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Challies 2019 Reading: Derek Thomas’ Heaven on Earth

February 14, 2019 2 comments

Heaven-On-EarthMy recent reading of hard-copy books (free from book giveaways) has included some interesting titles, such as Derek Thomas’ “Heaven on Earth.”

Thomas’ work, noted on this Theology to Go podcast is an interesting read, a short one that can be read within a day or two.  It provides a good summary regarding the difference between heaven as the intermediary state (sometimes called paradise) where the believers who have fallen asleep in the Lord are now, and the later Resurrection and the New Heavens and New Earth.  The book is also noteworthy as a treatise that discusses the future, especially the Eternal State, without one single reference to the millennial age or to millennial views.  Thomas appears to have a view similar to that of Hoekema – amillennialism that recognizes the Eternal State New Earth as a place/time that includes the basic things of this creation such as geography, physical activity, and animals.  This view also fits well with what Michael Vlach described several years ago as the “New Creation model” – as contrasted with the “Spiritual Vision” model (the traditional church view of saints sitting up on clouds with their harps), with reference to the Eternal State.  Thomas also sees the future New Heavens and New Earth as a renovation rather than annihilation/completely new creation; here, reference this post (The Judgment by Fire in 2 Peter 3) from several years ago, regarding 2 Peter 3 and Robert D. Culver’s Daniel and the Latter Days.

Other reviewers have mentioned the part about dogs being in heaven – an item specifically mentioned on only one page, yet fitting within the “new creation” model, a future that does not specifically include our own beloved pets from this life, but will include the reality of animals then to care for and appreciate.  Thomas also considers questions for speculation and the imagination, such as what our resurrected bodies will be like:  will our bodies age?  will they change in any way? will they grow tired and require sleep?  will we experience pain, if we fall on rocky ground, will they bleed?  and what age wil we be?  Will we all look like athletes?  Along with quotes from C.S. Lewis in his non-fiction as well as fiction (The Chronicles of Narnia The Last Battle,  and The Great Divorce), and consideration of various OT and NT scripture texts, a lot of questions are raised, on practical things such as will we recognize each other as friends from this life.  Jesus told the Sadducees (Matt. 22:23-33) that in the resurrection we will be “like the angels,”  but given the context of that, we should not over-interpret.

I do not think that we should over-interpret this passage, in a way that suggests that we will not have close friends in the new heaven and earth.  Jesus had close friends -Peter, James and John – and the latter was His closest friend.  I see no reason to doubt that we shall experience these kinds of friendship in the new earth, and with those who have been our spouse and best friends here in the old earth.  And perhaps this helps us understand a little Jesus’ statement about marriage.  It is not the intimacy as such that is dearest, but the companionship and the love.  And Jesus didn’t say that we won’t experience the friendship and the heady sense of love that two people know.

This book is an enjoyable read about a good topic — suitable to share with friends who have questions, and a good book for the average evangelical Christian.  It’s a short read at about 100 pages, but with a lot of good points and ideas to consider, great “food for thought.”

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.”

The Unbelieving Spouse: A Spurgeon Illustration, and Application

August 28, 2014 8 comments

From my recent Spurgeon reading comes this interesting story: a possibly greater motive, for wives with unbelieving husbands, than the words of 1 Peter 3:1-4:

We have heard of a wife, a godly woman, who for 20 years had been persecuted by a brutal husband—a husband so excessively bad that her faith at last failed her, and she ceased to be able to believe that he would ever be converted. But all this while she was more kind to him than ever. One night, at midnight, in a drunken state, he told his friends he had such a wife as no other man had; and if they would go home with him, he would get her up, to try her temper, and she would get a supper for them all! They came and the supper was very soon ready, consisting of such things as she had prepared as well and as rapidly as the occasion would allow; and she waited at the table with as much cheerfulness as if the feast had been held at the proper time! She did not utter a word of complaint. At last, one of the company, more sober than the rest, asked how it was she could always be so kind to such a husband. Seeing that her conduct had made some little impression, she ventured to say to him, “I have done all I can to bring my husband to God, and I fear he will never be saved. Since, therefore, his portion must be in Hell forever, I will make him as happy as I can while he is here, for he has nothing to expect hereafter.”

In a later telling of this account (this sermon) Spurgeon added that the husband was saved as a result of this event.

