Speaking of Melchizedek (Part 2) Hebrews 7:1-10

POST OVERVIEW. This second post in our series on Melchizedek studies the scant biblical material about him and then examines Hebrews 7:1-10 where the author tells “how great this man was” (Heb. 7:4) and rehearses the characteristics which make up his “likeness.” (See post #574 for the introductory post of this series.)

The objective of this series of posts is to explore and interpret Hebrews 7, which is devoted almost exclusively to a discussion about how Melchizedek relates to Jesus Christ. This post will quickly explore the other biblical references to Melchizedek (both of them!) and then piece the evidence together to create a likeness for this mysterious figure.

MELCHIZEDEK OUTSIDE OF HEBREWS

Outside of the book of Hebrews, the biblical information about Melchizedek is limited to only four verses, and these verses are thoroughly covered by the writer of this epistle. The first reference is when Melchizedek appears out of nowhere in Genesis 14:18-20 to meet Abram as he is returning with his nephew Lot, and then he is mentioned again in Psalm 110:4, a mysterious verse in a mysterious psalm about the second advent of Christ, a verse that we met in our previous post (#574) about Hebrews 5:5-6.

GREATNESS AND “LIKENESS”

GREATNESS. As the writer begins Hebrews 7, his purposes are to establish “how great this man was” (7:4) and to present his characteristics so that we have a picture of his “likeness” (7:15). He will accomplish both purposes by reviewing the description of Melchizedek given in Gen. 14:18-20.

The greatness of this man is shown by comparing him to the patriarch Abraham and noting that, first, Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek and second, that Melchizedek blessed Abraham (7:6).

ABRAHAM PAID TITHES

The author’s argument about the tithes is a little hard to follow. The writer is comparing the tithes given to the Levitical priests with the tithes that Abraham gave to Melchizedek. In the Law, all the people are required to pay tithes to the Levitical priests. We also know that all the Levitical priests are descended from Abraham (through Isaac and Jacob and Levi, etc.). But Melchizedek received tithes from Abraham, who is the ancestor of all the Levitical priests. The author goes on to say that, since all the Levitical priests were still in the loins of Abraham when he paid tithes to Melchizedek, essentially the Levitical priests, who were supposed to receive tithes, actually paid tithes to Melchizedek. Thus, by this payment of tithes, Melchizedek is superior.

MELCHIZEDEK BLESSED ABRAHAM

Fortunately, the point about Melchizedek blessing Abraham is much easier to follow. At their meeting, Melchizedek blessed Abraham (7:1, 6), then, “But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater” (7:7). The author’s point is clear: Melchizedek is greater than Abraham.

Now that we have established Melchizedek’s greatness, we need to understand his “likeness” (7:15). Therefore, the author of Hebrews will gather together the characteristics of Melchizedek given to us in Genesis 14:18-20 to form his “likeness.”

LIKENESS. He is priest of Most High God (7:1). Also, he is king of righteousness (the translation of his name) and king of peace (7:2 – king of Salem). These are remarkable characteristics but are easy to see in the text.

But the next verse, Hebrews 7:3, is a bit harder to understand.

Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually. – Hebrews 7:3

The author is not suggesting that Melchizedek did not have a human birth and lives forever, although that may be our first thought. Rather, the author is saying that, in the inspired text of Scripture, and especially in a book of beginnings like Genesis, we expect to see a person’s genealogy. Yet in the inspired text, Melchizedek has no father, no mother, no ancestors or descendants at all. Scripture is silent about his birth and gives no evidence of his death. And since the Scripture makes no mention of his death, the author speaks of him AS IF he lives on. This is a rhetorical device the author uses to create a more complete “likeness” of Melchizedek. And legally, since there is no death certificate, it is permitted to assume that “he remains a priest perpetually” (7:3). Thus, we have a very impressive “likeness” for Melchizedek.

NOT A THEOPHANY

But, just how impressive is this “likeness?” For if Melchizedek was king of righteousness, king of peace, and priest of Most High God in a land where Abraham was the only one who knew anything about God; if he was greater than Abraham and blessed Abraham; if he had no beginning and he had no end and he remains a priest perpetually, is it possible that he is divine? This sure sounds like it may be a theophany. Is Melchizedek a pre-incarnate Christ?

Well, no, this is not a theophany, and that for several reasons. First, it is not a theophany because we know Melchizedek’s name. In Old Testament theophanies, like Genesis 16, 22, Numbers 22, Joshua 5, and Judges 6, the divine figure is never named, and in Genesis 32:29 and in Judges 13:17-18, the heavenly being refuses to give a name when asked. Since we know Melchizedek’s name, this is not a theophany. This one feature is conclusive.

But there are other reasons we know this is not a theophany. For example, there is nothing in the encounter in Genesis 14 to suggest that Melchizedek is divine. Abraham does not bow down to him and Melchizedek does no signs or wonders. The blessing that Melchizedek gives to Abraham is not prophetic, and so contains no display of divinity. Thus, while the characteristics attributed to Melchizedek point unerringly to Jesus Christ, this man who meets Abraham “as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings” (Heb. 7:1) is not the pre-incarnate Jesus. So this is certainly not a theophany.

. . . BUT A “TYPE” OF CHRIST

Instead, Melchizedek is perhaps the most stunning “type” of Christ in the Scriptures. In the Scriptures, a “type” refers to an Old Testament person or event which foreshadows some aspect of Jesus Christ or of His first or second advent. The “type” presents features that Jesus will fulfill when He comes. “Type” is different from prophecy, for a prophecy is a verbal expression about the coming Messiah, whereas a “type” is a picture or a representation of what the Messiah will be or do. Thus, Melchizedek is a remarkably clear picture of the coming Messiah. When you see someone who is king of righteousness, king of peace, priest of God Most High, who appears to be from eternity past and seems to live forever, there is a good chance that you have found the Messiah.

But now we read in Hebrews 7:15:

15 And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek.

As we consider this verse, the truth emerges that Jesus is that “another priest.” In other words, in Genesis 14:18-20, Melchizedek established the characteristics of the priesthood, that is, the “likeness” of the priesthood, and Jesus, when He appears, is “according to the likeness of Melchizedek.” Because Jesus fulfills the “type,” that is, because He is “another priest (who) arises according to the order of Melchizedek,” we know that Jesus is our High Priest, not of the order of Aaron (Levi), but of the order of Melchizedek.

