Monday, January 25, 2010

Skeptics and the Second Coming

How are we to understand Matthew 24:34, where Jesus says, “This generation will not pass away” until he comes again? Skeptics point out that we are approaching 2,000 years now since he said that, and he still hasn’t come.

The first thing we have to do is recognize what it is Jesus is talking about. In Matthew 24 Jesus is talking about the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. The skeptics have gotten this wrong. And they have gotten it wrong because a great many Christians have gotten it wrong before them. Jesus isn’t talking about the end of the world; he’s talking about the end of Jerusalem.

How do we know this? Well, early in the chapter, the disciples came up to Jesus to point out to him the finer points of the temple. And by all accounts the temple was quite an extraordinary building, with massive stones, and decorated with gold and silver. The disciples were impressed.

But Jesus said, “You see all these [things], do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Matt. 24:2). We’ve got to this. He’s talking about the destruction of the temple. This is the proper context in which to understand what Jesus’ meaning when he says, “This generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”

After Jesus says the temple’s going to be destroyed, the disciples ask him, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age” (Matt. 24:3). When will these things be? When will the temple be destroyed? And what will be the sign of your coming. Now, here’s where some people get confused. Many people have assumed (falsely) that whenever Jesus speaks of his coming, he’s speaking about the end of human history. Not so. When he speaks this way, he is drawing upon the imagery of the OT. Very frequently, in the OT, when God is said to bring judgment upon a nation or city or people, it is spoken of in terms of God “coming” upon them. For instance, Isaiah 19:1, “Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt…” Here the prophet is speaking about a historical divine judgment on the land of Egypt, one that has long since taken place. It’s already happened. And he speaks of it in terms of God “coming” to Egypt.

There are many other instances of this sort of thing throughout the Scriptures. Whenever God acts in some remarkable way, bringing either deliverance for the righteous or punishment for the wicked, he is said to “come”. For instance, when God promised, in the days of Isaiah, to deliver Israel from her enemies, he said, “The Lord of hosts will come down to fight on Mount Zion and on its hill” (Isa. 31:4). Likewise, when David wished to sing the praises of the Lord for delivering him from his enemies, he said, “My cry to him reached his ears. Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry… He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind” (Ps. 18:6-7, 9-10).

Jesus is speaking in the same way in Matthew 24, and in a number of other passages in the Gospels. There is clearly a note of imminent judgment in much of Jesus’ teaching. The problem is that many people have assumed that Jesus was talking about the judgment associated with the Second Coming at the end of human history as we know it. But he wasn’t. He was talking about a judgment that would take place in the first century, in his own generation. He was talking about the Jewish war with Rome that ended with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in a.d. 70, exactly forty years after Jesus uttered the prophesy: “Not one stone will be left here standing on another which will not be torn down… Truly I tell you this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”

It was Jesus himself who presided over the destruction of the temple. We learn in Acts 6 that the leaders of the early church preached that “Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us” (Acts 6:14).

Yes, Jesus “came” in a.d. 70 and destroyed the city and the temple. It was an act of divine judgment. In Mark Jesus told the Parable of the Tenants.

“A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. 2 When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. 5 And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. 6 He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 7 But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. 9 What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. (Mk. 12:1-9)
This is exactly what Jesus did. He came and destroyed the tenants and gave the vineyard to others. He overthrew the city. This was the end of the age that was. It was the end of the distinctively Jewish era in the history of redemption.

It is vitally important that we understand Jesus’ meaning here. We have to read the NT in light of the impending judgment upon Jerusalem and the calling of the Gentiles into the kingdom of God. If we do, the rest of the NT will make a great deal more sense to us.

Not only this, but we will also be equipped to answer the skeptic who charges Jesus with being a false prophet, who predicted the end of the world in his own day. He wasn’t talking about the end of the world. He was talking about the end of Jerusalem.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Interpreting Scott Brown's Victory

Early after last year's election, I began saying that the best hope we had of recovering some semblance of political sanity is if Obama and the newly elected democratic majorities in Congress would push their agenda too hard, too fast. Which is exactly what they have done. They have clearly been out of touch, not only with economic realities, but with the American people. In spite of polls showing a significant majority of Americans disagreeing with Obama-style health care reform and the enormous increase of federal spending on various bailouts and so-called "stimulus" packages, the libs have continued to push. And they have done so with shady backroom deals. Not only the ends but the means have been nauseating.

