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The 8th Commandment, Property, and the Early Church

June 3, 2016 1 comment

In Tom Chantry’s “Ten Commandments” series, the section on the 8th commandment looks at the overall issue, the precept behind the wording “do not steal,” of ownership and property.  A study of this topic in both the Old and New Testaments affirms God’s purpose that people own individual property.  The fact that we are commanded to not steal, means that some items must belong to another person and that those items do not belong to you.

As pointed out in this lesson, Genesis 1:26 gives the dominion mandate to the human race

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Implied in this command is the reality that this could not be done by Adam alone:  Adam is a finite individual with limited resources.  Genesis 2 follows up with the specific situation for Adam: he as an individual, along with Eve, would have responsibility for one specific location, the garden – a particular location.  He was made the proprietor of a particular piece of land with defined boundaries.  The overall mandate of Genesis 1 could only be fulfilled through the mechanism of property ownership, of giving particular pieces of land to specific individuals.

Then, with the only country that truly could be called “God’s Country” – the Old Testament nation of Israel – we again see God’s concern and interest in individual property.  Leviticus 25 in particular tells us that the land belongs to God (“the land is mine,” verse 23) – and God’s ownership of the land was the basis on which the Israelites would own the land, and very specific laws were setup concerning the buying and selling of their property, within the context of the year of Jubilee.  The people of Israel were to live as the people of God, living out the commands, the moral precepts, of God.  Their living out these commands required that they have dominion over something, in order to use it for God and to bring glory to God.  As also brought out in scripture, the Israelites had to be free men – freeholders; they were not to be slaves, as slaves cannot fulfill this purpose of possessing something in order to use it for God.

To own something is not to grasp at something.  There is no practicality, and no virtue, in giving away all right and title to what is ours.  This brings the study to the issue of what was going on in the early church in Acts – a case which some have cited to claim support for communism and communal living.  After all, so the claim goes, the text says that the believers “had all things in common.”

But a close look at the texts – Acts 2:44, then Acts 4:32-33, and the first part of Acts 5 – clears away two common errors:  1) an assumption that the Acts texts are providing a legal definition of property, and 2) the idea that this situation was normative.  The first idea – a legal definition of property – ignores the use of language.  For instance, when someone visits us in our home, and we say “my house is your house” or “make yourself at home,” such expressions do not mean that we are relinquishing ownership – but rather a show of hospitality.  Peter’s words to Ananias in Acts 5 make it clear that Ananias’ sin was of lying, and not anything pertaining to the property itself.  The land, while unsold, belonged to Ananias, to do with as he pleased – it was his own, at his disposal; and when Ananias sold it, he then owned some money, which also was at his own disposal.  Thus, scripture itself proves that the early church was not a commune and was not some type of cult in which everyone gave up ownership to the “common pool.”

The early church in Acts was also a unique and unusual situation – and an opportunity for those who were wealthy to be generous and give of what they owned in order to help others.  At this point the church consisted of Jewish converts: people who had been part of the Jewish system and belonged to synagogues, yet now experienced persecution– which included excommunication from Judaism and possibly having their means of livelihood taken from them.  Thus the need to care for many poor people, including many only recently impoverished.  The situation opened a ministry need, which Barnabas (in Acts 4) and likely others as well, stepped into with their generosity.

Chantry also observes another aspect I had not considered, that perhaps is true; the early church had received the prophecy, the words from Jesus, that Jerusalem would be judged and destroyed at some point in the relatively near future.  Thus, the people who sold land had knowledge that the place would be destroyed, and that now was a good time to sell their property while it was still worth something.  Certainly if the land they sold was in or around Jerusalem, this well may have been the case.  Study through commentaries and historical research would better answer this question, of whether the people in Jerusalem were actually selling land that existed in that area or if they were engaging in sales of property that existed outside of that area.

Even aside from the question of the impending judgment upon Jerusalem, though, this lesson is a good study on the biblical issue of individual ownership and support for this point throughout the Bible: from earliest creation for all mankind, in Israel’s own government and civil laws, and the same teaching for us in the New Testament era.

iTunes University: Early Church History, The Greek and Western Leaders

June 16, 2015 5 comments

I continue to appreciate the iTunes U seminary lecture series, for greater depth of material than what is offered even from the best online sermon series. RTS’ (Reformed Theological Seminary) course on “The Church and The World” was quite helpful; now I am listening to an early church history series: Christian History I (RSS Feed Here) the legacy version from 1994, which has somewhat different topics than the more recent one). After this one I may listen to at least some of the more recent course, as it covers other topics.

