The 7th Seal: Revelation 8:1-5

Notes on Revelation Chapter 8, Verses 1-5

8:1 When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.

The Context

Here we have arrived at the 7th seal. If you recall from our previous study, the seven seals began at the start of chapter 6, with the first four represented by horseman – a visual that was used by Zachariah as well (Zechariah 1:7-17). The first five seals represented the time between Christ’s first coming and His return. As the 6th seal was opened we read that the end had come with a climax of all the horrible afflictions that mankind has had to deal with only in more manifold way.

After the first 6 seals were opened, the destruction became so intense that the question became “who can stand (the Lord’s wrath)?” Chapter 7 was the unequivocal answer to this question: those who are washed in the blood of the Lamb can stand in the midst of the wrath of God because they are covered by the altar of the Lord and His blood. These are Christians – you and me.

Now the author’s aside (or “interlude”) has concluded, and John writes of the breaking of the 7th seal.

The 7th Seal – Silence and Awe

What are we reading here? What is this 7th seal supposed to represent?

The 6th and 7th seals represent the final judgment of God – the day of calamity, the great and awesome day of the Lord. These scenes are the final judgment upon unbelievers for their wickedness and rebellion.

The language in these verses closely parallels other recapitulations of this scene later in the book, especially chapters 11 and 16. In those chapters we’ll see the same fourfold signs of God’s presence coming down to earth in judgment (which we’ll discuss momentarily in more detail). Those chapters’ context is specifically the final judgment, and yet we read a very similar description of events:

Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. (Revelation 11:19)

The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” [18] And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. (Revelation 16:17-18)

So what we are reading about here in this 7th seal is clearly the final culmination of God’s judgment upon the world.

Interestingly, at first glance, the seal seems void of any substance. For we read that there is silence in heaven for half an hour. But (contra Ladd) this doesn’t mean that the seal is void of substance, rather that the breaking of the seal introduces such awe at the devastation of God’s judgment that no words are uttered.

Beale says:

The main point is the horror of the divine judgment, which has such an awesome effect that no human is able to verbalize a response. However brief the description, this idea of judgment composes the seventh seal.[i]

That the silence lasted about “half an hour” might refer to the seeming suddenness of the final judgment. At a time when no one expected it, the Lord inaugurated the end of days with the coming of Christ, and at a time when no one expects it, Jesus will return in glory and judge the quick and the dead.

The literary tool of describing the judgment of God being accompanied by silence is one used in the OT as well[ii]. For example:

O LORD, let me not be put to shame, for I call upon you; let the wicked be put to shame; let them go silently to Sheol. (Psalm 31:17)

Isaiah re: Babylon:

Sit in silence, and go into darkness, O daughter of the Chaldeans; for you shall no more be called the mistress of kingdoms. (Isaiah 47:5)

Two verses Beale finds very relevant are:

But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” (Habakkuk 2:20)

Be silent, all flesh, before the LORD, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling. (Zechariah 2:13)

Lastly, commentators do not mention this, but perhaps it would be appropriate to mention that Jesus Christ, who took our judgment upon Himself, did so in silence:

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7)

Therefore, one might appropriately say that this silence speaks for itself.

8:2 Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. [3] And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, [4] and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. [5] Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. (Revelation 8:1-5)

A Few Notes about the Text

There are one or two bullet points that I want to mention before I get into the body of this passage.

  1. In verse 2 we read that the seven angels are given the 7 trumpets of God. This is a way of introducing the trumpet judgments, which we will read about shortly, it whets the appetite for the next vision. It may seem a bit disjointed, but its something that happens in other areas of Revelation as well I believe.
  2. Some folks get hung up on the intermediary role of angels here. But remember that Angels have served in these kinds of roles throughout scripture. They are messengers and warriors and do God’s bidding. They are not offering up the prayers on our behalf of their own initiative, for we read that they are “given” the incense. The prayers have been offered to God have met His approval and are now being burned as an aroma before Him.

O.T. Background

Like so much of the book of Revelation, the Old Testament imagery used here adds a depth and a richness to the narrative that otherwise unknown would leave us to speculation and conjecture.

In this particular passage, it would seem that these verses bring to mind a lot of what we read in Ezekiel 9 and 10. In Ezekiel 10:1-7 we read about an angelic figure who is given coals from before the throne – a safe assumption is they come from the altar as these coals in chapter 8 do. The coals are then spread over the city of Jerusalem in judgment. What is so interesting about this is that this vision of Ezekiel’s takes place immediately following chapter nine’s description of slaying all the unfaithful who did not have the mark of the Lord on their foreheads. In that chapter we read:

And the LORD said to him, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.” [5] And to the others he said in my hearing, “Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. [6] Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were before the house. (Ezekiel 9:4-6)

This is extremely similar to what we just studied in Revelation 7 where all those who are spared from the final judgment of God are those who are “sealed” by the Lord. It is also similar to the picture of divine protection that we find in the book of Exodus when the angel of death passed over the Israelites who put the blood of a spotless lamb on their door lentils. This blood prefigured the blood which would be shed by the spotless Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:29, 36).

Additionally, we see in the rumblings, lightning, thunder, and earthquakes even more OT imagery. G.K. Beale says, “This fourfold chain of cosmic disturbance has a precedent in the OT, where it also refers to divine judgment.”[iii] Some of the relevant verses are as follows:

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. [17] Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. [18] Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. [19] And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. (Exodus 19:16-19 ESV)

The Psalmist recounts these times:

When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; indeed, the deep trembled. [17] The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth thunder; your arrows flashed on every side. [18] The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook. [19] Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen. [20] You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron. (Psalm 77:16-20)

Isaiah uses these same descriptors to explain the nature of God’s judging presence:

But the multitude of your foreign foes shall be like small dust, and the multitude of the ruthless like passing chaff. And in an instant, suddenly, [6] you will be visited by the LORD of hosts with thunder and with earthquake and great noise, with whirlwind and tempest, and the flame of a devouring fire. (Isaiah 29:5-6)

Nature simply cannot contain the glory of the Lord. It is as if nature itself melts before Him when He descends in His glory. And should we be surprised that the One whose words create land and water and lions and birds and human beings out of nothing, causes that same creation to quake when a glimpse of His glory is let loose upon it?

What do we make of this? I think we must acknowledge that the Lord is powerful. He is a God who is unparalleled in glory and power. All other gods are pretenders to the throne.

The Prayer of the Saints

One of the most striking things about verses 2-5 are the prayers of the saints and their role in igniting the fiery coals of judgment which are poured on the earth. These prayers are likely those which we read about in the fifth seal:

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. [10] They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” [11] Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. (Revelation 6:9-11)

Jim Hamilton rightly points out that the cry of “How long O Lord?” has been going up to the heavens for thousands of years. “How long until the suffering ends? How long until God shows his glory and puts those who mock him to shame?”[iv]

Hamilton points out this sentiment reverberates throughout the Psalms:

Psalm 4:2: How long will the wicked dishonor the Messiah and love what is worthless and seek lies?

Psalm 6:1-3: how long until we’re healed and no longer do things that provoke God’s wrath?

Psalm 13:1, 2: how long will it seem like God has forgotten us and is hiding his face while the enemy exalts over us?

Psalm 35:17: how long will the Lord look on before he delivers?

Psalm 62:3: how long will the righteous be attacked?

Psalm 74:10: how long will the enemies of God scoff and revile his name?[v]

And on and on and on…

These verses are meant to ensure us that eventually the glory of the Lord will descend, and His people will be caught up to Him, and judgment will commence on all who despise His name. In that day, we recall from chapter 7:

“Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. [16] They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. [17] For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:15-17) 

Conclusion and Application

What we read here is a depiction of the end of the world. There are three things to be taken away from this:

  1. 1. In His majestic holiness, God will come to judge all of the earth. Those who are not protected by the seal of the Lord will be slain and cast into outer darkness. There is a penalty for refusing to accept the Lordship of God and of His Christ. Many might verbally say that they “believe” in God, but yet live lives of rebellion from His authority. They openly rebel again the Lord who causes nature to melt before Him, in an act of cosmic treason[vi], for which they will be liable.
  2. The prayers of God’s saints serve as the catalyst for inaugurating the final judgment. These prayers are not cries for revenge, but are primarily concerned for justice, and especially for the reputation of God and of His Son, Jesus. They are prayers in response to the pain caused by sin, and the death and destruction it has wrought in the lives of the saints, and the world we inhabit.
  3. All of the sealed, the 144,000, the “great multitude”, will be saved to the uttermost. As Beale says, “The seal is what enables them to enter before the divine throne and to swell there forever.”[vii] Therefore the people of God will be protected by the great sacrificial crosswork of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. And for this we rejoice and have reason for joy in our hearts even now before the consummation of God’s work.

As I studied this passage, I was struck by the great protection we have in the Lord – He truly is our “fortress.” For in the words of the Psalmist:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. [2] Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, [3] though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah [4] There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. [5] God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. [6] The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. [7] The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah (Psalm 46:1-7)

 

Footnotes

[i] Beale, from the longer commentary, Pg. 447. He goes on to make the point that the silence doesn’t therefore need to be filled with content from the 7 trumpets. It struck me that Hamilton is sort of saying that the trumpets are introduced by the silence of the 7th seal, but he doesn’t seem to commit to that view which Beale is arguing against.

[ii] Consequently, Jewish literature is full of very similar quotations, per Beale – see the longer commentary, pages 448-450.

[iii] Beale, Longer Commentary, Pg. 458.

[iv] Hamilton, Revelation, Pg. 197.

[v] This compilation is from Hamilton’s commentary, Pg. 197.

[vi] Of course it is R.C. Sproul who first coined this term “cosmic treason” for all sinners who rebel against the Lord God. The term especially conjures the fact that those who are unbelievers are effectively in open rebellion against God. One need only think of pop culture icons to receive a good example of this. Billy Joel’s old song ‘My Life’ provides a nice example: “I don’t care what you say this is my life! Go ahead with your own life, leave me alone!”

[vii] Beale, Longer Commentary, Pg. 460.

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.

9-29-13 Study Notes: I Am the Way

John Chapter 14

14:1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.

The Heart of a Shepherd

It makes all the sense in the world for Christ to continue his discourse here by telling the disciples not to let their hearts fall into despair.  Remember, He has just delivered a very harsh rebuke to Peter, whose heart must have absolutely sunk at Christ’s stinging words.

Therefore, Christ tells them in strong terms not to let their “hearts be troubled”, and subsequently issues a command: “Believe in God; believe also in me.” It seems that what Jesus is saying here is that the antidote to fear here is to trust Him.

D.A. Carson explains that perhaps the best way to understand the word “believe” here is to use the word “trust” given the context. Jesus is calling these disciples (and us as well) to trust Him. This is the solution to their fear. Trusting in God and His Son is letting your heart and mind dwell upon His promises, and taking Him at His word (Is. 26:3; 1 John 4:18). Well did the proverb say:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
(Proverbs 3:5-6)

And as in so many cases, Christ doesn’t simply issue forth the command as in a vacuum, but goes on to explain what He has said.

John MacArthur makes the point that “Instead of the disciples lending support to Jesus in the hours before His Cross, He had to support them spiritually, as well as emotionally. This reveals His heart of serving love” (cf. Carson who makes the same point). It reminds us of the role of Christ as our great Shepherd.  Consider what He said earlier in John 10:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:11-15, ESV)

And this is what was predicted by the prophet Ezekiel:

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice. (Ezekiel 34:15-16, ESV)

It is here and in so many other passages that we see the compassion of our Shepherd. We are His sheep, and He looks after us, just as He looked after the disciples. In subsequent generations God would raise up other shepherds to look after His sheep – even unto death.  I am specifically reminded of Ignatius of Antioch, who even on his way to Rome to be tried and executed, wrote seven pastoral letters to the churches and to his friend Polycarp, encouraging them and strengthening them in the faith.

In one of those letters Ignatius wrote:

To what end have I given myself up to perish by fire or sword or savage beasts? Simply because when I am close to the sword I am close to God, and when I am surrounded by the lions, I am surrounded by God. But it is only in the name of Jesus Christ, and for the sake of sharing his sufferings, that I could face all this; for he, the perfect Man, gives me strength to do so.

Surely this echoes of the character of Christ, of whom John says:

…having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1b)

14:2-4 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? [3] And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. [4] And you know the way to where I am going.”

It is not for nothing that Christ has told these men to take heart and believe in God, for He follows this command by announcing a promise that is so full of comfort that it is worth our examination of the saying in-depth.

He Knows You by Name

First Christ says that “in my Father’s house are many rooms.”  This alone tells us that in heaven there will be a multitude of saints. Though we know the truth of the doctrine of election, and the solid fact that Christ has not chosen all men for new birth, yet we see here that the number He has chosen is voluminous. What a comfort to know how effective and bountiful the love of Christ is upon sinful mankind, and to be counted in this group, well, it is something beyond comprehension.

Then Jesus doubles down on the truth of His claims by appealing to His own truthfulness. He basically states that, “if there weren’t many rooms in heaven for you, would I have said so in the first place?” The answer, as we know, is emphatically “no.”

