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‘Sheep without a Shepherd’ and the Old Testament Mediatorial Kingdom

December 6, 2013 Leave a comment

From my daily genre Bible reading, including recent readings in Ezekiel and Numbers, the following observation.  Ezekiel 34 is a well-known text on the subject of the shepherd and the sheep, and the wicked shepherds who did not take care of the sheep; Jesus in John 10 expands on and identifies with this figure as well.   But in also reading through the Pentateuch, comes an interesting “first mention” of the idea of sheep without a shepherd.  Sheep and shepherds are of course introduced generally in Genesis, with Jacob meeting Rachel – and the subsequent chapters of Jacob’s contribution to Genesis.  But Numbers 27:16-17  contains the first mention of the idea of a people needing a shepherd to lead them so that they be not “as sheep that have no shepherd.”

The scene is near the end of Moses’ life, and Moses’ request for someone to succeed him in leading the people that now are a nation – and the request is granted, in Moses’ assistant Joshua. Here I am also reminded of the kingdom concept as brought out in Alva McClain’s “Greatness of the Kingdom,” including his point that the mediatorial kingdom began in history under Moses.  We often think of the Old Testament kingdom as specifically that established under the monarchy (King Saul, then David and Solomon), but the concept began in history with the Exodus from Egypt, the covenant nation established before God,  with God as their king and Moses their leader.  Numbers 27 brings this out, in this first reference to this concept, in the matter of leadership succession within this mediatorial kingdom.

The idea of “sheep without a shepherd” does not appear in the scriptures again until several hundred years later, during the divided kingdom and the early prophets: first in the account of Micaiah’s prophecy of Ahab’s destruction (1 Kings 22:17 and 2 Chronicles 18:16):  I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd.”  Judgment is in view here, that the king (Ahab) is destroyed, and the people are without a leader.  The next time the concept is mentioned is the later prophets associated with the Babylonian exile, the end of the mediatorial kingdom in Old Testament history:  Jeremiah 23:1 and 50:6, followed by this as the topic of Ezekiel 34.  How fitting it is, and brought together in the daily genre reading of different sections of the Bible, to see this unity and overall theme seen throughout the Bible including Old Testament history and prophecy:  the concept of sheep without a shepherd introduced near the beginning of that mediatorial kingdom, then at two points of judgment, earlier in the decline (the time of Ahab) and again at the end of that era of Israel’s mediatorial kingdom, just before the “times of the Gentiles” began.

Classic Premillennialism And Progressive Dispensationalism

October 29, 2013 1 comment

In my continuing study of different variations of premillennialism, I often come across the idea of neatly “categorizing” particular beliefs as being unique to “dispensational premillennialism” and completely different from the historic premillennial view.  For instance:  “historic premillennialism means Covenant Theology;” or specific beliefs (such as the view concerning Ezekiel’s Temple having literal animal sacrifices) are only held by dispensationalists.  Regarding the latter, I note that not even all “classic dispensationalists” believed in the future literal sacrifices, as evidenced by the “secondary explanation” in the Scofield Bible, and which H.A. Ironside held to; that issue is determined by the literal grammatical hermeneutic and not by a “system” of “dispensationalism.”  Also, not all historic premillennialists held to Covenant Theology – and certainly not to the spiritualizing/allegorizing hermeneutic commonly associated with non-premillennial Covenant/Reformed Theology.

As one person recently observed, historic premillennialism and progressive dispensationalism have much in common.  Indeed, a recently stated broad definition, six essentials of “dispensationalism” actually represents the historic premillennial position and is not unique to “dispensationalism”:

1. Progressive revelation from the New Testament does not interpret or reinterpret Old Testament passages in a way that changes or cancels the original meaning of the Old Testament writers as determined by historical – grammatical hermeneutics.

2. Types exist but national Israel is not a type that is superseded by the church.  Dispensationalists acknowledge types in which certain OT persons, things, and institutions prefigure greater realities in the NT. But Israel is not a type that is swallowed up the NT church

3. Israel and the church are distinct, thus, the church cannot be identified as the new or true Israel.  All dispensationalists reject a “replacement theology” or “supersessionism” in which the New Testament church is viewed as the replacement or fulfillment of the nation Israel as the people of God.

4. There is both spiritual unity in salvation between Jews and Gentiles and a future role for Israel as a nation.

5.  The nation Israel will be both saved and restored with a unique identity and function in a future millennial kingdom upon the earth.

6. There are multiple senses of “seed” or “descendants” of Abraham,” thus, the church’s identification as “seed of Abraham” does not cancel God’s promises to the believing Jewish “seed of Abraham.”

