Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Pre-Incarnate Mediatorial Role of Christ in the Old Testament

The Lord was very angry with your fathers. Therefore say to them, Thus declares the Lord of hosts: Return to Me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.’ But they did not hear or pay attention to Me, declares the Lord. Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever? But My words and My statutes, which I commanded My servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers? So they repented and said, As the Lord of hosts purposed to deal with us for our ways and deeds, so has He dealt with us.” The word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo, saying, “I saw in the night, and behold, a man riding on a red horse! He was standing among the myrtle trees in the glen, and behind him were red, sorrel, and white horses. Then I said, ‘What are these, my lord?’ The angel who talked with me said to me, ‘I will show you what they are.’ So the man who was standing among the myrtle trees answered, ‘These are they whom the Lord has sent to patrol the earth.’ And they answered the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees, and said, ‘We have patrolled the earth, and behold, all the earth remains at rest.’ Then the angel of the Lord said, ‘O Lord of hosts, how long will You have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which You have been angry these seventy years?’ And the Lord answered gracious and comforting words to the angel who talked with me. So the angel who talked with me said to me, ‘Cry out, Thus says the Lord of hosts: I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion. And I am exceedingly angry with the nations that are at ease; for while I was angry but a little, they furthered the disaster. Therefore, thus says the Lord, I have returned to Jerusalem with mercy; My house shall be built in it, declares the Lord of hosts, and the measuring line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem. Cry out again, Thus says the Lord of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.’
- Zechariah 1:2-17

One of the errors which has been perpetrated down through history is that the mediatorial office of Christ began at His ascension. After all, wasn't His mediatorial work based on His crucifixion and resurrection? And, of course, it was. However, I believe that the Scriptures teach that the Second Person of the Trinity was active in mediating between God, i.e., the First Person, and His people throughout history, including the Old Testament dispensation, looking forward to His mediatorial sacrifice. This is the basis of His priestly office.

We see that work here in Zechariah 1. The section begins with a record of God's judgments on Israel for her idolatry, See especially verse 6. Then the Angel of the Lord appears in verse 8 (revealed as such in verse 11).

I agree with the traditional understanding that the Angel of the Lord (specifically, not angels in general) is the pre-incarnate Second Person of the Trinity, due to the interchange of His identity with that of the Lord in various parts of the historical portions of the Old Testament. See, for example, Genesis 16:7-11, compared with verse 13. The Angel of the Lord is described distinctly, yet identified with Jehovah, a classical representation of these two Persons of the Trinity.

Now, back in Zechariah 1, we see the Angel speaking up for the remnants of Judah. In verse 12, He asks, "O Lord of hosts, how long will You have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which You have been angry these seventy years?" And immediately we see a change in the countenance of Jehovah. Where we saw His wrath, as described above, now contrariwise in verse 13 we read, "and the Lord answered gracious and comforting words to the angel who talked with me." From wrath to grace and comfort, merely in response to the Mediator's interposition.

For us, we should find much comfort here. We see the covenantal faithfulness of Christ, revealed even centuries before He was born in the manger. And we see the righteous wrath of God, which we have every reason to fear, turned aside by our theanthropic Mediator. What peace that should be to each of His people! And for those who hold erroneous views of the person of Christ, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, the Word witnesses against you, and you cannot hope in the mediatorial work of that Christ Whom you malign!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Papal Claims of Supremacy Examined by Scripture

The Church of Rome claims that the Pope is the supreme head of the organized church on earth, meaning that anyone refusing that supremacy is by definition outside Christ. The Eastern Orthodox Churches, Oriental Independent Churches (such as the Coptic Church in Egypt), and Protestants have always refused and denied that supremacy.

Since the Bible alone, not the opinion of men, is the final standard in spiritual matters, that testimony alone must be the deciding issue.

The trail of logic in Roman theology holds that the Apostle Peter was given supremacy over the other apostles by Christ Himself in Matthew 16:17-19. After Christ's ascension, Peter moved to Rome and became bishop of the church there, where he revealed that his authority was to be passed by succession to all future bishops of Rome after him. So, the questions involved are, Did Peter receive supremacy over the other Apostles? Did he become a bishop, and, if so, was his diocese in Rome? And finally, did his supremacy succeed through the office of bishop in Rome, to all future popes?

On Peter's supposed supremacy, the essential portion is in verse 18, "I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church..." Jesus is making a play on words, for the name Peter, both in Greek and Aramaic, is the masculine form of the word for "rock." However, is Peter the rock He means? Jesus refers to Himself, and is referred to by the apostles , including Peter himself, as the chief cornerstone (Matthew 21:42, Ephesians 2:20, and I Peter 2:6-7). So, referring back to Himself as the rock would be consistent with Scriptural usage. Some interpret the rock as being Peter's confession of Christ. Either one meets the demands of parsimony far better than does the interpretation of Rome. In Ephesians 2:20, Paul even refers to the church's being built on the apostles as a group! Were the apostles, including Peter, simply confused? I guess the Church of Rome must know better than the apostles themselves did!

