Understanding The Revelation.

As I began this post, I intended to make it a two-post series.  With all the discussion of the Revelation, I knew that two posts wouldn’t be enough really to understand the book, if that’s even possible before it’s all over and done with.  I just wanted to lay a basic foundation. The first post was to be about the importance of the book and its interpretation.  The second post was to be an overview of the contents of the book.  The more I thought about it, though, and even wrote, the more I realized that I had two choices for the outline of the book.  I could just give a bare outline of the book, sort of like its skeleton, but I don’t know that that would really say much about the book.  In order to do any kind of justice to the subject, I needed more than that.  For me, that would probably wind up being several thousands of words.  For the time being, I’ve decided just to do the first post on how to interpret the book.  I have done a couple other posts on the first chapters of the book.  I am thinking tentatively of a series on the seven churches.  There’s a lot there.  For the rest, there’s really a lot there.  I may or may not jump in.

I.  The Importance of the Book.

A.  It’s the only prophetic book in the New Testament.  Nearly every other book in the New Testament has elements of prophecy, but Revelation is the only book called “a prophecy,” 1:3; 10:11; 22:7, 10, 18, 19, the climax of which will be the second coming of Christ, 1:7; 3:11; 16:15; 19:11; 22:7, 12, 20.

B.  It’s necessary to complete the revelation of Pauline eschatology.  Paul revealed many prophetic truths – the Revelation puts them all into perspective.  Indeed, Revelation is the capstone of all Biblical prophecy.

C. It fully reveals Christ’s present relationship to His churches and His prospective relationship to the world.  It’s the fulfillment of Philippians 2:9-11 and is the answer to the question in 1 Peter 4:17, 18.

D.  It’s the only NT book in which is given a blessing for the fulfilling of our responsibilities toward it, 1:3; 22:7.  This responsibility is three-fold:  to read, to hear, and to keep.  The Greek word translated, “keep,” doesn’t mean simply to possess, but in the words of Newell,

“Now the sense of the word ‘keep’ is its primary one of  ‘watching over,’ ‘guarding as a treasure,’ as well as its secondary one, ‘to give heed to.”  We cannot ‘keep’ a prophecy as men might ‘observe’ a law.  The prophecy will  be fulfilled whether we pay attention to it or not.  But there is divine blessing if we give heed to it and jealously guard its very words!”  (Revelation, p. 7, emphasis his.)

There are several Scriptures which build on the foundation of prophetic insight in their teachings as to is to be what our outlook on this present evil world, Galatians 1:4.  Two of the more notable ones are 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 and 2 Peter 3:11-14.

1 Thessalonians tells us that the Christian life is to be one of activity and anticipation.  This “activity” is two-fold, to turn from idols and to serve the living and true God.  Many rejoice in the fact, at least to their own minds, that they have fulfilled the first of these, that is, they “don’t drink or chew or have friends who do,” but fail to realize that the other side of the coin, as it were, is “serving the living and true God.”  As Paul put it, presenting their bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord, Romans 12:1, 2..

The coupling of activity and anticipation also shows us what is to be our attitude toward the coming of the Lord.  We’re not, as some have, to quit our jobs, sell all our possessions, put on white sheets, and go to live on a mountaintop, waiting for the Lord to come and pick us up.  No, no, while waiting for Him, we’re to be productive in the things of God, leaving the fulfilling of His purpose to Him.  We’ll have more to say about this shortly.

2 Peter also tells us what is to be our attitude in this life.  It is to be, “as then, so now.”  In other words, many Christians seem to have the attitude that, since we’ll be perfect only in heaven, there’s little need to be concerned about it before we get there.  It is true that perfect and complete holiness won’t be ours until we get to heaven, but it is also true that God begins the work before we get there.  He begins it in this life, as soon as we’re converted.  Heaven will, as it were, reveal the unveiling of His masterpiece, but He begins the work in this life.  The things that happen to us now are His brushstrokes as He makes us into the likeness of His Son.

The eternal world is described by Peter as one in which righteousness dwells, 2 Peter 3:13.  There are two thoughts in this.  First, there is “permanence.”  Righteousness is very fleeting on this earth and is often covered up or done away with.  Not so in eternity.  Second, “dwells” carries the idea of “being at home.”  Sin and evil are at home in this world, righteousness is often viewed as an unwelcome intruder.  Not so in eternity.  Therefore, wrote Peter, we’re to strive to be holy in this life, 2 Peter 3:11, 14.  “Holiness” isn’t about some “experience,” or about belonging to a particular denomination or group.  True Biblical holiness is about conformity to the will of God.  It’s the demonstration of the character of God in the life of the believer.  Imperfectly, to be sure, but something longed for by those who know the true God.

