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Our Ancient Foe: Essays From Reformed Theologians

December 10, 2019 1 comment

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals has recently published essay type books from the content in some of their PCRT conferences.  I previously reviewed Only One Way, with a great selection of chapters dealing with the many ‘only one way’ doctrines and their implications for our lives as Christians.

Another in this series is Our Ancient Foe: The History, Activity, and Demise of the Devil (Best of Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology), with nine essays from selected conferences.  Last year I referenced some of the lectures in the actual “Our Ancient Foe” 2017 Quakertown conference, focusing on the lectures from Dr. Peter Jones.

The book version features some of the 2017 conference content, four chapters from two of the speakers – Kent Hughes and Tom Nettles – along with additional chapters from authors/theologians Joel Beeke, Derek W.H. Thomas, Sinclair Ferguson, Roger Nicole, and Ronald L. Kohl (the editor).

As with Only One Way, the chapters are very readable and interesting for the layperson audience, and include a lot of interesting teaching and great quotes.  Derek Thomas references the motivation for Christian living, that we need to see other motives besides basic gratitude, to the motivations understood in confessional Reformed theology (imperatives, indicatives, and the wrath of God).  Joel Beeke talks about our weakness and besetting sins:

“The frightening truth about Satan is that he knows us.  He observes our character, moment by moment, and he knows our weakest points.  Isn’t that true in your life?  Haven’t you noticed that the things that you easily stumble over surface repeatedly?  Satan keeps presenting them to you, and you often fall so easily that it’s embarrassing. … in our weakness, we stumble over measly little worms.  My friend, may I warn you in the words of Jesus today, ‘Simon, Simon, behold.’  Don’t eat the little worms of this world in the place of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Tom Nettles references the devil having the power of death, and the deeper mystery from eternity past, in a Narnia-esque passage (a similar point made in C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” in reference to the White Witch and Aslan):

It’s not that Satan controls who lives and who dies.  It’s that he thinks that, because God is always true to His promises, he can hold the Word of God before God himself and say, ‘This is what you declared would happen and must happen.’  But God has a wisdom that Satan cannot foresee—that the redemptive purpose of God comes out in these interesting and sometimes baffling providential arrangements.  And now this deeper mystery, from before the beginning of time, has come to pass:  the death of the Son of God, who took our nature and was made like his brethren in everything.  In doing that, Jesus has fulfilled the particular verse that Satan has clung to as his ace in the hole—the verse he’s been holding before God: they sinned, they must die.

Sinclair Ferguson, on Satan’s final demise, provides an interesting simple perspective of Revelation as God’s “picture book”:
There is a sense in which the book of Revelation is the easiest, not the most difficult, book in the New Testament. It’s easiest because it is the book in which, more than in any other, God comes down to the simplest of us.  Instead of explaining the gospel to us in the great doctrinal expositions that we find, for example, in some of Paul’s letters, and instead of showing us the glory of God and the glory of the gospel … simply by means of words, God sits down beside us in the book of Revelation as though we were his little children and says to us, ‘Look at the picture book that I’ve made for you.’
 Our Ancient Foe is another great Reformed Conference series publication, a great reference with helpful and edifying content in an easy to read format, on an important doctrinal topic.

Revelation 5, the Christology of Heaven (S. Lewis Johnson)

September 10, 2014 3 comments

From S. Lewis Johnson’s Revelation series, a few observations concerning the great throne room scene of Revelation 5 – the Christology of Heaven.

