Revelation 3:1-6 the Letter to Sardis

Chapter 3

To the Church at Sardis

Sardis was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia. The city was virtually impregnable by nature of its physical location. It stood some 1,500 feet above the Hermus valley as a sort of watchtower, with only one viable approach to the city from the southern side up what would have been a winding road.

The city itself was set atop a plateau, which was guarded on three sides by rocks which jetted up above the cityscape almost perpendicular to the ground. The affect was that the city was unable to be approached from any side save the southern slope, itself a difficult and steeply graded road.

The name “Sardis” is actually a plural noun, indicating not one city but two. That is because after a little while the kingdom had expanded and gotten to the point where more room was necessary. So a second city set off a bit down the southern slop from the northern old city.

The kingdom of Lydia was an ancient kingdom that embodied the great Asian (some term “oriental” – though the term is sort of funny to use today given the expansion of the Asian race into much further eastern regions) kingdoms that were continually arrayed in battle against the great western kingdoms of Greece (and perhaps Macedonia?).

Sardis was eventually embroiled in a battle with one of the greatest figures in ancient history: Cyrus the Great. “The reign of Cyrus the Great lasted between 29 and 31 years. Cyrus built his empire by conquering first the Median Empire, then the Lydian Empire and eventually the Neo-Babylonian Empire.”[i]

Though the city was virtually impregnable, Cyrus was able to conquer it. For – like the Medes/Persians would do several years later to the Babylonians (see Daniel 5) – it seems that by night they skillfully climbed the protruding rocks on each side of the city, and lowered themselves down, allowing them to take the city almost by surprise. Only in the instance of the former, history has it that Darius’ army actually went under the city by damming up a water culvert and going through the underground waterway.

About the siege of Sardis, William Ramsay says, “The armies of Lydia were being massed to crush the insolent invader, who should be ground between the perpendicular rocks of the acropolis and the gathering Lydian hosts. Such was the calculation of Croesus (the king of Sardis), when he retired one evening to rest: he was wakened to find that the enemy was master of the acropolis and that all was lost…He came up on the great city ‘like a thief in the night.’”[ii]

Indeed the city was full of prideful people, and they had been conquered and would be conquered again around 200 BC. But, as Hendriksen notes, “When the Apocalypse was written, Sardis was facing decay, a slow but sure death. In the year AD 17 the city was partly destroyed by an earthquake. Thus, again and again, the self-satisfied and boastful inhabitants of Sardis had seen destruction coming upon them ‘as a thief in the night’, most suddenly and unexpectedly.”[iii]

Excursis

It occurred to me last night as I was studying and thinking on these letters to the churches, that so many of the Bible’s great themes come to consummation in the book of Revelation, and many of them are central to the letters to the churches. Biblical Theologians have talked for years about if its possible to find the very center theme of the Bible, and if so, what is that theme? There is this underlying assumption that it is Christ Himself, but that there might be more than simply the person of Christ – in other words it might be appropriate to say that there are several big themes to Scripture. Such themes would be: Covenant, Kingdom, the Promise(s) of God, redemption/sacrifice/salvation, and so forth.

When we examine these letters we see these same themes echoed in their words:

  • Christ – the central figure who is described in various ways.
  • Covenant – the effects of the New Covenant and its underlying realities which enable Christ to fairly issue imperatives knowing His people can actually obey them.
  • Kingdom – In chapter one we learn that He has made us a “kingdom” and we are called constantly to “conquer.” In fact kingdom language pervades the book as Jesus is magnified as the great King.
  • Salvation/Redemption – The consummation of the salvation of God’s people is described in vivid detail, and in the letter to the churches specifically His people are called to endure and hold fast to their salvation until He comes again.

The point being that many of the Bible’s greatest story lines come to a confluence here in these letters and this book. This exhibits both the unity and the diversity of Scripture, and of this book specifically. It is not a book on an island alone and secluded from the rest of the Bible. In fact, as we’ll see in our study of Sardis, its unity with the rest of Scripture is plain. Yet, like the rest of Scripture, there is great diversity. There are many divers themes and elements that we must take in as readers.

End Excursis

3:1a “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.

Jesus begins his letter to the church at Sardis by describing himself in two ways. First, He is the one who “has the seven spirits of God” and second, He is the one who has “the seven stars.”

Earlier we learned that the seven stars are the seven angels. And in our examination of chapter one we noted that this could mean a number of different things, we hear a lot of commentators say the stars/angels are the ministers of the church. We found that there are some difficulties with this interpretation, however, and G.K. Beale made the point that in the context of the book and the passage – especially in light of John’s use of Daniel – it might make sense that these stars/angels represented the church’s heavenly or spiritual dimension. The church’s earthy dimension was represented by the candles or torches, and the heavenly by the “stars.”

You might recall our interpretation of this was aided by an understanding that Jewish scholars who read Zechariah and Daniel seemed to understand stars and candles as representative of the people of God.

Now, as for the “seven spirits”, we read about these earlier as well. In fact this was one of the first examples we had of how John uses numbers to communicate a truth or idea. In this case, the seven spirits likely represent the fullness, or completeness, or the Holy Spirit of God. That Jesus is said here to have the seven Spirits therefore must mean that He is the bestower of the Spirit. He is the one who sends forth the Spirit. For as we read in John’s gospel, Jesus’ own words about the Spirit are thus:

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

Therefore, Jesus reminds the church that He is sovereign over the church – remember He holds the stars in His hand – and that He is the creator of the church – for is the Spirit of God who sovereignly brings sheep into our Lord’s fold. It is the Spirit of God who, in His perfect knowledge and according to the Father’s perfect plan, chooses whom He will soften and call to everlasting life, thus creating the church, forming her according to His own sovereign pleasure.

1:1b-2 “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. [2] Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.

The Charge

Christ’s charge here against the church at Sardis is really horrific. I say that because He is calling them out for being fraudulent followers at the very worst, and at minimum that they have been working works in the flesh. Works that make them look great in the sight of the world, but in the eyes of the one whose eyes are a “flame of fire”, they are found to be worthless.

This is why in previous passages Jesus describes his eyes as a flame of fire – because they devour all the falsehoods that we erect around our lives. They consume the dross of our works until all that is left is what has been wrought in the Spirit of God.

There is obviously a warning here for us as well. It is easy to implement programs that help the poor and the weak. Easier still is it to build large churches and draw in thousands of people with fancy music and slick teaching – and forget the gospel altogether. How quickly man is able to erect an edifice to self-help and easy believism – where lives are touched every week, and people are fired up about God’s love for every man…and no one is every saved.

This is what it means to not have your “works complete in the sight of my God.”

When something is not complete, it’s missing something. It’s lacking something – and that something here seems to be a rather big deal, wouldn’t you say?

Enough of a big deal is this missing component, that Jesus calls them out for being “dead.” You have a reputation for being alive, but guys, “you’re dead.” Like I said, at the very worst they are unsaved people preaching a false gospel, and at the very least they’re doing works in their own flesh without giving glory to God, or relying on His wisdom and His power.

Which leads to the following…

1:3 Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. [4] Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.

Now, I happen to think this message is really a lot more harsh than simply those walking in their own power but truly belonging to Christ. The reason is that here Jesus says that he has a remnant left in this church. “A few names” who have not “soiled their garments” and it is those people who will “walk with (Jesus) in white, for they are worthy.”

Let’s put two and two together here. If we know our NT doctrine, we know that our worthiness comes from Christ and Christ alone. Therefore those who are worthy, those who are going to walk with Jesus in white, are those who have been cleansed by the blood of the lamb – those for whom Jesus died.

John describes this group later in chapter six:

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)

And then again in chapter seven:

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” [14] I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Revelation 7:13-14)

In chapter 7 this is talking in the immediately context of the 144,000. And its no coincidence that the images are all the same. Because all who walk with Christ in white are His elect – those who have been born again. The 144,000 group is something we’ll study later, but I believe it speaks of the church – or more precisely, all the elect of God throughout all history. Those who have had their garments cleansed by the blood of Jesus and now walk in white.

Beale notes that putting on this white garment probably starts now, “The reward probably begins in this life, because (i) verse 4 pictures the faithful already wearing pure garments; (ii) Christ exhorts the saints in 3:18 to buy white garments; and (iii) 16:15 refers to those who keep their garments in order not to be naked.”[iv]

Putting this altogether now, Jesus is saying there is still a remnant within your church that are actually mine. There is still a small group of true believers. Your organization has been built up in the community as having this great reputation, but I know you, says Jesus, I know you’re really dead.

Then Jesus does what no one seems to want to do today – He calls on them to repent.

In the famous movie Lawrence of Arabia, Prince Faisal tells T.E. Lawrence how much he longs for Damascus and its beauty. The dialogue goes like this:

Feisal: In the Arab city of Cordova, there were two miles of public lighting in the streets when London was a village…

Lawrence: Yes, you were great.

Feisal: …nine centuries ago…

Lawrence: Time to be great again, my Lord.

Feisal: …which is why my father made this war upon the Turks. My father, Mr. Lawrence, not the English. Now my father is old. And I, I long for the vanished gardens of Cordova. However, before the gardens must come fighting.

“Before the gardens must come the fighting.” And that is what I’m getting at here. Before inheriting glory, we must repent and obey. We must meet God on His terms, not build religious edifices on our terms. We do not get to dictate how the church will look, for the church is Christ’s bride, and she will be fashioned as He wills – not how we will. For we are the clay. The clay does not successfully and independently build a church apart from the work of the Potter.

3:5-6 The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. [6] He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

Here is perhaps the death knell to all those who say salvation can be lost. To my Nazarene friends listen to the words of Jesus: I will never blot his name out of the book of life.

But – they protest – this is done by conquering! We must conquer. And that means that if one is sinning, or falling prey to the weakness of the flesh, they are not conquering but losing their salvation. Such is the reply from my Arminian friends.

And what is the reply? The Bible gives it three-fold: 1. The Christ is actually strongest in our weakness, therefore He allows sin and trials in order that His power be magnified, 2. (which is closely related to 1) Christ gives us the Holy Spirit in order to have the ability and freedom not to sin. This is only true of believers. And 3. The Bible clearly states that those whose names were written in the book of life have been so from before time began – and it is a doctrine seen throughout the entirety of Scripture.

  1. Christ who is the one with the actual power to conquer. We are simply his instruments. In fact, it is in our greatest weakness that He is strongest, for as Paul says:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. [8] Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. [9] But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. [10] For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

In other words, the one who conquers does so while leaning on the Lord for His power and His grace.