Isaiah closely captures the feeling here:
“Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn;
from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
a word that shall not return:
‘To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear allegiance.’
(Isaiah 45:22-23)

He can swear by no higher name (Heb. 6:13) because what His name stands for is absolute truth, as we’ll soon see in just a moment…

But first, as we look closely at the end of verse two, we see that when Christ goes away to “prepare a room” it is a very personal, individual task. He has individual persons in mind. Therefore we see here an idea that is contrary to what is taught by Arminians who say that God predestines groups of people in a very general way “in Christ” (His elect Son) but does not effectually choose specific individuals.

Perhaps an example is helpful. When my parents purchased one of their first homes in Oregon City (Oregon), they prepared and furnished each room based upon which child would be living there. My room was blue, with a red stripe down the middle, and had large basketball and car posters of hung up on the walls. My sister’s room was a girly sort of color (probably pink, but I can’t recall) and had all the frills that my mom knew she would enjoy.  In short, each room was personalized. The same principle is true of Christ. He doesn’t simply give grace to a nameless group of people who may or may not accept Christ’s atoning work on the cross. No indeed, Christ had you in mind when He died, and has an eternal plan for you personally. That plan includes work on His behalf here as well as enjoyment of Him here, but also includes an eternal specific ordained plan for you after you die and join Him.

The Way is Not Yet Prepared

Next look with me at verse three, which begins by saying, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself.” John Piper, who delivered a sermon on this passage, is wise to point out that Jesus is going to prepare a place in two senses, and I think he’s right on target here.

First, the way is not yet prepared.  This is not to say that from the foundation of the world God has not already planned that you will be with Him in heaven (Ephesians 1:4-10), or that somehow heaven is in a state of disrepair. No indeed!  The first sense of the phrase here used by Jesus is that, “you cannot come where I am because the way is not yet open! I am about to make a way for you through my death, burial and resurrection.”

Heaven is prepared my friend, but you could not go there until Christ first suffered and died and conquered the power of death. This strongly ties in with verses 5 and (particularly) 6 in which Christ declares that the way to the Father is through the Son.

Now if we take into account the following truths we’ll end up understanding the next part of verse three: 1. From the foundation of the world He has prepared this place for us, 2. Christ must conquer death first before we can come where He is, and 3. He is the only way to this place. This leads us to understand better why He says, “I will come again and will take you to myself” and leads us also to the second sense of the meaning of verse three, which is that Christ is not talking specifically about heaven in this passage, but rather Himself.

Piper says this:

Don’t use this passage of Scripture to show that whe(n) Jesus comes back at the Second Coming he will take you to heaven. It does not say that. It says, “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” And where will he be when he comes? We will meet him in the air, and he will establish his reign on the earth. And so we will forever be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17).

What this text focuses on in the Second Coming is not a return to heaven but a reunion with Christ. “I will come again and will take you to myself.” Therefore, my beloved disciples, let not your heart be troubled. Trust. Trust me that I am coming for you. I will come. I will take you. And trust me because the dwelling I have prepared for you is my crucified, risen, and glorified self. Don’t be troubled, I will come and take you to myself.

Jesus is focused on Himself here, not heaven. As Morris notes, “Nothing is said about the nature of the place that Christ prepares (vs.1-2). It is sufficient for believers that we will be with our Lord.” Jesus knows that it is His presence that provides ultimate rest, peace, and security, and that is why He turns from discussing heaven to His second advent.

Furthermore, as believers looking back on this time, we can see that contrary to the situation in which Jesus is speaking these words, when He comes back He will do so in power, and a display of glory and brilliance unmatched by anything the world has seen or heard. He points the disciples forward in their minds to a time when His triumphal entry will be nothing short of spectacular!

The Motivation of our Shepherd

Now look at Christ’s motivation for this preparation. He says, “that where I am you may be also.” If you aren’t getting the picture by now, you will certainly understand when you look closely at this portion of verse 3, that Christ has a plan for you, and furthermore wants to have a relationship with you. He does all that He does in order that, at least as it concerns us, He will have eternal fellowship with us, His bride!

Let me bring this home a little more. Many of us long for fellowship and companionship, and many children as they grow up are shaped by the relationships they have with their parents – and with friends at school. Often young people who don’t have many friends are left feeling hurt and abandoned by God and family. We naturally need fellowship and do not like to be lonely.  But Christ is not this way. Yes He also loves fellowship, but He does not need it from us. He already has all the companionship He needs in the eternal fellowship of the trinity. And so we are not fulfilling a need of His here. It isn’t as though He is somehow fearful that He will die and be in heaven bored out of His mind because of the exciting times He’s just left on earth! No! In heaven Christ is forever and continually worshiped and adored! He doesn’t get bored!

So this desire of His to have us be “with Him” in heaven, this entirely God-initiated, God-driven desire is an expression of the depth of the love He has for us. We must keep in view the fact that He made us after His own image, as Augustine said, “Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.”

What an amazing thought. You can go away from this text knowing, for certain, that going into the last hours before His death, Christ is preparing mentally for eternity with you! And this theme continues throughout the next few chapters.  We’ll see in chapter 17 that Christ prays that all who believe in His name will come to be with Him in heaven. In the final moments of His life He is more concerned with petitioning the Father for our presence in heaven than He is for His own safety here on earth. And so here we see the overflowing love of God in Christ made manifest in His words. What a great comfort! What a great love He has for us.

Knowing vs. Understanding

Lastly, He finishes this portion of His saying by expressing a sort of realized eschatology. These disciples haven’t caught up yet to the riches of what He is promising them. Their minds are still stuck on the fact that He’s going to leave them, and its deeply upsetting to them at the time. So Jesus says that, “you know the way to where I am going.”  Huh? They don’t know where He is going! And that is expressed by Thomas, who is clinging more closely to some words more than others and isn’t reading between the lines.

Jesus, who knows all things, knows that He has implanted in them the truth of His mission and destination. Even if they don’t realize what He is saying now, they will realize it when the Spirit leads them into all truth (John 16:13). That is why I say it is a sort of “realized eschatology” because Jesus is anticipating that, though they actually know the truth now, very soon they will understand what they already know. They will actually start to piece together the truth He has already imparted to them.

Why do I bring this up? Because so often we only listen to part of Scripture, and very often that part is the part we want to hear. Sometimes we’re too distracted to pay any attention at all. If the disciples had been paying attention they would have understood – at least to a small degree – that their Lord was imparting magnificent truths to them. Now was the time to set aside their emotions and focus on the words of their Lord.

How much more ought we to focus on the words of those in the pulpit who are breathlessly expositing the words of life to us. Yet I find that so often my own mind wanders, when it ought to worship. Let us heed this admonition and the (bad) example of the disciples at this point, and cling to every word of our Savior, always asking the Spirit to help us discern the intended meaning and to root out any sin that may be impeding our growth in grace.

14:5-6 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” [6] Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

First we see Thomas’ reaction of complete confusion.  “What are you talking about Jesus? Have I missed something?” Yes you have. But Jesus doesn’t say that does He…instead He takes the opportunity to teach an even greater truth to them, but one that is not off-topic.

The Sixth ‘I AM’ Statement of Christ in John

What is Jesus’ reaction to Thomas? He says, let me spell it out for you Thomas, if you want to know how to come to me and the Father (who are “one”), you simply must believe in me, for I am the way to the father. There is no other way but through me and me alone. This is also the sixth ‘I Am’ statement of Jesus in the book of John. As a reminder of the others, I have listed them below. As you read through these statements, they lead us to our next point of discussion, namely, that Jesus was continually making extraordinary (and highly) exclusive claims about Himself. The others are as follows:

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6:35)

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep…I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. (John 10:7, 9)

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, (John 10:14)

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, (John 11:25)

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser…I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:1, 5)

When Jesus says, “I AM”, let us remember that He is not speaking thus in order to point us simply to the adjective (“door”, “shepherd” etc.), but to the pronoun. R.C. Sproul reminds us that the Greek words that are rendered “I AM” in our English translation here are “ego eimi” which means, “I am, I am”. These words bring to mind the sacred name reserved for God the Father in the Old Testament, a name sometimes referred to as the “ineffable” name of God, YHWY. “Ineffable” means simply “too great, powerful, or beautiful to be described or expressed in words” (a combination of dictionary definitions here).

Therefore when Jesus says, “I AM” the way the truth and the life, He is invoking the unspeakably awesome name of God to describe Himself.

The Three-Fold Declaration

Now let us turn to examine specifically what Jesus, the ineffable One says about Himself:

I AM The Way – This is an answer to Thomas, and to all who for millennia would ask, “How is my soul to be saved?” This phrase is so significant that it would soon be used by early Christians to identify themselves with their Lord (Acts 22:4), and it’s no doubt closely connected with his exclusive claims about being the Door of the sheepfold (10:7, 9).

I AM The Truth – He is asserting nothing less than being the embodiment of absolute truth – the standard of what is right and wrong for the entire universe. He is the Word of God incarnate (1:14). Not a word, action, or thought of Jesus proceeds apart from the antecedent reality that it flows from His absolute perfection of veracity.

I AM The Life – He reminds us of a previous declaration that “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (11:25b), and, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b).

The Exclusivity of Christ

For thousands of years the church has stood on the exclusivity of the statements Christ makes in this passage. Despite what many have tried to argue over the ages, Christianity is not a religion that follows a “many paths to God” approach. We believe that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way one can be saved from sin and death.

Furthermore, it is clear from our understanding of the early church that the Apostles thought of Christ as the only way to be saves.  Look at what Peter says before the council in Acts 4:

This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. [12] And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11, 12 ESV)

“I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord” (First two affirmation of ‘The Apostles Creed’ – emphasis mine)

Also, this is the Apostle Paul’s understanding. He says that without Christ we are alienated from God, and that Jesus is the one and only mediator between God and man:

…remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. [13] But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:12-13 ESV)

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, [6] who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Timothy 2:5-6)

In his defense of this principle, Christian apologist William Lane Craig lays out the Biblical reason for Christ’s exclusivity – namely, the problem of sin:

Sin is the great leveler, rendering all needy of God’s forgiveness and salvation. Given the universality of sin, all persons stand morally guilty and condemned before God, utterly incapable of redeeming themselves through righteous acts (3.19-20). But God in His grace has provided a means of salvation from this state of condemnation: Jesus Christ, by his expiatory death, redeems us from sin and justifies us before God (3.21-26). It is through him and through him alone, then, that God’s forgiveness is available (5.12-21). To reject Jesus Christ is therefore to reject God’s grace and forgiveness, to refuse the one means of salvation which God has provided. It is to remain under His condemnation and wrath, to forfeit eternally salvation. For someday God will judge all men, “inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (II Thessalonians 1.8-9).

Lastly, later on in his epistles, the Apostle John lays out further (and very clear) teachings about the fact that Christ is the only way to salvation:

Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. [23] No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:22-23 ESV)

…and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. (1 John 4:3)

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. [12] Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:11-12)

The Many Paths to God: Contemporary Pluralism

During the first century the church had to deal with many persecutions, but most of those came from the Jews rather than outside governments – like Rome. It was the exclusive nature of the claims of Jesus Christ (that He was the Messiah) that caused Him to be a stumbling block to the Jews, and eventually led Him to Golgotha.

Look at what Paul said to the Corinthian church in his day:

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, [23] but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, [24] but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:22-24)

And so the Jews provided an early impediment to the spread of Christianity, but as we’ve learned in our study of the book of Acts, the more Christians were persecuted the more Christianity spread like wildfire.

However, it is the “folly” of the gentiles (as Paul put it) that we battle today.

Christianity is the only major religion in which its founder claims such exclusive privileges and power. It is also the only major religion in which its followers do not have to earn their way to heaven, rather it is through the work of the God-man Jesus Christ that we will be able to stand on the ‘Day of Judgment’, because it is only through His righteousness that we have access to the promises of God – namely eternal life.

Our more specific problem in our own country today is that of ‘Tolerance’.  So-called tolerance has become code for, “you believe whatever you want to believe, so long as you don’t push your views on me.” There are no moral absolutes: we live in an age of relativism. And somehow we think this is “new” or “revolutionary” or “evolved”, but that simply isn’t the case.  For we read at the end of the book of Judges the following statement by the author:

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25 ESV)

Indeed, there is nothing new under the sun. But that is why the claims of Jesus are so important in our day. People are looking for truth, they want to know why things are the way they are. And its here that we must not forget the second part of what Christ claimed here, namely, “I am the truth” – He is the ultimate standard for what is right and wrong in the universe.

He reveals what can be known about Himself through both general and special revelation. Here Jesus is specifically speaking to special revelation, meaning, the Word of God. He is the Word incarnate, and all that He speaks is 100% truth.

I really like what James M. Boice has to say about these amazing claims of Christ, “Although they are indeed exclusive, they ought not to be offensive, for they are actually what we most need as human beings. They should be received with joy and thanksgiving.”

