Reading “Revelation” #4 – Principles to consider

POST OVERVIEW. One ofa series of posts giving principles for reading and interpreting Revelation chapters 4-20, which is the most difficult section of the book. This fourth post of the series deals with general principles to keep in mind as you approach the interpretation of the book. Previous posts in series: Post #590 (11/21), Post #592 (11/26), Post #593 (11/28)

SERIES DESCRIPTION. The book of Revelation is probably the most difficult book of the Bible to interpret correctly, and the main difficulties of the book are in chapters 4-20. Because of these interpretive difficulties and because many Bible teachers have offered conflicting and bewildering ideas about what the various passages of Revelation 4-20 mean, many earnest believers know just enough about the book of Revelation to be confused and intimidated by it. To clear up some of this confusion, in October 2021, I published my book, The Last Act of the Drama: a guide to the end times.

Now, a year later and before the 2nd edition of that book, I want to offer to readers of this beautiful prophecy a series of posts giving principles and guidelines for how to understand and interpret Revelation so that the book becomes a delight instead of a burden.

Interpreting the complex visions of Revelation 4-20 is made more manageable when the reader understands both the purposes for the book of Revelation and principles for navigating the text. Purposes and principles are KEY CONCEPTS which place much-needed limitations on the reader’s options for interpretation and thus reduce the feeling of intimidation. In the last post (#593, 11/28/2022), we had explored four purposes for Revelation. In this post, we will go on to look at general principles about the book.

PRINCIPLES

These principles are really just general ideas or truths about Revelation that help the reader understand where the boundaries of interpretation lie.

PRINCIPLE. Because Revelation is the last book in the inspired canon, it is the book in the Bible that is most “dependent” on the rest of Scripture. By that I mean that the events and actions and characters in Revelation must harmonize with and be consistent with all the other teaching of the Bible. There cannot be a conflict between the timing of an event in Revelation and the timing of that same event in other books of the Bible. For example, we know from Jesus’ teaching in the gospel of John that the general resurrection of all believers occurs on the last day (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54; also, 11:24). Therefore, in Revelation, the general resurrection of all believers must occur on the last day.

Because of this principle, a given interpretation of a passage in Revelation must be examined to see if it conflicts with an existing text of Holy Spirit-inspired Scripture. If a conflict is discovered, the interpretation must be rejected and replaced by one that removes the conflict. All Scripture is God-breathed and the Holy Spirit does not breathe out conflict.

PRINCIPLE. There is nothing profoundly new in Revelation. Remember that Revelation is the last book of the Bible and so it functions as the last book of the Bible. This means that, in this book, we are “landing the plane.” We are pulling together all the threads of the tapestry to show that the masterpiece was always an integrated and cohesive and intricate whole. Revelation is drawing the story to its intended ending and resolving all the plots. Many references and allusions are made to the Old Testament to reveal how these prophetic foreshadows are now fulfilled in the glorious return of the Lord Jesus, in the glorification of all His saints, and in the terrible judgment of all the reprobate. Therefore, in Revelation the persistent question is, “Where have we seen this before?” and is not, “What does this new teaching mean?” Again, there is nothing profoundly new in Revelation.

PRINCIPLE. Revelation presents no new biblical doctrine. This flows as a corollary from the previous statement. The last book of the Bible is not the place to put new doctrinal teaching.

PRINCIPLE. The book of Revelation presents no new major events. All of human history has already been presented in other biblical books. There is no major new event or era which was excluded from the previous sixty-five books of inspired Scripture that suddenly appears in Revelation. But, when I say that Revelation presents no new major events, I do not mean that it presents no new events at all. Remember from our previous study that one of the purposes of Revelation is “to fill in the blanks.” There are many details of the 42 months and even of the last day that require the introduction of minor events. The trumpet warnings (Rev. 8-9), the casting of Satan into the abyss (Rev. 20:3) and then down to the earth (Rev. 12:9, etc.), the persecution of the church by the beast (Rev. 11:7; 13:7), the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 16:13-16; 19:19; 20:9), even the period of the 42 months itself (Rev. 11:2, 3; 12:6, 14; 13:5) are all details that fill in blanks, but these minor events fit into what we already know of history without requiring an entirely new timeline.

Human history between the advents is already set: the risen Jesus ascended after commissioning the church and now sits at the Father’s right hand (Psalm 110:1) awaiting the time of His return. The church is gathering in the elect as she perseveres as sheep in the midst of wolves (Matt. 10:16). The church is proclaiming the gospel, baptizing those who believe, and teaching them to obey Jesus (Matt. 28:19-20). This will continue until the last day when the general resurrection occurs and Jesus returns and the reprobate are judged. Then comes the new heavens and the new earth. That is the flow of biblical history and has been the flow of the grand drama since human history began. Revelation, as the last book of the Bible, is not the place to introduce some new history.

PRINCIPLE. There are no major characters in Revelation whom we have not met before in Scripture. We have known the dragon (Satan, the devil, the serpent) since he tempted Adam in the garden. Of course, we have known about the Lord Jesus ever since we were told about the serpent-crusher in Genesis 3:15. Jesus has been foretold, He has been Incarnate, He has accomplished His work by dying on the cross for His people, He has been raised from the dead, and He has ascended. In Revelation 5, He enters heaven as the returning, victorious Lamb and in Revelation 19:11-16, He returns to earth on a white horse to tread out the wine press of the wrath of God the Almighty. So, we know the Lamb.