This is what is behind Scott Brown's victory yesterday in the Massachusetts's Senate race over Martha Coakley. Not to mention the fact that Massachusetts already has a government health care plan at the state level similar to what the dems are wanting to see implemented at the federal level. The result: the average wait-time to see a doctor in Massachusetts: 63 days. In a state like Florida, with less government intrusion in health care: 6 days. The people of Massachusetts are living with Obama-style health care lite. They don't want it full strength.

Just for the record, I'm not a big Scott Brown fan. That said, I have to say that he's clearly better than the Coakley and I'm truly happy that he won. It means the libs will have a more difficult time in successfully pressing their agenda...and not simply because Brown's victory deprives the dems of a super-majority in the Senate. A number of the more moderate democrats recognize that Brown's victory is due in no small part to the American people's rejection of our country's rapid march toward becoming a socialist state with an unsustainable rate of federal spending. Yesterday's vote was a referendum on the Democratic party in general and on Obama in particular. Massachusetts is the bluest of blue states, after all. Dems outnumber Republicans by a margin of 3-1. Obama won 62 percent of the vote in 2008. A Republican hasn't held a Senate seat there since 1972. If the old liberal lion's seat is not secure for the Democrats, whose seat is?

Moderate dems, as I said, are beginning to recognize the problem. They know they will be vulnerable in their next re-election bid if they tie themselves too closely to a leftist agenda. But the blockheads at Salon.com don't get it. The liberal/progressive ideologues there think Scott Brown won because Obama and the dems in Congress have not pushed hard enough fast enough.

Joan Walsh, after noting the interpretation of moderate dems, says,
I think Webb, and centrist Democrats like Evan Bayh, are wrong to blame this loss on Democratic overreaching. In fact, the problem has been under-reaching, and failing to deliver on campaign promises.
I hope dems across the board will listen to Walsh and push all that much harder. Doing so will translate into more conservative gains.

Whodah thunk, indeed

Doug Wilson has a few comments on the Lord's kindness in delivering us from the Obama healthcare evil with yesterday's election of Scott Brown.

Friday, January 15, 2010

What About 1 Peter 3:18-20?

How are we to understand 1 Peter 3:18-20?

The passage reads:
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. (1 Peter 3:18-20, ESV)
This is a notoriously difficult passage. There are two major interpretations:

First, there are those who believe the passage teaches that after his crucifixion, and before his resurrection—while his body lay dead in the grave—Christ himself (in his own disembodied spirit) preached in the underworld to the spirits of those who perished in the flood.

But who were these "spirits"? Some say they were the righteous dead of the Old Testament era, and that their “prison” was the abode of the dead prior to the coming of Christ (the righteous dead being denied heaven until Christ’s ascension). The message he preached is believed to be that he had made atonement for their sin and they were now granted access to heaven.

Others say that the "spirits" to whom Christ preached were the wicked dead of the Old Testament era, their prison was hell, and the message he preached was the eternal condemnation of the wicked.

Second, there are those who believe that Christ, through the Holy Spirit, and in the person of Noah, preached to people in Noah’s day who were eventually destroyed by the flood. It is pointed out that Peter calls Noah “a herald of righteousness” (2 Pet. 2:5), and that prophets such as Noah are said to have spoken by “the Spirit of Christ in them” (1 Pet. 1:11). Further, Christ is said to have carried on this ministry of preaching by the Holy Spirit: “having been…made alive in the spirit (or, by the Spirit); in which (or, by whom) he also went and made proclamation,” etc. In this view, the “spirits” to whom Christ preached (through the Holy Spirit and in the person of Noah) were the people who were alive in Noah’s day. They were not disembodied spirits when they were preached to, but were so when Peter was writing. They were not spirits in “prison” when they were being preached to, but living men roaming the earth; at the time of Peter’s writing, however, they were in “prison,” that is, in hell; the NASB supplies the important word “now”: “the spirits now in prison”. The message which was preached to them as living men in Noah’s day was a message of repentance (cf. 2 Pet. 2:5).

I think this is a better interpretation of the passage is better than the first.

