Archive for September, 2010

The Three Falls of Satan: A Look at Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28

September 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Isaiah 14 (see these message from S. Lewis Johnson, Isaiah 14 and Systematic Theology) is one of the key passages that gives us information regarding Satan. Ezekiel 28:12-16 tells us the origin of sin in the fall of Satan, and Isaiah 14 tells us of the nature of that fall, in his five “I wills.”

Some Bible teachers believe that Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14 are actually talking about the human characters — the king of Tyre and the king of Babylon. However, it is important to note that often in the Bible God addresses Satan “through” another person. Obvious examples include Genesis 3, in which God addressed Satan through the serpent, and the case of Jesus’ rebuke of Peter with the words “Get thee behind me, Satan.” As Believer’s Chapel teacher Dan Duncan also noted in reference to Ezekiel 28, the first part of that chapter is directed towards “the prince of Tyre” (the human ruler) whereas the next section is spoken to “the king of Tyre.” As I previously noted in my readings through Ezekiel, the word prince is used many times there to denote human leaders — as also in 2 Samuel David is called “the prince.”

S. Lewis Johnson states that Satan’s fall occurred before Genesis 3, pointing to what Paul says (Romans 5:12), that “sin entered the world” — it already existed with Satan, and “entered” our creation. Scripture doesn’t give us the details concerning the time interval between Satan’s fall and man’s fall, and so SLJ does not comment any further. The Ezekiel text says that Satan was in the garden of Eden when he fell, but it does appear to be a different act of rebellion that came before man’s sin in Genesis 3.

Scripture tells us of three falls of Satan, one past and two yet future:

  • From the third heaven (God’s throne) to the second heaven (our atmosphere), while still retaining access to the third heaven as mentioned in Job
  • From the Second Heaven to the Earth (Revelation 12)
  • and finally, from Earth into the abyss and then to the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20)

Isaiah 14 looks specifically at the future event of Satan’s third fall. Isaiah so often travels into the future and describes events in the far-future, as though they have already occurred — what a mighty and awesome God we serve, a God we can trust because He not only knows the future but has planned it according to His purposes. Like Martin Luther, we can confidently assert the final victory over Satan — “for lo, his doom is sure.”

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J.C. Ryle Quote (Practical Religion, Heirs of God)

September 27, 2010 Leave a comment

All the children of God have a cross to carry. They have trials, troubles, and afflictions to go through for the Gospel’s sake. They have trials from the world, trials from the flesh, and trials from the devil. They have trials of hurt feelings from their relatives and friends—cruel words, harsh treatment, and unmerciful judgment. They have trials in the matter of character; slander, misrepresentation, mockery, insinuation of false motives—all these often fall heavily on them. They have trials in the matter of worldly interests. They often have to choose whether they will please man and lose glory for God, or gain glory for God and offend man. They have trials from their own hearts. In general, they each have their own thorn in the flesh—their own resident-devil, who is their worst foe. This is the experience of the sons of God.

Some of them suffer more, and some less. Some of them suffer in one way, and some in another. God measures out their portions like a wise physician, and cannot err. But I believe there never was one child of God who reached paradise without a cross.

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The Book of Immanuel: Isaiah 7 – 12

September 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Continuing in S. Lewis Johnson’s Isaiah series, I now look at Isaiah chapters 7 through 12, a subset within the overall book of Isaiah:  the book of Immanuel.  This book itself has many interesting things, including an outline that follows the “signs” given in Isaiah 8:  Isaiah and his two sons:

  • Isaiah (Salvation of the Lord):  Isaiah 11

The details in Isaiah carry great meaning.  Consider the well-known words of Isaiah 9:6-7:  For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.
The order is important — it is not “a child is given” and “a son is born.”   The “child is born” part refers to Christ’s human nature.  He was born as we are.  The “son is given” refers to the Divine side of Christ, the Eternal Son (ref. Psalm 2:7).

Isaiah 11 presents the Coming of the King and the Anointing of the King, but skips over the Suffering of the King.  As S. Lewis Johnson points out, this part is reserved for later chapters in Isaiah.  Yet it is also significant that Isaiah (as with all the prophets) skips over the interval of this the Church Age without mention, directly from the Anointing of the King to His reigning in the Kingdom.  From the human perspective at least, it was (theoretically) possible for Christ to come and then to inaugurate the Kingdom, if the Jews had accepted their Messiah.  Yet we understand that in God’s sovereign purposes this was planned as well, that the Jews would reject their Messiah.  The first mention of the interval, the long delay between Christ’s First Coming and Second Coming, is in the gospel accounts when Jesus brings this new revelation, in the parables told to the apostles and the people concerning the delay.