Therefore, we must make our appeal in more refined ways – like Paul did in Athens in Acts 17. We must understand the relativism of our culture and the environment we find ourselves in today. But we must not deny what the Bible primarily speaks of, and what Jesus here claims for Himself: I am the only way and the only truth and the only way to life everlasting.

Romans 8: How the Gospel Brings us all the Way Home

As I mentioned today in class, I am teaching twice tomorrow on Romans 8. I named the post here after one of my favorite little books for the layman on this chapter, Derek Thomas’ “How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home.” Check it out on amazon if you’re interested. In the meantime, I thought I’d post up my notes here on the chapter. There’s about 21 pages…so it will be a rather lengthy post. Enjoy!

Chapter 8

Introduction

Romans 8 has often been called the “best chapter in the Bible” and the “heart of Paul’s gospel.” Some have said that if Romans is the heart of the New Testament, then it is like an onion that is gradually being pealed back, and that chapter 8 is like the very heart of that onion.

Derek Thomas says of chapter 8, “It is a description of the Christian life from death to life, from justification to glorification, from trial and suffering to the peace and tranquility of the new heaven and new earth.”

Other major themes of chapter 8 can be summed up in the headers used by theologians as they approach the section in their commentaries. Thomas Schreiner calls the first section of Romans 8 the “ fulfillment of the Law by the Spirit” as part of “the triumph of grace over the power of the law” and that the last half of the chapter is the “assurance of hope.”

John Stott’s chapter heading simply and succinctly reads: God’s Spirit in God’s Children. What an amazing story that tells!

The Context

For several chapters now Paul has labored to describe the war that is waged within the Christian due to sin. It started in chapter 6 and wrapped up in 7 with the rhetorical question “who will deliver me from this body of death.” Paul’s answer is that its Jesus Christ who delivers us from this body of death – this sin nature that still hinders our walk and the sanctification process.

Now, in chapter 8, Paul will seek to show us what life in the Spirit is like, and how God’s sovereign purposes in our salvation are from of old. He will demonstrate through the power of the Spirit and through the use of his pen, that God not only predestined to bring us into an adoptive state, a saved and reconciled state, but that He and He alone has the absolute power to keep us in that state. What God began from before creation He will finish with new creation (Is. 66:22-23).

8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

This verse is so great that entire books have been written about it. Let me quote from the ESV notes to begin with:

The now in 8:1 matches the “now” in 7:6, showing that the new era of redemptive history has “now” been inaugurated by Christ Jesus for those who are “now” in right standing before God because they are united with Christ. But the summary relates further to the whole argument presented in chs. 3, 4, and 5.

“There is therefore” is a sounding bell across the moors of Satan’s domain, which has been shattered by the ushering in of the kingdom of God by Christ. It is a present reality and a future hope. It is the realization that even though we sin (see chapter 7) we have a glorious reality that awaits us, that is, a glorified purified state in which we will never sin and will be free of the nagging sins that “so easily entangle us” (Heb. 12:1).

Schreiner comments, “The ‘now’ in verse 1 signals a new era of salvation history, one in which God’s covenantal promises are being fulfilled, when his people are enjoying the freedom from condemnation God promised. The blessing belongs to God’s people because Christ took upon himself the punishment that his people deserved and the Spirit has been given to enable God’s people to keep the Torah.”

What a wonderful new reality! There is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” That is to say that for you Christian, no matter how you struggle with sin as I have (speaking as I am Paul in the context of ch. 7), you can and will have final victory at the Day of Judgment (2 Cor. 5:10).

Some indeed struggle with whether the sin that rages within them is an indicator that they are not saved – au contraire! For the battle itself is a sign of adoption and that we belong to Christ. J.C. Ryle says, “A true Christian is one who has not only peace of conscience, but war within” (Holiness, Ch. 2, pg. 20-21).

Now Paul sounds the clarion call to all saints that they need to heed the reality of what may not be seen now, but will be seen on the last day. Christ’s righteousness will indeed cover all your sins (see. Ch. 5) and you will stand with not one shred of condemnation.

In this way, 8:1 relates directly back to 7:6 which says, “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.”

Schreiner says, “The reason believers are not under condemnation is because they have been freed from the tyranny of the law, for sin exercises dominion over those under the law.”

Therefore, this is a verse that looks back in triumph and looks forward in hope.

8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

This is a reprise of chapter 6 in which Paul explained that:

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, [18] and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18)

The freedom that we have in Christ is from the Spirit of God. The phrase “the law of the Spirit” might be easier understood “the principle by which you are free is the fact that the Spirit is working in you.” In other words, the “law of the Spirit” is a new paradigm. Once you lived under the old paradigm of death, the Mosaic Law, now you live under the paradigm of life!

Stott suggest though that it is best to be more specific than just to say that the “law of the Spirit” is simply a new paradigm, though it ushers that in, but rather it is the Gospel itself. “This makes the best sense, as it is certainly the gospel which has freed us from the law and its curse, and the message of the life in the Spirit from the slavery of sin and death.”

The major purpose here in these opening verses is to show that Christ, not the Mosaic Law, is the instrument of redemption. As Thomas Schreiner says:

…the law does not break the power of sin but unfortunately and paradoxically exacerbates it. God’s saving promises to his people have not become a reality via the law. The solution lies in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Christ’s work on the cross provides the basis for the deliverance of believers from condemnation, while the Holy Spirit supplies the power for conquering sin so that the law can now be kept.

Sproul adds…

The Holy Spirit knows how weak we are in our grasp of the Gospel, and like dogs that keep returning to their vomit we keep falling back to the idea that somehow we can justify ourselves by our behavior, and morality.

8:3-4 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, [4] in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

The Purpose of the Law

First, “the law” here is the Mosaic Law (some, like Sproul, say it’s the “moral law”), the law given to the people of Israel as they came out of Egypt. This law was perfect (Stott says “the law’s impotence was not intrinsic”), it was an expression of God’s perfect moral character, yet because we are weakened in our flesh because of sin we could never keep the law. That’s why Paul said that “weakened by the flesh” we could never be saved by the law. That’s what’s at stake here: salvation.

God knew that the law of Moses was never meant to be a saving instrument. People were never meant to be able to keep the entire law, it was a schoolmaster to drive to us Christ (Gal. 3:24). What does that mean? It means that the law exposes us for what we are: sinners. In that exposure we find we have a need. What is that need? Forgiveness from sin.

Therefore God allowed the people of Israel to trust in Him and use animal sacrifices as a way to point forward to the ultimate sacrifice that Christ would make on the cross. The people of old looked forward to something they could not see, in hope that one day their redeemer would come. We look back at the cross and see our Redeemer who “made an end of all our sin” (‘Before the Throne of Grace’).

The Work of the Son and the Spirit

When Paul says that Christ came “in the likeness of sinful flesh” he cannot and does not mean that Christ Himself was sinful, but rather that he had the same weak flesh we had. He had the same exposure to the world of sin, yet He never sinned. Instead He condemned sin to the flesh – I think the easiest way to think of this phrase is probably to say that He ‘banished sin to the temporary existence of the flesh’ knowing that one day He will raise us from these bodies and give us new bodies that are pure and spotless – in this way He is the first fruits of our resurrection (1 Cor. 15).

Stott works this thought out better than I though:

The law condemns sin, in the sense of expressing disapproval of it, but when God condemned sin in His Son, his judgment fell upon it in him.

Stott then quotes Charles Cranfield who says:

For those who are in Christ Jesus…there is no divine condemnation, since the condemnation they deserve has already been fully born for them by Him.

Sproul says:

Jesus was born as Adam was before the fall. Jesus was not in bondage to a corrupt nature. Christ came in the flesh as a human being, and he condemned the sin that binds us by taking it upon himself…In His Son there is no condemnation for His people. There is condemnation for their sin, but it is condemned in Christ and removed.

But not only did Christ conquer sin and justify us, He also gave us His Spirit to sanctify us. Stott explains:

First, he (the Father) sent His Son, whose incarnation and atonement are alluded to in verse 3, and then he gave us his Spirit through whose indwelling power we are enabled to fulfill the law’s requirement, which is mentioned in verse 4 and expanded in the following paragraph. Thus God justifies us through His Son and sanctifies us through His Spirit. The plan of salvation is essentially Trinitarian.

8:5-6 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. [6] For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

What Paul has explained theologically he now works out practically. The reality is that those who are not saved don’t think on the things that are of God. Paul’s emphasis on the importance of what we set our minds on is given at the beginning of chapter 12 as we’ll see later.

But the Christian can be assured that they are in Christ simply by what they desire and what their minds are fixated on. This is not an overnight phenomenon, for surely it takes a lifetime of change and renewal. But there is a marked change between a man who was once lost and now has been found and quickened by the powerful life-giving Spirit of God. Suddenly that man thinks differently than he ever had before. I’m sure that you know what I mean. The blinders have been taken off, and suddenly perspective is added to life that you never had before – an eternal perspective.

The reason that the “mind on the flesh is death” is because those who have that mind also have a destiny with death, and are, in fact, still dead in their sins. The mindset here is not meant to be something we can effect on our own, but rather a fruit of what the Spirit is (or isn’t) doing within us.

8:7-8 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. [8] Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

This reminds me a great deal of the passage in Hebrews which says:

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6 ESV)

And indeed faith is a result of the Spirit work within us – it is a gift (Eph. 2). Therefore those who have faith will act in faith and will not be hostile to the things of God, in fact they will submit to His authority and will do the will of God because that’s what is in their heart. The Spirit is now at work within them to please God – it isn’t as though we please God with our own ideas, but rather the Spirit works with us to help us do things we would never do before (i.e. “love your enemies”).

Carnality: Inability to Please God

The second thing we see in this passage is the stark reality that “those who are in the flesh cannon please God.” Verse 8 reminds us that before we were saved we were at war with God. We were enemies of God. This sometimes offends people. We like to say that God loves everyone…really? Maybe He does have affection in a general way for His creation, but certainly it cannot be said that His particular love is focused on everyone, for indeed if that were the case all people would be saved. But that is not the case. Not all men are saved because not all men are the particular objects of His redeeming love.

R.C. Sproul talks a little bit about how we hear all the time about how “God loves the sinner but hates the sin” and addresses this in the context of these verses:

We hear that God loves everybody unconditionally, but that is the biggest lie of our day, because he does not. At the last judgment God will not send sins to hell; he will send sinners to hell. Even though sinners enjoy the blessings of God’s providential love, his filial love is not their desert. The Scriptures are graphic in describing God’s attitude toward impenitent, carnally minded people. God abhors them. Nobody talks that way anymore – except God in his word. To set our minds on the things of the world is death…the flesh is lived not in neutrality but in opposition to God…To be carnally minded is to be at enmity with God.

Sproul isn’t the only one to articulate this difficult truth, however. John Piper explains it as well:

Yes, I think we need to go the full biblical length and say that God hates unrepentant sinners. If I were to soften it, as we so often do, and say that God hates sin, most of you would immediately translate that to mean: he hates sin but loves the sinner. But Psalm 5:5 says, “The boastful may not stand before thy eyes; thou hatest all evildoers.” And Psalm 11:5 says, “The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and his soul hates him that loves violence.”

Six things the Lord hates, seven which are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and a man who sows discord among brothers. (Proverbs 6:16–19)

God hates unrepentant sinners—which means that his infinite wrath hangs over them like a mountain of granite and will in the end fall. “Surely God will shatter the head of his enemies, the hairy crown of him who goes on in his guilty deeds” (Psalm 68:21)

Although this is a difficult truth to explain and perhaps harder to swallow, we must also understand that Paul is subtly laying the groundwork for chapter 9 in which he will explain this difficult doctrine some more. For now what he wants us to understand is that prior to your new birth you were not simply estranged from God, you were an enemy of God.

It’s a little easier for us to see this relationship played out in the lives of atheists who publically deny God’s existence in a very vituperating manner. However, the actions and hearts of those who we may hold dear but are not Christians are still evidences of their enmity toward God and His law. Sproul comments, “We are at war with God because we do not want to be subject to the law of God.”

8:9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

This is a quick reminder to those to whom Paul is addressing (Christians) that they are no longer enemies of God, but rather children of God. What is the definition of someone who is a child of God? What are the evidences? The Spirit’s indwelling presence and the fruit thereof.

Christ knows who are his (John 6) and if you do not have the Spirit of Christ you do not belong to Him.

Now, it might be noted as an aside, that when Paul says “the Spirit of Christ” he is not confusing the two members of the Godhead. It is not as though, as the ancient Modalists would have it, God is really only one person with different names and manifestations. Now, what Paul is saying here is that the Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit) can also be identified with Christ because while they are two persons, they are One God. They are of the same mind. Remember also the context here of how Paul is speaking to the fruit and mind of the Spirit-filled person. That person will have the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16),which is from the Spirit. They are so much “on the same page” mentally that they convey the same thoughts to us, if that makes sense…Christ’s mind is given us by the means of the Spirit of God.

8:10-13 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. [11] If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. [12] So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. [13] For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

There is a great parallel track here that Paul is explaining. But first let me first explain what is probably most likely meant by “the body id dead because of sin.” This is a hotly disputed passage and a difficult one to understand. I think that Stott and others are probably correct to say that it is not speaking necessarily spiritually as to our dying to sin, but really physically.

