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Zephaniah: Summary of the Minor Prophets (James Boice)

August 31, 2020 Leave a comment

Among the minor prophets, Zephaniah seems to be a neglected and forgotten one in terms of commentaries and sermon series.  Indeed, S. Lewis Johnson’s series on the minor prophet books, which I listened to several years ago, included content for all of the minor prophets…. except Zephaniah.  Happily, the collection from James Montgomery Boice includes three lectures on Zephaniah, one for each chapter — a series apparently done right after Habakkuk, per the file number order, in the early 1980s.  As Boice mentioned, due to the strong theme of judgment in the minor prophets, he taught through the different minor prophets at different times, in between other Bible book series, for proper balance on the theme of judgment versus other more positive themes in scripture.  Still, a three set in-a-row of Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and then Zechariah, had enough balance and variety of themes.

Among the highlights from the Zephaniah study:  The timeline was early in Josiah’s reign, and it’s possible (and a nice idea) that Zephaniah was one of the prophecies used by God in Josiah’s revival a few years later.  This book is chronologically before Habakkuk, yet placed at the end of the first nine minor prophets — just after Habakkuk though before it in time, with the reason that Zephaniah serves as a summary of the first set of minor prophets, the nine pre-exilic books.  Zephaniah’s content is not at all original, but restates the major themes of the minor prophets: judgment upon the nation (Judah) including its leaders, judgment upon the surrounding nations, and then the wonderful message of redemption and hope.

Chapter 1 has the classic aspects of judgment: upon the priests, the nominal believers (with their syncretism), and outright apostates.  Here we see descriptions possibly exaggerated if in reference to Babylon, yet with reference to the final, future end-times judgment.  Zephaniah alludes to the Genesis flood, yet a situation far worse than it: total destruction, with no exceptions.

The next chapter employs a pattern similar to Amos 100 years before, with a geographic pattern to pronounce judgment upon the surrounding nations (without naming the specific sins) — though here with reference to Judah instead of to the northern kingdom of Israel.  Whereas Amos’ countries arranged in a circle, Zephaniah’s made a criss-cross double-X pattern back and forth, but both Amos and Zephaniah drive home the point by starting with the further-removed Gentile nations before coming closer and then hitting home, to the judgment upon Israel or Judah.  Zephaniah echoes the same idea as Amos 6:1, “woe to those who are at ease in Zion.”  The point brought home is quite applicable in our day; when the people of God as a group, like Judah in Zephaniah’s day, have become just like the ‘other nations,’ indistinguishable from the surrounding culture, and all incentives and warnings have been refused, what more can be done?  The only recourse left is judgment upon an evil generation.

Zephaniah, like the other prophets, follows the standard sequence:  news of judgment first, then the good news of deliverance and hope.  The third and final, great chapter, talks about the remnant and what characterizes them — reference Micah 6:8 and post-exilic Malachi 3:16 for a similar feature, the qualities of God’s people:  they call upon the Lord, their pride is broken, and they keep His commandments.  These are the ones who are to be joyful and sing, as we look to the future, which will bring a reversal of the Fall in the garden of Eden.

This was an interesting and helpful overview series on one of the lesser-known minor prophets, and I appreciate the studies available from Boice on so many of the prophetic books of the Old Testament.

Revelation, The Rapture, and James Montgomery Boice

June 25, 2020 3 comments

Continuing from the last post, which introduced Boice’s posthumous Revelation book (covering the first 6 chapters of Revelation) with a look at his comments on Revelation 1, I’m continuing through the later chapters (Revelation 2 through Revelation 6).  For this time, I’ll address a question/issue raised in the comments of my last post:  Boice’s pre-trib(?) eschatology.

I’m not aware of Boice’s teachings from earlier years, as to anything he said then regarding dispensationalism and the rapture.  As Donald Grey Barnhouse’s successor at Tenth Presbyterian Church, it’s likely that he at first continued with similar teachings.  As an interesting sidenote here, two great Calvinist Premillennial teachers of the mid-to-late 20th century were both directly influenced by Dr. Barnhouse:  S. Lewis Johnson and James M. Boice.

From the ‘next generation’ ministry, I’ve observed that SLJ retained more of Barnhouse’s dispensationalism, teaching at DTS in earlier years, and preaching at a Calvinist Dispensational Baptist church for many years (though in later years he moved away from some aspects of dispensationalism)—while studying Genesis on his own and changing his view to young earth, recent creation.  He appreciated his mentorship from Barnhouse, from whom he learned the Gap Theory Old Earth view–but respectfully disagreed and from scripture taught why the young earth view was true, rather than the Gap Theory.