The three-fold praise in heaven gives a natural three-point sermon:

  • The Song of the creatures and the elders (Rev. 5:8-10)
  • The Shout of the angelic host (Rev. 5:11-12)
  • The Saying of “the whole creation” (Rev. 5:13-14)

Revelation 5 references the atonement and that satisfaction that Christ has rendered in His death on the cross.

this expression that, “the lamb of God was slain and has purchased”, is a reference to his penal death, that is he died under the penalty of the sins of men, further that it is a substitutionary death that we should have died, but he died instead of us. He died as our representative. He died as our covenantal head. Incidentally, Bach makes that point over and over in the St. John Passion, of how He was bound that we might not be bound and so on. And then also it is a satisfaction that is the Lord Jesus Christ in His sacrifice in His blood has satisfied the claims of a holy and righteous God against us. And as Anselm pointed out, it was something we must do — but we did not have the power to do and someone else, our Lord Jesus Christ, is the one who has done it for us. … It is good news that men who cannot save themselves do have a Savior to whom they may appeal and expect to find full, free forgiveness and justification of life. So it is a penal substitutionary satisfaction, and I would like a minor emphasis this morning, we don’t have time to deal in detail with this, to say that also it was a particular redemption.

The ninth verse: “For Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed to God by Thy blood.” (ESV: for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God):

Most of the translators supply the words either “men” or “some”. Luther supplied the German word Menchen, which means something like mankind, but it’s a supply because of the partitive construction in the original text. Take my word for it. It’s true. After forty years of teaching New Testament Greek exegesis. Jesus, I assure you there is no doubt about it whatsoever, it is a partitive construction. That is, a reference is to some out of the whole, a part out of the whole. So he does not say he has redeemed to God by Thy blood, every kindred tongue and people and nation, but “out of every people tongue and nation.” In other words, there is a selection, a part of the whole that is the object of the redeeming work.

That verse 9 means more than simply talking about the fact that some should be lost, is seen in the very next verse: “And hast made them unto our God kings and priests.”

In other words, everyone who is the object of the purchase is also effectually made a king and a priest, and surely you’re not going to be universalists are you? No, you know that that is not true. So everyone who has been purchased has also been made a priest and a king, and I won’t say anything more about it. I don’t want your blood to rise, become hot and angry because there are other things that are very important in this great passage, but I want you to think about it. It’s evident then, I think that what John says is harmonious with a particular redemption.

Another observation: the angelic hosts know where to put the crown: they don’t put it on man, but on the Son of Man, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Ask those angelic hosts how men are saved, and from their own language that they would say, “The glories that men who are saved have are not due to the individuals. They are due to the lamb who was slain,” or if you were to say to the elders and the living creatures, “Where did the faith come from by which this vast multitude was saved? Did it come from them?” they would say, “No a faith did not come from them. It was the gift of God.” For after all the apostle wrote, “No man can call Jesus Lord, but by the Holy Spirit.”

Hermeneutics and Creation: What Happened in Genesis 6

August 13, 2013 8 comments

A popular topic of interest is the interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4, what seems very strange to our modern naturalist minds.  Certainly some can take too much interest in the idea of the Nephilim, and as S. Lewis Johnson well observed (in his Systematic Theology series, angelology section):  Isn’t it interesting that Christians are more interested in the evil angels than they are in the good angels, because there’s just a lot of good interesting material in the Bible about Satan and his demons?  And, it’s I guess part of our human nature to be more curious about the evil than about the good. 

Still, as part of God’s word the teaching itself is worth some consideration, something we can apply good hermeneutics to and determine the basic understanding of.  From the standpoint of hermeneutics as well as the importance of the doctrine of creation and the Flood, Genesis 6:1-4 should not be neglected on the basis of what fanatics and extremists may do.

The original understanding of this passage, along with other New Testament references (in Jude and 2 Peter) and the content of the book of Enoch that Jude referenced, was clearly that the “sons of God” refer to fallen angelic beings.  Both Jewish and Christian expositors through the first 400 years of the church likewise understood this meaning.  Some hold that the angels actually took on human form (which would seem to present difficulties with the DNA of angels), while others (and here I concur; including John MacArthur, S. Lewis Johnson) see this as demons cohabiting with human men, demonic possession of human bodies.  Starting in about the 5th century this view fell into disfavor, for the alternative explanation that all it’s talking about is the godly line of Seth versus the wicked line of Cain: a view found in many commentaries since the Reformation, including commentaries from John Gill and Alfred Edersheim.

