Introduction to Revelation: Part 5

Today we looked at the classic premil and dispensational premil views of the millennium period spoken of in Revelation 20. I also spoke briefly about the nature of dispensationalism, and its hermeneutic. In my notes (below) I have given a slightly expanded voice to my concerns and why it matters to us today. I just can’t stress enough how important it is that we get our hermeneutics right, and I believe that when we do, our Bibles will lead us away from dispensational views of Revelation, and, well, anything…

Enjoy!

PreMillenialism – Historic

There are two kinds of Premils, the first is historic or “classical” and has been around since the early church fathers (ancients referred to this as chiliasm). The second is dispensational which came into being in the last 200 years. I’ll start with historic premillennialism.

Grudem says:

According to this viewpoint, the present church age will continue until, as it nears the end, a time of great tribulation and suffering comes on the earth. After that time of tribulation at the end of the church age, Christ will return to earth to establish a millennial kingdom….some premillennialists take this to be a literal one thousand years, and others understand it to be a symbolic expression for a long period of time. During this time, Christ will be physically present on earth in his resurrected body, and will reign as King over the entire earth.

John Frame sums up what happens next:

They (the early church fathers who were premil) taught that at the end of the present age, Jesus will come and raise believers to be with him. Then he will reign upon the earth for a thousand years, or some other long period of time. During this time (and not until then), Satan is bound in the bottomless pit. At the end of this time, God will release Satan, and at his instigation some on earth will rebel against Jesus (Revelation 20:3, 7-8). But the Lord will put down the revolt and raise all the dead for final judgment. Then comes the new heavens and new earth.

Therefore, according to this viewpoint, Christians will indeed endure a great time of persecution – they will not be raptured away from this tribulation prior to the Lord’s second coming.

Premillenialsim – Dispensational

The dispensational version of premil belief is “more recent (nineteenth century) and more complicated.”[i]

John Frame sets up the view for us:

The key to understanding the dispensational view is the idea that Jesus actually returns twice, making three times altogether that Jesus comes to earth. His first coming was, of course, his conception in the womb of Mary 2000 years ago. At his second coming, at the end of this age, he comes secretly and raptures believers to be with him. The rapture is described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, where Paul says:

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

This is what you read about or have seen in those Left Behind movies with Kirk Cameron (and now Nicholas Cage). As Wayne Grudem notes, “This return is thought to be a secret return of Christ to take believers out of the world.”[ii]

Then there will be a period of intense tribulation – dispensationalists call this the “Great Tribulation” – which will last 7 literal years. Some hold that the rapture of the church will occur mid-way through the tribulation and that the last 3.5 years of the tribulation (seen to be the worst years) will be avoided by the church.

After the literal 7-year tribulation period Christ will come again (for a third time), this time to usher in His kingdom here on earth.

Grudem says:

During this seven-year period of tribulation, many of the signs that were predicted to precede Christ’s return will be fulfilled. The great ingathering of the fullness of the Jewish people will occur, as they trust Christ as their messiah. In the midst of great suffering there will also be much effective evangelism, especially carried out by the new Jewish Christians. At the end of the tribulation, Christ will then come back with his saints to reign on the earth for 1,000 years. After this millennial period there will be a rebellion, resulting in the final defeat of Satan and his forces, and then will come the resurrection of unbelievers, the last judgment, and the beginning of the eternal state.[iii]

That is their system in a nutshell. But both Frame (leans postmil) and Grudem (a classic premil guy) wisely note that one of the things that makes this form of premil unique is the way they separate the Jews from the church, basically saying that these are two separate and distinct peoples with two separate and distinct futures. To me this is one of the most unbiblical features of the dispensational system.

Grudem additionally notes that, “Another characteristic of pretribulational premillenialism is its insistence on interpreting biblical prophecies ‘literally where possible.’ This especially applies to prophecies in the Old Testament concerning Israel. Those who hold this view argue that those prophecies of God’s future blessing to Israel will yet be fulfilled among the Jewish people themselves; they are not to be ‘spiritualized by finding their fulfillment in the church.’”[iv]

Issues with the Dispensational View

I believe each view has strengths and weaknesses. However, I admit openly that I loathe the dispensational view (not those who believe it, but the view itself) for its absolutely wacky and misleading hermeneutic. I single it out because it’s the most popularized view of the church today, and many in the church don’t know of the alternatives.