Note the following interesting example (by different types of premillennialists) regarding use of types and hermeneutics.  Progressive Dispensationalists, while generally keeping the pre-trib rapture (though de-emphasizing its importance), in another area attempt to move closer toward the Reformed/Covenantal approach:  reasoning that Christ is now presently reigning (in a spiritual sense) upon David’s throne – along with a future literal reign on David’s throne.  Yet classic premillennialists have always correctly understood this, seeing no need to change hermeneutics and “accommodate” the amillennial spiritualizing hermeneutic.  Note for instance J.C. Ryle (a covenantal premillennialist who believed in infant baptism), who yet had a very common-sense understanding and applied the example (type) of David in the wilderness on the run from King Saul, as a type of Christ in the present age:  He has the promise of the kingdom, but He has not yet received the crown and is not yet reigning upon that throne.

Also this, from classic premillennialist Benjamin Wills Newton (Thoughts on the Apocalypse) regarding the difference between the universal kingdom/throne of God and the future Davidic throne that Christ will rule upon in the future:

It is true indeed that Christ (for He is God, and one with the Father) is able to exercise, and does exercise, all the power of the throne on which He is now called to sit. It was His before He was incarnate, for ‘all things were created by Him,’ and ‘all things upheld by the word of His power.’ … He has all plenitude of power and almighty control; even as He himself said, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” But the power of the throne of God which He thus exercises, is carefully to be distinguished from the authority which, as soon as the appointed hour comes, He will receive from that throne, as the minister thereof; and which He will exercise, sitting on His own throne and on the throne of His father David. …. The nature of the power which Christ will formally assume when brought before the Ancient of days (see Dan. 7), is that kingly government of nations which, when taken from Israel and the throne of David, because of their sin, God delegated to the king of Babylon and to the Empires that were appointed to succeed him, till the time for the forgiveness of Israel should come. This power, as described in Psalm 72, Christ inherits as the true Solomon, Heir to the throne of David. … As yet Christ is still seated on the throne of the Father, “waiting.”   (emphasis in the original)

The Judgment by Fire in 2 Peter 3

September 16, 2013 2 comments

A recent topic has come up in my recent studies, both from S. Lewis Johnson’s 2 Peter series, and Robert D. Culver’s Daniel and the Latter Days.  Culver’s Appendix 1 “The Time and Extent of the Coming World Dissolution”  considers two issues in 2 Peter 3:1-10.  First, is Peter referring to what happens at Christ’s Return, or to what occurs at the end of the thousand year millennial era?  Second: the extent of the fire and destruction: complete annihilation of the Earth and a completely new Earth, or a renovation?

In the 2 Peter series Dr. Johnson shared reasons in support of the idea that the text is referring to Christ’s return, and in characteristic fashion also provided the reasons for it being after the 1000 years.  Culver treats this question (and the first answer) in more depth, referencing several of the same points.  For instance:

  1. The Old Testament prophets speak of a judgment by fire, that immediately precedes the beginning of the future Messianic kingdom.  (Joel 2:30-31; Malachi 3:1-3, 4:1)
  2. The Old Testament repeatedly states that disturbances in the material heavens, of a type identical with those described by Peter, shall transpire immediately before the establishment of the kingdom.  (Isaiah 34:4, 13:13, 51:6; Haggai 2:6-7; Joel 3:16)  Culver further notes the citation of Haggai 2:6-7 in Hebrews 12:26 – “yet once more” – not twice – “will I make to tremble not the earth only but also the heaven.”
  3. The New Testament writers likewise affirm a judgment of fire associated with the Second Advent.  (2 Thess. 1:7-8; Revelation 16:8-9)
  4. The coming kingdom shall occupy a regenerated earth from its beginning; therefore the purifying effects of this prophetic dissolution must be at the beginning, rather than at the close of the Millennium. (Isaiah 65:17-25, 66:22-24)
  5. The immediate context of 2 Peter 3:10 is the Second Coming itself, not something to take place 1000 years later.  Peter addresses the argument of the skeptics, “Where is the promise of His coming?” and speaks of Christ’s coming.
  6. A perpetual and continuous kingdom such as is repeatedly promised demands that no such destruction as is often urged be placed at the end of the Millennium to interrupt the continuity of that kingdom.  This is another good point from Culver’s book: the Kingdom of God is not limited to the first 1000 years. The first 1000 years is the period when Satan is bound before his final destruction, when fallen people in non-glorified bodies will be around, and the time between the two resurrections.  But the Kingdom itself continues into the Eternal State of Revelation 21.  Regarding the perpetuity of the kingdom, reference Luke 1:32-33; Daniel 7:18, 2:44, 7:14.
  7.  In 2 Peter 3, Christians are exhorted to godly living, based on this predicted dissolution, as though this is something they should expect to see if they live to the end of the present age – rather than it being something at least 1000 years away.  (Reference also the similar moral lesson in Mark 13:32-37; Matthew 24:42-51; and Luke 21:25-26 – the Olivet Discourse.)

