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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.

The Identities of Jesus and the Arch-Angel Michael

October 24, 2011 4 comments

Lately an unusual idea has been circulating among some Christians online: the idea that the archangel Michael is really another name for Jesus.  This is not the standard Jehovah Witness claim about Christ being a created angelic being.  No, this view maintains Christ’s Deity, but says that all references to “Michael” are actually referring to Christ.

For support, the group claims support from a few well-known preachers, including Charles Spurgeon.  From my own googling through Spurgeon sermons (on the Spurgeon Gems site), sure enough, I found a few interesting statements from Spurgeon, which might seem to give support to the idea.  For in these excerpts, Spurgeon does say that our Lord “is the true Michael” and from these texts I could not easily tell if Spurgeon thought that Michael was literally Jesus, or if he were speaking figuratively from an understanding of types.

From “The Blood of the Lamb, The Conquering Weapon” (Sept. 9, 1888):

“By faith we rise into the conquering place this day. In the heavenlies we triumph, as also in every place. We rejoice in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Michael of the angels, the Redeemer of men. For by Him we see Satan cast out and all the powers of evil hurled from their places of power and eminence.”

From “Our Lord’s Transcendent Greatness” (Dec. 2, 1866):

You remember how our Lord, who is the true Michael, the only great Archangel, said at the beginning of the preaching of the Gospel, “I beheld Satan as lightning falling from Heaven.”

From “The Angelic Life” (Nov. 22, 1868):

“We read that Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels, and the dragon was cast down. The fight is going on every day. Michael is the Lord Jesus, the only Archangel.”

If that were all, perhaps the group might be justified in their claim that at least Spurgeon believed this.  But then I found the following, Spurgeon’s commentary on Jude 9, a passage which specifically mentions Michael:  But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.”  Here it is clear that Spurgeon did see a distinction in the identities of Christ and Michael, for he puts forth a lesson regarding the created angel Michael as well as the “great Doctrine of angels watching over the bones of the saints.”

From “The Resurrection of the Dead” (Feb. 17, 1856):

“There is a remarkable passage in Jude, where it speaks of Michael the Archangel contending with the devil about the body of Moses and using no “railing accusation.” Now, this refers to the great Doctrine of angels watching over the bones of the saints. Certainly it tells us that the body of Moses was watched over by a great archangel. The devil thought to disturb that body but Michael contended with him about it. Now would there be a contention about that body if it had been of no value? Would Michael contend for that which was only to be the food of worms? Would he wrestle with the enemy for that which was to be scattered to the four winds of Heaven, never to be united again into a new and goodlier fabric? No. Assuredly not! From this we learn that an angel watches over every tomb. It is no fiction, when on the marble we carve the cherubs with their wings. There are cherubs with outstretched wings over the head of the gravestones of all the righteous. Yes, and where “the rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep,” in some nook overgrown by nettles, there an angel stands night and day to watch each bone and guard each atom, that at the resurrection, those bodies, with more glory than they had on earth, may start up to dwell forever with the Lord! The guardianship of the bodies of the saints by angels proves that they shall rise again from the dead!”

Hebrews 1, the Second Coming, and the Davidic Covenant

September 19, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve recently started a good Hebrews study, going through S. Lewis Johnson’s series (one he did starting in late 1992).  Hebrews is a book I had previously neglected, other than through general reading (and now I read it as part of the New Testament readings every two months in my Horner-based Bible reading plan).  Seeing that the NCT (New Covenant Theology) proponents rely heavily on their interpretation and overemphasis of Hebrews (and the local amillennial preterist preacher is now doing a Hebrews series for the third time in 15 years; basically a repeat of the same superficial thoughts), I had focused my thoughts more on Romans.  But I also see the importance of understanding Hebrews from a correct biblical perspective, and S. Lewis Johnson’s series is as always a good in-depth look.

The first several verses are full of many Old Testament quotations, and so Dr. Johnson looked at each of these specific references.  Last year I briefly looked at one of these, Hebrews 1:6, and at the transcript part related to that issue; the verse in the Greek is properly translated, “when He again brings His firstborn into the world,” as a reference to the Second Coming.  Johnson’s full teachings on these verses can be found in the transcripts for the Hebrews series, messages 2 and 3.

The citations in these verses include:

  • Psalm 2:7 (Hebrews 1:4) — “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”
  • Psalm 89:26-26 and 2 Samuel 7:14 (Hebrews 1:5) — “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”
  • Psalm 97:7 (also in Deuteronomy 32:43) (Hebrews 1:6) — “Let all God’s angels worship him.”
  • Psalm 104:4 (Hebrews 1:7) — “He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.”
  • Psalm 45:6-7 (Hebrews 1:8-9)

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.   ​​​​​​​​You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.

