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Bible Prophecy and Practical Christian Living

May 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Again and again in my Bible study I encounter exhortations to holy living, in the light of our understanding of the prophetic word: from J.C. Ryle, S. Lewis Johnson, John MacArthur, David Jeremiah, etc.  Certainly I can see some change within my own thoughts, over the last two years, as I continually conform my thoughts to the word of God (Romans 12:2) and appreciate the wonders of what God has revealed in His word.

Specifically, I can more readily accept the hardships and craziness of our world, knowing what the future holds.  During a recent spell of extremely hot weather, for instance, I remembered Romans 8:20-21, the promise from God that the creation itself will one day be restored to how it was in the original perfect creation, and what awaits during that glorious Millennial Kingdom age when the weather patterns will no longer bring extreme heat and cold, or the terrible natural disasters; the ground will yield forth food instead of the thistles and thorns brought about in the curse.  Just as we await the redemption of our bodies, so the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage.  Such understanding brings God’s grace to patiently endure the heat which I used to complain too much about.

Another area of difference:  understanding the seeming craziness of the world and the rise and fall of nations, and the true nature of the visible Church.  Certainly God’s word in general (basic evangelical gospel) tells us to trust God, that He is in control of the big things as well as our lives, and that He is the one who appoints the governments and leaders, and one day we’ll die and go to be with God in heaven.  Without the added understanding from prophecy, though, it is much harder to accept the specifics of the things we actually see going on in the world.  I first started learning about the rise and fall of nations from reading John MacArthur’s sermon series through the book of Daniel in early 2009, a new, biblical perspective contrary to the popular “Christian America” moral message I imbibed during my early Christian years.

What I now realize that the Bible has to say concerning the future of certain locations — especially Israel, Asia (its very large population), and Babylon — makes perfect sense of the rapidly increasing decline of the U.S., and of the U.S.’s now declining relationship with Israel.  It even makes sense of specific news items, such as what I found so disturbing a few years ago: that the U.S. was sending mega-bucks of our taxpayer money over to Iraq to rebuild its economy, even subsidizing its economy with cheap gasoline at the pump.  When I consider the amazing implied prophecy in Revelation 11:9-12, that the Bible predicted over 1900 years ago a world that would have instant, worldwide communication including the transmission of visual images, I am that much more awestruck by our great God.

That the Bible predicts great apostasy within the visible Church, and increasing apostasy as the end nears, gives me peace of mind concerning the reality observed in the Church today, in contrast to the optimistic kingdom (as in the Church is the Kingdom) language that so popularly expresses the misconception of many confused believers.

Understanding what God’s word has to say regarding the believer’s rewards compels me toward holy and righteous living — not as though my salvation were dependent on works, but to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” recognizing the need to redeem the time, since we must give account to God for how we used our gifts and spent our time — not in frivolous things of no value (wood, hay, straw), but in those things which build up God’s people and glorify Him (gold and silver).  John MacArthur’s emphasis on the value of studying and meditating on the things of God, and the great reward ahead for those who do so — a reward that will include greater capacity to know, enjoy and love God — is an encouragement to persevere toward that end, to run the race to win the prize.

By contrast, the anti-futurist Christian view emphasizes the equality of all believers in Christ without distinctions, a view that is actually quite uncomfortable with the idea of rewards or differences among believers (as I even heard one such preacher admit recently): we’re all equal, the Church has replaced Israel, and we will be judged along with unbelievers at the Great White Throne — to show that we’re just as guilty as them but for the blood of Jesus.  Yet such incomplete and unbiblical teaching lacks the extra motivation (the believer’s rewards) — provided by the study of biblical eschatology — toward holy living in believers, instead destroying our great blessed hope of our Lord’s imminent return for His people (1 Thess. 4:17-18, John 14:3).  Truly, God’s word including the prophetic picture is a great blessing that God has revealed to us, and those who endeavor to search and study the scriptures will gain this blessing (Revelation 1:3) and not be disappointed.

The Divine Purpose: Understanding the Dispensations

May 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Listening to S. Lewis Johnson’s “The Divine Purpose,” I’ve already learned a few more of the specifics of dispensationalism — evidence that after a year or so of study, I still have much to learn, and we can all still learn new things about God, man, and God’s purpose as expressed throughout human history.

