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Time and Eternity: Time is No More, Or Never-Ending Time?

May 31, 2011 3 comments

Michael Vlach has recently done an interesting series on the topic of heaven and the eternal state, contrasting the predominant Christian “Spiritual Vision” model — and its accompanying Christoplatonism introduced by allegorizers including Augustine — with the earlier biblical “New Creation” model.  Vlach cites Randy Alcorn’s book “Heaven,” as well as Craig Blaising (the New Creation model), and also points out some interesting scripture concerning the eternal state.  See “Models of Eschatology Part 6: Answering Questions About the New Creation Model (2)”, which points out the contrasting ideas people have concerning the after-life, and why the New Creation model is important.

One intriguing idea is the notion of timeless eternity, versus everlasting, non-ending time, and here Vlach points to the New Creation model and the description of nations during the Eternal State (Rev. 21-Rev. 22).  Further, Revelation 22:2 talks about the tree of life, “with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month,” which also suggests a time-bounded existence.  Everlasting life involves time that never ends — but not the cessation of time, of existence outside of the dimension of time.

As Vlach noted, very little has been written by Bible scholars concerning the eternal state: a great deal has been said concerning the Kingdom of God, but not about Revelation chapter 21, the Eternal State.  Indeed, in my brief perusal of available commentaries online (including modules available for my Bible software The Word), I found very little said about Rev. 22:2 or the eternal state.  Yet from this I have learned that many have taught the idea of a timeless existence in eternity, as noted in John Gill’s commentary (see his notes concerning Rev. 10:6).  Often the commentators are silent concerning the mention of the trees yielding fruit each month; if mentioned, it is understood only symbolically.  One commentator took it more literally and thus concluded that Rev. 22:1-7 must be talking about the millennial kingdom rather than the eternal state.

Reasoning from this popular “time is no more” idea, John MacArthur even provided “scientific” support:

Now let me talk about that for a moment from the scientific side so that you can see the rationality of this. Peter tells us that the elements will be dissolved. Now remember, the Kingdom has ended and that is the end of time. We are now on the brink of eternity when there will be, according to chapter 21 verse 1, a new heaven and a new earth because the first heaven and the first earth passed away and there’s no longer any sea. And then we enter into the eternal state, time is no more. The thousand-year Millennial Kingdom is the end of time. And the elements will dissolve.

When God closes the book on time the universe as we know it has to come to an end. You say, “Why is that true?” Time and creation began together because scientifically you cannot have creation without time. You say, “What do you mean by that?” Let’s go back to Peter’s word “elements.” Peter uses a term in the Greek that means the basic units. The basic parts of matter. Elements refer to the basic components of creation, matter. And do you know what matter is? If you have a scientific background you know this, let me give it you simply…matter is particles in motion. Most of what you see is space. It’s hard to believe that, even harder if you try to go through it. It looks solid. But it is not. Matter is particles in controlled motion. You learned that way back in your science classes somewhere.

Listen carefully, science says motion requires time because if something moves from one place to the another there has to be time. It’s here and it’s there and the fact that it was here and there demands the passage of time, even it’s only a fraction. You cannot have matter unless you have time because you can’t have motion unless something can move from one place to another, and it can’t move from one place to another unless there’s a passage of time. No time, no motion…no motion, no matter…no matter, no elements…no elements, no creation.

Again, though, what does scripture say?  It describes nations, the tree of life and a river, and fruit coming forth each month — all of which involve motion and matter.  Additional evidence (though indirect) comes from the dispensational understanding of the restoration of everything to the Edenic covenant, to bring to completion God’s purposes: a restoration of Edenic conditions, yet a continuing state such as Adam would have had, if he had passed the test in the Edenic covenant.  Certainly the descriptions given in Revelation 21-22, as well as in Ezekiel 47-48, agree with the original description of the garden of Eden in Genesis.  Adam and Eve were not then in a timeless eternity but very much existing in time and space.

Along with Randy Alcorn, Craig Blaising, and Michael Vlach, S. Lewis Johnson is another who held to the idea of “endless time” as mentioned in reference to Revelation 10:6, where in passing he observed that “As a matter of fact, there is a question about whether we can actually say that there is no time in eternity; rather endless time might be a much better way to speak of eternity.”  Certainly that would also agree with his teaching concerning the Edenic covenant and God’s Divine Purpose.