James Boice, on the other hand, moved further away from dispensationalism, to the point of his very different teaching on the book of Revelation (more details below) – while retaining Barnhouse’s Gap Theory Old Earth teaching.  That is one area that I personally wish Boice would have reformed his view on, instead of continuing with the view he inherited from Barnhouse.  Yet even in this Revelation teaching from the last months of his life, Boice has over two pages (in Revelation 4) of commentary about astronomy with old-earth assumptions.  (As we all like to say about someone who has departed and now in heaven – Boice knows the truth now, as does S. Lewis Johnson in doctrinal ideas he was wrong about.)

Now to the chapter details regarding Boice on this topic, which reveal that Boice was not at all interested in teaching or promoting dispensational views, or even a pre-trib rapture.  For Revelation chapters 2 and 3, Boice’s commentary selections for quotes include G.K. Beale and John Stott.  In chapters 4 and 5 he quotes from William Hendricksen and G.E. Ladd.

Boice gives very little time to Rev. 3:10, not even mentioning the dispensational interpretation of this verse regarding the rapture.  By contrast, the late S. Lewis Johnson – in his later ministry years when he had moved away from dispensationalism, though still teaching at a dispensational church — taught two full messages,  providing both the “post-trib” and the “pre-trib” rapture arguments when he reached this text in his Revelation series (see this previous post).

The case is clearer in Boice’s commentary on Revelation 4:1, where he mentions and repudiates the dispensational view:

… the view of the dispensationalists, who see John’s being taken up into heaven as a picture of the supposed rapture of the church before the tribulation.  J.A. Seiss is quite dogmatic at this point, though not all dispensationalists are as certain as he is.  John Walvoord admits that the rapture is not explicitly taught in this passage, though he finds it represented as a type.  Why should dispensationalists see John’s being taken up into heaven in this light?

The obvious reason is that dispensationalists are committed to the idea of a rapture for other reasons, even before they get to Revelation, and this is the best place for them to insert it.  They interpreted the letters of chapters 2 and 3 as a preview of the history of the church and the judgements of chapters 6 through 16 as that final period of intense tribulation from which most of them believe the church will be delivered.  They argue that ‘after this’ means ‘after the church age.’

But there is no reason to interpret any of these words in that way.  John’s experience of being caught up to heaven is not the rapture of the saints—even assuming that there is such a thing as the rapture.

In Revelation 5, Boice presents five common views regarding the seven-sealed scroll in Rev. 5:1, himself preferring the fifth one – Ladd’s view that the scroll contains God’s total plan of judgment and redemption.  Here he shares Ladd’s description of this view.  The first view he mentions, that the scroll represents the “last will and testament of Christ,” may be the view favored by dispensationalism.  At any rate, both S. Lewis Johnson and John MacArthur, in their Revelation series, took this first view of the Roman last will and testament, expanding on the idea to include a contract.

I’m still reading, in the second half of Revelation 5, and overall very impressed with this publication: a lay-person reading, yet very thorough in exploring the lessons in the text.  Throughout, Boice brings out great truths:  the historical situation of the churches and their praise and rebukes from Christ; the attributes of God; theology of redemption and the atonement; God as the God of history; as well as worship and how we worship God through songs.  Seven Churches, Four Horsemen, One Lord: Lessons from the Apocalypse has all this and more, from the first 6 chapters of the book of Revelation.

Transgenderism, and Christian Resources

December 30, 2019 3 comments

Fred Butler at the Hip and Thigh blog recently shared a link to a set of recent messages from Don Green, done at his church on the topic of Transgenderism.  The full set of audio files as well as transcripts are available at this link.  It’s an informative set of seven lectures on this topic, dealing with worldview issues, scripture, and the medical news.

As several others have noted, the ‘next stage’ of cultural decline, transgenderism, has become prominent in the national news in just the last few years, accelerating quickly to the point where it’s even impacting women’s sports.  Another recent resource I’ve appreciated is the Mortification of Spin’s recent podcast on this issue.

Though transgenderism has come to the national level recently, as many probably realize it has been building up for many years.  Don Green’s first lecture notes the overall ‘macro level’ historic trends, from the enlightenment era through modernism and post-modernism.  At another point he mentions the people with signs about ‘break the binary’.  Reference also this previous post, from Dr. Peter Jones’ conference lectures (at the 2017 Quakertown Conference on Reformed Theology) on binary thinking versus paganism (and paganism’s connections to homosexuality and transgenderism).