I’ve only completed the first 8 out of 37 sessions, just getting started into study of dispensational theology.  The first sessions include an introduction to Covenant Theology, including the history of it and the three theological covenants, followed by a history of dispensational theology and an overview of the dispensations.

The basics include a list of the 7 dispensations and the associated failures and judgment that accompany each age.

Age of Innocence ==>  the fall, kicked out of the garden of Eden
Age of Conscience ==> the Flood
Age of Human Government   ==>  the scattering at the Tower of Babel
Age of Promise ==> sent down to Egypt for 400 years (situation with Jacob’s family by the end of Genesis)
Age of Law ==> Christ coming, atoning work on the cross to bring in the New Covenant
The Church Age ==> the apostasy that will come about, followed immediately by the rise of antiChrist and the Great Tribulation
Millennial Kingdom Age ==> The Gog and Magog event described in Revelation 20

The related biblical covenants, which will be covered in later sessions in this series:
Age of Innocence == Edenic Covenant
Age of Human Government == Noahic Covenant
Age of Promise == Abrahamic Covenant
Age of Law == Mosaic Covenant, also Land Covenant (Deuteronomy; a renewal of the Abrahamic Covenant)
Davidic Covenant, an expansion of the Abrahamic Covenant
Church Age == New Covenant

I knew most of the details regarding the dispensations, but was unclear concerning the specifics for the Age of Human Government and the Age of Promise.   I had realized that the added revelation given in each age wasn’t enough, therefore more help was given in each successive age.  But I tended to think of the early dispensations as being successive, adding to the previous, and didn’t know of the specific judgments that “ended” the age.  It makes sense, though, to point to the Tower of Babel for the “end” or “failure” of the Age of Human Government, and to reference the journey down to Egypt as the “end” of the Age of Promise.

As I think about each of the previous ages, one interesting point sticks out:  the early dispensations directly affected all humanity.  The Fall, the Flood, and the Tower of Babel dealt directly with all of the humans that were around — and indirectly affect us as their descendants.  The next two dispensations, the Age of Promise and the Age of Law, dealt with a subset of humanity.  The sojourn to Egypt impacted only about 70 people, and their descendants during the next few hundred years.  The next dispensation, age of Law, impacted the whole nation of Israel — yet still a relatively small portion of the human population.  The next two dispensations — the current Church Age, and the future Kingdom Age — again affect the overall population.

Yet in each dispensation mankind is tested in reference to some task, with new assistance given that the previous dispensation lacked.  Just as Adam was the representative man in the Age of Innocence, so Abraham and his descendants to the fourth generation became the representatives for the Age of Promise, and the nation Israel representative during the Age of Law.

At first glance, the ending for the Age of Promise — the sojourn to Egypt — seems less like a judgment than the other end-points.  After all, the Bible does tell us that one reason for the 400 year delay was God’s mercy and long-suffering:  the iniquity of the Canaanites had not yet reached its full measure.  The event itself, the sojourn in Egypt, had been foretold to Abraham from the very outset, clearly as part of God’s overall plan.  Then again, the same can be said for other dispensation endings: the current Church age and the Kingdom age.

So here I further reflect on the lessons brought out during S. Lewis Johnson’s Genesis series (which I studied several months ago), and now I see the dispensational viewpoint of that era, straight from the pages of the lives of the patriarchs.  During that series SLJ frequently pointed out the characters’ shortcomings, such as Isaac’s focus on his enjoyment of certain foods and his determination to give the blessing to Esau when it had already been revealed that it was to go to Jacob (Gen. 25, verses 23 and 31-34).  Also Jacob’s behavior in Genesis 33-34:  his unfaithful dealings with Esau, and reneging on his vow to God to return to Bethel, which brought about the tragic story of Genesis 34 — which Jacob could have avoided since he should not have been at Shechem to begin with. Need anyone comment further on the sordid tale of Judah and his sons and daughter in law (Genesis 38)?  By that time the danger of staying in Canaan was clear, that Jacob’s family was in danger of assimilating with the Canaanites around them.  As S. Lewis Johnson pointed out (something I learned then), the reason for sending them to Egypt was that the Egyptians — though just as pagan as the Canaanites — didn’t take kindly to foreigners and kept themselves apart from others.  Egypt was necessary to preserve Jacob’s family as a separate entity, in a place where the Egyptians would keep them separate.  Still, that land that had been promised to Abraham, which they thought of as theirs as well, was land they had to leave, even if under relatively favorable conditions.  The stay in Egypt certainly became a judgment to the generations that followed, who experienced slavery and oppression from a Pharoah who did not know Joseph.

