Revelation: An Introduction Part I

This week I have started a study on Sunday mornings in the book of Revelation.  For the first few weeks we’ll be examining the overall picture of the book, and covering some introductory themes.  Below is part 1 of that introduction – I hope you enjoy!

PJW

Introduction and Overview to the Book

Why Study Revelation? 

Revelation can be intimidating. It has taken me several years just to get up the courage to study through it and teach it. Many commentators also note in their respective prefaces how difficult it was to get around to doing this study as well. Pastor Voddie Baucham says that when surveyed, a large denomination of Christians said that Revelation was the book they most wanted to hear preached. That same survey found it was the bottom of the list of books Pastors most wanted to preach![i]

The word “Revelation” or “Apocolypse” holds negative, even scary connotations in our society today. As Warren Wiersbe writes:

The word translated “revelation” simply means “unveiling.” It gives us our English word apocalypse which, unfortunately, is today a synonym for chaos and catastrophe. The verb simply means “to uncover, to reveal, to make manifest.” In this book, the Holy Spirit pulls back the curtain and gives us the privilege of seeing the glorified Christ in heaven and the fulfillment of His sovereign purposes in the world.[ii]

But I have found that in my studies thus far, it is a book that provides great blessing and perspective which can enable a Christian to persevere, and adore Christ above all other things. In fact, those are the two things that I believe makeup the two main themes of the book: Christ’s reign and ultimate victory, and our ultimate triumph with him. The second part – our eventual triumph – is the reality for which we have been called to endure. Therefore the majestic reign of Christ and the call to persevere under tribulation make up the main nexus of John’s writing.

The majestic reign of Christ and His overall splendor permeates the book. He is the Lord of history, the Lord of man and of all created things. The high Christology of Revelation is evident from the first chapter:

…and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. (Revelation 1:13-18)

He is the first and the last, and the one who is “alive forevermore.” His power and His majesty are evident to all who read the book. No longer are we limited to the motif of the suffering servant, or the profound teachings of the Great Rabboni. Now we are afforded a peak, a glimpse, a view into the fuller person and majesty of Jesus Christ.

Revelation helps us understand the profundity of His cross work, and finality of His sacrifice. It helps us understand that He is sovereign over all things, including time and creation.

I really like what Warren Wiersbe has to say about the proper approach to the book: “When Daniel and John received God’s revelations of the future, both fell down as dead men (Dan. 10:7-10; Rev. 1:17). They were overwhelmed! We need to approach this book as wonderers and worshippers, not as academic students.”

But it is also a book about the saints who are called to endure. William Hendriksen says, “In the main, the purpose of the book of Revelation is to comfort the militant Church in its struggle against the forces of evil.”[iii]

Followers of the Lamb are to endure until He comes again – that second coming is our great hope. As Hendriksen so beautifully opines:

As we think of the glorious hope of the second coming, our hearts are filled with joy; our souls are consumed with a breathless impatience; our eyes attempt to pierce the dark clouds which veil the future, hoping that the glorious descent of the Son of man may burst upon the view. It is a longing which gushes into word: “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And he that hears, let him say, Come” (22:17).[iv]

John MacArthur points out that this is the only book in the Bible that begins and ends with a blessing. And Doug Kelley puts his finger on the reason I decided to study this book, namely the blessings/benedictions ascribed to those who would take the time to study it.

Kelly splits these into promises and blessings. The benedictions (blessings):[v]

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. (Revelation 1:3)

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (Revelation 14:13)

(“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”) (Revelation 16:15)

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:9)

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. (Revelation 20:6)

“And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” (Revelation 22:7)

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. (Revelation 22:14)

Here are the promises to the saints that Kelly lists:[vi]

  1. God sees their tears (7:17; 21:4)
  2. Their prayers are heard and used to rule the world (8:3-4)
  3. Their death or suffering leads to glory (14:13; 20:4)
  4. Their final victory is assured (15:2)
  5. Their blood will be avenged (6:9; 8:3)
  6. Their Christ lives and reigns forever and is victorious in time and eternity (5:7-8; 21:22)

Clearly this gives us ample motivation to study this wonderful book!

Who wrote this Book?

Most every scholar and theologian believes that the book was written by the apostle John – the one who wrote the gospel of John, and the three epistles named for him. Some hold that perhaps another John wrote the book – a late 1st century prophet with the same name, perhaps. But G.K. Beale (who believes the apostle John is the likely author) says this, “The issue is not important to settle since it does not affect the message of the book. Regardless of which John wrote, the author of the book identifies himself as a prophet (parenthetical references). Therefore, it is probably that John should be socially identified with a group of early Christian itinerant prophets.”[vii] 

William Hendriksen thinks that the evidence for another John having written this book is particularly weak. For instance, he points out, “Surely the very fact that the author of the Apocalypse merely calls himself John indicates that he was very well known, not only in one particular locality but throughout the churches of Asia.”[viii]

Now, there are certainly different styles of grammar and writing between the Gospel of John and the Revelation of John – some say this is enough to believe another man wrote the book. But conservative scholars are not so sure. There are some differences, but there are also many similarities. Hendriksen says, “The similarities are striking. They are to be found even in peculiar grammatical constructions and in characteristic expressions.” His comparative similarities are as follows (for those who want to look them up):[ix]

John 3:36 and Revelation 22:17
John 10:18 and Revelation 2:27
John 20:12 and Revelation 3:4
John 1:1 and Revelation 19:13
John 1:29 and Revelation 5:6 
 

Some of these comparisons are more obvious, others less so. But there are many other similarities. The gospel calls Jesus the “Lamb of God” and the “Logos” and so does Revelation – these are words and phrases that make John’s gospel unique, and here we find the phrase “Lamb of God” used 29 times in Revelation.

Of course the similarities don’t stop with grammar and phraseology. The doctrine is the same in both books. The sovereignty of God, the pre-temporal nature of Christ, the conquering power of the blood of Jesus all form major doctrinal similarities between books.

I especially like the way in which John describes Jesus as pre-temporal in both books. Here are a few examples:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [2] He was in the beginning with God. [3] All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3)

So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” [58] Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:57-58)

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (Revelation 22:13) 

When was this Book Written?

It is hard to overestimate the importance of discerning when this book of Revelation was written. The reason being that if the book was written prior to A.D. 70, then scholars have reason for believing that some of the things written herein refer to the events that occurred in that fateful year when the Romans destroyed the city of Jerusalem, and the great Herodian (2nd) temple complex.

G.K. Beale has done a nice job compiling the different historical arguments for both viewpoints, and is worth quoting his summation here below:

The difference of dating could alter the interpretation of the book, since the occasion prompting John to write might be different in each case. The early date is especially important for those viewing the main intention of the book as prophecy of the imminent destruction of Jerusalem: interpreters who hold to the early date generally understand the book primarily as a polemic against apostate Jewish faith. And the early date places many of the book’s descriptions of persecution against the background of Nero’s oppression of Christians in 65 (A.D.).

But if the book was written in the nineties, then it was occasioned by the situation of Christians living under the reign of Domitian, a situation that itself is an issue of debate. The majority maintaining a late date have viewed Domitian as a persecutor of Christians, though a few others recently have viewed his reign in more benevolent terms.

One can in fact affirm the early date or the late date without the main interpretative approach being affected. Under either dating position the book could be understood as a polemic against Rome and especially against compromise with ungodly Roman culture. The early date allows for an anti-Jerusalem focus, but does not demand it.

