Saturday, November 30, 2013

What is original sin?

For when you eat of it, you shall surely die.
Genesis 2:17

Oh my momma warned me
And how my daddy cried
The day I left my home
You said you'd always keep me satisfied
But oh how you lied (you lied)
Well I should have heard my momma's words
But then I guess I had too much pride (original sin)

Keith Green, from Dear John letter (to the devil)

Original sin? What was the sin that started it all? I love reading Genesis time after time, and picking more up from the text each time I read it. I often think there is much that God has not told us (and there is!), so I go back and find that he has hinted at that which I was wondering about after all. Keith Green alludes to original sin as being pride in his famous lyrics above, and I think pride does pretty well nail it. Let’s examine the story and see what we can know.

First of all, I notice that God gave Adam the one rule, not to eat of the fruit of the tree, before Eve had yet been created. One rule I would think would be pretty easy to keep track of, and to plainly repeat, yet when Eve repeats the rule to the serpent, she gets it wrong. She adds, “and you must not touch it, or you will die.” I always wonder if Eve edited the rule here, or if Adam gave an edited version. The text does not say, but it does clearly show that they were unable to keep even a simple rule clear in their minds.

If I had to guess, I would guess that Eve twisted the rule, because she did so after starting to talk to the serpent, and scripture elsewhere makes it plain that Eve entered into this sin being deceived. It probably is true that she was already trying to over respond to the question of the serpent, and was already entering into his deception. What we are sure of is that she saw the fruit was both good and pleasing to the eye, and she partook of it.

Adam, being with her, received of the fruit and ate it, perhaps as is commonly thought, because he understood she was in sin, and entered into sin willingly with her. I cannot be sure of that, but scripture elsewhere makes note of the fact that Adam knew fully that he was disobeying, whereas his wife had been deceived.

When God confronts them both, Adam does what humans have been doing ever since, and lays the blame on the woman, saying, “The woman you put with me gave me some fruit, and I ate it.” God questions Eve, and she does what humans have been doing ever since, and lays the blame on the serpent. God takes both excuses into account, since they were valid, and in his curse, lays most of the curse upon the serpent, pronouncing it first upon the serpent, then Eve, and finally Adam.

The curse to the serpent is very important, for here is contained the first prophecy of Christ. “He will crush your head and you shall strike his heel.” Thus we find both the crucifixion, “you shall strike his heel”, and the second coming, “He will crush your head”, prophesied. I think it important to note that the curse pronounced from God was vile, perhaps beyond anything we might understand, but the worst of it was saved for the serpent. Man and woman, after the curse, were both made garments of animal skin, suggesting the shed blood necessary for their redemption, and they were cast out of the garden.

Paul teaches us in the book of Romans that all of creation is groaning with this curse, still in effect after all these years. I wonder about the extent of the Fall, but evidently it radically changed the animal kingdom, and perhaps even the plant kingdom. We get some hint of the changes when we are told in Isaiah that he who dies at one hundred will be thought to be cursed, and when we are told twice that (chapter 11 and 65) the lion will eat straw like the ox. During the time of restoration, the time of the Lord’s rule on earth, the earth will evidently get many of the characteristics of garden back.

But I should not leave the topic of original sin without talking more about its effect on all of mankind. Romans teaches us that by one man sin entered the world, so that all men are sinners. From a Christian perspective every lifestyle is sinful, if it be apart from repentance at the foot of the cross. Men have scattered their plans and dreams across the world, but all of it is as vapor unless they believe God for their redemption.

Our world is a fallen one, and I have long noted that for every problem men of good conscience try to fix, twenty more seem to spring up unbidden. Redemption by our own efforts will never work, and those who insist on working out their own salvation in this world will doom themselves and their followers to perdition. It is the lot of men to be born into sin, but it is the grace of God to redeem men from their fallen state. Through the provision of the death of Christ on the cross, the redemption of man is finally solved, taking nothing of the efforts of man, but is totally complete and sufficient in and of itself. Says Chafer, “Grace means pure unrecompensed kindness and favor. What is done in grace is done graciously. From this exact meaning there can be no departure; otherwise grace ceases to be grace.”1

The biggest lie of the serpent in our day seems to be the gentle urge for people to never consider their sin before God. Instead they are told only of a gentle God likened unto a benevolent grandfather who will weigh their good acts with their bad acts, and who is known to “fudge” the scales with his thumb. Those who live out their lives never considering their need will find themselves meeting a God who loves them and has provided redemption for them, but because he is a holy and just God, will condemn them because of their refusal of redemption. “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).