I recall the late S. Lewis Johnson, in the early 1980s, commenting on what was then showing up in society, the early days of homosexuality being openly discussed.  He noted that many people (at that time) were saying that judgment must soon be coming because of this; no, he said, the fact that we’re seeing this—this itself IS the judgment.  Romans 1 describes the progression from bad to worse, and God’s removal of the restraints when people continue down this path.  Almost 40 years later, we are seeing the further downward spiral of the culture.

Related specifically to transgenderism, in the mid-1980s I saw the college Sociology textbooks that praised the then apparently successful “John/Joan” case of gender reassignment, a story that turned out quite differently from what was then being promoted; this link is one of several articles regarding the aftermath of that experiment, and the sad ending to that young man’s life.

The 2011 news story about the couple raising “Baby Storm” as a gender-neutral child (reference this article and this one) mentioned the couple’s inspiration for their parenting method– a book published in 1978 with that very theme of a child named “X” and how the child was raised without anyone knowing its gender (with a very positive ending to the story).  This brought back my elementary-school memories; a short-story version of what would later become that 1978 published book, was read to my 5th grade public school class in the mid-1970s.

I also came across a young cross-dresser, and one adult “transgendered woman” (born a man) in the late 1980s and early 1990s in the Denver area.  So, as noted, the transgender issue has been there for many decades now, gradually building, but now suddenly gaining great prominence in the national news.  It is sad to see the trend continue to the point it has, but it is good to see more resources becoming available, to address the issue from the Christian worldview.

Romans 7, Hermeneutics, and “Redemptive-Historical” Biblical Theology

November 25, 2019 3 comments

From my recent podcast listening, one episode at the Reformed Forum discussed a “Redemptive-Historical” view of Romans 7 as similar to the content in Galatians 2-4.  Apparently the idea comes from Herman Ridderbos’ writings in the 1960s; whereas the early church thought Romans 7 was describing the apostle Paul before conversion, and Augustine and the Reformers understand Romans 7 as the life of a believer struggling with sin (the view I hold to as well), this other approach takes to spiritualizing Romans 7 as actually about the experiences of Israel—from the time of Sinai and later.  An emphasis here is Romans 7:14, “the law is spiritual,” and that Romans 7 can be connected in its ideas and content with what Paul is saying in the letter to the Galatians.

The podcast gave an introduction to the idea, and the speaker noted that he was still studying and considering the idea.  At this point I would like to read a commentary on Romans, such as the one from Robert Haldane that I’ve had on my “reading to-do” list for a few years.  For now, though, just a few of my observations, for what it’s worth.

In Romans, Paul is talking about the moral law, which is a completely different context from Galatians.  That Romans is referencing the moral law is evident from Romans 7:7, a clear reference to the 10th commandment.  (The late S. Lewis Johnson also noted this – in a sermon from a decidedly dispensational view of the law —  that in Romans 7 Paul is talking about the moral law, as he recalled conversations in his student days at Dallas Seminary with a fellow student who had come to Dallas Seminary, that student having had a Reformed view of the law.)  In Galatians, Paul is clearly talking about the Mosaic law with is ceremonies and the “holiness code” specific to the people of Israel under Moses.  Here I also recall the importance of distinguishing the different meanings and contexts of “law” in our Bibles; see this previous post about seven different New Testament meanings and uses.

So, given the proper context of Romans (moral law), and Galatians (the ceremonial, Mosaic law), this spiritualized view of the text (“Redemptive Historical” rather than the literal—as in normal, plain language meaning) does not fit or make sense.  The apostle Paul in Romans 7 is not contrasting the condition of Israel before they had the law given at Sinai to what they had after Sinai.  In terms of the law that Israel had before Sinai, the Decalogue in its summary form was already understood by them; Exodus 16 comes before Exodus 20, and as Richard Barcellos well noted (in Getting the Garden Right) the descriptions in Exodus 16 about God being greatly vexed at the people in their failure to observe the procedures for collecting of the manna, do not make sense if the one day in seven Sabbath was a completely unknown concept before this point in time.  Yet in Romans 7 Paul is talking about the sin of coveting (the 10th commandment), and the section that includes verse 14, “the law is spiritual,” begins with verse 7, the law telling him “do not covet”– which grounds verse 14 (the law is spiritual) to the context of the moral law—and not the same meaning of law used in Galatians chapters 2 through 4.