The Importance of Prophecy
In 2 Thessalonians 2 Paul refers to Isaiah 11:4,
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.

Here also is a lesson concerning the importance of prophecy.
In response to those who say, we should not teach prophecy to a young Christian, because “prophecy is really confusing.  Give them the simple truth of the Bible, like the person of Christ, and the work of Christ, and how to live the daily life,” we see the example of the apostle Paul and the Thessalonian church.  Paul spent just 15 days in Thessalonica, and from that ministry a small church developed.  Acts tells us he was only there 15 days, and according to the chronology of Acts he could not have spent more than six weeks there, but apparently it was only 15 days.  SLJ continues:

And you know what he taught them?  He taught them all about the cross.  He taught them all about the work of the Holy Spirit.  He taught them all about Christian living.  And furthermore, he taught them about the man of sin.  He said remember when I was with you, I told you these things.  He taught them about the rapture of the church.  He taught them about the tribulation period, the 70th week of Israel.  He taught them about the kingdom.  He taught them not only these facts, but he taught them about the individuals themselves and what they would do.  And he told them that the man of sin was going to arise; that is, what he is talking about right here.  So we do not apologize for teaching the prophecy.  If Paul did it, we can do it too.  And if the Thessalonicans could take it, so can you.

The Importance of the Kingdom

Isaiah 11:6-9 describes the kingdom age — the words are not just symbolical, empty words.  Another good point from S. Lewis Johnson:

Now, theological contemporaries tell me … there is no such thing as the kingdom of God upon the earth.  But when I look at the Book of Revelation, I notice that not only is the kingdom of God upon the earth prophesied, but I read that the angels are saying, thy kingdom come too.  And to tell you the truth, I am glad to be associated with the angels.  And I say to my friends, I am very interested in what you say to me, but as soon as the angels stop praying thy kingdom come and as soon as the saints down through the years stop saying thy kingdom come, and as soon as our Lord’s prayer is changed to thy kingdom will not come, not until that time will I stop praying for the kingdom.  And as far as I am concerned the company of the apostles and the company of the prophets, and the company of the angelic beings in heaven is the kind of company I want to keep.  And so I will pray “thy kingdom come.”  That is precisely what that text meant and what it means.  And this in Isaiah is the fulfillment, expressed in the description of “thy kingdom come.”  And it is a beautiful picture of course.

As to why the kingdom is necessary:

Now, some people say, “A kingdom” is kind of an appendage to God’s plan — the ones who have the cross, the coming of the spirit, the preaching of the gospel, the last events in which Jesus Christ comes and then go right into eternity.  We do not need any kingdom.  It is a useless appendage attached to the plan of God.

Let me remind you of something:  Sin occurred in history.  God gave a promise of redemption in history so Christ is King and he suffered in history.  Now, furthermore, he says that in history when Jesus comes here, we are going to be caught up to meet him in the air, and we are going to be given a resurrection body in history so that men may see in history what God is doing.  Not out of history, in history.

Furthermore, when man sinned, vicariously he placed the creation under a curse, in history.  So, in history, the creation is going to be redeemed.  Its time of redemption is not when we believe on Jesus Christ — its time of redemption is when the children of God receive the resurrection bodies and then God will bring the quick provision, his program for the creation, in history.  And because of sin in history and redemption in history, sin that affects the man and affects the creation, so we must have redemption in history that affects the man and affects God’s creation and not until then shall we enter into the eternity.  You see God’s philosophy of redemption is very, very to the point.

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Bible Study: Types of Prophecy

September 21, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m enjoying S. Lewis Johnson’s Isaiah series, already learning a lot about this oft-neglected yet very instructive book.  Johnson taught this class on Monday nights in the fall of 1968, with occasional reference to then- contemporary persons and events.  He sounds much younger here than in his later teachings (from the 1980s and especially the early 1990s), though he was already 53 by this time:  proof that sometimes a man is used by God more so in his later years than earlier.  The Isaiah series is one that I wish had been videotaped (of course such technology wasn’t readily available then), for sometimes he made use of a blackboard and pointed to “this here” and “this” in discussions of a timeline of events.  But most of it is straightforward enough for audio listening.