A cure for original sin? Not to be had on this side of the cross. But believing God will lead to no condemnation, or rescuing from the wrath of a just God. By the cross God has mediated two superlative characteristics of his divine nature. First, he satisfies his judgment nature forever, for he has judged the sins of the world on that cross. Second, he satisfies his nature of grace and love, for all who will but look to the cross will find redemption and that forever. “God does not ignore or slight the fact of human guilt and sin; for He has met these issues perfectly and finally for all men in the death of His Son. There remains no demerit, nor degrees of demerit, to be considered or recognized. By grace there is now offered alike to all men all the infinite resources of the saving power of God.”2

1. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2008-07-19). Grace (Kindle Locations 231-232). Taft Software, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
2. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2008-07-19). Grace (Kindle Locations 249-251). Taft Software, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Friday, November 29, 2013

What is the job of the Holy Spirit?

This answer is terribly constrained by space. I would refer the reader to The Holy Spirit, by John Walvoord, or any of the other fine works mentioned within this short space.

The Holy Spirit? Too many churches today will hardly talk about this third part of the godhead, and I think it altogether fitting that I talk about at least the main part of what the Holy Spirit does. Emotional extravaganzas have been the excuse for hundreds of years not to talk about the Spirit, and I suppose that we have not changed in that regard in these times. I find an author talking about these problems almost a hundred years ago. “If the Holy Spirit is a person, and a Divine Person, and we do not know Him as such, then we are robbing a Divine Being of the worship and the faith and the love and the surrender to Himself which are His due.”1 It is not the purpose of this answer to talk about possible excesses of saints, both in the present and the past, but rather to point out afresh that he is part of the Trinity, and to saints, a very important part. As Torrey says later in this same passage, “If we think of the Holy Spirit as so many do as merely a power or influence, our constant thought will be, “How can I get more of the Holy Spirit,” but if we think of Him in the Biblical way as a Divine Person, our thought will rather be, “How can the Holy Spirit have more of me?”2

Just how important is the Spirit anyway? Another famous Christian tells us, ” Take away the dispensation of the Spirit, and his effectual operations in all the intercourse that is between God and man; be ashamed to avow or profess the work attributed unto him in the gospel, -- and Christianity is plucked up by the roots.”3 That is a very large statement to say that without the Holy Spirit, Christianity would be plucked up by the roots. But after reflecting on the many jobs of the Spirit, I wonder if John Owen is not understating the case. I base that reflection on two things. The first is that according to Genesis we are told that the Spirit was hovering over the face of the waters. Evidently he too was involved in the very creation of the world. The second thing that makes me think Owen may be understating the importance of the Spirit is found in Paul’s writing to the Thessalonian church, “For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way” (2 Th. 2:7, NIV).

The meaning of that verse cannot be overstated. Evidently the Holy Spirit is the one who restrains, or holds back, the very spirit of lawlessness that rules this world now. This restraining work has a specific duration, and is to be taken away and then the “wicked” one, or the man of sin will be revealed. This time will be the start of the 70th week of Daniel, or the beginning of the tribulation. Just how does the Holy Spirit restrain lawlessness? We are not told anything but general things, and need to take clues like when God and Satan are disputing about Job, and God sets limits which Satan cannot exceed in his troubling of Job. In other words, God is restraining Satan with limits. We also see Daniel, when he started praying, that the answer was given at once, but held up until the limits on Satan were somehow overcome. Neither of these examples specifically mention the Holy Spirit, but they are examples of the sort of restraint which probably is applicable. Walvoord says, “Most of the restraining works of the Spirit are revealed as accomplished through various means. The work of the Spirit in revealing truth through the prophets, particularly the warning of judgment to come, and the work of the inspiration of the Scriptures with their power helped to restrain sin.”4 Noah is told that “My Spirit shall not strive with men forever,” and thus the Spirit is spoken of as a Restrainer, even in the Old Testament. Evidently he has been restraining from the beginning, and is a good reason that the world is not in worse condition than we find it.

Now this Holy Spirit is given to every believer, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). And we have been given the Holy Spirit for all of time, for all of eternity. How is it that the Spirit who restrains is removed? Does God break his promise and remove his Holy Spirit from us? Nay, and a thousand times nay! Some scholars believe that when this Restrainer is removed from the world that it will also indicate the removal of all believers at the same time—the rapture takes place, and Christ removes the Holy Spirit and his sheep, taking them to the place that he has prepared for them. “I go now to prepare a place for you, that where I am there you may be also.” The world, without believers or the Holy Spirit, would suddenly become a very dangerous place indeed.

So one of the biggest jobs of the Holy Spirit is restraining the evil one, and the lawlessness which will result when he is given free reign. But there is so much more that the Holy Spirit does! Read these words and see, “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me” (John 15:26). One of his jobs is to testify of Jesus. In another place Jesus tells us that the Sprit speaks not of himself. Instead his ministry is to glorify God the Son.