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Charles Spurgeon: The Political Restoration of the Jews

May 28, 2011 1 comment

From Sermon #582, from June 16, 1864: The Restoration and Conversion of the Jews.

First, THERE IS TO BE A POLITICAL RESTORATION OF THE JEWS. Israel is now blotted out from the map of nations. Her sons are scattered far and wide. Her daughters mourn beside all the rivers of the earth. Her sacred song is hushed—no king reigns in Jerusalem! She brings forth no governors among her tribes. But she is to be restored! She is to be restored “as from the dead.” When her own sons have given up all hope of her, then is God to appear for her. She is to be reorganized—her scattered bones are to be brought together. There will be a native government again. There will again be the form of a political body.

A State shall be incorporated and a king shall reign. Israel has now become alienated from her own land. Her sons, though they can never forget the sacred dust of Palestine, yet die at a hopeless distance from her consecrated shores. But it shall not be so forever, for her sons shall again rejoice in her—her land shall be called Beulah—for as a young man marries a virgin so shall her sons marry her. “I will place you in your own land,” is God’s promise to them. They shall again walk upon her mountains, shall once more sit under her vines and rejoice under her fig trees!

And they are also to be reunited. There shall not be two, nor ten, nor twelve, but one—one Israel praising one God—serving one king and that one King the Son of David, the descended Messiah! They are to have a national prosperity which shall make them famous. No, so glorious shall they be that Egypt and Tyre and Greece and Rome shall all forget their glory in the greater splendor of the throne of David! The day shall yet come when all the high hills shall leap with envy because this is the hill which God has chosen! The time shall come when Zion’s shrine shall again be visited by the constant feet of the pilgrim—when her valleys shall echo with songs and her hilltops shall drop with wine and oil.

If there is meaning in words this must be the meaning of this chapter! I wish never to learn the art of tearing God’s meaning out of His own Words. If there is anything clear and plain, the literal sense and meaning of this passage—a meaning not to be spirited or spiritualized away—it must be evident that both the two and the ten tribes of Israel are to be restored to their own land and that a king is to rule over them. “Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen where they are gone and will gather them on every side and bring them into their own land: and I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king to them all.

Puns in the Bible: The Book of Micah

May 26, 2011 2 comments

Micah’s Warnings to the Towns of Judah

As I continue going through the minor prophets with S. Lewis Johnson, now in the book of Micah, I observe the similarities between several of these minor prophets — and thus similar applications. The books of Hosea, Amos and Micah were written during the same general time period (the 8th century BC), and contain similar warnings against Israel’s apostasy, including hypocrisy and formalism, even a “promise box” religion, a notional faith not evidenced in how we live.   These sermon series were delivered at various times throughout the 1970s and 1980s, not intended to be listened to in sequence, yet the “application” to our daily church life is similar:  how our natural tendency in churches is to just follow the routine, go through the motions, and easily turn cold towards spiritual things.

Hosea and Amos wrote to the northern kingdom of Israel, whereas Micah wrote to both Israel and Judah, yet the problems are the same.  Yet each prophet has his own style and particular teachings, such as Hosea’s marriage illustration, or Amos’ shepherd experience.  Micah in particular included some interesting puns, word-plays in the original Hebrew, in the first chapter references to locations within Judah — names and meanings that his audience no doubt recognized.  Consider Micah 1:10-15, which names several places in Judah:  Beth-le-aphrah, Shaphir, Zaanan, Beth-ezel, Maroth, Lachish, Moresheth-gath, Achzib, and Mareshah — just names that we skim over, but with interesting meanings as used in the verses.