This week I’ve also been listening to S. Lewis Johnson’s Revelation series, including Revelation 3, the church at Laodicea. The above situation involved someone who was “cold” to the things of God, one who was apart from professing Christianity, knew he was not a believer and wasn’t interested. As Dr. Johnson observed regarding Revelation 3 and the desire that the Laodiceans would be cold rather than lukewarm: Perhaps because if a person is really cold in the spiritual sense it might be possible for them to be awakened, but if a person has a kind of protecting covering of religiosity, it is most difficult to reach such people.

If the godly woman (in the above account) had given up hope of her very ungodly husband ever being saved, how much more the seeming (and perhaps actual) hopelessness for the “lukewarm” professing, nominal Christians who may well be just as lost – only they don’t realize it and are quite content with regular attendance at church but completely secular interests the rest of the week (and even while at church, only interested in secular topics of conversation), lives conformed to a non-Christian worldview. What James said (James 2:19) also comes to mind, to explain the seeming paradox of people who say they believe all the basic truths of the word of God, yet show no application of it in their lives: You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!

Regardless of the type of husband (cold or lukewarm) the godly woman’s actions serve as a very strong motivator for those among us unequally yoked; if anything the case is all the more true and urgent with the “luke-warm” professing husband. “I fear he will never be saved. Since, therefore, his portion must be in Hell forever, I will make him as happy as I can while he is here, for he has nothing to expect hereafter.”  Others are not guaranteed the same outcome this godly woman had (1 Cor. 7:16, “For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?”), and realizing that sobering fact that this life may be the best that the unbelieving partner has, the only proper response is to “make him as happy as I can while he is here.”

“Protestant Purgatory”? Confusion Regarding Regeneration and the Holy Spirit

March 28, 2013 14 comments

(Yes, it’s just a nickname, ‘Protestant Purgatory’… not actual purgatory, though something with the similar feature of a third “holding place” pre-Calvary.  Moving along to the main issue of this post: people who think Regeneration equals Permanent Indwelling of the Holy Spirit.)

A recent online discussion brought out something quite strange: Christians who actually believe the “Protestant Purgatory for Old Testament Saints” myth, the idea that the Old Testament saints were not regenerated (since they did not have the Holy Spirit indwelling) and did not go to heaven but to “Abraham’s Bosom,” a type of purgatory holding place until Calvary, at which time Christ moved them to heaven.  It turned out that this idea (at least the second part, about the OT saints not going to heaven) comes from a particular teacher of Internet and Youtube popularity; his teaching (link provided by the person in this discussion who believes this) can be found here.

The reasoning for this idea, as presented in the discussion, included emphasis on Luke 16, the parable/story of Lazarus and the Rich Man, along with other questionable ideas such as that the Old Testament never used the term “born again,” and thinking (without scriptural reasoning) that the disciples themselves were not saved and no different from unbelievers before Christ’s Resurrection/Pentecost.

As a friend later observed, “I think the problem is a faulty understanding of the ministry of the Holy Spirit throughout the Bible and the history of redemption. It is not correct to say that only those who have the dwelling of the Spirit can be regenerated, because we are not saved by the dwelling of the Spirit; but we have the dwelling because we have been saved (or regenerated).”

Surely such confusion and error is a symptom of today’s “Youtube generation” and an evangelical community not grounded in the scriptures. Scanning through S. Lewis Johnson sermons on the topic of regeneration and the post-Pentecost indwelling of the Holy Spirit, for instance, I find that he stated, casually in passing reference: Now the Old Testament says that believers were regenerated, and so we have to answer, “Yes the Old Testament says believers were regenerated.” “Were the Old Testament believers indwelt by the Holy Spirit permanently?” Now personally I have to reply, “No.”  But he didn’t go through the OT scriptures to prove it, just assuming that everyone understood this.  John MacArthur likewise makes passing reference to this as a fact, as in his two part lesson about the salvation of infants that die: there are only two places a soul can go when it dies, either into the presence of the Lord (heaven) or away from God’s presence (hell).

So much could be said in response to this error/myth, but for a summary of the obvious hermeneutical and doctrinal problems here:

1) Does anyone else (among the scholars and Bible teachers) teach this idea?  The “checking principle” of hermeneutics demands humility on the part of anyone teaching a unique interpretation, that perhaps his interpretation is wrong.  Actually, it turns out that this idea (OT saints went to some holding area) is a “fictitious and fabulous” error of the papists, denounced later by Protestants such as (18th century) John Gill (Spurgeon’s predecessor, covenantal premillennialist and high Calvinist) (reference his commentary here).  Which makes one wonder why any 21st century Protestant Calvinist would teach an error from the Catholics of old.