The two main distinctives of this view are its futurist bent (i.e. with regard to the millennium and the tribulation period), and its separation between the future destinies of Jews and the Church respectively.

Much of these issues stem from their “literal” hermeneutic. To ignore context, symbolism, figures of speech, allegory, and word pictures is to throw out common sense and discard sensus literalis to the dustbin.

As it concerns the “spiritualizing” of the promises to Israel and those promises being fulfilled (at least partially) in the church. It’s important to realize that our framework for understanding the role of the church with regard to its fulfillment of OT promises is given to us by the Apostle Paul who not only called Christ “Israel” but also called the church the “true Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16) and said that the church – the elect – were Abraham’s offspring In Romans 4 and Romans 9 Paul says that it’s the elect by the promise of God who are Abraham’s offspring). This same apostle also maintained that the Jews would eventually be grafted back in to the church (Romans 11). He used the comparison to a wild olive tree. He never spoke of two trees, only one with the two different branches. Additionally, the Bible doesn’t speak of two brides of Christ, only one – the church. Are we to think that the church is Christ’s bride and that the Jews are, well, just another group hanging around on the outside of the eternal marriage?

There are further consequences – major consequences – not the least of which is a complete misunderstanding of Jeremiah 31:31 and subsequent (and necessary) disregard for Hebrews 8. If this passage only applies to Israel in the future, then the new covenant hasn’t been ushered in, and we aren’t a part of it. You can see how important it is to get the hermeneutic right when we read our Bibles. I will address this momentarily.

Under the dispensational hermeneutic the future will also look, well, very odd. There will be rebellion after Christ has physically reigned on earth for 1,000 years – which means there will still be sin even though Christ will be here on earth – so apparently we’ll have to wait awhile for that problem to be solved. Also, if there’s sin in the millennium, why not death? Sin leads to physical decay and death, so how is this to be dealt with?

Needless to say there are issues with every viewpoint – because we can’t perfectly understand the future and what God has for His people. That’s why He’s God and we’re not! I don’t believe we’re meant to know every detail of the future and how things will exactly play out.

Why this Matters to Us Today 

I mentioned Jeremiah 31:31 above because I believe that dispensationalists inadvertently undervalue the new covenant and the victory Christ achieved on the cross. Again, I don’t think this is their aim, but it’s the consequence of their hermeneutic. This actually really matters to us today because this view of the Bible has consequences for how we view our own salvation, and previous promises that we claim to be ours right now.

In recent years some within their camp have realized there are issues with creating such a dichotomy between the church and Israel. This is why some now call themselves ‘Progressive Dispensationalists’ because they are starting to see that many of these promises made with the “House of Israel” in the OT are actually being fulfilled in the church – chief among them is the promise of a New Covenant. In Jeremiah 31:31-34 we read of a prophecy concerning the new covenant[v] that I’m sure many of you have read or heard before. Listen to the words of Jeremiah, made with the “House of Israel” but now being fulfilled in His church:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, [32] not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. [33] For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [34] And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

Why am I bringing this up now in the context of our study on Revelation? Because how we view the Bible in Jeremiah (and other books) has an affect on how we view and read Revelation. Having a literalistic hermeneutic not only ruins Revelation, it stultifies and obscures other vital prophetic passages, and the Jeremiah passage is just a great example of this. I said earlier that “hermeneutics matter”, this is just one example of why that is so, and why I want to caution anyone who holds to a dispensational view of this book.

 

Footnotes 

[i] Frame, Systematic Theology, Pg. 1089

[ii] Grudem, Systematic Theology, Pg.’s 1112-1113

[iii] Grudem, Pg. 1115

[iv] Grudem, Pg. 1116

[v] Bruce Ware is in this camp and in his Systematic Theology I lectures at SBTS he gives the Jeremiah 31:31-34 passage as one of the glaring passages which simply can’t be gotten around.