SUMMARY

Having established the existence of the eternal priesthood of Melchizedek and having shown that Jesus is the High Priest of that order, we are prepared to see how Christ has replaced the Levitical priesthood. This is what we will explore in our next post.

SDG                 rmb                 9/23/2022                   #575

Speaking of Melchizedek (Part 1) Hebrews 5:5-6

POST OVERVIEW. This post is a study of Hebrews 5:5-6 where the author introduces the shadowy biblical figure of Melchizedek. This is the first in a series on Melchizedek.

The objective of this series of posts is to explore and interpret Hebrews 7, which is devoted almost exclusively to a discussion about how Melchizedek relates to Jesus Christ. We will do a deep dive into that chapter, but before we turn to chapter 7 of Hebrews, I wanted to look at how the author brings Melchizedek into his overall argument. So, this post will focus on Hebrews 5:5-6.

So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him,

“You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You;”

just as He says also in another passage,

“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

Notice that in this two-verse passage, the author carefully selects two quotes from the book of Psalms. He mentions these quotes together, back-to-back, because he wants to show that each quote is an oath, wherein God the Father is speaking to God the Son in eternity past. But we still wonder why the author mentions the quote from Psalm 2, since that psalm is unrelated to his current teaching about Jesus as being a High Priest.

Here is why he does this. In the first century, it was generally accepted among Jewish scholars that Psalm 2 was Messianic and that 2:7 was an address from the LORD (YHWH) to the Messiah. That interpretation was settled and was not controversial. Every serious scholar would admit this point. On the other hand, there was considerable controversy over the interpretation of Psalm 110, and verse 4 of Psalm 110 was especially opaque. How in the world Melchizedek related to the Messiah and how or why the Messiah would be of the order of Melchizedek was beyond confusing.

Therefore, what the author of Hebrews does here in 5:5-6 is pure rhetorical genius. By presenting these two verses together, he demonstrates that the quotes are oaths of the same form. Next, by associating the controversial verse in Psalm 110:4 with the generally understood verse in Psalm 2:7, the writer succeeds in getting 110:4 accepted as also portraying the LORD (YHWH) speaking to Messiah with an oath of promise. This is key. By itself, Psalm 110:4 was too obscure to be discussed, but by placing it on the “coattails” of the “friendly,” well-understood Psalm 2:7, 110:4 is admitted into the discussion. And with Psalm 110:4 admitted into the discussion, Melchizedek has also entered the picture. Thus, we see that, by his brilliant use of quotes from the psalms, the author has managed to bring Melchizedek into the middle of the conversation. This is necessary, because Melchizedek and the priesthood he represents are going to prove crucial in the author’s theological argument about the obsolescence of the Levitical priesthood and the permanence and significance of Christ being a High Priest of the order of Melchizedek.

“Concerning him we have much to say” (Hebrews 5:11). Indeed, the author of Hebrews has much to say about Melchizedek, and in the next few posts we will attempt to understand the teaching of Hebrews 7 about him.

SDG                 rmb                 9/22/2022                   #574

Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD (Ps. 33:12)

POST OVERVIEW. This is a longer than usual post containing meditations on the sovereignty of God in the raising up and the casting down of nations according to His will for His divine purposes. Specific thoughts about the decline of the USA and how that decline is yet another example of God’s absolute rule over His universe.

Adoniram Judson was an amazing man whom God used mightily to bring the gospel to remote places, especially to the nation of Burma. I have begun a biography about Judson, and as I am reading through the book, I have mused about the various ways that the Lord has used the USA as an instrument for advancing His kingdom. I have already become convinced that our country has fulfilled its role and has been forsaken by the Lord. That is, our usefulness has passed and the Lord has now given us over to the corruption and wickedness and rebellion that is common in our rapidly decaying world.

But we are not unique in that progression, by any means. When the nation of Israel had fulfilled its purposes as the Lord’s instrument to prepare the world for Messiah, the Lord removed His hand of grace and blessing from them and abandoned them to their natural sin and wickedness, and they were destroyed in temporal judgment not once, but twice (586 BC and AD 70). In the waning days of the kingdom, during the reigns of Jehoiakim and Zedekiah, the Lord raised up Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar to be His instrument of judgment for Judah and the surrounding kingdoms. Babylon flourished during these years when the Lord was using them as His instrument. Later, however, when Babylon had played its part and then had gone deep into pagan worship under Belshazzar (Daniel 5), the Lord raised up the Medes to destroy the Chaldeans. And so it goes. The history of the rise and fall of kingdoms is the history of God’s sovereignty at work on a macro level, raising kingdoms up so that they can accomplish His bidding and then retreating back into obscurity when their part has been played and their usefulness has been exhausted. Although Macbeth spoke about people, his words could just as easily apply to nations and kingdoms: “Out, out brief candle! Life is just a walking shadow, a poor player (nation) that struts and frets its hour upon the stage (of world history) and then is heard no more.” Kings and nations do not rise and fall because they have particular merit or ability, but because the Lord has chosen, by His own free, uninfluenced will, to raise up that king or that nation for His purposes. And when that king or nation has played their part and done what the Lord needed done, the way to dusty death will be lighted and they will be heard from no more. This is simply what we mean when we say that the Lord is sovereign over the nations. “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3).

The prophets in the Old Testament warned Israel and Judah over and over again that they needed to turn from their wickedness and get rid of their idols and give all their worship to the Lord, but Israel and Judah just scoffed. The word of the LORD declared the LORD’s anger with His people’s disobedience and rebellion, but they presumed on His grace and assumed they would exist forever. But consider this, that when we read the warnings of the prophets in the Old Testament, we are reading of warnings to the USA. The prophets’ calls for Israel’s repentance should ring like loud alarms in the ears of Americans. The only difference between ancient Israel and the USA is that we are able to sin to a much greater degree than Israel could have ever imagined. Any presumption that the USA is a nation that is too grand to fall is pure folly. We have played our part in the Lord’s drama, and now our fall is inevitable.