The Holy Spirit also does many other things. “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged” (John 16:7-11). Here Jesus is telling us that the job of the Holy Spirit is to reprove the world of sin. In other places we are told that no one comes to the Father by himself; rather it is the job of the Holy Spirit to convict, or reprove, each individual and to show him his need for salvation.

Specifically spelled out, the Holy Spirit reproves the world of sin because of their unbelief. He does the same for righteousness because Jesus ascended to heaven after taking on the sins of the world. He does the same for judgment because the prince of this world, namely Satan, has been judged and found wanting. Therefore all those who follow Satan, knowingly or unknowingly, are in judgment with Satan, and must believe God in order to escape that judgment.

So, how important is the Holy Spirit? I would say that his importance cannot be overestimated, and that if we remove him from the church, as Owen says, we will tear up the very roots of Christianity. In my many wonderings about that which is to come, I used to sometimes get the feeling that heaven would be terribly lonely, since I might want even for a glimpse of Jesus, and certainly would spend my life at the back of more faithful multitudes with better access to Jesus than I had. But that feeling is not true! I have the Holy Spirit, the very being of God, given to me throughout eternity, and there will be no such loneliness, for I shall have the company of God in me at every moment. No wonder the New Testament writers tell us of the joy inexpressible to come. What a wonderful thing to look forward to!

1. Torrey, R. A. (Reuben Archer) (2011-03-24). The Person and Work of The Holy Spirit (Kindle Locations 37-38). . Kindle Edition.
2. Torrey, R. A. (Reuben Archer) (2011-03-24). The Person and Work of The Holy Spirit (Kindle Locations 42-44). . Kindle Edition.
3. Owen, John (2010-03-23). John Owen on the Holy Spirit (p. 6). . Kindle Edition There are many general and large things that the Holy Spirit seems to be involved in.
4. Walvoord, John F. (2010-12-21). The Holy Spirit: A Comprehensive Study of the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit (Kindle Locations 1937-1939). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What is meant by “being a good Berean"?

These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
Acts 17:11

In my last question, I answered why Christians should read their Bibles, but it occurs to me that I really did not go far enough, for if I leave off with just reading, I have not really said what I mean to say. It further occurs to me that the verse above, with a good explanation ought to clarify what I mean about reading. I am afraid that I do intend to talk about interpretation quite a lot, for it makes an enormous difference as to how we approach the scripture. Does God really mean the plain sense of what he tells us?

This last question is more important than it seems; many Bible scholars from different ages have interpreted passages symbolically or metaphorically. Nowhere is this done more often than prophecy, and perhaps a brief look at history will explain why. Jerusalem fell in 70 A.D. and the nation of Israel ceased to exist. Much of the prophecy of the Bible tells how God is going to restore the nation of Israel. Many good scholars looked at prophecy, and decided since Israel was out of the picture, Christians must have supplanted all of God’s promises to Israel. But a careful reading of scripture makes it plain that God is not finished with Israel. “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33). The plain sense? God is going to write law inwardly on the hearts of the Jewish people. This verse, along with many many other verses in scripture make it plain that God is going to continue to deal with Israel.

The rule for interpretation of the Bible should be as is commonly taught in many Bible universities: when the simple sense makes the best sense, seek no other sense. I would like to suggest a few simple rules to follow when you are reading your Bible. First, notice to whom the passage is speaking. Is it to the nation of Israel? Is it to a church to which Paul is writing? Was it for a specific time and purpose? Next, establish who is doing the writing. What is his motive in writing or speaking? Lastly, what is the plain sense of the passage, considering both who wrote it and to whom it was written? It is only after these steps are studied that we should attempt to take a passage and find application towards our world, or for ourselves. Thus application should always follow sound interpretation, and never the other way around.

What should you do when you find a difficult verse? The first thing I try is a different version and see if the difficulty remains. Sometimes translators do a better job with one version rather than another. Word studies are usually my second option for dealing with that difficult passage. What is the literal sense of the word in the original? Third, I check commentaries that are well known and generally accepted. It helps to know the backgrounds and favorite doctrines of even the well-known commentaries. Last, if the subject and verse is interesting enough, I search through for a book that revolves around the subject. Here I have to be even more careful to know at least a bit about the author, so that I may know he approaches the scripture in the same careful manner.

So with those rules in mind, let’s inspect the verse I began with: “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” In the context of the passage I note that Paul was thrown out of Thessalonica after a mere three Sabbath days of preaching. I know from my reading that there were many faithful ones reached, and Paul wrote two letters to them later in his life, to encourage them and to clarify doctrine, particularly about the Second Coming. But from this passage in Acts, it is evident there was sufficient evil generated against them to force them to leave Thessalonica and journey to Berea. There Luke (the writer) tells Theophilus (the recipient of the book of Acts) that the Bereans were more noble than those in Thessalonica. Immediately, I want to know why they were considered more noble.