There are no single arguments that point clearly to the early or the late date. The early date could be right, but the cumulative weight of evidence points to the late date.[x]

Those who are partial (or full) preterists rely on the early date because they see these events in 65 and especially in 70 AD as fulfilling the prophecies of John’s apocalypse. Full preterists even believe the Jesus Himself came back in 70 AD!

I believe the latter date is more likely simply from my own study of church history this past year in seminary. The persecution under Nero was very localized to Rome, and the rest of the church really didn’t feel the pressures as much.

Furthermore, as Beale and others point out, when Pliny (a magistrate/governor of Rome) was trying to figure out what to do with Christians in 113 AD he wrote to Emperor Trajan as there seemed to be no previous law code or judicial or military precedent as to how to deal with them.[xi] 

Furthermore, John uses the term “Babylon” throughout the book, and while some see this as a sort of symbolic name for the “apostate Jerusalem”, Beale rightly (I believe) notes, “John’s use of the name may be the strongest internal evidence for a post-70 date. ‘Babylon refers to Rome in Jewish literature after 70 A.D. and roughly contemporary with the Apocalypse. Jewish commentators called Rome ‘Babylon’ because the Roman armies destroyed Jerusalem and its temple in 70 A.D., just as Babylon had done in the sixth century B.C. This use of the name probably influenced John, as did other Jewish traditions.”[xii]

Lastly, it is the testimony of very early Christian authors that this book was written at a later date. Irenaeus, Victorinus, Eusebius, Origen, and possibly Clement of Alexandria as well all believed the book to be written post 70 A.D.[xiii]

Irenaeus’ writings are especially important. In discussing the antichrist’s identify he wrote that, “We will not, however incur the risk of pronouncing positively as to the name of the Antichrist; if it were necessary that his name should be distinctly revealed in this present time, it would have been announced by him (John) who beheld the Apocalypse. For it was seen not very long ago, but almost in our day, toward the end of Domitian’s reign.”

This is very hard to refute for early daters no matter how much they try and re-translate or offer new ideas about what Ireneaus clearly spoke.

Early daters mention a number of arguments in their favor, from the mention of the “seven mountains” in 17:9, which are supposed to be seven kings of Rome, to the calculation of the number 666 as meaning Nero in the gematria, to Babylon (which we’ve already mentioned). Beale goes through each argument (and several more) and I really don’t find the weight of these arguments convincing.

Therefore, while either date might be correct, it seems like the weight of both the historical and internal arguments on behalf of a later date rule the day.

The Importance of Hermeneutics

It is so important that before we begin our study in this book that we have an understanding of how to interpret what we’re reading. The book of Revelation is classified as what theologians call “apocalyptic literature”, which means that the genre of this writing is not poetry, historical narrative, or epistolary – though it has some elements of the latter form.

R.C. Sproul explains this very well, and its worth quoting him at length here:

The basic principle of biblical interpretation established by the Reformers was literal interpretation, sensus literalis, which means that responsible interpreters of Scripture always interpret the Bible in the sense in which it was written. Poetic literature should be interpreted as poetry, didactic literature should be interpreted as didactic, and so on. A verb remains a verb, a noun remains a noun, a simile is a simile, and a metaphor is a metaphor.

Conversely, the style of interpretation called “literalism” involves applying a wooden interpretation, which does not work well for poetic literature. For example, when the psalmist says that the rivers clap their hands (98:8), we do not take that to mean that rivers somehow grow hands and begin clapping. We do not interpret such poetic images in an overly literalistic way.

When it comes to interpreting prophetic literature, the question is whether the language is figurative or ordinary prose, and there is widespread disagreement about that. Some believe that we must interpret the prophecies of the future literally in order to be faithful to the Bible, but that can lead us in circles.[xiv]

Revelation is a book will need to be interpreted differently than, say, the book of Genesis. We will encounter all manner of symbols, numbers, and visual descriptions that will leave us in awe – and perhaps a little confused, especially if we take the wrong approach to the book. Dennis Johnson rightly says, “The strength of symbolism is vividness, for often a picture is worth a thousand words. The challenge of symbolism, however, is its ambiguity.”[xv]

…to be continued…

Footnotes

[i] Voddie Baucham: http://www.gracefamilybaptist.net/sermons/2012-05-introduction-revelation/

[ii] Warren Wiersbe, Commentary on the New Testament (The David Cook two volume set), Revelation, Pg. 1036.

[iii] William Hendriksen, ‘More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation’, Pg. 7.

[iv] Hendriksen, Pg. 8

[v] Douglas F. Kelly, Revelation, A mentor expository commentary, Pg. 21

[vi] Kelly, Pg. 21

[vii] From G.K. Beale’s commentary on Revelation, Pg.’s 35-36

[viii] Hendriksen, Pg. 12

[ix] Hendriksen, Pg. 12 – carries on the discussion onto page 13 as well, and really provides some helpful comparative verses here. Shockingly, he leaves out John 8 which I cite above (it’s one of my favorite examples of Jesus’ pre-temporal existence).

[x] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, Commentary, Pg. 4

[xi] Beale, Pg. 5

[xii] Beale, Pg.’s 18-19

[xiii] Beale, Pg. 19

[xiv] R.C. Sproul, ‘Everyone’s A Theologian;, Pg.’s 310-311

[xv] Johnson’s commentary on Revelation is called, ‘Triumph of the Lamb’ and this quote is found on page 10.

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Study Notes for June 16: John 17:24-26

Yesterday I taught on John 17 – we finished that chapter in class and the notes are below.  I hope you find them edifying.  I admit that they are not as “complete” as the lesson was in person, simply because many things were coming to mind during the lesson, and those are not added in here.  Still, there are some great thoughts from theologians and wonderful teaching from our Lord that we can glean from His High Priestly Prayer.

PJW

17:24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

Introduction to 24-26

This is the second part of this section of which I mentioned earlier that there are two main themes: unity and knowing God.  In these last few verses we’ll examine the latter of those two themes in some more depth.  But first let’s examine what Jesus says here in verse 24…

The Desire of Jesus

So often we talk about our desires and wanting them to match Jesus’ desires.  We want to have minds and hearts that are like His. And here we learn explicitly what some of those desires are.

And so the first really significant thing we learn from this passage is what the desires of Jesus actually are.

Jesus desires that 1. We be in heaven with Him when we die – “where I am” – and 2. That we see His glory in heaven. These really aren’t two separate items, I suppose, but one is the result of the other.  The reason Jesus wants us in heaven is so that we will see His glory.

Later John would go on to write this:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

D.A. Carson’s comments on this verse are helpful and I will quote them at length:

…they had not witnessed Jesus’ glory in its unveiled splendor. Christians from every generation glimpse something of Jesus’ glory even now (vs. 2 Cor. 3:18), but one day, when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 Jn. 3:2). The glory of Christ that his followers will see is his glory as God, the glory he enjoyed before his mission because of the Father’s love for him. The ultimate hope of Jesus’ followers thus turns on the Father’s love for the Son, as in 14:31 it turns on the love of the Son for the Father.  Presumably those who share, with the Son, the delight of being loved by the Father (vs. 23), share also in the glory to which the Son is restored in consequence of his triumphant death/exaltation.