Now, from message 6 in the Isaiah series . . .
Old Testament Prophecy can be understood by grouping into different categories, different types of prophecy.
1.  Direct Messianic Prophecy:  Prophecy that is altogether predictive, a vision of the Lord Jesus.
Examples include Isaiah 9:6-7, and Isaiah 53.

2.  Indirect Messianic Prophecy:    Prophecies like these are quoted by NT writers, but the prophecies themselves only say “the Lord” without direct reference to Jesus Christ.  However, the apostles understood the trinity and the different activities of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  When OT passages refer to activities done by the Son — such as reigning over the Kingdom, etc. — the apostles recognized these as talking about the Second Person of the trinity.
Example:  Psalm 102, especially verses 25-27.

3.  Typical Messianic Prophecy:  Illustrative Messianic prophecy, as seen in the prophets, priests and kings of Israel.  They had experiences that are typical (that is, an example) of Christ.  This category can be sub-divided into two types:
a.  Historical Typical:  A historical event as an example, as a prophecy that has no direct reference to the future.  Example: Psalm 8.
b.  Historico-Prophetical Typical:  Cases where the activities of the prophets, priests or kings go beyond themselves.  Isaiah and his children (Isaiah 8:17-18)  are typical of Christ and His people, and typical of a Messianic community.   Examples:  Psalms 16 and 45, and Isaiah 8:17-18.

Studying Isaiah, Understanding Prophecy and Good Theology

September 17, 2010 Leave a comment

As I now work through a chapter-by-chapter Bible Study in Isaiah, with S. Lewis Johnson (up through Isaiah 8), the following words from Horatius Bonar concerning the prophets again come to mind:

To attach a general meaning to a whole chapter, as is frequently done, shows not only grievous irreverence for the Divine Word, but much misconception of the real nature of that language in which it is written. Yet such is often the practice of many expositors of prophecy. They will take up a chapter of Isaiah, and tell you that it refers to the future glory of the Christian Church; and that is the one idea which they gather from a whole chapter, or sometimes from a series of chapters. Their system does not admit of interpreting verse by verse and clause by clause, and affixing an exact and definite sense to each. Bring them to this test, and their system gives way. It looks fair and plausible enough, so long as they can persuade you that the whole chapter is one scene, out of which it is merely designed that one grand idea should be extracted; but bring it to the best of minute and precise interpretation, and its nakedness is at once discovered. Many prophecies become in this way a mere waste of words.  What might be expressed in one sentence, is beaten out over a whole chapter; nay, sometimes over a whole book.

These expositors think that there is nothing in prophecy, except that Jew and Gentile are all to be gathered in, and made one in Christ. Prophet after prophet is raised up, vision after vision is given, and yet nothing is declared but this one idea! Every chapter almost of Isaiah foretells something about the future glory of the world; and every chapter presents it to us in some new aspect, opening up new scenes, and pointing out new objects; but, according to the scheme of some, every chapter sets forth the same idea, reiterates the same objects, and depicts the same scenes. Is not this handling the Word of God deceitfully?

In teaching from Isaiah 6, S. Lewis Johnson brings out some important lessons concerning the value of good theology, as illustrated in Isaiah’s experience:  his sin,  cleansing, and commission.  Isaiah understood both sides of truth, the balance between two extremes.  On the one hand, we have total acceptance with God, yet we must also maintain a moment-by-moment relationship to God.

If we so stress our total acceptance with God that we forget the other, then we leave ourselves open to license.  If we so stress the necessity for this relationship moment by moment with God that we forget our acceptance with him, we come to the place where we are morbid, where we are unstable because we are not sure that we really are accepted with God.  That is the value of theology, because we do not go to extremes.  We know both sides of the truth.

SLJ spoke of a recent trend in his day (1968) towards emphasizing our total acceptance — without the need for daily confession of sin and repentance.  In my recent experience with Sovereign Grace, Reformed churches I have observed the opposite extreme of focus on the moment-by-moment relationship with God:  over-emphasis upon the need to confess our sins, remembering that we are creatures of wrath and God should have just stomped us out like a bug; and that God is still ticked off about the fall and Adam’s sin.  As SLJ said so well, such a view — that neglects teaching concerning our adoption, the great promises of the biblical covenants and God’s Divine Purpose — leaves us with overwhelming guilt and a lack of assurance concerning our acceptance before God.

