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The Different Judgments In Scripture

June 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Just as our legal system has many courts, so in God’s word we see many different courts, or judgments.  We have our federal courts, state courts, and even local county or city courts.  Not all cases and not all people face justice in each court.  So when it comes to understanding the Bible, we are not to jump to conclusions and assume that all the mentions of judgment are referring to one single future judgment.

In looking at Matthew 25:31-46, S. Lewis Johnson points this out, and briefly lists the different judgments set forth in scripture:

1.  The Judgment that Christ bore, paying for our sins at Calvary
2.  The Believer’s Self-Judgment, spoken of by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11  (see also 1 John 5:16-17)
3.  The “Bema Seat” judgment of all believers, for our rewards — reference 1 Cor. 3:12-15
Good resources concerning this topic:  John MacArthur’s Believer’s Rewards and S. Lewis Johnson’s The Believer’s Judgment

4.  Judgment of Living Israelites, for going into the Messianic Kingdom (Isaiah 65:8-16, Zephaniah 1, Zechariah 13)
5.  Judgment of Living Gentiles, for going into the Kingdom (Matt. 25:31-46)
6.  Judgment of the Fallen Angels  (Rev. 20)
7.  Judgment of the Unbelieving Dead — The “Great White Throne” of Revelation 20:11-15

I was aware of some of these, but had never heard them listed out.  From some googling, though, I found additional information including a Walvoord book, “Major Bible Prophecies: 37 Crucial Prophecies That Affect You Today” which also describes the many different judgments found in the Bible.

Many believers (especially amillennialists and postmillennialists) have concluded that the Sheep and Goats judgment is the same event as the Great White Throne, a single general judgment of all believers.  A recent blog from Michael Vlach especially compares these two judgments, noting nine important differences between these accounts.

S. Lewis Johnson likewise noted that the historical church position was to view the account in Matthew 25 as describing a single general judgment, a parallel to the Great White Throne judgment in Revelation 20.  But as with many things in this overall category of doctrine, more thorough study shows the differences.  Just as the resurrection will take place in phases, first the resurrection of the just followed by a time gap of 1000 years before the resurrection of the wicked, so too God’s word reveals many phases in God’s judgments upon His creation: the great judgment put upon His son, and the many judgments to the living and the dead, of both the just and the wicked.

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Was Jesus Mistaken? Did He Really Say That He Would Return In the First Century?

June 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Amongst Christian circles, liberals like to point to Bible texts that talk of Jesus returning soon (for instance, in Revelation 1 and 22, and Matthew 24 (“this generation”), and say that Jesus must have been mistaken, since 2000+ years have now elapsed.  “Where is the sign of His coming?” they challenge, just as surely as the apostle Peter prophesied they would.

Then Preterists, including partial preterists, came along with the desire to “rescue” Jesus from liberal criticism, by coming up with a scheme to support the idea that Jesus was not mistaken and that He really did return (in secret, or in judgment) in 70 A.D.  R.C. Sproul, influenced by the theological liberalism of his education, is one such proponent, and has admitted that he had this starting point.

But in my study through the gospel accounts, and especially the parables, comes another teaching.  As S. Lewis Johnson points out in his Matthew series  — and is also evident in many other parables, such as in Luke’s gospel — Jesus repeatedly emphasized the fact that a long time period would elapse between Christ’s First and Second Coming.

In Matthew’s “Parables of Rejection,” Jesus first hints at this long period of time.  The master of the house (Matthew 21:33-41) set up a vineyard, leased it to tenants, and then went away into another country.  The parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-10) sets forth a future time when the actual wedding feast will take place — and in Jewish custom several years elapsed between the initial engagement (by the parents) and the actual time of the wedding — again to indicate an unknown time gap; the invited guests meanwhile had gone off to do other “more important” things.  By themselves these parables are certainly not conclusive, but neither do they contradict a long period of time.

The Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24) tells much more information, including the fact that enough time will elapse for nations and kingdoms to rise up against each other, and for wars and rumors of war to continue.  Later in Matthew 24, Jesus indicates the importance of being prepared, again hinting that such a long time will elapse (Matthew 24:48-50) that the servants will not be expecting Him, and that wicked servants will notice that “my master is delayed.” The two parables that follow, of the ten virgins and the talents (Matthew 25:1-30), also show a lengthy delay: all of the virgins fall asleep; the master giving the talents goes away on a long journey, and in verse 19 returns “after a long time.”

