Monday, January 09, 2017

Who are the Assembly of God's People?

Due to snow and ice this past weekend, church and Sunday school were cancelled for this past Sunday (January 8). The first class will be held this next Sunday, January 15.

Understanding who make up the community of God's chosen people is central to understanding eschatology. The assembly of Israel in the Old Testament, with the coming of Christ, had an in-grafting of Gentiles to the Jews who believed in Jesus as their Messiah. Those who did not believe in Jesus were pruned or cut off from the assembly of Israel.

The word translated as "church" in the New Testament comes from the Greek word "ecclesia" -- congregation. In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, the Hebrew word for the assembly of the people of Israel was translated as "ecclesia".

This continuity of the assembly of Israel, the assembly of the people of God, has a continuity from the Old Testament into the New Testament. It should be noted that the Church does not replace Israel. Rather, God has graciously grafted in believing Gentiles with believing Jews. This is one people where there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

New Series, The Consummation

I will be teaching a Sunday school class series at my church, Christ Presbyterian Church, 495 Terrell Mill Road SE, Marietta, GA 30067, starting January 8. It will be at 10 AM each Sunday morning for 12 weeks. I will publish the class notes here each Wednesday prior to the Sunday class.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Revelation Advent -- December 25

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:1-5, ESV)

The end of the Bible, the end of Revelation, takes us back to the very beginning again, to the Garden in Eden. In many ways, the Garden in Eden was a temple, and Adam was the first priest who had direct access to God. The tabernacle and the temples built afterward had garden motifs, trees in its furnishings, reminding of the paradise of God. The temple also modeled the night sky with stars, pointing to how God inhabited his creation. All that pointed to a time in the future when we would directly see God and his creation unspoiled.

Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden. They were prevented access to the Tree of Life. In the new heavens and earth, the Garden is recreated and the Tree of Life is present, and it provides healing for the nations. The bitterness, war, strife between nations will be healed through these trees.

Before Adam's fall, God gave Adam the charge to subdue the earth. This was a spiritual charge as much as a physical command. The Garden only existed in on spot in Eden. The Garden was to grow to cover all of Eden, and all of the earth was to be brought under the dominion of God's image bearers. The human race could not do it, but God will.

Paul tells us in Romans 8 that all of creation awaits its redemption. Randy Alcorn has opened my eyes to the possibility of some of the amazing things that might be in the new creation. This is speculative, but imagine having a conversation with the author of the book of Hebrews while you each ride the backs of Brontosaurs. Far fetched? Perhaps, but maybe not. His book, Heaven, is an interesting book to read. He pulls thoughts from many theologians, many from my own Reformed tradition, and others. Another excellent read on the Garden of Eden and the temple in Revelation is G.K. Beal's book, The Temple and the Church's Mission. A short audio summary is found here.

The new heaven and earth is going to be a fascinating place, a place filled with joy, delighting in God and his creation.

This concludes the advent series on Revelation. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Revelation Advent -- December 24

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4, ESV)

We come to the goal of God's work in the history of redemption. God's dwelling is with the human race and we are fully his people.

Lots of images portray this. This are varying schools of thought on how literal these images will be. Revelation 21 tells of Jerusalem descending from heaven onto earth -- Jerusalem the shape of a cube that is 12,000 stadia in length, width, and depth. This translates to a 1,380 by 1,380 by 1,380 mile cube. Certainly this new Jerusalem is possible with God and would provide plenty of living space for all of humanity. But the number of 12,000 looks to be indicative of symbolism. There is 12 for the apostles and the tribes of Israel, and the factor of 1000 for the millennial rule and is a large ancient number. Personally, I think this is a symbolic description of Jerusalem indicating it is a huge place for God's people. In fact, it is so big that Revelation seems to imply it fills the entire dimension or span of God's new heaven and earth. Revelation 21 says that outside of the New Jerusalem "are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood." Since all of these evil people have been banished to another dimension described as the lake of fire, it implies that Jerusalem fills all of the new creation.

The shape of the New Jerusalem is a cube -- which is the shape of the Holy of Holies in the temple. The New Jerusalem, which encompasses the whole of the new creation, is God's temple. However, John says he "saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb." Also, in another sense, all of God's people are the temple, for they were measured into God's temple earlier in Revelation.