In 2 Peter 3:12, Peter tells us we’re also to be hasting unto the coming of the day of God.  This doesn’t mean that we can do something to hasten it, or that we can delay it, for that matter, but rather that we’re eagerly to wait for it and to look forward to it, as a young child might to a promised treat, or on a long journey, wanting to know, “Are we there yet?”

This doesn’t mean that we’re supposed to set dates or anything foolish like that, but to realize, and to wish, that today might be the day when the Lord returns.

D.  It’s the only NT book which includes a curse against those who tamper with its contents!  For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book:  If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book, Revelation 22:18, 19.

Regardless of what one thinks about what these verses mean, or even what the book itself means, it’s a serious thing to approach the book with anything but the utmost reverence and respect.  God will not have His Word to be meddled with, mocked, or misused!  It’s neither to be sensationalized nor minimized.

II. Interpretation of the Book

 It’s said that Satan especially hates three books of the Bible:  Genesis, because it records God’s denunciation of him, Deuteronomy, because the Lord Jesus defeated him with it during Satan’s testings of Him in the wilderness, and Revelation, because it reveals his ultimate defeat and eternal doom.

This may or may not be true, but it’s certain that he has caused a great deal of controversy over how to interpret the book.  Generally speaking, there are four main schools of thought about this.

A.  Preterist.

According to this view, all the Revelation was fulfilled, except possibly the last two chapters, during the early history of the church.  There are those who hold that even they have been fulfilled.  Preterists believe the book to be, “A Tract for Troubled Times,” instructing the early believers to hold fast during the troubles they were facing, and would face, and encouraging them that these troubles would not be permanent.

B.  Historicist.

This view teaches that all Revelation has a continuous fulfillment throughout the Christian era.  In other words, the various things in the book, such as seals, trumpets, bowls, etc., don’t refer to specific events or details, but “to principles that are operating throughout the new dispensation,” (Wm. Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors, p. 54.)  Thus we can understand the expression “a huge mountain all ablaze” that was “hurled into the sea,” as representing all maritime disasters happening during this age.

C.  Allegorical or Spiritualizing.

According to this view, Revelation portrays through symbol the conflict between good and evil.  John is said not to have expected a literal fulfillment of his words.  We’re not supposed to, either.  Wm. Ramsay states the following:

“In the figurative or symbolic language of the Apocalypse hardly anything is called by its ordinary and direct name, but things are indirectly alluded to under some other name, and words have to be understood as implying something else than their ordinary connotations….”  (The Letters to the Seven Churches, p. 111.)

Then he goes so far as to assert that “the most dangerous kind of error that can be made about the Apocalypse is to regard it as a literal statement and prediction of events,” p.112.

We want to deal with this view a little more than with the others because it has had such an impact on Church history and on current views of The Revelation.

The allegorical method had its roots in the ancient Greek culture of Alexandria.  It arose as the result of a dilemma the Alexandrian Greeks faced in reconciling the difference between their philosophical heritage and the often immoral and grotesque stories about their gods.  This dilemma was resolved by treating the religious stories allegorically, that is, as not literally true, but as merely illustrating the virtues or as describing the struggle between good and evil.

The Alexandrian Jew also had two traditions to reconcile.  His religion had come down from Moses and the prophets.  Yet, in Alexandria’s cosmopolitan atmosphere, he soon learned of the great Greek philosophical tradition.  How could he embrace both?  It’s true that we can say that he shouldn’t have.  He should have rejected Plato and clung to Moses, but we’re not talking about what should have happened, but about what did happen.  The Alexandrian Jew did as the Alexandrian Greek had done before him; he interpreted Plato literally and interpreted Moses allegorically, thus making Moses teach the philosophy of Plato.

Jewish allegorism arose about 160 B.C. and, though not originating with him, was popularized by a Jew named Philo, who believed in the divine origin of Greek philosophy.  He taught that every Scripture had both a literal and an allegorical meaning.  The literal meaning was for the weak-minded, while the allegorical meaning was for the advanced.