  1. Furthermore, in an ultimate sense, conquering is also a finished work for those who are in Christ Jesus. Therefore not only has the ultimate battle been won already, the power to conquer sin in this life has been given to us because we have been freed from the chains of sin. Sin is no longer our master – we can conquer now where we didn’t even want to conquer before.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. [6] We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. [7] For one who has died has been set free from sin. [8] Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. [9] We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. [10] For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. [11] So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:5-11)

  1. Lastly, believer’s names have been written in the book of life from before the foundation of the world, and this is the testimony across scripture.

Later in Revelation we read this:

Speaking of the great evil Beast, John writes, “and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:8).

And in chapter 17…

The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come. (Revelation 17:8)

The foundation for these passages comes from Daniel:

“As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. [10] A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. (Daniel 7:9-10)

And…

“At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. [2] And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. [3] And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. (Daniel 12:1-3)

Therefore God has chosen whom He will save from before the foundation of the world.

Nor is this a doctrine unique to prophetic or apocalyptic literature. For those whose faith is in God will never be put to shame, they will be with Him for eternity. Consider the following passages:

Kings shall be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers. With their faces to the ground they shall bow down to you, and lick the dust of your feet. Then you will know that I am the LORD; those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.” (Isaiah 49:23)

And as he is describing the new covenant people who will be filled with the Spirit, Joel says this:

“You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. [27] You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame. (Joel 2:26-27)

Paul then takes these passages and says this:

For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. [11] For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” [12] For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. [13] For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:10-13 ESV)

And all those who are saved will never be separated from the Lord:

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.” (Romans 8:35-36 ESV)

And then – get this!! – he concludes…

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. (Romans 8:37-39)

Thus it has always been that those who conquer do so in the power of Jesus, because of their mystical union to Jesus, and will be preserved by Jesus to walk with Him in white forevermore.

 

FOOTNOTES

[i] From the Wikipedia Article on Cyrus the Great, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyrus_the_Great, Accessed February 20, 2015.

[ii] Ramsay, Pg.’s 359, 361.

[iii] Hendriksen, Pg. 73. He really leans heavily on Ramsay (as do so many commentators looking at the ancient geographic and cultural landscape), but I quote him here because he does a good job of summing up the thought, whereas Ramsay devotes two lengthy chapters to each city/letter which are somewhat difficult to distill at times.

[iv] Beale, Shorter Commentary, Pg. 80.

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Introduction (and Prologue) to Revelation: Part 6

Below are my notes from yesterday’s teaching in Revelation. These notes include not only the end of my introduction to the book, but also some comments on the first three verses of the book (The prologue).  Enjoy!

PJ

The Outline

I believe that in order to put this book together and understand the flow of this book, there are some things we need to take into consideration regarding the outline of the book.

Different people from different schools of thought have strong opinions about the flow of this book. Johnson divides the book into three[i] major sections:

  1. The Prologue 1:1-8
  2. The Body 1:9-22:9
  3. The Epilogue 22:6-21

John MacArthur[ii], a dispensationalist, outlines the book like this:

  1. The Things which You Have Seen (1:1–20)
  2. The Prologue (1:1–8)
  3. The Vision of the Glorified Christ (1:9–18)
  4. The Apostle’s Commission to Write (1:19, 20)
  5. The Things which Are (2:1–3:22)
  6. The Letter to the Church at Ephesus (2:1–7)
  7. The Letter to the Church at Smyrna (2:8–11)
  8. The Letter to the Church at Pergamos (2:12–17)
  9. The Letter to the Church at Thyatira (2:18–29)
  10. The Letter to the Church at Sardis (3:1–6)
  11. The Letter to the Church at Philadelphia (3:7–13)
  12. The Letter to the Church at Laodicea (3:14–22)

III. The Things which Will Take Place after This (4:1–22:21)

  1. Worship in Heaven (4:1–5:14)
  2. The Great Tribulation (6:1–18:24) This is the majority of the book!
  3. The Return of the King (19:1–21)
  4. The Millennium (20:1–10)
  5. The Great White Throne Judgment (20:11–15)
  6. The Eternal State (21:1–22:21)

MacArthur sees the book as a continuous/progressive chronological outline of the things that are to come. Men like Baptist scholar Jim Hamilton, who are not dispensationalists, also read the book chronologically to some degree.

What is most distinctive about MacArthur’s schema is the fact that so much of the book is set in the future. I think that there are serious issues with this, not the least of which is the fact that if most of the book is set in the future then how would this have meant anything at all to John’s original audience? They were undergoing tremendous persecution, and if all these tribulations are all supposed to be in the future (and we’ll throw in a pre-trib rapture, of course), that’s the equivalent of John saying, “hey I know you’re suffering now, but your great hope is that one day there will be a lot more suffering, and you won’t have to be around for that!” That’s exactly what the message of the pre-trib premil crowd boils down to for us today as well – its only when you actually write it out in its boiled down essence that it begins to sounds illogical.

However, others like Tom Schreiner, William Hedriksen, Voddie Baucham and G.K. Beale (to name a few) see the book as a series of angles looking at the same scene – the time between Christ’s first advent and second advent. This is called “recapitulation”, and can be broken up in a number of ways, generally showing the same scenes in ever increasing drama. They see the bowls, seals, and trumpet judgments as simply different ways to describe the tribulation on earth between Christ’s coming again.

Baucham’s rough outline[iii] is derived from Derek Thomas and goes something like this: 

  1. 1-3 – the introduction, letters to 7 churches
  2. 4-5 – the throne room, the sovereignty of God proclaimed
  3. 6-7 – the seals – judgments which represents issues common to every age
  4. 8-11 – the unfolding trumpets, final which sounds the coming of Christ. These run parallel to the seals judgments.
  5. 12-14 – the scene changes completely and doesn’t flow with continuity from previous chapters. The story is told again from a new vantage point. God is victorious over his enemies.
  6. 15-16 – the Bowl Judgments, Babylon is destroyed (was destroyed in Ch. 14, this retells it from new angle)
  7. 17-19 – The destruction of Babylon the beast and false prophet
  8. 20-22 – God deals with the dragon, new heavens and new earth and eternal fellowship with God enjoyed.

One thing that I’d like to note is that Hendriksen combines sections 2 and 3 and says that chapters 4-7 form one unit. I don’t think one needs to necessarily hold to one or the other very tightly. Baucham, for instance, also posted Hendriksen’s view and outline on his own church website, so I think they pretty much agree on the divisions here for the most part. I appreciate that where there are disagreements on the divisions they aren’t disagreements as to the approach of the book as a series of visions or perspectives, but rather they are disagreements about when one vision ends or how we ought to categorize these visions. This is something we’ll look at closely as we go along in our study because the text will present us with forks in the road that we’ll need to address.

Under the recapitulation view, the tribulation encompasses the entire time between the first and second advent of Christ. Whereas the premillennial view (either one) views these great tribulations as happening during a compressed period of time – 7 literal years – prior to Christ’s 2nd advent, and therefore label this as one long event with the proper name ‘The Tribulation’.

It seems that in order to study the book in a cohesive way one must at least take a viewpoint on how these things should be understood/viewed, otherwise it would be very difficult to understand the big picture of this book.

I will be teaching from the recapitulation perspective that the tribulation passages are meant to describe the trials Christians (and others) will endure between the advents of Christ, thus taking the 7 years to mean the fullness of this interadvental time, and not a future 7 year period of time.

This also means that the judgment scenes and some of the heavenly throne scenes (for example), as giving us different perspectives, or camera angles, on the events that will take place between the advents of our Lord. Each section is not comprehensive of every event of this age – some focus on one thing to the exclusion of another, though the parallels remain constant. Hendricksen also notes that as we get toward the end of the book the judgment scenes continually increase in intensity. So this is the view I think it makes the most sense, and offers the clearest explanation of what we’re looking at, and the way we’ll be moving forward in our study of the book.

Now, some more info on the recapitulation perspective…One thing to note, and that is that Hendriksen’s chapter divisions (mentioned above) are not precise. Beale actually does a little better job showing the nuances in the recapitulation in his work (note especially page 131 of his commentary if you’re interested in checking that out in detail), and he seems to think that a man named Farrer has the most cogent breakdown – this is a bit more precise than the Henriksen one: 1-3, 4-7, 8:1-11:14, 11:15-14:20, 15-18, 19-22.[iv]

It should also be noted that 1. Within these sections there are subsections and sub-points that the author makes, and that 2. There are wider ways to classify the book as a whole (as I did just a bit earlier).

There are MANY nuances to these breakdowns, but the general 7-8 recapitulation divisions seems to hold pretty true across spectrum of theologians of this mindset who are not strict futurists.

The next thing to know about the recapitulation perspective is that it is found in much of the OT prophetic literature from which Revelation draws much of its imagery (much of which is in chiastic form).[v] Daniel, Beale points out, has a structure of “five synonymously parallel visions (chps. 2, 7, 8, 9, 10-12)” and “may be the most influential on the structure of Revelation, since Daniel is used so much in the book and is used to signal the broad structural divisions of the Apocalypse.”

Later in his writing Beale puts numbers to ideas (mostly based on the influence of Daniel, which I mentioned earlier): 1:1-18; 1:19-3:22; 4:1-22:5; 22:6-21. This is a broader structure which can be broken down further, but the point is that 4-22:5 really form an overarching idea – not that they are in the future, but that these visions of judgment and destruction are sequential and similar in form and also “bracketed by the overarching vision of God the Creator and Redeemer.”[vi]

Beale leans on the obvious Daniel allusions and the natural literary breakdown of the book, and has himself settled on a recapitulation view:

If it can be concluded that these Daniel 2 allusions are intentional and draw with them the contextual idea of Daniel 2, then there is a basis for proposing that this provides a significant framework of thought for the whole Apocalypse, that is, end-time judgment of cosmic evil and consequent establishment of the eternal kingdom. As has been seen, this is an inaugurated latter-day thought pervading the visions as well as the letters, which means that the visions should not be understood in an exclusively futuristic manner, but as also including significant sections pertaining to the eschatological past and present. This conclusion is most compatible with a recapitulation view, according to which repeated sections that concern past, present, and future occur throughout the book.[vii]

And, on a more advanced note…if you want to study even further, Beale notes that he and others definitely see the possibility for some chiastic structure in the literary makeup of Revelation. At the center of the structure seems to be 11:19-14:20. Also interestingly, each of the judgment scenes, whether it’s the seals, the trumpets, the bowls or the final judgment of the world (19:11-21:8) there are always three components: prelude, vision, and interlude. These three things repeat over and over again.