As a system of understanding God’s purposes throughout human history, dispensational theology comes closest to describing the truths contained in the Bible and relating how God has dealt with man throughout the ages.  The dispensations describe things from man’s viewpoint, and the biblical covenants look at God’s perspective.  With increased understanding of dispensational theology comes increase of faith and trust in our awesome, covenant-keeping God.  “The God of Abraham Praise!”

S. Lewis Johnson and “Calvin and Hobbes”

May 26, 2010 Leave a comment

On the Pyromaniacs blog, a recent post highlights a popular show (Lost) and a Christian perspective of our God that has far better planning than human writers of entertainment.  As usual, some of the bloggers in the meta have missed the point of Dan Phillips’ original blog.

In many ways I see the reference to the show “Lost” as similar to sermon illustrations that appeal to our popular culture — which brings me back to S. Lewis Johnson and the comic strip illustrations he often used in his Bible teaching.

In listening to S. Lewis Johnson’s “Lessons from the Life of David” series, I’m enjoying (again, as with his other messages) the little time-period references he often made.  Johnson did this series in 1990, later than most of his teaching, and I can especially relate since by that time I was a young Christian; I only wish now that I had known about S. Lewis Johnson at that time, to get better instruction in those early years–but now I’m playing catch-up.

Several times in his teachings, Johnson mentions his enjoyment of the funny pages, the comic strips in the newspaper.  Often he mentioned Peanuts — but now we’re in 1990, and so it was interesting to learn that SLJ also liked and read “Calvin and Hobbes,” which had started publication in the late 1980s.  I had not heard of S. Lewis Johnson at that time, but like him I read and enjoyed Calvin and Hobbes.  Anyway, SLJ mentioned a particular strip of C&H, in reference to our fallen nature and the character of King Saul — the character like so many people, that plots and schemes, thinking he’ll get away with something and thinking he can fool God.  Then, even when things don’t work out so well, he doesn’t learn his lesson and just keeps on doing the same things over and over again.  The specific incident is the one where Calvin steals Susie’s doll, tries to offer it back for ransom, dreams about what he’s going to do with the money — and then Susie gets back at him.  But Calvin, like King Saul and so many others, will never learn the lesson.   Here is the actual message from S. Lewis Johnson.  Here is the Calvin and Hobbes strip he referenced, from late August and early September 1990.  (Note:  it’s the last comic series story on the first link, and top part of the second link.)

God’s People Are Not Offended By God’s Word

May 20, 2010 Leave a comment

How well J.C. Ryle expresses my own understanding:

two points appear to my own mind to stand out as plainly as if written by a sunbeam. One of these points is the second personal advent of our Lord Jesus Christ before the Millennium. The other of these points is the future literal gathering of the Jewish nation, and their restoration to their own land. I tell no man that these two truths are essential to salvation, and that he cannot be saved except he sees them with them with my eyes. But I tell any man that these truths appear to me distinctly set down in Holy Scripture, and that the denial of them is as astonishing and incomprehensible to my own mind as the denial of the divinity of Christ.

One thing I frequently struggle with is the true spiritual condition of those who profess Christ, yet show a general lack of fruit in their lives, including in their attitude towards some (supposedly) non-essential doctrines, especially in regard to matters regarding the past (creation) and the future (God’s future plans):  the very things for which we must trust our God the most, since a) we weren’t there in the past, and b) we cannot know the things of the future.  I realize that this is not something for us to know (the true hearts of others), that such things are in God’s hand, and so continually I bring the matter in prayer before God even as I pray for God to give them the heart-change that only He can do.