Yet both for hermeneutical and logical reasons, as well as for understanding the teaching about the creation and the flood, that explanation falls short for many reasons.  As Henry Morris points out (Biblical Creationism):

Such an idea, while more amenable to our modern naturalistic environment, is certainly not the obvious meaning of the text — Noah could easily have said “sons of Seth” if that were his intent. Such a more-than-human state of global evil, violence, and giantism, capable of being remedied only by a worldwide hydraulic cataclysm, must have had a more sinister cause than believers marrying unbelievers!

Also from S. Lewis Johnson’s Genesis series, the following exegesis of Genesis 6:1-4 (this message):

Hermeneutical problem with the “Sethite view”:  Genesis 6:1 uses the term “men” as a reference to both men and women, that daughters were born to men.  Then verse 2 also has the word “men”:  “the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive.” According to the Seth/Cain view, verse 2 is referring to the Cainites – usually in the precise local context, words have similar senses, and if we give them different senses we tend at times to make the text unintelligible.

Exegetical / logical questions and problems with this view:

  • Why are the Nephilim associated with such a natural union as Sethites and Cainites marrying?
  • Why would giants be the product of that particular kind of union?
  • Why are God’s people associated with the male sex only?  The sons of God the Sethites, they are males, saw of the daughters of men, the Cainites, they are all females.
  • If the Sethites were all godly, then why did they all perish in the flood?

When the flood came there is only Noah and his wife and his three sons and their wives and that’s all, only eight souls.  So, you can see that it’s not so easy as it sounds to say that this is the union of Sethites, godly men and Cainites, ungodly women.

The Old Testament term “sons of God” in the Bible always refers to angelic beings

the precise form that is found here in the Hebrew text is found several times in the Old Testament, but in every place in which this precise form is found, that precise form is used only of angelic beings in the Old Testament.

  • Job: three references
  • Daniel 3

The New Testament references to this event are clear:

Jude notes the similarities between the event in Noah’s day, and Sodom and Gomorrah.

He says that Sodom and Gomorrah just like the angels indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh.  Now in the Bible, we have two words for different.  In fact we have something similar in English.  Now in Greek, there is the word that means essentially “another of the same kind.”  Now, that word is not the word that is used here, but there is another word that means another but it’s another of a different kind.  It’s the word from which we get heterodoxy, for example, as over against orthodoxy, a different kind of opinion and usually associated with the wrong opinion.

Now that word in Greek is ordinarily heteros.  Not always but generally that’s the meaning, a different kind.  Well that’s the word that’s translated strange here: strange flesh.  So, what Jude is saying is that, the angels just as Sodom and Gomorrah went after strange flesh.

We all recognize what happened at Sodom: homosexuality.  Jude here is saying that the angels, likewise, went after strange flesh, different flesh.

Here we see the judgment of the fallen angels connected with the time of the flood.

  • 1 Peter 3:18-20:  The word “spirits” in only used of angelic spirits in the New Testament.  Again this has reference to the time of the Flood.

Again, and what cannot be emphasized enough, is the unique nature of whatever happened, that it corrupted the genetic pool of the human race (the second of Satan’s seven attempts to thwart God’s plan for the coming Redeemer), that it was necessary for God to send the flood to wipe out humanity and begin again with the eight people on the Ark. This unnatural union created offspring with genetic mutations such that the human race was no longer pure.  Of course we do not know the specifics of it, other than the reasonable possibility that demonic possession has the power to affect genetic structure.  As SLJ observed, we know that simple things like LSD have had strange effects upon the human body.  Epidemiology studies have even found that a person’s privations and malnutrition during childhood affect the DNA of his or her children a generation later.

An idea never thought of until the 5th century AD.,the reproduction involving humans who were godly with those who were wicked (and assuming that all the men in the Seth line were in fact godly and all the women in the line of Cain were wicked), does not explain something of such importance as to bring about the Genesis flood.