Chapter One

Chapter one finds us with John the Apostle on the island of Patmos, in exile “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (vs.9). He opens his letter explaining where his message comes from its in this prologue where we’ll begin our verse by verse exposition.

The first three verses have been called the “prologue” and the “introduction” and Beale says that they indicated that “the apocalypse was revealed for the purpose of witness, which results in blessing” and that “The main emphasis here is the blessing obtained from reading the book and hearing it read.”[viii]

1:1-2 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, [2] who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.

Here we see the transmission of the message that we’ll be studying. First and foremost it is called “the revelation” of Jesus Christ. This is Jesus’ message, not the invention of John or any other man. Secondly, it is given him by God – presumably the Father and head of the Trinitarian Godhead. Thirdly it is sent via “his angel” and this angel could be the messenger we read about later and this angel communicates it to John. It seems to be a four-step process of communication.

Now there are some significant things to note about the words John uses here in the opening graph of his letter.

First, and most obvious, this word “revelation” or “apocalypse” gets at the heart of the book, and that’s likely why the church has called this John’s Apocalypse from pretty much the beginning of the church onward. “Apocalypse” means to lay bare, it is a disclosure of the truth and a revealing of things previously unknown.[ix]

Another set of important words are those which say “He sent and communicated it (NASB)” or as in the ESV, “He made it known by sending.” The three words “and communicated it” are just one in the Greek sēmainō (pronounced say-my-no) which means “signified” or “to give a sign” or “to indicate.” This original meaning of the word carries with it prophetic/apocalyptic overtones and perhaps signals to us the kind of communication we’ll be getting here.

Apart from the words themselves, Beale sees real importance in the structure of John’s opening. Namely, it looks a whole lot like Daniel’s introduction of the revelation he was given by God to communicate to King Nebuchadnezzar in the second chapter of Daniel. A portion of that passage goes like this:

Daniel answered the king and said, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, [28] but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days. Your dream and the visions of your head as you lay in bed are these: [29] To you, O king, as you lay in bed came thoughts of what would be after this, and he who reveals mysteries made known to you what is to be. [30] But as for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because of any wisdom that I have more than all the living, but in order that the interpretation may be made known to the king, and that you may know the thoughts of your mind. (Daniel 2:27-30)

Daniel then goes on to describe the great image of a god/idol that is separated into several kinds of metal and representative of different kingdoms of man.

The most important part is that verse 28 I think. You see how se says, “there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries” and “he had made known”, and it is these phrases that lead scholars like Beale to see clear allusions to Daniel’s literary structure in Revelation 1:1-3 (and other parts as well).

This allusion to Daniel is important because it reveals John’s thought process about how what he has seen fits into the fulfillment timeframe of Daniel. John is trying to tell us that he is picking up where Daniel left off – this revelation is about disclosing in more detail something that formerly had been predicted, but now more details are here for us to understand.

I’m noting this now because we need to put ourselves in John’s shoes here and try to understand John’s own understanding of the context of what he saw. His literary/prophetic context was the OT prophecies. So when he is using phrasing like Daniel, it is likely because he’s saying “I’m picking up where Daniel left off.”

This helps us understand several things. For example, John says that, “God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place” and then says in verse three, “for the time is near.” Understanding John’s own perspective helps us understand what he means by this, and Beale has a great insight into this that is worth quoting in full:

Rev. 1:1 especially should be seen as introducing the main idea of the book, and it is, indeed, understood by many as the title of the whole work. Therefore, if John understands this Danielic allusion in 1:1 in the light of the eschatological context of Daniel 2, then he may be asserting that he conceives of what follows in his book ultimately within the thematic framework of Daniel 2 (and probably its parallel apocalyptic chapters) or at least as closely linked to that framework. The focus of “quickness” and “nearness” in vv 1-3 is primarily on inauguration of prophetic fulfillment and its ongoing aspect, not on nearness of consummated fulfillment, though the latter is secondarily in mind as leading from the former.

Indeed, what follows shows that the beginning of fulfillment and not final fulfillment is the focus. The references to the imminent eschatological period (v 3b), the fact of Christ’s present kingship over the worlds kings (v 5), the initial form of the saints’ kingdom (vv 6, 9), and the following “Son of man” reference (1:7) and vision (vv 13-15), also indicating initial fulfillment of Daniel 7, point strongly to this focus and to the presence of a Danielic frame of reference [x]

This is important for us to understand and really digest. John is saying that these things are upon him – they are not something that will happen in the distant future.

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

I love verse three because it is so very John-like. John has told us that beholding the Word incarnate changed the lives of the disciples. He has told us that when we see Him in the flesh one day, we will be like Him. The reason John gives for this is that “we will see Him as He is.” John Piper and Jonathan Edwards seem to think this has to do with our soul seeing His soul, that somehow we will grasp all of who He is spiritually and that will bring us into total understanding and conformity to who we ought to be (who we were made to be!).

A similar sentiment is uttered here. John says that those who read the words of this book will be blessed and also those who hear it. Surely this is true of all the saints for all time. For every Christian you find that reads the Word of God, you will also find a Christian who is or has been blessed by that reading. It is the Word that changes us (Hebrews 4 and 2 Corinthians 3:18 attest to this) and that change is a blessing from God. To be changed into the image of God is the greatest blessing one can comprehend. God changing our minds and hearts and bringing us into an understanding of who He is, and who we are, and what He wants with us – can you imagine a greater privilege or blessing?

And of course, as we mentioned earlier, the verse ends with the phrase “the time is near.” This indicates that these sayings, these warnings, these truths are upon the apostle. He believes that they are near, they are soon, they are going to be relevant in the very immediate future or present. Of course our minds automatically go to the conclusion that whatever we read next (the rest of the book) must have a great amount of finality, or consummation. But I think there is no great call for holding onto that supposition. John is not saying that the time is “near” for the fulfillment of all things, rather the time is near that we will be seeing and experiencing all the things that are in this book that he’s writing. This makes the book eminently relevant to the early church that he’s writing to, as well as to us today.

Conclusion to the Prologue

The thing that stood out to me most in this prelude to the book of Revelation is the fact that God reveals Himself progressively. He is truly the Lord of history. Abraham didn’t know who would come from his lineage to fulfill the promises God had given him. David didn’t realize that the everlasting kingdom God gave him would be fulfilled in God’s own Son. Noah didn’t realize that his ark symbolized the fortress of freedom that God would one day embody in the personage of Jesus who alone is our raft to safety from the shoals of sin and death. Nor did Daniel know that the eternal kingdom and the Son of man whom he foresaw would be ushered in by a King who would rule all kings, a Lord that would reign over all lords, an eternal God inaugurating an eternal kingdom.

In Revelation we are given a glimpse into the trials and tribulations that we’ll face in this world. We see their nature, their genesis, and the pain they will bring the saints of God. We see the cost of following Jesus. But we also see the triumph of the Lamb and the amazing power He wrought on that dead tree 2,000 years ago. We see that when He triumphed over the grave, He arose and took up His rightful place at the Father’s right hand. The consequences of this for us are simply amazing. This book recounts not only the reality of our trials here on earth, but of the blessings we have in the triumph of Jesus, the Firstborn among many brethren (Romans 8).

Footnotes 

[i] Johnson, pg. 26

[ii] From his commentary (Volume I) on the Book of Revelation, pg. 11.

[iii] From Voddie Baucham sermon May 27, 2012, www.gracefamilybaptist.net. Sometimes you will find that an associate pastor preaches here in his stead, but both hold the same perspective.

[iv] Beale, Pg. 112.

[v] Beale, Pg. 135.

[vi] Beale, Pg. 140.

[vii] Beale, Pg. 141.

[viii] Beale, Pg. 145.

[ix] See the blue letter bible online and the Strong’s concordance: http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G602&t=NASB

 

[x] Beale, Pg. 182.

The Joy of Decreasing for the Fame of His Name

Here are some rough notes from a sermon I preached yesterday on John 3:25-36.  I hope you find them edifying!

John 3:25-36

The Joy of Decreasing for the Fame of His Name

 

Outline

  • Introduction
  • The context
  • The Joy of Decreasing
  • The Preeminence of Christ in All things
  • Conclusion

Introduction

I want us all to come away with the realization that as Christians we ought to be continually “decreasing” in order that the fame of Jesus might “increase.” There are by-products of this, and one of them is that we will realize great joy.

The imperative to decrease is fueled by the fact that we, as the bride of Christ, have a bridegroom who is worthy of our devotion, obedience and love.

Read with me the words of John as inspired by the Holy Spirit

The Context

3:25-26 Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. [26] And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.”

So John had this great ministry going here across the Jordan. He was attracting a lot of followers and many of these men began to get concerned when the crowds died down. Soon they learn that they’re not showing up in more because they’re more interested in what Jesus has to say, so they’re following Jesus instead of John.

So John’s disciples are saying, in affect, “Houston we have a problem!”

Oddly enough, we’re presented with the issue in an odd context. The Apostle says that the disciples of John were arguing about purification, and then in verse 26 they seem to move on to a discussion on the ministry of Christ and how people seem to be leaving John’s ministry and going to Jesus’ ministry. So this sort of leaves you scratching your head because you might wonder, “What in the world does purification have to do with anything? And why didn’t they finish talking about the discussion over purification?” It just seems like an odd piece of information to stick in there all by itself.

In order to understand the context, we need to understand what these men were talking about. What is the connection between their discussion of purification and their anxiety over the flourishing of Jesus’ ministry?

I think John Piper is on the right track when he says that perhaps there was a confusion over whether or not John’s baptism was “working” since all these people were getting baptized and then going over to Jesus’ ministry. You have a purification issue John! Or so they seemed to be saying…[i]

You see what was going on here is that people were finding in Jesus the words of life. They were finding peace. The man who would be washing souls for all eternity was attracting a bigger crowd than John.

This man would later say, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see” (Rev. 3:18).

John doesn’t answer the purification issue directly but rather indirectly, by saying that the bride of Christ will be purified by the bridegroom who is the perfect and spotless sacrificial lamb. The marriage picture is the same – we die for our wives, we love them, we sanctify them by washing them in the Word.

John is going to point them to the fact that it is the bridegroom who purifies the bride – and there is cleansing found in no other avenue.