About 180, the allegorical method was advanced in Christian circles by Pantaneus, then by Clement of Alexandria and by Origen,

The allegorical method

“owes its origin to the Alexandrine Fathers Clement and Origen, who applied it generally in the interpretation of Scripture.  They applied it even more readily in this instance [the interpretation of The Revelation], as it furnished them with the possibility of denying the millennial reign of Christ, to which they were opposed.  By this method all the prophecies in the book are deprived of any prophetic meaning, thus becoming general spiritual principles for the aid and comfort of the Christian in his unceasing fight against evil.  This method was adopted by the rationalistic schools as being agreement with their aversion to the prophetic and, consequently, the supernatural character of the content of Scripture.”  (George A. Hadjiantoniou, New Testament Introduction, p. 340.)

With regard to Ramsey’s comment above, I don’t think there is any more “dangerous” way to interpret any Scriptures than to say that it has “to be understood as implying something else than [its] ordinary connotations”!  Certainly, there are difficulties in interpreting prophecy, but in the Scripture, prophecy is about predicting events, things which must…come to pass, not just laying down “principles.” And in the other Scriptures, if God didn’t mean what He said, why didn’t He say what He meant?  That can be applied to prophecy very often, as well, especially in the Old Testament.

Having said that, we understand that “prophecy” sometimes refers simply to the preaching of the Word, without any predictive element.  That’s not the case with The Revelation.

4.  The Futurist View.

This view holds that most of Revelation is yet future, even to our own time.  Futurists accept Revelation to employ language generally to be understood literally.  This doesn’t deny the use of symbols; it does deny that everything is symbolic.

Premillennialism, or the doctrine of the Millennium and an earthly kingdom of our Lord, which is what all this is really about, is accused of being of recent origin, the 18th or 19th centuries.  This isn’t true.  Under the name “chiliasm” (from chilias – “thousand,” Revelation 20), it was the belief of the early church, though there are some differences.  In his book, The Millennium, Loraine Boettner claims that this means nothing:

“As far as its presence in the early church is concerned, surely it can be argued with as much reason that it was one of those immature and unscriptural beliefs that flourished before the Church had time to work out the true system of Theology as that its presence at that time is an indication of purity of faith.  In any event, so thoroughly did Augustine do his work in refuting it that it practically disappeared for a thousand years as an organized system of thought, and was not seriously put forth again until the time of the Protestant Reformation.” (p. 366.)

There are some interesting things here.  The “thousand years” to which he refers from Augustine to the Reformation are known as “The Dark Ages,” a time in which the Scriptures themselves almost disappeared, let alone a difficult subject like prophecy.  I believe the adoption of the allegorical method led directly to this dismal time in church and human history.  I further believe that the Reformation itself would never have come, humanly speaking, if Luther and Calvin and others hadn’t restored a measure of literalism to their expositions of Scripture.

In his Bondage of the Will, written in 1525 to answer a volume written by the humanist scholar Erasmus on the subject of free-will, Luther had this to say:

 “…let this be our conviction:  that no “implication” or “figure” may be allowed to exist in any passage of Scripture unless such be required by some obvious feature of the words and the absurdity of their plain sense, as offending against an article of faith.  Everywhere we should stick to just the simple, natural meaning of the words, as yielded by the rules of grammar and the habits of speech that God has created among men; for if anyone may devise “implications” and “figures” at his own pleasure, what will all Scripture be but a reed shaken with the wind, and as a sort of chameleon?”  (p.192.)

In his commentary on Galatians, written about 1548,  explaining Galatians 4:22-31, (the “allegory” of Sarah and Hagar,)  Calvin had this to say:

“Again, as the history which he [Paul] quotes appeared to have no bearing on the question, he gives it an allegorical interpretation.  But as the apostle declares that these things are “allegorized “(‘allegoroumena’), Origen, and many others with him, have seized the occasion of torturing the Scriptures, in every possible manner, away from the true sense.  They concluded that the literal sense is too mean and poor, and that under the outer bark of the letter, there lurk deeper mysteries, which cannot be extracted but by beating out allegories.  And this they had no difficulty in accomplishing; for speculations which appear to be ingenious have always been preferred, and always will be preferred by the world to solid doctrine.” (p. 135.)

This doesn’t mean that the Reformers themselves had any use for or agreement with chiliasm.  They thought as little of it as had Augustine before them.  Calvin classed chiliasts with Origen, no compliment to them.  He never did a commentary on The Revelation.  And Luther said, “My spirit cannot adjust itself to this book.”

