Saturday, November 28, 2009

Revelation 20:4-6, The First Resurrection

The Conversion of Paul
"Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years."

Premillennialists hold that these verses refer to a resurrection of the righteous at the beginning of a future millennial reign of Christ. There are a number of problems with that interpretation.

Notice first of all what is resurrected: not the bodies of the righteous, but rather their souls. In other words, John is using "resurrection" in a metaphorical, not a literal, sense. He has used this metaphor before. Our author uses "resurrection" in the spiritual sense in his Gospel. In chapter 5, verses 24-25, he quotes the Lord Himself, "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. Truly, truly, I say to you, and hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live." Then, as in the Apocalypse, Jesus proceeds from this spiritual resurrection to the physical.

In the Old Testament, the Prophet Ezekiel uses the metaphor of resurrection to describe God's regeneration of His elect. Chapter 37:11-14 tell us, "Then He said to me, 'Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, "Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off." Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: "Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O My people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O My people. And I will put My Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord."'"

And elsewhere in the New Testament, Paul uses the resurrection metaphor in the epistles to both the Ephesians and the Colossians. In Eph. 2:5-6, Paul says, "when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved- and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus." And Col. 3:1, "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God."

Thus, logically, to interpret the first resurrection as a literal, physical resurrection is forbidden by the text itself, and instead requires a spiritual interpretation, consistent with its use elsewhere in both testaments, especially in the writing of our present author.

What interpretation then presents itself? That the first resurrection is the spiritual passing from death to life by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, the only way that sinful men become "blessed and holy" (Revelation 20:6). The second resurrection is then the literal physical rising usually connected with the term. Thus the millennium is the period in between, when Christ in His Gospel, through the Holy Spirit, is converting His elect, and ruling in and through them. Thus, this passage forbids the premillennial interpretation usually forced upon it, and logically directs the reader to either the amillennial or postmillennial positions (the difference between these two isn't answered by this text). The first death would then be the physical, while the second death would be the condemnation of the reprobate. That is why the one who has been converted, i.e., been through the first resurrection, is not subject to the second death. As Jesus says in the text from John (5:24), "He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

If We Didn't All Fall in Adam, Then Neither Can We All Be Saved in Christ

We have a saying: "You can't have your cake and eat it, too." A bit odd, if you think about it. However, its meaning is that a thing comes with all of its attributes, whether the recipient wants them or not. Another one along the same idea is, "You have to break some eggs in order to make an omelette."

The same principle applies to theology. It isn't a smorgasbord.

"Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned - for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

"But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

"Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace might also reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
- Romans 5:12-21

A frequent objection to federal, or covenant, theology, is that it is unfair to represent the individual in a federal head, who makes that individual responsible for decisions or actions in which he did not directly participate. Afterall, the individual is sovereign in all things, right? But that atomistic approach to Christian spirituality runs into trouble here.

For the one who wishes to deny original sin, i.e., that each human being is conceived in sin, due to the fall of Adam, this passage from Romans creates a real problem. Paul's point here is that, just as all natural humankind fell in Adam, and is therefore spiritually dead, the redeemed are represented in their federal head, Jesus Christ, the Second Adam, in His justifying death. In other words, the one who denies that Adam represented him in the Fall is logically unable to claim that Christ represents him in redemption. Since the two concepts are founded on the same federal principle, it cannot be denied in the one case and claimed in the other. They necessarily stand or fall together.

Hence, David can mourn in Psalm 51, verse 5, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." And then plead in verses 9-10, "Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." The same God who called him a sinner is the God who would save him from the consequences of that condition.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Psalm 37:25-26, the Covenant and Our Daily Bread

"I have been young, and now am old: yet I saw never the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread. But he is ever merciful and lendeth, and his seed enjoyeth the blessing." (Geneva Bible, 1599)

Another passage from The Gospel Covenant, by Rev. Peter Bulkeley. [spellings and grammar in the original.]