This is the context for John’s answer…

The Joy of Decreasing

3:27-29 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. [28] You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ [29] The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.

John begins answering them in verse 27 with a rebuke – he’s basically saying, “nothing that is happening now would be happening if it were not in God’s will and if He had not ordained it to be happening.”

It sounds similar to what James says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).

Note “who stands and hears him” is significant. This is the voice of the Lord. This is the life-giving power of God in audible form. This is the voice that called out “Lazarus!” from the tomb. This is the voice that John had been waiting for!

“No body would be going to Jesus if heaven weren’t giving them to Jesus” Piper says.

Look at how incredibly happy John is that Christ is the one who is getting the glory; it causes him to “rejoice greatly.” Let’s not miss this. He is so happy because his ministry is coming to a close, and that means that Christ’s ministry is about to bloom. Not only is he rejoicing but also his joy is “complete.” John finds his ultimate purpose in his exaltation of Christ. This is what makes him ultimately happy, ultimately joyful.

So this is the key point here: John’s purpose and joy in life now and in the hereafter is inextricably tethered to the fame of Christ’s name.

3:30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”

What an amazing statement. Can you say and can I say truly, “He must increase, while I, PJ, must decrease.” It is this decreasing that which is the mechanism that brings him joy.

But what does it mean to “decrease”? I believe it means to value and treasure Jesus’ reputation (fame) and glory over and above our own fame and glory.

John Piper paraphrases John’s statement this way, “When Jesus becomes more in the world and I become less in the world, my joy goes up.” Piper continues by saying that John’s response is “a joyful response to God’s sovereign self-exaltation.”

You see, for John the Baptist, his joy increased as Jesus’ ministry increased. His spiritual joy increased as his own worldly fame and ministry decreased. The more his ministry magnified Jesus, the more joy he was going to have. This is because his identity and happiness was not determined by his own fame and success, but was indivisibly indissolubly bound to Jesus.

In order to give this truth life, John uses the picture of the bride and his bridegroom. The bridegroom was coming – and what could be better for the bride!

I am reminded of Charles Wesley’s famous hymn ‘Come Thou Long Expected Jesus’ because it echoes John’s heart. There is a line in that hymn which calls Jesus the “Dear Desire of every nation” and the “Joy of every longing heart.” That’s what He was for John.

Christian, it is God who who kindles these desires and thoughts of the heart within us. It is a desire inhering within all who have been born of the Spirit and joined to the body of Christ.

Paul expresses it this way:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

Therefore our joy is realized now by nature of the hope we have for the future.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 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!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 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. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:14-18)

Therefore it is the Spirit living in us who testifies to us that we are 1. United to Christ and 2. Have a great hope for the future as heirs of the kingdom of God. And this is what brings us great joy!

Christ Himself understood this joy – that is why He was able to endure the cross and the shame. As Hebrews 12:2 says, “…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame…”

Making Christ Central – He is Supremely Valuable

So how do we find real joy – and I mean real happy, thrilled, hair-raising all-satisfying joy – in Christ the way that John is describing here? I would argue that in order for us to find real joy, life-transforming joy in Christ, we must learn to value Christ above all other things. John understood the real value of Christ, and so he eagerly looked for Him and was thrilled that he could “decrease.”

The thinking goes something like this according to Christ, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44).

For John, everything he had, his entire life was wrapped up in this ministry and now it was leaving him, and what was his response? He was thrilled! Why? Because he had already sold everything, he didn’t want or need followers, he wanted and needed Christ. Christ was the object of supreme value to him. He had found his treasure.[ii]

The Preeminence of Jesus

In light of the Baptist’s statement, we are right to examine what the apostle says about this man he wants to see “increase.” There’s a reason these verses immediately follow the Baptist’s statement.

The Apostle wants us to know that what flowed from John’s mouth was a result of his evaluation of Jesus – his soul comprehended that this teacher was no mere man – He was the supreme ruler of the universe.

John’s words were regulated by his soul’s comprehension of the majesty and authority of Jesus.

We must not miss this. Jesus is the one and only absolute authority in heaven and on earth. His ministry is one of singular supremacy – He reigns over all.

If you are a sinner, lost without Christ, this is a terrifying truth. If you are a Christian, held closely to the bosom of Christ, this is a magnificent truth, it is a beautiful truth – for He is your sovereign. Indeed He is sovereign over all even if those who don’t recognize His reign.

As Abraham Kuyper once famously said, “Oh, no single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”

Here are 5 ways in which John comprehended the supremacy of Christ…

3:31 He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all.

First: Christ had a Heavenly Origin[iii]

His claim to be divine is at the core of His supremacy. Jesus’ words have a force behind them that ordinary men’s words do not have.

Saying Jesus is “from heaven” and contrasting his origin with those who are from the earth is simply another way of proclaiming His deity. This man is – by His nature – is above all.

This really gets at the nucleus of our religion and why we worship, praise, and trust Jesus. We believe that Jesus was not a normal man.[iv] John’s disciples had not yet come to this realization. John is not simply commending them to a better teacher, he’s not just being humble, he’s saying that he MUST decrease – what else can one do before the King of kings?

3:32 He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony.

Second: Christ Knew the Truth First Hand

Being divine, and having come from heaven, He would have heard the Father’s words first hand. Being both God and man, He understood the will of God for mankind perfectly. He was able to testify to God’s words with perfect accuracy because He was in the presence of God, but also because He was/is God!

Imaging Christ “hearing” testimony of the Father in the midst of a holy Trinitarian conversation in heaven is hard to picture mentally. Our finite minds cannot exactly know how they communicate with one another. These are the kinds of things that men cannot know; they are mysteries far too deep for us to plum.

But being the great Teacher/Rabbi, Jesus spoke in ways that we can comprehend the major concept up to a point where our mental acuity runs out of road.

It was not because of the depth of the truths that men did not receive His testimony, however. Despite His gracious condescension and amazing communication ability, many still did not accept what He had to say and this was because of their sin:

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)

3:33 Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true.

Third: Christ’s Testimony Always Agreed with God

What John is saying here is that once we agree (“set our seal to” the fact) that God is the very essence of truth, we necessarily have a basis for putting our trust in the testimony of His Son.

If we agree that God is the very embodiment and essence of truth, and we believe that Jesus is His Son, then we should believe everything Jesus says.

In His High Priestly Prayer, Jesus says…

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3)

The inverse reality is that if you do not receive the testimony of Jesus, you are by implication calling God a liar:

Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. (1 John 5:10)

Therefore you either believe His message, or you believe He is a liar. There is no middle ground.

3:34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.

Fourth: Christ Experienced the Power of the Holy Spirit Without Limit

As James Boice points out, some have erroneously thought this passage means that God gives the Spirit to believers without measure, but that is obviously not the case as our own experience bears witness. A few quick reasons of explanation should suffice:

  • It is also preposterous to think that mere humans without the nature of divinity (as Christ had) could possible contain the fullness of the Spirit.
  • If we did have the Spirit without limit, we would see miracle after miracle.
  • Lastly, it’s our experience that in our sinfulness we often live lives not characterized as Spirit-filled. We do not tap into the power of the Spirit nearly as much as one would expect who had the full and unlimited power of the Spirit “without measure.”

This is therefore referring to our Lord, who was divine and given an unlimited power of the Spirit during His time on earth.

John is specifically relating the “words” of Jesus to His having the Spirit without measure. Not only is this the divine God-man, He is full of the Holy Spirit – to such a degree that every word He spoke was not only verifiable in their veracity, but because they passed over His lips were actually the very definition of truth. His words were true, had the power to heal bodies, cast out demons, calm storms, create food ex-nihilo, and forgive the sins of man.

In the greatly “increasing” ministry of Christ, every word spoken was drenched in the righteous truth of the Spirit.

3:35-36 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. [36] Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

Fifth: Christ received all Authority from the Father

If Jesus is divine, as we have reasoned from above, then it means that everything He has to say is something we need to be paying attention to. He has all authority.

By way of analogy, when I was a child I think its safe to say that I tested the bounds of authority! One way in which I did this was that from time to time I would ask my one parent for permission to do something, and if they said “no”, I would promptly go and ask the other parent for permission in the hopes of winning the old “divide and conquer” game!

Now, unfortunately what normally happened was that when the parents conferenced with each other my plot would be discovered, and I would be punished. My parents formed a united front. Anything my mom said my dad agreed upon and vise versa. They had the same mind, and there was no disunity between them. I came to learn this quickly!

So it is with the authority of Christ – and so it ought to be with us by way of extension. That is to say that because we are co-regents with Christ, have the mind of Christ, and have the Spirit of Christ, we act on authority not intrinsically inhering within our natural state. Rather our authority is from Jesus. We preach, teach, serve, and love others by the authority and power of Jesus.

John Piper says, “These are breathtaking words. God sent Jesus. Jesus speaks the very words of God. God gives him the Spirit immeasurably—and always has. The Father loves him. The Father has given all things into his hand. So Jesus is the God-sent, God-loved, God-speaking, Spirit-permeated, all-authoritative ruler of all things.”

Finally, in verse 36 we’re informed of the stakes – and they are high…John tells us that whoever believes these things about Christ will reap eternal life.

The word “remains” indicates that the de-facto state of affairs for humanity is to be under the sentence of God’s wrath. Only until that wrath is mediated are we safe.

Do not make the mistake of elevating any other man or ministry above the supreme Son of God. You have no other means by which you can pacify God’s wrath. John is saying that the Son has such authority that only belief in Him and His word will save you from everlasting condemnation.

In Conclusion

You may have heard military leaders talk about “proportional response” – it is a phrase that carries a somewhat subjective sense of justice, but the idea is that when attacked or provoked by an enemy, the response ought to be “proportional” to that attack. That is the moral guidance Generals in the Army or Air Force use with political leader to make judgments about the appropriateness of their counterattacks during a war.

However, human relationships with God are marked by disproportionality. God has lavished upon us what we cannot – even if we wished – repay with good behavior.

The most appropriate response in light of His work in our lives is to decrease. For John, the greater the fame of Jesus, the greater his own joy. John’s example is that of a man whose identity in life is intrinsically tied to the greatness of Jesus.

What is Jesus’ by right is John’s (and ours) by association.

John shows us how foolish it is to compare oneself or hold one’s self up in competition to Jesus. This man is above all! And to drive home the point, he gives us little glimpses into who this Bridegroom is.

