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1 Corinthians 15 and Premillennialism

August 6, 2013 6 comments

In S. Lewis Johnson’s study through 1 Corinthians, he devotes one message specifically to the question: was Paul a premillennialist?  Is 1 Corinthians 15 consistent with the teaching of an in-between kingdom (the 1000 years before the Eternal State)?

After a quite lengthy introduction and basic material (including definitions of terms such as amillennialism and postmillennialism), Dr. Johnson gets to the issue itself (starting shortly after 30 minutes).   The key scriptures here are the passage itself — 1 Corinthians 15:23-28 – plus its references to two Old Testament texts, plus Hebrews 1:13 through 2:8 (which also references the same two Old Testament texts and in the same sequence).

The first two ‘Then’ statements

Verses 23 and 24 include this section:  (23) “Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ,” followed by verse 24, “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father …”.  We know that the first “then” encompasses a gap of nearly 2000 years.

Would it be out of the possibility of accomplishment that we should say, since the first ‘then’ has comprehended almost two thousand years, that the next ‘then’ might comprehend a thousand years?  If the first ‘then’ comprehends we know so far close to two thousand years, it’s entirely possible for the next ‘then’ (one epeita, one is the preposition epe connected with the adverb eita.  And then eita very closely related epeita, eita). — see you people know Greek already then.  You know those expressions.  So it’s not beyond our comprehension at all.

Then verse 25, “For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.” This also indicates a period of time for that reign. Because it is written in a tense, for he must go on reigning until he has put all enemies under his feet.  In other words, the reign of our Lord is a time of war or possible war, put it that way. 

Psalm 110:1 and Psalm 8

These two psalms are cited, in this order, both in 1 Corinthians 15 and in the first two chapters of Hebrews. In the 1 Corinthians passage, verse 25 references Psalm 110:1 — “until he has put all his enemies under his feet.”  Verse 27 further references Psalm 110:1 and Psalm 8:6b, “you have put all things under his feet”:  (1 Cor. 15:27)  “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.”

Both places where these two psalms are cited, they speak of a reign of Christ, AND both locate the reign of Christ in the future after the Parousia (the Second Coming).  Hebrews 1:13 cites Pslam 110:1, and Hebrews 2:5, Psalm 8.  Notice Hebrews 2:8 (immediately after the quotation from Psalm 8):  “At present,we do not yet see everything in subjection to Him.”

Now it’s obvious, what he is simply saying is, if you look out at the creation, it’s ultimately to be under man; but at the present time it is not under man.  Now, as we look around it’s not in subjection yet to Him.  ‘But we see Jesus’: why should that give us encouragement?  Well, because He is the covenantal head, and what He has done is a guarantee that these things are going to come to pass.

S. Lewis Johnson considers the amillennialist claim here: that hostile powers have been conquered by the cross through the present reign of our Lord in heaven, that He’s reigning now, the kingdom is then delivered to the Father by the Son at the Second Advent, and the end comes with the destruction of death.  The key question is:  What is the destruction of death, and when does it take place?  The amillennialist answer is that later verses in 1 Corinthians 15, verses 50-58, talk about the coming of our Lord; and these verses discuss the defeat of death, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”  The amillennial idea is that our Lord is reigning now, the kingdom is now, and death comes at the Second Advent: that’s when death experiences death. In other words, if he is reigning now and if death is defeated at his second advent, then how can there be reign for a thousand years after death has been defeated? 

What this overlooks is that 1 Corinthians 15 is written about believers. See for instance verses 21-23: the “even so in Christ all shall be made alive” is talking about all believers; it doesn’t teach universalism.  So, 1 Corinthians 15:50 through 58 is concerned with the defeat of death for believers, but not the final destruction of death.

Hebrews 2:5, the section referencing Psalm 110:1 and Psalm 8, also refers to this as “the world to come.”  The kingdom age, that over which the Son of Man rules, is not this age but yet future.

1 Corinthians 4 also tells us that Paul expected a future kingdom age, in his comments to the Corinthians about their over-realized eschatology.  So while 1 Corinthians 15 by itself does not tell us everything about premillennialism, what Paul says here is consistent with Revelation 20 and the many other scripture texts that tell about the intermediate kingdom, yet future, before the Eternal State.