Reformed scholars today, though willing to expound The Revelation, have about the same attitude toward premillennialism as their ancestors had toward chiliasts.  I remember reading one author who sneered at such for having only a “Bible college” education, as opposed to those who had spent years studying in seminary.  No wonder.  If God doesn’t mean what He says, especially about the future, then, no doubt, it would take a considerable amount of “learning” to decipher what He does mean.

And I admit that many of those with whom I might otherwise agree have given them plenty of reason to dislike this viewpoint.  In spite of the fact that, even after centuries of trying and failing, no one ever successfully giving the date on which the Lord will return, people will still insist on “setting dates.”  History is littered with the wreckage of such attempts.

Nevertheless, we believe that the futurist interpretation is the only one which makes sense of the intent of God in giving us this book.  No doubt, for those who received it originally, it was “a tract for troubled times.”  But we believe that it is also a “testimony for terminal times.”  That is, when the end times do come, the Revelation will testify by the unmistakable fulfillment of its predictions as to the truthfulness and authority of the Word of God, both the written word, and that personified in the Son of God:  For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy, Revelation 19:10.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus, Revelation 22:20.

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A Servant Girl

God’s heroes aren’t always mighty warriors.  More often than not, they’re just ordinary folks doing extraordinary things.  When all is said and done, it may not be the personality who stands in front of thousands and has a world-wide ministry who gets the “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  It may be the bed-ridden saint who prays for him.

An example of ordinary people doing extraordinary things is found in 2 Kings 5:2, 3, only two verses out of more than 31,000 in the Bible, but extraordinary for all that.

And the Syrians had gone out on raids, and had brought back captive a young girl from the land of Israel.  She waited on Namaan’s wife.  Then she said to her mistress, “If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria!  For he would heal him of his leprosy.”

The “master” was Namaan, a mighty and successful warrior for one of Israel’s enemies, Syria.

We’re told nothing else of this girl, probably in her teens, though we don’t know.  The Hebrew word could mean “young woman.”  Any way, what’s important isn’t her age, but her attitude.  No doubt, she had seen or heard terrible things in the forays of Syrian raiders into her homeland.  Perhaps she had seen her parents or friends or neighbors slaughtered.  Maybe, if she were a young woman, she had been taken from a family of her own.  She had been dragged into an enemy country and made a slave.  Who knows what indignities she herself might have endured.

And we’re not told what prompted her remark. Perhaps it was in the closeness of daily household activities.  Maybe his wife was lamenting his condition.  Perhaps the wife’s remark wasn’t even addressed to her, she just overheard it.  However it came about, something happened and she had to respond.

How easy it would have been for her to be vengeful, to think, “Good!  He deserves it!”

To say nothing….

But she didn’t.

She had compassion on him, and on his wife, and told of a place of cure.

An ordinary girl, doing an extraordinary thing.

What a lesson for us!

What an example of Matthew 5:44, where our Lord said, “…love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you”!

After all, isn’t that what He did with us?

A Girl Named Rhoda.

In our reading Sunday, my wife and I were in Acts 11 and 12.  When we read Acts 12, I had to chuckle at what happened, and yet also reflected how often what happened then happens now.

In ch. 12, Herod had decided to persecute the church at Jerusalem.  He put to death James, the brother of John.  Because this greatly pleased the Jews, with whom the Herods pretty much always had uneasy relationships, he also imprisoned Peter.  V. 5 tells us that constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.  What happens next always impresses me:  on the night before Peter was to be brought out, probably to be executed, that night Peter was sleeping…. (!)

“Sleeping”….

I wonder what you and I would do under similar circumstances.

Well, Peter is miraculously released, which ultimately cost the lives of 16 Roman soldiers and went to where many was gathered together for prayer.  This is where Rhoda comes in.

So excited was she to hear Peter’s voice on the other side of the door that she didn’t open it, but ran and told the others, “Peter’s outside the door!  Peter’s outside the door!”

Their response? –

In the vernacular of our day, “You’re out of your mind!”

“No!  He’s outside, he’s outside!”

“No way!”

“Way!”

“It must be his angel.”  This from one of the more spiritual brothers.

Well – finally – they opened the door, and the Word says that they were…

…”astonished”(!)

Oh, my!

(Looking in the mirror) – how often we are “astonished” when the Lord answers prayer unexpectedly, as He did here.  I don’t know exactly what the believers were praying for when they prayed for him, but it evidently wasn’t that he would just show up at the door!

How often – too often – we’re like the man in Mark 9, who came to the Lord about his son and said, “…if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”  I think the Lord was very emphatic in the first part of His reply when He said, “If you can believe – all things are possible to him who believes.” 

