Saturday, June 16, 2012

Israel's Privileged Place In Redemptive History

In my June 17 sermon on Hosea 1:1-2 I set forth the background to the book, which includes an overview of Israel’s privileged place in God’s history of redemption. If the reader of the book does not grasp this to some degree, the message of the book will not be fully grasped and God’s love displayed in this Old Testament book will not be fully understood or appreciated.

As I set forth this overview I did not supply biblical proofs. So, in this post I want to do that. It is  important that it can be seen this was not merely Tom’s “story,” but truly a synopsis of what the Scriptures teach. In what follows I supply a simple outline of the points I made with Scriptural texts behind each point.

1. From creation until about 2100 B.C. God used more of a “shot-gun” approach in revealing himself to the world that included showing himself in creation, communicating his will more specifically to individuals apart from the written word, and not working through a specific nation. Through this period of history, though some followed him, nevertheless, the general direction of mankind was downward and continually away from God. Genesis 1-11; Exodus 18:16; Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:18-32

2. Beginning with Abram (later Abraham) God began to focus upon him, his descendants, and the emerging nation of Israel, a nation that God intended to be a light to the nations such hat they could “come and see” what it is like to know and worship the true God, as well as to be blessed by him. Genesis 12:1-3; Deuteronomy 6; 12:10; Isaiah 42:6; 49:6

3. Part of the way God privileged the people of Israel was by giving to them his Law, his Word, by which he revealed himself, his will, his way of salvation, and way of blessing. To have it in written form, rather than passed on orally, gave a greater and more permanent testimony for man to follow. Psalm 33:12; 103:7; 147:19-20; Proverbs 3:5-7; Habakkuk 2:2; Romans 3:2

4. God privileged Israel by delivering them from Egypt and thereby giving to them a picture of what it is to be saved from bondage, a blueprint for how he would save mankind in the future through the Savior. Exodus 12-14; Micah 7:15-19; Luke 9:31

5. God also gave Israel a privileged status in that his relationship with them as Father to beloved son gave an example of how he would relate to his Son, the Savior in the future. By this he shows those connected into the son or Son are connected into the Father. Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:13-15

6. God gave Israel kings and treated them in such a way that how it goes with the king, so goes the people. This was a preparation for the coming king and Savior. 2 Samuel 7:12-14; Psalms 20-21; Hosea 3:5; Mark 1:14-15

7. God gave sacrifices, feasts, festivals, Sabbaths, and dietary laws to Israel so they could learn the need for sacrifice, ultimate rest, and the need to be different from the world—and that all this would ultimately be fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In this way Israel was a blessing to the rest of the world by teaching how God would save and relate to people through the Savior.  Colossians 2:16-17; Hebrews 4

8. God has blessed Israel materially in the days of Amos and Hosea. Amos 6:1-14

Sunday, June 10, 2012

It's A Matter Of Life And Death

Something we quickly learn in the Bible is that what it says about the end-times has a strong impact upon how we look at things now. This seems especially to be the case with the passage we considered in our last post, Revelation 20.

There we discovered that those who have life in Christ experience even greater life when they die during this age and are in the presence of Christ (Rev. 20:4-6). And, what is more, they await an even greater experience of life when they are resurrected at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (1 Thes. 4:13-17; Rev. 20:11-12; 21:1-22:5). So, the one who is in Christ has life now (John 5:24), which leads to more life (John 11:25-26; Phil. 1:21-23) and this leads unto even greater life (1 Cor. 15:19-58).  Such a glorious future with life leading to life leading to life should bring great comfort and encouragement now (1 Thes. 4:18).

At the same time, we learned in Revelation 20:14-15 that those who are already spiritually dead (John 5:24; Eph. 2:1-3) experience an even greater degree of death when they leave this earth (Luke 16:19-31). Then at the judgment death and hell are cast into the lake of fire, which is the second death (Rev. 20:14-15), that is, an even greater death. Such death leading to death leading to death should bring with it every reason to consider where one stands with Christ now!

To grasp the two different ways set before us, the path of life (Ps. 16:11; Prov. 8:35) and the path of death (Prov. 9:13-18), we must understand that death is separation from the grace and blessing of God (Gen. 2:17; 3:23-24) that leads to grave pain and despair (Prov. 5:23; 9:13-18; 17:22), is a cloud that hangs over all people (Is. 25:7-8), results in physical death (Rom. 6:23; 1 Corinthians 15:55-56; 2 Cor. 4:16; Rev. 21:4), results in the eternal separation from the blessed presence of God (Rev. 22:14-15),  and also results in his eternal punishment (Mt. 25:46). At the same time, we must understand that the life of which we speak is more than mere biological existence (Hosea 4:10; John 11:25-26). It is a greater reality that brings God’s blessing and greater vibrancy, is marked by the eternal, comes to us through knowledge of the Father and Son (John 3:36; 5:24; 10:10; 17:3), enables us to carry out God’s will unto his pleasure (Rom. 6:11-23; 8:1-17), and results in life that last forever (John 11:25-26).

So, one of the ways to think about Jesus Christ in light of what we have learned about the end times is that it is a matter of life and death. Do you desire death leading unto death and unto more death?  Or do you want life leading unto life that leads unto more life (the abundant life Jesus came to bring, John 10:10)?  If you desire the latter, then understand that such life is not found anywhere else other than in Jesus Christ. Hear and respond to the words of Jesus in John 14:6:  “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Sunday, June 3, 2012

What About Revelation 20:1-6?