Again, biblical interpretation comes back to hermeneutics, and in this case (as so many others), the literal-grammatical-historical hermeneutic (of normal, plain language use) provides the correct understanding of Romans 7, as over against a spiritualized, and novel approach.  That this particular interpretation, coming out of “biblical theology, redemptive-historical theology,” is a relatively new understanding from the 20th century, not a view held by the historic Christian church over the many previous centuries, is a further reason for caution regarding it.

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.”

S. Lewis Johnson on S.P. Tregelles: Revelation 1, “To Him Who Loves Us” (Present Tense)

August 8, 2014 6 comments

The Premillennial History series will continue next week, but a brief thought for today. I have just started S. Lewis Johnson’s “Revelation” series; here is an interesting story to share from the second message. Commenting on Revelation 1:5, the phrase where the apostle John says “To him who loves us” (“loveth” in the KJV), Dr. Johnson noted that this is the one New Testament text that describes God’s love for us in the present tense. We have plenty of verses that tell how God “loved” us (past tense), and good theology, but Revelation 1:5 has a present tense thought.

Not “loved us”, though that’s true. Paul says that in Galatians chapter 2 for example, “He loved us and gave Himself for us,” that’s perfectly all right. It’s good theology. He loved us in the cross of Christ, but “Unto him that loveth us,” that is, the love of Christ does not reach its culmination in the cross, but standing upon the cross, continues eternally for His own.

As S. Lewis Johnson related here, Samuel P. Tregelles (a 19th century classic premillennialist included in this list) was raised by Quakers (“the friends”) and thus never went to university, but later went on to become a strong Christian, self-taught, and learned the Greek language and worked for years on the Greek text of the New Testament. He actually edited a Greek New Testament in the 19th Century, which was highly regarded and still is recognized as a step along the way to the understanding of the textual history of our New Testament.

The great point of Tregelles’ study:

He said in all of his textual studies — and he devoted many, many hours to it — he said when he came to Revelation chapter 1 and verse 5 and read in what he considered the better of the Greek manuscripts, “Unto him that loveth us,” rather than, “Unto him that loved us,” as the Authorized Version had it, and realized that John probably wrote, “Unto him that loveth us.” And recognizing that this was the only place in the New Testament where this verb is used in the present tense of God’s love to us, “Unto him that loveth us,” continually, constantly, duratively, for that’s the sense of the tense. He said, “All of my studies on the text were worth it if I had only discovered this one thing, ‘Unto him that loveth us,’ not simply loved us, loveth us, continues to love us.”

The Apostle Paul, the Intermediate State, and the Resurrection

June 12, 2014 1 comment

Spurgeon once observed (I cannot recall the specific sermon, though somewhere during his first five years or so) that, given the choice between being among the dead who will be resurrected, or being alive and caught up, at Christ’s Second Advent, he would choose the former. His reasoning was in identification with Christ’s sufferings and the common experience of all men through the thousands of years, as contrasted with those still alive at Christ’s return – that they would not have had that same experience and identification with previous generations of believers who did experience corruption of this body and the disembodied state prior to the resurrection.

Yet a study through 2 Corinthians 5 (S. Lewis Johnson’s series) reveals something more basic, that most of us can surely relate to. Here the apostle Paul describes the intermediate state, and, consistent with his words elsewhere (1 Thessalonians 4, and 1 Corinthians 15), Paul understood the two alternatives available: to die and experience the intermediate state (unclothed), or the instant, in the twinkling of an eye experience of those who are caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Here Paul expresses his own personal desire, that if the Lord wills, he would prefer to meet the Lord at His Coming:

The apostle is a person who is afflicted with what someone has called world strangeness. And so he lives here, but he’s not really happy here ultimately. To him, to live is Christ, but to die is gain. But he wants to die in a certain way. He doesn’t want to be naked, as he says in the following verse, inasmuch as we having put it on shall not be found naked…. He wants to avoid the disembodied state. He doesn’t want to be a spirit or soul without a body. The intermediate state is just such a state. Those who have died as Christians and have gone on from our presence now are with the Lord, but they don’t have their bodies yet.