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” Mark 9:17-24.

Aye, there’s a prayer for us poor believers!

“Lord, we believe.  Help our unbelief!”

Cornelius

Cornelius, a Roman centurion, is one of the most important people in the New Testament.  His conversion, along with that of his family and friends, recorded in Acts 10 and 11, was a watershed event in church history.

How so?

The early church had a really hard time accepting that Gentiles could be saved without first becoming Jews, and Peter perhaps more than most.  That’s why Peter received a special vision in Acts 10:9-16.  Three times he saw a sheet lowered from heaven, filled with all kinds of animals:  clean and unclean.  Three times he was told to rise and eat.  After all, he was “very hungry,” v. 9.  Three times, he said, “no,” that he’d never eaten an unclean animal:  no bacon, no rattlesnake, no kalimari.  Three times, he was told that what God had cleansed, he must not call unclean or common.

“What in the world?” thought Peter.

Just then, in God’s perfect timing, there was a knock at the front door, so to speak v. 17.  Three men – Gentiles – wanted to talk to Peter.  Now he understood.

Though a Roman centurion, Cornelius was what was known as a “God-fearer.”  Cf. Acts 13:16, you who fear God. These were Gentiles, like Cornelius, who had come to see the God of Israel as the true God.  They had not become “Jews” by being circumcised, but they still recognized and followed the God of Israel.

Cornelius was called a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms to the people, and prayed to God always, Acts 10:1.  For all that, he and his household still needed something.

God sent Peter to tell him of that something.

Several somethings.

1.  God acknowledged what Cornelius was doing, but it was not enough.  Lest some use these verses to say that we can be saved by our own works and doings, Peter said that there was someone else involved, vs. 34, 35.

2.  This someone else was the Lord Jesus, whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power.  He then went about doing good and healing, vs. 36-39a.

3.  In spite of all the good the Lord did, they killed Him by hanging Him on a tree, v. 39b.

4.  God raised Him from the dead, vs. 40, 41.  Jesus showed Himself to selected witnesses, among them Peter, who confirmed that He did indeed rise from the dead.  There are those who teach that He only rose “spiritually,” that His body remained dead, and is preserved somewhere, but He Himself proved His bodily resurrection by appearing to His disciples, telling them to touch Him and saying, “A spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have,” Luke 24:39.

5.  Jesus commanded His disciples to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead.  To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission [forgiveness] of sins, vs. 42, 43.

Peter never got to finish his sermon.

In thinking about current practices and teaching, it strikes me that Peter never did several things we do today.

1.  He never told Cornelius to “make his decision for Christ.”
2.  He never told Cornelius to “pray to receive the Holy Spirit.”
3.  He never told Cornelius to “repent and be baptized for the remission of sins,” (even though he had indeed said that to an earlier audience, Acts 2:38).

With regard to that last “omission,” when I was just a new believer, I worked with a lady who belonged to a group who insisted that baptism was essential to salvation.  They’re still around today – I see them on facebook quite often.  Even though I had pleased the little old ladies in my grandmother’s Sunday School class because I knew that “sanctification” means “to set apart” (though it means more than that), I really didn’t know much about the Bible.  I did know the story in Acts 10; I just didn’t know where it was.  I looked and looked and finally found it.  (Didn’t have my trusty Strong’s Concordance, then. 🙂 )  When I showed Acts 10 to this lady, she had no answer, though she wouldn’t receive what it said.

Play close attention to what the Holy Spirit wanted us to know about what He sent Peter to do:

While Peter was STILL SPEAKING these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were ASTONISHED, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out ON THE GENTILES ALSO.  For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.  Then Peter answered, “Can anyone forbid water, that these SHOULD NOT BE BAPTIZED WHO HAVE RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT JUST AS WE HAVE?” Acts 10:44-47, emphasis added

It seems to me that, unless one is willingly to believe that lost people can receive the Holy Spirit, the conversion of Cornelius and his family and friends puts to rest forever the false teaching that baptism is essential to becoming saved.

Having said that, it is essential for those who ARE saved – it’s their “profession of faith,” not walking an aisle or raising a hand.  It’s just never how you “get saved.”

“…that the Scriptures might be fulfilled…”

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a brother about a course he was taking at a local Christian college.  He mentioned that the professor teaching it believes that all the Old Testament prophecies have been fulfilled.

This is a common viewpoint.