Study Notes for 8-11-13: Those Whom He Loved

John Chapter 13

As we open up the 13th chapter of John we find ourselves just days prior to the Lord Jesus Christ’s passion.  “The public ministry of Jesus is over” (Morris), and the next five chapters include material that none of the other gospels have. These are called the “farewell discourses”, and there are four major truths I see over the course of these chapters that we need to be on the lookout for:

  1. We will see how Christians are to love others the way Jesus loves us, and is Himself loved by the Father.
  2. We will be able to do this loving by the help and power of the Holy Spirit – the anticipation of Spirit’s mission and power is central these upcoming chapters.
  3. The world will hate us and kill us, but we have no cause for fear on this account because Jesus has overcome the world and its power.
  4. Jesus is the only way to God the Father and is our intercessor.  It is by His intercession and His sovereign choice that you have been saved from utter ruin.

Now as to the immediate context, we find Jesus and His disciples preparing to eat a final meal together in the upper room.  There is much dispute as to whether or not this “last super” is a Passover Meal, or whether it is a meal earlier in the week (Tuesday) separate from the Passover. There are good arguments on both sides, and both sets of arguments seek to harmonize the account of John with the other gospel accounts; we’ll get into that some more later in the chapter.

Let us keep in mind that in His actions in chapter 13, Jesus is setting in motion a series of events that will forever change the world and the destiny of mankind.  No longer will men be enslaved to sin and fear and death. No longer will they wonder when the Messiah will come.  For He has come, and He has done all that is necessary for life – eternal life. His life, death, and resurrection have done for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves.  And so as we continue to read and learn about this final week of Jesus’ life, we watch, as the great exodus is about to begin…

13:1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

“Jesus Knew”

It is a great and unrealized comfort to our souls that we don’t “know” what is next in our lives. For even though we seem to spend a lot of time anxiously awaiting what is next. it is these roots of anxiety that Jesus urges us to puck up and cast away.

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:25-34 ESV)

I’ve taken a great deal of time to cite this passage, and to make this point because I want us to fully see that while we are often anxious for tomorrow, what we often don’t realize is that if we knew all that was to happen in our future days, our minds could likely not handle the anxiety and pressure that knowledge brought.

In a similar way, can you imagine what it would be like to know that you will die but not a harsh death? We all know that we’re going to die sometime, but what if you knew for certain that your death would be peaceful and easy and that it wouldn’t be from a car wreck or some devastating accident? Interestingly, the Bible gives us just such an example in the case of Abraham.  In Genesis 15 we find ourselves reading a text that is primarily concerned with the covenant between God and Abram, and its easy to miss this fascinating and amazing gift God gives his saint:

As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. (Genesis 15:15)

Most people are afraid of death, but the beauty of being a Christian is that you don’t have to fear death. So for Christians the sting of death has been taken away. But as I’ve heard R.C. Sproul mention off-handedly before, he doesn’t fear death, but he fears how he’s going to die.  That uncertainty can have a tendency to gnaw away at us, especially as we get older.  But for Abram even this was taken off the table. What an amazing gift it was too – to not only know where you would go after death, but that you would “go to your fathers in peace”, now that is a wonderful way to live life!

That being said, the Lord Jesus Christ had none of that.  J.C. Ryle says this:

Our ignorance of things before us is a great blessing. Our Lord saw the cross clearly before Him, and walked straight up to it. His death was not a surprise to Him, but a voluntary, foreknown thing.

He knew not only that He was going to die, but He knew it was going to be a painful and terrible death.  And that is why when we find the Bible telling us that He knew this, and yet spent His last days on earth in loving concern for those entrusted to Him, it ought to blow our minds. Can you image being so filled with love that even days away from your own gruesome death you could think of nothing else but to serve others?

Despite facing the gruesome awful reality of the cross, His love for those around Him, and the millions He would die to save, never wavered even for an instant.  This impeccable, implacable, overpowering love of Christ is what constantly leaves me in awe when I can’t even bring myself to love those closest to me in a godly manner. Jesus loved those who hated him. His mission was to take enemies of God and make them lovers of God. It’s enough to blow you away. The incomprehensibility of His love is enough to keep you writing and reading and praying and crying for a lifetime of lifetimes. He did what we’ll never fathom doing and He didn’t do it begrudgingly, but with a deep love and tenderness that only God could comprehend.