  1. If you object, then understand this – this Jesus is the One who holds all things in his hand. This isn’t another teacher. This is the one who holds eternal a life in his hands (vs 36). Bristling under the weighty thought of surrender to His Lordship invites a realization of wrath. Rejecting Jesus is rejecting life; embracing Jesus is to invite eternal life and joy. There are no other scenarios in which joy can be truly realized.
  2. If you are a Christian, that means you are part of “the bride of Christ.” The bride’s joy is unalterably connected with the bridegroom, who is Christ. The more we diminish as we magnify His name, the more joy and satisfaction we will have.

I believe we can find true joy in life now and in the hereafter as we decrease, and He increases. We have a supreme Lord who is worthy of our obedient devotion. He is preeminent in ALL things. He is the creator of all things. He is the sustainer of all things, and He chooses whom He will save by His own power, for His own pleasure, and unto His own glory.

Praise God that we are united to such a benevolent Bridegroom!

Let us close in a prayer of adoration for who He is…

Endnotes

[i] Piper says that there are parallels between this and what John writes in Rev. 21:9 which says in the latter part of the verse (an angel speaking to John), “‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’” The church will experience the purification work of the perfect Lamb. Piper also cites Ephesians 5:25-27 which says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

[ii] There are some really practical applications here. You may have found Jesus but may not be recognizing the fact that He is the only thing that truly valuable to you. Oh sure, intellectually you understand that because it’s in the Bible that Jesus is good, and because He saved you and you’re a Christian and so on. But is your life designed and structured around the fact that Jesus is THE most valuable thing in your life. Have you sold off everything that gets between you and Christ? Have do done everything to grasp that pearl of great price? Or are you still reaching for the world’s brass ring? When we internalize this truth and apply His supreme value to every aspect of our lives, we realize very quickly that we are idolatrous people. We have lost our first love (Rev. 2:4).

Christ’s value in our lives is brought home to us by the remembrance of His suffering and of His victory over the grave. I hope that we let these truths change us so that when we encounter people fleeing us, and life’s pleasantries falling away, we can still say with John, “this joy of mine is now complete!”

[iii] It was John MacArthur’s own notes that convinced me that these final verses in chapter three scream loudly of the preeminence of Christ. Therefore I used Dr. MacArthur’s subheadings with my own exposition under each one.

[iv] Only an “ego-maniac” would make the claims Jesus did. And surely He would be, if He did not have the right to claim the things He did about Himself. This is something that every non-believer must be confronted with, and it’s the same question that Jesus put to Peter “who do you say I am?” Your response to that question will reveal whether or not you will spend eternal life with Christ or not. Similar claims led C.S. Lewis to famously say:

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg–or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”[iv]

John 20:1-18 The Resurrection of Jesus

John Chapter 20 – The Resurrection

20:1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.

We can’t go very far without noting a few things in this new chapter. The first is that John lets us know this is “the first day of the week.” This is Sunday. This is the day Jesus rose from the dead and that’s why even to this day, 2,000 years later, we call it “The Lord’s Day” and worship Him together on this day.

The second thing that struck me like a lightening bolt was John notation of what time it was. He doesn’t give a specific time, but he says, “while it was still dark.” For me, who is not a “morning person”, this astounds me. It takes a lot to get up that early in the morning.

I don’t know whether Mary was a “morning person” or a “night owl”, but I do know that she was drawn to this place with a intensity that wakes you up at 4am and says “get your shoes on, you’re going to the tomb.” That’s drive. That’s love. Mary loved Jesus.

The inevitable question surfaces (in my mind at least): do I love my Lord enough to serve Him if it means waking my exhausted body up at “o-dark-thirty” to serve him? I’d like to say “yes”, but it’s worth thinking on…

What She Saw

The third observation is what she saw, or rather what she didn’t see. She gets to the tomb and the stone which covered the tomb’s entrance has been rolled away.

Now, this would have been pretty shocking to her. It would have taken an amazing effort to have accomplished this – this was a coordinated effort. That’s probably why she tells Peter in the plural that, “they have taken the Lord.”

This shock is followed by another, the Lord’s body is gone. This must have added anger to sorrow. “Could they really have been this cruel? Can’t they just let this go? Can’t they just let us mourn Him? These people must have been sick, twisted freaks.”

I think that seeing this would have been enough to jolt me from despair into rage. It’s hard to say what Mary was feeling at the time, but its safe to say she was alarmed.

20:2-4 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” [3] So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. [4] Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.

The first thing Mary does is run to Peter who happens to be hanging out with John, the “other disciple” (John always avoids naming himself). Her breathless voice bursts out the news and immediately Peter and John take off for the tomb.

Both men are running, but John notes that he beat Peter to the tomb. I think it’s rather amusing that John had to mention this – almost to get a little dig in on Peter (“I always knew I was faster!”).

20:5-7 And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. [6] Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, [7] and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.

So John gets to the tomb but there’s no Jesus, and he doesn’t enter into the gravesite but observes the scene from outside the door. Peter has no inhibitions about going in – if something has happened to his friend he’s going to know about it and see the whole matter for himself.

John notes with interest how the cloth which had been on the Lord’s head wasn’t with the other linen but was by itself – and folded neatly by itself. This is a very curious scene to say the least!

If grave robbers stole the body of Jesus why in the world would they A) take the linen cloths off of His body and B) set the facial shroud neatly folded in a separate pile. The whole thing was just “off”…

As MacArthur states, “…grave robbers would hardly have taken time to roll up the facecloth, and in their haste they would have scattered the grave clothes all over the tomb. More likely still, they would not have removed them at all, since it would have been easier to transport the body it if were still wrapped. Nor would thieves likely have left the wrappings, containing expensive spices, behind. The presence of the grave clothes also shows that the story the Jewish leaders concocted, that the disciples stole Christ’s body (Matt. 28:11-15), is false. If they had stolen the body, why would the disciples dishonor it by tearing off the grave clothes and spices that covered it?”

And commenting on the angels Mary sees in the tomb, Carson observes that, “John’s point is that this empty tomb cannot be explained by appealing to grave robbers; this is nothing other than the invasion of God’s power.”

20:8-9 Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; [9] for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.

The Fulfillment of Scripture

When John saw all these things his mind must have been quickly sifting through all the potential scenarios: grave robbers, Jewish leadership, Romans, revolutionaries…or He rose up from death. But none of it made sense to them yet.

Yet soon they would realize the truth that the “Scripture” was fulfilled that “he must rise from the dead.”

This Scripture John is referring to comes from the lips of David:

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. [10] For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. (Psalm 16:9-10)

Later Peter would understand the meaning of these words, and in his sermon on Pentecost explains them to thousands of Jews:

…this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. [24] God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. [25] For David says concerning him, “‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; [26] therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. [27] For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. [28] You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ [29] “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. [30] Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, [31] he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. [32] This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. [33] Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. [34] For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, [35] until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ [36] Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:23-36)

John sees clear fulfillment of OT scripture – and it’s just as clear that the apostle Peter did as well. David was not speaking about himself, but rather prophesied about one to come – a “holy one” whose body would not “see corruption” or be “abandoned to Hades.” This “holy one” is the Lord Jesus who defeated death.

Note especially the quotation from Psalm 110. This was the same Psalm that Jesus used to shut up the Pharisees who had tried to trap Him in His teaching:

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, [42] saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” [43] He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, [44] “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? [45] If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” [46] And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. (Matthew 22:41-46)

They had no idea how David could have called his descendent his “Lord.” They had not understood to this point the heavenly nature of the coming messiah.

Jesus, in effect, was showing them that they didn’t understand Him because they didn’t understand the nature of the person of the messiah and his mission.

The Sign of Jonah

One might wonder why it was that the disciples weren’t putting two and two together here. Why didn’t they understand what was going on with the Lord? Was it because they had never heard of the resurrection? Had the Lord’s plans been concealed up until this point in time?

I think the answer is emphatically “no.” For our Lord had many times predicted not only His own death, but also His resurrection.

Matthew Henry is wise to point our attention to the Lord’s own words about His coming resurrection and how “this generation” would ask for a sign of His messianic qualifications and would receive no other sign but that of the “Sign of Jonah.”

Here are the words of our Lord on the matter:

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” [39] But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. [40] For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. [41] The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. [42] The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. (Matthew 12:38-42)

As if this wasn’t clear enough, Jesus also stated:

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. [32] And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. (Mark 8:31-32)

And admonishing two of His disciples after the fact, Jesus even said:

And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! [26] Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26)

So the resurrection should not have been a surprise, but I believe that in the moment it was a shock, and the disciples were stunned by the sequence of unfolding events. We have the benefit of looking back 2,000 years later and closely and slowly examining the sequence of events and the words of the Lord and the OT prophets. The disciples had no such privilege at that moment. They were so close to the event itself, that what they were witnessing seemed confusing amidst their fears and sorrow. We would have reacted the same way.

20:10-11 Then the disciples went back to their homes. [11] But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb.

Now from what John says, its apparent that the disciples didn’t fully grasp yet the significance of what they were seeing. They were completely bewildered. In fact, they just left and went back to their homes – leaving Mary at the tomb with her sorrow. They had a lot to sort out…and after all, what could they do? Their Lord was dead, and now even His body was gone.

For the first time, it seems, Mary peaks into the tomb to take a little closer look. What caused Peter and John to leave like this? What had they seen? So she takes in the view and see the linen strips and the shroud folded. Then she sees something that Peter and John didn’t…

20:12-13 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. [13] They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

It is at this moment that the story begins to turn from confusion and bewilderment to joy and restoration.

Mary beholds two angels sitting inside the tomb where Christ’s body had been laid.

Note what they say to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” It isn’t as though they don’t know the reason she’s weeping. No, no, no. It is simply this: their reality, their perspective was heavenly. They’d just come from a party in heaven and here on earth the reality of what had been accomplished had not yet been discovered.

As Carson notes, their question “is not designed to elicit information. IT is a gentle reproof: by this time Mary should not have been crying. Her response shows she has still not transcended the explanation to which she had earlier gravitated (vs.2).”

One of the things that fascinates me about the Biblical accounts of angels is their perspective.

We meet another similar such example when Gabriel visits Zachariah in the temple and tells him about how his wife Elizabeth is going to bear a child he is aghast at Zachariah’s reaction – unbelief. Here’s how he responds:

And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. [20] And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” (Luke 1:19-20)

Gabriel is saying, “I was JUST in heaven before God’s throne. He gives me this message and you don’t believe me??? I mean, I was JUST there – in heaven – in the throne room!”