This is just a great explanation.  So without rehashing what Carson says, let me approach the text from an existential/experiential perspective…

Have you ever considered that the purpose of heaven – of our going to heaven – is largely to see the glory of Jesus?  I confess that this isn’t the thing I normally think about when I contemplate heaven.  I normally think about peace and my own joy and happiness.  But what I came to realize that the two ideas aren’t incompatible.  My joy in heaven is really going to be a result of seeing and savoring (as Piper would put it) the glory of Jesus.

The implication of this is very much what Jesus prayed for in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy Kingdom come.”  We ought to also have this desire here during our time on earth.  If we are going to have great joy in heaven from beholding the glory of Jesus there, what is keeping us from doing so in a lesser, though still important, way here on earth?

I’ve argued in the past that we behold the glory of Jesus here on earth through the Word of God and that it is God the Holy Spirit who helps us see this glory and really appropriate it to our minds, hearts and lives in the here and now.

We could really plumb the depths of this for a long time, but for now let us just be content to think on these things and what their practical implications are for our lives here.

The Father’s Love of the Son

The second really big thing we notice about what Jesus says here is that the Father’s love for the Son is very great.  He loves the Son and gives Him glory.  In other words, all the goodness and greatness of Jesus is His because of His relation to the Father.  It is His connection to the Father that makes Him great and glorious.

Jesus, being the second member of the Trinity, is glorious and this glory is manifested most perfectly in heaven where He desires that we – His chosen people – will one day reside with Him.

There’s a lot of difficulty for our human minds here when it comes to the nature of the Trinity and why it is that Jesus is getting His glory from the Father.  I’ve mentioned this earlier in other passages, but we must affirm that Jesus is ontologically equal with the Father, yet in His role He is subordinate.  We must always make that careful distinction and not wander off into unfounded speculation. There are only so many truths we can know here on earth, and hopefully when we arrive in heaven we will have a greater grasp of who God is and how He is, and so forth.

Because He Prayed

This could easily be missed, but at the core of this verse is the reality that Jesus is praying that we will be with Him in heaven.  This ought to give us great assurance that if we are His, if we are born again, we will surely be in heaven upon our death!

It is a popular verse to quote, but I think its worth of remembering here, that Jesus is the incarnate word of God and nothing He prays for is going to be left on the cutting room floor (so to speak):

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
(Is. 55:11)
 

What a great truth to read that Jesus is praying here for us to be with Him in heaven.  If He said it, surely it will come to pass.

17:25-26 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. [26] I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Leon Morris says, “The last two verses are something of a retrospect. They might, perhaps, be set off as a separate division of the prayer. There is no petition in them. Jesus is no longer praying for those who would believe through the apostolic witness. He is making statements about what he has done and the purpose of his doing it.”

The World Does Not Know You

Again I want to quote Morris, who is spot on in this passage, when he says, “It is probably significant that immediately after addressing God as righteous he proceeds to distinguish between ‘the world’ and his followers. It is because God is righteous that he treats both groups as he does.”

This is something we’ve looked at in the past, but John’s gospel is teaming with examples of how the world has rejected Jesus. There is a real dichotomy in John’s gospel between those who “know” God and those who do not.  In this gospel “knowing” is tantamount to “believing.”  The word “believe” is used 98 times (Schreiner)!

So here we see that the world does not know God in this intimate, believing, sort of way.  Obviously the world knows that there must be a God (so Romans 1), and that is why Paul can say that they are all without excuse.  But this kind of “knowing” is much more than simply the internal conscience that God has given every man that must acknowledge there is a creator.

Throughout the Gospel of John this concept of knowing God has been contrasted with those who do not know God. “Knowing” and “Believing” in John are really the same thing in many many instances.

Here are some examples of the contrast between those who know God and those who don’t and the call to believe and know God:

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, [13] who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (John 3:19)

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” [61] But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? [62] Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? [63] It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. [64] But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) [65] And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” [66] After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. (John 6:60-66)

But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. (John 8:55)

This concept is not limited to John’s gospel though; it is all over the New Testament.  One example that comes to mind is how Paul articulates this in 2 Corinthians:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. [4] In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. [5] For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. [6] For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:3-6)

Therefore, knowing God and believing in Jesus are very closely tied together in John’s gospel.  To know the heavenly Father is to first know His Son.  To place your faith in the name of Jesus is how we come into a relationship with God.

As a side note, we earlier learned about how the name of God sort of acts as short hand for summing up who He is, His attributes and character etc.  Well there’s an interesting connection here between the importance of the name of the Father, and how later in the NT the apostles call us to believe in the name of Jesus, and do wondrous things in His name.  The natural conclusion here is that Jesus is divine.  I just mention this because so many in our group are reading or studying other Gospels and we have just finished a study of Acts where this is so prominently seen.

Knowing in Order to be Filled with Love

There is a close relationship between “believing” and knowing God.  The connection is that the Spirit, who helped us believe in the first place, is now filling us with knowledge of who God is.

Tom Schreiner aptly sums up John’s close tie between soteriology (the study of salvation) and Christology (the study of Christ) in the following comment:

He is fully divine and equal with the Father, so that those who honor the Father must honor him as well. Prayers offered in his name (the name of Jesus) will be answered, and eternal life comes to those who believe in his name. The Son existed with the Father before the world began and shares his glory, and the disciples will enjoy the Son’s glory forever in the future. And yet the Son was sent to bring glory to the Father, while at the same time the Father glorifies the Son. The Son as the sent one acts in dependence upon and in submission to his Father and constantly does what is pleasing to the Father…Life in the age to come is the portion of human beings even now if they put their trust in Jesus as the Son of God and Messiah. His name saves because his name is exalted.

We already addressed that when Jesus speaks of the “name” of God, He is referring to the sum total of God’s attributes – his characteristics.  Now we hear Jesus end His prayer by asking that His followers be kept in God’s name in order “that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

This “love” is nothing short of the Holy Spirit’s filling us post-Pentecost.  Tom Schreiner says that “the Spirit has the unique ministry of filling believers with the Love of God.”

This is seen in Paul’s letter to the Romans as well:

…and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)

There is a progression here in Jesus’ prayer.  He prays that we would be kept in God’s name in order to have the love of God manifested in our hearts through a kind of unity with God.  This must have been pretty mysterious to the disciples at the time, but we know looking back that Jesus is saying that knowing God and being filled by the Spirit are all part of the same Christian experience.

We are born again, filled with the Spirit, and learn more and more about God.  We are unified with God through the filling of the Spirit, and the adoption into His household.

John Stott says this, “what the Holy Spirit does is to make us deeply and refreshingly aware that God loves us. It is very similar to Paul’s later statement that ‘the Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children’ (Romans 8:16). There is little if any appreciable difference between being assured of God’s fatherhood and of his love.”

Conclusion

This chapter is one of the neatest, most assuring sections of Scripture I have ever studied.  It is a source of great comfort, and also great insight. I hope that it serves you as a continual well of inspiration and comfort in the years to come.

“Orthodox Christology” by Keith Mathison

Last night I was reviewing the latest blog post over at Ligonier Ministries and it was so good that I felt might be useful to repost here.  Keith Mathison is three parts into a series on what he’s titled ‘An Introduction to Orthodox Christology’.  It’s a look at the entire Bible – in parts – and how we understand different part of the OT (and I assume the NT in future blog posts) to be speaking of Christ. As you might know, the ending “ology” means “the study of”.  So “Christology” is naturally “the study of all things pertaining to Christ.”

The post I read last night was focused on 2 Samuel and some of the Psalms and was really enjoyable. It’s a little on the heavy side for those who might not regularly read scholarly work, but I think you’ll find it fascinating if you’ve never examined some of these things before, and I urge you to at least give it a skimming!