The legacy course features the theology of the early church leaders, with some interesting observations about the different groups and their understanding of theology and influences.  One point is clear: the church in the 2nd and 3rd centuries was still in its infancy, and its theology was expressed in simple terms and often with erroneous ideas.  Soteriology was often expressed in terms of reward for good deeds, and Christ was seen as subordinate to the Father (and not in the Reformed sense of “economic subordination” but ontological, the essence, nature, and attributes of God).

Here it is observed that the Greek apologists (Justin Martyr plus a few others) relied heavily on the gospel accounts, but nothing of the apostle Paul’s letters, which they may not have had access to.   Another factor was their background as Greek philosophers, pagan Greeks who only converted to Christianity as adults, and who highly valued Greek philosophy as what helped to bring people to Christianity.  They all had interest in knowledge, the “gnosis,” and at least some of the Greeks were influenced by gnostic and platonic ideas.  Origen is the well-known Greek theologian who took such ideas even further, with focus on the “deeper meaning” and “deeper knowledge” beyond the plain truth of a text, and non-orthodox, gnostic-influenced ideas concerning the atonement, as well as his universalist view–unbelievers go through a time period of purifying fire with some pain, and yet all people end up saved.

Another group more familiar to our evangelical way of thinking: the Western theologians.  “Western Christianity” and Medieval thought–interest in the truth itself and our relationship with God, rather than the Greek interest in knowledge and “deeper meaning”–began with Tertullian, in the late 2nd and early 3rd century: not in full form, but at least some features.  I first learned of Tertullian several years ago, in reference to the interesting martyr story of Perpetua and her friends in Carthage, Africa in 202 A.D.  Tertullian also is frequently mentioned in reference to the Montanist error, which he apparently embraced at least at some point in his life.  This series provides more details about Tertullian, who was the first of the early church fathers to write in Latin (rather than exclusively in Greek).  Tertullian was very anti-gnostic, and a strong personality, a type of Martin Luther in his day, described as a rebel: one who rebelled against his pagan parents, and later rebelled against moral laxity in the church, taking a hard line against those who “lapsed” in times of persecution.  Having been greatly immoral in his pre-Christian life, Tertullian (who became a Christian sometime between ages 30 and 40) as a believer held to a life of high moral standards, similar to the Puritans.  Tertullian advanced the early church understanding of the Trinity, as the first one to use the Latin term for the word Trinity.  He came closer (than previous early church leaders) to the full idea of the Trinity, yet still did not quite arrive at the now orthodox view, instead holding to some notion of Christ being subordinate to the Father, that somehow both were God and yet Christ not at the same level as the Father.

Upcoming lectures in this series look further at the Western theologians: more regarding Tertullian, as well as Irenaeus and Cyprian, with later lectures about various theological controversies, plus Augustine and Anselm.  I look forward to the upcoming lessons in this interesting series.

 

 

Chiliasm: Premillennialism in Church History, Part I

July 23, 2014 Leave a comment

The following is the first in a short blog series, with details concerning the history of premillennialism, from the early church through the Puritan era. Further resources for this information: Nathaniel West’s History of the Premillennial Doctrine (1879), and “The Voice of the Church on the Coming and Kingdom of the Redeemer, Or, a History of the Doctrine of the Reign of Christ on Earth” by Daniel Thompson Taylor (1855).  Nathaniel West’s essay is a good overview and defense of premillennialism, in which he points out the true positions of early teachers and later attempted criticism of this hope of the martyr church. The earlier book (by D.T. Taylor) is a more comprehensive look at the actual history, with more details including many quotes from premillennialists through the centuries.

For today, a look at what the early church believed, and the scriptures they referenced in support of chiliasm – from the writings of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Lactantius and several others. Contrary to what is sometimes said about the early church, and what is sometimes presented as “historic premillennialism,” the early church had very definite ideas concerning what Revelation was about (quite opposite to what a local church pastor has often claimed, that the earliest believers didn’t understand the book of Revelation and didn’t know what it was about), and their premillennialism was based on many texts of scripture beyond the “one text” presentation of Revelation 20, including many Old Testament passages.