Luke’s gospel has similar parables and words from Jesus, indicating a lengthy time before His return.  Consider Luke 12:35-40 and the admonition to keep your lamps burning, to be ready whether He comes in the second, third or even the fourth watch of the night.  Then, the parable of the persistent widow (which in context has eschatological reference), which concludes with Jesus’ words: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8) Just as all the virgins fell asleep, here the question arises again:  after such a long time (the continued persistent prayers of the faithful), will believers still be found, ready and anticipating His return.  In Luke 19, He tells the parable of the Ten Minas because the people believed that the Kingdom of God was to appear immediately (v. 11). The following parable is similar to the talents one in Matthew 25, again with the point that the nobleman went into a far country before returning.

Luke 21, another account of the Olivet Discourse, includes additional information regarding the time gap:  verses 20-24 speak of the destruction of Jerusalem, the people being led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem being trampled underfoot by the Gentiles “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”  (See my previous blog concerning this text:  Luke’s Gospel and Eschatology.) Then verse 25 resumes the narrative related to future events as paralleled by Matthew and Mark.

The gospels contain so many of Jesus’ teaching, and make the point clear.  Jesus clearly set forth the idea of a long wait, that He did not think He was going to return soon in terms of elapsed time.  Rather, He continually pointed out the ideas of perseverance, waiting and preparedness, along with parables regarding his absence for a long period of time.  Certainly no one could have realized that this delay is now 2000+ years, but the biblical record is clear enough that liberals deserve a better response than that of Preterists, those who too readily agree with the liberals’ premise and then try to force other scripture into a mold it was never intended to fit into.

Why The Bible Does Not Have A Simple Blueprint

June 23, 2011 Leave a comment

From S. Lewis Johnson, as to why God’s word does not provide simple passages that explain everything we want to know about a particular doctrine

You might wish that the Bible did contain one little blueprint that you could turn to that would answer all of the questions, but it seems to me that one of the reasons why this is not so is that God evidently has thought that it was necessary for us to ponder and study the Scriptures in order that through the pondering and study of the word of God, we might come ultimately to the knowledge of the truth.  In other words, it’s necessary to do what the Reformers used to do when they spoke about the Analogy of Faith:  compare Scripture with Scripture, because this is a good test of one’s desire to know the truth.

Incidentally, it’s not simply concerning the doctrine of the second coming that these comments could be made.  They could be made concerning most of the doctrines of the word of God.  If we wish to have a full understanding of all aspects of them, it’s necessary to look at a number of passages in the word of God.  And the very fact that we are willing to do this is some evidence of a desire to know, and it seems to me, that one of the reasons that God has not given us one passage that answers all of our questions concerning each doctrine, is that he does want to test our desire to know holy Scripture.

Now theologians speak of normative passages, and by that, they mean the central passage, the one passage that one turns to, first of all, to gain the major outlines of the teaching of a particular doctrine.  We don’t deny that there are normative passages—there are—but there are, for most of the major doctrines of the word of God, no one passage that answers all of our questions.  I do think that that is something for each of us to think about.  It means that if we are really to know the teaching of the word of God, it is necessary that we ponder and reflect a lot more deeply than simply looking at the word in a surface kind of way.

I think there’s another reason why the Bible does not contain an organized obviously plain statement concerning the second coming doctrine.  We might be so pleased with this blueprint that we discover in the word of God that we forget that the truth concerning the second coming is designed to change our lives.  You may remember that in almost all of the passages of the Bible in which the Second Advent, or the second coming of the Lord Jesus, is referred to, there is a statement in which that truth is made applicational.  That is, it has to do with ethical or moral issues that are to flow out of it.

Al Mohler’s Theological Triage: Is Eschatology Really a Third-Order Doctrine

June 20, 2011 5 comments

I have posted previously concerning the amount of scripture that teaches eschatology, or last things, as compared to the amount of scripture concerning so-called secondary doctrines important enough to divide fellowship over:  baptism and the Lord’s supper.  See this quote for S. Lewis Johnson’s observations concerning the number of verses that teach these doctrines.

I recently had a brief discussion with someone who still maintains, like Al Mohler, that eschatology is actually a third-order doctrine, less important than even baptism and the Lord’s supper.  He put forth the following reasons for such, which I would like to respond to here:

  1. “Regardless of how much the Bible teaches about the end times it is still rather speculative. The main point is Christ is coming back and so be prepared.  Yet Baptism and the Lord’s Supper has everything to do with defining the nature and boundaries of the church and thus is a second level issue.”    — and —
  2.   those second-level issues have “only been a defining character of fellowship since the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversies.”