“In the Word”

The first thing to note about this phrase is that He knows where we are. We are in the “world.”  What does that mean?  It means that we are enduring trials, struggles, and persecution. But this knowledge and reality does not leave us cold or hopeless, for later Jesus promises this:

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. 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 ESV)

This is a great comfort to us. To know that He knows where we are, and what that means. It means that sometimes life really sucks! Yet, here was God, poured into a man’s flesh. He took on the flesh of a man, and could feel frustration and pain and hurt and sorrow. He knew what it was to be upset and angry. He felt the sting of disappointment, of rejection, of sadness and depression creeping at the gate. Yet despite all of this He triumphed over it, and because of that we know we can as well through His power – and that power comes from Him and His Spirit and will be a big part of what is discussed by Jesus over the next few chapters.

He Loved His Own

Secondly, it is worth noting here that Jesus’ mission was very specific – it was specific to those whom the Father had predestined to be saved from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1-2). And this group of people, theologians refer to as ‘the elect of God’, are those to whom John is referring when he says “his own.”

It is my personal view that for those who disagree with the doctrine of “definite” or “limited” atonement, the next 5 chapters present so many hurdles that theological gymnastics are required to acquit anyone proposing a variation of a “general” or “universal” atonement. We will see, for example, that in Christ’s High Priestly Prayer He prays for those who are His and not for those in the world:

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. (John 17:9 ESV)

What is so comforting about this doctrine is the fact that Christ had a mission to save YOU from the foundation of the world. Look at just a few of the verses from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6)

And so we see that the phrase “the world” and “his own” combine in an idea that signals God’s peculiar love for His chosen people.  He is drawing people out of this world in order to fashion a new creation.  Listen to what D.A. Carson says on this point:

The ‘world’ is important in these chapters: it occurs forty times, primarily to draw a sharp contrast between Jesus’ ‘own’, his disciples, and the mass of lost humanity, the ‘world’ from which they were drawn and in which they must live until their final vindication. If God loves the world (3:16), it is in order to draw men and women out of it. Those so drawn out constitute a new entity, set over against the world: the world loves its ‘own’, Jesus loves his ‘own’ (15:19). The object of the love of God in Christ, in these chapters, is therefore not the lost world, but the newly forming people of God, the disciples of the Messiah, the nascent church, the community of the elect. Jesus had loved his own all along; he now showed them the full extent of His love.

Surely, with a plan that has been in place so long, He will not fail to finish this plan, and keep your salvation safe to the uttermost, and that leads us to the next part of what John says…

To the End

Here it does not only stipulate that Jesus loved His disciples, and those for whom He was about to die, but that He loved them up to the very end of His earthly life.  We see this also demonstrated when, hanging from the cross, He takes pains to ensure His mother Mary is taken care of in her old age.

In this we also see that everlasting, enduring love of Christ for all of those whom He has ever set His love upon. He loved his own “to the end.” And because of this, we can be assured that as Christ acted on earth so He will act in heaven and hereafter. For He doesn’t change, His purposes are everlasting. So it is that He will never give up on His own sheep, He will ensure that for those whom He has set His love upon there will never be a death like the one all others face.  Physical death for those elect of God is but a transition from life to life everlasting.

Listen to what Christ says earlier in chapter six:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. [38] For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. [39] And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. [40] For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:37-40 ESV)

 13:2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him,

The Destiny of Judas

I want to note here something very sad, and perhaps even a little frightening. It doesn’t matter how close you are to Godly people, how much you attend church or serve your community. Until you have a supernaturally changed heart by the power of the Holy Spirit by the promise of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, you can and will fall, and ultimately you will end up in Hell. This is what happened to Judas Iscariot.  Listen to how J.C. Ryle put it:

He (John) shows us the uselessness of the highest privileges, unless we have a heart to value them and turn them to good account. Privileges alone without grace save nobody, and will only make hell deeper. He shows us the uselessness of mere head-knowledge. To know things with our brains, and be able to talk and preach and speak to others, is no proof that our own feet are in the way of peace. These are terrible lessons: but they are true.