The Trifecta

I always enjoy the analysis of PJTV's Trifecta: Bill Whittle, Scott Ott, and Steven Green. Their latest is Wizards, Warriors, Power and Intrigue: Modern Politics According to The Lord of the Rings.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Must see videos

Bill Whittle at PJTV has a couple of interviews examining Islamic Infiltration in the United States government. Part one is here, and part two here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

One prejudice replaced by another

Not long ago I watched an old British comedy film from the 1950’s, in which a young man of the upper-middle class had made a working-class girl pregnant. The girl’s indignant father demanded that the young man should marry his daughter, a demand whose justice he understood and at once agreed to. The audience howled with laughter at the primitive idea that the future birth of child created an inescapable obligation on the part of the father. In less than half a century, the prejudice of centuries had been overturned, made to appear ridiculous, and replaced by another… (p. 24)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Effect of Pedagogy Without Prejudice

From Theodore Dalrymple’s In Praise of Prejudice, chapter five, “The Effect of Pedagogy Without Prejudice”:
Anyone who has observed a mother in a shop of supermarket solicitously and even anxiously bending over a three- or four- year old child to ask him what he would like for his next meal will understand the sovereignty over choice that is now granted to those who have neither experience nor powers of discrimination enough to exercise it on the basis of anything other than the merest whim, without regard to the consequences. By abdicating their responsibility in this fashion, in the name of not passing on their own prejudices or preconceptions to their children, and not imposing their own view of what is right upon them, they enclose their children within the circle of their childish tastes. In the name of the struggle against prejudice and illegitimate authority, they instill a culinary prejudice that, though self-evidently harmful, is far more restrictive in the long run than any they might have instilled by the firm exercise of their authority; for, in the absence of experience, children will always choose the same thing, the thing that is most immediately attractive or gratifying to them.

The precocity encouraged by too-early an assumption of the responsibility for making a choice, as if children were the customers of their parents rather [than] their offspring, is soon followed by arrested development. A young child, constantly consulted over his likes and dislikes, learns that life is, and ought to be, ruled by his likes and dislikes. He is not free of prejudices just because he is free of his parents’ prejudices. On the contrary, he is a slave to his own prejudices. Unfortunately, they are harmful both to him as an individual, and to the society of which he is a member. (pp. 19-20)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

From Whom Did Jesus Receive His Human Nature?

From whom did Jesus receive his human nature? Did he receive it from Mary, or did God create a human embryo to implant in Mary’s womb?

We are talking about what is called in Christian theology “the incarnation” — that is, God becoming man, or taking on human nature, or as John put it, the “Word” becoming “flesh” (Jn. 1:14). The Latin word for flesh is caro, hence the doctrine of the in-car-nation of Christ—his taking on human flesh (nature).

The incarnation is one of the most perplexing mysteries of the Christian faith. There are a number of things in the faith that are very difficult for us to wrap our minds around, and many people stumble at this. They say they can’t believe what they can’t understand. But this has always seemed odd to me. It seems to me to be something we should expect – that the Almighty and Eternal God who made heaven and earth and everything in them, should be unable to be fully comprehended by his creatures.

Now with regard to Christ, we must carefully maintain two strands of Scriptural teaching. First, the Bible is very clear that Jesus is God. I’m not saying that he is the Father; but that with respect to his nature he is God. “In the beginning the Word was with God and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1). “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9). And there are other passages teaching the same truth (e.g., Jn. 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Phil. 2:5-8; Tit. 2:13; Heb. 1:3, 8).

This is one strand of Scriptural teaching concerning Christ. The other is that he is human. John tells us that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Paul tells us that although Christ “was in the form of God, [he] did count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:5-6). In a very real sense, then, Jesus is Immanuel, “God with us.”

And the question is, “From whom did Jesus receive his human nature? Did he receive it from Mary, or did God create a human embryo to implant in Mary’s womb?”

Think about it like this: If God created a human embryo (or perhaps more exactly a human zygote), and implanted it in Mary’s womb so that re received nothing from Mary, then Jesus is not really a descendant of Adam. He is not really of Adam’s race, not to mention the fact that he is not really descended from David or Abraham.