In its introduction to Matthew, The Reformation Study Bible  says, “[Matthew’s] citations are not presented as isolated predictions and fulfillments, but as proof of the fulfillment of ALL the expectations of the Old Testament,” p.1360, (emphasis added).

Elsewhere, we’ve referred to the church bulletin insert which said that Ezekiel 40-48 were “fulfilled in Jesus.”

I’m sorry, but I cannot agree.

Jesus did indeed fulfill many prophecies during His first coming.  Matthew himself lists 19 such prophecies by text and two others with a general reference to “the prophets.”  It seems to me, therefore, that these prophecies clearly demonstrate that prophecy must be fulfilled “literally” [and, yes, I know how some folks view that word!] and not just “spiritually”.

For example, looking at Ezekiel, in our Bibles there are 9 chapters with some 270 verses of extensive and exact detail, even down to a priest’s haircut and whom he may or may not marry.

Keep in mind that Ezekiel was a priest and would not have dared to come up with something like this on his own.  Besides, God instructed him to “look with your eyes and hear with your ears, and fix your mind on everything I show you; for you were brought here that I might show them to you.  Declare to the house of Israel everything you see,” Ezekiel 40:4.

To say that his writings can be lightly dismissed because of the the fact that one or two words which Ezekiel used were also used by the Lord Jesus of Himself seems to me to be going too far.

We grant that there are some difficult things to understand in these chapters.  For example, some are troubled, even offended, by the references to various sacrifices, believing they deny the final sacrifice of our Lord Jesus.  I freely admit that I don’t understand them myself.  However, without meaning in the least to be irreverent or flippant, I expect that, since God told Ezekiel to write them down, He will take care of it.

I have no doubt that, when all is said and done and this world is over and regardless of our views of prophecy, we will all discover that we didn’t have everything “figured out”.

There were many prophets in Israel.  It wasn’t to be taken for granted, though, that they all spoke for God, even if they said or thought that they did.  If Israel were to ask how they could tell which were true prophets and which were false prophets, God gave them two simple tests.  These tests still work.

The first test is found in Deuteronomy 13:1-5, where God gave this instruction to Israel,

If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods,’…you shall not listen to the words of that prophet….for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul.  But that prophet or dreamer of dreams shall be put to death….  So shall you put away the evil from among you.” 

Even though New Testament believers do not have the right or the authority to kill false prophets, still the lesson is clear, all messages must be faithful to and judged by the Word of God.

The second test is in Deuteronomy 18:21, 22,

“And if you say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’ – when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”

In other words, the thing prophesied has to happen!

I don’t believe that Israel would have accepted the idea that a prophecy could be fulfilled “spiritually.”  They were told certain things would happen and they expected those very things to happen.  Now, it’s true that they didn’t always understand everything that would be involved, any more than we do today.  And there might even be a “spiritual” element involved.  Still, there was a definite thing or things expected.

For example –

“Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “that I will perform that good thing which I have promised to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah:  ‘In those days and at that time, I will cause to grow up to David a Branch of righteousness; He shall execute judgement and righteousness in the earth.  IN THOSE DAYS JUDAH WILL BE SAVED, AND JERUSALEM WILL DWELL SAFELY.  AND THIS IS THE NAME BY WHICH SHE WILL BE CALLED:  THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.’  For thus says the LORD:  “David shall never lack of man to sit on the throne of Israel; nor shall the priests, the Levites, lack a man to offer burnt offerings before Me, to kindle grain offerings, and to sacrifice continually,” Jeremiah 33:14-18 (emphasis added)..

God said He would keep His promise to Israel and Judah.  To say that this was fulfilled during the return from Babylon or that it’s fulfilled in “the church” and the Lord Jesus is sitting on David’s throne in heaven is to miss the point of the prophecy.  Jerusalem hasn’t dwelt “safely” since its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar and certainly not after the return from Babylon.  Ezra, Nehemiah and Malachi testify to that!  She still doesn’t!  Judah isn’t “saved.”  Jerusalem is still called Jerusalem, there being nothing “righteous” about her, since she is in part inhabited by those who call the Cross “a monstrous falsehood.”.

There are many other OT portions we could look at.

Zechariah 14 is one of them.  Read it.  When has the Lord returned, there have been catastrophic geological changes to the planet and a moral and spiritual revolution taken place so that everyone who is left of all the nations…shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles”?  To say that some of this refers to the “eternal state” as the Reformation Study Bible does is to ignore the plagues and punishment Zechariah describes.  How would they even be necessary?