The Nature and Extent of the Cosmic Changes

Culver is another of a few teachers who suggest a renovation of the Earth instead of annihilation and complete remaking of the earth.  Dr. Vlach has also addressed this issue at his blog, along with the related idea of the New Creation model.  S. Lewis Johnson in his Revelation series also referenced this idea:

He describes the makeup of the new creation in verse 1, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth:  for the first heaven and the first earth passed away; and there is no longer any sea.”  Not “another earth and another heaven,” but “a new earth and a new heaven.”  In fact, the adjective that he uses, the adjective “new” here, one of several adjectives for new, particularly one of the two primary ones is a word that means something like fresh, a fresh heavens and a fresh earth.  And the sense that one gets from it is that there is a correspondence between the new heavens and the new earth and the present heavens and the present earth.  But the new one is a fresh one, a correspondence that is suggested by other things in the word of God.

In my own regular Bible readings, when I come to 2 Peter 3 I have noticed also, that Peter makes comparison to the first judgment and change to the Earth, the flood:  “the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.”  Yet the actual Earth is the same as then, the same actual planet — with plenty of the scars, the evidences, of that great deluge and what great destruction happened then. Then the comparison to “the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire” suggests a parallel event: not annihilation but a remodeling, a renewal, of the same actual planet.

The Kingdom Offered at Christ’s First Coming

July 2, 2013 2 comments

Alva McClain’s “The Greatness of the Kingdom,” in chapter 23 (Christ’s Ministry in Preparation for the Interregnum) considers in some depth the question of Jesus’ offer of the Kingdom to Israel at His First Coming.  Addressing the controversy behind that idea, McClain well observes:

Those who cavil at the idea of an offer which is certain to be rejected, betray an ignorance, not only of Biblical history (cf. Isa 6:8-10 and Ezek 2:3-7), but also of the important place of the legal proffer in the realm of jurisprudence.  (p. 344)

Indeed this is one of those teachings with apparent contradictions. S. Lewis Johnson expressed the many questions and difficulties as he addressed his audience with these questions, interacting with the audience response (in this message): Was it really offered?  Was it foreknown that it would be rejected, this offer?  Was it foreordained that they should reject it?  Could Israel have responded at the first coming?

Or, as Dr. Johnson summarized it here:

Unfortunately, many people gained a great deal of credence among evangelicals by affirming that our Lord really offered a kingdom apart from a cross.  He never offered a kingdom apart from a cross, but He did offer a kingdom.  He offered the kingdom, however, through the cross.  It’s possible to make the other error, and that’s to say He never offered an earthly kingdom at all.  These are two errors, it seems to me, one on one extreme, the other, the other. He did offer a kingdom, but it was through the sufferings.

As an example of one of these two errors — in the first eschatology audio MP3 series I listened to a few years ago (a very lengthy one), the teacher rejected the idea that Jesus actually offered a kingdom, objecting to the Classic Dispensational (and Arminian) idea that “Jesus offered the kingdom to the Jews, and if they had accepted it He would have brought the kingdom then — but instead He had to switch to plan B.”  He noted one of the parables that taught the idea of a postponed kingdom, and the point that Jesus “even refused it when the people tried to push it.”

But the issue is more complex than that, as noted above.  As to the specific point that Jesus “refused it when the people tried to push it,” that is one of the very things McClain brings up.  Yes, in Jesus’ earlier ministry He refused it (John 6:15), but something changed at the Triumphal Entry: an occasion where the people did openly praise and refer to Him as king; the Pharisees noted what His followers were saying and objected to it, asking Jesus to silence them; and Jesus noted that if these were silent the very rocks would cry out.

From this chapter in McClain’s Greatness of the Kingdom, the following specific points show the genuine, official offer made to Israel, at the Triumphal Entry:

  1. The Journey to Jerusalem: the significance of that city as the royal city of the King
  2. The Preparation for His arrival – the nation was largely represented; 70 messengers sent ahead, taking time over a period of up to 5 months before the event.
  3. The Royal Entrance into Jerusalem.  On pages 347-348 McClain notes:  “It has been said by anti-millennial writers that the animal ridden by our Lord was intended to show humility and indicate that the Kingdom He came to found would accomplish its purposes by “peaceable” means and wholly without the use of force…. If Christ had wished merely to display His humility, He would not have ridden at all, for it would have been humbler to walk with the disciples.”