  • Psalm 37:11, “The meek shall inherit the earth, and delight themselves in the abundance of peace,” and the promise in the gospels, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth”
  • Revelation 20, Genesis creation, Isaiah 65:17, Psalm 90:4; (also Peter’s reference in 2 Peter 3); Zechariah 14. (Note these verse also in reference to the millennial week concept of creation, including the six thousand years of history followed by the seventh thousand as the millennial era.)
  • That the city of Jerusalem would be “built, adorned, and enlarged according to the Prophets.” (Justin Martyr)

As noted in this previous post, the early church also affirmed a future 3 ½ year Tribulation, during which the believers will be persecuted by antichrist, after which Christ will Return. They especially understood the parallels between Daniel 7 and the book of Revelation, and that Revelation gives more temporal information of what Daniel’s account compresses, and that these passages refer to Christ’s Second Advent. Consider the following parallels, as presented by Nathaniel West:

As to the Cloud Comer:
Daniel 7:18 “I went on gazing in the night’s visions, and behold! One like a Son of Man came in the clouds of heaven,” etc.
Revelation 1:7 “Behold! He cometh in clouds, and every eye shall see Him; they also that pierced Him.”

As to the Persecuting Antichristian Beast:
Daniel 7:21, 22 “I went on gazing, and the same Horn made war with the saints and prevailed against them until the Ancient of Days came,”
Rev. 11:7; 18:7; 17:14. “The Beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them.” “War with the saints and overcome them.”

As to the time of the Dominance of the Beast:
Dan 7:25. “They shall be given into his hands for a time, times, and the dividing of a time.”
Rev. 12:14; 11:2, 3. “For a time, times, and half a time.” “Forty and two months.” “A thousand, two hundred and threescore days.”

As to the Judgment on the Antichristian Beast:
Dan. 7:9, 10, 22, 26, 11. “I went on gazing till the thrones were placed and the Ancient of Days did sit,” -etc. “The judgment was set and the books were opened.” “And judgment was given to the saints of the Most High.” “The judgment shall sit,” etc. “I went on gazing—till the Beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame.”
Rev. 19:11; 20:4, 12; 19:20, 21. “I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse,” etc. “I saw thrones and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them.” “And I saw a great white throne, and the books were opened.” “And I saw the Beast,” etc. “And the Beast was taken, and with him the False Prophet that wrought miracles before them,” etc. “These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the remnant were slain with the sword of Him that sat on the horse,” etc.

As to the Kingdom and Reign of the triumphant saints:
Dan. 7:18, 22, 27. “The time came that the saints possessed the Kingdom.” “The saints of the Most High shall take the Kingdom forever, even for ever and ever.” “And the Kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the Kingdom under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose Kingdom is an everlasting Kingdom,” etc.
Rev. 6:10; 11:15; 20:4, 5. “We shall reign with thee on the earth.” “The Kingdoms of this world are become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever, and ever.” “And I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God,” etc. “And they lived and reigned a thousand years. This is the first resurrection.”

As to the Blessedness of the Millennial Reign:
Dan. 12:12, 18. “Blessed is he that waiteth and cometh to the thousand, three hundred and five and thirty days.” “Thou shalt rest and stand in thy lot at the end of the days.”
Rev. 20:6 “Blessed and holy is He that hath part in the first resurrection; on such the second death hath no power. But they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.”

An excerpt from Nathaniel West on this point:

The prophetic page of Daniel was regarded as a sacred calendar of the future, measuring the range of successive Gentile empires from the captivity date to the finishing of the mystery of God under the seventh trumpet, embracing the conversion of the Jews or recall of Israel to the covenant, the overthrow of Antichrist, the first Resurrection, and the Millennial Reign and Final Judgment. (Rev. 10:7; 11:15; Rom. 11:26; Rev. 19:20; 20: 1-7)—a course of history spanning 490 years of the later Jewish dispensation, all the Christian dispensation closing with the overthrow of the Beast and Little Horn, and the erection of Daniel’s fifth and everlasting Kingdom as an external polity, upon the extinct polities of all nations. The whole time thus covered, by this scope, was the long period of Israel’s expectation, running parallel with the Captivity, Restoration, Rejection, the times of the Antichristian Apostacy—all this the “Times of the Gentiles,”—together with the ” Time of the End,” and of the 1,000 years. The prophetic page of John, too, was regarded by the early Church as a compend, not of the details, but of the chief events and results of history in their relation to the coming Kingdom, a further development of the vision of Daniel, depicting the rise and progress of Antichrist, the final overthrow of the Roman Empire, and the judgment on Antichrist at the end of the 1,260 days—the Great Image no longer standing on its feet, Beast and False Prophet no longer existing, the Millennial Kingdom coming with One who comes in the clouds of Heaven. With such a view it was impossible for the early Church not to be Pre-Millennarian, for the visions of Daniel (chap. 7) and John (Apoc. chaps. 4-22) were one.