2) Excessive focus on a parable and drawing strong doctrinal support from such a text.  Also this approach to God’s word ignores the whole body of teaching concerning the history of redemption and the nature of salvation and regeneration as taught throughout the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments.

3) Teaches the idea of purgatory, a non-biblical idea, and a non-biblical different “truth” for Old Testament times: a third place for the soul/spirit to go, rather than the two places of biblical Christianity (into the presence of God or away from God), this third place of limbo, a holding area or purgatory for all people who died before Calvary.

Expanding on point two above, the body of teaching concerning redemption, salvation and regeneration, S. Lewis Johnson in this message explains the logical necessity of regeneration:

regeneration is needed for three reasons. First, because of the condition of humanity, we are naturally dead. We are alienated and enemies. We are blind. We are hardened. We are slaves of sin. We are ignorant. The Bible says that if we have not been born again, that we are really of the devil, and so that the condition of humanity is sufficient to make very plain to us, the necessity of regeneration if we expect to enjoy the presence of God some day.

Regeneration is also needed because of the character of holiness; that sin separates us from a holy God, and because God is a holy God, he cannot have fellowship with sin, and we are dead in sin. And so the holiness of God separates us from him, and we need regeneration, a new birth. We need to become a new creation. And finally, regeneration is needed because of the character of heaven itself. In the Bible, we are told in the Book of Revelation that “there shall not enter into heaven anything that defileth.” Heaven is not like earth, and consequently, if we are to enter into heaven, we must be pure. Therefore, we need a new birth. We cannot enter into heaven, dead in sin. We cannot enter into heaven the slaves of sin. We cannot enter into heaven in any way touched by sin. What we need is a perfect righteousness and a perfect holiness, and that can only come to us through a new birth, and a consequent justification of life.

That believers before the Cross were regenerated and not the same as natural man is obvious.  Jesus’ words to Nicodemus make clear that to be born-again was a present reality, and something that Nicodemus, as a teacher, was expected to have known. If no one was regenerated with a new heart before the Cross/Pentecost, Nicodemus would have had a very good excuse for not knowing this.  That Nicodemus should have known this also makes clear that the Old Testament taught the same as the New, that believers of all times were given a new heart and that they went to be with the Lord at their death, same as with us in the Church age.  God’s word is also quite clear on where Enoch and Elijah went, that they were raptured and taken into the presence of God (heaven); to say they went instead to some other “holding place” until Christ’s death is unscriptural and ridiculous.

Matthew 16:17 tells us that flesh and blood had not revealed to Peter his understanding (that Jesus was the Christ), “but my Father who is in heaven. Throughout the Old Testament God chose and elected His leaders and prophets.  Daniel was one beloved by the Lord (Daniel 10:19).  Numbers 11:29 and Deuteronomy 29:4 point out that God did put His spirit on some individuals. The Deuteronomy text points out to the unbelieving people that “the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear,” which in context is a clear contrast between the great numbers of unbelievers and the relative few including Moses, Joshua and Caleb, who had been given a heart to understand.

Spiritual Children: Wanting Their Pets In Heaven

August 10, 2012 3 comments

As a follow-up to this recent post, I recently encountered an example of childish Christian thinking: Christian “defenders of the faith” who are interested in doctrinal topics and what’s true and not (as contrasted with the nominal church-goers interested more in secular life) yet who became quite upset at the suggestion that their pets won’t be in heaven with them.  Instead, they insist that the Bible is silent on the matter and so they hold out the hope of seeing their puppies and other pets again in heaven.

This could be addressed from several angles, a few of which I’ll mention here.  First, this attitude – reviling those who pointed out the truth, that animals do not have the spiritual component that humans do – reflects our overall conception of heaven and eternity, and the similar differences between our own childhood and adulthood, as for instance 1 Corinthians 13:11.  Nathan Busenitz gave a great illustration of this, in the comments at this blog post about heaven:

Several years ago, my wife and I were talking to our young daughter about the fact that one day she would grow up and go to college. (It was just a passing topic of conversation; not a serious discussion, seeing as she was probably only six or seven years old at the time.) Though she was initially excited about growing up, our daughter was very disappointed when she learned that she wouldn’t be able to take her toys with her to college. We tried to reassure her that, when it came time to go, she wouldn’t care about her toys. But she just didn’t understand.