If you read Revelation 18 about the destruction in one day of spiritual Babylon, it takes very little imagination to read that chapter as speaking of the USA. There is no nation in history that better fits this description than the USA. We are the indulgent, sensual, immoral nation that is poised for disaster. Our destruction is imminent. It seems to me that the USA has played our part, and now we are being judged by the Lord.

In my view, the USA has lost our way. We have no purpose as a country, no vision, no direction other than down. Our government at every level, from federal to state to local, is filled with godless people bent on the destruction of our virtue as we race headlong into every kind of impurity with greediness (Eph. 4:19).

We must remember, however, that this is not the starting point. The Lord raised up the USA because He had need of an instrument like us to carry out His purposes. Despite our overt weaknesses and excesses, the USA prospered because the Lord had need of us. As long as the USA was needed, we enjoyed prosperity.

But now in the Lord’s unfolding drama of human history, our country’s role has been played, at least our role for usefulness. The Lord has removed His hand of blessing from the USA and has given us over to our lusts and our lawlessness, to our impurity and to our degrading passions (Romans 1:21-32). He has let go of us as a nation and we, therefore, are in full freefall. The only question remaining is when we will hit the bottom.

What I am saying is that there is a pattern in the Lord’s dealing with nations. The Lord raises up a nation from obscurity to prominence because He is going to use that nation as a player in his grand drama. And so the Lord raises up that nation and appoints the leaders He desires and allows that nations to prosper. In time, that chosen nation increases in prominence according to the Lord’s sovereign plan so that history and the nation’s emergence collide at just the right time. Then, in a single event or in a series of events over time, the Lord ordains that chosen nation to perform its appointed role with God’s predetermined results. Once the nation has played its part, the Lord removes His hand of blessing and takes away His special grace from that nation and allows that nation’s natural wickedness and sin to emerge unhindered. The prosperity that existed during the time of the Lord’s favor vanishes like smoke. Eventually the nation returns to its place of obscurity or ceases to exist altogether, and never rises again.

Before making some concluding comments about the Lord’s purposes and the demise of the USA, I wanted to discuss two necessary asides.

NATIONS THAT REMAINED LOST IN OBSCURITY

First, we have been talking about those nations that God has chosen to raise from obscurity to prominence for His purposes, but as we look at world history, it becomes immediately obvious that the vast majority of nations that have ever existed never emerged from their obscurity. Most nations, whether existing for a long time or only existing for a few decades, never appeared on history’s radar screen. They came and went without making so much as a ripple on the surface, from a human perspective a raindrop in the ocean of history.

There is, however, another way to see this reality. As we remember that the Lord raises up nations from obscurity for His purposes and sheds His grace on those nations for a time, we realize that most nations have never experienced a season of the Lord’s favor. The USA has experienced more than two hundred years of the Lord’s blessings as the Lord has used us for His purposes, but most nations have never known a moment of the Lord’s favor. The psalmist says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD” (Psalm 33:12), but for the nation whose god is a pagan idol or a grinning Buddha, there is no possibility of blessing. Instead, the history of that nation will be marked by a featureless passing of years in abject poverty. In the Lord’s sovereignty, He chooses to pass over the vast majority of nations and leave them in their obscurity. Those nations never know the Lord’s prosperity and grace as a chosen nation. Instead, they remain crushed underneath natural sin and human wickedness and the misery this produces. Recognizing the favor that the Lord has shed on this country because He chose us to be His instrument, we who live in the USA should praise Him all the more loudly for His goodness, even though our prosperity is ebbing away.

SOVEREIGN SALVATION OF INDIVIDUALS

The second aside has to do with another aspect of God’s sovereignty. While God usually moves history along by using nations and empires, His primary work is the salvation of His people. Therefore, in the midst of this sweeping drama involving the rise and fall of nations, we need to realize that the Lord’s providence is also at work in the lives of every person on the planet, bringing some to the place where they encounter the Lord and begin an eternal relationship with Him or leaving the rest in their darkness and misery and sin so that their life on earth is a featureless passing of years. As the Lord is sovereign in the rise and fall and the passing over of nations, so He is sovereign over the salvation or the reprobation of every person who ever lives on His earth. In every stage of macro history, in the rise and fall or in the passing over of kingdoms and nations and tribes and tongues, the Lord is bringing every one of His elect to salvation and He is passing over the reprobate. This sovereign work of God has been going on since the fall and will continue until then Lord returns at the last trumpet.

CONCLUSION

Like many of you, I love my country and I am deeply saddened as I witness her demise. The USA, for probably a century or more, was a useful instrument for kingdom good in the Lord’s hand, and so enjoyed the Lord’s favor and prosperity. But our role has been played, our sun has set, and now we must watch as the Lord gives us over to our sin and wickedness. Now the nation is under the Lord’s judgment and we will continue to tumble into greater chaos and lawlessness as time progresses.

But this first-hand view of the fall of this nation reminds us that earthly citizenship is temporary and imperfect. Our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20) and we desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one (Heb. 11:16). We are looking for a city whose architect and builder is God (Heb. 11:10).

And we know that this demise of nations is necessary to prepare the world for the return of her true King. “Because lawlessness is increased, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). “When you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door” (Matthew 24:33). All the kings of the earth will continue to defy their true Lord and will continue to rebel. “Why are the nations in an uproar, and the people devising a vain thing?” (Psalm 2:1). So, we should not be surprised when the very thing that our Lord told us must come to pass occurs. Rather, we should lament man’s refusal to repent (Rev. 9:20-21) and continue to obediently proclaim the gospel until our glorious King arrives on His white horse (Rev. 19:11ff).

SDG                 rmb                 9/19/2022                   #573

“Did Adam have a belly button?”

POST OVERVIEW. How to turn a silly question into an opportunity for extolling the glories of our crucified Savior.

Imagine you are trying to engage someone in a meaningful spiritual conversation, either for the purpose of introducing them to the gospel or because you wish to help them go deeper in their walk with Christ or simply because you are hungry for some spiritual meat in a cultural sea of baby food and pork rinds. Just as you attempt to turn the discussion Christ-ward, the other person asks, with a smirk on their face, “What do you think? Did Adam have a belly button?” The question is intentionally silly and irreverent, a meaningless query of utter insignificance, and your irritation burns. But before you turn and walk away, realize that the conversation does not need to end here. Your friend has brought up Adam’s belly button.