The Temporary Spiritual Gifts: S. Lewis Johnson in 1 Corinthians 12

June 26, 2013 3 comments

From S. Lewis Johnson’s 1 Corinthians series (this message), and this related message from his earlier Systematic Theology series, a look at the different spiritual gifts as set forth in the scriptures, and why some of the gifts are temporary (not permanent) spiritual gifts.

Four passages address the spiritual gifts – the two 12s and two 4s:  Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4.  The temporary gifts are largely sign gifts, the miraculous gifts:  apostles, prophets, miracles,  healings, tongues, utterances of knowledge and wisdom (1 Corinthians 12:8), and discerning of spirits.

Four reasons, biblical support, for why these spiritual gifts were temporary:

1) Scriptural hints:  Hebrews 2:3-4 indicates a progression: the word of God was spoken by our Lord, then moved in transition from our Lord to the apostles; and then, as the writer of the book of Hebrews tells us, it came to you and to us. There is a progression here and a progression in time, and it’s in the past, according to his understanding.

2)  Biblical principle: the analogy of Biblical history suggests it.  Dr. Johnson noted this very good point in his Systematic Theology series.  We can look at Old Testament history and the special times of miracles, in the ministry of Moses and later in Elijah’s day. Later came the arrival of the Messiah, the time of miracles in Jesus’ earthly ministry, followed by the time of the apostles (the book of Acts).

 When Israel entered into the land, the miraculous died out.  The signed gifts that Moses did, no longer were done. And for a long time, you’ll remember, no mighty signed gifts were performed in Israel.  Of course, God worked for Israel, He worked for David and He did remarkable things through those who believed in Him.  But the outburst of the miraculous performed by a man died out.  Now, if you had been an Israelite, you might have said, like many of my Pentecostal friends say today, “What Moses did, we ought to do.”  And you might throw snakes down or throw rods down, trying to make them turn into snakes and all of the other things that Moses did.  You might have struck the waters of the Red Sea and you might have struck the waters of the river — and none of those things would have happened because God did them through Moses.

3)  The nature of certain gifts demands that they be temporary.  For instance, the Gift of apostles.  By the very nature of his gift, it is to be understood that that gift is temporary.  For one of the requirements of an apostle, for example, was that he should see the Lord.  The canon of scripture was not yet complete, and from the temporary gift of apostles we have most of the New Testament books.

We have in the beginning of the history of the Christian church in the New Testament, the apostles of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  They were individuals who are ones who have seen the Lord and his resurrection.  That’s one of the qualifications.  And so apostleship is something we don’t have today, because we don’t have the privilege of seeing the Lord and his resurrection.

I am not an apostle.  I have not seen the Lord.  The Twelve and then one to take the place of Judas who fell, and the Apostle Paul; these are the apostles.  I know the term “apostle” is used elsewhere in the New Testament of others because it has a twofold usage.  It’s used of people who are sent as messengers of churches, because that’s essentially what the word apostle means, one who has been sent.  Apostles of the churches: but they are different from apostles of Jesus Christ.

4)  The voice of history confirms the fact that certain of the gifts are temporary.

 Beyond the time of the apostles there is no clear indication of the persistence of the assigned gifts in both number and character.  There are some incidental things that are stated here and there, and we do not deny that miracles may exist, remember, because Christians pray.  James 5 may have been used, so you may expect here and there miracles to take place.  But in the sense that they took place in the times of the apostles, we have no indication of that in later history.

The Last (Divinely Sanctioned) Passover, the First Lord’s Supper: S. Lewis Johnson on 1 Corinthians 11

June 17, 2013 5 comments

Continuing through S. Lewis Johnson’s 1 Corinthians series, chapter 11 includes a mini-series, exploring the depth of the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.  In a set of five messages (messages 27 through 31)  Dr. Johnson covers the Passover (as a type of Christ the final Passover Lamb); the Particular Redemption extent of the atonement (“Limited Atonement”); addresses the error of the Catholic Church while describing the variations of meaning (“this is my body”) within different Protestant groups; and notes the three components of the early church meeting.

Parallels between the Passover and The Lord’s Supper

  • Both are memorials for deliverance
  • Both are anticipations of future blessing:  Israel delivered from Egypt in order to be brought into the promised land.  The church of Jesus Christ: we in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper anticipate also the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ and the entrance and the fullness of the blessings that our ours by redemption. (1 Cor. 11:26  “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He come.”
  • Both were/are highlights of corporate worship: Israel’s yearly celebration of the Passover/  In the Christian Church, the Lord’s Supper is the highlight of worship.