As Dr. Johnson noted, these passages cited in Hebrews 1 have reference to the events of the Second Coming, as well as to the Davidic covenant.  Psalm 89 is one of the three key passages for the Davidic covenant (along with 2 Samuel 7 and 1 Chronicles 17); see “Biblical Covenants: The Davidic Covenant” for Johnson’s teaching on this during his “Lessons from the Life of David” series.  2 Samuel 7 occurred before the writing of Psalm 2.  In the words of S. Lewis Johnson:

In other words, this is the passage that gave rise in the poetic section to the statement, “Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee.”  The Covenant came first and then the mediation by the psalmist on the Covenant.  And so we are looking at the place at which the Davidic Covenant finds its origin, so to speak, in the word of God.

2 Samuel 7:14 parallels the words cited in Hebrews 1 — I will be his Father, and he shall be My son — immediately after v. 13, He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.

Deuteronomy 32:43, the setting of the words quoted by the writer of Hebrews “when He again brings His firstborn into the world” have reference to the events at the Second Coming. Psalm 97:7 likewise is part of a set of Messianic Kingdom psalms; see this blog post about this set of Psalms.

Psalm 45 emphasizes God’s eternal throne.  We can look back to scripture;  who who was promised an eternal throne?  Again we go back to the Davidic covenant, and since this paragraph has so many references to other texts concerning the Davidic covenant, we can say that here also the writer of Hebrews has interpreted it correctly, in reference to the Davidic throne.

Just this short section in Hebrews 1 is rich with many great Old Testament references to the Davidic Covenant and Christ’s return.  I look forward to the rest of the series, to learn far more than what is taught by misguided NCT teachers who would reinterpret Hebrews to refer to the First Coming and the Church Age.

Are the Saints in Heaven Aware of Us?

May 5, 2011 2 comments

Often nowadays in my Bible studies, I will hear the same idea from two or more sources at about the same point in time.  At the time of the Bible Prophecy Blog article about Lordship salvation, for instance, I was continuing to hear more of the issue from things said by S. Lewis Johnson in a special message about it and elsewhere (such as in his Matthew series).  More recently, another idea — are the saints in heaven aware of things going on down here? — was mentioned by S. Lewis Johnson and by Spurgeon, in two unrelated messages:  first in SLJ’s message about the transfiguration, and a few days later in Spurgeon’s sermon #203, “The Sympathy of the Two Worlds.”

From SLJ I learned that John Bunyan certainly believed that the saints in heaven are aware of what’s going on down here, as depicted in Pilgrim’s Progress:  when the pilgrims from this world call at the gates, Moses and Elijah and some other saints are looking out over the gates.  Knowing how Spurgeon was greatly influenced by Bunyan explains Spurgeon’s similar view:

Does not the Apostle tell us that the saints above are a cloud of witnesses? After he had mentioned Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Gideon and Barak and Jephthah, did he not say, “Therefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight”? Lo, we are running in the plains and the glorified ones are looking down upon us! Your mother’s eyes follow you, young man! A father’s eyes are looking down upon you, young woman!  The eyes of my godly grandmother, long since glorified, I doubt not, rest on me perpetually. No doubt, in Heaven they often talk of us! I think they sometimes visit this poor earth—they never go out of Heaven, it is true, for Heaven is everywhere to them. This world is to them but just one corner of God’s Heaven, one shady bower of Paradise.

The saints of the living God, are, I doubt not, very near unto us when we think them very far away. At any rate, they still remember us, still look for us, for this is ever upon their hearts—the truth that they without us cannot be made perfect—they cannot be a perfect Church till all are gathered in and, therefore, do they long for our appearing!

As to the Hebrews 12 verse referenced by Spurgeon, though, some Bible teachers — including S. Lewis Johnson, as well as John MacArthur — do not hold to such an interpretation.  Rather, they see that text as referring to the Old Testament saints — not as spectators of us but as witnesses in Scripture, and thus witnesses to us of the life of faith.

Yet scripture does give some hints elsewhere — and only hints — that the redeemed in God’s presence are aware of us in this life.  Spurgeon in the above sermon related it to Luke 15:10, which certainly teaches that the angels in heaven are aware of what’s going on here, since they rejoice over every sinner who repents.  SLJ saw a hint of this also in the transfiguration account, where Moses and Elijah are conversing with Jesus and aware of His soon departure to be accomplished at Jerusalem (reference the parallel account in Luke 9:31).

Johnson also pointed out an answer to the common objection:  how can the saints in heaven possibly be in bliss if they know about all the terrible sin and unhappiness going on down here on the earth?  But God of course also knows about all the terrible things going on here, and yet certainly He is resting in His own bliss.  Likewise the angels are certainly aware of this world’s affairs, since they then rejoice every time a sinner repents and comes to salvation.