In other words, because of the sin of Adam we have been dying since the day we were born. Llyod-Jones says, “The moment we enter into this world we begin to live, and also being to die. Your first breath is one of the last you will ever take!”

However, because of Christ’s righteousness and death we have been renewed to life in the Spirit. So we are a walking antithetical parallelism. At one time we are dying and yet still living unto life everlasting.

Stott explains “he must surely be saying that our bodies became mortal because of Adam’s sin (‘to dust you will return’), whereas our spirits are alive because of Christ’s righteousness (5:15-18, 21), that is, because of the righteous standing he has secure for us.”

Hope of Resurrection

As mentioned earlier, the hope of our resurrection is seen in the first fruits of Christ’s resurrection. That’s why Paul encourages us with the hope that “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”

In this way, not only is Christ our hope, but the Spirit also is our reminder that one day we will be made like Christ and resurrected from this body of death.

The Debt of Obligation

Paul now explains our new situation as not being in debt to the world or sin, but rather to Christ – as debt we can never repay. We aren’t to feel as though we have any obligation to the sinfulness of our former life. As Stott says, “It has no claim on us. We owe it nothing.”

Stott also explains that our debt to Christ is not necessarily/specifically worked out in our going to share the gospel, but rather in our living a righteous life. He sums it up this way:

How can we possess life and court death simultaneously? Such an inconsistency between who we are and now we behave is unthinkable, even ludicrous. No, we are in debt to the indwelling of the Spirit of life to live out our God-given life and to put to death everything which threatens it or is incompatible with it.”

In verse 13 Paul sets the table for a life and death choice. You cannot have both.

8:14-17 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. [15] For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” [16] The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, [17] and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

I wanted to lump these four verses together because there is one theme that pervades them: adoption.

Paul has spent the past few verses dealing with justification and then sanctification, and now he is going to remind us of the tremendous privilege we have that is greater and better than anything we could ever have imagined, namely that we have been adopted into the royal family of God.

The ‘Spirit of Assurance’

We also see that there are characteristics that must be noted here about those who are children of God. Namely that it is the Spirit of God who is doing all of the work here, and it is the Spirit of God who testifies to us internally that we are children. That’s why Paul says, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” as if to say “in case you didn’t believe me, you know it internally if you are saved because your mind has been fully convinced of this fact by the Holy Spirit Himself!

I’m sure that many of us can testify to the truth of this, and what a wonderful reality it is. He doesn’t leave us guessing but rather gives us that internal evidence that we have been adopted. Not merely an outward certificate, but an inward peace.

Martyn Llyod-Jones spent 8 chapters talking about the fact that the inward testimony of the Spirit is our greatest assurance. He says, “This is the highest form of assurance possible; there is nothing beyond it. It is the acme, the zenith of assurance and the certainty of salvation.”

Because Jones influenced Stott’s commentary so much on this point, I want to quote Stott here as well:

Although ‘it is wrong to standardize the experience’ (Jones), since it comes with many variations of intensity and duration, yet it is a direct and sovereign work of the Holy Spirit, unpredictable, uncontrollable and unforgettable. It brings a heightened love for God, an unspeakable joy, and an uninhibited boldness in witness.

Yet Stott is also quick to ensure that experience doesn’t define doctrine/reality.

My anxiety is whether the biblical texts have been rightly interpreted. I have the uneasy feeling that it is the experiences which have determined the exposition. There is no indication in these four verses that a special, distinctive or overwhelming experience is in mind, which needs to be sought by all although it is given only to some. On the contrary, the whole paragraph appears to be descriptive of what is, or should be, common to all believers. Though doubtless in differing degrees of intensity, all who have the Spirit’s indwelling are given the Spirit’s witness too.

The bottom line here is that the Spirit’s indwelling is the main connection between all of these things. He bears witness, He gives us hope for the future, He testifies to our adoption and on and on.

The Nature of God’s Adoption: Love

Paul has thus far given us many reasons not to fall back into the slavery of sinfulness – we just mentioned that one of them is because we don’t owe sin or the world anything! But another reason that Paul gives us here is that we have been adopted. Our adoption should remind us that we don’t have to be ruled by fear because we not only know the reality of our adoption, we not only know the score at the end of the day, we not only know Who is in charge, but we also know that God our Father is a loving Father.

It is this truth about the loving nature of God that separates Him and our heavenly adoption from the kind of worldly adoption you might have in your mind. For some the very term adoption can carry baggage that isn’t appropriately attributable to God’s relationship with us.

God’s adoption was done in love – just as He “predestined us in love” (Eph. 1:3-6) – and that is why Paul says, “you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit understands fully the nature of the relationship between us and God even if we don’t fully understand it. You see, “Abba” was the Aramaic way to say “daddy” – this was a loving term, an intimate term. Though this letter was not written to Jews specifically, it is worth noting that in the Jewish world God was seen as so transcendent that to refer to Him as “daddy” would be a slap in the face of everything they thought of who God was. They didn’t fully grasp the paradox of His character: He is both transcendent and immanent.

What Comes with Adoption

Paul moves us from justification to sanctification to adoption, and now brings up the reality of the consequence of this adoption, namely that if we are children of God we are also heirs with Christ.

This is almost too much to comprehend. The Lord of the universe clothed Himself in flesh and died for our sins so that we could be reconciled to God. But then He went a step further, He included us in His family – and not as a red-headed step-child – but rather as a fellow heir with Christ!

However, as Stott notes, there is a qualification. We must suffer as He has suffered. In other words, don’t expect this to be an easy path. Christ calls us to take up our cross daily. Listen to the words of Christ in John 15:

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. [19] If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:18-19 ESV)

Therefore it is the reality of our suffering and trials that testify outwardly of our adoption as heirs! What an antithetical thought to many churches in the evangelical world today! The health wealth and prosperity gospel preachers would have you believe that if your life isn’t going well then you must not be praying enough! You must not be trying hard enough! You need to give more money to the church! You need to read your Bible more!

All the while the truth is that God disciplines those whom He loves – it is a sign of adoption. Listen to what the author of Hebrews says:

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. [6] For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” [7] It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? [8] If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. [9] Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? [10] For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. [11] For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5-11 ESV)

8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

When I was growing up this was one of my favorite verses – it was one of the ones I memorized and always recalled to mind, especially during my formidable teenage years. But the full weight of the verse cannot be merely summed up in the adolescent mind of a teen who looks forward to one day gaining his/her independence!

First of all, as we have seen earlier, it is pre-supposed that we will have sufferings in this present life. Any form of “Christianity” which denies suffering is straight from the pit of Hell. For this life is full of troubles, and Christ never hid those from us, but what He did teach was His preeminence over all these troubles, which is what Paul is teaching here as well.

Consider for a moment what Christ said in John 16 just prior to His majestic High Priestly Prayer:

Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. [33] I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:32-33)

What great hope is this! Through Christ we are more than conquerors (vs. 37 – also 1 John 4:4)! This verse gives us a look at the eternal through the eyes of a man who knew what it was to suffer. Schreiner says, “This future glory, however, is conditioned upon suffering with Christ in the present age.” And Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians of what he had to endure:

Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. [24] Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. [25] Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; [26] on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; [27] in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. [28] And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. [29] Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? (2 Corinthians 11:23-29 ESV)

But all of these things He counted as “rubbish” next to the surpassing glory of knowing Jesus Christ. And that glory is still to be fully revealed to us! Schreiner says, “One reason suffering furthers hope is because present sufferings are minimal in comparison to future glory. To endure present suffering is worthwhile because our pain will be a distant memory I the light of the glory that is coming.”

Of course Paul’s great parallel text to this verse is found later in 2 Corinthians:

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, [18] as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18 ESV)

8:19-25 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. [20] For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope [21] that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. [22] For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. [23] And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. [24] For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? [25] But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

This entire section is about the hope of a new creation and finds its roots in Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22 which state:

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. (Isaiah 65:17 ESV)

“For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the LORD, so shall your offspring and your name remain. (Isaiah 66:22 ESV)

This hope of a new creation which was once promised to “Israel” is now given to the church (Schreiner). “The means by which the hope is secured, however, is suffering” Schreiner comments.

Peter Gentry comments on these passages in Isaiah and relates them to what God is doing in our lives:

…the creation itself has been subject to futility and destruction on account of human sin, and God is not finished until this is rectified. He will make a completely brand new universe: a new heavens and a new earth. We see, then, that the plan of salvation is no halfway fix-it job. God’s plan of restoration brings us back to the pristine state of Eden – in a world now much better and much greater. Augustine once said that he feared to entrust his soul to the great physician lest he be more thoroughly cured than he cared to be. God’s plan of salvation is absolutely thorough, and he is not going to be satisfied with some half job of reformation and renewal in our lives.

Groaning like a Tree!

Paul uses the tool of “personification” to help us understand the nature of fallen creation’s awaiting Christ. Certainly all things are in Him and for Him and to Him (Acts), but it isn’t as though the creation has a mind of its own, per se, rather it has fallen under the bondage of sin and has been tainted with the results of our sinfulness and will one day be renewed.

Schreiner says, “Paul dazzles his readers with the attractiveness and beauty of the future glory. He does this via personification by saying that even the creation longs for the revelation of the sons and daughters of God. The creation longs for this revelation of God’s children because that revelation will be the fulfillment and fruition of the creation’s function as well…What the creation waits for is the revelation of God’s children, that is, their future glorification.”

The main thrust of this passage is that just as creation has been subjected to “futility” (which means that creation has not fulfilled the purpose for which it was made), so we too have not experienced the fullness of our original purpose as God’s image bearers. Yet we long for the day when we will see Him, and be completely conformed to His image. In fact, we will be completely conformed to His image because we will see Him as “He is” (1 John 3:2; 2 Cor. 3:18).

In the meantime, the Spirit of God bears witness within us that this world is not our home, and because of that fact, we groan for the time when God in Christ will renew the world and usher in the consummation of His great purposes for us and the rest of creation.

Stott says, “For the Spirit’s indwelling and our groaning should not surprise us. For the very presence of the Spirit (being only the firstfruits) is a constant reminder of the incompleteness of our salvation, as we share with the creation in the frustration, the bondage to decay and the pain.”

The Nature of Faith and Hope

The thing that sort of bugs us sometimes as human beings is that we have to wait for all this – and what makes it worse is that we can’t see it! But, as Paul cleverly says, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” In other words, it wouldn’t be called “hope” if we could see it!

Consequently this is where the Spirit is so wonderful because the Spirit gives us faith, and faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

It is not “blind” as some mind say, for we perceive the realities of the promise (as we learned above). But it is not something we can see with our eyes…yet! And this is the beauty of Paul’s theology. Paul understands that there is a reality which is already, and yet not already…the “already and not yet.” I love how Schreiner explains this:

…the genius of Pauline eschatology is that the future has invaded the present, the age to come has intruded into the present evil age.

John Stott says, “This whole section is a notable example of what it means to be living ‘in between times’, between present difficulty and future destiny, between the already and the not yet, between sufferings and glory.”

Waiting in Patience

I can’t help be see the clear tie between patience/endurance and God’s purposes in us. James puts it well:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, [3] for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. [4] And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4 ESV)

Therefore, we are called to be patience for the sake of endurance and, in the end, our sanctification.

8:26-27 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. [27] And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Now we see the amazing and very practical benefit to being a Christian. The Spirit of God – a divine part of the Triune Godhead – is helping us in our weakness. Paul humbles by reminding us of the reality that our words are not clean enough for His holy presence. But thanks be to God, His Spirit, who always knows His will, intercedes for us converting our heart’s imperfect prayers into requests before the throne of grace.

Stott comments:

So three persons are involved in our praying, First, we ourselves in our weakness do not know what to pray for. Secondly, the indwelling Spirit helps us by interceding for us and through us, with speechless groans but according to God’s will. Thirdly, God the Father, who both searches our hearts and knows the Spirit’s mind, hears and answers accordingly.

8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

This is an oft-misused verse, and the reason is usually because those who are quoting it forget the last part: “who are called.” This qualifies the former “all things work together for good.”

We also need to remember the context of the entire chapter. We’ve been reading about how we must suffer trials, temptations, difficulties in this life, with the full assurance that one day those will all be a distant memory. This verse builds on those truths.

For we see here exactly what type of “things” work together for good, namely “ALL things.” What can this mean except that both good and bad things work together to form the amazing weave of God’s plan for a believer’s life. John MacArthur says, “In His providence, God orchestrates every event in life – even suffering, temptation, and sin – to accomplish both our temporal and eternal benefit.”

The difficulty of this verse also lies in the word “work.” The ESV perhaps is not the best translation here because others explicitly tell us that it isn’t simply that “things work” but rather that “God works all things.” In other words, He is completely sovereign over all of these things. He allowed sin, He allowed suffering, He knew all of these things before He created the world. These kinds of things He does in order to show His glory and to receive glorification.

These concepts are so difficult to understand, but it is in these truths that we find the depths of the character and loveliness of Christ.