LET’S TALK ABOUT ADAM

“You bring up an interesting question. I am assuming you are referring to the first man, who was created by God, right?” Maybe. “Well, that means that you think that Adam really existed, and that God created him.” Hmmm. “And while the Bible gives no information about Adam’s belly button, either pro or con, the Bible is very clear that the second Adam, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, definitely had a belly button.” And now the direction of the conversation has changed for the better.

The Bible teaches that our Savior, Jesus, was born of a woman (Gal. 4:4) in the likeness of sinful flesh (Romans 8:3), in the same way that all of Adam’s fallen posterity were born. Jesus, the second Adam, was given a body with flesh and blood so that His flesh could be broken and His blood could be shed. He was given a physical body so that He, the eternal Son of God, could die as a sacrifice for sin. [ASIDE: Consider the “dilemma” confronting God before Jesus’ incarnation. The Law demanded a blood sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin but, because of the magnitude of the sin that needed to be forgiven, only the death of God would be sufficient to pay for the sins of God’s people. But how would it be possible for God, who lives eternally and can never die, to die for His people? The gospel declares that Jesus, God the Son, was given a physical flesh and blood body that could die (see Hebrews 2:14-15) so that He could lay His physical life down (John 10:11-18) as a sacrifice for the sins of His people. END ASIDE]

Adam left this world fundamentally different from the world that he entered. Adam rebelled against God and so brought sin and death into the world. Adam’s sin ruined God’s perfect creation and brought all mankind into a state of sin, ushering the seeds of chaos and rebellion and destruction into the whole creation. This was the work of the first Adam.

Jesus, the second Adam, also left the world fundamentally different from the world that He entered. Jesus perfectly fulfilled the entire Law by His active obedience of all the Law’s demands and commandments. Thus, Jesus vanquished sin by His obedience (He never sinned) and by His sacrificial death on the cross (He atoned for the sins of His people by His own blood sacrifice). Jesus also conquered death when He was raised from the dead, never to die again (Romans 6:9). Jesus’ resurrection guaranteed that the groaning creation will one day be redeemed into the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Romans 8:21.)

The atonement of all the sins of all His people. The promise to all His people of a future resurrection. The redemption of the whole fallen creation. The fulfillment of the Law so that His perfect righteousness is imputed to all His people. This was the work of the second Adam.

A comparison of the work of Adam with the work of the second Adam, Jesus, is presented below. Paul’s inspired comparison is contained in Romans 5:12-21.

First AdamSecond Adam (Jesus)
• Rebelled against the one command he received in paradise.• Perfectly obeyed all the commandments of the Law.
•  Brought sin and condemnation into the world.•  Atoned for the sins of His people and removed condemnation.
•  Brought death into the world.•  Vanquished death for all His people.
•  Ruined man’s fellowship with God by his sin.•  Reconciled man with God by the blood of His cross (Colossians 1:20).

So when a spiritual conversation turns to the question of belly buttons, let’s use it as an opportunity to extol the glories of our crucified Savior and the work He accomplished. He is the One who willingly left the praises of myriads of angels (Rev. 5:11) to receive a human body, with a belly button, so that He could be crucified for the sins of His people.

SDG                 rmb                 9/14/2022                   #572

Shout for joy, O barren one (Isaiah 54:1)

POST OVERVIEW. Considering how the coming of Jesus Christ has changed the primary roles of women as presented in the opening chapters of Genesis.

Many people are familiar with the basic plot of Genesis 1:1-4:1, even including some people who have no interest whatever in the Creator God who, out of nothing, brought all things into existence. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (1:1). Even in our day, most people in our country over the age of thirty know this Bible verse. And many know that creation supposedly took place over six days. They know that Adam was created out of the dust and was placed in the Garden of Eden, that Eve was created from his rib, that there was a serpent and some forbidden fruit, and Adam and Eve sinned and made God kick them out of the Garden, and then Eve had a child by natural birth named Cain. Although Bible knowledge is rapidly disappearing, even in many of our churches, this tale of the beginning still remains in our cultural lore as a story many people know.

While many are familiar with the bare bones of the plot, relatively few realize the depth of these seemingly simple verses that begin the Bible and how many fundamental ideas are presented in them. For example, in these opening chapters, in Genesis 2:18-24 and then in Gen. 3:20 and 4:1, the woman’s two primary roles are given.

WOMAN’S PRIMARY ROLES

First, she is created to be a helper to the man (2:18, 20). This is the first role of the woman. “It is not good for the man to be alone.” The man needed someone to help him. This other creature needed to be like him in many ways, most importantly to also be created in the image of God (1:27), but this other creature needed also to be different than him, because she was created as “corresponding to him” (the literal rendering of the Hebrew). She must not be identical to him, for then she would only double his weaknesses. Rather, she would be his helper, complementing his weaknesses with her strengths. But notice that the woman was created for the man. Her purpose is dependent on the man. She was created by God as a helper for the man. Notice also that Eve was created as a helper for Adam before the fall.

The second role for the woman is to bear and nurture children. Eve was given her name by Adam because she was the mother of all the living (Gen. 3:20). Then, in Gen. 4:1, Eve gives birth to Cain, the first human being ever born. To the woman, then, is given the role of being the one who bears children.

So, the two primary roles for the woman, according to the Genesis account and according to the natural order, are helper and then mother. Therefore, according to this natural order, the woman is fulfilled when she is a helper to her husband, and she bears children. This was true “in the beginning” and, of course, it is still true today, that a godly woman experiences a great deal of personal fulfillment when she is a helper to a godly husband, and she is a nurturing mother to her children.