Luke tells us of two great things that they did. First, they received the word “with readiness of mind”. They were not only ready to hear the gospel, they were ready to receive it mentally, to engage themselves fully in the consideration of all that it might mean. Second, they searched the scriptures daily. They were reading their Bible. Daily. Third, they were checking the scriptures to see whether the things they were hearing about the gospel were true. Now the application: Being a good Berean for us is constantly reading the Bible, and checking the things of Christ out, seeing how they are so. Perhaps a bit wider application would be that we are checking the things of our world, the world views thrust upon us in our time, and comparing them to the Bible, to see both truth and falsehoods in them.

I think, by application, we can see this passage is an encouragement for us to be Biblically centered, and examining everything in our world through the lens of scripture. Little by little we are to develop a world view that closely follows that which God has taught us through the word. When we do that we are changed as Paul elsewhere tells us, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18). What could be better than that?

I leave you with a quote from a book I just finished. I think it appropriate because reading your Bible wisely will indeed change your world view. “Christians may preach passionately about the need for a biblical worldview, but unless they are submitting themselves to a continual process of sanctification, they will not have the power to live out that worldview—and they will discredit the very message they are seeking to communicate.”1

1. Pearcey, Nancy (2010-09-01). Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning (Kindle Locations 5071-5073). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Why should a Christian read his Bible?

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
Colossians 3:16

I came to Christ, like a lot of others from my generation, without a strong creedal background. That is, I think a lot of those from my generation were without much in the way of religious formalism. If we thought about the Reformation at all, it was only in the context of rebellion, for we were very rebellious, or perhaps we thought of the Reformation bringing the end of religion, and we saw ourselves as the moderns who would reform the evil of our world as we set ourselves against those of the prior corrupt generation. My generation was the generation of honesty and truth, and drugs and free love. Some of us figured out that these “virtues” being together were rather oxymoronic in nature, but as far as when we came face to face with the Christ, we were rather a blank page of doctrine.

Of course, we were to find that our generation was even more corrupt than that of our fathers, but the point I want to emphasize is that we came to Christ without many pretenses. Actually, when I came to Christ, I thought very briefly that any of those who claimed to preach Christ were my brothers in Christ, and it was not until I began studying the word that I realized there were many different “gospels” being preached. Why should a Christian read his Bible? One of the main reasons is exactly that—how are we to know when we are hearing another gospel except we know the truth of the real gospel?

God has wonderfully packaged many of his tools for Christian living within the Bible; the Christian has only to draw on them to successfully stand against many of wiles of the world, but draw on them he must, if he is to at all stand. I observe many Christians like unto the seeds cast into rocky soil. They come up and sprout promisingly enough, but the heat of the sun can wither them away in a single day. They are like a compass coming into near contact from an electrical source; its needle is drawn away from true north and points steadily enough, but in the wrong direction. The Christian finds himself spouting all kinds of nonsense, that even a cursory reading of the Bible would reprove, if he would but look.

Why is it that so many confess to a hard time reading God’s word? Saint after saint has come to realization that nothing, unless it is prayer, seems to be interrupted with such regularity as reading your Bible. I know Christians who have a sweet beginning spirit to them that never grow because they have never found the time to discover the Bible’s rules. I have intervened with such people, trying to get them to begin with just a single chapter from the gospel of John, but they run away from the idea of any regular reading.

Such people will go through life, only seeing God through their experience, and through that haze will come to conclusions about their God that simply cannot pass the inspection of the word. Such people have the softest of hearts that are pricked beyond what they can bear when they are hurt, and I often hear them complaining at the unjustness of it all, but they have no understanding of their wonderful standing before God because they are not grounded in the word.

What is grounding in the word? As a young man (yes, I dimly remember those days), I looked to several older saints for direction and counsel. One of these saints was our pastor, who was so warn and feeble that he had almost to be propped up in the pulpit. At the time I was headed off to Multnomah School of the Bible, and I remember his teaching. “You go to college just so you can learn how to study your Bible.” The Bible itself says it: “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee (Psalm 119:9,11). Now as an older saint, I can look back on my life and see that the most meaningful times of my life came as I immersed myself in the Bible.

“Search the scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39). How are we to get to know our Lord without the scriptures? To me, it would be like trying to get through life with only one arm. I might be able to do it, but at every turn, life is just going to be more difficult.

How Christians from historical times got through without reading is very difficult to me to fathom. How could a saint live his life not reading the scripture? Perhaps it explains the apostasy of the church, caught up with doctrine no longer centered in the Bible, and falling further away from the word as time went on. Christians were very dependent on the church for all of their doctrinal interpretation, and the further away the church went from the word, the more errors would be apparent in the thinking and practice of the saint. I do believe that the Reformers strongest “reform” was to translate the Bible into the common language, that all might be able to read.