Juxtaposition…

The obvious juxtaposition of the truth of this verse is that for those who are NOT “called according to his purpose” there is no such great hope. This hope is reserved for the elect and for them alone. This is a benefit of adoption.

8:29-30 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. [30] And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

These two verses are known in the theological world as the “Golden Chain” because of how they tie together God’s purposes for us from eternity past to eternity future. The “chain” is also known in theology as the “Ordo Salutis”, which is the Latin term for the “order of salvation” because in these verses we see a sort of chronology of God’s working in our lives.

Sproul rightly mentions that Paul doesn’t mention all of the aspects of the Ordo Salutis (ie sanctification isn’t listed here), but that the major themes that he is seeking to highlight are put forth in grand display.

Let’s begin with His foreknowledge…

Foreknown

He knew us, but then also did something – action was taken. There’s more here than meets the eye with this word “foreknew”, as John MacArthur says, “it speaks of a predetermined choice to set His love on us and established an intimate relationship – or His election.”

The ESV Study Bible puts it this way, “Foreknew reaches back to the OT, where the word “know” emphasizes God’s special choice of, or covenantal affection for, his people (e.g., Gen. 18:19; Jer. 1:5; Amos 3:2).”

In his New Testament Biblical Theology Thomas Schreiner describes the concept as relatable to an Old Testament concept of covenantal love:

It is likely, however, that the term (proginosko) means even more that this when attributed to God. God’s knowledge of his people in the OT refers to his covenantal love, by which he set his affection on his people. God “knew” or “chose” Abraham as his own. Amos 3:2 also helps us define the term. God addresses Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” God obviously knows all who live upon the earth, but he has set his covenantal affection upon Israel alone. It is the only nation upon whom God has set his saving love…The word “foreknowledge” focuses on God’s covenantal choice of his people – his love in choosing them to be his own.

R.C. Sproul further explains that the root of that Greek word here for foreknowledge is “gnosis” which has two different nuances. The first is a cognitive nuance – as in something that we are aware of, or understand. The second meaning has to do with a deep understanding or intimate familiarity with something/someone (the subject/direct object). This second meaning is the one Paul is shooting for here.

Therefore, it is wrong to say that God’s predestination is based simply on how He knew we would react. It isn’t as though God looked down the portals of time and saw who would respond favorably to the gospel and then determined to save those people. Rather, God in the gracious and unsearchable counsel of His will “knew” what He was doing and predetermined that certain chosen ones would be His for all time. This foreknowledge could also be described in the way that Sproul paraphrased: “Those whom he foreloved [those whom he knew in a personal, intimate, redemptive sense from all eternity] he predestined.”

Predestined

He predestined us…to what? To “be conformed to the image of His Son.” He is obviously and necessarily speaking specifically of the elect here, to His children, otherwise the reprobate would prove the impotence of the will of God (the sovereign efficacious will), and because we know this isn’t the case we can easily deduce to whom the passage references.

Sproul says, “He has determined it (your salvation) according to the sovereign good pleasure of His will. Nowhere in Scripture is a foreseen, conditional, human response ever given as the rationale for the eternal decree by which God fixes for all eternity those whom he ordains and chooses for redemption.”

The ultimate end to this pre-determining plan is that God wants to make you like His Son. Piper says, “The purpose for which we are predestined is to share the glory of the preeminent Son of God.” The only way we are going to share in this glory is to be first fashioned by God in this lifetime, and that is all a part of His plan.

In another sermon Piper sums this up saying, “Having chosen us for his own, he then appointed for us the most glorious of all destinies—to be conformed to the image of his Son so that the Son could be the preeminent One with his glory reflected in millions of mirrors of himself.”

If you’re not catching this by now, the overall theme here is that God planned it, God did it, and God will see it through to completion.

Called

I sometimes run into trouble explaining to people God’s sovereignty, and specifically His plan of salvation from eternity past. They end up asking a lot of questions that revolve around the popular notion of “free will” – the idea that we make the choices and God accepts the results.

The idea that Paul is putting forth here when he uses the word “called” runs counter to that kind of man-centered thinking. Schriener puts it nicely, “Conversion is not primarily a matter of the human will choosing to know God but rather of God’s knowing of human beings.” And Piper adds, “So the call of God is based on God’s act of predestination which is in turn based on the election or choice that God makes without any respect to our distinctives at all.”

First, there are two kinds of “calling” in theology. The first is the General Call/Outward Call of the gospel. This simply refers to the proclaiming of the gospel and the public preaching of the word. This is the public call for all who hear the word to repent and believe.

The second “call” is the Inward Call or the Supernatural Call that the Holy Spirit affects in your heart. This is the sovereign calling of God upon your life. It is not a “wooing”, it is not a “courting”, but is the voice of the Holy Spirit calling you out of the tomb as Christ called Lazarus from the tomb (John 11).

John Piper describes it this way:

What does it mean to be called? It means that God has overcome the rebellion of our hearts and drawn us to Christ and created faith and love where there was once a heart of stone. The call is effectual. It creates what it commands. It is not like, “Here Blackie! Here Blackie!” It is like, “Lazarus, come forth!” or, “Let there be light!” The call happens in the preaching of the Word of God by the power of the Spirit of God. It overcomes all resistance and produces the faith that justifies.

So then, when we “hear” this call, it is by the grace of God. It is He who opens the ears of our heart. He is working mightily in our lives in order for us to come to repentance.

Only once He has done this supernatural “calling” will you have a desire to “choose” Christ. Before new birth you’ll never choose Christ – you’ll run away from Him because you’re at enmity with Him. Piper says, “The call is the creation of the faith. Therefore all who are called are indeed justified.”

Paul reminds Timothy of this high calling elsewhere and explains that the Lord’s calling has nothing to do with our own merit or work or plan:

“Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but take your share of suffering for the gospel in the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago.” (2 Tim. 1:8-9)

This calling is an amazing and glorious truth. If you’re a Christian today it is because the most powerful Being in the universe cared enough about you to quicken you unto life everlasting. Your name was particular to Him and He died on the cross for your sins.

Justified

In answer to the question “What is Justification?” John Piper says, “As it is used here in Romans 8:30, it refers to the declaration of God to a repentant sinner that all his sins are forgiven, he is acquitted, the wrath of the judge is removed, and he stands righteous before God. God announces that something has been taken away and something has been added. Sins have been taken away. And a new righteousness has been given.”

Because of Christ’s cross work we are able to stand before God as men who are blameless – not because of anything we have done, but because of the payment that Christ made for us. To be justified means that we are “right” before God.

Of course the major thing standing in our way from being “right” with God was our sin. Although we still struggle with sin, Paul’s point here is that at the end of the day no matter how much you sin, God’s grace is sufficient to cover you. His blood has been shed so that you can stand before God with no cause of a justified accusation. The Devil can say what he wants but it doesn’t matter because Christ already paid the penalty for your sins – not simply the sins you did commit, but also the sins you will commit. He knew all the sins of His elect and died for those sins. He is God and sees all things and knows all things.

Glorified

It is a beautiful thing that Paul is inspired to write this word in the past tense. For Paul, this is something that, although it hasn’t happened in actuality, is already a reality. For him it’s as good as done. Why? Because he knows that God is faithful to the end. He will see you through to absolute victory!

Remember, the entire purpose is to conform you to the image of Christ, the new Adam. When Adam was made at the beginning of creation, he was made in the image of God. We are all still made in that image. Only there’s a problem, that image has fallen, its been tainted. But when the Spirit brought new life into your heart, it was the beginning of a new creation that will one day be completed when you are “glorified.”

I really like the fact that there are really two ways to think about glorification. The first is obvious and perhaps our default, it’s the praise and worship we give to God. When we think of “glorify” God we think about doing so with our minds and hearts and lips. This is a wonderful thing, and a brilliant truth.

The second way that Christ is glorified has to do with the revealing of His character in our lives. This is glorifying Him because it’s showing off (so to speak) who He really is! It is the revelation of His goodness and mercy and grace and justice that brings Him that praise I mentioned a bit ago. In this way we see His glory as well.

I think of our glorification as closely related to verse 19 of this chapter which says, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” In this way our own character which is being worked on and fashioned by the Spirit, will be revealed, and we will be glorified. We will receive this glorification from Christ, it is all of Him. Perhaps this is a bad analogy, but it helps me to remember that it is God at work within me, both to will and to work for His own pleasure (Phil. 2:13).

8:31-32 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? [32] He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

The idea here is that if God went so far as to send His own Son to earth, why would He not complete that work by giving us all things? In other words, He has gone to these lengths in His purposes and He cannot deny Himself. In His love He will not allow any circumstance or power that besets us to conquer His purposes which have been set from the foundation of the world.

What God starts, God finishes, that is the overriding theme of this section and reminds us of Paul’s comforting words in Philippians:

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6 ESV)

Sproul comments:

One of the greatest Latin phrases in church history is Deus pro nobis: God for us. Paul is not suggesting that if God is for us, nobody will ever stand to oppose us. The import of his declaration is simple: all the human opposition that rises against us is meaningless in the final analysis, because all the opposition in the world cannot overthrow the glory that God has laid up for his saints from the foundation of the world.

Paul’s reasoning here is from logic. He stands in the shadow of the cross and looks up and marvels. Then he makes the fair assumption that, based on everything God in Christ has done for us, and the marvelous depths to which He stooped to save us, it seems only reasonable that He would “give us all things.”

This “all things” includes the good and the bad, with the full knowledge that He is using even the bad for our good. John Stott comments:

…all things must include the sufferings of verse 17 and the groanings of verse 23. Thus all that is negative in this life is seen to have a positive purpose in the execution of God’s eternal plan. Nothing is beyond the overruling, overriding scope of his providence.

8:33-34 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. [34] Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

We know that Satan is always accusing us before the throne of God (think of Joshua the high priest in Zechariah chap. 3). If we are concerned about Satan’s accusations we ought to take confidence here because we learn that the very Being set to judge us is also our defense attorney. The courtroom is rigged in our favor. Some have used the analogy of a judge whose son is in court for a speeding ticket. The judge pronounces the young man guilty, assesses a fine, then steps down from the bench, takes off his robe, and pays the fine himself – freeing his child not from justice but from payment of what it requires. In other words, we have reason to be confident in Christ for He is interceding for us. It’s an awesome truth.

That’s the brilliant truth of these verses. Who in the universe is going to have the authority to bring a charge against the elect of God? No one will be able to bring a charge that will stand.

As Charles Spurgeon says, “We have a bulwarks, none of which can possibly be stormed, but when combined they are so irresistible, they could not be carried, though earth and hell should combine to storm them.”

I think that the significance of these verses lies in the fact that Paul brings us the name of Christ. He said that “Christ Jesus is the one who died” and brings to mind the lengths to which God went to make certain our sin would be paid for. He had to have a perfect sacrifice.

The saying cannot be true though for those whose sin is not covered by the blood of Christ, and this is why we must heed the call of Christ our captain to go and seek out the lost. There is an urgency in the realities proclaimed here as well as a comfort. These words proclaim great comfort to the believer and great condemnation to the man not saved.

RC Sproul paints the picture:

It is Christ who died; it is Christ who was raised for our justification; it is Christ who ascended to the right hand of God, where he is seated in the position of cosmic authority. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. The highest tribunal in the cosmos is the one who died for us.

Lastly, there’s another great truth that’s proclaimed here, and that is articulated in the words, “more than that, who was raised.” What this means is that the same power by which God raised His Son from the grave will also keep us safely in His care until the Day of Judgment.

The assurance here (our assurance) is based in the reality of God’s power – power that has already been demonstrated in the resurrection of Christ.

8:35-36 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? [36] As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;

we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

The question that Paul poses is rhetorical, and in posing it he enumerates a laundry list of items that mankind fear might separate them from God’s presence.

By listing them, I believe, Paul is as much as saying that we should expect to encounter them. It is in light of this reality that Paul seeks to bring us ultimate comfort and a refreshing reminder of whom we ought to delight in and place all of our hope.

Like Sheep to the Slaughter

Once Paul lists these several items, he takes a moment to use an Old Testament passage from Isaiah to verify his point that believers will suffer all kinds of adversity. There is no doubt that it will occur…no prosperity gospel preaching here!

The presence of this OT quote balances out 8:28 and helps us remember that God uses trials and tribulations to bring about His purposes.

One of the greatest eschatological misconceptions in the evangelical church today is this idea that the church will not have to endure the tribulation(s) prior to the second and final coming of Christ. The entire witness of the New Testament stands against this kind of thought. In fact, we are told over and over again that life in Christ involves suffering. In this way we identify with Him in His sufferings.

I am reminded especially of the experience of the early church, and how they were persecuted. Early in the book of Acts the disciples were preaching and teaching in the temple in Jerusalem and were arrested for this, but eventually were beaten and released. What was their reaction to this persecution? Check this out:

…and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. [41] Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. [42] And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus. (Acts 5:40-42 ESV)

The reason I bring up the misconception about end times tribulation is because it results from a direct misunderstanding of the character of Christ and our call to follow Him no matter what the circumstances. Recently, a dear lady at my church messaged me about these things saying she was struggling to understand them. She said, in effect, that ‘surely Jesus wouldn’t want us to suffer, would He?’