In reference to the specific words from S. Lewis Johnson (referenced above), this person acknowledged familiarity with Johnson, and just said that Johnson over-emphasized certain teachings whereas others have taught more concerning ecclesiology.

If his first point referenced only the timing of the rapture, I would certainly agree that such discussions can get too speculative: the rapture timing can only be inferred.  However, the context of this discussion concerned overall future things including viewpoints on the millennium and the nature of Israel and the church — and his point that “no matter how much the Bible teaches … it is still rather speculative.”

Having read so many biblical texts throughout the Old and New Testament, I cannot see that the Bible is at all unclear in its many references, especially considering the many passages in the Old Testament that speak of the future restoration of Israel, as well as describe a time that will be somewhat different from our world yet during which sin and death will still exist (such as Isaiah 65).  If words mean anything and are not merely wasted platitudes about the gospel going forth during the glorious church age, such a type of world has never existed yet, neither does it fit with the Eternal State.  Such passages are only unclear if one plays loose with words, and thinks that perhaps the word Israel doesn’t really mean Israel — and to do so is to wreak havoc with basic hermeneutical principles and head down the path towards unbelief and rejection of many other biblical doctrines.   Historic premillennialist J.C. Ryle well observed that he simply could not understand how anyone reading their Bible could not see these things, things that are so plainly set forth and as clear as a sunbeam.

Regarding his second idea, that these second-level issues were never really considered important for fellowship until the fundamentalist movement (early 20th century) — I answer from a general knowledge of church history.  Luther and Calvin and their followers, in the 16th century, parted ways over differing ideas of the Lord’s Table — and so we have Lutherans as distinct from the other Protestant denominations that followed Calvin.  The Anabaptists, also of the 16th century, sharply divided with all the Reformers over the matter of baptism:  believers baptism only for Anabaptists, versus infant baptism for the Reformers.  The Reformation period shows many other instances of the divisions amongst all the differing Protestant denominations, so to say that these divisions only occurred in the early 20th century is also quite misguided.

Finally, if some theologians “over-emphasized” certain teachings and neglected ecclesiology, it can also be justly said that the reason why these men “over-emphasize” the Second Coming, is precisely because so many other teachers have neglected that.  Someone has to over-emphasize, to compensate for the vast majority of teachers who practically ignore the prophetic word.

Teachings From 1 Chronicles

June 16, 2011 Leave a comment

One of the great benefits of my genre-based reading plan (based on the Horner Ten List Reading Plan) is that it forces frequent reading of all the Bible, including parts that we would normally not read.  Of course, that also means reading through the more tedious sections of the Old Testament, of which 1 Chronicles ranks high on the list.  Even so, through repeated readings of 1 Chronicles along with other Old Testament books, I now at least recognize more of the names of people and places from other places, and notice a few little gems here and there.  After all, the popular “Prayer of Jabez” from several years ago came from 1 Chronicles, and other interesting points concerning certain Bible characters come out as well.

Though commentaries exist for 1 Chronicles, it’s not popular sermon material, at least for expository verse-by-verse preaching.  From my Internet perusing I’ve come across individual topical sermons from 1 Chronicles, including a few from W.A. Criswell and Charles Spurgeon.  Recently, though, I’ve noticed a few devotional applications from 1 Chronicles — in some of Spurgeon’s “Morning and Evening” devotionals.

As part of Spurgeon’s topical style, some of his devotionals do not directly relate to the context of 1 Chronicles — such as the one in which he takes the words “and these are ancient things” from 1 Chron. 4:22, and applies it to the ancient plans and purposes of God, whereas the text is describing some ancient genealogical records of particular families.  However, in a devotional from a text in 1 Chron. 5:22 (“There fell down many slain, because the war was of God.”) he at least partly related the text to its actual reference, emphasizing the point that they won because “the war was of God.”

Spurgeon’s devotional for June 3 for 1 Chron. 4:23 is also interesting, with good thoughts concerning a short passage about some potters who worked for the king.  We only know a little about these people, otherwise ordinary people doing common work (pottery), and most would read over the text with little if any thought.  From this reading I learned of differing translations, for the phrase that these “dwelt among plants and hedges” in the KJV is instead rendered as “inhabitants of Netaim and Gederah” in modern versions.  Thus all that Spurgeon said about people dwelling among plants and hedges may not have actually been the case.  Even so, Spurgeon made some good points about common workers who kept to their appointed places, living in a rural area, yet doing royal work, “the king’s work.”