It is a hard thing to think on, but the reality is that this man was a disciple of Jesus, he probably was sent out with the 72 when Christ sent his disciples out to preach the good news. He likely shared and preached in Jesus’ name. And we know that Jesus Himself showed Him love. But there is a difference, as we see here, between saving love and common gracious love. It is hard to illustrate this well without stepping on a minefield of inappropriate comparisons, but the one might think of the difference between how one loves a stranger (as we are called to do), and how one loves a spouse or child. This is a very specific kind of love that is infinitely more powerful between spouses than that which is set graciously upon a stranger (perhaps a poor man you are serving). So it is with Jesus, only to a much higher and more powerful degree. Christ has, in His eternal wisdom and plan, set His special specific love upon certain people. He has elected some to life, and some to eternal wrath; some to justice and some to mercy. He has raised some from spiritual death to spiritual life. I know not why He chooses to do this, or why He chooses some and not others, I know only small finite bits of data; all that He has revealed to us in Scripture.

I know not why this man Judas was chosen for wrath and justice, except that from all eternity it pleased God to choose him for a task other than that which He chose, say Peter, for. This same mystery is not ignored by the Biblical authors, but grappled with – especially in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:18-24 ESV)

And so we see here that not only was Judas not picked for eternal life with God, but he was sovereignly chosen as a “vessel of wrath”. Why? I think, even though this is hard/difficult for us to fathom, Paul even tells us that.  He says God desires to “show his wrath”, “make known his power”, and also “make know the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy.”  It all comes back to the fact that God is glorified in this. It is hard for us to understand it, but it magnified His power, His wrath, and His glory.  And so it is at moments like this that we need to close our mouths and accept that God is God and we are not, and praise Him for who He is, for that is His desire for us.

Study Notes 9-2-12

This week we finished off the 6th chapter of John’s gospel and in two weeks we’ll begin the 7th chapter.  Below are my full notes on the section (about 7 pages worth I believe).  I included all of them instead of bullet pointing because I think there’s probably a lot more below than I covered in class + I didn’t get to record the audio (oops!!).  Hopefully this is sufficient.  Enjoy!

6:67-69 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” [68] Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, [69] and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

Before we go into what it is that Peter says, I wanted to note something that Calvin says about this shift in dialogue. “As the faith of the apostles might be greatly shaken, when they saw that they were so small a remnant of a great multitude, Christ directs his discourse to them, and shows that there is no reason why they should allow themselves to be hurried away by the lightness and unsteadiness of others.”

This is one of the things I love about Calvin; he’s always putting himself in the situation so that he can explain the context to us more accurately than we might initially compose it in our minds. And what it is that he draws out here is the compassion of Christ.  He directs His attention to the disciples because He knows their hearts and thoughts and wants to be sure that they understand the truths He’s teaching.  He does the same with us, don’t you think?  So many times when I get shaken about something I’ve read or learned, I turn to Christ in prayer and He settles me down.  He speaks soothing words to my heart and helps me understand what it is that He’s made known in His word.

The Bible and specifically the words of Christ, aren’t always easy things to understand.  Carson points out that Peter’s understanding of what Jesus had been saying thus far might have been a bit “muddy.”  The same is often true of myself. That is why it is so comforting to see this example of the attention Christ is giving these men.  His desire is for us to learn more about Him.

Peter’s Confession

Peter makes a great confession here. He must have thought to himself, “what am I to do? What can I say to this”?  This is the same thing we might think from time to time.  We get frustrated with something we face in life and we blame God.  Or we can’t understand the difficult mysteries of Scripture so we get turned off by them and don’t read anymore, or we get rubbed wrong by a pastor or leader and stop coming to church etc.  But Peter, while acknowledging that Christ’s words are difficult – note that he doesn’t deny this – still admits that Christ is the only one with the words of life.  And so He is. We must therefore approach the throne of grace with confidence, but with humility, knowing that these mysteries are difficult even for those who spent time in the very presence of God incarnate.