I have long noticed the same pattern in many of those who profess Christ. Refusing to begin a path of education in the word, they become dependent on the message from the pulpit for all their spiritual sustenance. Something happens, as it always does, whether it is a split, or a disagreement, and the saint finds himself bereft of his pastor. He is now totally cut off from the church, and his life without leadership begins to show bird-walking as his feet carry him about aimlessly. I believe strongly in fellowship with the saints, and listening to a godly man (we do have a very godly pastor), but can any pastor really carry that much load? It ought to be the aim of every Christian to begin with such messages, and those messages ought to regularly drive him back to the Bible, which is the proper source of all doctrine.

An excellent verse which talks about what should be happening in our lives: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2). How do we get renewed apart from the word of God? It is God’s will that we should become, in nature, like Jesus, who gave his example of living pure and devoted life to his Father. I cannot even take more than a first step without harnessing the power of God available through his word. It is the plan of God to conform us to the image of his Son. We enter into that plan, willingly, by reading and abiding in his word.

The word of God? The Bible. Literally, the book. It has transformed millions of lives, multitudes of sinners, but the masses of men have continued to break their heads upon its rock of truth. Did you know that it remains, even today, the number one bestseller of all time, and has been there so long that most bestseller lists will not even count it? The Bible is a deep and long story in which God’s compassion is untied bit by bit and generation by generation. It is the revelation from God to man, written by many men with but one Author, with the intent that man should again know his God. The one Author deals with many hard hearted characters in diverse fashion, choosing some as vessels of honor and others as vessels of destruction, but none can approach him without faith. Thus it has one theme: that man might turn from his own willfulness to the God of mercy through faith. The crowning achievement in the Bible is the cross, which all the Old Testament looks forward to, and all the New Testament looks back upon. Jesus becomes the winnowing fork of mankind, dividing forever men into two camps, one of everlasting joy, and the other of everlasting punishment. The mercy of God is clearly extended to all in the Bible, but just as clearly, many reject the truth it contains.

The arithmetic of the Bible is thus: it divides men, saints from sinners; it multiplies the grace of God, turning men from darkness to light; it subtracts sin from the sinner, but adds redemption to the lost. Altogether, we shall never find his grace less than our need, for it equals the grandest love story known to man, because it is greater than all our sin and shame. To sum it all up, the product of the Bible is rescued mankind, its quotient is the division of evil from the world, and there is no difference in those who are saved—all must face him equally, regardless of sin, race, or creed, and must be added to him through faith, or subtracted from him through sin. How could we ever find a better equation than that which has already been given us?

Having come to Christ, having put your trust in him, and having declared to the world that you would be his disciple, therefore go to the word of God, and make a disciple of yourself first, that you may obey everything he has commanded. It is his will. But you will not even know that it is his will, unless it be that you start reading the Bible. What is it that they say? A long journey begins with but a single step. Step into the book of John, and read about our savior, Jesus, or try the book of Romans and find out about your Christian standing before God. God calls us to become in the image of Jesus, and will one day make us totally into that image. Meanwhile we are to take on that image now, with the power of the Holy Spirit, and through instruction in his word. There is no other way. The book. The Bible.

For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
Romans 8:29

Monday, November 11, 2013

What is the significance of the regathering of Israel?

That then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee. If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the Lord thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee: and the Lord thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers. And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.
(Deut. 30:3-6).

I am not sure why there are so many negligent views of prophecy today. On the one hand, we have those who find in the Bible the daily headlines of the newspaper. But on the other hand, we have those who disparage any literal interpretation of prophecy whatever. Truth lies somewhere between the two extremes, but how are we to tell where?

The answer, I think, is easier than one might expect. No doubt the universe is unfolding just as God has designated, and every word of every prophecy about the future of man and the earth will also unfold just as God has foretold. Psalm Two is one of my favorites, for it pictures the kings and rulers of the earth conspiring against God and his Son, and in all of their plots and conspiracies the Lord laughs at them in derision. They amount to absolutely nothing. Thus, the Bible stands athwart history, and is shouting its message to those who but read.

In the long years that there was no Israel around, Bible scholars looked at these prophecies and wondered how they would ever possibly come true. Perhaps in that light, we can best understand how so many of the prophecies were not taken literally, and speculation was so rampant as to what the Bible might mean. Indeed, Revelation seems to have a new historical interpretation with each successive generation. Even Augustine, a premillennialist at first, became convinced that the Lord would only return as men prepared for his coming, and became convinced that postmillennialism was the proper interpretation. Beginning with the turn of the last century though, efforts were beginning to be made to re-establish a Jewish homeland, and that is a key point at which our literal understanding of these prophecies had a chance to enlarge.