Regarding that Royal Entrance into Jerusalem:

  • Sending two disciples to a nearby village to get the colt of a donkey.  Matthew only quotes the first part of the full prophecy in Zech. 9:9-10.  If Matthew had believed in a ‘present Messianic reign’ ushered in by the first coming of the King, here would have been the time and place to cite in full the details of Zech. 9:9-10, but he says not a word about the wondrous things of verse 10.
  • Actions and praises of the people: awareness of the regal meaning of His entry into Jerusalem.
  • Deep significance in the very language with which the multitude expressed their joy, with references to the King of Israel, the son of David.
  • The very protest of the Pharisees against the acclamations of the multitude.  The Pharisees knew that previously our Lord had requested silence upon His disciples with reference to public acclamation of His regal claims and that He steadfastly resisted the popular movement to “make Him a king” (John 6:15)
  • The answer of Christ: a radically new junction has arrived in His career upon earth.  No longer is there any place for verbal silence. If these keep quiet, even the stones would cry out.
  • The moving lament of our Lord as He beheld the city, and the judgment He pronounced upon it, prove that a crisis-point is reached here in the history of Israel in relation to the Kingdom.
  • The acts of our Lord immediately following His entry into the city – cleansing of the temple, followed by other physical wonders.

Supersessionist Fascination with the Holy Land, and Israel’s Great Future

May 24, 2013 2 comments

Another true and timeless quote from Alva McClain’s “Greatness of the Kingdom” (p. 253):

some of the most incorrigible opponents of a millennial religious center in Jerusalem, at the same time have an untiring enthusiasm for “trips” to the Holy Land here and now.  Surely it is a great privilege to walk where the Son of God once lived, suffered, and died. If this be so, how much more wonderful it will be to go there when He is once more there in visible manifestation and glory.

In recent months I have observed this very phenomenon: a church pastor —  strong supersessionist (no future for Israel), Amillennial Preterist, old-earth creationist — who yet shows “untiring enthusiasm” in sharing pictures from his trip to the Holy Land last year.  Such interest has even resulted in a lengthy Sunday School series for the main adult Sunday School class, complete with slides, diagram drawings and general geography and archeology sessions, and such trivia as the size of Jerusalem (in acres) at various times in biblical history. (Among the trivia: Jerusalem was 44 acres in size in Jesus’ day.)  The lessons go into all the details in the biblical accounts of how the men in Hezekiah’s day affected the water supply, and other basic information that I tend to think of as appropriate for general, secular education.  Certainly geography and archeology of the Holy Land is of some interest, even to natural man, as something concrete and part of our natural world.  Yet where is the spiritual content of such a series, in light of the massive biblical revelation?

The biblical references in this series are basic and well-known to serious students of God’s word, but such a topical series comes across as disappointingly shallow.  Consider the great depth and riches of what God’s word has to say regarding Israel (past, present and future): the great biblical covenants (especially the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants), and (as especially brought out in Alva McClain’s great work) the beginnings and details of God’s Mediatorial Kingdom in Israel, in Old Testament History and Prophecy.  Then Israel’s apostasy and what that actually meant: not that the nation itself was completely cut-off and divorced from God, but that judgment fell on particular generations – and yet, as SLJ observed:

There are people who look at the Old Testament and say, ‘All fulfilled, of no real use to us today.’ That, the apostles would have been strongly against, for that was their Bible. And all that they taught they related to the Old Testament teaching. In fact, the epistle to the Romans is really nothing more than an Old Testament theology written in the light of the coming of Jesus Christ and the fulfillment of those promises in Him. The Jews have a future. Their place in the program of God in the present time is similar to that of a train which is passed onto a siding — the purpose of God has passed them by, not because they have no future but because they did not believe.

Also the prophecies regarding Israel’s present condition, such as the prophecies of Balaam, and especially of Hosea (Hosea 3:4-5):

For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.

Oh the great riches in God’s word concerning Israel past, present, and especially future in the kingdom of God upon the earth, as described in so many passages of scripture, the Old Testament prophecies as well as great references in the gospels and New Testament passages.  Yet, as Alva McClain observed over half a century ago (that which is still true) some professed believers rigorously oppose the idea of God having anything future to do with Israel, and yet they are content with and even have unending enthusiasm for trips to the Holy Land.  Many of us have never had opportunity to visit the physical sites of the Holy Land, and perhaps never will get that opportunity in this life, yet we can dig into the treasures of God’s word regarding the nation Israel, and God’s purposes for Israel and the Gentile nations in the future Kingdom of God upon the earth. Indeed, “how much more wonderful it will be to go there when He is once more there in visible manifestation and glory.”

Prophecy and Application: Principle (Alva McClain) In Practice (Spurgeon)

March 20, 2013 2 comments

From my recent readings — Alva McClain’s The Greatness of the Kingdom and sequential reading through Charles Spurgeon sermons — comes a rather interesting parallel: a stated principle from McClain, followed by a good example of that principle in the same day’s Spurgeon sermon reading.