Such a presumption betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to follow Christ, and the realities associated with His Lordship. Furthermore, it isn’t as though we are looking for suffering, quite the contrary. This isn’t sadism. However, we can bear with the pain and even rejoice in it because it means we’ve been identified with our Lord and there is nothing more gratifying than to be so closely related to Jesus that we reap the consequences of that relationship – even if they be painful.

8:37-39 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. [38] For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, [39] nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Now in a sweeping conclusion to the section of this letter Paul answers his own rhetorical question. The will of the Father and the plan and power of Christ will not be frustrated, nor will He abandon us to face our trials alone. He comforts, molds, encourages, brings us home to absolute and complete victory.

Thomsas Schreiner explains what it means to be “more” than a conqueror:

To be more than a conqueror over affliction, distress, persecution, and so on indicates that these enemies are actually turned to the good of believers through the power of God…The point is that the love of Christ is so powerful that it turns our greatest enemies into our friends.

I absolutely love that point! In this way verse 32 is closely tied with Paul’s concept of “all things” in verse 28.

Next we see that it is through the love of Christ that we are enabled to be conquerors, and Derek Thomas reminds us that the reason we aren’t able to be separated from the love of Christ is because of the love of the Father. “Our security is grounded in the objectivity of the finished work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. Bt it is not, initially at least, the love of Jesus that is in Paul’s mind; it is the love of the Father who sent Him.”

John Owen delights in the love that the Father shows us in this context:

If the love of a father will not make a child delight in him, what will? Exercise your thoughts upon this very thing, the eternal, free, and fruitful love of the Father, and see if your hearts be not wrought upon to delight in Him.

Derek Thomas quotes Octavius Winslow on the fact that Jesus as the ransom shows us the depth of the love of God for us:

Who killed Jesus? Who killed Him? It wasn’t Judas out of greed. It wasn’t the Jews out of envy. It was His Father out of love. The Father killed Him. It was the Father who put Him to death.”

Being that this is indeed the case, what in the world (to rephrase Paul) could ever keep God the Father from completing this mission? Frankly, the stakes are too high. He’s not going to allow the work of His Son to not be brought to an absolute smashing victory.

I am Sure

Next Paul states something that ought to bring us into the most wonderful comfort. He says quite plainly: “I am sure.” If Paul is sure, the we can be sure!

Furthermore, after being “sure” Paul enumerates a new list of potential foes, this list is even more powerful and lines up really well with what he said when he described the struggle of the Christian life elsewhere:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12 ESV)

Yes because of the armor of God, and the provision He has given us, we can survive the attacks of the Evil One and his forces.

Conclusion

What an amazing thought that we are the benefactors of the Father’s plan and love. We are the objects of His grace, and it blows me away that we get to be included in His sovereign plan of redemption. If it were up to us we might certainly lose our ways, and our salvation. But thanks be to God that salvation, from first to last, is extra nos and is wholly of the sovereign and benevolent predestining plan of our Father God.

From beginning to end, He has predestined, redeemed, sanctified, and glorified us. His plan is perfect, even though we sometimes can’t see the full outcome; we know that His purposes are motivated by love, and that His will is sovereign. The truths we learn in chapter 8 of Romans are truths that last a lifetime. They are truths that comfort, protect, and secure us for the day of storms and set our heart of fire in the day of pleasant skies.

Study Notes 8-5-12

I have re-adjusted this text to include only my notes for verse 45, as that is all we covered last week.  Enjoy!

John 6:45

6:45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—

There are really two parts to this verse, or at least two ideas that I think are important.  One corresponds with salvation, the other with sanctification.  First I will deal with that which is dealing with salvation and then move onto the upshot of the salvific teaching (sanctification), which is driven by several passages in the Old Testament.

Teaching = Drawing

As we see in verse 44, there’s a sine qua non (a necessary precondition) involved in the act of coming to God.  That precondition is that He first “draw” us to Himself.  In the previous section, I mentioned the “why” as well as the overarching “how” as it pertains to the mode of operation in the drawing process.  Now, with this verse before us, I want to get into more specifics of the “how” operation of the spirit in our lives, and some of the distinctions we need to make to understand this process more accurately.  I think we all want to know “what happened to me?” as John Piper puts it.  We all want to know what it is that God did to change our lives and bring us into His everlasting kingdom.

In the context of this verse, what does it mean to be “taught by God”?  Well the “teaching” that John refers to here is in direct connection to the “drawing” that He mentioned in verse 44 (see also 1 Cor. 2:13, 1 Thess. 4:9, and 1 John 2:20).  As John Piper says, “So the connection between drawing and teaching is clear. The drawn are the taught. They are drawn by being taught.”

Thus the thrust of verse 45 is that Jesus is explaining more of the how of this drawing. How does He do that?  Well, Jesus seems to indicate that not only is this teaching in coordination with the drawing, but that the teaching of God is effective – it can’t fail.

Piper’s longer explanation for this is as follows:

The answer John gives to how the Father draws people to the Son is by teaching them. “No one can come unless the Father draws him…It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’” So the connection between drawing and teaching is clear. The drawn are the taught. They are drawn by being taught.

And the connection between being taught and coming to Christ is unbreakable. No one is taught and then decides not to come. The teaching produces the coming. You see that most clearly in the second half of verse 45.

Verse 45 says, “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” (This is why I said this verse confirms our understanding of John 12:32.) Not some of them come. All of them come. So Jesus uses at least three phrases to describe how the Father draws people to Jesus. He calls it “being taught,” and he calls it “hearing from” God, and he calls it “learning from” God. “‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”

Beale and Carson agree with Piper that there is a strong link between the “drawing” in verse 44 and the “teaching” in verse 45, “In light of the Jews’ largely negative response to his message, Jesus points out that while his ministry in fact fulfills the prophetic vision that one day – which has now arrived – all people will be taught by God, this applies only to those who are drawn by the Father (vs. 44), the sender of Jesus and who subsequently come to believe in him as the Messiah.”

Leon Morris mentions that liberal theologian Rudolph Bultmann got it wrong when he said, “any man is free to be among those drawn by the Father.”  The statement itself sounds so ridiculous that it almost need not be refuted. But this is, in effect, what Armenians hold to, when they hold to the complete dominion of man over his fate.  Surely the very thrust of the text here is quite the opposite of Bultmann’s conclusion.  Such is the fate of errant theologians who come to Scripture in an eisegetical (so to speak) fashion.

Calvin agrees, “It is a false and profane assertion, therefore, that none are drawn but those who are willing to be drawn, as if man made himself obedient to God by his own efforts; for the willingness with which men follow God is what they already have from himself, who has formed their hearts to obey him.”

The Old Testament Connection and Fulfillment

In teaching us, the Holy Spirit is “implanting” (as MacArthur says) a new desire and a new understanding of the ways and law of God. This is why Christ says to us that it is “written in the prophets.”  He is saying that in Isaiah and Jeremiah and others, we are promised to one day have the law of God written on our hearts.  As Piper says, “Both Isaiah and Jeremiah explicitly promise the day when the God’s teaching will no longer merely be external on tablets of stone, but will be internal written on the heart.  God will teach us in the New Covenant first by sending Christ as the sum of all truth, the fulfillment of the law, and then by making that truth real to hour hearts.”

Interestingly, MacArthur notes that, “Jesus’ statement was also a subtle rebuke of His Jewish opponents, who prided themselves on their knowledge of Scripture. But had they truly understood the Old Testament, they would have eagerly embraced Him (5:39).”

The passage Christ quotes is from Isaiah 54:13 and says:

All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children.

This also holds a close connections with Jeremiah 31:33-34 which says:

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Carson and Beale paraphrase Young by noting that “the greatest spiritual wealth that Isaiah is able to imagine for God’s people is that all their children ‘will be taught by [literally “become disciples of”] the Lord.”

Note especially that Jeremiah says that “they shall all know me”, why?  Because “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.”  And therefore, “no longer shall each one teach his neighbor” – because, as Isaiah says, “all your children will be taught by the Lord.”

So the inward work of the Spirit will help people “know” the Lord.  Calvin says, “The way of teaching, of which the prophet speaks, does not consist merely in the external voice, but likewise in the secret operation of the Holy Spirit.”

What does this mean? What does it mean to “know” the Lord?  To understand this, we must look at the close ties between knowing the Lord, and knowing His law (since Christ is quoting the Old Testament here, we do well to draw our conclusions by first looking at the context in which Isaiah and other wrote). The law was an outward guide and revelation to the holiness of God.  It showed us His standard of perfection, as well as our own sinfulness.  In other words, it showed us who we were in comparison to who God was, and in that way made us aware inwardly of a need to repent and rely completely on God.  Once under the new covenant, we no longer needed to be taught by men, because we had an inward law – one written on our hearts.  The law, which was a schoolmaster (or “guardian”) to lead us to Christ (Galatians 3:24), was now implanted on the hearts of those who are quickened by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13).

The reason I mentioned 1 Corinthians 2:13 earlier as a reference is because it so excellently reminds us that the great truths of Christ are only able to be discerned by us with the help of the Holy Spirit.   It says, “And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.”

As He’s wrapping up the discourse here, as we’ll see later, Christ explains why they can’t understand what He’s talking about.  He says in verses 63-65, “‘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. 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.)’ And he said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.’”

If by now you cannot see the sovereignty of God in salvation then you must not be reading or listening to the Words of Christ – you must not have “ears to hear”, for Christ is saying again and again that from the beginning of time through the end of time, He and the Father have chosen a people, and elect group of people, for themselves.  They have not only determined who these people will be, but have seen to it that by their power, and theirs alone, these people are brought to a saving knowledge of themselves (the trinity).  The operation of salvation is synergistic only in the sense that it is carried out by the three members of the Trinity acting in full knowledge and power, for their own purposes and glory and enjoyment.  The Godhead does not share power for salvation with man.

Conformity

Now I want to look at this inward work of the Spirit as it pertains to being continually “taught” by the Spirit of God and how we were all “taught” of God for a purposes.

As I mentioned earlier, the Old Testament prophecy that is connected with being “taught” by God has to do with His law being written on our hearts.  Galatians tells us the law “was added because of transgression” (Gal. 3:19) to keep the people of Israel in constant remembrance of the character and standards of their God, that they might conform their lives to His standard (a sort of Old Testament sanctification process minus the Spirit’s help, of course). Now we have that law written on our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit, and we also have His help to guide us and conform us to Christ’s mind and complete image. This is significant, and ought to lead us to understand how Christ would want us to act, and live. That is part of the Spirit’s grand work in us to conform us to the image of Christ until that day when this work is complete (in heaven).

Taught for a Purpose

Remember, we have been saved not only from something (Hell), but for something (good works and conformity to the image of Christ).  As Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Now, as you can see, not only is Christ explaining how we were first quickened and “taught” of God and our deficit before Him, but He is also explaining how we are taught of God continually for the purpose of growth in grace and truth. You were saved for a reason, to become holy.  You aren’t saved so that you can simply enjoy the fact that you aren’t going to Hell. You aren’t saved simply so that you can enjoy heaven with Christ (although that is certainly a part of it – see John 17), but rather you are saved so that you can be made holy.  Why?  So that you can glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Christians today have lost a focus on practical holiness.  We don’t wake up in the morning thinking, “how can I be more holy today?”  We have no driving desire to be “taught” of God.  Instead we have minds full of trivial and temporary desires.  We need to refocus our attention as Christians back onto the process and goal of sanctification, and becoming a holy people.

Jerry Bridges says, “But here is a basic truth: We will not grow unless we see our need to grown, we will not pursue holiness unless we see how much we are still unholy, and we will not see our unholiness unless we look at the holiness of God instead of what we perceive to be the unholiness of our neighbor. This is why we must face up to the sinfulness of our sin.”

We also need to remember that when Christ was raised from the dead and was going to go back to heaven, He says to Mary, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (Jon 20:17b).  Therefore we now have been included in His family, and must be made fit for the family.  We must be made ready to enjoy this blessing in its fullness.

“Everyone”

In the last part of verse 45 Christ says, “everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”  Note that He purposefully uses the word “everyone” to establish the fact that in the “teaching” or “drawing” of people, God the Father does not fail to bring to fruition that which He planted in the hearts of His elect.

As J.C. Ryle says, “The words do not mean that under the Gospel all mankind, or all members of the professing Christian Church, shall be ‘taught of God.’ It rather means that all who are God’s children, and come to Christ under the Gospel, shall be taught of God.”

Note also that Christ says “the Father” instead of the Spirit, and that is because while it is the Spirit doing the “drawing”, He acts on the eternal unchangeable will of the Father.  From the first, God had intended to “teach” certain people about Himself, and here we learn that “everyone” who is taught of God comes to Christ.  Not one of His pupils fails to come to Christ.  We’ve already talked briefly about why this is, but it doesn’t hurt to go over it again.