But there also seems to be a problem here. For if this “in the beginning” paradigm of helper and mother is still in effect as the overarching principle for women, then single women without husband to help or children to nurture would have no opportunity for fulfillment, and barren wives could be ashamed because of their barrenness (consider Hannah in 1 Samuel 1:5-7, 10-20 and Elizabeth in Luke 1:6-7, 13-14, 24-25). If this context were still true, then even among those in Christ, there would be a perception that some women, those married with children, were better or more favored than others, like the single and the barren. But we know that this is impossible, because “the ground is level at the foot of the cross.” In Christ, there is no “better” or “more favored,” for all those in Christ have received an equal amount of amazing grace.

Then, as we meditate on Scripture, we realize that the “old order” is no longer the dominant paradigm. It cannot still be so, for in Isaiah 54:1, the barren woman is told to shout for joy and the one who has not travailed is told to break forth into joyful shouting and cry aloud. “The sons of the desolate one will be more numerous than the sons of the married woman,” says the LORD. How can this be? Although Isaiah wrote his prophecy around 700 BC, in passages like this he writes of a time that for him is in the future when there will be a mandate that supersedes the old order. “But when the fulness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law” (Gal. 4:4). Jesus, the Son of God, lived a sinless life, died a sacrificial death, and was raised from the dead the third day to commission His church to make disciples of all nations and teach disciples to live holy lives. And now with the Great Commission, any woman can know the greater joy of many spiritual children as she proclaims the good news about King Jesus. Any faithful woman can shout for joy as a witness for our Lord Jesus Christ. Now there is no possible shame for being single or for being childless, because in Christ, we are part of His chosen, blood-bought family. All disciples of Jesus are striving, together and individually, to exalt the name of the King of kings, and we all, together and individually, rejoice as the fame of Jesus spreads among the nations.

“Shout for joy, O barren one, you who have borne no child;
Break forth into joyful shouting and cry aloud, you who have not travailed;
For the sons of the desolate one will be more numerous
Than the sons of the married woman,” says the LORD. – Isaiah 54:1

SDG                 rmb                 9/12/2022                   #570

Reading Revelation (Part 3): Nothing significant and new

POST OVERVIEW. The third in a series of posts about ways to read the book of Revelation that make it less confusing and intimidating. This third post discusses the fact that Revelation introduces no significant new characters or events into end times prophecy. Everything significant has already been mentioned in the previous text of Scripture.  (Also, see previous posts: #568 on the purposes of Revelation and #569 about the constraints that are on the book of Revelation.)

INTRODUCTION. Reading the book of Revelation is a challenging task for any disciple of Jesus. The visions the apostle John relates to us in Revelation are strange and spectacular, and trying to make sense of the visions and then put them into some coherent picture is difficult work. But, while acknowledging the difficulties involved, I believe the challenge of understanding the book of Revelation is eased considerably when we understand how to read the book. In these posts I hope to offer some principles for approaching Revelation that will make the book much less intimidating.

CONSIDER THE FICTION NOVEL

Imagine for a moment that you are reading a classic novel by a skilled author, perhaps Dostoyevsky or Victor Hugo. You have been fascinated as you have seen the author create the main characters in the book, the protagonist and the antagonist and their supporting casts. What initially appeared to be unrelated stories about random people and events were gradually woven into the plot as the movement of the novel steadily picked up steam. Then, at precisely the right moment, the drama reached its climax and the complexities and perplexities of the story were resolved as the hero emerged victorious and the villain was trounced into disgrace. The entire reading has been a satisfying journey into realistic adventure, and now you are turning the final pages to see how the tensions are resolved and the loose ends are tied up.

Then unexpectedly, out of nowhere, a mere fifteen pages from THE END, three new characters appear and a brand new context is introduced which seems disconnected with anything in the previous 500 pages. You were, figuratively speaking, expecting the wheels of the plane to settle softly onto the tarmac and suddenly the nose of the jet was wrenched upward. “Will this flight never end?” Where did this come from? Why are these characters being introduced now at the end of the book? The fact is that a well-written, classic novel does not introduce new characters or plot twists in the last chapter of the novel. The last chapter is where the action is concluded and the plot of the novel is summarized. The last chapter is for landing softly on the tarmac, pulling into the arrival gate, and maybe even picking up your luggage at Baggage Claim. It is not for introducing new characters and plot twists.

CONSIDER THE PURPOSE OF REVELATION

In the same way as the novel, the word of God, the Bible, has as its final book, its final “chapter,” the book of Revelation. As we have already said in the previous post (#568) on the purposes of Revelation, this final book serves as the instrument of conclusion and summary, as the book of the Bible that ties together the loose ends and reveals how our Hero, the Lord Jesus, ultimately triumphs over His adversary, the devil, as He simultaneously gathers all His glorified saints around the throne to worship Him forever. Revelation is written to resolve the mysteries which have been created in the previous sixty-five books, not introduce new characters and events never before encountered.

SIGNIFICANT BUT NOT NEW, OR NEW BUT NOT SIGNIFICANT

Since that is the case, it follows that the book of Revelation introduces no significant new characters or events into the biblical story. Both adjectives are important. Revelation may introduce new characters who play minor roles, but who do not influence the plot. These would be new characters but not significant characters. An example would be “another beast” of chapter 13:11ff (who is also the “false prophet” of 16:13, etc.). This other beast has not appeared before in other biblical prophecy, but he is not significant in the events of the end times. Another example would be “the beast,” who appears in 11:7 and then again in 13:1-10, etc. This is a significant character whom we have seen before in Scripture with different names. This is the little horn (Dan. 7:11, 25), the small horn (Dan. 8:9, 23-25), the prince who is to come (Dan. 9:26), the despicable person (Dan. 11:21-45), and the man of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:3ff). He is the human embodiment of evil, often referred to as the antichrist. So, “the beast” is significant but not new.

Thus, Revelation may give new labels to old major characters, but it does not introduce major new characters. So, “the thousand years” is a new label, but not a new concept, “the beast” is not a new character, and Babylon” is not a new city. These are examples of things that have appeared before in the Scriptures but now are being brought to a conclusion in Revelation.