Chafer published his magnificent The Kingdom in History and Prophecy in 1915, and was already looking toward Israel, saying, “But He will yet regather them, else the oath of Jehovah will fail, and that regathering will be without reference to their own choosing, or merit. Under an unconditional covenant He has pledged to place them in kingdom blessings, under the glorious reign of their Immanuel King and in their own land (Deut. 30:3-5; Isa. 11:10-13; Jer. 23:3-8; Ezk. 37:21-25). This, too, shall be done by no human processes, but by the mighty power of God.1 But Chafer was largely basing his beliefs on scriptures, quoting them extensively.
There were some discussions going on concurrently during this period of Chafer’s life. “In 1896, Theodor Herzl, a Jewish journalist living in Austria-Hungary, published Der Judenstaat ("The Jewish State"), in which he asserted that the only solution to the "Jewish Question" in Europe, including growing antisemitism, was through the establishment of a Jewish State.”2 Eventually, this desire for a Jewish state was endorsed by England with the famous Balfour Declaration: “His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”3 Thus was sanction given to the Jewish people to reclaim part of their homeland.

With Israel’s obtaining sovereignty at last in 1948, many of the prophecies that had had centuries of symbolic interpretations thrust upon them could at last be looked at literally. Could God really have meant what he plainly said after all? In the opening verse of this question (at the top), one of the most famous of all prophecies is given. Chafer plainly sees the sense of this verse, saying, “That Israel will yet be regathered into her own land is the burden of about twenty Old Testament predictions beginning with Deuteronomy 30:3.”4 Had Chafer lived to see the nation of Israel being born, he would have seen his Biblical prophecies coming true. He did plainly see and state that from the Bible it was evident that Israel would come together again.

God plainly says that the Lord will one day bring all of Israel back from the lands to which they have been scattered. This action is to be taken of God regardless of the faithfulness of the Jews. Today, as we look at the religion of the Jews, they could scarcely be further away from God. According to some surveys, there are more atheistic Jews percentage wise than any other people. Yet God is faithful.
But what are we to think of this regathering of Israel? God is preparing for his return. Much more than that we cannot say with any degree of confidence, and those speakers who see current headlines in Biblical prophecy seem to doom themselves and their followers to disappointment. Listen to what Jesus taught concerning his return.

But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.
Luke 13:32
Is it not interesting that Jesus himself knew not the hour of his coming? It was left for God the father to know, and him alone.

And again:
Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh:
So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.
Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.
Matthew 24:32-34

Most scholars believe Jesus was using the fig tree as a symbol for the nation of Israel. We have watched Israel come to the forefront during the last century, and have watched it continue despite the fact that all of its surrounding neighbors have called for its destruction; indeed most of those countries have been actively involved in trying to destroy Israel.

We see a people who are altogether not ready for their Redeemer in the nation of Israel, but we also see in Israel a nation rapidly exhausting all of their allies in their bid to keep their freedom. It is fairly easy to envision a time in the not too distant future when Israel will find herself alone, surrounded on every side by enemies, and in the most desperate of straits. That, coincidentally, is exactly the picture prophecy presents of the seventieth week of Daniel, that last week of years before the end of this age—the age of grace.

The significance of the regathering of Israel? Only the declaration to a blind and deaf world to see and hear that King of Kings and Lord of Lords is preparing to come back. Will any see and take heed? The scriptures from Matthew, above, signal that it is the “season” in which he is to come, and the consistent charge from our Lord is to “watch”. Are you watching as I am, wondering when and how the outcome will be? It is, after all, the command of our Lord.

1. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2010-09-19). The Kingdom in History and Prophecy (Kindle Locations 596-599). . Kindle Edition.
4. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2010-07-07). Dispensationalism (Kindle Locations 216-217). . Kindle Edition.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

What are the times of the Gentiles?

And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
Luke 21:24

The times of the Gentiles starts with the Babylonian captivity, way back in the book of Daniel, who longed to look into future things, and was given several visions about the world to come. Seventy weeks, declares the angel, have been determined against your people (Daniel 9:24). Seventy weeks sounds like a relatively short time until one realizes that these are weeks of years, amounting a total of 490 years. Sixty nine of those weeks of years were determined until the Messiah is “cut off”. This happened with the death of Christ on the cross, as near as we can figure it, exactly 483 years later. It is one of the most wonderful prophetic predictions of the Old Testament, and the truth of the prophecy eclipses even the best higher criticism, since the book of Daniel was in existence long before the time of Christ.