Christians ought to behave different because they have a different perspective. Perspective governs our attitudes and rules our lives. These angels had a perspective that was grounded in reality – that’s why they can rightfully and astoundedly ask, “Why are you weeping???”

20:14-16 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. [15] Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” [16] Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

Geerhardus Vos captures the moment well:

He (Christ) had witnessed her coming once and again, her weeping, her bending over the womb, her answer to the angels, and had witnessed not only these outward acts, but also the inward conflict by which her soul was torn. And He appears precisely at the point where his presence is required, because all other voices for conveying to her the gladsome tidings have failed…The first person to whom He showed Himself alive after the resurrection was a weeping woman, who had no greater claim upon Him than any simple penitent sinner has. No eye except that of the angels had as yet rested upon His form. The time was as solemn and majestic as that of the first creation when light burst out of chaos and darkness. Heaven and earth were concerned in this event; it was the turning point of the ages.

Certainly Vos is certainly correct: This is a moment upon which earth’s history hinged, and it is a vital moment for those of faith as well. Our Lord has risen – He has defeated death!

The Necessity of the Resurrection

The consequence of the resurrection is not small. If there was no resurrection then we have no reason to believe anything Jesus said. The veracity of His teaching is at stake, but of course much more than that, His saving grace is non-existent if He didn’t accomplish a victory over death.

Paul understands that the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the lynchpin of our faith:

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. [15] We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. [16] For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. [17] And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. [18] Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. [19] If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:14-19)

But indeed He was raised – as Paul remarks:

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. [24] Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. [25] For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. [26] The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:20-26)

And…

And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Colossians 1:17-18)

Therefore what is at stake here is not only the veracity of His teaching and the very truth of our salvation, but also the preeminence of Jesus Himself. If He wasn’t raised from the dead, then HE isn’t truly God’s Son, and isn’t preeminent over all things, and can’t help us in our time of need, and doesn’t hear our prayers, and isn’t powerful enough to save us from death if He Himself was defeated by death.

Thank God that He did rise, and that we too will one day rise with Him.

The Gardener

Now as soon as Mary turns around she runs smack into Jesus who then asks the same question that the angels asked her. I don’t know why she “turned around.” Perhaps she was frightened by the angels and turned to go, or perhaps she sensed someone behind her and quickly wanted to see who was approaching.

Mary asks this man, the only question on her mind: where is Jesus?

She didn’t realize she was talking to Jesus! She supposed Him to be the gardener.

C.H. Spurgeon sees great, if perhaps accidental, wisdom in Mary’s mistaking Jesus for the gardener:

She was mistaken when she fell into “supposing him to be the gardener”; but if we are under his Spirit’s teaching we shall not make a mistake if now we indulge ourselves in a quiet meditation upon our ever-blessed Lord, “supposing him to be the gardener.”

It is not an unnatural supposition, surely; for if we may truly sing

“We are a garden walled around,
Chosen and made peculiar ground,”

That enclosure needs a gardener. Are we not all the plants of his right hand planting? Do we not all need watering and tending by his constant and gracious care?

The image, I say, is so far from being unnatural that it is most pregnant with suggestions and full of useful teaching. We are not going against the harmonies of nature when we are “supposing him to be the gardener.”

If we would be supported by a type, our Lord takes the name of “the Second Adam,” and the first Adam was a gardener. Moses tells us that the Lord God placed the man in the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. Man in his best estate was not to live in this world in a paradise of indolent luxury, but in a garden of recompensed toil. Behold, the church is Christ’s Eden, watered by the river of life, and so fertilized that all manner of fruits are brought forth unto God; and he, our second Adam, walks in this spiritual Eden to dress it and to keep it; and so by a type we see that we are right in “supposing him to be the gardener.”

Spurgeon sees a rich typology in this passage. Jesus is indeed our great Gardener!

I love the thought that Jesus, the Supreme Gardener, appears at this time to what might be regarded as the weakest and feeblest of the plants in His garden. This ought to give us great hope and joy. For He delights in taking weak dying sinners and bathing them in the nutrition imparting light of His gospel.

There is great hope and comfort in this passage my friends – and it ought to spur us on to great effect. Listen to Spurgeon and let your hearts agree with his:

One more duty I would mention, though others suggest themselves. “Supposing him to be the gardener,” then let us bring forth fruit to him. I do not address a people this morning who feel no care as to whether they serve God or not. I believe that most of you do desire to glorify God; for being saved by grace, you feel a holy ambition to show forth his praises who has called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. You wish to bring others to Christ, because you yourselves have been brought to life and liberty in him. Now, let this be a stimulus to your fruitbearing, that Jesus is the gardener. Where you have brought forth a single cluster, bring, forth a hundred! “supposing him to be the gardener.” If he is to have the honor of it, then labor to do that which will give him great renown. If our spiritual state were to be attributed to ourselves, or to our minister, or to some of our fellow Christians, we might not feel that we were tinder a great necessity to be fruitful; but if Jesus be the gardener, and is to bear the blame or the honor of what we produce, then let us use up every drop of sap and strain every fibre, that, to the utmost of which our manhood is capable, we may produce a fair reward for our Lord’s travail.

Finally, we must understand the significance of His resurrection in light of being a plant in His garden, and Spurgeon articulates this important truth well:

One other thought. “Supposing him to be the gardener,” and God to come and walk among the trees of the garden, then I expect he will remove the whole of the garden upward with himself to fairer skies; for he rose, and his people must rise with him. I expect a blessed transplantation of all these flowers below to a clearer atmosphere above, away from all this smoke and fog and damp, up where the sun is never clouded, where flowers never wither, where fruits never decay. Oh, the glory we shall then enjoy up yonder, on the hills of spices in the garden of God. “Supposing him to be the gardener” what a garden will he form above, and how shall you and I grow therein, developing beyond imagination. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” Since he is the author and finisher or our faith, to what perfection will he conduct us, and to what glory will he bring us! Oh, to be found in him! God grant we may be! To be plants in his garden, “Supposing him to be the gardener,” is all the heaven we can desire.

Amen!

20:17-18 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” [18] Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

This saying of Jesus to Mary not to “cling to me” is one of the most difficult verses in Scripture to understand, according to D.A. Carson. Scholars are at odds as to why Jesus would tell Mary not to touch Him, only to subsequently instruct Thomas to do so.

Carson weighs four major opinions on the matter and comes to the conclusion that the best way to understand this is through the prism of what is going on in each situation with each individual. Here’s what he says:

I am ascending is part of the message Mary is to convey, not part of the reason Mary should not cling to Jesus.

The thought, then, might be paraphrased this way: “Stop touching me (or, Stop holding on to me), for (gar) I have not yet ascended to my Father – i.e. I am not yet in the ascended state, so you do not have to hand on to me as if I were about to disappear permanently. This is a time for joy and sharing the good news, not for clutching me as if I were some jealously guarded private dream-come-true. Stop clinging to me, but go and tell my disciples that I am in the process of ascending to my Father and your Father.”*

*I have omitted parts of the linguistic explanations from Carson for smoothness of reading.

Mary then obeys Jesus and runs to tell the other disciples that He has appeared to her. There’s not record of their reaction to her message, but it doesn’t seem likely that they were any more disposed to believing her than they were earlier, and so they wait and think and do nothing.

My Father and Your Father

Just a final note before moving on to the next section…it seems appropriate to simply mention that Jesus says that He is ascending to His Father and “your Father.” This is extremely significant. In light of the resurrection, Jesus’ crosswork and victory over death has secured for believers union with Himself, and all the privileges appertaining unto that reality.

If we are brothers, then we are sons, and heirs also. Paul explains:

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. (Romans 8:15-17)

The author of Hebrews reaffirms:

For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, (Hebrews 2:11)

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 12:7-11)

It is therefore comforting and of no small importance that upon His victory the Lord refers to His disciples as those who will participate in the rewards of His triumph. He has won them an everlasting inheritance, and is going to the Father, as will all who believe upon His name for everlasting life.

John 16:25-33: He has Overcome the World

Below are my sunday school notes from today’s lesson on Christ’s Overcoming the World.  This passage is a sweet one, and the notes cover verses 25-33 of chapter 16 in John’s gospel.  I hope you enjoy them!

PJW

16:25 “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father.

Why is it that Jesus spoke in parables? Some say it was to help those around him better understand what he was trying to explain.  We commonly jump to that conclusion because its how we use figures of speech.  When we are trying to communicate a complex idea to our children, we often resort to more simple analogies to help them understand what we are saying.  The goal is so that no matter the age, they will understand what we are saying because we have adapted it to their way of understanding.

However, this was not necessarily the purpose of how Jesus spoke.  If his purpose had been to make things more understandable, then why just now is He promising to speak “plainly” to them about the Father?  The implication is that up until this time He has purposefully made it more difficult for them to understand.

D.A. Carson wisely explains that Jesus isn’t simply referring to one particularly hard saying, but to His entire discourse (and perhaps His ministry in general).

If the sayings of Jesus are life and a door unto truth, then the Holy Spirit who guides us into “all truth” is the key to that door. In this way Jesus magnifies the ministry of the Spirit in our lives, and the privilege of living in the New Covenant era.

As I quoted above from Hendricksen and Ridderbos, we need to remember that Jesus is ushering in a new era in human history and a new era in redemptive history as well, that is to say that God is about to inaugurate a new covenant with His chosen people.  That covenant will look entirely different than the old one. One of the primary ways it will look different is in the pouring out of His Spirit upon “all flesh” (Joel 2), resulting in our being able to clearly understand His word.

The promise of the Spirit leading us into all truth and helping us understand the truths of Jesus has been covered extensively in previous lessons.  But two key verses from earlier in the discourse may be enough to remind us of this truth:

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:26)

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16:13)

The Judgment of Parables

There is also a secondary reason that, as a sort of reminder, we might consider for why Jesus’ sayings were so difficult to understand, and why He spoke in enigmatic statements during His ministry.  That reason has to do with the judgment/dividing power of His words.

Remember Jesus was always concluding parables by saying “those who have ears to hear, let them hear.”  Well there are many theories on this, but I believe that just as His righteousness light unto the world, a light that had a necessarily judging or dividing affect so also His teaching (think Matthew 10:34).  He was the light and the darkness necessarily was scattered from Him.  And we know from previous study why we who were in the dark run away – because our deeds were evil (see John 3:19-21).