"Are we in want and doe we desire to enjoy a sufficiency of these outward blessings? would wee be set in a way in which wee may be sure to be provided for? wee have the way here set before us; wee heare that these blessings are promised in Gods Covenant: The promising of them is one branch of the covenant which the Lord makes with his people: The way then is this: First, to enter into a Covenant with God, and then to walk in Covenant with him, as becomes his people; Enter into a Covenant with him. Art thou in hunger, nakednesse, or (if not in such extremities, yet) wantest thou those things which thy condition stands in need of? It may be thou art a stranger to the Covenant betwixt God and his people, and hast lived an alien from God. Thou hast with the Prodigall forsaken thy Fathers house, departed away from God, living viciously and sinfully, and therefore the Lord hath brought thee to the same condition as the Prodigall was brought unto in these necessities; doe thou then as the Prodigall did, when he was in necessity, and knew not what to doe, he then bethinks himself; In my Fathers house (saith he) there is bread enough [Luke 15:17], but I am ready to perish for hunger; I will therefore arise and goe to my Father, and humble myself unto him, desiring to be as one of his hired servants. Think with thyself what provision the Lord makes for those that are of his household; his children and servants have bread enough. Arise therefore out of thy sin by repentance, goe unto him and sue to be taken into his family, and to be one of his servants; and then will the Father call for roabs to cover thy nakednesse, and bring out the fatted calfe to satisfie thy hunger, thou shalt be fed with food convenient for thee: Thy bread shall not fail, and thy water shall be sure [Isaiah 33:16]: Though he suffer aliens to want, yet his family shall be provided for; but then remember this withall, to walk in Covenant with God; walk as becomes one of the family of heaven, and of the houshold of God; be faithfull and diligent in his service, have a care of his honour; doe nothing to blemish his Name, be careful to please him in all things; be zealous for his glory: Be thankfull that he hath taken thee to be one of his: Bee thankfull in thy particular calling, as therein serving the Lord, and not to serve thine own turne. Study to be usefull and serviceable to others of Gods servants, which are of the same houshold of faith with thee, and in this way of the Covenant, look for, and expect the blessing of it; Doe good (saith the Prophet) and thou shalt be fed assuredly, Psal. 37:3. If yee be willing and obedient, yee shall eat the good things of the land, Isai. 1:19. and if at any time thou be put to straights and wants, doe as Jacob did, put God in minde of his Covenant and promise: Lord thou saidst (saith Jacob) that thou wouldst doe me good [Gen. 32:9]: Lord (say thou) thou hast said thou wilt care for me, and provide things needfull for thy servants, and therefore though I be not worthy of the least of all thy mercies, not worthy to be fed with the crummes which fall from thy childrens table [Mark 7:28], yet because thou hast said that thou wilt satiate thy people with thy goodnesse [Jer. 31:14], make good thy word which thou hast spoken; Let thy mercy come unto me, as I trust in thee [Psa. 33:22]. Thus doe and then lay thy life upon it, thou shalt not want: Bread shall be given thee, and thy waters shall not faile; thou shalt have thy daily portion provided for thee. Though thou hast not much laid up in store for many yeares or days, yet thou shalt have thine Omer day by day [Nehemiah 11:23 & 12:47]. And as those in Nehemiah 11:23 & 12:47, they had by the Kings appointment every day a set portion, so shalt thou have thy daily allowance, daily bread, with all such other things that concern this present life."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

What Prosperity Has the Lord Promised Us? The Error of the Prosperity Preachers

"Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord, and delighteth greatly in his commandments. His seed shall be mighty upon earth: the generation of the righteous shall be blessed. Riches and treasures shall be in his house, and his righteousness endureth forever."
- Psalm 112:1-3 (Geneva Bible, 1599)

In his book, The Gospel Covenant, New England Nonconformist and Congregationalist Peter Bulkeley comments on this text: "Here may be a mistake, in taking the promise to containe more than indeed it doth; when the Lord promiseth that riches and treasure shall be in the house of the righteous, what doth he mean by riches and treasure? not the riches of a Kingdome: or that which shall be sufficient for a man of a high degree; but such a sufficiency as is sutable to every ones estate and condition which God hath set them in: That which is want and poverty to one, may be fulnesse and abundance to another: That then is riches to any man, when God gives him so much as is sufficiently enough for him in his estate and condition, though he may still come short of many others of higher ranke; this is that which is promised." [spelling and grammar in the original]

Bulkeley's point is well-taken. While the Prosperity Gospel movement has turned such promises into "a Mercedes in every pot, and a chicken in every garage" - or is it the other way around? - that is certainly not what our Father in heaven promises. First of all, His provision is a covenantal blessing. Notice that the promise in the Psalm is sandwiched between references to righteousness and love of God's Law. That side of the coin is certainly foreign to the antinomianism of the prosperity preachers. And second, God never promises one person the treasures that He has given to another, but rather that which is provision and joy for each. It isn't need or suffering which undermines joy in life, but envy. Joy comes with contentment in the gifts that God has given me! In fact, in Hebrews 11:24-25, Moses is praised for rejecting the riches of Pharaoh's household, in order to enjoy his fellowship with God's people, a treasure indeed!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Revelation 13:11-18, The Land Beast

"Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast, it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image of the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. And it was allowed to give breath to the the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of his name. This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666."