But God had said way back in the garden, soon after the fall, that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head. And he told Abraham that it was through his seed that all the families of the earth would be blessed. And he told David that he would raise up a descendant to sit on his throne. But if Jesus received nothing from Mary (with regard to his human nature), if God created a new human being from scratch as it were, then none of these promises would have been fulfilled.

The Council of Chalcedon in 451 is one of four ecumenical councils accepted by nearly all branches of Christendom. The council was convened specifically to consider the question of how the two natures (human and divine) of Christ relate to each other.
Following, then, the holy fathers, we unite in teaching all men to confess the one and same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. This selfsame one is perfect both in deity and in humanity; truly God and truly man, with a rational soul and a body; consubstantial with the Father according to His deity, and consubstantial with us according to the humanity; like us in all respects, sin only excepted.
Consubstantial means “of one and the same substance,” and the word is used to indicate the relationship Jesus has both to the Father and to the human race. He is of one and the same substance with the Father, and of one and the same substance with us.

The Council proceeded to say that Jesus is “to be acknowledged in two natures; without confusing them, without interchanging them, without dividing them, and without separating them.”

In the Westminster Confession of Faith, which is one of the clearest expressions of the Reformed faith, Jesus is described as “being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the virgin Mary, of her substance” (WCF 8.2)

This is the only way we can do justice to the teaching of Scripture. Jesus received his human nature from Mary, or at least a portion of it. If we want to get down to details, Mary must have contributed 23 chromosomes. But the other 23 chromosomes, those that would have come from a human father, were presumably created miraculously when the Holy Spirit came upon her, and the power of the Most High overshadowed her (Lk. 1:35)

Friday, January 1, 2010

More on Infant Baptism

A good friend, Jeremy Fruechting, has been interacting with some thoughts contained in a previous post on infant baptism. My latest response is too long to leave in the comment section, so I will post it below. For the post and Jeremy's full comments, click here.

Doug: Can you think of a biblical covenant that doesn’t have a sign? And if baptism isn’t a sign of the covenant, what is it?

Jeremy: Joshua 8, 1 Sam 18.

Doug: In Joshua 8 we have a covenant renewal with oaths sworn before God, but since it is a renewal, the people had already received the sign (circumcision) previously.

In 1 Samuel 18 Jonathan “stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt” (v. 4). Gifts of this sort were often used as signs or memorials of covenants made. In the Iliad, for instance, Diomedes meets the Lykian, Glaukos, on the battlefield before Troy. Before they fight, Diomedes asks who he is and what family he springs from. When he learns that his grandfather once played host to Glaukos’ grandfather, and vice-versa, they renew their friendship (covenant) by exchanging gifts. “ ‘Let us exchange our armour, so that these others may know how we claim to be guests and friends from the days of our fathers.’ So they spoke, and both springing down from behind their horses gripped each other’s hands and exchanged the promise of friendship” (i.e., they made a covenant, signed and sealed with the exchange of armor...the same thing Jonathan did with David.)

Jeremy: I can almost grant that is a sign of the covenant, but not quite.

Doug: I’m hoping and praying you will grant it soon, and that you’ll bring your (now) four beautiful children to the baptismal font! (By the way, congratulations on the birth of Emmett! Melinda and I had dinner with your parents Wednesday night and they told us the good news.)

Jeremy: It's a public proclamation…

Doug: Proclamation of what…and by whom?

Jeremy: We, sinners, MUST be justified by faith because the covenant made at Sinai with the people of Israel did not and cannot proffer salvation (I mean here not the sense of "offer" but the sense of "provide" or "tender"). So Jeremiah 31:32. The covenant made at Sinai produced death. In Galatians 3, Paul pits salvation by the law against salvation by faith, for the one aggravates our condition while the other remedies it--it could not proffer salvation to sinners.

Doug: Paul pits salvation by being Jewish (Gentiles must perform the works of the law, i.e., be circumcised, keep kosher, observe the feasts, etc.), versus salvation by faith. He shows that not even Jews were saved by being Jewish. Abraham was reckoned righteous by God before he received circumcision and before Moses received the law at Sinai. God never gave the law for the purpose of Israel seeking to be justified by it. He always intended that they follow in the footsteps of father Abraham. That some Jews misunderstood this doesn’t mean that the law is inherently a ministry of death or of condemnation, only that it becomes such to those who misuse it. As Paul says, “the law is good, if one uses it lawfully” (1 Tim. 1:8).