Jeremiah 33 and Zechariah 14 certainly tie in with Ezekiel 40-48.

The Church is unknown in the Old Testament.  It didn’t come about because Israel rejected her Messiah and so God instituted “Plan B.”  The Cross was part of God’s eternal purpose, Ephesians 3:11.  Israel’s rejection of the Lord Jesus was part of it.  It doesn’t say much for our view of God if we believe He had to go to Plan B.  I don’t know about you, but if God had to do that with me, He’d be way beyond “B.”  No, no.  The Church is “Part B,” if you will.  But that probably is another whole post.

To deny even the possibility of a “literal” fulfillment seems to me to cast doubt on the truthfulness of God’s Word.  If He didn’t mean what He said, then why did He say it?Why didn’t He say what He did mean?  And what else in His Word can we not trust?  So, it seems to me that there’s a lot more involved than just fussing over some marginal issue.

The few words of this post won’t lay the discussion to rest, by any means.  I just hope it might give some food for thought.

The Scripture must be fulfilled!

The Bible: GPS or Road Map?

I admit it, I’m old (my “inner child” is 47 🙂  ).  I remember as a teenager getting a transistor radio, and thinking I really had something.  I paid 8 dollars for it.  Now there are all kinds of electronic gadgets and two and three-year-old kids know how they work.  And the gadgets don’t cost $8!

For about 18 years, I drove for a living, even had my own delivery service for a while.  I’m not a typical male who doesn’t ask for directions.  When time is money, well….   The map book I used had about 50 pages, and it was well worn.  But I’ve also used GPS to get from here to there.   And looked directions up on computer sites.

What’s my point?

The thing with GPS or computer directions is that they may get you there, but not always with the best route.  For example, my wife and I went to one of these pick-it-yourself farms.  Looked up how to get there on the computer.  Well, we got there, twisting and turning and going through what my grandmother would have called, “Robin Hood’s barn.”  If we had come back the same way, it would have required a right turn from the farm.  I asked one of the folks there if there were a better way.  Sure enough.  Turn left!  About a mile up the road was a highway that brought us back home in about half the time!  If I’d looked at an actual map, I might have seen that for myself.

Plus, GPS isn’t always accurate, especially in rural areas.

On the other hand, maps aren’t always right, either.  My wife and I were on a trip – I was navigating.  (My navigational skills are legendary! 😛 ).  The map clearly showed that if we took this little side road, we could cut across a corner and save some time.  *sigh*

Anyway.  The thing with a map is that it gives you a larger picture.  In looking for an unfamiliar place, you can see how it hooks up to places that are familiar.  GPS doesn’t do that.

So, what does all this have to do with the Bible?

A lot of folks have their Bibles on their phone.  And there are apps which will give you a whole library of reference works, different translations, etc.  You can punch in a verse and voila! there it is.  No thumbing through pages.

But, again, there’s no “larger picture.”  Especially in the study of Scripture, context is vital.  That’s where the cults and most false teaching comes from:  a verse or two here and there.  I don’t know how many times in church or my own reading that I’ve seen something new in another verse on the same page.

I don’t expect to stem the tide of electronic gizmos.  And I may be all wet in my thinking. I just want to encourage folks to go “old-school” and read and study a Bible that’s a physical book, not an app.

 

God’s Blueprint for Believers

No doubt, there are many things that could be said about this.  The most important one is the verse which says that we’re to be conformed to the image of His Son, Romans 8:29.  Without doubt, perfect Christlikeness is the ultimate goal of our salvation, 1 John 3:2.

Paul also had something to say about it.  In 1 Timothy 1:15, 16 (NKJV), he wrote,

This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.  However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. (emphasis added).

What??

How can we be like Paul?  Travelling all over his world with the Gospel, starting churches, writing a lot of the New Testament…how can we do that?

I don’t think that’s what Paul had in mind.  True, there are those today who are successful at church-planting, as well as those who claim that they, too, receive direct revelation from the Lord.  For those who plant churches, I thank the Lord that He uses people and that His Word accomplishes what He sends it out to do.  As for the others, well, I’m not the final judge on such things, but I think they are misled.

Paul wrote that he was to be “a pattern”.

We get our word “schematic” from the Greek word translated “pattern”.  A schematic shows how something’s put together so it’ll work the way the designer wanted it to. Though they’re a little different, it’s the same thing with a blueprint.

So Paul wrote that he was an example, “a pattern,” of how salvation is supposed to “work.”