It comes back to something Jim McClarty has expressed, very simply:  God’s people are not offended by God’s word.  God’s people love God’s word.  Our understanding of spiritual matters comes from the Holy Spirit present in all believers, and we can only understand spiritual matters when we have the mind of Christ.  (1 Corinthians 2:11-14).  Barry Horner has also expressed the basic thought that all true believers have within them a natural love for God’s people, Israel, within the bounds expressed in Romans 11, that “As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs.”

So when I come across someone who professes faith in Christ, yet is very offended by some of the things clearly taught in scripture, I am troubled and wonder about their true spiritual condition.  It is one thing to be challenged by God’s word, and then to search the matter out and attain a better understanding  — something we all face in our walk with Christ.  After all, we are all finite creatures, limited in our understanding and so we continually learn as we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But what about the case of one who consistently shows only hatred of particular doctrines, who refuses to even consider the possibility, and refuses to look at what God’s word has to say about the matter?  I have observed such behavior in regards to the Bible teaching regarding creation, as well as with respect to God’s people, the Jews.  Add also the case of people who profess Christ but *vehemently* reject God’s sovereignty and insist on man’s free will.

Looked at another way, we are all being sanctified, being made ready for Christ in this life.  As a popular song lyric (from Wayne Watson) says, “One day Jesus will call my name.  As days go by, I hope I don’t stay the same. I want to get so close to Him, that it’s no big change on that day that Jesus calls my name.”  People who in this life hate God, will not be happy in heaven — such a place would be miserable for them.  To take the analogy further, if someone in this life says they love God, but hates Jews and detests the idea that God will in the future restore them to a place of prominence among the nations:  how are they going to react after this life?  Will they really be happy in heaven, in the presence of God, when they learn that truth which in this life they hated?  Again, as J.C. Ryle expressed, “the denial of them (the two truths) is as astonishing and incomprehensible to my own mind as the denial of the divinity of Christ.”

Certainly all believers desire the salvation of the lost generally, and all believers have at least some concern for Israel and at least recognize their place in history.  Even in my early days as a Christian, though I knew nothing about eschatology (in any form) or any  doctrines beyond the basic gospel message of salvation for sin through Christ’s blood shed on the cross, I never hated or despised any person, or any people group including the Jews, and appreciateded the basic historical facts concerning the role of Israel in history.  From my basic reading from Christian bookstore material, I found it an interesting, curious fact, that the Jews as a people still existed, unlike all the other nations of the Bible times.  I could not have explained why, or connected it with God’s future purposes, but still noted it.

So how do I respond to the professed Christian who generally shows very little interest in spiritual matters and spends the vast majority of his time in secular business pursuits?  That Christian who views regular church attendance as important (in a legalistic way), looks down on those who don’t attend every Sunday and Wednesday as being carnal and worldly, yet scorns any extra devotions or study as being superficial and unnecessary — “I do my daily Bible reading” and “knowledge puffs up” (therefore we shouldn’t study so much) .  More troubling still is that professed believer’s oft-stated hatred of Jews and anything related to the Jewish people — including his insistence that God is through with Israel, and his utter abhorrence of the idea that God would choose anyone based on physical characteristics (i.e., ethnicity, therefore Israel has no greater importance than any other ethnic group).  Can such a person really be a Christian, who expresses such hatred of Jews and puts them as morally on the same level as Muslims (this after I point out that no Jews have tried to blow us up, doing the terrorist acts of many Muslims in this country)?  He won’t get into discussions concerning the actual Bible texts, but only says “you’re wrong” and dismisses the subject.

My responsibility to that person remains the same — love your neighbor as yourself; and do good to your enemies.  I cannot know such a person’s true spiritual condition, but can only judge it in light of what he says and the extent to which it agrees or disagrees with God’s word — but in the final analysis this is something I really must trust the Lord to deal with.  Meanwhile, as Spurgeon said concerning those who cannot yet see certain doctrines (and in this context he spoke specifically about the Millennial kingdom), pray for them — do not try to argue with them with words, for they must come to understand it for themselves, not by external arguments from other people.  I also consider the truth of 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 (the believer’s rewards), that the hardened and doctrine-unbelieving Christian is losing out for himself, only harming his own future enjoyment and the full capacity to love God that much more.  Another great scripture to remember is that God has called us to live in peace and to get along with each other, as much as possible (1 Corinthians 7:12-16).