Jeremy: Further, one could belong to Israel, be a Jew according to the law, and yet have no inward reality to which his very Jewishness was pointing.

Doug: Granted. Likewise, one can belong to the church, be a Christian according to profession of faith, and yet have no inward reality to which his very profession is pointing.

Jeremy: You say: The new birth was as real and as necessary in the Old Covenant as it is in the New Covenant. Response: Yes the new birth was necessary, but the whole problem with Old Covenant is that it did not and could not produce that new birth, which was why a new and better covenant that could actually atone for sin, cleanse the conscience, impart faith, and make a new creation was necessary.

Doug: You said in your first post that circumcision of the heart is the Spirit’s work of renewing the inner man. By which I assume you mean the new birth. But this in fact is promised and given under the Old Covenant. “The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut. 30:6). [Be sure not to miss the promise made to the children of believers in this verse: your heart and the heart of your offspring!]

Jeremy: That some people had the new birth is very different from saying that the Old Covenant entailed the new birth.

Doug: As I mentioned before, both the Old Covenant and the New Covenant have an outward administration as well as an inward reality. One can have the outward forms, but not the inward reality. The inward reality is the same in both, but the outward administration has changed.

Jeremy: Regarding household baptisms, I say I agree, if all of the household likewise are exercising faith in Christ (which we have no reason textually to say it is / not the case).

Doug: My point is not there were infants in the households mentioned, but that if there were, they would/should be baptized. If a mature member of the household did not believe and refused to submit to baptism, then of course he would not be baptized.

Jeremy: “Household” does not support the argument either, for see 2 Tim 4:19 where the word is used almost certainly without infants in mind. The practice of infant baptism must be decided on other grounds.

Doug: I agree. I cite the “household” texts not as an independent proof, but as evidence consistent with the practice of infant baptism, given its relation to circumcision and the covenantal solidarity of the family that we find so frequently throughout the Scriptures.

Jeremy: The most decisive texts I think are the prophecies of the New Covenant. How do you understand Jer 31:33-34, and Ezek 36:26-27--that a person cannot belong to this New Covenant without being born again by the Spirit of God (using John's descriptive language)?

Doug: In context, Ezekiel 36:26-27 is speaking about God’s re-gathering of Israel from Babylonian exile. In the two verses previous, the Lord says, “I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.” In the verse following, he says, “You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” It seems to me that the fulfillment of these promises occurred in the return from exile, including the promise contained in vv. 26-27. These very things are also mentioned in Ezekiel 11:14-21.

The promise of a new heart [under the Old Covenant] is also made Deuteronomy 30:6; Jer. 24:7; . David prays for a new heart in Psalm 51:10 and asks that the Holy Spirit not be taken from him (v. 11)—which indicates that God had previously given David the Spirit. The Spirit is also promised to the Old Covenant saints (and their children!) in Isaiah 44:3; 59:21.

As far as God writing his laws on the hearts of his people a la Jeremiah 31:33-34, mentioned as a blessing of a new covenant, wasn’t this also a blessing Old Covenant saints received? See Ps. 37:31; 40:8; 119:34; Isa. 51:7.

In short, one can belong to the New Covenant without being born again by the Spirit of God. At this point you are probably thinking that Jeremiah 31:34 and Hebrews 8:11 (quoting Jeremiah) contradict this when it says that under the New Covenant “they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest”.

But if we take this to mean that we must limit membership (and consequently baptism) to those who are regenerate, what are we to make of the many, many passages in the New Testament that warn of covenant apostasy, assuming the Reformed view of the perserverance of the saints? See especially Hebrews 10:29. I think we have to conclude that the New Covenant includes more than those who are regenerate (in the scholastic Reformed sense).

Much more could be said, but let me recommend a couple of books. The first is the one that convinced me of paedo-baptism about 12 years ago now: “Children of the Promise,” written by Randy Booth. Perhaps a better one, though, since it deals specifically with the issues you have raised here, is “The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism,” edited by Gregg Strawbridge (P&R). See especially chapter 7, “The Newness of the New Covenant” by Jeffrey Neill.

Blessings all around, Jeremy! Hug all the little ones for me!

Now Here's a Call to Worship