John Piper talks about the vast wisdom and knowledge of Christ in his book ‘Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ’ and says that the greatest knowledge Christ had was of who God was.  He had this knowledge because He was God Himself!  And this is what Christ is trying to get these people (and us) to understand: that He is God.  Here’s what Piper says:

Nothing greater can be said about the knowledge of Jesus than that he knows God perfectly. All reality outside God is parochial compared to the infinite reality that God is. What God has made is like a toy compared to the complexity and depth of who God is. All the sciences that scratch the surface of the created universe are mere ABCs compared to Christ’s exhaustive knowledge of the created universe. And even this knowledge of the created universe is a dewdrop on a blade of grass compared to the ocean of knowledge that Jesus has of the being of God himself. While the universe is finite, God is infinite. Complete knowledge of the infinite is infinite. Therefore to know God as Jesus knows God is to have infinite knowledge.

And so this is the reality that Peter came to at the end of this discourse.  And this is why verse 64 is so significant, it all points to Christ’s knowledge.  He knows everything from before the foundation of the world.

There are other instances of this in Scripture.  For example, in John 18:4 it says “Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him…” and earlier in John 2:24-25 it says, “But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”

I also love the example of a time when the Pharisees were trying to question Jesus to see how smart he really was, and He ended up asking them the questions instead.  The passage is Matthew 23:41-46:

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

I just love that last verse – the reaction to His scriptural example is that “nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions”!  What a great verse!

This is where Peter found himself, only his reaction was one of confessional worship, while the Pharisees were simply silenced in their embarrassment.

6:70-71 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” [71] He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.

First we notice that Christ makes certain that His disciples understand that it is He that is doing the choosing and not themselves. This is perhaps a very clear example of election, though MacArthur says “He is not here referring to election to salvation, but rather selection to apostleship.” God knows who His chosen ones will be, as He also knew who Jesus’ disciples would be. Peter makes his declaration of faith, first and then Christ reminds him that it wasn’t Peter who chose Christ for His words, but rather Christ chose Peter that he might hear His words and choose to follow Him. So while we see that Christ might not specifically be talking about salvation, the principles of sovereignty are the same – in all things He is sovereign.  As D.A. Carson says, “Ultimately, the twelve did not choose Jesus; He chose them.”

Very interesting that Jesus would choose to react in verse 70 to Peter’s confession this way.  In another discourse Peter makes a more clear confession of faith and Christ responds slightly differently, but the point is really the same.  That confession is found in Matthew 16:16-17.

Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

There are some wonderful parallels between this passage and the one we’re looking at here in John.  As you recall, we said that being taught of God is the same as being drawn or chosen by God.  And these two verses demonstrate this all the more.  The Matthew passage shows us that what Peter understood about Christ did not emanate from within himself, but rather from God who revealed it to him.  We might call this being “taught” of God.

The passage we have in John shows us a similar confession by Peter, though slightly different in the phraseology.  He states that Jesus is the “Holy One of God” and Jesus doesn’t say specifically this time that God revealed this to him, but rather says that it wasn’t Peter that chose to have this knowledge, it wasn’t something within Peter that made him want to stay and be with Christ and follow Him, rather Jesus says that it was Christ who called him out of darkness.  Peter would later write this about what it means to be a Christian:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)

So we see here that Jesus isn’t going away from His main point of this passage, which is that in all things God is sovereign, and particularly in the matter of salvation.

Allowing Evil

The second thing we notice here is what Boice calls “a disturbing revelation.”  He points out is that one of the disciples is “a devil” and John adds a contextual note that Judas will betray Jesus.  Leon Morris says that all the gospel authors make this betrayal clear when they first introduce Judas in each of their accounts.

There is no question that Jesus is stating that He is sovereign over who will be His disciples, just as He is sovereign over salvation and is sovereign over all living things.  He’s already stated this numerous times throughout the passage, and once more again just now.  But why would He allow Judas to be numbered among them?

The answer lies in the fact that, while God hates evil, He allows evil, and even chooses to work through evil situations and people, to bring good to His people.  This is the whole meaning of Romans 8:28.  It isn’t that God simply is sovereign over the good times, and it isn’t as though these evil people are somehow out from under His thumb.  No indeed.  God in His mysterious sovereignty allows evil people to do what they do in order that He might bring about redemption.

This is the kind of thing that baffles us.  Christ ends the passage that is so rich with predestinarian language and teaching that one can’t help but realize that from the beginning of time God had a plan for us and for His Son’s incarnation, death, and glorious resurrection.  Yet we struggle with the purpose of evil.  And we must be careful, because this is where errors can filter into our thinking.