Some Great Thoughts from J.C. Ryle

May 18, 2010 2 comments

Following are several excerpts from J.C. Ryle’s sermons, published in his book “Coming Events and Present Duties“.

And now, is there any one among the readers of this address who cannot receive the doctrine of Christ’s second advent and kingdom? I invite that man to consider the subject calmly and dispassionately. Dismiss from your mind traditional interpretations. Separate the doctrine from the mistakes and blunders of many who hold it. Do not reject the foundation because of the wood, hay, and stubble which some have built upon it. Do not condemn it and cast it aside because of injudicious friends. Only examine the texts which speak of it, as calmly and fairly as you weigh tests in the Romish, Arian, or Socinian controversies, and I am hopeful as to the result of your mind. Alas, if texts of Scripture were always treated as unceremoniously as I have known texts to be treated by those who dislike the doctrine of Christ’s second advent, I should indeed tremble for the cause of truth!

. . .

I believe it is high time for the Church of Christ to awake out of its sleep about Old Testament prophecy. From the time of the old Father, Jerome, down to the present day, men have gone on in a pernicious habit of “spiritualizing” the words of the Prophets, until their true meaning has been well nigh buried.  It is high time to fall back on the good old principle that Scripture generally means what it seems to mean, and to beware of that semi-skeptical argument, “such and such an interpretation cannot be correct, because it seems to us “carnal!”

It is high time for Christians to interpret unfulfilled prophecy by the light of prophecies already fulfilled. The curses on the Jews were brought to pass literally: so also will be the blessings. The scattering was literal: so also will be the gathering. The pulling down of Zion was literal: so also will be the building up. The rejection of Israel was literal: so also will be the restoration.

. . .

The Lord Jesus during the present dispensation is like David between the time of His anointing and Saul’s death. He has the promise of the kingdom, but He has not yet received the crown and throne (1 Sam. 22:1, 2).

He is followed by a few, and those often neither great nor wise, but they are a faithful people. He is persecuted by His enemies, and oft times driven into the wilderness, and yet His party is never quite destroyed. But He has none of the visible signs of the kingdom at present: no earthly glory, majesty, greatness, obedience. The vast majority of mankind see no beauty in Him: they will not have this man to reign over them. His people are not honored for their Master’s sake: they walk the earth like princes in disguise. His kingdom is not yet come: His will is not yet done on earth excepting by a little flock. It is not the day of His power. The Lord Jesus is biding His time.

Reader, I entreat you to grasp firmly this truth, for truth I believe it to be. Great delusion abounds on the subject of Christ’s kingdom. Take heed lest any man deceive you by purely traditional teachings about prophetical truth. Hymns are composed and sung which darken God’s counsel on this subject by words without knowledge. Texts are wrested from their true meaning, and accommodated to the present order of things, which are not justly applicable to any but the period of the second advent. Beware of the mischievous infection of this habit of text-wresting. Beware of the sapping effect of beautiful poetry, in which unfulfilled promises of glory are twisted and adapted to the present dispensation. Settle it down in your mind that Christ’s kingdom is yet to come. His arrows are not yet sharp in the hearts of His enemies. The day of His power has not yet begun. He is gathering out a people to carry the cross and walk in His steps; but the time of His coronation has not yet arrived. But just as the Lord Jesus, like the nobleman, “went to receive a kingdom,” so, like the noble-man, the Lord Jesus intends one day “to return.”

. . .

Beware of that system of allegorizing, and spiritualizing, and accommodating, which the school of Origen first brought in, in the Church. In reading the authorized version of the English Bible, do not put too much confidence in the “headings” of pages and “tables of contents” at the beginning of chapters, which I take leave to consider a most unhappy accompaniment of that admirable translation. Remember that those headings and tables of contents were drawn up by uninspired hands. In reading the Prophets, they are sometimes not helps, but hindrances and less likely to assist a reader than to lead him astray. Settle in your mind, in reading the Psalms and Prophets that Israel means Israel, and Zion means Zion and Jerusalem means Jerusalem. And, finally, whatever edification you derive from applying to your own soul the words which God addresses to His ancient people, never lose sight of the primary sense of the text.