Post 1: Why Christology is Important 

Post 2: The Pentateuch 

Post 3: The Historical Books and Psalms

Soli Deo Gloria!

PJW

Study Notes 8-4-13: Beholding the Character of the Father in the Person and Work of Christ

12:44-45 And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. [45] And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.

I think there are probably several points within this paragraph that need examined closely, including justification by faith, Christ as the incarnate Word of God, Christ as the radiance of the character of God the Father, and the duel nature of Christ.

Justification by Faith

Christ begins by calling us to “believe” in Him in order to be saved. And therefore in His statement we find the solution to our eternal problems: believe! Have faith! This is nothing new to us in this study of John, it has been the message of Jesus from the get go. For example, if you look back to chapter 6, you’ll see that some people came up to Jesus and asked what they needed to be doing to be godly and be saved. How He responded must have astounded them:

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28-29 ESV)

This is justification by faith alone! All you need to do is believe. There is nothing added to it. There are no works of penance, there are no coins to add to the coffers, there are no meritorious pilgrimages, weddings, confirmations, good deeds, NOTHING of that kind is mentioned here by Jesus. Simply “believe in him who he has sent”!

As Paul states in several areas:

So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Romans 9:16)

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

So great is the promise of God, that our response of faith to the words of His Christ, Jesus, will save our souls for all time. By placing our faith in the words of Jesus and believing that He is indeed the Son of God, and died for our sins, we shall live forever with Him and no longer “remain in darkness.”

Most people I know would rather be in a room with light than one filled with darkness. Its hard to get anything meaningful accomplished in life if you don’t know the purpose for which you were created, and you’ll never know those deep and wonderful mysteries outside of the person and work of Jesus Christ. He is the confluence of all questions and all answers, and the meaning of life is hidden in His purposes and designs. He is the One for whom and through whom all things have been made – and that includes you!

Christ is the Radiance of the Glory of God

The glory and beauty of the attributes and nature of God are bound up in the person of Jesus Christ, and seen in His works.

This is what is meant by the statement He makes, “And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.” Jesus has labored hard to show us that He is the radiance of God’s glory and that all things He speaks are from God and all things HE does are from God, for He is God! As the author of Hebrews says:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (Hebrews 1:1-3)

When we take this to heart, we realize that it makes all the sense in the world to place our faith on Christ. Listen to what John Calvin says on this passage:

“The reason why the stability of faith is firm and secure is, that it is stronger than the world, and is above the world. Now, when Christ is truly known, the glory of God shines in him, that we may be fully persuaded that the faith which we have in him does not depend on man, but that it is founded on the eternal God; for it rises from the flesh of Christ to his Divinity.”

The Two Natures of Christ

If I may, just dwell a bit here on what it means that when we see Jesus, we see God the Father. Paul says that, “…in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19), and Puritan Thomas Goodwin says, “If there were infinite worlds made of creatures loving, they would not have so much love in them as was in the heart of that man Christ Jesus.”

In emphasizing His brilliance and glory, I do not want to neglectfully state that He was also fully man. This simply is an assumed truth by Jesus to his listeners here in chapter 12. He isn’t working to show them that He is human, they already assume He is human. He displays all the characteristics of a human being. The task before Jesus here is to explain that He is also fully God.

And so we must keep these things in mind as we read His words, and understand that the mystery of the incarnation is not without difficulty for us. Christ was both fully God and fully man. As Dr. Joel Beeke has said, “The Western church has always distinguished between the two natures of Christ, who is both consubstantial (homoousios, “the same in substance”) with humanity and consubstantial with God.”

The reason it is important to distinguish between the two natures of Christ is because we must not mar God’s character in a way that brings the divine down to a place where it ought not to be. Both of Christ’s natures were distinct, and both were fully realized (that is to say, that Christ as man wasn’t sub-human, or more than human, He had a weakened post-fall body as we do – see the works of Puritan John Arrowsmith), and yet distinct.

One example why the distinction is important is given us by Goodwin who explains that the two natures, “could not be changed into the other, for God was immutable; and it was impossible that the Nature of Man should become the Nature of God, since the Essence of the Godhead is incommunicable.” Thus, as Joel Beeke points out with the help of Goodwin, “the perfections of Christ’s human nature come infinitely ‘short of the Attributes that are essential to the Godhead.’”

Nevertheless, it is Christ’s goal here to show how He is God, and that when we look upon Him, we are looking upon the second person of the Godhead. This has enormous consequences for how we read and digest His teaching, as well as His works in the gospels.

12:46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.

Christ is the Rescuer of Mankind

I love verse 46 because it so well encapsulates the mission of Jesus. He is the pure light, the Rescuer of all mankind, and He has come to save us from the darkness of our sin and sadness.

This is also how we ought to teach our children and others about Jesus – especially as we teach them the entire Bible from Genesis through Revelation. We must endevor to show how the entire story of Scripture is about Jesus and His rescue plan.

For example, when we read Genesis, we read about the fall and the promises of God, we must see those promises as fulfilled in Christ and teach that way. When we read Revelation, we must see how Christ is going to come back and fulfill the promises He made during His time here on earth. The entire story revolves around Him (2 Cor. 1:20).

Here are some examples of what I mean:

I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and her offspring;

he shall bruise your head,

and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

Jesus is the Seed who will one day rescue mankind by bruising the head of the serpent, and freeing us from the domain of darkness, He will set us free from that slavery (Romans 6), and bring us into life everlasting.

And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:15-18)

One day there will come forth from Abraham’s body a line of descendents that will bear a king, and that king (Gen. 50) will “possess the gate of his enemies”, and the gospel of that King will bless all of the bless all the nations by bringing them into eternal life – that is the promise of Jesus to all who believe in Him, to the Jew first, and also to the gentile (Romans 1:16).

And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the statute of the Passover: no foreigner shall eat of it, but every slave that is bought for money may eat of it after you have circumcised him. No foreigner or hired worker may eat of it. It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones. All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it. There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.” (Exodus 12:43-49)

Just as God instituted the Passover meal to help the Israelites remember His delivering them from the slavery of Egypt, so He has given us a Passover Lamb, which is Jesus, who was slaughtered for our sins, and has by His death, burial, and resurrection rescued us from the consequences of those sins and from the death we were to receive as their payment. Jesus has fulfilled once and for all the Passover. God gave the Passover as both a way of remembrance, and a look into the future as a shadow of things to come when He would deliver His people from their bondage permanently!

These are just a few examples of how to see Christ in the Old Testament. He is the center of all history, and has come as our Rescuer. So when we read here that He says He has come to the world as light, we remember John’s words that He is the light, and that light was the life of men! He was from the beginning, and that is why I have stated that the entirety of Scripture is about Him, it is His story.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

12:47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.

As I have mentioned in the past, the main mission of Jesus during His earthly ministry was not judgment but rather salvation. That being said, the very fact that He is the light of the world necessitates a kind of “judgment” because light is a separating force. You cannot have light and darkness co-existing in the same space. Therefore, the light, by nature of its being, will cause separation from the darkness and this separation is apparent to anyone who is an observer. And so it is that simply by His life and ministry and preaching of the kingdom of God, Jesus brought judgment into the world, even while still having the main mission of salvation.