But this was a confusing passage to the scholars of that day: How could a suffering Messiah that was so evident in the Old Testament also be a reigning Messiah? The simple answer is that Jesus himself pointed to the division with his quotation of Isaiah, “To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord”. Jesus deliberately refrains from quoting the last part of this verse, “and the day of vengeance of our God”, for he had not come to bring vengeance, but rather to offer mercy and salvation to a lost world.

The day of vengeance was to begin with that fateful seventieth week, of which Daniel himself is given the explanation that “And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease.” In the portion of the verse I quoted, the pronoun “he” refers to the prince. The prince here, I believe, refers to the prince of the world, Satan himself. I cannot seem to get around the plain sense of the verse; it is obvious that sacrifices are once again being offered in the Jerusalem temple.

It is well to remember that Daniel wrote this in a time when the temple itself had been utterly destroyed, and that happened for the last time in 70 A.D. Daniel was talking about sacrifice in a temple that did not, in his day, exist, and was pointing ahead to a temple that does not exist today. Many Bible scholars feel that this points to a future rebuilding of the temple, for how else can sacrifices be once again stopped?

Today’s continuing crisis in Jerusalem has as its basis this non-existent temple of the Jews. On the one hand, Muslims deny that it ever existed, since their temple is built on the same site given by God to David so long ago as the site where the house of God is to be built. On the other hand, the Jews of Israel today are largely a functional atheistic people, but there remains a militant minority of devout Jews. This minority of devout Jews have a disparate and large influence over the pluralistic form of government in Israel today. They wish to use that influence to get back their temple. Christians are watching the fight between the Jews and the Muslims closely today. If God intends for the temple to be rebuilt, it will be so done, even in troublesome times.

Revelation largely, and appropriately, deals with this seventieth week. Chapters four through nineteen deal with this final week, determined against the Jews. It is noted, especially by those who believe in the Rapture (including me), that the word church is not to be found in these chapters, not once, though it is found in the preceding and subsequent chapters. Why? Because the church is not to be found in the seventieth week, a final judgment on Israel, and one which God has never intended to bring upon his church. The church is to be “saved from the wrath to come.”

This final week is a week where God pours his wrath out, both upon the world and upon the Jews, and will culminate in the Coming of the Son. It is the “day of vengeance” that Jesus so long ago refrained from announcing. At the end of the seventieth week, the times of the Gentiles will forever end, and the day of our Lord reigning on earth will begin.
God will at last make peace with his chosen people, the Jews, and Jesus will reign over the earth from the city of Jerusalem. Zechariah says of this day, “And the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Lord, and his name one (Zech. 14:9). Will the Jews at last be reconciled to the will of their God? Listen to the prophet Zecharius again, “And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son” (Zech. 12:10).

What preparation will the Jews have for seeing this one whom they have pierced? There are two witnesses that are raised up, and are given spiritual jurisdiction over the nation of Israel for 1,260 days, or exactly one half of this last week. During the middle of the week, when they have finished their testimony the beast is allowed to kill them. After three and one half days, God will raise them even while their enemies are looking on.

What will these two witnesses do? The Bible (Rev. 11) says that they will have the power to shut up the sky so that it does not rain, which reminds us of the prophet Elijah. Did not the men of the time of Jesus’s first coming anticipate the return of Elijah? Indeed, the last words of the Old Testament, Micah, tell us “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (Mal. 4). And why is Elijah sent to us? Malachi again tells us specifically, “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” The specific job God tasks these two witnesses with is for them to turn the hearts of his people around.

But what other powers are they given? Revelation (11) tells us that they will have the power to turn the very water of the earth into blood, and they will have the power to strike the earth with plagues as often as they want. This is a powerful allusion to Moses, and undoubtedly these two witnesses will stand against the beast just as Moses stood against the hard-hearted Pharaoh.

But this Pharaoh, or beast, will be different than his type. He will apparently be allowed to win and will bring about the death of the two witnesses. So powerful are these two witnesses that the Bible tells us that the whole world rejoices in their deaths. After three and one half days these two witnesses shall be raised again to life, being carried up to heaven even while their enemies watch.

The times of the Gentiles? The chaos and casual taking of life, the disease and misfortune of men, the wars and strivings against one another, and even death itself will begin to work backwards, as these times conclude with the second advent of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Messiah. A new age of man will be introduced, with a new king, and his subjects, the very despised Jew of the Middle East, will rule with him. And where will we be? We will be like the wedding guests bidden in at the last moment because the regular guests refused to come, and we will be given eternal life to spend at the side of our Savior. If Paul is to be believed, we will help with the very rule of this earthly kingdom, but we will even outlast that kingdom, and will go into eternity ever at the side of our Lord. It just could not be better than that!