  • The name “Beth-le-aphrah” means “town of dust” — so Micah here says “in Beth-le-aphrah roll yourselves in the dust.”
  • In “Pass on your way, inhabitants of Shaphir” the name Shaphri is very close to the Hebrew word for fair or beautiful, a “fair town.”
  • In verse 11, the inhabitants of Za-anan (“going out”) will not be able to go out.
    Beth-ezel (“Standton”) will have its standing place taken away.
  • In Maroth (bitter land) they wait anxiously for better things, but it will not come.
  • Jerusalem, the city of fortune or city of peace: misfortune and disaster is coming.  No peace is coming to the city of peace.
  • Lachish — “Chariotsburg” — is addressed in reference to the chariots that were stored there.
  • Moresheth Gath:  “betrothed” — the city is promised to another:  “Therefore you shall give parting gifts to Moresheth Gath.”
  • Achzib — “Deceitville” shall be a deceitful thing
  • Mareshah — (possessor or heir) — will have a new, foreign hei

This section begins and ends with references to David’s life:  “Tell it not in Gath” in verse 10, a clear reference to 2 Samuel 1, David’s lament at the news of the defeat at Mt. Gilboa, the battle that killed King Saul and his son Jonathan.  Then the closing, verse 15, references Adullam (“the glory of Israel shall come to Adullam”): the cave where David dwelled as an outlaw, a place of rough living among malcontents.  Yet such is what shall come upon Israel.

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard: Salvation at Different Ages of Life

May 23, 2011 2 comments

How nice it would be, we often think, if everyone who was saved came to salvation at a young age, with a full life of service and opportunities for service.  It is easy enough to regret the lost years, no matter at what age God brings us to saving faith, and plenty has been said concerning the virtue of salvation among youth — even to statistics showing that the vast majority of believers are saved at a younger age, especially by college age, some before age 30, but then in ever decreasing numbers after that age.

The parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), a great parable about God’s Sovereignty in Rewards, has application in this very issue: believers saved when they are young (hired the first hour), versus those saved at later hours in the day: the third hour, the sixth hour, the ninth hour, and even the 11th hour.  In this teaching — directly following Peter’s attitude of “we have left everything to follow you? What are we going to get out of this?” (Matt. 19:27) — our Lord makes clear that is the quality and not the quantity of our service that matters.  Also, that “many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

S. Lewis Johnson pointed out these issues, from the parable and its context.  He was saved as a businessman in his mid-twenties — and though he had already completed an undergraduate degree and embarked on a career in the insurance business, still God had other plans for the rest of his long life ahead.  Certainly God has mightily used some men who were saved as youths:  John MacArthur, for instance, and especially Charles Spurgeon.  Yet others were saved at even later ages and used mightily by God.  As SLJ pointed out, Scofield was saved at a relatively late age (36), a lawyer and alcoholic, and yet his Scofield Bible, for all its shortcomings, “was used of God in the lives of many, even in my life.”  Johnson also mentioned a man who had heard the preaching of John Flavel years before at age 17, yet was not brought to the Lord until 86 years later at the age of 103.  For three years he lived as a Christian; you can find his tombstone today.  It reads something like this:  “Here lies a babe three years old by grace, who died at age one hundred six by nature.”

From my own experience over the last few years, I consider several cases of salvation coming to older people: a man at church here, saved and baptized only a few years ago at about age 70; my late great-uncle’s second wife — who had remained single all her life, fully consumed in a feminist, career life until she married my great-uncle late in life — and also came to salvation then, past the age of 80.  Then an online friend saved in her early 50s, and her mom saved at age 87.

Or consider the case of the dying thief:

Now it’s not a very good place from which to carry out your Christian service hanging on a cross, but nevertheless, he did, and he did precisely that, because if you’ll remember, he gave testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ … and vindicated him by saying, “This man had done nothing amiss.”  He worshipped the Lord calling him Lord, and then gave us a magnificent prayer, “Remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom,” which has caused numerous interpreters to believe that at the moment of his death he probably understood more about theology than any man living at the time, including the apostles, because he saw the nature of the Messianic kingdom.  He saw that our Lord was the Messianic kingdom.  He knew that when he passed from this life, he would have life beyond the grave.  He knew that the greatest thing in life was not the stay here, but to go there.  He didn’t say, “Let me come down from the cross,” but he said, “remember me when you come in your kingdom.”  Now what a magnificent Christian service this man rendered at the last few moments of his life, and what tremendous quantity it had, because down through the years, men such as I have been proclaiming the gospel contained in the words of this magnificent servant of Jesus Christ, called at the eleventh hour to the service of the Lord.