In McClain’s chapter concerning “The Nature and Interpretation of Prophecy,” (p. 141), comes this great point:

just as in any proper interpretation of Old Testament history Joseph is always Joseph and not Christ, even so in prophecy Israel is always Israel and never the Church. This does not mean that the preacher may never take a prophecy concerning Israel and apply it to the Church.  But he should always know what he is talking about, and make certain that his hearers know, so that there can be no possible confusion between the history and its typical application, or between a prophecy and any so-called “typical interpretation.” (emphasis in original)

Next came Spurgeon sermon #399, “A Peal of Bells.”
I’m not sure that Spurgeon necessarily made application specifically to the Church, but clearly he made application to our everyday lives in this age (and a very good and convicting sermon, too).  But before expanding on his application in his textual style of preaching, Spurgeon first explained the primary meaning and focus of his text, Zechariah 14:20:

There are days yet to come for whose advent we may well be eager!  There is the day when Ephraim shall not envy Judah, nor Judah vex Ephraim—for all the Church of Christ shall be one in spirit. There is the day when the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. There is the day, too, when Israel shall be restored to its own land—when its country shall be called no more desolate, but Beulah; and no more forsaken, but Hephzibah shall its name be—for the Lord delights in it. There is specially the day of the Second Advent —that day of days for which I think all other days that went before were made, that day which shall be the summing up, the total of all ages—for the fullness of time shall come—and Christ, in the fullness of His Glory shall reign among the sons of men.

Yes, Spurgeon, as a covenantal premillennialist, described some things in different terms than I would use, such as the statement “for all the Church of Christ shall be one in spirit” at the end of the second sentence.  Still, though, he explained and expressed his understanding that these events are “days yet to come,” as contrasted with the now past events of the First Advent (in the sentences preceding the above quote).  The primary meaning and the application are thus both clearly presented.  Also I consider that if Spurgeon had immediately launched into his application part without first explaining the literal meaning of the passage, such approach would have greatly distracted me from appreciating the application, burdened with the though, “that’s not what the text is about.”

Spurgeon here further revealed his literal approach to the word of God, avoiding the time-compression error so well described by McClain a few pages earlier:

we shall find in Old Testament prophecy no absolutely continuous and unbroken chronology of the future.  The prophets often saw together on the screen of revelation certain events which in their fulfillment would be greatly separated by centuries of time. This characteristic, so strange to Western minds, was in perfect harmony with the Oriental mind which was not greatly concerned with continuous chronology.  And the Bible, humanly speaking, is an Oriental book.

The unyielding determination of numerous commentators to pour the events of Old Testament prophecy into a rigid mould of unbroken time, has led to disastrous results. … it has led directly to a scheme of interpretations which is the main foundation of highly erroneous eschatological systems.
(Concerning Isaiah 9:6-7):  now consider what happens if an unbroken mould of continuous time is clamped on the prophecy. Because the regal Child did not immediately take the literal throne of David to rule the world, it is argued that such a thing will never come to pass. And then, to preserve the assumption of unbroken time-sequence which cannot allow room for any literal fulfillment of the second part of the prophecy at some future time, the throne of David on earth is changed into the throne of God in heaven, and Messiah’s reign is reduced to the “influence of the Gospel or the rule of God in the “hearts of men.” (emphasis in original)

The Greatness of the Kingdom: Alva McClain’s Classic Work

March 6, 2013 5 comments

Greatness-of-the-KingdomI’m now reading through this often recommended book, Alva McClain’s “The Greatness of the Kingdom,” considered one of the best treatments concerning an oft-neglected topic: the kingdom of God as presented in the scriptures.

I still have a long way to go in reading this, but for now just sharing a few great quotes and observations. McClain looks at the mediatorial kingdom as presented in scripture, beginning with the Old Testament theocracy in the nation Israel, with chapters that consider the mediatorial kingdom in history, and the mediatorial kingdom in the prophets. The mediatorial kingdom actually began – not with the monarchy in Israel, kings Saul and then David, but much earlier – with the nation coming out of Egypt under Moses’ leadership. One interesting observation concerning the importance of Moses’ leadership and the mediatorial kingdom:

By no device of exegesis can the force of this great prophecy (Acts 3:19-23), considered in relation to its original context and sense, be watered down to fit the theory of a “kingdom of grace” existing only in the hearts of men. On this point the terrible fate of Korah and his followers, as a swift judgment upon the rebellion against Moses, stands as a clear testimony as to the meaning of the prophecy concerning the regal authority of that coming prophet who will be a greater than Moses.

A good introductory comment concerning our attitude toward the subject:

it should be held axiomatic that any conception of the Kingdom of God which rests in large part upon a certain interpretation of a single text or passage of the Bible must be regarded with deep suspicion. In this category are the systems built around such passages as, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21) or “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 16:19) …. The doctrine of the Kingdom should be determined by an inductive examination of ALL the Biblical material on the subject, and it should not have to stand or fall by the inclusion or exclusion of isolated passages.