A final word? The ground at the foot of the cross is level, and open to all repentant peoples during this time of the Gentiles. The grace of God is offered to all who will receive it, and no man, regardless of race, creed, or sinful lifestyle will be precluded from the sacrifice that God did make on the cross, during that 69th week of Daniel. But do not think to come in your pride, for there is not one lifestyle of which he will approve, save that of the repentant sinner. Let your prayer be that of the publican, saying God have mercy on me, a sinner. We know too well the reward of the prayer of the righteous who say just as the Pharisee, thank God I am not like that sinner.

There will be no comparative scale of righteousness on that day. No grace is extended to any man on the basis of right or privilege or behavior. Instead man will be measured by the eternal standard of righteousness, and only those who are in Christ will be found to meet the standard, not at all by their own righteousness, but rather by the righteousness that is imputed unto them through their faith and belief in God. All men, regardless of race, creed, birth, or privilege, apart from faith, will be found wanting at that time, and the grace of God, boundless in its offer, will not be extended to them. Abraham, says the scripture, believed God, and it was reckoned unto him as righteousness. The day of this age is drawing to a close, and may well be closed before our lifetimes end. Is it not time for you to check your faith that leads to the level ground of repentant sinners before the cross of Christ?

Notes of Relevance

As the prophets in their foreview evidently took no account of time during which Israel was to be cut off from national blessings, the present church age, which began with the cross of Christ and ends at an unrevealed time, is in no instance considered in their foreview, and the remaining moments of the prophesied time will not be counted off until this mystery age of the church has been completed.

Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2010-09-19). The Kingdom in History and Prophecy (Kindle Locations 1161-1164). . Kindle Edition.

Scofield defines the times of the Gentiles, “Summary: The Times of the Gentiles is that long period beginning with the Babylonian captivity of Judah, under Nebuchadnezzar, and to be brought to an end by the destruction of Gentile world-power by the "stone cut out without hands.”1 Clear as mud? Let me just say that the times of the Gentiles began with the captivity, and are continuing today, until the coming of Christ. Chafer is a little more clear when he defines the times of the Gentiles, “Daniel sees the entire period of the "times of the Gentiles" extending from the captivity, through 483 years to the cross, and on beyond to the dateless coming of the "Ancient of Days" and the setting up of a kingdom by the God of Heaven which shall never be destroyed. "It shall break in pieces and consume all other kingdoms and it shall stand for ever".”2

1. Scofield, Cyrus Ingerson (2011-10-05). Study Bible KJV - Scofield Reference Bible (Kindle Locations 55573-55575). FLT. Kindle Edition.
[Da 2:34,24,44 i.e., the coming of the Lord in glory Re 19:11,21 until which time Jerusalem is politically subject to Gentile rule. Lu 21:24]

2. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2010-09-19). The Kingdom in History and Prophecy (Kindle Locations 1171-1174). . Kindle Edition

The portion of "the times of the Gentiles" following the cross, including as it does the church age, is clearly indefinite aside from the events assigned to Daniel's last "week" (cf. Dan. 9:26 with Mt. 24:6-14). This, as might be expected, is the divine method of accurately forecasting Israel's future while reserving any clear light on the sacred secret of this mystery age. There was no secret regarding the "times of the Gentiles," with the attending present position of Israel in the world; but hidden within that era is a briefer period, "the fullness of the Gentiles" (Rom. 11:25) about which nothing had been revealed.

Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2010-09-19). The Kingdom in History and Prophecy (Kindle Locations 1175-1179). . Kindle Edition.

Luke 21:20-24. "And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled."

Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.
Daniel 9:24

And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.
Daniel 9:26

This began with Daniel's time, or when the edict to restore Jerusalem was sent forth, and ended with the cutting off of Messiah. This was exactly fulfilled in the 483 years (69 times 7) before Christ.

Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2010-09-19). The Kingdom in History and Prophecy (Kindle Locations 1160-1161). . Kindle Edition.

As the prophets in their foreview evidently took no account of time during which Israel was to be cut off from national blessings, the present church age, which began with the cross of Christ and ends at an unrevealed time, is in no instance considered in their foreview, and the remaining moments of the prophesied time will not be counted off until this mystery age of the church has been completed.

Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2010-09-19). The Kingdom in History and Prophecy (Kindle Locations 1161-1164). . Kindle Edition.

Notwithstanding the fact that the mystery age of the church did not come into the prophet's view, the time of the final heptad, or period of seven, was seen to be much delayed; for it was given to him to understand "what shall befall thy people in the latter days; for yet the vision is for many days."

Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2010-09-19). The Kingdom in History and Prophecy (Kindle Locations 1168-1171). . Kindle Edition.

It shall break in pieces and consume all other kingdoms and it shall stand for ever" (2:44, 45; 7:13, 14).

Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2010-09-19). The Kingdom in History and Prophecy (Kindle Locations 1173-1174). . Kindle Edition.

For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
Romans 11:25