We must guide our thoughts of Jesus’ allowing of Judas, and other evil men, into His plans by what we know is true about God’s character.  God is not the author of evil Himself, nor does He like, or condone it.  Evil is contrary to God’s holy character, it is so fully opposite of who He is that He will not evil look upon sin (Habakkuk 1:13).

And yet His Spirit strives with us while we continue to sin, and He also uses evil to accomplish His will on earth.  This is close to being a paradox – it is something that seems contradictory on the surface, but when we look at God’s character we find it is not so.  God can be both merciful, and holy.  He can be both loving of His sinful creatures, while displaying at least some measure of His wrath at our sin.

We would not call these attributes contradictory in a person, just as we won’t call them so in God.  But we do have a tendency as human beings to assume God’s mercy outweighs His justice and wrath.  We tend to think of God as sort of a one-sided all loving God, or perhaps as a lopsided all-judging and wrathful God.  But the truth is that God’s characteristics are balanced as He sees fit.  We can’t know the “why” of His choosing to be merciful to some and deliver justice to others.  He chose to be merciful to the disciples and deliver justice to Judas.  He had a plan that involved Judas betraying Him.  If He hadn’t have chosen Judas to be one of the 12, there would be no betrayal, no cross, and no redemption for sins.

The Mind of God and Vessels of Wrath

It is impossible to understand fully the mind of God.  For the past several weeks we have been struggling with the operation of God’s choosing some and not others.  We have mostly been focused on how God chose us, and how amazing it is that He would do so – and indeed it is amazing!  But here we’re confronted with the necessary opposite of that choice of His.  Here we see that Judas was not only not chosen for heaven, but was in fact chosen by God for a purpose – as a vessel of wrath to fulfill the scriptures.

This seems even more unacceptable and unpalatable to us that God discriminating who will be chosen to go to heaven!  But the Bible isn’t silent on this either.  In Romans 9 Paul explains the mysterious dilemma we’re facing right now:

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, [7] and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” [8] This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. [9] For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” [10] And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, [11] though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—[12] she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” [13] As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

[14] What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! [15] For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” [16] So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. [17] For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” [18] So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

[19] You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” [20] But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” [21] Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? [22] What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, [23] in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory (Romans 9:6-23 ESV)

This is an astounding passage of scripture and it would be easy to fall into error if we don’t properly understand what God is saying here.

In one sense, God is both active and in another He is passive.  This is a paradox – not a contradiction (hence why I’ve taken the time in the past to explain this important principle).  God is actively not choosing some men – like Judas, and in the passage above Esau, while He is also not actively putting any kind of evil into their hearts.

This doctrine is called by some “Double-Predestination”, and the idea is that God elects some to life and others to destruction, while not retracting any responsibility from mankind whatsoever. Judas was still responsible for his actions. So then, God knows both who will go to hell and who will go to heaven.  He elects believers to life – we know that because we’ve spent the last few weeks reading all about Christ’s teaching on the matter.  But now we read that He also has plans for Judas – plans that end in his destruction. We can’t escape the fact that Jesus knew what was going to happen, and not only knew, but also chose to have Judas as part of the 12.

But none of this makes God the author of evil, nor does it take away Judas’ responsibility for his own sin. This is why it is so very important that we have a clear understanding that mankind is fallen, sinful, and without God. We are strangers and aliens (Eph. 2:19) to God until He brings us into His kingdom.  Once we understand our radical depravity, we’ll understand how God can not be the author of evil, and yet allow some men (like Judas) to be vessels of wrath.

Just as with Pharaoh, Judas was a sinner who loved the darkness rather than the light (John 3:19-21). We are all the same way. Why did Judas sell Christ out to the Pharisees?  For money!  He was a lover of money and not a lover of God.  It wasn’t as though Christ did something within the heart of Judas to make him do what he did.  No indeed.  We all are bound for Hell regardless of how sinful we are because we’re all sinful at some level – we were born that way.  So all men, in a manner of speaking, are destined for Hell until God intervenes and saves us from that terrible destruction!