Her response illustrates the way that we sometimes think about heaven. The reality is that, once we arrive in the new earth, we won’t long for anything else. We will be perfectly satisfied with all that God provides for us there (starting with intimate fellowship with Him).

As good Bible teachers exhort us, we are to grow up spiritually; we are not to remain children or remain the “weaker brother.” It is disappointing to see such an attitude, and such opposition to the truth, from those who have been professing Christians for many years and who ought to have matured at least this far, to understand and accept the situation regarding humans and their pets.

This ought to be something understood even from natural revelation.  If animals had the spiritual component and were made in the image of God (reference Genesis 1:26-27), they would have a sense of spiritual things. Why is it that everywhere in the world man is so very religious, that even pagan men who have never heard the gospel message are bowing down and worshiping something greater than themselves? Yet has anyone ever seen a dog look up in worshipful attitude? Or seen a dog kneeling down in worship to some object it sees as god, or seen a dog praying? Has anyone seen a cow looking up and gazing at the sky and contemplating its purpose and meaning in life — instead of looking down at the grass and its next meal?

Yet scripture is not silent on the matter.  Genesis 1 does explain that man is different than the animals, that while animals have a soul (a “ruach,” the Hebrew word for “breath” or “life” in the sense of the physical life force in all living creatures), yet man alone was created in the image of God.  Genesis 9 further reveals that mankind can kill and eat of any of the animals, something repeated in Acts 10:9-14.  Yet God puts a special rule in place for mankind, that ““Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” (Genesis 9:6).  If animals had the same spiritual component as man, why this distinction made, that it’s okay to kill and eat all other animals, but not to kill man?  Only in the works of fiction, such as C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series, do we see talking animals.  And indeed we also see there the difference, as in the “talking stag” incident in The Silver Chair where the characters, in the company of man-eating giants, realize that they have been eating a talking animal, and realize the seriousness of such an offense.

An excerpt from S. Lewis Johnson concerning how man is made in the image of God:

Looked at from the outward side, how is man in the image of God?  He stands upright, not like the animals.  They crawl around or they move on their four legs, on all fours, but man stands upright.  Furthermore, he gazes off and because of the sphericity of the globe, he always looks at the heavens and so his appearance is of a person who stands upright and he always looks toward heaven.

Furthermore, man is able to display emotions on his face.  Now, I know you think your own pet animal laughs and cries, but it is man who particularly has the expressions that reflect the inmost being.  It is man who blushes, an animal does not blush.  And most of all, it is man who talks.  Now if we were looking only at the outward side of things, we would say in these respects man has been created in the image of God.

A final note:  a common argument brought forth, supposedly in support of pets being with us and in eternity, is what the Bible says regarding the Kingdom era about the presence of animals.  Yes, the Bible speaks of the regeneration of the earth (reference Romans 8:19-21), and other passages such as Isaiah 65 mention animals.  But that does not mean that those animals are the resurrected / regenerated pets from this age.  Scripture nowhere says that the animals which are part of the creation are the same animals from this age, and the normal grammatical reading of the Bible would never even suggest that idea.

Will More People Be Saved Than Lost?

May 25, 2012 26 comments

In the “About Me” comments section a while ago, a reader mentioned hearing a statement from S. Lewis Johnson that seemed odd to him (that more people will be in heaven than not).  I had not yet come across that particular comment from SLJ before, but referenced something from a Spurgeon sermon as a good answer, noting that SLJ often referenced Spurgeon.

Going through SLJ’s Romans series, I have now come across (at least one place) where S. Lewis Johnson expressed that idea: in the exposition of Romans 11:15.

Sometimes — because we preach the sovereign grace of God and the fact that He is not frustrated in accomplishing his purposes, He always does his will — people get the impression that what He is saying is, talking about the elect, that there are just going to be a few people in heaven.  We know all those stories that men talk about, the few people in heaven.  The apostle did not have such a doctrine.  He preached that the sovereign grace of God was directed toward a definite group of people; but that group of people shall be ultimately so numerous that you cannot number them.  Our great God of sovereign grace has included a multitude which no man can number of every kindred, tribe, tongue, and nation.  It may well be that there shall be far more people saved than are lost.  Even though in the present day, God’s company, as our Lord said in his day, was relatively a little flock.  But God’s great purposes encompass the reconciliation of the world, such a thing as life from the dead.