The Passover service included four cups.  It is likely that the Lord used the third cup — the “cup of blessing”  (reference 1 Cor. 10:16).

Limited Atonement

I don’t like the term ‘limited’ because it seems to suggest that the grace of God is not full and great and sufficient for all.  It is sufficient for all.  Any believing person who comes to the Lord God will be received by Him.  It’s sufficient for all.  And I don’t know the elect.  The elect make themselves known by the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts.  If I must answer the question, yes I believe in a limited atonement; but I would like to tell you Arminians who don’t understand the grace of God, that you do, too.

So you have plastered us with the term “limited,” but I say to you, your atonement is limited also, because your atonement, which you say is intended for everybody, doesn’t save everybody.  In other words, it is not all powerful.  My atonement that I celebrate is all powerful.  It saves everyone intended by the Lord God in Heaven.   So I like that atonement.  I love its power.  It celebrates the great power of our God in Heaven.

I do not want a God who is frustrated in his purposes.  I do not want a God who cannot do what he intended to do.   And so I must say, yes, my atonement is limited, but it is sufficient for all.

As SLJ notes, most evangelicals see the Lord’s Supper as symbolic and a memorial, the Zwingli view.  Dr. Johnson himself aligned more with John Calvin’s view: I tend myself to feel that there is something in what John Calvin says.  That is, when we partake of the elements, there is a ministry from the Lord Jesus himself that we receive by virtue of His spiritual presence in our meetings and the ministry of Himself to us as we partake of the elements. 

As referenced in Acts 2:42, the early church meeting had three parts: teaching (the apostles’ teaching), fellowship and the breaking of bread (the Lord’s Supper), and prayer.

Equality AND Submission: S. Lewis Johnson on Feminism and the Trinity

May 4, 2013 3 comments

From my recent studies with S. Lewis Johnson through the Gospel of John, and now 1 Corinthians 7, a good point often made by SLJ:  equality and submission co-exist within the same relationship.

1 Corinthians 7:1-7 tells us that equality exists between men and women in the marriage bed.  We find a parallel of both equality and submission within the Godhead: the Father and Son are equal, of one substance, both fully God – and yet at the same time the Bible also tells us that the Son is submissive to the Father.

S. Lewis Johnson’s observations here concerning feminism, submission and equality:

Now, we’ve had a lot of talk in our day about feminism, and it’s still going on and it has been introduced into evangelicalism.  And so today we have evangelicals who — or we have individuals who claim to be evangelicals — and I’m not denying that some of them are; maybe many of them are — who insist that what we think of as the biblical teaching of the relationship between man and wife has been patriarchal and contrary both to the Bible and to what it ought to be in society.  They have insisted that when we say that a woman is to be submissive to her husband and the husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church, we forget that, let’s just talk about the submission.  When it says that the woman is to be in submission to her husband; that’s contrary to equality.  In other words, you cannot have equality if you have submission.

Now, other evangelicals who are not feminist evangelicals have tried to point out that in the Bible there is a recognition of equality and submission as being in harmony.  For example, they’ve often pointed to 1 Corinthians chapter 11 where the apostle says:  “Now I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ and the head of the woman is the man and the head of Christ is God.”

Well, now we know that our Lord and the Father are equal.  And yet there is a submission of the Son to the Father.  We do not have any problem with that because if we felt that the Son was not equal to the Father in his being, then we wouldn’t have a divine Trinity; we wouldn’t have Christianity because Christianity must have the doctrine of the Trinity or else there’s no Christianity.   That’s why it’s always a test of faith to ask if an individual receives the Orthodox teaching concerning the Trinity, because only then do you have Christianity.  Those who suggest they are three people in the Godhead but they are not equal in power and authority and so forth are not Trinitarians.  But Christian theology is built around the Trinity.  But in the Trinity, in the time of our Lord’s mediation specifically, there is submission on the part of the Son of God but there is equality all the time.

So it’s not true to say that equality and submission cannot go together.

The Corinthian Church: Over-Realized Eschatology

April 19, 2013 4 comments

Continuing through S. Lewis Johnson’s 1 Corinthians series  come some quite interesting observations from 1 Corinthians 4: the Corinthians’ eschatology.  I had read through Paul’s comments to the Corinthians at this point — where Paul sarcastically refers to them as already being kings, and wishing that they really were kings so that “we might reign with you” – but hadn’t really thought about the eschatological views implied in this section.