One simple outline for Isaiah 6 is:  Woe, Lo, and Go.  The woe comes in verse 5, Isaiah’s sin, followed by “Lo” in verse 7 when Isaiah is cleansed, then “Go” in verse 8, Isaiah’s commission.

Another great excerpt from S. Lewis Johnson:

Now, I want you to notice that as Isaiah is cleansed he immediately hears the voice of the Lord.  One of the reasons we do not hear the voice of the Lord is because we have not bothered to be cleansed.  We have not cared for many others.  We have put our trust in Jesus Christ, and we know that our future is secure because of the cross and we like it that way and we do not really be want to be disturbed anymore.  We want to be sure that we are going to heaven and that is about as far as we want to go.  And furthermore, we even have some who say that it is hopeless to get beyond that.  It is hopeless to think about the growing in grace.  We do not want to become like the Pharisees and proud of our growth.  Of course not!  But our salvation is our means to grow.  We do not want to stay children all our lives, do we?  It is good to know the truth of the cross, that is where life begins — but that is the beginning of life.  It is not the end.

Increase our Faith

September 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Over a year ago I briefly mentioned this topic, with a quote from Spurgeon’s “The Necessity of Increased Faith.”

The local pastor recently discussed an amazing story from his dear friend — the man’s daughter miraculously healed of Lyme’s disease (truly something to praise God for, something beyond all we can understand) — and in marveling at the amazing power of God, declared a hope for God to “increase our faith.”  The meaning he apparently attached was the general wish, hope, and nice thought, that God will continue to amaze us by showing the great things He can do in people’s lives and situations, such as this recent testimony of God’s healing.  It was a nice thought, but passive, lacking in depth and understanding as to how God accomplishes the increase in our faith.

It is an easy thing to say “Lord, increase our faith,” but through my own experience I realize that greater faith comes with diligence on our part. (James 4:8, Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.)  During my early years of Christian faith, I only understood the basic gospel message, salvation in Christ and having my sins forgiven.  Yet like most young, immature believers, I did not mature or increase in faith so long as I stayed in the same basic situation — singles group teaching and more socially-focused weekly study groups, and only casual Bible reading.  The lack of discipline and diligence in such a life led too often to emotional moments of despair and self-pity, doubting God while focusing more on self’s desires.  Increase of faith never just happens as we continue idly in a routine situation with lack of effort on our part.  Only since taking on more effort, listening to and reading good sermons and spending more time in God’s word, have I noticed true spiritual growth and increasing faith.  As with any growing believer, now I face far greater trials of faith than in those early years; yet the times of doubt and despair — though they still come — do not last nearly as long, and the way out comes to mind more readily: recalling specific Bible passages that answer to a particular personal difficulty and uncertainty; relating specific Bible situations to my own; understanding God’s Divine Purpose of the Ages.  Greater faith reflects on greater understanding, to take God at His word, fully trusting in what He promises concerning our glorious future and the great things yet to come.

Well said Spurgeon, concerning the increase of faith — in its extent, of what it will receive:

Usually, when we commence the Christian life, faith does not grasp much—it only believes a few elementary Doctrines. I find that many young converts have not gone much farther than believing that Jesus Christ died for sinners. By-and-by they get a little advanced and believe Election. But there is very little beyond that they receive—and it is not until many years that they believe the entire Gospel. Some of you, my Hearers, and a great many that are not my hearers are miserable little cramped souls—you have learned a cast-iron creed and you will never move out of it. A certain somebody drew up five or six doctrines and said, “There are the doctrines of the Bible,” and you believe these. But you do not want to have your faith increased—for you do not believe a great deal more that is in the Bible.

…I think, as we grow, we shall have our belief increased. Not only are there a few cardinal Doctrines that will be enough to steer our ship by, north, south, east, or west, but we shall begin to learn something about the north-west and north-east and that which lies between the four points! Many people, when they hear something a little contrary to what they have usually heard, say at once, “That is not sound.” But who made you a judge of what is sound?

So true that is.  (Spurgeon then went on to give a specific example of increasing faith — his then new understanding concerning the Millennial Kingdom.)  Thus, when the local pastor prays that God would increase our faith, it comes across as very shallow and insincere.  For he who casually says “increase our faith” doesn’t really want it — since he picks and chooses which parts of the Bible to believe, even declaring that those who want to “divide” in fellowship over differences in eschatology are being divisive about things as unimportant as food and drink.