From the closing words of this devotional:

It is when we are in his work that we may reckon upon his smile. Ye unknown workers who are occupied for your Lord amid the dirt and wretchedness of the lowest of the low, be of good cheer, for jewels have been found upon dunghills ere now, earthen pots have been filled with heavenly treasure, and ill weeds have been transformed into precious flowers. Dwell ye with the King for his work, and when he writes his chronicles your name shall be recorded.

Psalm 119: The Psalm of the Word

June 13, 2011 Leave a comment

In my genre-based Bible reading plan, I often come back around to Psalm 119 — every 85 days now, and the latest round came this last week.  For many using the Horner Bible Reading plan, this psalm is often cited as a very daunting one:  the plan involves reading a psalm a day, and the day for psalm 119 means a very large amount of reading compared to any other psalm.

Psalm 119 does require more reading that day, either in sequence with the other chapters, or separately during the day.  But this “psalm of the word” is a great treasure I’ve come to appreciate all the more through regular readings — the psalm that extols the importance of God’s word, the importance of actually reading and studying the things in God’s word.

A recent devotional from ICR.org’s “Days of Praise” provided interesting thoughts concerning Psalm 119, noting these key verses that mention “the whole  heart”:

  1. “Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart” (v. 2).
  2. “With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments” (v. 10).
  3. “Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart” (v. 34).
  4. “I entreated thy favor with my whole heart: be merciful unto me according to thy word” (v. 58).
  5. “The proud have forged a lie against me: but I will keep thy precepts with my whole heart” (v. 69).
  6. “I cried with my whole heart; hear me, O Lord: I will keep thy statutes” (v. 145).

From my recent reading of it, a few more important themes:  following God’s precepts, and facing persecution from the godless, yet trusting in God for deliverance.  The verses about the wicked remind me of similar thoughts from the Proverbs: those who mock and are insolent, in contrast to those who patiently wait upon God.

We are to keep God’s testimonies, law, precepts, and statutes — and praise Him who has given us His eternal Word to us!  That means truly reading it — not just superficial glancing through a few parts here and there, but diligent regular study, pondering it and probing the depths of the riches, even unto greater appreciation for this Psalm which discusses that very attitude of heart.

Charles Spurgeon: The Spiritual Restoration / Conversion of the Jews

June 11, 2011 2 comments

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

ISRAEL IS TO HAVE A SPIRITUAL RESTORATION OR A CONVERSION. Both the text and the context teach this. The promise is that they shall renounce their idols and, behold, they have already done so! “Neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols.” Whatever faults the Jew may have, he certainly has not idolatry. “The Lord your God is one God,” is a Truth far better conceived by the Jew than by any other man on earth except the Christian. Weaned forever from the worship of all images of any sort, the Jewish nation has now become infatuated with traditions or duped by philosophy.

She is to have, however, instead of these delusions, a spiritual religion—she is to love her God. “They shall be My people and I will be their God.” The unseen but Omnipotent Jehovah is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth by His ancient people. They are to come before Him in His own appointed way, accepting the Mediator whom their sires rejected. They will come into Covenant relation with God, for so our text tells us— “I will make a Covenant of peace with them,” and Jesus is our peace—therefore we gather that Jehovah shall enter into the Covenant of Grace with them—that Covenant of which Christ is the federal Head, the Substance and the Surety.

They are to walk in God’s ordinances and statutes and so exhibit the practical effects of being united to Christ who has given them peace. All these promises certainly imply that the people of Israel are to be converted to God and that this conversion is to be permanent. The tabernacle of God is to be with them! The Most High is, in a special manner, to have His sanctuary in the midst of them forever more so that whatever nations may apostatize and turn from the Lord in these latter days, the nation of Israel never can, for she shall be effectually and permanently converted.

The hearts of the fathers shall be turned with the hearts of the children unto the Lord their God and they shall be the people of God, world without end.

We look forward, then, for these two things. I am not going to theorize upon which of them will come first—whether they shall be restored first, and converted afterwards—or converted first and then restored. They are to be restored and they are to be converted, too. Let the Lord send these blessings in His own order and we shall be well content whichever way they shall come. We take this for our joy and our comfort that this thing shall be and that both in the spiritual and in the temporal throne, the King Messiah shall sit and reign among His people gloriously.