Also, this note concerning proper meaning and use of the term “spiritual”:

It is high time that this perfectly good term (“spiritual”) should be rescued from the abuse it has suffered at the hands of theologians who, either consciously or otherwise, have been under the spell of Platonic philosophy. Wherever and whenever we find God establishing a direct and personal relationship between Himself and other personalities, whether as individuals or as a group, regardless of place or conditions, such a relationship must be regarded as basically *spiritual* in nature.

The Kingdom of God: The Central Theme of Scripture

March 13, 2012 6 comments

I’ve begun listening to a recent TMS lecture series (February 2012) concerning The Kingdom of God. According to the introductory message this series included six parts, of which the web page includes five: an introduction from Richard Mayhue, followed by great lessons from Bill Barrick, Keith Essex, Nathan Busenitz and Michael Vlach. The first two messages have already covered a lot of ground on this very large topic, the one unifying theme of the Bible.

The Bible is filled with the kingdom theme. The Old Testament is saturated: just looking at the “kingdom vocabulary” and the words “king” and “kingdom” and their variations, the Hebrew OT includes 3,154 references – and that doesn’t include the Aramaic portions in Daniel. Many other words also relate to the subject of the kingdom, as for instance judge, ruling, scepter, and palace. Many passages contain just a brief reference, as for instance Exodus 15:18, the last verse in the song of Moses. Other passages do not contain direct kingdom language, yet clearly refer to it, as for instance Psalm 118. About 30% of hymns in the average hymnbook are about the kingdom, which though generally from the erroneous amillennial/postmillennial view at least recognize the immense scope of the kingdom theme.

Over the last few centuries theologians have been quite interested in dividing the Bible into all its parts, examining and dissecting it. Yet that perspective, looking at the trees, loses sight of the overall picture of the forest. When we consider the broad overview of the Bible, what is its central theme? Keith Essex mentions several ideas set forth by theologians, concluding that the kingdom and salvation are the primary two, of which the kingdom is the primary one. He cites two reasons: the canonical order and the theological order of God’s word. The canonical order: The Revelation of the Kingdom both precedes (Genesis 1-2) and culminates (Revelation 21-22) after the teaching of sin and salvation. The theological order: salvation is a means to an end, not the end. We are saved for a purpose, to serve the Savior.

Dr. Mayhue suggests a simple three-point outline for a single sermon about the whole Bible:

  1. The Kingdom Before Sin (Genesis 1-2)
  2. The Kingdom During Sin (Genesis 3 – Revelation 20)
  3. The Kingdom After Sin (Revelation 21-22)

Bill Barrick’s message is especially good, and he further expands on the “mirror image” of scripture: The doctrine of First Things is repeated in inverse order in the doctrine of Last Things. As the earth began so it shall end. March forward from Genesis (OT history), and backward from Revelation (to begin of NT), and see the parallels.

A closer look at these parallels and reverse sequence of events:
Creation == > New Creation
Light ==> God’s Light (Rev. 22)
Man’s Rule (Gen. 1:21) ==> High King’s Rule
Curse of the Fall reversed

Antagonism from Satan:
Creation –> Satan’s freedom
Satan’s rebellion again, and confinement (before) the New Creation
Worldwide global flood judgment after the fall. In Revelation 6-19, global judgment again, before Satan’s defeat.
After global judgment: Old Testament — Babylon
Global judgment in Revelation: Babylon (Revelation 17-18) prior to the global judgment.

Of the first three messages, I’ve especially enjoyed Dr. Barrick’s, for his great delivery including many quote-worthy statements such as this section:

Vice-regents of God are literal, unfallen human beings living & residing on planet earth, possessing physical bodies, and living in a specific location, the garden of Eden. God’s initial mediatorial kingdom is earthly, it is physical, it is real, it is human. We must catch that concept. We read the Bible as though there was no literal Adam and Eve, we spiritualize everything to where we do away with everything physical and everything earthly, as though in the New Testament suddenly all this is transformed and we are to be only spiritually directed, spiritually minded, and there’s only spiritual reality, and the physical reality is just a means of getting where we’re going and that’s it.

That’s not the way scripture approaches it. God’s design was for there to be a literal, human, unfallen, earthly localized kingdom on this planet. And He will not have that program subordinated, skewed, changed, altered or denied. There will come a time when He will establish a new Eden on planet Earth, and place within it a Regent who is an unfallen human being in human form with a human body. And He will reign, and He will fulfill that intent, that God started in the garden of Eden.

To read the scriptures in any other way, is to read it as though there is no truth to God’s promise to restore that which has fallen, to glorify that which is now not glorified. It would be for God to admit defeat and say, ‘I just have to give up. I created man, I created this possibility of having a mediatorial kingdom on earth that’s real, that’s literal, that’s human, that’s localized, that’s earthly, and it failed because man disobeyed. My vice-regents disobeyed the king of kings and Lord of lords. Therefore I give up, the program is canceled. We’ll move on to plan B.’ God’s never had a plan B. It’s all plan A.