Bible Reading Selections

May 18, 2010 Leave a comment

From my recent reading in my modified Horner Bible Reading Plan, the following observations:

From Deuteronomy 8:2:  “to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.”  Though in this context the background is the forty years in the wilderness, the words are still true for other situations.  Here I thought of my recent reading in 2 Chronicles 32, regarding Hezekiah, that God tested him to know what was in his heart:  verse 31, “But when envoys were sent by the rulers of Babylon to ask him about the miraculous sign that had occurred in the land, God left him to test him and to know everything that was in his heart.”

Readings in Deuteronomy often relate to other readings, as for instance the day when I read both Deuteronomy 7 and Ezra 9 — both texts have to do with the Mosaic law’s prohibition against intermarriage with non-Israelites.  Today, Deuteronomy 16 talked about the Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles), one of the three major annual festivals.  The List 6 reading, Nehemiah 8, included the celebration of that very feast, one that the Israelites had neglected to observe:   “for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so.”

Another interesting “coincidence” in parallel reading came the day I read Job 41 (List 4), and then Isaiah 27 (List 7).  Job 41 is God’s description of the creature Leviathan, as one of God’s mighty works of creation, to humble Job.  Isaiah 27:1 again uses the word “Leviathan,” speaking of God’s destruction of the true spiritual creature “Leviathan” — the devil, who shows the qualities of the real sea monster.

Finally, a great verse to meditate on:  Isaiah 26:3

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.

This verse, from my recent readings in Isaiah, especially sticks out because of the scripture song associated with it, from George and Kathy Abbas.  Such verses are easy to remember when set to music, and contain great wisdom, these treasures from God’s word.

Church Bulletin Quotes: Thoughts concerning Corrie Ten Boom– versus J.C. Ryle

May 14, 2010 1 comment

The local, Reformed Sovereign Grace church does not correctly understand eschatology or ecclesiology.  Often the quotes put in the church bulletin reflect that poor understanding, such as quotes from Christian people who were not scholars or Bible teachers themselves — such as C.S. Lewis or Corrie Ten Boom.  Often the quotes from C.S. Lewis are harmless enough as they don’t speak to points at which C.S. Lewis erred.  Yet such quotes are more common than quotes from the great quotable preachers such as C.H. Spurgeon, J.C. Ryle, the Puritans, and many others.   (Certainly we can learn from the Christian witness and experiences of laypeople, but here I am talking about quoting famous laypeople who may have been true Christian believers, but — like many non-famous believers — were confused and did not really understand some biblical doctrines.)

A recent quote from Corrie Ten Boom especially was not needed, as it is one that reflects Corrie Ten Boom’s lack of understanding regarding the future great tribulation — the same error as the local pastor.  The quote can easily be googled, and is part of Corrie Ten Boom’s anti-pre-trib rapture view.  It includes the statement that sixty percent of the world has already entered the tribulation.  She confused general persecution and tribulation with the specific issue of the future Great Tribulation, Daniel’s 70th week, and thus denied the fact of The Great Tribulation associated with our Lord’s Second Advent.

For a contrast, here is a good, biblically accurate answer concerning overall tribulation as well as the future great tribulation, from J.C. Ryle (who was not pre-trib rapture, either, but who clearly articulated a correct view of tribulation and the great tribulation):

From his exposition of Luke chapter 21:

The words of this prophecy were doubtless intended to apply to every age of the Church of Christ. They began to be fulfilled in the days of the apostles. The book of Acts supplies us with many an instance of their fulfillment. They have been repeatedly fulfilled during the last eighteen hundred years. Wherever there have been disciples of Christ, there has always been more or less persecution. They will yet receive a more full accomplishment before the end comes. The last tribulation will probably be marked by special violence and bitterness. It will be a “great tribulation.” (Rev. 7:14.)