It is a nice thought, one I hadn’t really considered that much before, but very possibly true.  In closing I offer up the following somewhat humorous words from S. Lewis Johnson, when he was here with us:

Now that’s a very comforting thing, really. That means that when I get to heaven you can think of me appearing over heaven wondering what’s going on in Believers Chapel.  I’ve often said to my students at the theological seminary, when they depart from the faith my ghost will disturb them.  Now someone might say, well my goodness, if in heaven we know what’s happening down here on the earth with all of the sin and unhappiness and tragedy, how can we possibly be in bliss in heaven if we know what’s going down here on the earth?  Well, I reply with another question.  Does not God know?  Is He not resting in the leisure of His own bliss?  Of course He is.  You see, He knows the end from the beginning, and then we shall have better perspective too.

Hebrews 1:6 — A Reference to Angels at the Second Coming of Christ

December 20, 2010 2 comments

S. Lewis Johnson often remarked that he was always learning something new in the Bible, even after so many years of studying. He also observed that the way to prevent backsliding in Christianity is to continue in the Word, really studying it and continuing to learn new things.

Here is one “little” yet interesting thing I recently learned, concerning Hebrews 1:6  (compare the ESV and NASB).  The “Drawing Near” devotional (author John MacArthur) for December 13 highlighted this verse (citing the NASB), and pointed out that angels at present do not fully understand God’s redemptive plan — reference 1 Peter 1:12.  But as Hebrews 1:6 promises, when God again brings Christ into the world, the angels will — at His Second Coming, the angels will worship Him:

Notice that Hebrews 1:6 says, “When He again brings the first-born into the world” (emphasis added). God already brought Christ into the world once–at the second coming He will bring Him into the world in blazing glory. Then the fullness of the prophecy of Psalm 97:7 quoted in Hebrews 1:6 will come to pass: “Let all the angels of God worship Him.”

In His second coming Christ is revealed in full glory as the Son. More than ever we have reason to join the heavenly chorus in declaring, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Rev. 5:12).

In my ESV Bible, as with the KJV and NIV, the text reads “And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”  I had never thought that much about it, other than that it’s referring to Christ’s incarnation.  But sure enough, the NASB, as well as some other versions including the HCSB, say “when He again brings…”

In S. Lewis Johnson’s exposition of this verse, he explains the future reference in more detail.  The second part of Hebrews 1:6 is a direct reference from Deuteronomy 32:43, from a great prophetic chapter.  The text is also found in Psalm 97.  Both of these Old Testament passages have the context of the coming in judgment and ruling, and so we have biblical support for Hebrews 1:6 being “when He again brings the firstborn into the world.”  S. Lewis Johnson states a few additional reasons, including the Greek grammar and the issue of inheritance:

Now, the scholars discussed this back and forth and have, ever since the earliest days, all the way back.  But there are two or three things that make it very, very, I think, almost certain, that this should be attached to “bringing in the firstborn.”  And we should read it, “But when He again bring the firstborn in.”  In the first place, the position of the adverb in the Greek text would support that.  The tense of the Greek verb would support it, also, as an indefinite relative clause, referring to the future.  And so we’re taking it that way.  We’re taking this as a reference to the Second Advent.

. . . the word “brings into” is a legal term for bringing an heir into his inheritance.  And so since he’s already been said previously here to have been appointed heir to all things, it would be natural then to speak of him being introduced to his inheritance.  Part of his inheritance is the worship of the angels of God; that is his legal heir-ship.  Part of it.

He is also called “the firstborn.”  Now we don’t have time to look at Psalm 89, but that’s what David’s great king is called in Psalm 89.  So in other words, this is a little passage, in Deuteronomy 32, that may be tied in to the Davidic Covenant in that way.  When he brings the “firstborn” the one who inherits the Davidic Covenant into the world, he says, “Let all the angels of God worship Him.”  Firstborn is a term that does not speak temporally so much as it speaks of position.  The idea of priority passes into the idea of superiority with heir-ship and probably, I say, with Davidic associations.  You could look at Psalm 89, verse 27, and see that.

So much to think about, and so much depth contained in God’s word — and Hebrews 1:6 expands on the joy to be experienced in Revelation 5.  The angels are finally in full action, rejoicing and praising and worshiping Him when He finally comes to rule the earth!

Let us also rejoice in God’s word, and the thought expressed by so many great saints, as in this great quote from J.C. Ryle:

Let us learn the high authority of the Bible, and the immense value of a knowledge of its contents. Let us read it, search into it, pray over it, diligently, perseveringly, unweariedly. Let us strive to be so thoroughly acquainted with its pages, that its text may abide in our memories, and stand ready at our right hand in the day of need. Let us be able to appeal from every perversion and false interpretation of its meaning, to those thousand plain passages, which are written as it were with a sunbeam. The Bible is indeed a sword, but we must take heed that we know it well, if we would use it with effect.