So the teaching of Christ necessarily separated darkness from light. Though He did not come to judge the world (yet) in an ultimate sense, there is a sense in which His words heaped judgment on the consciences of men for their evil deeds were exposed by His teaching.

Therefore, I must agree with theologians Michael Horton and Kim Riddlebarger that the parables were spoken in judgment (White Horse Inn Podcast).  If these men and women had a heart for Christ, for the things of God, a heart that sought to understand His words humbly, then perhaps they would have been able to appropriate them to their lives.  But instead they rejected Jesus for His words – they hated Him without a cause.  Why?  Because His words, though veiled, pierced their hearts and convicted their consciences (Hebrews 4:12). You cannot be around the Light and not have your deeds exposed (Mark 4:22).

Think specifically of what we learned in John 12 as Jesus was teaching about the words of Isaiah (Isaiah 6).  This is an extended section, but is well worth examining again:

While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. 37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,
40 “He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
and understand with their heart, and turn,
and I would heal them.”

41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. 42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.

44 And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. 47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. 49 For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” (John 12:36-50)

Consequently, the Holy Spirit functions in the same way since Christ has ascended – something we covered in the earlier part of the chapter.  The Spirit is not only to help Christians, but also to convict the world.  It is the Spirit’s light – the light of truth – that convicts the consciences of mankind.

Therefore, when Jesus says that he will now tell them “plainly” about the Father, He is indicating again that they are on the verge of a new era in redemptive history. The judgment that has fallen upon His chosen people for their unbelief will fall upon His shoulders and He will hear it away for them upon the cross at Calvary.  For those who will receive the Spirit of Truth soon after, the teachings of Christ here in the final discourse will become more clear and more precious (and powerful for their ministry) than they were at the time of first apprehending them.

16:26-28 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”

First, He loves them “because” they loved Jesus.  Love of Jesus is the prerequisite of obtaining love of the Father.  Yet, it was He who chose them and loved them first (He is the antecedent to their love, yet their reaction was obedience and love and that is what the Father is pleased with).

Secondly, how amazing is it that the Father loves us? It is an amazing statement here that Jesus says that it isn’t as though He alone loves them, but the Father also loves them – in fact it was His love that set off the mission of Christ in the first place (Ephesians 1:4-6).

For years one of my favorite verses in the Old Testament has been from Exodus 33.  Moses has been describes as having this intimate relationship with God, and to me it has always exuded the love that God had for His people – in particular Moses.

It says, “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent” (Exodus 33:11).

In a similar way, Jesus, the greater fulfillment of the Mosaic mediator role, has provided a way for us to have a friendship with God.  Once we were enemies of God, but now we have been drawn close to Him, and here Jesus urges us to ask for things from Him.  He fills us with His Spirit, and gives us His word, and speaks to us through His word “as a man speaks to his friend.”

Will Jesus stop Praying for Us?

The way this verse is structured in the English translation of the Bible makes it confusing and even seems to say that when the Spirit comes we won’t need Jesus to intercede for us.  This is contrary the clear teaching in other portions of Scripture (Hendricksen agrees and cites Heb. 7:24, 25; 13:15).  Rather the meaning is that they will have reached a maturity level because of the Spirit’s work within them that they can now come before the Father themselves.  They (we) can actually approach the Holy One in His holy temple and offer prayers – this is only done, however, because of the atonement of Christ.  His righteousness is the only reason we are able to be made right with God, and His blood has been spilled to accomplish just that.

Quite a Trip…

Lastly, verse 28 summarizes His whole trip in travel terms: He came from heaven and came into the world, and now He’s leaving the world and going back to the Father. Later the next day He will say the same thing to Pontius Pilate.  Until this time Jesus had intimated that He was leaving, but now He plainly sums up that He is going to be leaving for a heavenly destination.

I love how William Hendricksen sees four movements in redemptive history here, and I think its worth quoting parts of his analysis:

First, “I cam out from the Father.” This refers to Christ’s perfect deity, his pre-existence, and his love-revealing departure from heaven in order to dwell on the sin-cursed earth..

Secondly, “I…am come into the world.” That describes Christ’s incarnation and his ministry among men.

Thirdly and fourthly, “Again I am leaving the world and am going to the Father.” Note the present tense of both verbs. The path of suffering, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension is, from one aspect, a departure from the world; from another point of view, it is a journey to the Father. On the basis of this voluntary obedience which Jesus is in the process of rendering, the Father (in the Spirit) exercises loving fellowship with those who are his own.

16:29-32 His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 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.

There is more than a hint of a rebuke in the words of Jesus when He states, “do you now believe?”  R.C. Sproul says, “It’s almost as if He’s saying ‘Oh, now you believe? Where have you been the last three years?’”

His saying further illuminates their need for the Spirit and the reliance that all men have for God.  We are contingent beings, are we not?  We are creatures – we are not self-sufficient.  Our error comes when we stop thinking that we are contingent and instead assert ourselves as independent and self-sufficient.  When we do this, we make ourselves like God and fall into sin. This was the sin of Satan at the first, and it is the sin of many in our world today.

Calvin puts it this way, “The question put by Christ is therefore ironical; as if he had said, ‘Do you boast as if you were full of faith? But the trial is as hand, which will disclose your emptiness.’”

Side Note: I think that further evidence for Jesus speaking before about His coming again to them in the near future – that is, after the resurrection and not at the second coming – is given here again when Jesus states that “you will be scattered, each to his own home.” He is concerned primarily to reassure their hearts about events that are imminent.

What Christ is saying about the scattering of the disciples was also to fulfill a prophecy from Zechariah 13:7 which states:

“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,” declares the Lord of hosts.
 
“Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones.”
 

That “sword” is the sword of the wrath of God that has been stored up and is going to come down on the head of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is going to take upon Himself all the wrath of God’s judgment that was meant for you and me.  Matthew Henry is right to cite Daniel 9:26a:

“And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself…”

Now the prophecy in Zechariah 13 is amazing to me for a few reasons:

First, notice how we humans are regarded – we (the disciples in this case) are called “the little ones” and “the sheep.” For all the confidence of the disciples they would later see this prophecy and no doubt feel once again humbled by who they are in comparison to who God is.

Second, here is the “Lord of hosts” (God) declaring from of old that He will strike the shepherd.  This shepherd is “the man who stands next to me.” This is Jesus Christ – the pre-incarnate Son (at the time of Zachariah, if we may speak so of time in relation to the being and existence of God without making a woefully inadequate statement). I can’t help but think of Isaiah 53:4,10 and the “crushing” of the Son, but also of the length to which He has purposefully gone to save us.  For as John would go on to write later:

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (1 John 3:1)

Furthermore, when we pull back to the passage again and examine what Jesus is saying here, it is good to take note of the mercy of Christ. For not only does He say these things about their imminent cowardice as a warning (“the sheep will be scattered”), but reassures them (and speaks truth to Himself aloud) that though they will leave Him alone, yet the Father will be with Him!

There are two great truths here in the final verses of this chapter. The first is this truth that no matter where Christ went, no matter what happened, the Father was with Him.  And the same can be said to us today. This is the first truth – that no matter where we go, He is with us.

The second truth is enumerated in verse 33…

16:33 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.”

The second truth (to continue my thought from verse 32) is that not only is Christ with us but there is a good reason for Him being with us – because He has overcome the world. The fact that He is with us wouldn’t be helpful if He was not also powerful! Not only is there a power here mentioned “overcome”, but also a legal fact.  Jesus is looking forward past the cross and saying that “I have overcome the world.”

I could be wrong, but I think there are two senses in which Jesus overcame the worldFirst, He lived a perfect life – there was no spot or blemish in Him and in this way (as we learned earlier) Satan wasn’t able to hold anything over His head:

I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, (John 14:30)

His perfect life was a life that “overcame” all sin and temptation.

But the second sense is a sense of looking forward to His work on the cross. Jesus is saying that by His death, burial, and resurrection He will triumph over the powers that rule this world. As Paul states:

He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:15)

And so the battle has been won decisively at the cross. And the consequences of union with Christ as that we also have been victorious in Him. His victory is our victory, and His righteousness is our righteousness.

All of this is said in the context of Jesus staring down the barrel of “tribulation.”  Tribulation will mark the lives we lead in this world, but there is a joy, which we can look forward to because ultimately He has “overcome the world.”  Not just “will” overcome, but “has” overcome.

And because of His victory, His power resides in us through the indwelling of the Spirit.  John MacArthur rightly remarks, “After the resurrection and the coming of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the disciples would be radically transformed from men of fear to men of courage.”

The same is true for us.  We who are Christians had once lived a life dominated, indeed ruled, by fear.  Now we live by faith in the Son of God and walk by that faith daily by the power of the Spirit.  I can’t help but think of what Jonathan Edwards said about this in the Religious Affections as he’s describing the nature of the Christian and his gracious affections/fruit of the Spirit as it relates to God’s power working within the Christian:

…that the inward principle from whence they flow is something divine, a communication of God, a participation of the divine nature, Christ living in the heart, the Holy Spirit dwelling there in union with the faculties of the soul, as an internal vital principle, exerting His own proper nature in the exercise of those faculties. This is sufficient to show us why true grace should have such activity, power and efficacy. No wonder that that which is divine is powerful and effectual; for it has omnipotence on its side. If God dwells in the heart, and is vitally united to it, He will show that He is a God, by the efficacy of His operation.

Perhaps the best parallel Biblical passage I can think of to explain this comes to us from Romans 8 where we learn that Christ’s victory guarantees that we will never be separate from Him:

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? 33 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. 35 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.”

37 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. (Romans 8:31-39)

The reality of this triumph needs to be applied daily to our lives. Christ applied it to the minds and hearts of His disciples on the brink of what must have seemed to them to be complete and utter disaster.

Therefore, when we encounter trials that we think are “disasters” remember the purposes of Christ in you, and that He has overcome all of these things and has not deserted you.

Study Notes for 10-27-13, John 14:15-24

Below are study notes for John 14:15-24

14:15-17 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. [16] And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, [17] even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

“If” You Love Me

Here we see that the prerequisite for obedience to Christ’s commands is a love for Him.  That makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?  I mean, if we are in love with the Lord Jesus, then of course we will want to obey Him!

