When we come to children and infant baptism I think a citizenship analogy is valid. Christian children are born into the covenant and they are to keep it. They are born to privilege because they are born in covenant. They have a very different status in God’s sight than do the children of non-believers. Paul makes this very point in 1 Cor. 7:14. Here in his epistle we read that the children of unbelievers are "unclean"(Gk: akathartos), but the child who has at least one believing parent is in God’s sight “holy.” The word translated here as “holy” (Gk: hagios) can just as accurately be translated as “saints” as it is in other places.

Covenant children, like converts, are called on to make their salvation and election sure through repentance faith and obedience to Christ and His Word, but just like the baptised convert, the baptized child is truly and objectively in Christ.

Dominus Vobiscum,

Monday, February 02, 2004

The Trinity in the Old Testament

The tri-unity of God is an important aspect of Christian doctrine. It is drawn from the Bible’s teaching about the persons of the Godhead. It is a doctrine, like salvation, that is revealed progressively throughout Scripture. The Old Testament gives us insights into the plurality of the one true God, but it is in the New Testament that we see clearly that God is triune.

It is common for some people that reject the trinity to refer to themselves as ‘oneness.’ This is a misnomer, because every true Christian believes in only one God. We are, and always have been, strict monotheist. It is the tendency for these folks to accuse doctrinally orthodox Christians of tri-theism (a belief in three gods), and then attack that position. Only a pagan could believe in tri-theism; such a view is anathema to any true Christian. The Christian Church has always stood against all forms of polytheism; It has also stood against the different forms of “oneness” beliefs whether they are Muslim, Unitarian, Socinian or today’s Oneness Pentecostals. The view held by today’s oneness was known in the ancient Church as Sabellianism. It was, rightly, rejected and condemned as heresy (i.e. a false teaching).

We do not pretend to have full understanding of God’s unity and plurality. It is an aspect of His being that is incomprehensible to us. It is a mystery, but we accept it because it is taught in Scripture, and Scripture alone is our infallible rule for faith and practice.

Old Testament

Below are some Old Testament allusions to the plurality of persons in the one God.

One way in the Old Testament that we see hints of the Trinity is the use of the plural Hebrew Elohim (gods) used when refereeing to the one true God of Israel. Eloah is the singular root form of Elohim. It is used less than three hundred times in the Old Testament to refer to God. The suffix “im” is used, like “s” in English, to make a word plural. For example cherub is the common Hebrew term for an angelic being. The plural form of cherub is cherubim. Cherubim are more than one cherub. It is not a mistake that the Old Testament uses the plural Elohim when speaking of the one true God. There is a reason; it is because of the tri-unity of God’s being, which is fully revealed as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the New Testament.

The plural Elohim is used over 2300 times in the Old Testament referring to the God of Israel. Elohim is also used to refer to the Gods of pagans. Elohim is translated “gods” over 2oo times when referring to the pagan gods of the surrounding nations. We see this in Exodus 12:12. Here it refers to "all the elohim (gods) of Egypt” or in Gen. 35:4 “And they gave unto Jacob all the strange elohim (gods) which were in the land... Many more examples can be given.

This Plural term for god is used to refer to the one true God. This is, again, a hint in the Old Testament that there is a plural aspect in God.

Gen. 1:1 In the beginning Elohim (God) created the heaven and the earth.
Gen. 1:2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of Elohim (God) moved upon the face of the waters.
Gen. 1:3 And Elohim (God) said, Let there be light: and there was light.

Congregation Shema Yisrael, a Messianic Jewish congregation, has a very good article on the web dealing with the Trinity. Here is a statement from them.

“Plural Verbs: Normally the plural name "Elohim" is followed by a singular verb. But there are several fascinating instances when "Elohim" is accompanied by a plural verb. Genesis 20:13 literally says in Hebrew that Elohim (God) they caused me to wander from my father's house... And in Genesis 35:7 Elohim (God) they appeared to him. 2 Samuel 7:23 says: What nation on the earth is like Your people Israel, whom Elohim they went to redeem for Himself. Psalm 58:11 declares that surely there is a God they judge the earth.”

The singular El (God) is not used in Genesis until chapter fourteen. Elohim is the most common term used in the O.T. for the one true God.

Here is the definition of Elohim as it is found in Strong’s Concordance: “gods in the ordinary sense; but specifically used (in the plural thus, especially with the article) of the supreme God…”

It is also significant that God speaks of himself in the plural:

Gen. 1:26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

Gen. 3:22 And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:

Gen. 11:7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.

Is. 6:8 Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. (Notice that the LORD speaks of Himself by the singular “I” and the plural “us.”)

In Is. 6:3 we read that one of the Seraphim around the throne “cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.” God is here declared to be a thrice-Holy God.

Is. 42:1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.

In the Is. 42 prophecy of Christ we see the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in their different roles performed in the work of redemption. We see this again in Is. 48 and Is. 61:1.

Is. 48:16 Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord GOD, and his Spirit, hath sent me.

Is. 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; [2] To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;

Again we see the Old Testament prophet refer to all three persons of the Godhead. Jesus Christ informs us in Luke 4:18-19 that He fulfills this Prophecy.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD. These words are known as the Shema and they are found in Deuteronomy 6:4. This is a fascinating verse and is another example of how the Old Testament gives witness to the plurality that exist in the Godhead. The word for Lord is YHVH; it is the personal name of God. God in this verse is the plural Elohim. The word translated one is the Hebrew “echad.” This is the same word used in Gen. 2:24 where we are told that husband and wife are one “echad” flesh. There was another Hebrew word that could have been used that means simply a numerical one. That word is “yachid,” and it is not in the Shema. Again this is a hint of God’s plurality and tri-unity in the Old Testament.

The most quoted and alluded to Old Testament verse in the New Testament is Psalm 110:1

“The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” The New Testament makes clear that this is the Father speaking to the son at his ascension. (See Matt. 22:43-45, Mk. 12:35-37, Luke 20:42-44)

Peter explains the verse in Acts 2:29-35. He says:
“Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. [30] Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of His loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; [31] He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. [32] This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. [33] Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. [34] For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, [35] Until I make thy foes thy footstool.”

So we see in this Acts’ passage explaining Psalm 110:1 the Father speaking to the Son. In these verses we have three persons of the one true God communicating one another and having separate roles in our redemption, yet they are but only one God. Can I explain it? No. But to deny it is to reject an important aspect of what the Bible reveals about God.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this essay, The Old Testament reveals that there is a plurality of being in the nature of the one true God. This is not comprehensible to us creatures, and we should not be surprised that God is beyond our understanding. There are many things about God that are beyond our finding out. His omniscience, the fact that He is omnipresent, and omnipotent, that God has always existed and is above, beyond and transcends time, all of these things are beyond us, but these things like the trinity are revealed in Holy Scripture.

I will, as time permits (i.e. someday), follow this article with one titled "The Trinity as revealed in the New Testament."

Soli Deo Gloria,