Now, some closing thoughts from J.C. Ryle (from Holiness, chapter 17) about how we all do some good to other souls while here:

I believe that just as ‘no man lives unto himself’ (Rom. 14:7), so also no man is converted only for himself and that the conversion of one man or woman always leads on, in God’s wonderful providence, to the conversion of others. I do not say for a moment that all believers know it. I think it far more likely that many live and die in the faith, who are not aware that they have done good to any soul. But I believe the resurrection morning and the judgment day, when the secret history of all Christians is revealed, will prove that the full meaning of the promise before us has never failed. I doubt if there will be a believer who will not have been to someone or other a ‘river of living water,’ a channel through whom the Spirit has conveyed saving grace. Even the penitent thief, short as his time was after he repented, has been a source of blessing to thousands of souls!

J.C. Ryle: Our Talent On Loan From God

May 21, 2011 Leave a comment

From “Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Matthew.” Text:  Matthew 25:14-30

Anything whereby we may glorify God is a talent. Our gifts, our influence, our money, our knowledge, our health, our strength, our time, our senses, our reason, our intellect, our memory, our affections, our privileges as members of Christ’s Church, our advantages as possessors of the Bible–all, all are talents. Whence came these things? What hand bestowed them? Why are we what we are? Why are we not the worms that crawl on the earth? There is only one answer to these questions. All that we have is a loan from God. We are God’s stewards. We are God’s debtors. Let this thought sink deeply into our hearts.

God’s Truths To Us In Similitudes

May 19, 2011 Leave a comment

A Spurgeon sermon I read recently pointed out the many ways in which God uses similitudes, or comparisons, from our everyday lives, to communicate His truths to us.  In this sermon (Everybody’s Sermon, #206) Spurgeon specifically mentioned many similitudes that can warn us of the danger of hell fire and our great need to repent, to flee from the wrath to come.  Through these I was also reminded of the point of Romans 1, that all men are without excuse since even creation itself gives us enough light to damn us.

From Spurgeon:

Now it struck me that God is preaching to us every day by similitudes. When Christ was on earth He preached in parables and, though He is now in Heaven, He is preaching in parables today! Providence is God’s sermon. The things which we see about us are God’s thoughts and God’s words to us. And if we were but wise, there is not a step that we take which we would not find to be full of mighty instruction. O you sons of men, God warns you every day by His own Word!  He speaks to you by the lips of His servants, His ministers, but besides this, He addresses you at every turn by similitudes!  He leaves no stone unturned to bring His wandering children to Himself, to make the lost sheep of the house of Israel return to the fold. In addressing myself to you this morning, I shall endeavor to show how every day and every season of the year, in every place and in every calling which you are made to exercise, God is speaking to you by similitudes.

Indeed we can find truths of God’s word in the creation around us every day, both in nature itself and in many of our areas of employment.  Among the many examples cited by Spurgeon:

  • times of the day, sunrise and sunset, night time
  • the seasons of the year and farmer’s work of seeds, gardening, the sowing and reaping the harvest
  • winter weather – blackness of sin like bleakness of nature
  • wind — the Spirit of the Lord “blows where it wishes”
  • heat — the eternal heat and fierce anger of God against wicked men
  • the mountains and hills — God endures forever, even beyond these

Then Spurgeon listed many occupations and ways in which they can send warnings and exhortations to us.  Obvious ones such as the farmer’s life come to mind, but others include:

  • baker:  dealing with ovens and bread:  “For the Day comes that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud and they who do wickedly shall be as stubble. They shall be consumed.”
  • butcher
  • shoemaker
  • brewer
  • businesses with scales and measurements, reference to our being weighed and perhaps being found lacking (ref. Daniel 5)
  • general servant with diverse occupations
  • writer:  “know that your life is a writing!… You are writing your sins or else your holy confidence in Him who loved you.”
  • physician or chemist: the idea of writing prescriptions… “Man, you are sick. I can prescribe for you. The blood and righteousness of Christ, laid hold of by faith, and applied by the Spirit can cure your soul. I can compound a medicine for you that shall rid you of your sins and bring you to the place where the inhabitants shall no more say, ‘I am sick.’
  • jeweler — God makes up His jewels, contrasted with the common pebbles that are not included in His jewels
  • builders (construction work):  “are you building on the right foundation?”