A few more quotes concerning the connection between increase of faith and our understanding of the scriptures:
John MacArthur:   if you never get anything else, get this, your faith, your trust is based on your view of God. If you’ve got a little God, you’re not gonna trust Him. So if you want more faith, you get into the Bible. Find out what kind of a God you have, and that’ll increase your faith.

J.C. Ryle especially states the case concerning diligence and growing faith:

All that believers have is undoubtedly of grace. Their repentance, faith, and holiness, are all the gift of God. But the degree to which a believer attains in grace, is ever set before us as closely connected with his own diligence in the use of means, and his own faithfulness in living fully up to the light and knowledge which he possesses. Indolence and laziness are always discouraged in God’s word. Labor and pains in hearing, reading, and prayer, are always represented as bringing their own reward. “The soul of the diligent shall be made fat.” (Prov. 13:4.) “An idle soul shall suffer hunger.” (Prov. 19:15.)

Attention to this great principle is the main secret of spiritual prosperity. The man who makes rapid progress in spiritual attainments–who grows visibly in grace, and knowledge, and strength, and usefulness–will always be found to be a diligent man. He leaves no stone unturned to promote his soul’s well-doing. He is diligent over his Bible, diligent in his private devotions, diligent as a hearer of sermons, diligent in his attendance at the Lord’s table. And he reaps according as he sows. Just as the muscles of the body are strengthened by regular exercise, so are the graces of the soul increased by diligence in using them.

Do we wish to grow in grace? Do we desire to have stronger faith, brighter hope, and clearer knowledge? Beyond doubt we do, if we are true Christians. Then let us live fully up to our light, and improve every opportunity. Let us never forget our Lord’s words in this passage. “With what measure we use;” to our souls, “it shall be measured to us again.” The more we do for our souls, the more shall we find God does for them.

Some Great Quotes from J.C. Ryle, concerning “Practical Religion”

September 13, 2010 Leave a comment

What is the best safe-guard against false teaching? Beyond all doubt the regular study of the word of God, with prayer for the teaching of the Holy Spirit. The Bible was given to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. (Psalm. 119:105.) The man who reads it aright will never be allowed greatly to err. It is neglect of the Bible which makes so many a prey to the first false teacher whom they hear. They would have us believe that “they are not learned, and do not pretend to have decided opinions.” The plain truth is that they are lazy and idle about reading the Bible, and do not like the trouble of thinking for themselves. Nothing supplies false prophets with followers so much as spiritual sloth under a cloak of humility.

Let us resolve to “talk more to believers about the Bible” when we meet them. Sorry to say, the conversation of Christians, when they do meet, is often sadly unprofitable! How many frivolous, and trifling, and uncharitable things are said! Let us bring out the Bible more, and it will help to drive the devil away, and keep our hearts in tune. Oh, that we may all strive so to walk together in this evil world, that Jesus may often draw near, and go with us, as He went with the two disciples journeying to Emmaus!

remember that the shortest path is not always the path of duty. To argue with our unconverted relatives, to “avoid” all our old friends, to withdraw entirely from mixed society, to live an exclusive life, to give up every act of courtesy and civility in order that we may devote ourselves to the direct work of Christ–all this may seem very right, and may satisfy our consciences and save us trouble.  But I venture a doubt whether it is not often a selfish, lazy, self-pleasing line of conduct, and whether the true cross and true line of duty may not be to deny ourselves, and adopt a very different course of action.

The true Christian will do well to make it a settled rule never to “waste” his evenings. Whatever others may do, let him resolve always to make time for quiet, calm thought-for Bible-reading and prayer. The rule will prove a hard one to keep. It may bring on him the charge of being unsociable and overly strict. Let him not mind this. Anything of this kind is better than habitual late hours in company, hurried prayers, slovenly Bible reading, and a bad conscience. Even if he stands alone in his church or town let him not depart from his rule. He will find himself in a minority, and be thought an eccentric man. But this is genuine Scriptural separation.

Do we desire to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ? Do we wish to make progress in our religion, and become strong Christians, and not mere babes in spiritual things? Then let us pray daily for more faith, and watch our faith with most jealous watchfulness. Here is the corner-stone of our religion. A flaw or weakness here will affect the whole condition of our inner man. According to our faith will be the degree of our peace, our hope, our joy, our decision in Christ’s service, our boldness in confession, our strength in work, our patience in trial, our resignation in trouble, our sensible comfort in prayer. All will hinge on the proportion of our faith. Happy are they who know how to rest their whole weight continually on a covenant God, and to walk by faith, not by sight.