AN EXCEPTION – THE 42 MONTHS

One concept that could be an exception to the rule is the time period of the 42 months. Mentioned five times in Rev. 11-13 (11:2, 3; 12:6, 14; 13:5), this is a time of upheaval and dramatic activity that occurs immediately before the return of Jesus on the last day. The period of the 42 months has not been mentioned before in Scripture, so it is definitely new. The question is, “Is it ‘significant’?” I think the answer has to be ‘yes,’ for it is during this time that the fifth seal is opened (6:9-11), the trumpet warnings are sounded (8-9), the two witnesses appear (11:3-10), Satan is thrown to the earth (12:7-17), and the beast and the false prophet rise up to persecute the church (11:7; 13; 16:13f; 19:17f).

SUMMARY

What I am saying in this post is that understanding most of Revelation does not depend on a vivid imagination but depends, instead, on a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, and particularly of the Old Testament prophets. There is very little new in the text of Revelation. A careful reading will reveal that the book concludes God’s inspired Word by pulling from much of the Old Testament to draw the story of Scripture to a close. The better that the disciple of Jesus knows the whole word of God, the better they will understand the difficult passages in Revelation.

A second attribute is also required to grapple with the book of Revelation. Scriptural knowledge must be accompanied by an ability to see patterns and to recognize allusions to previous scriptural books.

So, approach Revelation as a review of the entire Bible and a book that draws things to a close, and you will enjoy the book much more.

SDG                 rmb                 9/13/2022                   #571

Reading Revelation (Part 2): The constraints

POST OVERVIEW. The second in a series of posts about ways to read the book of Revelation that make it less confusing and intimidating. This post discusses the constraints that are on Revelation which limit its possible interpretations. (Also, see previous post #568 which was on the purposes of the book of Revelation.)

INTRODUCTION. Reading the book of Revelation is a challenging task for any disciple of Jesus. The visions the apostle John relates to us in Revelation are strange and spectacular, and trying to make sense of the visions and then put them into some coherent picture is difficult work. But, while acknowledging the difficulties involved, I believe the challenge of understanding the book of Revelation is eased considerably when we understand how to read the book. In these posts I hope to offer some principles for approaching Revelation that will make the book much less intimidating.

CONSTRAINTS ON REVELATION

Having discussed the purposes of Revelation in our previous post (#568), we now turn our attention to the constraints that are placed on this last book of the Bible. It is probably unusual to think about a biblical book as being “constrained.” Of course, in a sense all sixty-six books of the Bible are constrained, because they all must harmonize with each other and agree with each other, particular in terms of doctrine. In that sense, each successive book of the Bible is more “constrained” than the one before it. But Revelation is constrained not only by the fact that it is the last book of the Bible and must harmonize with the sixty-five books that preceded it, but also because the book functions as a summary and a conclusion to the entire story line of the Bible, tying up loose ends and filling in blanks to make the entire scriptural masterpiece complete. This places constraints on Revelation that restrict (“constrain”) the way we can interpret the contents of the book, as we will see.

Some readers seem to approach Revelation as if it existed independent of the rest of Scripture and is filled with wild new ideas and events never before encountered in the Bible and disconnected from the rest of the God-breathed books which precede it. This approach, however, is exactly the opposite of what is the case. A significant portion of Revelation consists of quotes of previous Scripture or of obvious allusions to characters and events and prophecies from the Old Testament. Revelation could serve as a final exam, testing disciples of Jesus to see how well they know their Bibles. “Can you recognize the allusions to the Old Testament in this chapter (whatever chapter that is)? Having recognized the allusions, can you identify their Old Testament reference? Book, chapter, and verse?” And this characteristic of Revelation, that it is packed with Old Testament allusions, is the very thing that “constrains” Revelation in what it can say.

Let me try to give an example. Consider the concept of the last day. Revelation is constrained in its teaching about the last day. Why? Because the last day, “the day of the LORD,” “that day,” the day of judgment, etc. has been part of biblical revelation, in explicit prophecy or in implicit “types,” in virtually every book of the Bible. The flood in Genesis 6-8 foreshadows the last day. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 foreshadows the last day. In uncountable places in the Old Testament the last day is mentioned or implied. Then finally in Malachi 4, the last chapter in the Old Testament, the prophet teaches more about the last day. “For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace,” says the LORD of hosts (Malachi 4:1). In the New Testament, Jesus talks about the last day many times during His earthly ministry, and Paul and Peter and John and the author of Hebrews also write about the last day in their inspired writings. So, when John receives his visions in Revelation, the events of the last day and the characters involved in the last day are very well known and our interpretations of these visions is constrained by all the writing about the last day that preceded them.

SUMMARY. So, when reading Revelation, remember that this last book of the Bible is constrained by its requirement to harmonize with all the inspired writing that has preceded it. Therefore, it is best to read the book with an eye to seeing which previous events are being concluded here. “Armageddon,” foreshadowed in Ezekiel 38-39, is concluded in Revelation 16, 19, and 20. The evil man (antichrist), whom we meet in Daniel 7, 8, 9, and 11, and in the man of lawlessness of 2 Thessalonians 2, is consummated and concluded in the beast of Revelation 13. The persecution of the church, sent out as “sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matt. 10:16), is culminated in the tribulation we see in Revelation 6:9, 20:4, 11:7, 13:7, etc. Most significantly, the return of the Lord Jesus in power and glory, mentioned and implied many times throughout the Scriptures, is completed in the Rider on the white horse in Revelation 19:11-16. Remember, Revelation is constrained, so we read the book with the eye for seeking conclusions and consummations.

SDG                 rmb                 9/10/2022                   #569

Reading Revelation (Part 1): The purposes of Revelation

POST OVERVIEW. The first in a series of posts about ways to read the book of Revelation that make it less confusing and intimidating. This post discusses the purposes for which Revelation was written and how understanding these purposes can help in reading the book.

INTRODUCTION. Reading the book of Revelation is a challenging task for any disciple of Jesus. The visions the apostle John relates to us in Revelation are strange and spectacular, and trying to make sense of the visions and then put them into some coherent picture is difficult work. But, while acknowledging the difficulties involved, I believe the challenge of understanding the book of Revelation is eased considerably when we understand how to read the book. In these posts I hope to offer some principles for approaching Revelation that will make the book much less intimidating.