I further considered how to relate Spurgeon’s list to modern-day occupations.  Even some such occupations did exist in his day, yet were omitted from this list, especially more abstract and/or higher-paid paper-pushing jobs.  Not surprisingly, Spurgeon did not include similitudes for bureaucrats or politicians (jobs that have always existed if more so today), or even lawyers or accountants.  Then again, perhaps the majority of his audience actually worked in more down-to-earth jobs.  (Undoubtedly 19th century England did not employ so many attorneys as 21st century America — home to 3/4 of the world’s lawyers).

Still, it would be nice to relate this to our lives today, and upon further reflection I thought of one further similitude, for the computer programmer / analyst (my secular vocation):  the programmer is designing and coding a sequence of steps to complete tasks, even to integrating different files and systems.  Herein we can see God the master-planner with His Divine Purpose, and His amazing providence including the very complex and detailed overall design, even to the programs God puts into the DNA of all plants, animals, and even into us, for God’s specific “programs” in this life. We can take the warning, too, to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” to know that we are in the Lamb’s book of life, in God’s care within His great Divine Purpose.

The Questions That God Asks Us

May 17, 2011 1 comment

In our Christian life we all know the experience of people asking God questions, or asking questions about God and why things are the way they are.  But what about the times when God asks questions to people, such as individuals in the Bible?  I consider that here we see a few different categories of such questions.  In Job 38-41, for instance, God asks Job countless questions — rhetorical questions to show God’s sovereignty and to “put Job in his place” but not actually expecting specific answers.

Another category is that of probing questions, and we see examples of these in several places, including the dialogue in Genesis 3, God’s conversation with Elijah in 1 Kings 19, and in Jonah 4.  These are situations where God asks the person a question in an attempt to get the person to think and reason, to snap out of a sinful way of thinking.  Throughout these incidents we also see God’s loving patience with stubborn and sinful men, the manner of a parent trying to reason with a rebellious and wayward small child.

I remember reading through John MacArthur’s Genesis series a few years ago and how impressed I was with the depth that I’d never seen before, especially when I got to Genesis 3 and God’s approach to Adam.  MacArthur pointed out the loving approach God took; He knew that Adam had sinned and disobeyed, and could have instantly destroyed Adam — but He brought up the subject with questions, to get Adam to confess and return to fellowship:  “where are you, Adam?” and then “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”  It was an opportunity for Adam to admit and talk about it, but of course we all know how Adam responded.

The prophets give us two situations rather similar to each other, of prophets who are out of the will of God.  Elijah was so fearful for his life that he ran away from Jezebel, but then told God he wanted to die.  In 1 Kings 19, verses 9 and 13, God confronts Elijah with the same simple question:  “what are you doing here, Elijah?”  When Elijah doesn’t “get it” the first time, God has to show himself to the prophet in His true power — not in the great events of wind, earthquake and fire, but in a still small voice.  The second time the question is asked, Elijah just repeats the same answer, and so God must also point out that Elijah is not the only one left.

Then God dealt with Jonah, a similarly stubborn prophet, with probing questions and another object lesson: the growth and subsequent demise of a plant that pleased Jonah.  As with Elijah, God asks him the question twice:  “Do you do well to be angry?” and later, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?”  Like Elijah, Jonah persists in his stubbornness and fails to “get it” until God brings home the final lesson.  Jonah was even willing to die, he said, over the loss of the gourd:  something inanimate, uncreated by Jonah, unnourished by Jonah, and temporary.  How much more did God have concern over His animate, created, nourished and eternal souls (120,000 Ninevites).

The Bible gives us many other great examples of questions asked by God, as well as interesting conversations between Christ and people He interacted with.  Here I think of the interesting conversations with Nicodemus and the woman of Samaria in John 3 and 4, as well as His words to the Syro-Phoenician woman.  Another question in Matthew 19:17, to the rich young ruler (“Why do you call me good?”) was also designed to get the man thinking about why he was calling Jesus a “Good Master” but not thinking of Jesus as actually being God — though in this case the man did not respond and went away unsatisfied.  All of these incidents from the Bible, of course, are instructive to us as well.  Whenever we get into the same thoughts and attitudes as the prophets or the people Jesus encountered, we can remember these incidents and relate to the characters as people just like us — and take the same instruction from the words God directly told them.