Spurgeon gives more detailed commentary, but as SLJ indicates, Romans 11:15 also suggests the  wonder of God’s great redemptive purposes: “For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?”

Here is Spurgeon’s observation  (“Law and Grace,” #37, delivered August 26, 1855):

Grace excels sin in the numbers it brings beneath its sway. It is my firm belief that the number of the saved will be far greater than that of the damned. It is written that in all things Jesus shall have the pre-eminence. And why is this to be left out? Can we think that Satan will have more followers than Jesus? Oh, no! For while it is written that the redeemed are a number that no man can number, it is not recorded that the lost are beyond numeration! True, we know that the visible elect are always a remnant, but then there are others to be added. Think for a moment of the army of infant souls who are now in Heaven. These all fell in Adam, but being all elect, were all redeemed and all regenerated and were privileged to fly straight from the mother’s breasts to Glory! Happy lot, which we who are spared, might well envy!  Nor let it be forgotten that the multitudes of converts in the millennial age will very much turn the scale. For then the world will be exceedingly populous and a thousand years of a reign of Grace might easily suffice to overcome the majority accumulated by sin during 6,000 years of its tyranny. In that peaceful period, when all shall know Him, from the least even unto the greatest, the sons of God shall fly as doves to their windows and the Redeemer’s family shall be exceedingly multiplied!

What though those who have been deluded by superstition and destroyed by lust must be counted by thousands—Grace has still the pre-eminence. Saul has slain his thousands, but David his ten thousands. We admit that the number of the damned will be immense, but we do think that the two states of infancy and millennial glory will furnish so great a reserve of saints that Christ shall win the day. The procession of the lost may be long—there must be thousands and thousands of thousands—of those who have perished. But the greater procession of the King of kings shall be composed of larger hosts than even these. “Where sin abounded, Grace did much more abound.” The trophies of Free Grace will be far more than the trophies of sin!

Nations in the Eternal State: The New Creation Model

May 2, 2012 3 comments

From Vlach’s “Has the Church Replaced Israel?” (see my review here), chapter 15 brings out some further thoughts concerning the biblical understanding of the Eternal State and God’s purpose for nations.

Last year I blogged (this post) about the New Creation model of eternity, as contrasted with the Spiritual Vision model which has dominated the Christian church, after reading Vlach’s blog series (see the last one, part 7 here). The Christoplatonism that Randy Alcorn describes has come about from the Greek philosophical influences upon Christianity during the Augustinian era (4th and 5th centuries A.D.), along with other negative effects of allegory on the Christian church.  Yet a closer look at the Bible’s descriptions of the Eternal state, especially in Revelation 21-22, show a very different concept of eternity:  a world with nations and kings, people traveling in and out of gates, and engaging in activities similar to our present experience.

When I first studied premillennialism, I recognized the idea of nations during the 1000 year millennial kingdom.  Now I see more clearly, from what is said in God’s word, that the role of nations (as well as the concept of time) extends beyond that period, into the New Heavens and New Earth.  For one thing, the Abrahamic covenant promises dealing with the land do not stipulate a time limitation (i.e., 1000 years), but “forever.”  Reference Genesis 13:15, Genesis 17:8, and 48:4.

If the land promise is “forever,” that suggests that the people the promise (a group of people, a nation) is made to will also exist forever, which goes beyond phase 1 of the Millennial Kingdom.

Revelation 21 and 22, along with parallel statements in Isaiah 60, specifically mention the nations and their rulers.

  •  Revelation 21:24-26:   By its lightwill the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, andits gates will never be shut by day-andthere will be no night there.  They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.
  • Revelation 22:2:  The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

Isaiah 60 verses 5 and 11 speak of the nations coming and bringing their wealth, and the gates being open, and “their kings led in procession.”  Isaiah 60 may refer to the Millennial Kingdom, but not exclusively, and the parallel to Revelation 21 certainly suggests that the Eternal State, New Heavens and New Earth, is also in mind.

Many other texts throughout the Bible speak of nations:  the Psalms often speak of the nations giving praise (which has never been the case in this world).  God has used nations to deal out his vengeance upon erring Israel, and also punished nations by supernatural action.  Isaiah 19 describes “in that day” the existence of three nations that will be blessed: Israel, Egypt and Assyria.