PURPOSES OF REVELATION

When approaching the book of Revelation, it is important to keep in mind the purpose of the book. That is, what is the book’s function in the God-breathed Scriptures? More than perhaps any other biblical book, Revelation performs a specific function and has a specific purpose. Revelation is obviously the last book of the Bible, and it is last for a reason. As the last book of the Bible, Revelation is intended to summarize and to wrap up what was written previously. But not only is it the last book of the Bible, but Revelation is also the final book. This writing concludes God’s recorded communication to man. In fact, unlike any other biblical book, there are specific curses associated with adding any words to the prophecy of this book (22:18). So, Revelation is intended to summarize and conclude the writing of Scripture.

There are, however, other purposes for this book.

Revelation was written:

  • To fill in the blanks in minor areas where Scripture has previously been (largely) silent. This filling in of blanks left by other Scripture is restricted to areas which do not affect the flow of redemptive history or any doctrines of Scripture. An example would be the appearance of “another beast” (13:11ff), also known as “the false prophet” (16:13), who promotes and magnifies the beast so that he is worshiped. His appearance, though previously unmentioned in Scripture, changes nothing about the flow of the end times or the events of the last day. It is simply a blank which Revelation fills in. So, Revelation fills in some blanks in the picture of Scripture.
  • To add more detail to select portions of Scripture which were previously foggy or vague. Many portions of Scripture have pointed ahead to the events of the end of the age, the very events that Revelation now describes in detail. Some of the previously written prophecies were short on details and so left us with hazy images about what really occurs. Others supplied details that seemed confusing to interpret. Revelation adds some detail to some of these to clarify them. An example would be the binding of the strong man that Jesus mentions in Matthew 12:29. This somewhat vague reference during Jesus’ earthly ministry is made more concrete in Revelation 20:1-3 when “an angel coming down from heaven” (the resurrected Jesus Christ) binds the dragon (Satan) in the abyss for the thousand years. So, Revelation adds some detail to certain events of the end times.
  • To provide information that allows the events of the last days to be placed in order and to “connect the dots.” As presented by Revelation, there are many events that occur in rapid succession in the days just before the return of Christ and on the last day. While many of these events have been presented in the word of God before Revelation, the order of their occurrence and how one event connects or relates to another event has been unknown or uncertain. The visions of Revelation gives information about these end times events that allows the diligent student to discern a sequence to these events that fits them together into a cohesive picture. So, Revelation supplies information to structure the order of the events of the end times.

As stated before, Revelation is intended to summarize the rest of the Bible and to bring the entire story of the Bible to a close. Revelation finishes the project. After this, nothing more needs to be added or done.

AN ILLUSTRATION. Imagine that you are permitted to enter the work room of a master weaver of tapestries. The day you visit, the master is nearing completion of a beautiful and intricate weaving that has taken him months to create. The brilliant colors of the threads blend and interact together to form a breathtaking whole, but you notice that there are some places where there are no threads at all and other places where the weaving appears incomplete and the image in that part of the tapestry is indistinct. Oh, you would gladly pay a fortune for this just as it is, but there is something just a little incomplete about the work. With a tone of utmost respect, you mention your observations to the master weaver. He turns to you and says, “Thank you for your observations, but the tapestry is not yet finished. The places that you mentioned are the very places where I am going to fill in the blanks and where I will add more threads to enhance the detail. When I am finished with those final threads, the tapestry will be beautifully complete and its message and meaning will be clear.”

That is the purpose of Revelation. The masterpiece that is God’s word is almost complete, but there are a few things that need to be summarized and clarified and wrapped up. There are a few select blanks that need to be filled in and some features that require a little more detail. But once Revelation is written, the project is complete.

SUMMARY. Therefore, when you set out to read the book of Revelation, realize that you are not heading off into new and uncharted waters. Quite the contrary. You are not seeking wild and fascinating new doctrines and events and characters, but, instead, you are looking for the final threads from the master weaver that will complete the tapestry that you began sixty-five books ago as you started “In the beginning . . .” In Revelation you will find clarification of some details and the enhancement of some of what was fuzzy, and you will find a Rider on a white horse who is Faithful and True and who is coming from heaven to redeem His blood-bought bride, the church, and take her to the new heavens and the new earth. That’s how to read Revelation.

SDG                 rmb                 9/9/2022                     #568

The binding of Satan, Part 2 (Revelation 20:1-3)

POST OVERVIEW. There are two places in the Bible that teach about the binding of Satan, in Matthew 12:29 and in Revelation 20:1-3. In post #566, we looked at Matthew 12:29. This post will be a study of Revelation 20:1-3.  

Our purpose in these two posts is to discover what the Scripture teaches us about the binding of Satan, implicit in Matthew 12:29 and explicit in Revelation 20:1-3. In post #566, we looked at Matthew 12:29 and discovered that this verse teaches us that Jesus is going to bind Satan so that Satan’s kingdom can be plundered, and that “plundering” will be accomplished through the church’s proclamation of the gospel. But Matthew 12:29 also left us with questions. Exactly when will Jesus bind Satan? And how will this binding take place? What does that actually look like? To answer these questions, we now turn to our second “binding” passage, Revelation 20:1-3.

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.

We will start our study by identifying the characters involved. In Rev. 20:2 we see the dragon, and we know that the dragon is Satan. There is also “an angel coming down from heaven.” Although John uses “angel” to describe this being, this “angel” is none other than the resurrected Lord Jesus. Why do I say that this “angel” is Jesus?

  • First, we observe that the angel is holding the key to the abyss in his hand. In Revelation, the only one who has keys is Jesus. He has “the keys of death and of Hades” (1:18), and here he also has the key to the abyss where he is going to put Satan for a thousand years.
  • But also notice the power and authority of this unnamed “angel.” Whereas Michael the archangel did not dare pronounce a judgment against the devil (Jude 9), this angel has the power to throw Satan around like a ragdoll. He “laid hold of the dragon (Satan) and bound him for a thousand years; and he threw him into the abyss and shut it and sealed it over him so that he would not deceive the nations any longer” (20:2-3). During all of this, the dragon (Satan) is powerless to resist. The only one who can throw Satan around like this is the Lord Jesus. This angel, then, is Jesus.