But the next thing that should come to mind is that we can’t obey the law even if we do love Jesus.  The disciples don’t even get a chance to ask the question, which should be: How are we supposed to follow all of your commands, or even want to do that all of the time? Instead, Jesus anticipates the problem and promises the Holy Spirit to them.  Until now they have had Him as their helper – that is why Jesus says “another” helper.  The first “helper” was Jesus, and the second is the Spirit (later I will explain the term “paraklētos” which is the Greek term translated “helper” here).

If we examine the passage closely, we’ll notice that all the way from verse 15 or so through about verse 26 there is a theme that Jesus develops for the disciples, namely, that the Holy Spirit will come to represent Himself.  Jesus is going away, and He wants to comfort the disciples and prepare them for that absence by explaining not only what they will need to do, but how they are going to do it.

Now the Holy Spirit’s role is obvious from the verses we read here, and what we’ll read below. Here the Spirit is said to help us by causing us to love Christ. You might not see that immediately, but that is the clear implication.  For those who love Christ obey His commands, and because its clear that Jesus knows we need help to obey commands, we must also need help to love Him.  John would write about this in his epistles:

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. (1 John 4:11-13)
 
We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
 

And so it is that the Spirit is the one who creates in us a love for God. He softens our hearts, and speaks softly to us, explaining the great truths of God’s gospel.  Without His initiative, we would still be dead in our trespasses.

Jesus explains here also that “the world cannot receive Him”, that is to say that on our own we cannot receive the Spirit of God. It isn’t up to us who receives the gift of the Spirit. God is the one who sovereignly chooses who He will to abide with. We’ll address this in more depth in just a moment…

You know Him Already

The last thing Jesus says in these three verses is that the disciples already know the Spirit. This is a mysterious thing.  Pastor Scotty Smith writes:

As Jesus continues instructing his disciples in advance of his ascension we enter the most profound teaching about the Trinity to be found anywhere in the Bible. There is much mystery here, but let us affirm what is clearly in the text. The better we know Jesus, the more Trinitarian we will become. The gospel is the means by which we enter the fellowship, love, and joy shared by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit throughout eternity – a staggering thought indeed.
 

Therefore, we should look closely here at what Jesus is saying and marvel a bit…Jesus can say, “You know him” Because, “he dwells with you and will be in you.” Let’s not miss this, because I think it’s a really important statement. What Jesus is saying is that even though they don’t yet have the Spirit living inside of them, they have been with Jesus, and that is tantamount to knowing the Spirit already. For not only is Jesus filled with the Spirit, but when the Spirit comes it will be as if they have Jesus right there with them – only now instead of having Jesus walking the hills of Judea with them, they will have Him in their hearts.

Why is this important?  Because you have that same Spirit, Christian! You have the Lord Jesus’ Spirit living within you, you are the temple of the living God. His mind, His will, His love for you is embodied in the fact that He sent His Spirit to you.  What I mean by this is that He has a plan and a love for you, and He is working that out through the power and person of the Holy Spirit.

To have the Spirit is to have Jesus, and to have Jesus is to have the Father, as we shall soon see…

This is why it is vital to understand that our God is a triune God, and that He is three persons, each with different roles.

14:18-20 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. [19] Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. [20] In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

First, I want to note that at the end of verse 18 we see here that Jesus says, “I will come to you.” This just further shows what I mention above about how Jesus Himself is coming to us in the form of His Spirit.  They are not one in the same person, rather, they are so alike in their mind and purpose that we cannot tell them apart.  They are on the same mission, and they are both part of the One Godhead. Having the Spirit is tantamount to having Jesus live within us – that is what Jesus is saying here.

The entire idea is tied up together in verse 20, “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” That is the whole idea!  This is DEEP water we’ve just wandered into.  But what an amazing thing.  Jesus is teaching us something about the Trinity here, and about how role in the Kingdom. He is saying that His bride, that’s us, will be “in Him” and He will be “in us” just as He is “in” the Father. Don’t miss this. Cherish this. This is such profound, such wonderful truth that you can’t forget it.

What are the consequences?  Well I can think of several, but especially one: if we are that close to Christ and that “in” the Trinity, then surely there is nothing (as Paul writes in Romans 8) that can separate us from His love!  In other words, to separate us from the love of Christ would be like separating Jesus from the Father, or the Spirit from Jesus.  It is unthinkable, in fact, it is impossible.

Adoption and Love

Now, secondly, since we have seen and laid the foundation for understanding how Jesus will be with us, and how it is that we will do those greater works (in and because of the Spirit), we see that there is a side-benefit to having Christ go away…we are adopted into His family!

I think that verses 18 and 20 are closely tied to 21 and 15.  What I mean by that is that Jesus is saying that by loving Him, it shows that you are part of His family. Love is a by-product of family membership. Love happens for two reasons: First, because the Spirit has adopted us into the family by regenerating us to everlasting life and enabled us to love as Christ loves, and secondly, because of His work we have a desire to love. So there is His initiating action here, and our obedient response.  Jerry Bridges calls this “dependent responsibility” because not only to re require Him to start us off on the path, but we rely on His help to stay on the path.

So we see here that love is a mark of family membership.  We love because we are adopted!

Lastly, and more particularly to this passage, I want to note how Jesus says, “because I live, you also will live.”  What He means here is to signify the importance of the resurrection. Because we are “in” Him, that means that when He conquered death, when He arose from the grace, when He ascended into heaven, that we, too, arose and are guaranteed heaven.  Why? Because, again, we are “in” Him.  To be “in” the Lord is to be guaranteed all of the promises that He has earned for us.

Listen to how Paul describes the Spirit’s interaction with our spirit in reminding us of this great promised adoption:

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. (Romans 8:15-17, ESV)
 

Therefore, because He earned life, we get life. Because He was perfectly righteous, we are made perfectly righteous in the eyes of God. Because He broke the bonds of sin and death, we too have been loosed from sin, and will never taste spiritual death.

Think about the significance that the resurrection now has in your mind and your life. If Jesus never rose from the grave, then all of this is moot (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). We’d still be dead in our sins. But Jesus is here saying (ahead of all of this even occurring, mind you) that when He rises from the dead, we too will walk in “newness of life.”  This is what Paul was saying in Romans 6:

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:4-11)
 

Later Paul adds:

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. 10 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. (Romans 8:9-11, ESV)
 

14:21-24 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” [22] Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” [23] Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. [24] Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.

Here we have once again the reiteration of what Jesus said earlier.  Verse 21 and verse 15 are almost identical. If we love Him we keep His commands.  It harkens us back to the sermon on the mount where Jesus said that those who bare fruit are those who are His.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15-20)
 

The second thing that Jesus says here is that, “my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”  This is very much like verse 20 when He said, “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”  The idea here is that not only is Jesus in us, but that the Father is also in us.  This would have been enough to blow the minds of the disciples.

NOTE: this passage, along with others, has been historically used to support to filioque insertion in the Nicene Creed which states that the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. It is this addition that eventually helped create a schism between the Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin/Catholic) church (the major historically recognized year of this is 1054, even though the problems and disagreements started well prior to this). 
 

We read earlier how Philip said ‘just show us the Father and that is enough for us Jesus!’  And I explained how the Jews thought of seeking the face of the Lord, and the face of God, and how Aaron’s benediction embodied this idea of being blessed by the revealing of God’s face to us one day. The idea derives from the time when Moses learned that no man can see God and live, but was allowed to view God’s “hindquarters” (in anthropomorphic language).  The idea being that God’s face is so glorious and so bright and resplendent that to view it would be too much for a finite creature to handle – we would die instantly.

Now here we begin to see the sweetness of the revelation we have in NT times. Not only has God sent His Son to us in the incarnation, not only did He die for our sins and impute to us His own righteousness, but He has gone a step further still.  He is going to live within us – His Spirit abiding in us! Meaning, as Jesus says here, that the Father and the Son will essentially be using us as their temple on earth.  They will be manifesting their presence on earth through us!

Have you stopped to consider the ramifications of this? We have become to used to the idea of the immanence of God, that we forget who it is we’re talking about here. We forget so easily in our day that this Being who inhabits the believer is the same one who spoke the universe into existence!

If that doesn’t lend some sobriety to your walk with Christ I don’t know what will.  Because Jesus is reminding us here that if we really love Him, you will pursue Him, you will obey Him, you will understand the reality that the God of heaven and earth has deigned to come down and live – in you!

D.A. Carson is right to mention that, in a very strong way, this passage builds on antecedent passages about the Spirit, the one that I want to mention most particularly is in 4:23-24 where Jesus (speaking to the Samaritan woman) says:

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24, ESV)
 

Oh the sweetness, oh the condescension, oh the love of God in this! Can you not see how crucial this is to understand?  God has sought out those who will worship Him in “spirit and in truth” – He is doing this by putting His Spirit within us. He wants us to know Him properly, and for our minds to do this He must be the first to act.  He must take the initiative, and He must powerfully work within us. As we read earlier:

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. (John 6:63, ESV)
 

Jesus is urging us on here to think DEEPLY about the reality of what is going on here. You must take this seriously and understand the privileges and responsibilities associated with being a Christian. This is a call to loving, awe-filled obedience to your Lord.

Not to the World

Lastly, I didn’t want to skip over what Judas says here because he has a good question. He has heard Jesus say already, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  So if God loved the “world”, why is it that He won’t manifest Himself to the world?

The answer is that while God loves His creation, He has a special and specific plan of redemption for His chosen sheep. We start with the prerequisite understanding that the world cannot receive Him because the world does not want Him.

And contrary to the rejection of Christ, the world will not have a “choice” to accept the Spirit in the same way they saw the incarnate Christ and rejected Him. For the Spirit’s mission, though a continuation of Christ’s, has different objectives, that is to say that Christ is working to accomplish something new through the Spirit (the next phrase of His redemptive plan), namely the quickening of all those whom the Father has predestined to life and the reside within them, fashioning them after His image, and keeping them (preserving them) until the day Jesus Christ returns or we die and join Him in Heaven.

Be sure of one thing: Jesus knows who will believe and who won’t (see John 6:64), and He will not cast pearls before swine. He will not reveal His glory to all. Those who receive the Lord Jesus and the joy of eternal life are those whom He has chosen, those whom His Spirit has softened and called to Himself.  This is, of course, the work of the Spirit. He is the one doing the softening and calling and regenerating.

The world cannot receive the Spirit, not because the Spirit isn’t the one doing the work, not because the Spirit can’t soften the hearts of men. But simply because the Spirit isn’t going to soften the hearts of all men. He isn’t going to be sent to the whole “world”, but rather to those for whom Christ died.

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.