Chapter 15 of Vlach’s book addresses in more detail the issues mentioned above – the New Creation model and what the scriptures have to say about the nations — and then takes the matter to its next logical step.  If nations exist in eternity, and people in the New Earth have identity with nations, then why not have Israel as a nation as well?  The biblical case for nations, both in the Millennial Kingdom as well as in the New Creation Eternal State, is abundantly clear, so why would God’s purposes for the nations exclude the nation Israel?

Time and Eternity: Time is No More, Or Never-Ending Time?

May 31, 2011 3 comments

Michael Vlach has recently done an interesting series on the topic of heaven and the eternal state, contrasting the predominant Christian “Spiritual Vision” model — and its accompanying Christoplatonism introduced by allegorizers including Augustine — with the earlier biblical “New Creation” model.  Vlach cites Randy Alcorn’s book “Heaven,” as well as Craig Blaising (the New Creation model), and also points out some interesting scripture concerning the eternal state.  See “Models of Eschatology Part 6: Answering Questions About the New Creation Model (2)”, which points out the contrasting ideas people have concerning the after-life, and why the New Creation model is important.

One intriguing idea is the notion of timeless eternity, versus everlasting, non-ending time, and here Vlach points to the New Creation model and the description of nations during the Eternal State (Rev. 21-Rev. 22).  Further, Revelation 22:2 talks about the tree of life, “with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month,” which also suggests a time-bounded existence.  Everlasting life involves time that never ends — but not the cessation of time, of existence outside of the dimension of time.

As Vlach noted, very little has been written by Bible scholars concerning the eternal state: a great deal has been said concerning the Kingdom of God, but not about Revelation chapter 21, the Eternal State.  Indeed, in my brief perusal of available commentaries online (including modules available for my Bible software The Word), I found very little said about Rev. 22:2 or the eternal state.  Yet from this I have learned that many have taught the idea of a timeless existence in eternity, as noted in John Gill’s commentary (see his notes concerning Rev. 10:6).  Often the commentators are silent concerning the mention of the trees yielding fruit each month; if mentioned, it is understood only symbolically.  One commentator took it more literally and thus concluded that Rev. 22:1-7 must be talking about the millennial kingdom rather than the eternal state.

Reasoning from this popular “time is no more” idea, John MacArthur even provided “scientific” support:

Now let me talk about that for a moment from the scientific side so that you can see the rationality of this. Peter tells us that the elements will be dissolved. Now remember, the Kingdom has ended and that is the end of time. We are now on the brink of eternity when there will be, according to chapter 21 verse 1, a new heaven and a new earth because the first heaven and the first earth passed away and there’s no longer any sea. And then we enter into the eternal state, time is no more. The thousand-year Millennial Kingdom is the end of time. And the elements will dissolve.

When God closes the book on time the universe as we know it has to come to an end. You say, “Why is that true?” Time and creation began together because scientifically you cannot have creation without time. You say, “What do you mean by that?” Let’s go back to Peter’s word “elements.” Peter uses a term in the Greek that means the basic units. The basic parts of matter. Elements refer to the basic components of creation, matter. And do you know what matter is? If you have a scientific background you know this, let me give it you simply…matter is particles in motion. Most of what you see is space. It’s hard to believe that, even harder if you try to go through it. It looks solid. But it is not. Matter is particles in controlled motion. You learned that way back in your science classes somewhere.

Listen carefully, science says motion requires time because if something moves from one place to the another there has to be time. It’s here and it’s there and the fact that it was here and there demands the passage of time, even it’s only a fraction. You cannot have matter unless you have time because you can’t have motion unless something can move from one place to another, and it can’t move from one place to another unless there’s a passage of time. No time, no motion…no motion, no matter…no matter, no elements…no elements, no creation.

Again, though, what does scripture say?  It describes nations, the tree of life and a river, and fruit coming forth each month — all of which involve motion and matter.  Additional evidence (though indirect) comes from the dispensational understanding of the restoration of everything to the Edenic covenant, to bring to completion God’s purposes: a restoration of Edenic conditions, yet a continuing state such as Adam would have had, if he had passed the test in the Edenic covenant.  Certainly the descriptions given in Revelation 21-22, as well as in Ezekiel 47-48, agree with the original description of the garden of Eden in Genesis.  Adam and Eve were not then in a timeless eternity but very much existing in time and space.