While I haven't figured out some of the details, I am increasingly coming to the conclusion that the land beast referred to here was apostate Israel, which cooperated with the Roman sea beast of the first half of the chapter in the persecution and murder of the early Christians.

First, the internal evidence from the passage. The beast is compared to a lamb with horns. This seems clearly contrasted with "the Lamb that was slain," i.e., Jesus, just above, in verse 8. Yet, this lamb has horns, not normal for a mere lamb. While that first Lamb is the Prince of Peace, "gentle and lowly in heart" (Matthew 11:29), this one has horns, to gore its victims. And Jesus Himself referred to Israel as "lost sheep" (Matthew 15:24).

Further, the beast turns people to the image of the first beast, and later that control extends to the ability to buy and sell. This reminded me of the passage in which the Jewish leaders tried to trip up the Savior on the matter of Roman taxes. The story is found in Matthew 22, and in Mark 12:13-17. When the Pharisees challenge Jesus on the tax, He replies, starting at 15b, through17, "'Bring Me a denarius, and let me look at it.' And they brought one. And He said to them, 'Whose likeness and inscription is this?' They said to Him, 'Caesar's.' Jesus said to them, 'Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's...'"

That power of buying and selling is also connected, in verse 16 of Revelation 13, to a mark "on the right hand or the forehead." Can this be anything other that a reference to a perversion of Deuteronomy 6:8, in which Israel was commanded to remember the Law: "You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes"?

And second, I recall from scriptures outside the Revelation, in which the Jewish leaders claimed, even if hypocritically, a devotion to the Roman emperor. In the description of the crucifixion given by the Apostle John, we see the Jews professing their loyalty to the emperor. In John 19:12, we read, "From then on Pilate sought to release Him, but the Jews cried out, 'If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.'" And then the last clause of verse 15, "We have no king but Caesar." The Jewish authorities declared their loyalties: they preferred Caesar over Christ, the sea beast over the Lamb.

While the Jews certainly hated their Roman occupiers, they made a choice: Caesar over Jesus for king. The connection with the Land Beast would be consistent with a timing of the Revelation before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Revelation 11 and 70AD: The Judge Rules in Favor of the Plaintiffs

"The nations raged, but Your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding Your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear Your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth."
- Revelation 11:18

For years, I have had trouble understanding why this verse is located where it is. Why would John describe the great judgment halfway through his book, only to bring it up again near the end, in chapter 20? However, through an enlightening remark in a commentary, I have gotten it. The judgment here isn't of the dead, but rather a judgment for the righteous dead, in answer to their prayers in 6:9-10, "When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, 'O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before You will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?'" In other words, 11:18 is comparable to a civil lawsuit in our times, while 20:11ff is a criminal judgment.

We see parallels in some of the Davidic Psalms, such as 35:17, "How long, O Lord, will You look on? Rescue me from their destruction, my precious life from the lions." Compare verses 22-26. And again in 94:2, "Rise up, O judge of the earth, repay to the proud what they deserve!" Likewise the Prophet Habakkuk, such as 1:13b, "Why do You idly look at traitors and are silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?"

I think this judgment in Revelation also comes in answer to Jesus's own words in Matthew 21:21, "Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to this fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' it will happen." While this verse is often misread, as if He said "a mountain," or even spiritualized to represent obstacles in life, notice that He actually specifies "this mountain." This is spoken as He returns to Jerusalem the morning after He cleansed the temple (v. 18). In other words, I think that He was instructing His disciples to pray for the overthrow of Jerusalem and the temple order, as actually occurred in 70AD. Revelation 6 describes the martyred saints making this prayer, and 11:18 describes their sovereign Redeemer vindicating their pleas with a judgment against their persecutors, represented in their emblem, the Temple Mount. This understanding of that verse brings much clarity in my mind, as to the intentions of God, speaking through the Apostle John, in the first half of Revelation.