I don’t think the modern-day term “futurist premillennialism”  had yet been coined when Dr. Johnson delivered this message in 1994 (his last sermon book series), but here he gives an instructive overview concerning “futurist eschatology” and the then-new idea of “realized eschatology”:

 In theology, there is what is called futurist eschatology in which we look toward the future.  To see what the Bible has to say about the future we read Daniel.  We read the Book of Revelation.  We read the prophetic portions of the gospels and those prophetic portions of some of the epistles of the New Testament, the second epistles like 2nd Thessalonians and 2nd Peter, those epistles that seem to major on eschatology.  And we look into the future.  And our imagination sometimes takes over, and we seek to set dates for the things that lie ahead of us.  … one point that’s been made constantly: we do not seek to set dates.  But futurist eschatology is eschatology that centers on the coming of our Lord.

Now, theology today has invented a new term called ‘realized eschatology’, or ‘inaugurated eschatology’.  It’s very common, very popular with more liberal professing Christian professors, teachers, and preachers, because it’s an attempt, in one sense, to fight the emphasis on the future and the talk about the coming of the Lord, which to some people is a mistake — it’s not a mistake to me.  I think that’s something we ought to talk about.  We ought to have as a sense of imminence in our — imminency in our thinking about the coming of the Lord because the apostles did.  But there is a way in which we can overdo that.

And so in order to combat that, those who have held to this view have sought to stress those passages of Scripture that stress what we have already — what has already happened to us as a result of our Lord’s work on Calvary’s cross.

Fred Zaspel’s The Theology of Fulfillment is a good resource as well, concerning what we have now, along with an important caveat from Zaspel:  So in all of this “realized eschatology” we should not lose sight of the future. What we have today is the glorious realization of the OT hopes. But what lies ahead is more glorious still.  A significant hermeneutical guide arises out of all this also. That a promised blessing is realized here and now does not, ipso facto, rule out its fuller realization later. For example, there is nothing here that rules out the premillennialist’s hope of the future manifestation of the kingdom—nothing at all. That the age to come is present and coming is a matter of simple Biblical statement. And if there is already a realization of these blessings within history we should not be surprised to learn of a still fuller manifestation of them.

Colossians 1:13-14 is a good example of what we have now in “realized eschatology,” which  emphasizes our position (now) in Christ. From SLJ again:

Your position is in Christ, and you’re in the kingdom because you’re under His authority.  And that is, of course, a truth.  The balance between the emphasis on the future and the promises made to the Nation Israel and the promises made to the church in relation to Israel are very important, in the word of God; but it’s also important to realize the things that have taken place because the blood has been shed; atonement has been accomplished.

Moving past the idea of realized eschatology, we find the Corinthians – in their arrogance and puffed-up state – thinking that they have actually arrived, that they now have everything of the Christian experience: an overrealized eschatology.  S. Lewis Johnson’s comment here indicates that the term “overrealized eschatology” already existed by this time (1994) but did not originate with him:

 So evidently the Corinthians had what some of the interpreters have called an over-realized eschatology.  They not only looked to the future and looked to the present, but the present is so significant for them that they have already begun to reign.  They’re in the millennial kingdom right now, is the idea the apostle is underlining here. …

They should have been looking to the coming our Lord Jesus Christ and the entering into the kingdom of God upon the earth.  But already these individuals are in the kingdom.  Already they are full.  And so the idea of the kingdom was a place — was a kingdom in which men would have the things that they lacked.  They would have all the food, all the pleasure, all the luxuries, and they are in that kingdom before we are.  This is really an overrealized eschatology.  They thought they were in the kingdom already.

This lesson is certainly applicable to believers today, to keep the proper focus, that we have not yet arrived, that we do not yet already have everything of the Christian experience. As we look at what the New Testament says, including this passage in 1 Corinthians 4, we also affirm that this life is not the kingdom:

 what Paul regards as the present life is anything but a kingdom, in the sense in which they understand it.  He says:  “God has displayed us last, the last of the apostles, as men condemned to death for we have been made a spectacle to the world both to angels and to men.” The only glorious line — the only glorious thing that one can say about this is that we are following in the same train of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and that would be glorious.

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

May 20, 2010 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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