Along with Randy Alcorn, Craig Blaising, and Michael Vlach, S. Lewis Johnson is another who held to the idea of “endless time” as mentioned in reference to Revelation 10:6, where in passing he observed that “As a matter of fact, there is a question about whether we can actually say that there is no time in eternity; rather endless time might be a much better way to speak of eternity.”  Certainly that would also agree with his teaching concerning the Edenic covenant and God’s Divine Purpose.

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.

Heaven: Spiritual Vision or New Creation

May 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Michael Vlach’s recent blogs have articulated something I had sensed but was unable to define and put into words.  At the local church (and probably common at many churches), heaven is mentioned infrequently and in a somewhat-detached way:  we want to live out our lives here and go to heaven when we die, yet with no joy of the anticipation of our blessed Hope that Christ will return and bring us to Him (ref. John 14:3 and 1 Thess. 4).  The topic of heaven comes up (as recently), only when a few members of the congregation are afflicted with cancer and facing physical difficulties ahead.  We hear platitudes about how we must endure, that God be glorified in the lives of those afflicted with cancer, and talk about ultimately going to a place of peace and rest.  Yet throughout I get the distinct impression that they really would prefer living here as long as possible, that they are not really longing for heaven–only that the idea has been thrust upon them due to physical distress.  No mention is made of the resurrection and our physical bodies, but only of “heaven” — by which they mean the biblical place of paradise (our intermediate state, before the Second Coming and the resurrection).

Listening to such a seemingly disinterested perception of heaven, I am reminded of Barry Horner’s observation concerning the heavenly city Jerusalem.  Contrary to what the standard Reformed amillennialist thinks about Hebrews 11:10, nothing in that text states or implies that the “real” land of promise is only a spiritual name for heaven, or that the city Abraham was looking forward to is confined to a non-physical location up in heaven.  Rather, Abraham desired the place where God was — and such is not to be confined to a non-material place.  The real point is to be in the presence of God: and that can be here on the renovated Earth during the kingdom, or on the new Earth (Revelation 21), just as easily as in present-day heaven.

At Vlach’s site, two recent postings about “Models of Eschatology” have defined the two ideas regarding heaven:  the “Spiritual Vision” model  and the “New Creation” model.  The “Spiritual Vision” model describes the inherent philosophy and thinking behind such disinterested attitudes so commonly observed among church-goers:

The spiritual vision model was inherently linked to allegorical and spiritual methods of interpretation that were opposed to literal interpretation based on historical-grammatical contexts. Blaising also notes that the spiritual vision model “was intimately connected with practices of ‘spiritual interpretation’ that were openly acknowledged to be contrary to the literal meaning of the words being interpreted.”  “The long term practice of reading Scripture in this way so conditioned the Christian mind that by the late Middle Ages, the spiritual vision model had become an accepted fact of the Christian worldview.”

By contrast, the “New Creation” model describes the biblical view of heaven — that which Barry Horner has referred to as “spiritual materiality.”  This model “emphasizes the physical, social, political, and geographical aspects of eternal life. It emphasizes a coming new earth, the renewal of life on this new earth, bodily resurrection, and social and political interactions among the redeemed.”

This approach follows the language of passages like Isaiah 25, 65, 66; Revelation 21; and Romans 8 which speak of a regenerated earth. A new creation model emphasizes the future relevance of matters such as renewal of the world and universe, nations, kings, economics, agriculture, and social-political issues. In sum, a new creation model operates on the belief that life in the future kingdom of God is largely similar to God’s purposes for the creation before the fall of Adam, which certainly involved more than just a spiritual element. Thus, the final Heaven is not an ethereal spiritual presence in the sky. As Russell D. Moore points out, “The point of the gospel is not that we would go to heaven when we die. Instead, it is that heaven will come down, transforming and renewing the earth and the entire universe.”

Little wonder that so many church-goers are more focused on this life and enjoying it, when their notions of the after-life are associated with a very non-physical “spiritual presence in the sky.”  Certainly we cannot understand very much about heaven, thinking from our limited mortal understanding, but the “new creation” model — the view expressed in so many great scripture passages about the future kingdom and eternal state — gives us a few glimpses into wonders far greater than anything we can imagine, especially imaginations limited to non-physical Platonic ideas.