In the story of Zacchaeus, Luke records Christ’s words for us which give a similar encapsulation of His ministry:

And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:8-10)

Just as important as it is to understand what Jesus is saying about His mission to save, it is important to know that He is coming back again, and on that day there will be a separation between those who believed His words and those who did not…

12:48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.

His Words are Law

Now Jesus will one day come back and have another mission: the judge the world by what they did with His words. Christ’s mission was that of salvation during His earthly ministry 2,000 years ago, but when He comes back His mission will include the judgment of all who did not believe in His words.

Listen to the words of Christ that we studied earlier in chapter five:

For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. 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. (John 5:21-24)

This is a fearful and awful thing to contemplate – especially in light of what the erroneous claim that Jesus was merely a “good teacher.” These are not the words of a man without authority. For one who is merely a teacher only, or a prophet only, does not have authority with which to judge the nations based on his words! Which leads us to verse 49…

12:49 For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. [50] And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.

A Question of Authority…

When you look at the words here compared to those I quoted earlier from chapter five, there may seem to be some confusion as to whether Jesus is saying He has authority or does not have authority etc. Keep in mind though, it is not as though He is saying “I do not have authority”, but rather “I have not spoken on my own authority.” So first, at the outset, we must realize that He isn’t saying He has no authority, but rather is using that authority which has been vested in Him by the Father.

Therefore, He is not contradicting Himself here, but rather explaining to us (in the context of the nature of the Trinity) that his mission on earth (2,000 years ago) was to save the lost, to give the words of life (of the gospel of the kingdom), and to do so on the authority of the Father. Whereas His mission upon His return will be to bring those who are His into His consummated kingdom, and to judge the world based on what it did with His words. This will be a judgment based on authority that has been given over to Him – an authority that is His by right and by nature of His Being (it is an authority which inheres in Him by the fact of who He is ontologically – He is God, therefore He has all authority). In the future, upon His return, reigning from His heavenly throne, He will exercise authority as the second member of the Godhead.

It is perhaps difficult to understand why He would choose to express Himself in this way, because He never ceased to be fully God, and it seems like He should always have had authority necessarily simply because of who He is/was ontologically.

However, I think He chose to express Himself this way because He wanted to reveal something of the Trinitarian reality (and how the Godhead was and always is in full agreement with itself), as well as show us the specific connection between Himself and the Father. This would have been particularly helpful for the Jews who were listening to Him and saw Him as simply a man from Nazareth. Therefore, it is not as though He ever stopped being invested with the inherent right to judge, but rather that He chose not to exercise that authority at the time of His first incarnation. This was a voluntary act, and one that fit in accordance with His mission at the time (as stated in Phil. 2…for He moves from a state of humiliation to exaltation as most orthodox theologians have stated).

This passage in Philippians shows us how Christ momentarily set aside His rights in order to accomplish the mission at hand:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

Just Another Prophet?

As a sort of side note, I have asked myself this question: If Christ was simply another prophet (as the Muslims and others claim) would He have had the authority to speak the way He spoke here? Can you imagine a prophet or a teacher claiming that he would come back and judge the world by the authority of his words! Wouldn’t that be an amazing claim? These questions have prompted me to realize once again how very seriously we must take the words of Jesus. I cannot simply brush them under the rug as the warnings of another prophet or teacher; He is the Lord of all life and all life finds its source in Him (in a few chapters we’ll see Christ say that He is the “way the truth and the life”).

Beneficiaries of His Work

Lastly, this statement of Christ’s has very practical applications for us today. Look now at the sum of all that we have been studying. First, we see that Christ Himself is the radience of the glory of God, and that for us to behold Him we are beholding the Father. This truth adds heft to whatever it is that follows it. First Jesus has said: I am the ultimate authority in the universe. It therefore follows that whatever He says we must listen very very carefully!

And what is it that He has chosen to follow such statements of authority? The thing He has chosen to say is that which comes from God, the “commandment” as He calls it here. And that commandment is “eternal life!”

What an amazing thing, and this is why it is amazing. He has chosen to use all of the authority vested in Him as God of the universe to express something that is to the praise of His glory, and to the unique benefit of US, namely that we should have eternal life.

Christ has first had us dwelling on who He is, and now He expresses the reality of what we will gain by what He will do for us. All of this is bound up in Him, and that it includes us, and that we are the beneficiaries of His work, is beyond comprehension and very difficult to express adequately. This is why Peter writes as He does in his first epistle:

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)

Study Notes: John 12:41-43: The Transforming Glory of God in Christ

Below are some abbreviated notes from my lesson on Sunday.  I say “abbreviated” because I added a lot on the fly that was not written down, so these served more as an outline rather than my usual (rather extensive) written notes.  Nevertheless, I hope they are useful to those who missed class.

PJW

12:41-43 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.

The Power and Purpose of the Glory of God

We are given here an amazing insight as to why Isaiah wrote these things. The reason, John says, is, “because he saw his glory”, and that motivated him to take action and “speak of him.”  It is the overwhelming glory of God on the throne that completely captures Isaiah’s life and mission. Here is the passage from Isaiah 6 where the scene is set in a vision that the prophet had:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

            “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;

the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:1-8 ESV)

It is in this passage that we see that Isaiah was motivated to go and preach the word of God after being overwhelmed by the glory of God. And so it is that when that glory is revealed to us, when the excellencies of Christ are revealed to us, we are motivated in our spirits to go and serve the Lord.  This is not a motivation in the way we traditionally think of motivation where we see a reward and chase it like a carrot on a stick. This is a motivation fueled by the realization that all other purposes fall short of the ultimate reality of who God is and what He has made us to do. All other realities shrink in comparison to the supreme reality of who God is, and our souls react in such a way that we can’t help but share with others who He is because we are overwhelmed by His greatness.

The Glory Transforms Us

Have you ever wondered what it is that will eventually transform us/how that will happen?  Well Paul tells us: it will be God’s glory that eventually transforms us completely and is transforming us now. It is in “beholding” God’s glory that changes us!  This is why reading Scripture, prayer, and dwelling on the person of Christ is so important.

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

This is what happened to me a few years ago in the Spring of 2010 when I was reading R.C. Sproul’s books ‘The Holiness of God’ and ‘Chosen by God’.  The magnificence of the glory of God overwhelmed me to a point where one evening I got down on my knees at 2am in the middle of my living room and cried.  I realized, through Sproul’s exposition of Isaiah 6 and other similar passages, who God is and who I am. And to then connect that reality with the gospel which tells me that the Man in whom all the excellencies of God are bound up, came to earth and died for my sins, blew me away afresh. A deeper understanding for the character and the glory of God grows not only your love for Christ, but your desire to share that love with others.

Christ is the glory of God

One of the amazing truths of Scripture is that Jesus Christ is the glory of God. If we want to know what God’s glory looks like manifested in a human being, we need not look any further than the only begotten of the Father.

Look at what Scripture says about Jesus:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 ESV)

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (Hebrews 1:1-4 ESV)

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15-20 ESV)

It cannot be said enough that if we want to know what it means to behold the glory of God, we ought to begin by beholding the face of Jesus, and the way we do that is by meditating on the Scriptures that talk about who Jesus is.

We are the Reflection of Christ’s Glory (in a manner of speaking)

In a way, we are to be the reflection of Christ to the whole earth. Jesus talks about this in Matthew 5:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16 ESV)

This means that as we are conformed to the image of Christ, we are to reflect His image, and love others in a way that reflects how Christ loves us. This is a very large challenge, and one that we really cannot begin to accomplish without His help.