Thus, the characters in this scene in Rev. 20:1-3 are Satan and the Lord Jesus, and the action performed is that Jesus binds Satan. Notice this is the exact same situation that we encountered in our study of Matthew 12:29, where we had the strong man (Satan) and Jesus as the characters and the action was that Jesus bound the strong man. We remember from Matt. 12:29 that Jesus binds the strong man so that He can plunder his kingdom. Thus, by logical deduction, we can say that Jesus will bind Satan in the abyss so that He can plunder his kingdom.

WHEN IS SATAN BOUND?

But can we also determine when Jesus is going to bind Satan? I think we can.

First, from Rev. 20:2 we observe that the dragon (Satan) is bound at the beginning of the thousand years.

Also, from Matt. 12:29, we know that someone (in this case, Jesus) “first binds the strong man (Satan), and then he will plunder his house.” So the sequence goes, “First we bind him, then we plunder him.” From this verse and from ordinary reasoning, we can conclude that, immediately after the strong man (Satan) is bound, the plundering of the strong man’s house (Satan’s kingdom) begins.

Since, from Rev. 20:2 we know that Satan is bound at the beginning of the thousand years, and from Matt. 12:29 we know that, when Satan is bound, the plundering of his kingdom begins, we can logically conclude that the plundering of Satan’s kingdom begins at the beginning of the thousand years.

Now the question is, “When does Satan’s kingdom begin to be plundered?” If we can answer this question, we will have discovered both when Satan is bound and when the thousand years begins. But the answer to this question is obvious: Satan’s kingdom began to be plundered the moment the commissioned church (Matthew 28:19-20) began to proclaim the gospel of salvation so that lost sinners could be saved. Thus, we now know that Satan was bound at the very beginning of the gospel age (~AD 32) and, since, from Rev. 20:2, Satan was bound to begin the thousand years, we know that “the thousand years” began in ~AD 32.

DOES THIS FIT THE BIBLICAL RECORD?

So far, so good. But could this have actually occurred? That is, does the Scripture allow the possibility that the resurrected Jesus bound Satan in the abyss in ~AD 32? Yes, the Scripture does allow for this occurrence.

Recall that the resurrected Lord Jesus ascended to heaven in Acts 1:9. Then in Rev. 5:6ff, the victorious Lamb arrives in heaven to the praises of the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders and to the praises of myriads of angels. He begins to break the seven seals of the book, and from that point until His glorious return (Rev. 19:11-16) He is seated in heaven at the Father’s right hand (Psalm 110:1). So, when would there be a time when Jesus could bind Satan in the abyss?

After the resurrected Lord leaves His disciples on earth (Acts 1:9), but before He arrives in heaven as the victorious Lamb (Rev. 5:6), He is seen “coming down from heaven, holding the key to the abyss” (Rev. 20:1). It is at this time, while He is ascending to heaven, that He binds Satan in the abyss for the thousand years. After binding Satan, Jesus ascends to heaven.

This scenario agrees with the biblical text and provides a reasonable explanation for the events surrounding the binding of Satan.

SDG                 rmb                 9/9/2022                     #567

The binding of Satan, Part 1 (Matthew 12:29)

INTRODUCTION. There are two places in the Bible that teach about the binding of Satan, in Matthew 12:29 and in Revelation 20:1-3. This post will be a study of Matthew 12:29, seeking to discover what Jesus teaches us about this subject.

Our purpose in these two posts is to discover what the Scripture teaches us about the binding of Satan, implicit in Matthew 12:29 and explicit in Revelation 20:1-3. First, Matt. 12:29.

Our study verse is at the end of a passage (Matt. 12:22-29) in which Jesus teaches about casting out demons. Satan does not cast out Satan (12:26) and Jesus does not cast out demons by Beelzebul (12:27). Rather, Jesus casts out demons by the Spirit of God, thus proving that He has more power than Satan. Then He says,

“Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.” – Matthew 12:29

Let’s examine and interpret this verse.

First, who is “the strong man?” From the context, it is clear that the strong man refers to Satan. Satan is the one who deceives and captures the unrighteous (2 Tim. 2:26). Satan blinds the minds of the unbelievers (2 Cor. 4:4). Satan has his schemes (Eph. 6:11) and he is the one who hinders us from proclaiming the gospel (1 Thess. 2:18).

And “the strong man’s house” speaks of Satan’s kingdom (12:26), consisting of his demons and his deceptions, his temptations and his tricks. Satan’s kingdom also contains his most valuable property, namely all the unrighteous whom he desires to keep trapped in their ignorance of the gospel. It is the unrighteous who are considered his property, and these Satan will guard with all his might. Satan is “the strong man, fully armed” of Luke 11:21. He is a formidable foe, and it seems unlikely that anyone has the power to “carry off his property” and to “plunder his house.”

But there is One who is able and who has the power. Jesus, the Son of Man, is the one who “first binds the strong man, and then He will plunder his house.” Although this is in figurative language, we know exactly what Jesus is saying here. The Son of God came “to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Jesus was sent “to proclaim release to the captives” (Luke 4:18), to render the devil powerless and “free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Hebrews 2:14-15). “The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), and Jesus will certainly accomplish His mission. Thus Jesus BINDS Satan so that He can plunder his house. When Satan is bound, he is unable to guard his house.

How does this look in biblical, redemptive terms? Now, Satan has been bound, and as the church proclaims the gospel among the nations, Satan can only watch helplessly as his house is plundered. Through His church, Jesus is now plundering Satan’s house and is drawing all men to Himself (John 12:32).

In summary, then, Matthew 12:29 teaches us that Jesus is going to BIND Satan so that Satan’s kingdom can be plundered. So far, so good.

But this still leaves us with key questions unanswered. For example, when is Satan going to be bound? That is, at what point in history does Jesus bind Satan so that Satan’s house can be plundered? Also, exactly how is Satan bound? For these questions we must ask, “Is there any other place in Scripture that might tell us more about this binding of Satan?” Glad you asked. As a matter of fact, there is. It turns out that Revelation 20:1-3 is another passage that explicitly mentions the binding of Satan, and a careful reading of these verses will reveal both when Satan is bound and how this binding takes place so that his kingdom can be plundered.

And that study will be the subject of our next post.

SDG                 rmb                 9/7/2022                     #566