We will not lose our identity in God's new heaven and earth. We will be identified by our nationalities, because in God's light "will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, ... they will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations." In this new creation we will find our true identity, the best of all done on earth will come into the new creation and be made infinitely better.

I have enjoyed traveling to many places in the world and always enjoy the rich, diverse culture, sights, smells, and tastes. That will come through in perfection in the new creation, to the glory of God and our great delight. The new heaven and earth will not be a boring place. We will find wonderful things to explore, work that is enriching, rewarding . It is going to be incredible beyond our fondest dreams for all those who are in Christ. It will be better than the best Christmas every moment of our lives there -- forever.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Revelation Advent -- December 23

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15, ESV)

This passage in Revelation echoes back to the sixth seal:

The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. (Revelation 6:14, ESV)

Revelation 20 amplifies the final judgment spoken of earlier and fills in some of the details. All people will stand before God in judgment. There are two sets of books. The first set contains the record of everyone's activities, good and bad. We know that if anyone were to try to justify their right to enter heaven based on their activities, they will be found wanting. The Apostle Paul tells us in very strong language:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
“Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
(Romans 3:10-18, ESV)

You might say, that doesn't describe me. However, this is the Bible's description of all of us in our natural condition. We all have sinned. While we may not physically shed blood, there are times we cut down other people in our thoughts and words, which is shedding their blood, diminishing those people. And from this description of each person, sin from God's perspective is very heinous and serious. It is so serious that if we are judged only by the first set of books, we face eternal punishment which is described as being cast into the lake of fire. The only way to not be judged by the first set of books is to have your name written in the other book, the book of life. All who recognize their sin, their need of Christ's death to pay for their sin, and who cling to Christ, they will have their names written in the book of life.

For those whose names are written in the book of life they have the rest of Revelation to look forward to. The next two entries will briefly look at that.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Revelation Advent -- December 22

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. (Revelation 20:1-3, ESV)

Revelation 20 is the great dividing point for interpreters of Revelation. Many believe this passage refers to the period after the second coming of Christ. The reason is that this vision, they would argue, follows in time sequence, the visions of chapter 19. In this view, Satan is not completely defeated, but is bound for a thousand years and is released at the end of the one-thousand years for a great war against Christ and the saints.

A second view is that this passage is a retelling of the history from the time of Christ's ascension into heaven, nearly two-thousand years ago, to the time when Christ will return again in the future.

By far the most popular view for Christians, at least in the United States, is the first view. I hold to the second view for several reasons. First, I see that Revelation has already presented the visions in cycles of retelling, recapitulation, or overlays of visions on the same period of history. Each overlay presents another view of the period of history between Christ's first advent to his second coming. Secondly, there is a complete destruction of the armies in Revelation 19. There does not appear to be anyone left to destroy again, or any seeds left to sprout into those to be destroyed again. Thirdly, in the bowls judgment cycle, a loud voice from the thrown cries out "it is done" at the seventh seal. Another period of a thousand year period which concludes with more fighting of Satan would mean the judgments were not done with the seventh bowl. Fourthly, numbers in Revelation have symbolic meaning just as other symbols in Revelation. The millennium speaks of the mightily reign of Christ and his church. The gospel has gone throughout the world and Satan could not stop it. Finally, I think the rest of scripture presents a clear picture that all of redemptive history completes with Christ's second coming. If we did not have Revelation 20, there would be no speculation about a millennium after Christ's return where there would be a great battle at the end of the millennium.

But those of the first view might ask, If the millennium is now, how was Satan bound? The answer comes from Jesus. He told the Pharisees in Matthew 12:24-29 that he does his work because he has bound the strong man Satan. period Christ also spoke of Satan falling in Luke 10:17-19 when the seventy-two disciples excitedly reported back after Jesus had sent them out ahead of them.

This binding of Satan relates the the gospel going forth to all the nations. Before Christ's first advent, the people who responded to God were largely the Israelites and the Jews. Since Christ's advent, the gospel is going to all the nations.

So, what does this have to do with us? We live in the millennial period where the kingdom of God is spreading to all the nations and people groups. God is powerfully at work. Since we live in the period of God extending his kingdom, we can have the joy of taking part in this. This is not a time to hang back, but a time to celebrate God's millennial rule by participating in it.