How so?

  • Pattern of Great Sin. 

Paul never forgot that he started out by trying to stamp out the name of Jesus, Acts 26:9-11.  He was exceedingly enraged against those who confessed that name.

It’s probable that very few, if any, of us have gone to that extreme, but the Scripture is still true that says, …all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23.

It doesn’t matter how far “short” we have fallen, either.  I was talking with a fellow and somehow we got around to the Grand Canyon.  I made the comment that it didn’t matter if you could jump 10 feet off the rim, or only one foot, you would still plunge to your death.  The fellow said he saw someone he had to meet and rushed off.

I might add to that and say that if you could take the pole a pole-jumper uses and propel yourself 20 or 25 feet from the edge, you would still die.

Compared to the holiness and righteousness of God, the Grand Canyon isn’t even a crack in the sidewalk.  You can step over that.

There are a lot of people who’ve got their “poles” all ready for the “jump”.  They’ve been baptized or joined the church or take the Eucharist (communion/mass) or any of a hundred other things that folks say can be done to get us to the other side.  Doesn’t matter.  We’re still gonna “fall short” and die.

A lot of people use the “pole” of “Well, I’m not so bad.  Look at so-and-so,” as if another sinner were the standard.  But the Lord Jesus is the standard, and He said, “I always do those things which please the Father.”  That word, “always,” condemns all of us ’cause we can’t say that.  If anyone could, as I’ve remarked before, then they could go up to the throne when they get to heaven and say, “Move over, Jesus.  Now there are two of us.”

  • Pattern of Gracious Salvation.

A lot of people believe that God must be very careful when approaching sinners about being saved.  Unless they are “willing,” God can’t do anything.  They have to take that first step, do “their part” before He can do “His part.”

Really?

How does that work with Paul?

What do you suppose would have happened if, on the morning of his trip to Damascus, some Christian had asked him if he would like to “accept Jesus”?

The last thing on Paul’s (Saul’s) mind would have been that, before he got to Damascus, he would be a disciple of that One whose very name he was trying to destroy.  He was breathing out threats and murder against Christians.  It may be that he was being convicted by the testimony of those he persecuted, but up until the second that the light struck him down, he thought he was serving God.  He wasn’t asking God to show him the right way; he thought he already had it!  Jesus didn’t come to him and ask him if he’d like to be saved.  The Holy Spirit didn’t try to “woo” him, or to “cooperate” with Saul’s will.  Saul’s “will” was to kill Christians!  That was his “decision.”  According to Acts 26:11, 12, it was while thus occupied and being exceedingly enraged against them, that the Lord appeared to him.  He didn’t even know whose brightness it was which knocked him to the ground: “Who are you, Lord?”  

Modern religion entirely misses the point on this.  Apart from the grace of God, we’re not the least bit interested in what God really says or wants.  We might have religion, or even a (great) knowledge of Scripture, like Saul.  We might talk about God, even “believe” in Him, but we don’t know nor love the God of Scripture,  or we might be strenuously opposed to Him and His Word, like Saul.  This brings us to our next point.

  • Pattern of God’s Sovereignty. 

Oh, this is where the rubber meets the road.  This is where the Word sticks in our throats.  The very idea!  That God could act like God!  I don’t know of another doctrine that makes us angrier or arouses our opposition more quickly or vehemently than the doctrine that God is sovereign in salvation.

This is already a long post, so we won’t get into the discussion of all this.  Just hear what Paul said about it in discussing his life before Christ, when he persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it: … But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me through His grace,… Galatians 1:13, 15.

It pleased God…. 

As much as modern Christianity tries to deny it, Paul didn’t take the first step…

God did.

  •  Pattern of  Grateful Service. 

From that moment on, Saul was completely different.  Eventually, he became known as Paul.  In Galatians 1:23, he wrote of his early experiences as a Christian with the churches in Judea:  that they were hearing only, He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy. 

God doesn’t call every believer to be a preacher or missionary, yet at the same time He does.  The world needs godly janitors and godly auto mechanics.  It needs people everywhere who demonstrate that this world isn’t all there is to life.  It needs godly teachers, godly politicians (no, that shouldn’t be an oxymoron).  Our Lord taught that believers are salt and light.  No matter where we are, the world needs what we have. That doesn’t mean it wants it, just needs it.

Paul was a pattern for those who believe on the Lord Jesus for everlasting life.  If the “building inspector” came around, would we be “up to code”?  Do we match the blueprint?