Angelology: S. Lewis Johnson’s ‘Systematic Theology’ Series

April 4, 2013 Leave a comment

Going through S. Lewis Johnson’s “Systematic Theology” series, I’ve completed the first year of the course, material originally covered in weeknight lessons during one fall and spring class year.  The last several messages in that section looked at Angelology.  The following are some interesting points brought out in those lessons.

Demon Possession in the Old Testament. From this lesson (message 26 in the Believers Chapel list): while the New Testament has many examples of actual demon possession, the Old Testament is generally silent, though with a few hints and references.  1 Kings 18:28 describes Baal worshippers slashing themselves, something believed to be demonic activity.  Another hint comes in David’s behavior before Achish in 1 Samuel 21:13-15, acting like a madman.  Interestingly, both David and Achish were familiar with such behavior, as in Achish’s comment to his men, “Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow.”

As to why we see in the gospel accounts such a great outbreak of demonic activity:  One of the reasons  for Christ’s coming was to destroy the works of the devil.  The spirit world was especially disturbed at His arrival.

Demonic Possession in Modern Times: Here we note that some restraint exists over the demons’ activity, outwardly, in Christian lands: reference 2 Thessalonians 2:7, the restraint of sin today.  Some demonic possession and demonic activity does occur, among occultic and spiritualistic peoples; but as we all realize, in Christian lands, Satan sees it better to disguise himself as an angel of light.  Thus, demonic activity exists, but of a different kind.  As SLJ notes in lesson 28 (this transcript) :

 you must not for one moment think that the dangerous man to Christianity is the man who attacks it. … The man who is dangerous is the man who claims to be a Christian and who stands in the Christian pulpit and claims even to believe the Bible but who does not really believe it and who does not really proclaim the truths that are contained within it and particularly the essential doctrines that concern the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Guardian Angels?  (lesson 27 / Transcript message 51) Scripture does teach that the angels minister to the saints, collectively, and come to our aid as needed.  I’ve read a few other Bible teachers who completely disregard the idea of an individual guardian angel assigned to each person. One objection I’ve heard is that, after all, we humans are mortal, and if we each have a guardian angel assigned to us, what does that angel do before and after our lifetime?  As I think about it, that objection doesn’t necessarily negate the idea, since it could be a “one to many” relationship, one guardian angel with many individuals throughout the course of history.  S. Lewis Johnson here sticks to the known (scriptures), noting the incident in Acts 12, especially verse 15 – “and they kept saying, “It is his angel!” (singular reference). So, whether the idea is true or not, the early church at least believed in the idea of a guardian angel.

The Restraint of Satan.  From lesson 28 (transcript PDF here): This last message in the Angelology course also deals with eschatology, Satan’s future.  From this message especially come several good quotes and observations.

1) The type of restraint of Satan, quite different from when our Lord was in the tomb:

how different the restraint of Satan is from the restraint of our Lord Jesus. You’ll remember that they set a seal upon the sepulchre. But He tore the bars away on the third day and came forth from the grave.  Satan is in the abyss with a seal upon it for a thousand years, and he would still be there, were it not for the fact that he really is to be released, in the future, in order that he might have a little season of further rebellion.

2)  The Divine Irony in Revelation 20:1-3:

“And ‘an’ angel laid hold of Satan and bound him and put him in the bottomless pit.” Now, doesn’t that strike you as strange?  Well, it should, you know why? Because Satan was ‘big fellow, master too much’ who bossed the angels in ages past, remember. He was the anointed cherub that covereth. He was the chief of the angelic host. And this is the irony of God: that an angel, just one little angel, is enough now to lay hold of the dragon and bind him in the bottomless pit. I think there’s a great deal of drama and divine irony in that little word ‘an.’

3) Regarding Our Human Sinful Nature, the reason behind why Satan “must” be released after 1000 years:

The world can never be unified except once. (I could say twice if we said, under Jesus Christ.) But only once, for you see, the one thing that we all have in common, in which we are completely united, is the one thing that prevents us from ever being united; and that is our sin. That’s why Marx could never get along with his friends. That’s why Lenin could never get along with his friends. There can be no unity in the human race, except finally in the unity of all directed against the Lamb of God.