Another question that often comes up regarding what the Bible teaches about the end times and those events surrounding the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is, “What about Revelation 20:1-6? How do we understand this only passage in the Bible that explicitly mentions a 1,000 year reign of Jesus Christ?”

I believe the best way to understand this passage is that it addresses the time between the first and second comings of Jesus Christ, a time during which Satan’s activity is curtailed so that the nations of the world will come to Christ in greater number and also deceased saints experience their life in Christ in even a greater fashion as perfected saints, reigning with him in his presence. In other words, this is not a promise of some millennial reign of Christ and saints between this age and the age-to-come. Rather, it is designed to give comfort and joy to the Church, reminding them that if they die or are martyred prior to the Second Coming Of Jesus Christ, they will experience great glory, even though it will not match their ultimate glory as resurrected saints in the new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21-22).

I provide the following twelve proofs in support of this understanding.

1. In chapters 6-22 the book of Revelation provides seven progressive parallel pictures of the age from the first coming of Christ leading up to his reward of his people and judgment upon those who reject him. The seventh picture or cycle includes 20:1-22:5. If we are correct in this assessment, 20:1-6 is not meant to address events chronologically after the coming of Christ (19:11-21). Rather, they are depicting what happens in this inter-advent age (between the first and second comings of Christ).

2. In a book that is filled with symbolism (notice the examples of how Jesus Christ appears in chapters 1, 5), we should not be surprised to find symbolism in Revelation 20, especially in light of the picture of a non-corporeal being (Satan) being bound with a chain and a key to open and lock the abyss. This suggests that we should be ready for symbolic elements, even if that includes the 1,000 as representative of a long period of time, rather than a literal 1,000 years.

3. Related to 2, we know of the symbolic use of numbers elsewhere in Scripture (Hosea 6:2), so we should not be surprised to find a non-literal use of 1,000 in the midst of often highly symbolic apocalyptic literature as Revelation is. In fact, most likely we have already seen a symbolic use of numbers in Revelation.  Examples include 2:10; 12:6.

4. We have parallels to the binding of Satan and demons elsewhere in the New Testament that put the binding or curtailing of their activity during the inter-advent age (Matthew 12:29; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). This leads us to see this as the same reference unless we have strong reasons to conclude otherwise.

5. Similar to 4, elsewhere in the New Testament we find that a time when the nations were ignorant of God in large part and left to go their own way has come to an end with the first advent of Christ (Acts 14:16;17:30). Such a post-ignorance time coincides with the present age, not a future age.

6. This understanding of Revelation 20:1-6 fits better with the reality that elsewhere in the Bible we see the righteous and unrighteous will be resurrected at the same time (John 5:29) and that the ultimate defeat of Satan, his demons, and representatives (anti-Christ) will take place at the same time as the coming of Jesus Christ, not at a later time separated by a millennium (2 Thes. 2:8).

7. Elsewhere in Revelation the word “throne” (Rev. 20:4) is almost always a heavenly throne, especially when used of God and his people. This favors the understanding that these events of Revelation 20:4-6 take place in heaven and not on the earth. If that is the case, then we do not have an earthly reign of Christ or of his saints addressed in these verses, but a heavenly one. This means there is no explicit mention in this passage of three key elements of the view of this passage that takes it as an earthly reign of Christ with glorified and non-glorified saints that primarily focuses upon Israel. We have no mention of earth, Israel, or non-glorified saints.

8. Following up on 7, it is clear that the saints under consideration are deceased and in heaven, some of whom have died because of their faith (Rev. 20:4).

9. Because this is apocalyptic literature and in light of what we have seen thus far, the reader should be ready to distinguish carefully between the symbol seen in a vision and the referent, sometimes realizing that a very physical visionary symbol has a highly figurative referent (Jesus in chapter 1 or 5). As such, that John envisions a type of resurrection of saints as recorded in verse 4 is indisputable (as explained in v. 5). Yet, as we are about to see, the context favors a figurative referent.

10. In context the word “first” in “first resurrection” (v. 5) is not being used as a mere ordinal numeral. Instead, it is referring to this current age as opposed to the future age (cf. Rev. 21:1). This is why “first resurrection” is contrasted with “second death” in verse 6. The “first resurrection” is a kind of resurrection belonging to this current age, namely those who have been raised up spiritually and given new life in Christ experience a graduated and expanded reality of that true life once they die, their souls are glorified, and they are in the presence of Christ. Though they still await an even greater reality of life in physical resurrection and in the new heaven and new earth, nevertheless, life in heaven in the intermediate state is so glorious compared to life merely on this earth it can be spoken of as a type of resurrection for the deceased, glorified saint.

11. Based upon 10, we see a sharp contrast between the righteous and wicked in this text. The righteous in Christ experience the first resurrection (the exalted life of this age in heaven), but not the second death (the exalted death of the age-to-come). Conversely, the wicked do not experience the first resurrection, but do experience the second death. What Jesus Christ is providing through John is glorious comfort for saints who die in this age or have fellow saints who die in this age and before the Second Coming.

12. The release of Satan in the following verses (7ff.) makes slightly more sense with this understanding. His activity is curtailed so the nations can come to God in saving faith in Christ. He is freed to oppose God and his people in a greater way once again so there can be one final and ultimate defeat of Satan—a defeat by the way which flows out of the saving work of Christ (cf. Rev. 5:9; 12:11).