While I have followed my own thinking in coming to these conclusions, I am not alone in them. The Preterist Archive has a page dedicated to this interpretation. And Kenneth Gentry gives a wide-ranging bibliography of publications on his website.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Revelation 11:1-2, The Tribulation of Jerusalem

"Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, 'Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, but do not measure the court outside the temple, leave that out, for it is given over to the nations [or Gentiles], and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months."

These two verses are key both to the time of the composition of the Revelation and for the meaning of the forty-two months.

The command to measure the Temple, altar, and worshipers necessarily requires that the Temple still be standing, and the Temple ceremonies still be celebrated. That places the writing of the Revelation before 70AD, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, and the ceremonies ceased, even to our modern day.

The "forty-two months" refer John's readers back to the prophecies of Daniel, such as 7:25, which told of the attack on Jerusalem and the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus Epiphanes, the Seleucid emperor of Syria, in 168BC. That desecration lasted three and a half years, 1260 days, forty-two months, until the success of the Maccabean revolt in 164 (these events are described in the first four chapters of the apocryphal Book of First Maccabees). Not that John was saying that the Roman attack would be limited to the same time frame, but rather that he was creating a parallel between the two events. As his prophecy continued, he also created a contrast: while the Jews drove out Antiochus Epiphanes and his Greeks, they would not overcome the conquest by the Romans.

John uses numbers in this way, such as his frequent uses of sevens, twelves, twenty-fours, and thousands. He mentions forty-two months here; "time, times, and half a time," i.e., three and a half years, in 12:14; and the equivalent 1260 days in 12:6. Our Gentile culture is disconnected from the Maccabean history, but the predominantly-Jewish Christians of the First Century would be well-aware of what happened only 200 years earlier, and which were (and are) celebrated each year in the Hanukkah holiday.

Jesus Versus the Cult of Mary

"While He was still speaking to the people, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, asking to speak to Him. But He replied to the man who told Him, 'Who is My mother, and who are My brothers?' And stretching out His hand toward his disciples, He said, 'Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.'"
- Matthew 12:46-50

Paralleled in Mark 3:31-35 and Luke 8:19-21.

Most people are aware of the Catholic practice of the veneration of Mary, the mother of Jesus. In fact, she is even referred to as "co-redemptrix," that is, that she shares the role of redeemer with her divine Son. In 1997, then-Pope John-Paul II prayed to Mary, "Sustain us, O Virgin Mary, on our journey of faith and obtain for us the grace of eternal salvation." In fact, here is a website devoted to Mary in the particular role of "co-redemptrix."

Yet, what does Jesus say about His mother? Not that she is a bad person, by any means, but certainly that she has no claim to special consideration. His very words are that any man or woman who is doing the will of God is at least equal to His biological mother, and He specifically points out His disciples, standing close by. One source attempted to avoid this implication by claiming that the veneration of Mary is no more than the veneration of the other saints (officially perhaps, but certainly not in practice!). However, as I have said elsewhere, the veneration of any saints is contrary to the express will of God.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Sorrow of Moral Self-Improvement

"When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation."
- Matthew 12:43-45

Jesus is here addressing the Pharisees. In Luke 11:39, Jesus acknowledged the external righteousness of the Pharisees. In fact, He even encouraged His disciples to follow their instructions (Matthew 23:3). Yet He also compares them to "whitewashed sepulchers" ("tombs," verse 27), because they exhibited an external righteousness, while remaining spiritually-dead inside.

Thus is the fate of the self-reformed man. And there are many such men, whether we are talking about the criminal that reforms his life, or the alcoholic who gives up drink, or the adulterer who returns to his wife. But the warning of Jesus is that reform doesn't save a man, but rather it leaves him yet a sinner in Satan's power. Satan is unafraid of self-reform, because it merely deepens the deception of the self-improved man. Rather, it is only sanctification by the Holy Spirit, arising from redemption in the blood of Christ, which breaks the power of sin and Satan over fallen man. As Paul testifies (Romans 8:29-30), "For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined, He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified."

There Is No Comfort in Jesus apart from His Sovereignty

"At that time, Jesus declared, 'I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was Your gracious will. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him. Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.'"
- Matthew  11:25-30

I have just one brief thought on this passage.

The last two sentences in this passage are often used in evangelistic appeals. And properly so, because they clearly present Jesus as the Savior of men weary of their sin. However, the comfort of the Jesus in verses 29 and 30 is dependent on the sovereignty of the Jesus of verse 27. There is redemption and hope for the sinner, not because he chooses Christ, but because Christ has chosen him.