Biblical Covenants: The Davidic Covenant

July 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Through an interesting providence, both of my current MP3 sermon studies — one going through the life of David in 1st and 2nd Samuel, the other a doctrinal series “The Divine Purpose” — came to the same subject last week: the Davidic covenant. The “Lessons from the Life of David,” upon reaching 2 Samuel 7, begins a mini-series of four messages on the topic. The “Divine Purpose” series is in a section looking at the biblical covenants and commits two sessions specifically to the Davidic covenant, as an expansion of the Abrahamic covenant.

Some of the important points:
The Davidic covenant expands on the Abrahamic covenant, and the primary feature here is the kingdom — a king and a realm (subjects). The New Covenant, another outworking of the Abrahamic covenant, treats the matter of the seed. The Davidic covenant also promises the everlasting reign of David’s seed, and here the term seed is meant in the collective sense: David’s descendants on the throne, but ultimately the line ends as it comes into the Messiah.

In 2 Samuel 7:8, God promises that David “should be prince over my people Israel.” God reserves the title of King to Himself alone. Here I add an interesting note from recent reading through 1 Samuel 25 (list 6), that Abigail does indeed appear to know something about the future Davidic promises, with her words “a sure house” and, verse 30, that the Lord would appoint David prince over Israel: ” And when the Lord has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you and has appointed you prince over Israel”. Also from recent readings I noticed Psalm 145, and in verses 10-13 David also recognizes that it is God’s kingdom:

All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your saints shall bless you!
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power, to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.

The word “covenant” does not actually appear in 2 Samuel 7, but in 2 Samuel 23:5, David makes reference to the covenant: “For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure.”

The three key passages for the Davidic covenant are 2 Samuel 7, 1 Chronicles 17, and Psalm 89.  Johnson describes these passages as different types of lights that show different emphases:

  • 2 Samuel 7 — a floodlight, an overview
  • 1 Chronicles 17 — a spotlight
  • Psalm 89 — a searchlight

Psalm 89 has two key words: mercy (or “loving kindness”) and faithfulness. Psalm 89 was written by Ethan, whose name means perpetuity. SLJ made a passing reference without further explanation, that this psalm was written at the time when Rehoboam had been unfaithful. I don’t see this detail in the text, so this is one for further study, to look up in commentaries.

These two Davidic covenant series contain a great deal of overlap, though the David series spends more time (four sessions instead of two). Yet in both of these series SLJ uses the illustrations of different types of light — the floodlight, spotlight, and searchlight — and cites the same passages in reference to the Davidic covenant in prophecy, including Isaiah 7, 9 and 11. Both series also discuss the New Testament references to the Davidic covenant.

In closing, here are the references to the Davidic covenant in Isaiah. Both of these series are available, in transcript and audio files, at www.sljinstitute.net

Isaiah 7:13-14 — “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Isaiah 9:7 – Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.

Isaiah 11:1- 10, in which verses 1 and 10 mention “the stump of Jesse” and “the root of Jesse,” with descriptions of the kingdom age in between:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

and

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples-of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

Theology and Prayer

June 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Words have meaning, and they really do help us to understand God’s word and the things in it.  Bible study that recognizes this fundamental fact will go much further than surface-skimming and getting general ideas while mixing and matching different terms in a careless way.

Sometimes a passage’s meaning changes due to a single word in a sentence, as in this example brought out by Dan Phillips a few months ago:  did Jesus really sweat great drops of blood in the garden of Gethsemane, or was it sweat that was like great drops of blood?

As we all know, our prayers reflect the level of our understanding of God.  The language used in a general corporate prayer will reveal the difference between someone with clear understanding of different terms and their meanings, versus someone that skims the surface in a haphazard way, blurring distinctions and mismatching different biblical concepts.  Even differences of emphasis will show up:  the general prayer thought of the amillennialist/kingdom-now person will continually thank God for sending Jesus to the cross and let us never forget it; whereas the general prayer of a more biblical model will put more emphasis on the future hope we have, the desire for Jesus to return for us and to bring His kingdom to earth.

Church / Gospel, and Kingdom, are terms often confused; and so the typical Reformed, Sovereign Grace church will feature corporate prayers with words such as “help us to advance your kingdom in this world” or “advance your kingdom among us.”  But consider the clear teaching from the New Testament:  the kingdom will come when Christ returns and establishes it.  The words of our “Lord’s prayer” describe it thus:  “Your kingdom come” — future tense.  Several of Jesus’ parables talked about a future kingdom, and the king being gone a long time and what goes on during that time — and later the king does receive the kingdom.  Even at the cross, the dying thief asked Jesus to remember him “when you come into your kingdom” — again understanding that the kingdom is something that will occur in the future and is associated only with Jesus’ return.  As the book of Acts clearly points out, Jesus is now in heaven, remaining there “until the time comes for God to restore everything”  (Acts 3:21).  Never are we to pray that God help us to advance the kingdom in this world — because the kingdom is not here now, but is that which will come after Christ returns.