But we know that here there’s another more terrible reality.  God actively allowed this man to do what he did.  Judas was a vessel of wrath.  The same was true for Pharaoh.  But in “hardening” Pharaoh’s heart, God was not placing some new evil there, but rather turning Pharaoh over to him own desires.  Paul tells us in Romans 1:24 and 1:26 that God “gave them up” to their sins.

God does actively make His children alive from the dead through the power of His spirit, and God does actively pass over those who are not His children.  But God does not actively implant evil in men – He doesn’t need to!  For we are already evil, and when He lifts His restraining arm of common grace from our lives and turns us over to ourselves, we quickly destroy ourselves.

In all of this, He has a purpose and a plan.

The Answer is Hidden in His Purposes

The “answer” or the “reason” in all of this is that God chooses some for heaven and not others – in fact He hardens some and not others.  And this seems difficult, but we don’t know all of His reasoning, we just know that He does it because for His own pleasure and for His own glory.

You see, as Paul pointed out, God is the creator, and as part of the Trinity, Christ was a part of that creation process.  So Christ saying that He chose these 12 men – including one as a vessel of destruction – is the same as God saying He chose these 12.  Jesus is God, and that is what He’s trying to get across.  He can do whatever He wants with His creation for His own glory and pleasure.  We’re the creatures.  He made us and can really do whatever He wants.

When I was younger I played with Lego men, army men, and GI Joe figurines.  I would make Lego fortresses and ships and zoom them around my bedroom.  Some I kept in pristine condition because I wanted to make certain I could continue to use them the next day, but others I crashed into the floor.  I did so because it was my pleasure to do so, because it brought my joy.  Now God is not an 8-year-old boy.  God’s heart is much more complex and more sincere and loving.  And we are not merely Lego men, but we are creatures and He is the creator and He is absolutely sovereign over our lives and over who will join Him in heaven, and who He will use as vessels of wrath.

Judas was placed where he was because God allowed it.  Boice talks about how this was an ongoing trial for Jesus – even when He was alone with the 12, He had an enemy in His presence.

A.W. Pink says that God chose Judas for several reasons:

  1. Because it furnished an opportunity for Christ to display His perfections
  2. It provided an impartial witness to the moral excellency of Christ
  3. It gave occasion to uncover the awfulness of sin.
  4. The choice of Judas supplies the sinner with a solemn warning – Boice says, “A person may experience the closest possible contact with Jesus and still not come to Him for salvation.”
  5. The presence of Judas shows us that we may expect to find hypocrites among the followers of Jesus.
  6. It affords us one more illustration of how radically different are God’s thoughts and ways from ours.

This is a mystery that will not be solved in one day or in one reading.  We have to have faith that God, who created us and has saved us, also has a plan that is bigger than our finite minds can comprehend.

What Should our Reaction be?

I think the only proper reaction to this is to fear the Lord.  We too easily forget that His ways are not our ways.  His thoughts are not our thoughts.  So often we use that as a cop-out for learning more about God, but this is one instance where His mind and His plans are simply out of bounds.  And I do not mean simply beyond out understanding, but also beyond our questioning.  What He has purposed from eternity past we must not question.  Instead we must bow before Him in admiration for His power, His sovereignty, and His love for us.  For indeed we see evil all around us.  We ourselves were once enemies of God.  And yet, not because of anything in us – “not because of man who wills or who runs” but for His own purposes and His own glory (Eph. 2:8-9) He has chosen to redeem us from our fallen state (Rom. 5:8).  He does this because He wants your worship.  God has saved you for a point.  He has not only saved you from something but also for something (Eph. 2:10).  He wants you to know about these great truths because He wants your to be broken.  He wants you to be humbly relying completely on Him – for surely if He has planned all things from eternity, He can guide you through the rocky shoals of life.

This should cause us to love God. We see what He’s done in us, and though we can’t know His secret purposes, we do know the why of His purposes in our lives and what we ought to do with this new life we’ve been given.  Boice says, “let us learn to trust God in matters for which we can see no reason. Let us humble ourselves before Him. Moreover, since we can se that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, let us learn that our thoughts must change.”

I pray we learn to use this small understanding of His ways to foster a new love for Him in our hearts.  For we love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).