God is effective in all that He sets out to do because He is God and His purposes cannot fail.  When He teaches men of Himself (they have “heard” and “learned” of Him) they always come to Christ.  What is He teaching them?  The gospel.  He is teaching them of a (new) covenant (Jeremiah 31) that He is making with them, that if they believe on His Son Jesus Christ, they will be saved. That is why Christ goes on to say in verse 47 that, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.”  This fact comes with a promise – if they believe, they will be saved and will also (an added benefit) have “eternal life.”

The heart which “hears” this message from God cannot refuse it.  It is irresistible! It is so not because God has cajoled them into belief, but because the sweetness of it is such that they flee to the cross.  Of course there are two elements to learning of the gospel of God.  It is not simply that a man learns of the benefit of eternal life, but that he also learns of his own sinfulness in light of the cross.  This is what inevitably happens when we are taught by God, we learn who He is and who we are in light of His holiness.  This is what happened to Isaiah in chapter 6 of his book.  We see that not only did he learn about who God was and what His surroundings looked like, but he immediately realized who he was in light of who God is.

Isaiah did not see the holy majesty of God and respond by saying “well, since I have free will to choose whether or not to believe in you, and since you seem to have laid out all the proper facts about things, I will make the choice now to believe what you have to say.”  No indeed.  His response was compelled – not forced by God – but he was compelled I say to do the obvious thing, and that was to repent of his utter sinfulness and throw himself on the mercy of God.  This is what happens when men and women are “taught” of God.  They do the obvious thing when their eyes are opened to His holiness, they repent and run quickly to the cross!  This happens without exception, and that is why it is that Christ can use the word “everyone.”

 

Study Notes 7-22-12

6:36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.

  • I think that what we have here is a perfect example of people seeing, hearing, and yet not believing the very words of Christ (the outward presentation of the Gospel message from the Monogenes Himself).  How can this be?  We often ask ourselves the same thing.  How can I present the gospel in any clearer terms?  Why won’t these people respond to this?  The reason is because they are still spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1) and that your talk is complete foolishness to them (1 Cor. 2:14).
  • Why could they not believe?  Jesus is about to explain that they don’t believe because they haven’t been called – “draw” is the word He uses here.  They can’t come to Him because “no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”  So this verse is a setup for what Jesus is about to tell them.
  • The lesson is this: God is completely sovereign over salvation.  When He calls someone with the inward call of the Holy Spirit that is when a man begins to see the light.  Until then, we are preaching foolishness, but it’s a foolishness we will continue to preach because it has the power of life, and God is pleased to use this foolish preaching of ours as the outward call that informs the inward call.

6:37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.

  • What a magnificent statement by our Lord.  He says that even though these people won’t come to him (vs. 36), those who do come He will accept with open arms – “I will never cast out.”  The Savior is saying that for those who believe in Him, He will embrace them as His own.
  • For those who might have grown up in a culture or a church that taught that eternal security is not possible, this verse stands diametrically opposed to that kind of false teaching.  The Roman Catholic Church not only says that (due to mortal sins) salvation can be lost, but that to think of our eternal state as secure is puffed up and arrogant.  However, according to Christ, nothing could be further from the truth.  He will never cast out any who come to Him.
  • John Calvin puts it this way, “In the first place, he says, that all whom the Father giveth him come to him; by which words he means, that faith is not a thing which depends on the will of men, so that this man and that man indiscriminately and at random believe, but that God elects those whom he hands over, as it were, to his Son; for when he says, that whatever is given cometh, we infer from it, that all do not come. Again, we infer, that God works in his elect by such an efficacy of the Holy Spirit, that not one of them falls away; for the word give has the same meaning as if Christ had said, ‘Those whom the Father hath chosen he regenerates, and gives to me, that they may obey the Gospel.’”
  • Also, the word here “come”, as I detail elsewhere, is equivalent with “believe.”  John MacArthur puts it this way, “To come to Christ is to forsake the old life of sin and rebellion and submit to Him as Lord. Though John does not use the term ‘repentance’ in his gospel, the concept is clearly implied in the idea of coming to Christ.”
  • MacArthur cites a great Spurgeon quote to back up his statement, “You and your sins must separate, or you and your God will never come together.”

6:38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.

  • Christ is one with the Father.  His will is one with the Father – we have talked about this before.  And looking ahead to chapter 10, and Christ’s discourse on His role as the Good Shepherd, we see Him saying something similar, but even more explicit:

10:26-30 “…but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. [27] My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. [28] I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. [29] My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. [30] I and the Father are one.”

  • It’s important to remember that at this saying, the Jews began to pick up stones to kill Jesus.  This was a highly offensive statement.  Now, Christ didn’t get stoned here, for as radical as this statement it, He’s about to rock the minds of these men and women all the more…

6:39-40 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. [40] For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

  • Why is it that you will never lose your salvation?  Because Christ will lose nothing! Why is it that Christ will lose nothing?  Because that is the will of the Father.
  • Whether or not you commit a so-called “mortal” sin or not, the Lord Jesus Christ will not allow one person to slip from His hands.  What has been alive by the Holy Spirit cannot be made dead by a human being.  By the power of God the Almighty Creator of the Universe, you will be Christ’s adopted brethren for eternity, not by your will or effort, by the power of God.
  • You see, when God wills something it happens.  All forces of creation, both spiritual and physical, bow to his wishes.  He opens His mouth and the nations tremble.  By His words Satan is thrown down and bound.  By His will you are kept safe.  No one can cross His sovereign will.  What an amazing and comforting thought.
  • This verse also gives us a preview of the resurrection.  Jesus says that not only will He keep you safely in His hands, but that He will raise you up “on the last day.”  On the last day, we will see the final consummation of His power over the grave and of death and will realize the power of the resurrection – this time in our own bodies.  On that day, God will complete the work He has begun, and the saying that what is perishable will be raised imperishable will realize its completion. He will be redeeming more than your souls, friends.  He will be redeeming your bodies.  Paul talks about this at length in chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians:

15:20-23 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. [21] For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. [22] For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. [23] But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.  

  • Commenting upon Jesus’ power and plan from election to glorification Calvin says this:

Besides, as the election of God, by an indissoluble bond, draws his calling along with it, so when God has effectually called us to faith in Christ, let this have as much weight with us as if he had engraven his seal to ratify his decree concerning our salvation. For the testimony of the Holy Spirit is nothing else than the sealing of our adoption, (Romans 8:15.) To every man, therefore, his faith is a sufficient attestation of the eternal predestination of God, so that it would be a shocking sacrilege to carry the inquiry farther; for that man offers an aggravated insult to the Holy Spirit, who refuses to assent to his simple testimony.

  • Therefore, when Christ says in verse 40 that, “I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” He is saying that from beginning to end, from predestination, to calling and justification to adoption and resurrection to glorification, He will loose nothing, nor will the “will” of the Father be interrupted by the schemes of the Devil, the world – and/or even our own flesh!

6:41-43 So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” [42] They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” [43] Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves.

  • These Jews did not like Christ equating Himself with bread from heaven.  Christ was to them a stumbling block.  For they seemed to know from where Jesus came, and who His earthly parents were.  This made it all the more difficult to believe Him when He said that He had “come down from heaven.”
  • The word “grumble” here has definite parallels with the grumbling of the people of Israel in the Old Testament.  They were provided great manna from heaven, yet they still complained.  Here Christ has just explained that He is the bread from heaven that will forever satisfy them.  Like their ancient forefathers, they grumble. The reason was the same: unbelief.  When we don’t believe the words of God we grumble.  Grumbling is the outward fruit of unbelief.
  • That is why we must never grumble, but always set our hope firmly on the work and purposes of God.  This whole passage is about deeper things.  Deep things that we can’t fully understand, and such is our life, we run up against many things we can’t understand.  But let us not grumble in unbelief.  Let us let go of our unbelief and place our full trust upon Him who is able to sustain us until the last day.

6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

  • In verse 37 He had just said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me”, and in verse 36 He had said that, “you have seen me and yet do not believe.” But now He’s saying WHY they won’t believe, and why they won’t come to Him.  They won’t believe because “no one can come to (Him) unless the Father who sent me draws him.”
  • The Father had not drawn these people to Christ, and therefore they were unable to come to Him.  Christ is enumerating an important spiritual principle, not just for these Jews, but for us as well.  For what He is saying here is in the general sense.  His words are “no one” and “all” and so on.  So He’s not limiting His discussion to simply Jews, but is giving a discourse about a universal spiritual principle.
  • To further affirm this, John Piper reminds us that we need to realize the full implications of what Christ is saying here.  He’s about to talk about how – in particular – God draws people to Himself.  But in doing so, Christ it known that He will not be limiting His kingdom to the Jews, or any one group of people.  He is not a “tribal deity” as Piper says.  And to emphasize the point, Piper reminds us that John stresses the wide call of Christ in this Gospel (of John) to all men (John 3:16, 3:18, 3:36, 5:24, 6:35, 6:37, 6:47, 6:58, 7:38, 12:46, etc.).
  • Here are all the reference and what they look like to show what I mean, and what Piper was getting at:
    • “Whoever believes in him will have eternal life” (John 3:15).
    • “Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
    • “Whoever believes in him is not condemned” (John 3:18).
    • “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life” (John 3:36).
    • “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life” (John 5:24).
    • “Whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).
    • “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37).
    • “Whoever believes has eternal life” (John 6:47).
    • “Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (John 6:58).
    • “Whoever believes in me, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:38).
    • “Whoever believes in me will not remain in darkness” (John 12:46).
    • It is obvious that this verse is talking about God’s methodology in calling and saving us for all eternity.  But while we talk about God’s work in the lives of particular men and women – in you and men – we need to remember the role we play in spreading that gospel to all men – not ones we choose, but ones HE chooses. John Piper reminds us of this when he says the following:

It is an awesome thing that we are sent to the whole world with the greatest news in the world—with a free offer for all who believe. And it is an awesome thing that as many as are appointed to eternal life believe (Acts 13:48).  It is an awesome thing that God commands all people everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). And it is an awesome thing that God grants repentance to whom he will (2 Timothy 2:25).  It is an awesome thing that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). And it is an awesome thing he acts decisively to draw particular people to the truth (John 6:44).

  • When John says the Father “draws” men, the Greek word he’s using is helkō, which literally means to “drag off.”  This is important because when we hear the word “draw” I think that our minds tend to think of the word differently than that.  We think the natural synonym might be “ compel” or something like that, when the sense of the word is nothing of the sort.  Here John is talking about a powerful “dragging” force.  The Father isn’t just wooing people to come to Christ, He is making sure they come by grabbing a hold of them, and bringing them all the way home.

Irresistible Grace

  • We call this the doctrine of Irresistible Grace.  The idea behind the doctrine is not to teach us that God “drags us” kicking and screaming into heaven, but rather that in His sovereign will, He creates within us a desire that we never had before.  That desire is for Himself.  Once our desires have changed, we begin to see the irresistible nature of His love for us.  Our eyes are opened to the magnificence of His love and plan for us – the fact that He is working on our hearts ought to be enough proof that He loves us, but then He reveals the mysteries of His will in Christ Jesus, and the truth of what Christ has done is so amazing, so profound, so audacious, and so ludicrous, that we can’t help but want to run to the cross and embrace Christ as Lord.  That is what God does by drawing us.
  • The point is that this “drawing” is active and not passive.  John Piper says it’s “decisive” and says, “When you chose Christ—when you awakened spiritually to the compelling truth and worth of Christ—it was because God gave you eyes to see. God awakened you. God gave you eyes to see the irresistible greatness of Jesus.”
  • Calvin puts it magnificently:

Christ declares that the doctrine of the Gospel, though it is preached to all without exception, cannot be embraced by all, but that a new understanding and a new perception are requisite; and, therefore, that faith does not depend on the will of men, but that it is God who gives it.

  • The first part of the verse says, “can come”, and by this we know that the Apostle is referring to “believing” in Christ.  When we “come” to Christ, we believe in Christ, we are placing our faith and truth in Him for salvation.
  • Calvin explains:

The statement amounts to this, that we ought not to wonder if many refuse to embrace the Gospel; because no man will ever of himself be able to come to Christ, but God must first approach him by his Spirit; and hence it follows that all are not drawn, but that God bestows this grace on those whom he has elected. True, indeed, as to the kind of drawing, it is not violent, so as to compel men by external force; but still it is a powerful impulse of the Holy Spirit, which makes men willing who formerly were unwilling and reluctant. It is a false and profane assertion, therefore, that none are drawn but those who are willing to be drawn, as if man made himself obedient to God by his own efforts; for the willingness with which men follow God is what they already have from himself, who has formed their hearts to obey him.