God’s Glory will Eventually Cover all the Earth

We ought to also contemplate what the Bible promises about the future, and in so doing realize that one day the glory of the Lord will cover the entire earth. This was the idea behind God’s mandate to Adam in the Garden – to go and subdue the earth, and essentially expand Eden to cover the entire earth so that God’s glory would be spread throughout the earth. God saw fit to use His creation (Adam) to expand His glory over all the earth even prior to The Fall.

Yet despite the Fall, God still has a plan to renew the earth and has said that through the work of His Son, the Suffering Servant and King of kings, His glory will eventually cover all the earth. This is mentioned in Numbers 14 and below is the passage.  The context is that the people of Israel have just sinned and have no faith that God will give them the land of Canaan because of all the enemies dwelling in the land.  Moses then intercedes on their behalf and God reacts to the intercession of Moses, which is where we pickup the narrative:

Then the LORD said, “I have pardoned, according to your word. But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it. (Numbers 14:20-23)

Southern Baptist Theologian James Hamilton sees a strong connection between this passage and surrounding passages in Numbers, and the passage in Genesis 3, Genesis 12, 18, 22 and 49 where God promises to crush the head of the serpent with the seed of the woman, and then promises Abraham land, descendents and stipulates that He will bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him. One of the ways that the Lord will extend His glory throughout the earth is through the rule of a King who will bring blessing to all the earth and also victory over the seed of the serpent. This King is Jesus Christ, who crushed the ruler of this world (Satan) through His righteous obedience, cross work and resurrection, and is spreading the glory of God through human instruments (us) throughout the entire world (Matthew 28) just as He first intended for Adam to do. In this way, the curse is being reversed through the work of mankind as we spread the gospel of the glory of God through which His character and love is revealed.  The final consummation of this work will occur when Christ returns in power and the invisible becomes visible (namely His kingdom and authority).

The Glory from Men is not Worth to be Compared to that Glory which will come from God

A very striking statement is made by John in verse 43: “for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.”  It is convicting to me how much I personally seek the glory which comes from men rather than the glory which comes from the Father of lights.  Peter briefly talks about this, and emphasizes that during our short life here on earth we will endure many trials, but they all fall away in comparison to the glory that will one day be ours:

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:6-9 ESV)

And so in conclusion I want to point to us to Christ’s instruction in Matthew 6:33:

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33 ESV)

There is a glory that comes from men, but it is fleeting and shallow. Let us set our faces toward the heavenly Jerusalem and seek that which is above, which is eternal and unending. Let us act with loving-kindness toward others (as Christ loved us), and let us dwell on the richness and glory that is the Lord Jesus Christ that our minds may be renewed and transformed into His image.

The Glory of Christ in Colossians

As I was reading Colossians this past week, one of the things that struck me is how often I come to the Word of God seeking what it has to say about me and what I should do etc. This is all well and good, but what has hit me is that I’ve been so focused on the didactic, that I have not reveled in the glory of Christ and who He is.  It’s been all about me, me, me…

It is not hard to feel such conviction while reading over what is perhaps one of the richest Christological passages in Scripture. Colossians 1:15-20 presents us with a picture of Christ that is nothing short of mind-blowing, and mind renewing.

Meditating on this passage provides for some wonderful Christ-drenched thought, and it is in that spirit that I thought I’d take a brief look at these verses and make a few remarks. Stop with me for a few minutes and set your mind upon Christ…

1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 

Much of this passage reminds me of Hebrews 1:1-3, but this verse most of all because it proclaims that Christ is the “image” of God”, just as the author of Hebrews proclaims that Christ is “the exact imprint” of God. And so the first thing that Paul tells us here is that Christ is a perfect replication of the God that no man can see. In other words, if you ever wanted to know what God was like up close and personal, then set your gaze upon Jesus. God was pleased to send His Son, His only Son, to be born of a virgin and dwell among us, as one of us, and so even though Christ was fully God and perfectly divine, He was also fully human and perfectly displayed what it means to be truly human in the way that God originally intended – that is why we call Him the ‘Last Adam’.

John’s opening prologue the first chapter of his gospel states this truth very clearly, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18).

The second thing that Paul says is that Christ is the “firstborn of all creation” and then goes on explain that some more in verse 16…

1:16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 

There are two great truths here for us to discover, first, Christ is the maker of all things (John 1:10), and second, all things exist for Him. It is often difficult for us to think about Christ in the role of Creator, because many of us have grown up thinking that the second person of the Trinity really didn’t arrive on the scene until we open our Bibles to the New Testament. But Scripture is clear that all three members of the Trinity were involved in Creation. Because we know that all things were created “through” Him, and because we know that Christ is “the Word” of God, its probably safe to assume that when God spoke things into existence in Genesis 1, it was Christ who was uttering the words (although I’m sure our anthropomorphic language really doesn’t do justice to what occurred). This is an amazing thing to think about, but it makes a lot of sense when we consider that even during His ministry here on earth He used His voice to calm the stormy sea, and to bring life from death (as in John 11 and Lazarus). “The Word became flesh” seen in this light now adds another dimension to our understanding of Christ’s role in the creation account. For it does not say “the word became the word” as if He wasn’t the word prior to His incarnation, but rather that “the Word became flesh.” The preexistent Word, the second person of the Trinity, was poured into the flesh of a man.

The second great truth here is that “all things were created through him and for him.” Therefore, all of the things that He spoke into existence were made for Himself. God made all things “for His own glory” as the Westminster Divines tell us, and it is texts like this that give them the footing to declare such a statement.

There are obvious (and several) ramifications for this, but let me mention just one for now, namely that He made you for Himself. This is a very previous truth indeed, and it reminds me of what Augustine said, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” It is a wonderful thing to think about that I was made for Jesus. He knows me, loves me, and actually made me for Himself. If that doesn’t send tingles down your spine then check your pulse…

1:17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

This is similar to the point Paul made earlier about Christ being the “first born” of all creation because “first born” is indicative of his preeminence. There are two ways in which Christ is “before all things”: First, He existed before all things from a time-perspective. John the Baptist declares this truth when he states, “This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me’” (John 1:30).

Secondly, He is “before all things” in that He is over, or above, or in charge of all things. The Greek word here though is “pro” which usually means “before” as in “prior.” So I don’t want to read too much into it as meaning “above” because it only means that a few times in the New Testament, however, this second sense of the word might just be what Paul is referring to since he then proceeds to tell us that it is Christ who holds all things together. This holding of all things together is a role carried out by someone who is of a higher order than us humans, and therefore it makes sense that Paul would say that He is “before” all things.

The last part of the verse is interesting because it can kind of get your mind in a bind if you think too hard on it.  We just touched on it briefly above, but Paul says that in Christ “all things hold together.” Similar language is used in Acts 17:28 when Paul tells the gathering at Mars Hill that, “In him we live and move and have our being.”  But perhaps Hebrews 1:3 is the closest we come to a similar thought when the author says that Christ “upholds the universe by the word of his power.”

That is an amazing statement, and the more you contemplate it the more you grow amazed at the shear power of God. Sometimes we read the gospel accounts and the weakness of our finite minds we see Jesus, the man, teaching us, caring for the sick and so forth. But we must not forget the same Jesus who cared for the sick also calmed the raging sea, and we’re told here, upholds the entire universe by the word of His power.