Further, what was the attitude of the other apostles to Peter? I believe that the testimony of Paul is especially telling. In Galatians 2, Paul is addressing the failure of Peter to oppose the intrusion of the Judaizers into that church. In verse 11, Paul tells us, "
when Cephas ["Peter" in Aramaic] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned." Paul didn't submit to some supposed supremacy of Peter. Rather, he opposed him to his face, and explicitly states that Peter was in error! Earlier in this same passage, Paul also mentions another point that throws a major monkey-wrench into Papal claims. One time each in verses 8 and 9, Paul refers to himself as the apostle to the Gentiles, while the other apostles worked among the circumcision, i.e., the Jews. Logically speaking, that is not consistent with a supposed bishopric of Peter in Rome. While a strong tradition supports the belief that he was martyred there, it would not have been an obvious place for Jewish evangelism and discipleship.

The claim that Peter then left his authority to his Papal successors is made of whole cloth, supposedly on the tradition of apostolic succession. That is, Rome claims that the evidence for their succession to Peter is authoritative because the popes have always held it to be. Such circular reasoning and self-aggrandizement is self-evident.

Of course, I would add a more-fundamental objection: as I have said before, the Bible knows nothing of the monarchical bishop, as practiced in the Church of Rome, the Eastern Churches, and the branches of the Church of England. If the office of bishop is a fiction, then any supposed authority passed through it is a moot point! I believe that the Bible vigorously and unequivocally maintains the Protestant view of Papal Supremacy, which is stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith XXV:6, "There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ: nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God."

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Lamentations 3:37, the Lord Needs No Reason in Us for His Decrees

"Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?"

A common error, even among professing Reformed Christians, holds that God's predestination of His people is dependent on foreseen faith on their part. Or worse yet is the Roman error that predestination is based on foreseen righteousness.

However, here we see God's own inspired answer to that error: election derives from God's command, and then our faith - and the righteousness it receives - follow from it. As Paul also affirms, in Ephesians 2:8, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God..." The Word echoes with the refusal of God to yield to the pride of men: Isaiah 42:8, "I am the LORD; that is My name; My glory I give to no other..."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Revelation 8:8, An Interesting Parallel!

"The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood."

I am sure that we have all read this verse a hundred times. I am also sure that we have heard the pop ministers spout their apocalyptic interpretations of what this verse refers to, the pop eschatology which has become so popular among professing evangelicals. However, I am struck, not by wild-eyed interpretations, but rather by the parallels this verse has to other portions of scripture.

I have written before on Matthew 21:21, especially the latter portion, "even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen." This is virtually an exact quote of the Revelation passage! And, as I point out there, He doesn't refer to some generic mountain, but rather to this specific mountain. i.e., the Temple Mount. if those words mean the Temple Mount there, is it not logical to expect the exact same words to apply to the Temple Mount here?

Consider also the words of the Prophet Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 51:25, he wrote, "Behold, I am against you, O destroying mountain, declares the Lord, which destroys the whole earth; I will stretch out My hand against you, and roll you down from the crags, and make you a burnt mountain." Here he is prophesying the doom of Babylon. In Revelation, spiritual Babylon is a major theme. One plausible interpretation is that spiritual Babylon is apostate Israel, again lending credence to the interpretation of this passage as referring to the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70AD.

While I am not a consistent preterist, i.e., I still expect the resurrection and the Second Advent, I do generally interpret the prophetic portions of the New Testament as pointing to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. I think that this verse from Revelation, compared to its parallels in both testaments, is strong support for that perspective.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Over-Flowing Goodness of God versus "Common Grace"

"And from there He arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And He entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet He could not be hidden. But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of Him and came and fell down at His feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And He said to her, 'Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.' But she answered Him, 'Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.' And He said to her, 'For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.' And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone."
- Mark 7:24-30

In 1924, a controversy broke into schism over the teaching of the Christian Reformed Church regarding "common grace." The CRC advocated a providential favor of God toward all, whether reprobate or elect. In opposition to this position, the minority, which eventually seceded to form the Protestant Reformed Churches, while not denying the benefits God gives to all, denied that this was properly grace, which, in their view, could only be particularly given to the elect.

Like the PRC, I am uncomfortable with referring to God's "grace" to the reprobate. Afterall, the very definition of reprobation is that God's wrath has been sovereignly determined for a particular individual, as in Romans 9:11-18. It strikes me as incongruous to refer to God's grace and sovereign wrath toward the same person.

However, I would say that God is infinitely good, whether from the perspective of the elect or of the reprobate. The difference is that God is actively good to the elect, i.e., the "children" in the story above, while His good passively overflows to the reprobate, i.e., the "dogs" in the passage. We also see this in the rain on the unjust (Matthew 5:45), and food and gladness (Acts 14:17). It is even seen in His restraining His wrath for as time (Nehemiah 9:17). I do not understand the PRC position well enough to say whether this is also their view.

Another reason I would distinguish between the grace and the goodness of God, as I have here, is because I believe that the goodness of God experienced by the reprobate actually increases His wrath against them. Think about it this way: they have experienced the goodness of the living God, yet choose to hate Him anyway. How can he not punish them all the more?