A proper, biblical way to pray during the church age, regarding what happens in this age, would include the request that God would bless our efforts, that He would work in our missionary and evangelistic spread of the gospel, that the gospel would go forth and do God’s will in calling His people to Himself, to save souls… but that is different from an unbiblical request of asking God to advance the kingdom (as though meaning the kingdom is the Church / gospel message in our age).  This does raise the question, at least for me: does God hear and respond to the prayers of professing believers, when they neglect proper study of God’s word and do not pray according to biblical understanding?  The only biblical answer I know is that God knows their hearts, and the Spirit does intercede and understand the true needs of the believer’s heart.

Another issue is the doctrinal emphasis given in prayers, and here I notice that corporate prayers in the reformed, Sovereign Grace church constantly give thanks for the crucifixion — thank you for sending Jesus to die for us, and help us always to remember it.  They stop there, with little or no thanks or prayers to God regarding the future hope and glories, or even any reference to Christ’s resurrection and our eternal life.

In my frequent Bible readings, lately I have noticed that the general praise and prayer in the NT epistles will sometimes mention the death and blood of our Lord — but they don’t stop there at His first coming and only thank God for the crucifixion.  Such praises and prayers continue past that, to emphasize over and over again our hope in Christ, for His future return.  It seems that in fact this is a greater emphasis in the general prayers. Both past and future are mentioned, but greater emphasis is put on the future.  Indeed, as so many Bible teachers have pointed out (including John MacArthur, S. Lewis Johnson, David Jeremiah, and J.C. Ryle), it is the prophetic word especially that has great effect on our ongoing sanctification, that which especially calls us to live godly lives — and it is that, our future inheritance, that the New Testament writers emphasized over and over again, for they knew this great truth as well.  For just a sampling of references:  1 Corinthians 1:4-8, 1 Thess. 5:23-24, 2 Thess. 1:6-12, Colossians 1:3-5, 12; Ephesians 1:9-10, 18; Philippians 1:6, 10; Titus 1:2, 1 Peter 1:3-4, 13.

S. Lewis Johnson expressed this point well:

Did you know that the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is mentioned over three hundred times in the New Testament?  Now there are three hundred and something chapters of the New Testament.  In other words, in every chapter proportionately in the New Testament, we have some reference to the second coming of the Lord Jesus.  There are some of the epistles who specifically have not just one but more than one reference to the second coming in those epistles.

We have the second coming mentioned three hundred and eighteen times.  We have baptism, or we have the doctrine of baptism. mentioned only nineteen times in seven epistles.  In other words, the Second Advent should have a great deal more emphasis in our Christian thought and life than the doctrine of water baptism.  Yet observe the importance that the churches attach to baptism.

We have entire denominations called Baptist churches.  We have large denominations calling themselves, Baptist churches. . . . Did you know that there are over 20 different kind of Baptists?  But now how many denominations do you know that are named the Lord’s coming denomination, or the Second Advent denomination?  We do have the Seventh Day Adventist, but then they mixed up the truth with error in their title:  The Seventh Day Adventist.  And did you know that we have Seventh Day Baptists?  We have a denomination of Baptists that call themselves Seventh Day Baptists.

Did you know that the Lord’s Supper is mentioned six times in the New Testament, but it is not in twenty of the twenty-one epistles of the New Testament.  Not mentioned, and there are some groups that make a great deal over the Lord’s Supper.

The second coming of the Lord Jesus ought to enlarge in our Christian thinking.  I have wondered if the church is not making the same mistake about the second coming that the Jews made about the first coming—not all the Jews, but some of the Jews.  They did not make very much of the suffering and the cross and the literality of the first coming texts.

The earliest Christians made a great deal after they learned the truth of the suffering, the cross and the second coming of the Lord Jesus, and it seems to me that today we may be possibly, possibly erring a little too much by making a whole lot over the first coming and sometimes de-emphasizing the reigning, the crown, the literality of the second coming of the Lord Jesus.

John MacArthur once explained the relationship between prayer and study of God’s word, pointing out this strong connection between our theology and our prayers.  How true it is:

I’ll tell you something that’s more important than prayer and that is the study of the Word. Because if you do not study the Word of God, you will not know how to pray because you will not know what is God’s will. The study of the Word is more important than prayer.  Someone told me this morning that an old saint of God said if he had to live his life all over again, he would pray less and study more because it would filter out needless prayers.