What this means is that if Jesus were to utter the word, the entire universe could collapse into a blackhole, or evaporate into nothingness. It means that chaos is kept at bay by the fact that Jesus keeps it at bay. All science, and all math, operates upon the rules of His decree. We live and breathe and exist because it is His pleasure that we do so. When one truly comprehends who “the boss” of the universe is, the spectacle of the cross becomes all that much more radical and offensive. One begins to shake at the fact that humans – created beings – put their creator to death in response to His loving them, and that the Creator would condescend to such depths of pain and shame on our behalf, all in order to show forth the glory of His Son.

1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 

Now Paul begins to talk about how these facts influence ecclesiology. If Christ is the first born of all creation, if he is the One through whom all things have been made, then should it come as a shock that He is the head of the church? Of course not! For He is preeminent over “everything.”

It’s also interesting to hear Paul refer to the church as “the body” and Christ as its head. He’s used this anthropomorphic language in other letters to other churches as well, and it signifies how closely we have come to be associated with our Savior. We are part of Him – we are His body!

Therefore, if He is our head, we must contemplate what that means for our daily lives. How does our own physical head function in relation to the rest of the body? Well, it may sound odd to put it this way, but one might say that the head is “in charge” of the rest of the body. The rest of the body functions because the head tells the rest of the body to function. The head sends the orders and the body obeys. Such is the relationship between Christ and His people. He sends the orders and we obey.

Lastly, Paul sums up his thought process by restating again that Christ is preeminent, and this is because God the Father wanted Him to be preeminent in “everything.” Drilling down to what that word “everything” means is important because up until now Paul has been talking about very big concepts – creation, the church, the universe, heaven, earth and so on. He is saying that Christ is above all of these things and actually made all of these things and directs them according to His own will.

This too has ramifications for our lives, not simply so that we can know “how things works as they do” (to quote the Children’s Catechism), but so that we can order our lives around the same facts that the universe (both heaven and earth) are ordered around. What I mean by this is that if Christ is preeminent over all things, why do we fool ourselves into believing we are preeminent over all things? You think I go too far? I doubt it. For we not only place our own desires before serving and communing with Christ, but we also place our own opinions above His revelation to us (the Bible). Therefore, if what Paul is saying is true (and we can be assured that it is), then we ought to be making Jesus Christ the top priority of our lives. That means all things ought to revolve around Him. Anything other than that is not living in reality, but rather creating a false reality that denies His preeminence. Therefore creating our own self-centered priorities that usurp the priorities of Christ is, in essence, creating for ourselves a fairyland.

The benefit of living in reality, and ordering life on the priority and preeminence of Christ, is that we’ll be made into His image, which means that we’ll become more truly human (the way we were created to be) than we would if we were simply focused on our own fleshly desires. Ironically, becoming truly human means dying to ourselves and living in the reality of the supremacy of Jesus Christ by submitting to His Lordship and renewing of our image.

1:19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 

Paul now gets to the point of things. Christ is preeminent because He is God. God is the highest Being in the universe, and because Christ is God, He is therefore preeminent by default.

Paul uses the word “fullness” – plērōma in the Greek – to indicate that Jesus didn’t lack anything in His Godness (so to speak). He never ceased being God. He did “lay aside” (if it is proper to speak so) some of His attributes (omnipresence etc.) due to His humanity, but He never ceased from being fully God – a truth of such magnitude and such incomprehensibility that scholars of every generation have had to defend it against “critical scholarship” and heretics throughout the centuries since Christ’s time on earth.

The last thing I want to examine here is that God was “pleased” to dwell in and with humanity. Let it be known to every Christian that God does what God does for His pleasure. All things happen by and for Him as we read earlier – and note especially “for” Him. That word “for” is indicative of “His pleasure” because whatever He does He does for His own good pleasure. Let that sink in…

1:20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Verse twenty is remarkable because after describing all of who Christ is, Paul now goes on to remind us of why He came to earth, namely to die for our sins. Paul has us so enamored with the magnificence of this God-man that we are in a state of adoration until He preaches to us the gospel in verse twenty and we can do nothing at this point except weep and praise God for His mercy. For here is the Christ, the preeminence of all creation, the God-man, the only begotten Son of heaven, the King of kings and Lord of lords and now Paul is saying this Being, this Radiance, has sacrificed His blood for the goal of reconciling us to God. Here we are, hostile rebels who have had the mercy of obtaining favor from heaven. God sent His Son instead of His wrath and we stand in the merciful wake of this unbelievably awesome act of mercy.

This verse reeks of mission. It is Christ’s mission, to seek and save the lost, to reconcile us to God…this is why He came, and what blows my mind even further is that when we put all the pieces together from the last few verses, we see that He does this for His own pleasure. How then can we not surmise, with John, that “God is Love”?

And so after Paul commends to us the magnificent nature and person of Christ, he ends on the magnanimous work of Christ on our behalf. He reminds us again that it was because of our sin that the beauty of the Son was marred. What an amazing story of grace! Paul ends with this sentence because he knows that one cannot separate the attributes of Christ from the work of Christ. His righteous work flows from His holy character.

I hope this passage has brought your mind once again to that place of worship and adoration and that you can join me in saying “Soli Deo Gloria!” for the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Temples of the Living God: Maintaining Sexual Purity

Introduction

Almost as soon as I heard that I would be teaching on this topic, the idea hit me to approach it in a different sort of way. Moral, and indeed sexual purity, is something the church doesn’t like to talk much about because it’s uncomfortable. We like to think of this area as off limits, but we can’t do that. You see we can’t have lives that are compartmentalized in that way. Our lives, and indeed our body (and minds) as we will see today, are to be a fragrant offering to the Lord.

Paul says this:

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4 ESV)

So today I want to look at two reasons why it is God’s will for us to abstain for sexual immorality, namely, that from His perspective, we are His holy temples, and from our perspective, we shouldn’t be satisfied with anything less than the pleasure and joy only He can bring!

Therefore, it is crucial for us to understand what it means to be a temple of the living God, and what ramifications this reality holds for our lives as Christians.

Examine Yourself

However, before we look at what it means to be a temple of the living God, I want to first look at an important passage in 1 Corinthians 6 which precedes Paul’s own discussion on the matter. He says:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, [10] nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. [11] And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV)

What Paul is saying here is that if you practice these things over and over again and show no sign of repentance, then you need to ask yourself if you’re even in Christ to begin with.  As he says in another letter to the Corinthians:

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! [6] I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. (2 Corinthians 13:5-6 ESV)

His point here is that if you are behaving this way continually, and show no guilt, remorse, or desire to change your ways, then it is likely that Jesus Christ is not in you.

Therefore, test yourselves. Examine your life.  Do you constantly desire evil?  Or do you run to the cross and the forgiveness of Christ when you sin. Do you live in order to please Him, or yourselves?

If you can’t answer this question in an affirmative way, then you need to consider the cross and what Christ has done for you.  You need to right now repent of your sins and stop walking in the dark – cast those cares upon Jesus, friend.  He loves you, He cares for you, and He is the only one who can set you free from the chains of sin – those chains will eventually drag you down to death and hell.

Now, let me continue on in our lesson…

1. We are Temples of the Living God

Numerous times throughout the New Testament we have Paul, Peter, and Christ referring to our (or even Jesus’) bodies as temples of the living God.

In the case of the first passage we read from Thessalonians, the authors of our study guide point out that Thessalonica was a place of immorality – as were many other places in the Roman Empire.  Their sexual practices were lewd, and some of the worship to pagan gods involved ritual prostitution.  Their temples were polluted and evil places.  Contrast that with the call to purity that God has commanded, and we see a major difference in how these early Christians were going to have to live.