Next Time: The Martyr doctrine that was itself martyred

The Chiliasts (early premillennialists) and John Bunyan

July 17, 2014 9 comments

In my ongoing interests in premillennialism and church history, lately I have been looking more closely at the earlier premillennialists (pre-19th century), and particularly John Bunyan.  While searching on the Internet a few weeks ago, in reference to the question of “reformed Baptists” and historic premillennialism, I came across a recent article that explain a little of the history of the 1689 London Baptist confession and connection to premillennialism.  The following paragraph especially caught my interest:

Likewise, Nathaniel West tells us that “the English Chiliasts issued a public protest against both the conduct and principles of the revolutionary sect, a protest in which all true pre-millennarians were represented. (Neal’s Puritans, II. 221.) Eleven years after the Assembly adjourned, the English Baptists presented their pre-millennarian confession to Charles II., A.D. 1660, John Bunyan’s name among the number, declaring, ‘We believe that Christ, at His Second Coming, will not only raise the dead, and judge and restore the world, but also take to Himself His Kingdom, which will be a universal Kingdom and that, in this Kingdom, the Lord Jesus Christ will be the alone visible, Supreme, Lord and King of the whole earth.’ (Crosby’s History of the Baptists).

Prior to this, my primary knowledge of John Bunyan was his famous allegory, “Pilgrims Progress,” and related allegorical fiction, and a general impression that he did not write anything with specific reference to eschatology. Then I started looking at overall Puritan literature, including the John Bunyan volumes available at Bunyan Ministries, including Bunyan’s unfinished commentary on Genesis, which covered the first 10 chapters.  Recognizing that this was nearly two centuries before the 19th century controversy over evolution and the age of the Earth, still I was curious to find out what, if anything, John Bunyan had to say regarding the Earth’s age, in his writings about the early Genesis chapters.

Indeed, we won’t find anything in Bunyan’s writings in reference to the 19th century teaching of evolution or long, vast ages of earth history. But it was exciting and interesting to find this Puritan, hundreds of years before the more developed premillennial writings of the 19th century Benjamin Wills Newton and Nathaniel West variety, affirm the basics of premillennialism – and to specifically relate it to the doctrine of creation:

Which sabbath, as I conceive, will be the seventh thousand of years, which are to follow immediately after the world hath stood six thousand first: for as God was six days in the works of creation, and rested the seventh; so in six thousand years he will perfect his works and providences that concern this world. As also he will finish the toil and travel of his saints, with the burden of the beasts, and the curse of the ground; and bring all into rest for a thousand years.

Bunyan further understood the connection between the early Earth, the pre-flood era, and what is promised in the future millennial era, as in his comments on Genesis 5:

These long-lived men therefore shew us the glory that the church shall have in the latter day, even in the seventh thousand years of the world, that sabbath when Christ shall set up his kingdom on earth, according to that which is written, “They lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years” (Rev 20:1-4). They:—Who? The church of God, according also as it was with Adam. Therefore they are said by John to be holy, as well as blessed: “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God, and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years” (v 6). In all which time the wicked in the world shall forbear to persecute, as did also the brood of wicked Cain in the days of Adam, Seth, &c. Hence therefore we find in the first place the dragon chained for these thousand years.

Bunyan’s view was quite similar to that of the early church, including the “millennial week” idea of a day as a thousand years, thus six thousand years of history for the six days of creation, followed by the “seventh day” as the 1000 year millennial kingdom. “Historic premillennialism” as expressed in the last 200 years, carries forward many features of early premillennialism, except the millennial week. For a modern Bible teacher who holds to chiliasm, see these articles from Tim Warner (note: he is also rather anti-Calvinist, and not in the usual tradition of the 19th century Calvinist Premillennialists), the only one I know of who holds to chiliasm in modern times:

Bunyan also taught according to the literal, non-spiritualizing hermeneutic, as seen in his reference to Zechariah 14:4, in this work addressing the error of the spiritualizing Quakers:

And his feet shall stand in that day [the day of his second coming] upon the Mount of Olives’ (Zech 14:4). Where is that? Not within thee, but that which is without Jerusalem, before it on the east side.

Regarding premillennialism in church history, the following online works:

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.

Lessons from Acts: The Life of Stephen

December 17, 2009 2 comments

In my study through the book of Acts, S. Lewis Johnson points out a lot of interesting things. The last few messages have dealt with the short life of Stephen: Acts 6 and Acts 7.