. . . modern theologians and our contemporary New Testament scholars like to say Paul has changed his views of his life expectancy. That’s possible. He may have become convinced that the experiences are such and he’s growing old…. so far as his theological doctrine, there is no evidence at all that he changed his eschatology. Those two alternatives were always before the apostle. He always set them forth. And all he does here is simply reveal his preference; his preference is the rapture, being caught up in the presence of the Lord, and not his physical death. Paul’s preference is mine as well. And I imagine it’s the preference of every believing person.

‘Christ is Awesome’? Remember the Father Who Sent Him

April 25, 2014 3 comments

It is common, especially in places of superficial and shallow teaching, to hear Christians focus on the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, in a way that neglects the more in-depth teaching of the whole counsel of God. For instance, recently at a local church someone proclaimed “Christ is Awesome!” — a great thought so far as it goes, but incomplete and limited in its perspective. I prefer instead the wording, as expressed in bumper stickers years ago, “God is Awesome” (reference the Rich Mullins song “Our God is an Awesome God”), which more accurately focuses attention on the Lord God, considering the work of the Triune God and God’s Divine Purpose.

S. Lewis Johnson, in his 1 John series, addressed this very point, that our gratitude should include not only Christ the Son, but also the Father who sent Him:

The Father sent the Son, so that the gratitude that we have — because we’ve come to know the Lord Jesus as Savior — is not a gratitude that should stop at Christ. It should go on, as our Lord taught us, to embrace the Father who sent the Son. In fact, the Lord Jesus says, that everything He did was done at the command and the will of the Father. The Lord Jesus acted for the Father. He carried out the Father’s will. And as far as going to the cross is concerned, it’s the Father who led Him to the cross. In other words, what I’m saying, my Christian friend, is that the Lord Jesus Christ is full of the love that the Father sent Him to carry out toward us. Never forget that.

 

The Tender Conscience and Assurance: J.C. Ryle and S. Lewis Johnson

March 25, 2014 5 comments

In going through S. Lewis Johnson’s 1 John series, here is a section I can especially relate to: study of one aspect of Christian living can lead the “tender conscience” to discouragement and doubting one’s salvation, if the teaching is not properly balanced. Indeed, the superficial teaching at a local church several years ago (including its approach to 1 John), with emphasis on external, outward religion and our good works as evidence of salvation, affected me in just this way. In-depth teaching is always the remedy for proper balance on this (and any) issue, and I still remember the impact to my understanding, when I first read similarly encouraging words a few years ago, in this excerpt from J.C. Ryle’s Holiness:

The only righteousness in which we can appear before God is the righteousness of another — even the perfect righteousness of our Substitute and Representative, Jesus Christ the Lord. His work, and not our work — is our only title to Heaven. … For all this, however, the Bible distinctly teaches that the holy actions of a sanctified man, although imperfect, are pleasing in the sight of God. “With such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Hebrews 13:16). “Obey your parents . . . for this is well pleasing unto the Lord” (Colossians 3:20). “We . . . do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:22). Let this never be forgotten, for it is a very comforting doctrine.
Just as a parent is pleased with the efforts of his little child to please him, though it be only by picking a daisy, or walking across a room — so is our Father in Heaven pleased with the poor performances of His believing children. He looks at the motive, principle and intention of their actions — and not merely at their quantity and quality. He regards them as members of His own dear Son, and for His sake, wherever there is a single eye — He is well pleased.

From Dr. Johnson’s 1 John series, a good analysis of the believer’s conscience, exposition of 1 John 2:12-14:

one can see that a person with a tender conscience might be tending to discouragement at this point because, if you feel as I do, and I don’t say that I have a tender conscience, but sometimes I have something like that, and when I read some of the statements of Scripture that say we know that we know him if we keep his commandments — I recognize that in my life there are many of those commandments that I have questions about whether I’m really keeping them.

And I’m not always sure that I’m always walking in the light. In fact, at times, I know I’m not walking in the light. We talked about that and how the Christian life is a sin-judged life, and that characteristic of the Christian life is the necessity of continual confession of sin. So I can understand that a person with a tender conscious might have problems, and then when this apostle says that, “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now,” that really comes home because I must confess that I have had problems with some of my brethren, that is my professing brethren in Christ. And I have often had to get down upon my knees, and ask God to give me the strength to love, and the mind to love this brother or sister, as the case may be. So I can see that someone with a tenderer conscience than mine might have questions about his salvation.