One very good reference to our bodies being God’s temples comes in the Corinthians passage immediately following the passage we read earlier in chapter six, where Paul says this:

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! [16] Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” [17] But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. [18] Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. [19] Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, [20] for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:15-20 ESV)

Therefore we are temples of God for two reasons.  First, we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.  God of very God who no longer simply meets the high priest behind the curtain in the temple in Jerusalem.  Now He is filling us, teaching us, guiding us and leading us into all righteousness.

Second (and this is very closely tied to the first) we are God’s temples because we are “in Christ.” The verse above says we are “members of Christ.” Because of His headship, and our being “in Him” as part of the mystical body of the church and bride of Christ, we are part of what He is, and we are joined to Him.

Christ is the Fulfillment of the Temple

Let me also elaborate on a point I just made about us being “in” Christ and that making us temples of God because I think this is a special piece of Christology that we need to treasure in our hearts. Keep that fact of us being “in” Christ in the back of your mind for a moment, and let us go to a passage from John 2, and I think what we will see here is that Jesus considered His own body to be the temple of the living God:

So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” [19] Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” [20] The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” [21] But he was speaking about the temple of his body. [22] When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:18-22 ESV)

NOTE: There is also a prophetic element in the passage in 1 Corinthians 6 in that when Caiaphas defiled God’s temple (Jesus Christ) the physical temple inevitably had to be torn down. God destroyed the Herodian temple in 70 A.D. 

This is why we are “in Him” and why we are considered temples of God, namely we are temples because HE is a temple.  Our identity is in Him and who He is.  We have been adopted and added to the olive tree (Rom. 11).  We have been joined Christ through His amazing cross work and the Father’s plan of adoption.

Called to be Holy Temples

Now, if we are temples of the living God, does it not shed some light upon why Christ calls us to be holy?  This is a theme in the New Testament – you shall be holy for I am holy.

Notice how Paul connects the two concepts:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? [17] If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 ESV)

Peter affirms Paul:

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, [15] but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, [16] since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV)

Consequently, when you hear the word “holy”, what do you think about?  In his book ‘The Holiness of God’, R.C. Sproul says that when the word “holy” is used of God it can take on “more than just separateness.” He says, “His holiness is also transcendent. The word transcendence means literally ‘to climb across.’ It is defined as ‘exceeding usual limits.’ To transcend is it so rise above something, to go above and beyond a certain limit. When we speak of the transcendence of God, we are talking about that sense in which God is above and beyond us. Transcendence describes His supreme and absolute greatness…When the Bible calls God holy, it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us. To be holy is to be ‘other’, to be different in a special way.”

Where does that leave us earthly beings who are called on by God to be “holy?”  Sproul says this, “In every case the word “holy” is used to express something other than a moral or ethical quality. The things that are holy are things that are set apart, separated from the rest. They have been consecrated to the Lord and to His service.

The temple of the Lord was designed to be a place where purity reigned. Where the sacred was held in honor.  Entering the temple meant leaving the profane and entering into the holy.  And like the temple of old, we are called to be different, holy not profane.  Pure and spotless lambs in the shepherds care.  As members of the church, we are by definition the “called out ones” (ecclesia).  We are to be different than the world.  What is the point of this?  Namely this: that the world is not pure and therefore because we are called to be pure, we will necessarily also be different. We are set apart and therefore our calling is to keep ourselves unstained by the pollution of the sin and sinful ideas of the world (James 1:27)

Driving Out Our Sin

In light of this, it makes sense, does it not, that Christ would drive out the moneychangers from the physical temple in order to cleanse it.  During our study of John we talked about this a little bit, but I want to show Jesus’ temple cleansing in a different light.

Let us go back to that passage in John 2, only this time picking up slightly earlier in the chapter:

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. [14] In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. [15] And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. [16] And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” [17] His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2:13-17)

So we also must drive out the sin from our own temples in order that they be used to glorify God.

Therefore, we need to be extremely mindful of the fact that our bodies are a habitation for very God of God, the holy One, the Spirit of the Living God who created all things and spoke the world into existence.  This is the God who dwells in approachable light!  This is the God who, when Isaiah was called into his presence, curled up in the corner and shielded his eyes and realized the disgust of his mouth.

Why did Isaiah realize this sinfulness about himself?  When he encountered God in His glory he learned more about Isaiah I think, than he learned about God.  He realized that in the presence of God all things were revealed.  Nothing remained hidden!

Jesus said that, “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17).

What Christ said about the final Day of Judgment applies even to us today (a good example of Pauline “already/not yet” theology). We have the Spirit of God within us – we can’t hide anything from Him!  And if we pollute our temple, He is going to be grieved and we will know about it!

Therefore, we need to remember to view our bodies as a habitation of the living God. Think also about what kinds of activities went on in the temple during Bible times. There was reading, prayer, teaching, and sacrifices. Well listen to what Paul says in Romans:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 ESV)

And..

For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, [16] to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? (2 Corinthians 2:15-16 ESV)

In other words, “wake up and realize that God is using your mind and your body for His service!”  You were created for God. Augustine said, “Man is one of your creatures, Lord, and his instinct is to praise you…The thought of you stirs him so deeply that he cannot be content unless he praises you, because you made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.”

2. The Motivation to be Holy and Pure

During the Jewish feast of the tabernacles each year, the people would celebrate with joy and march from the poll of Siloam to the temple where they would carry water and pour out the water (and sometimes wine) before the alter into (I believe) other basins there.  On the way, they would sing Psalms and celebrate in gladness.  The temple was a place of joy and celebration, and in many ways it symbolized the peak of intimacy with God here on earth.  It was His dwelling place with man.  So being fulfilled as a human being meant to be in and around the presence of God – around His temple. Worshiping, singing, praying, learning and so on. Being at the temple was a little piece of heaven here on earth: A shallow glimpse of the eternal and the transcendent.

Therefore, we are called to be pure and holy and to treat our bodies as temples of the living God, first because God commands it, and second, because when we devote mind, body and emotions to God as living sacrifices we are joyful and fulfilled. God’s commands are for our joy!

Too often we settle for much less than we were meant for in this world – and the same goes with sexual purity, and sinful rebellion.  We drink of the pleasures of this world and are not satisfied because we are eating poison!

The Psalmist says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11 ESV).

John Piper puts it this way:

“If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.”

And C.S. Lewis famously said:

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased

And in our book this week, Randy Alcorn says this:

“I must choose between sexual fantasies and intimacy with God. I cannot have both. When I see that God offers me joys and pleasures that sexual fantasies don’t, this is a breakthrough. But that breakthrough will come only when I pursue God, making Him the object of my quest – and when I realize that fantasies are only a cheap God-substitute. Running to them is running from God.”

And this really is the conclusion of the matter. God has made us to be like His Son.  We bear His image, and therefore it makes all the sense in the world that because we are “in” Him we are also to be temples of the living God. Temples are places of holiness, of otherness, of worship and sacrifice unto God. And finally, we are not going to fully realize what it is to be fully satisfied with God until we give up the paltry things of this world, until we exchange our mud pies for a holiday at the ocean. We need to see God for who He is, our living Head, and we need to see ourselves as His members: mind, body, and soul. Therefore let us act in such a manner that is pleasing to Him, and joyful for us.