Johnson discusses and speculates concerning the relationship between Stephen and Saul of Tarsus; one of the sermons for this part is even titled “The Paul Before Paul.” The text tells us that Saul was there giving approval to Stephen’s death, and that those who stoned Stephen laid their coats at Saul’s feet. Yet Acts 6 also tells us that the Jews tried arguing against Stephen, though unsuccessfully. It is very likely that the apostle Paul was one of those leading Jewish debaters trying to defeat Stephen in such arguments. Paul was also a Hellenistic Jew, hanging out in the Hellenistic syngagogues as Stephen was, and by Paul’s own later admission he had been a leader, unequalled and advancing far beyond the understanding of other Jews of his age. So, SLJ points out, it was very likely that Saul of Tarsus was the point man for the events of Acts 6; none of the other Jews could defeat Stephen, so they called on Saul to do so. The apostle Paul had been schooled by the Pharisee Gamaliel, yet it’s very likely that he learned more from Stephen.

In reference to Acts 7, Stephen’s speech to the Jews, Johnson notes something I’ve heard a few times before: that the New Testament does not give us the example of expository preaching, verse-by-verse through a Bible book. That fact is interesting, very different from the common advice today to preach sequentially through a text–and I certainly do enjoy the expository preaching “book series” sermons. Yet as SLJ points out, the sermons given in Acts are more of an overview of God’s redemptive work and God’s purposes throughout Israel’s history. From browsing the MP3 titles on the websites (Believers Chapel and the SLJ Institute), I have noticed that S. Lewis Johnson also preached several non-expository, non-sequential, doctrinal overview series — for instance, “Basic Bible Doctrines,” “God’s Plan for the Ages,” “The Divine Purpose”, and “The Divine Purpose in History and Prophecy.” I am considering one of these series for my next lesson plans (after this Acts series), and this encourages me toward that idea.

SLJ notes some of the distinctives of Stephen’s speech, and briefly notes one I had heard previously: that Stephen especially points out the incidents that occurred in locations outside of Israel, to show that God is present in many places outside of Israel. He does not make more of it than is warranted (such as one preacher who tried to justify Church Replacement theology from this text), but notes it as it relates to Stephen’s purposes in the speech: God’s sovereignty over the people in all locations and times, and that throughout all of these experiences outside the land, the Israelites had persistently rebelled against their leaders including Joseph and Moses. Stephen’s speech also emphasizes that for God the tabernacle was the only thing commanded; the temple was thought of by men, not something commanded by God.

Now to the end of Acts 7: Stephen sees Jesus “standing” at the right hand of God. Elsewhere we are told in the Bible that Jesus is “sitting” at the right hand of God; of course He isn’t chained there, as though He cannot get up. SLJ pictures the “standing” as Jesus’ special gift to Stephen, that Stephen sees before his death that Jesus is especially greeting him, Stephen, as the first martyr of the Christian Church.

Stephen was apparently a young man, one of many since that time who burned brightly for a time–and to us their early death seems a great loss. Surely such a gifted man as Stephen would have been of great benefit to the early church. Yet God has His purposes when He takes such men at a young age. We really don’t know the time of our death, and we cannot take for granted a long life from God. S. Lewis Johnson relates that many times in his seminary classes, he would tell his young students that he would go to heaven before they would, and admit his enjoyment about it (that he would be in heaven before they). Yet, he now observed that it turned out that he was still here (he was 69 when he did the Acts series in late 1984), and some of those seminary students had already died and gone to heaven before he did; he mentioned that one of his students had died 25 years ago. So indeed basic things, such as normal life span, do not always work out as we suppose they will.

Interestingly enough, I must confess that I have recently had similar joyous thoughts. Now that I’m in my mid-40s, I am thankful that, if the Lord tarries in His return, I will go to be with Jesus that much sooner than the younger believers I know, and consider this as one advantage of being older–that many fewer years left dealing with this evil world. So here too I can better appreciate SLJ’s later words of wisdom. I really cannot say with certainty that I will go to heaven before the twenty-something believer. SLJ must have had similar thoughts as I, when he was in his forties (twenty five years before the Acts series), and I can take heart that such thoughts are at least somewhat common for my age.

The Stephen-series within the book of Acts is a nice look at this part of Acts, at the great life of Stephen, who died a harsh death but with great reward. He lived well, died well, and he has been remembered throughout the centuries even to our time.