He might really say, “I don’t think I’m keeping the commandments. I know I fail in loving my brothers and my sisters. Perhaps I’m not a Christian at all.” And so, I think that what John writes now is a kind of interlude in which he wants to encourage people like me, and maybe even more so, those whose consciences are even more tender than mine. I think, therefore, it’s very fitting that in this brief paragraph, this apostle of love, the elderly apostle, the last of the apostles still living — the apostolic age is drawing to its conclusion — assures the ones to whom he writes these very strong words of test, that he is confident of their faith and life.

Colossians: Christ’s Preeminence in Creation, the New Creation of the Church, and All Things

January 31, 2014 Leave a comment

I’m now going through S. Lewis Johnson’s Colossians series, and enjoying it even more than I expected to.  This is a great study on this epistle, complete with many quote-worthy comments and observations, so applicable to our day as it addresses the nature and being of Christ in answer to the heresies already developing in the 1st century.

From Colossians 1:15-20, Paul’s great Christology, the following observations:

The Lord of the First Creation

This section may have been part of an early hymn, perhaps written by Paul or someone else, or even composed by multiple people in the early church.  If it is a hymn, the hymn of the beloved Son begins in verse 15 with a statement concerning the essential basis of his Lordship, “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every”, or of the whole, “creation.” 

The description here is of the Lord Jesus as the unique perfect likeness and manifestation of God, the great and final theophany.  The Greek word for “image” suggests that He possesses the Divine Attributes.  Concerning the word eikon and its usage:

There is a related word to it formed of the same root entirely, absolutely, I should say, which was used of a photograph, and further, there is a word very closely related to it, one is eikon, and the other is eikonian, a diminutive of it, a little eikon which was used when individuals signed a contract in legal terms guaranteeing certain things to others.  For example, in an IOU, it was customary for when the contract was drawn up for an eikonian to be drawn up as well.  And what that meant was certain sentences which would describe the individuals who entered into the contract were set in the contract in order that there might be evidence of precisely who entered into the contract, so that there would be no misunderstanding.  That was called an eikon, that is, a description of the individuals involved.

This text presents Christ’s essential basis of His Lordship. Then, the last part of verse 15 presents the Economic Basis of His Lordship:  He is the firstborn of the whole creation.  As Dr. Johnson well notes, this does not mean He is a creature – the Arian heresy.

He’s not a creature.  He’s the creator of the creatures.”  And Athanasius convinced the early church, properly so, that the Lord Jesus may be called firstborn of the whole creation, but not in the sense that there was a time when he entered into existence, so far as his person was concerned.  In fact, the Lord Jesus is the eternal Son, and He is the creator of the creatures.  In Him the whole created universe came into its existence.  So the term firstborn then takes on the meaning that it had in other passages in the Bible: of sovereignty over.

So we have three prepositional phrases.  “All things were created in him.”  “All things were created by him.”  “All things were created for him.”

Lord of the New Creation

Paul moves from the cosmological (the physical creation), to the soteriological, our personal salvation.  Christ is the head of the body, and thus He controls the church, He owns the church, and has authority over the church.

Of course, that has great practical significance so far as our personal life is concerned too.  We are related to the Head who is in heaven.  And if we are to live a life that is acceptable to the Lord God, we must be submissive to the Head, the Lord Jesus in a personal sense.  And as a body of believers who are under shepherds, elders, it’s most important for them and for us to be under Him and to look to Him for control and guidance and authority in the things that we do.

Preeminent In All Things

Verse 18, “that in Him should all fullness dwell.”

I don’t think that the apostle, when he says, “All fullness,” here is referring simply to our Lord’s deity.  That doesn’t make sense in the context, that is, that He should have the preeminence because He’s firstborn from the dead because He’s God.  It should relate to His saving work by which He became firstborn from the dead.  So I suggest to you …. what I mean by “all fullness” … all saving fullness, all saving power, in grace, because He’s the covenantal head of the people of God.  So he says, “For it pleased the Father that in Him should all, ‘saving’ fullness dwell.”

This point is especially important to the Colossians, in answering the heresy of gnostic Judaism, which included the idea of a God so holy that He doesn’t directly create.  Gnosticism has a series of eons, angelic type beings, that come forth from God the father, each a little less holy, and Christ is one of these beings, not a divine being but a created, secondary being, a mediator that is secondary and not god himself.  Paul emphasizes this point, that it “pleased the Father” to have all saving power reside in Christ – Jesus Christ the covenantal head and having all saving power.  So there is not a hierarchy of mediators between God and men as the heretics were saying.  But by the fact that He is raised from the dead, there is evidence that He is the one and only saving mediator between God and men.