Sovereign Election

  • The verse also teaches us that God had a sovereign plan – that is the overarching theme, isn’t it?  This is what is known as the doctrine of Election.  That from eternity past, God chose to create a particular people for himself.  I’m not just talking about Israel, but of the true Israel, which is the church, and indeed is Christ Himself.  This verse teaches us is that God’s work of salvation is particular.  That is to say, it is discriminating.
  • To discriminate means to choose some, but not others based on a desire.
  • 1 Peter 2:9-10 tells us:

…you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. [10] Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

Radical Corruption

  • By necessity, Jesus is also teaching us the state of mankind.  Specifically, as the ESV Study notes, “No one can come to me means “no one is able to come to me” (Gk. dynamai means “to be able”). This implies that no human being in the world, on his own, has the moral and spiritual ability to come to Christ unless God the Father draws him, that is, gives him the desire and inclination to come and the ability to place trust in Christ.”
  • Sproul puts it this way, “Jesus said that we are so corrupt, that our hearts have been so hardened toward the things of God, that we cannot respond to God and come to Him on our own…If the Father wants us to come to Christ, He must effectually draw us to His beloved Son.”
  • We are so morally and spiritually bankrupt that we can’t come to Christ on our own.  We are dead in our sins.  This is the doctrine known as Total Depravity.  This saying of Jesus is one that men hate to accept, and you might not like hearing it either.
  • You might think that I’m wrong and the Bible is wrong to tear down “human character”, but as C.H. Spurgeon once said, “You cannot slander human nature, it is worse than words can paint it.”
  • John MacArthur points out “the Bible indicates that fallen man is unable, of his own volition, to come to Jesus Christ.”  MacArthur goes on to give a lengthy list of Biblical reasons why this is the case:

Unregenerate people are dead in sin (Eph.2:1; Col. 2:13), slaves to unrighteousness (John 8:34; Rom. 6:6, 17, 20, John 8:34), alienated from God (Col. 1:21), and hostile to Him (Rom. 5:10; 8:7). They are spiritually blind (2 Cor. 4:4), captives (2 Tim 2:26), trapped in Satan’s kingdom (Col. 1:13), powerless to change their sinful natures (Jer. 13:23; Rom. 5:6), unable to please God (Rom. 8:8), incapable of understanding spiritual truth (1 Cor. 2:14; John 14:17).

Preserving Grace and Assurance of Salvation

  • The beauty of this passage does not lie alone in the call of the Spirit, however, but also in the preserving nature of the work of the Spirit and in the power of Jesus Christ.  Sproul says, “Those who are truly saved will continue in that condition, for Jesus will not let them fall away.”
  • As we get deeper into the book of John, we’ll see other passages that detail the magnificent power of God’s preserving grace.  In John 10:26-30 Jesus is giving a very similar discourse and says that the power He has to keep His children in grace is the same power that God the Father has (because they are “one”) – which His listeners at the time would have understood to be omnipotent.  He says this:

10:26-30 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. [27] My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. [28] I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. [29] My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. [30] I and the Father are one.

  • Christ mentions this in order to give us assurance. In His compassion He came to give us peace.  He came to give us a peace that the world couldn’t give (John 14:27).
  • If salvation is a monergistic work, and if He is truly sovereign over salvation, then surely there is nothing we can do to lose what we have not earned or worked for.  It is all by His preserving grace that we are kept until the day of Christ’s return!

Why Me?  The Pleasures of God

  • Perhaps the most difficult and unknowable question we come to about the nature of God’s sovereign work in salvation – at least from this particular text – is the why. Specifically, you might be asking “why does He discriminate?” or “why does He choose to ‘draw’ some and not others?”
  • R.C. Sproul even admits that this is the deepest theological question that I can think of, the one for which I have no adequate answer.”  Specifically, Sproul was referring to the question of “why me?”
  • Sproul offers the best explanation I’ve heard for a question that really can’t be answered in specifics (anyone who says they know the answer is lying):

I can’t give a single reason under heaven why God would save me other than, as the prophet Isaiah said, that the Suffering Servant of Israel should see the travail of His soul and be satisfied – that God has determined to honor His Son by giving Him adopted brothers and sisters (Is. 53:11).  In the final analysis, the only reason I am a Christian is that the Father wants to honor the Son.   From all eternity, He determined that the Son’s work would not be in vain and that He would be the firstborn of many brethren.  Therefore, He determined not just to make salvation possible and then step back and cross His fingers, hoping that somebody would take advantage of the ministry of Jesus. No, God the Father, from all eternity, determined to make salvation certain for those whom He had determined to give to His Son.

  • My own explanation would simply lie in the hidden counsel of God, and the manifestation of His discriminating love for us.  Ephesians 2:4-5 says that God loved us even when we were dead in our trespasses.  It says…

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” 

  • Note the “rich” mercy and the “great” love of God toward us.  These are the things that compelled Him to do what He did from all eternity past.  And because of this love, the Father knew from eternity past that He would have to send His only Son to be a sacrifice for us.  He knew that we would fall – otherwise there would be no reason to elect anyone, for everyone would always have been in perfect harmony with God – and yet He determined by the counsel of His own will to create us in His image, and plan before hand whom to save – a particular people for Himself, as a love gift for His glorious Son, Jesus Christ.

Conflicts and Objections

  • Despite the heavy predestinarian overtones, some would like to strip the verse of its potency, and by doing so, find a way to enter into the salvation process some way in which man’s free will can be justified.  For men, left to their own devices, will always want to preserve the notion of their freedom from God – as some have stated in this Sunday School class before, men (like you and me) like to “maintain the illusion of control” as much as possible.  But they do this because they misunderstand the nature and way in which God works in the hearts of men.
  • The chief verse that men of this stripe use to discredit God’s sovereignty is John 12:32, where the same word for “draw” is used in the Greek, and Jesus says that when He is lifted up (on the cross) that He will “draw all people” to Himself.
  • Carson explains, “The context shows rather clearly, however, that 12:32 refers to ‘all men without distinction’ (i.e. not just Jews) rather than to ‘all men without exception’ (ever single human being on earth).”
  • Looking at this verse in context we see that it is clearly the negative expression of verse 37, which we just read.  Carson explains that “the combination of vs. 37a and vs. 44 prove that this ‘drawing’ activity of the Father cannot be reduced to what theologians sometimes call ‘prevenient grace’ dispensed to ever individual, for this ‘drawing’ is selective, or else the negative note in vs. 44 is meaningless.”

NOTE: The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms defines Prevenient Grace as follows, “The grace that ‘comes before’ any human response to God in justification or conversion. In Reformed theology, this grace is seen as irresistible. In Arminianism and Wesleyanism the view is that God’s grace is extended and persons may choose whether or not to believe in Jesus Christ. The human decisions of the faithful are responsive and enabled by God’s grace.”

  • John Piper seems to think that the “all” in John 12:32 is referring to “all the sheep” of Christ – all the elect.  For, as Piper points out, in the Greek, there is actually no word “people” in that verse.  It’s simply “all”, with no reference to “people” whatsoever.  So what he argues we must do is derive the correct meaning of the word “all” from the context of the verse, and he does this by looking at several other similar passages in John’s gospel (namely John 11:50-52 and John 10:15 and 10:27).  He explains:

In other words, running straight through the Gospel of John is the truth that God the Father and God the Son decisively draw people out of darkness into light. And Christ died for this. He was lifted up for this. What John 12:32 adds is that this happens today in history by pointing the whole world to the crucified Christ and preaching the good news that whoever believes on him will be saved. In that preaching of the lifted up Christ, God opens the ears of the deaf. The sheep hear his voice and follow Jesus (John 10:16, 27).

  • Personally I am satisfied with either of these options – both are plausible, both could be correct.  But I think that to say that 12:32 somehow implies that “all” means every single human being would be to affirm universalism which runs counter the teaching we find throughout Scripture that some people die and go to Hell and others die and go to Heaven.

 

2-26-12 Study Notes

1:43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”

  • Note the divine imperative here.  He doesn’t ask, He tells Philip to “follow me.”  This reminds me of the efficacious work of the Spirit when He calls us to follow Christ – He lifts the blinds on the windows of our heart and causes us to see Christ for who He is.

1:44-45 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. [45] Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

  • Again we see that Philip and the other disciples are convinced (at least very nearly convinced) that they have found the Messiah.  This connoted both an understanding of the law and the prophets, and an attitude of expectation at Jesus’ arrival.
  • Nathanael is said to be the same person as Bartholomew.  Bartholomew was a surname and Nathanael was a given name.

1:46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

  • Nazareth was not a very important town, but it doesn’t seem that Nathanael’s opinion was necessarily universal.  As Morris says, “It is not a famous city, but we have no reason for thinking it was infamous. We should probably understand Nathanael’s words as the utterance of a man who could not conceive of the Messiah as coming from such an insignificant place.”

1:47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”

  • This is the first of two statements where Jesus seems to show a sort of super-human intellect.  But it is more than intellect of a “super-human” kind.  It is obviously knowledge that only the Divine Being could know.
  • The fact that Jesus used the term “Israelite” is interesting because its not the word used most in this gospel – usually the word “Jew” is used, but Jesus is using the covenant name of the nation and the one closely identified with Jacob – significant because Jacob is the character that best ties in this whole final passage.
  • When Jesus says there is no “guile” or “deceit” in Nathanael, it harkens our minds back to Jacob who was himself a deceiver.  Jesus is basically saying, ‘here is an Israelite in whom there is no Israel!’  He is praising Nathanael for being a straight-forward type of guy.

1:48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”

  • This says something of the divine knowledge of Jesus during His time here on earth.  There is an ongoing argument among scholars as to how much Christ knew or could have known in his humanity.  Some ask the question: if he was fully human, how could his human mind have known what The Deity knows?  The question is worth asking, though we may never know the answer.  It is certainly obvious from the Scriptures that Jesus knew a lot – though it is my opinion from reading the Bible throughout the years that He didn’t use His full omnipotence while on earth.  For example, while on earth He said that only the Father knew the date of His second coming.  It is this kind of statement that leads me to think that He laid aside some of His divine omniscience.

1:49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

  • Note the way that Nathanael ties the two concepts of the “Son of God” and the “King of Israel” together.  I like this because it signifies both His deity and His humanity.  It also signifies His authority and kingship.
  • Keep in mind that Nathanael had just been identified as an “Israelite”, and now Nathanael is identifying Jesus as the “King of Israel” – he is submitting to His authority.
  • And by the reaction we read here, he seemed to understand right away that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies.

1:50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.”

  • In this verse we’re given a hint from Jesus that the best is yet to come.  This is a fitting statement for the beginning of what would end up being the most exciting and world-altering three years ever lived by a man on earth.  Jesus’ ministry here on earth was a shower of one miracle after another.  Teaching after teaching by Christ flowed forth the divine wisdom with a profundity that forever changed the course of history for humanity.

1:51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

  • This is a clear reference to Jacob’s ladder – which is amazing to see the fulfillment of this from thousands of years prior (Gen. 28:10-17).  According to Jonathan Edwards, the passage serves as an analogy to what Christ fulfilled in bringing to us in Salvation and the Covenant of Grace.
  • The sleep that Jacob takes symbolizes death (spiritual death), and the rock he lays his head upon symbolizes Christ. The ladder is God’s Salvation and the Covenant of Grace, which was ushered in with Christ.  The ladder is the only way to heaven, though men desire to make their own ladders of self-righteousness, which only lead to destruction.  The rungs of the ladder are the ordinances and promises of God – they are strong enough to keep us and hold us as we climb upwards toward heaven.  The ladder, of course, leads to heaven.  It takes us to God who is far above the earthly sin and trouble of this life.
  • As Christians it is our mission each to day to climb the ladder.  Edwards says, “don’t rest is what you’ve attained.”  He also points out that there is great happiness – ultimate happiness – awaiting us at the top of the ladder, and that every man desires to reach that happiness.  Our souls all desire to be happy in God.
  • Lastly, let’s examine this title, “Son of Man.”  As Morris reminds us, “In the gospels it is used by Jesus as His favorite self-designation, occurring in this way over 80 times.
  • The term is derived from Daniel 7:13-14.  So why did Jesus like this title?  Leon Morris gives us four reasons:
  1. “Because it was a rare term and one without nationalistic associations. It would lead to no political complications.”
  2. “Because it had overtones of divinity”
  3. “Because of its societary implications.  The Son of Man implies the redeemed people of God.”
  4. “It had undertones of humanity. He took upon Him our weakness.”
  • Morris concludes, “It was a way of eluding to, and yet veiling his Messiahship, for His concept of the Messiah differed markedly from that commonly held.”

 

How do we teach this to our children?  If you were to tell your children on the way home today that you learned about how Jesus was and is the Word of God, what would you say?

EXAMPLE:  Today we learned about how the first disciples were called.  We also learned about the name that Jesus liked to use for himself (the Son of Man).  The title ‘Son of Man’ indicates that Jesus is divine, and that He’s also human.  The Jews who were listening to Jesus teach would not have thought much about this title (for older children: it was a title disassociated with any preconceived political or society notions) so they wouldn’t have had any incorrect thoughts about who Jesus was or who He was describing Himself to be.  We also learned about how Jacob from the Old Testament saw a ladder reaching all the way to heaven.  On the ladder there were angels going up and down – almost like a stairway.  Jesus said to His disciples that they would see angels walking up and down “on” the Son of Man – on Him!  What Jesus meant by this was that He was the great ladder (or stairway) that connected heaven and earth.  Our only way to get to heaven is by Jesus and His salvation.