In Revelation 13, we meet the beast, but he is simply the final and most vivid manifestation of the antichrist, the human embodiment of wickedness and evil. We have met him several times before. He is the little horn (Daniel 7:21-26), the small horn (Daniel 8), the prince who is to come (Daniel 9:26-27), and the despicable person (Daniel 11:21-45). We have seen him as Gog, the chief prince of Meshech in the land of Magog (Ezekiel 38-39) and we encountered him in 2 Thess. 2:3-12 where he appears as the man of lawlessness.

The point here is that there are no new major characters in Revelation.

This consideration of principles will be continued in the next post.

SDG                 rmb                 11/29/2022                 #594

Reading “Revelation” (#3) Keeping the purposes in mind

POST OVERVIEW. One ofa series of posts giving principles for reading and interpreting Revelation chapters 4-20, which is the most difficult section of the book. This third post of the series deals with the importance of keeping the purposes of the book of Revelation in mind as you approach the interpretation of the book.

Previous posts in series: Post #590 (11/21), Post #592 (11/26)

SERIES DESCRIPTION. The book of Revelation is probably the most difficult book of the Bible to interpret correctly, and the main difficulties of the book are in chapters 4-20. Because of these interpretive difficulties and because many Bible teachers have offered conflicting and bewildering ideas about what the various passages of Revelation 4-20 mean, many earnest believers know just enough about the book of Revelation to be confused and intimidated by it. To clear up some of this confusion, in October 2021, I published my book, The Last Act of the Drama: a guide to the end times.

Now, a year later and before the 2nd edition of that book, I want to offer to readers of this beautiful prophecy a series of posts giving principles and guidelines for how to understand and interpret Revelation so that the book becomes a delight instead of a burden.

THE PRINCIPLES AND PURPOSES OF “REVELATION”

“Where do you begin?” There are so many images and ideas circling around in Revelation 4-20 that it is hard to know where to begin trying to interpret this series of prophecies. And this becomes even more daunting if these ideas and images represent new concepts and characters which we have not seen before in the Bible. So again, where do we begin?

This very important question is made much more manageable when the reader understands the purposes for the book of Revelation and then is able to keep those purposes in mind as he navigates his way through the text. There are also principles regarding Revelation which place limitations and boundaries on the reader’s interpretive options. These are KEY CONCEPTS for understanding Revelation which we will explain and then will illustrate with examples.

PURPOSES

There are four primary purposes for Revelation 4-20: To fill in some blanks, to connect some dots, to present the ultimate example of ideas or characters, and to highlight or emphasize biblical ideas.

  • Fill in some blanks. By the time we reach Revelation, the Bible has already presented the course of history and has told how things are going to proceed all the way to the new heavens and the new earth. We know that, toward the end of the age, lawlessness and persecution of believers will increase. We know that all believers, living and dead, will be resurrected on the last day. We know that Jesus will return in power and glory to gather His saints and to judge the living and the dead. But there are many questions about how all this takes place that Revelation answers. The whole story is already complete, but Revelation fills in many of the missing details. These details again demonstrate that God has ordained all the events of history even until the last event of the last day, and He will surely bring these events to pass. Some examples of “details” include: the 42 months as a separate short time period at the very end of the age; the binding and release of Satan; the battle of Armageddon; the idea of trumpet warnings; and a clearer picture of the intermediate state with the “souls” in heaven in Revelation 6:9-11 and 20:4-6. KEY CONCEPT: Filling in missing details.
  • Connect some dots. Another challenge in considering the events of the end of the age is that it feels like there is a lot going on at once. In previous Scripture, we have read about “that day” and “the day of the LORD” but we have not been told the order of the events of the last day. Revelation connects some of those dots so that the student of eschatology can assemble the sequence of events. During the 42 months we hear the blasts of the trumpet warnings and we see stars falling from heaven, we witness the dragon (Satan) thrown down to earth and the beast rising to power while the false prophet (“another beast” in Revelation 13:11ff) proclaims the wonders of the beast. But how do these fit together? How does this “dot” connect with that “dot”? KEY CONCEPT: The text of Revelation helps us connect the dots.
  • Present ultimate (final) examples. One of the purposes of Revelation is to present to us the full and final example of characters and events we have seen before. For instance, in Revelation 13 we meet the beast coming out of the sea. This is the ultimate example of the human antichrist, whom we have seen in Daniel 7, 8, 9, and 11; in Ezekiel 38-39; and in 2 Thessalonians 2. In Revelation we also see the final awesome pictures of the last day (6:12-17; 11:13-18; 14:17-20; 16:1-11, 17-21; 18:1-24; 20:10-15), the day that has been foreshadowed since the flood (Genesis 6-8) and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). Thus, Revelation presents some final examples.
  • Highlight or emphasize biblical ideas. Revelation also has the purpose of highlighting biblical ideas. The church will undergo tribulation throughout the age. Man is a rebel and, without the Lord, will continue to blaspheme and do evil. There is certainly coming a last day when Jesus Christ will return to pour out the wrath of God. Jesus Christ is the victorious Lamb of glory, the King of kings and the Lord of lords and He will reign forever and ever. Pay close attention to what Revelation highlights.

The student of Revelation will be well-served by keeping these purposes in mind as he makes his way through the text. Remember that Revelation does not introduce major new events or new characters. Rather, Revelation is filling in details to the existing structure of redemptive history. The thought to keep in mind is that this last book of the canon is summing up the teaching and concluding the story. This perspective makes interpreting Revelation less intimidating. Revelation is not building a new house but is laying the flooring in one room and is putting up drywall in another room. Filling in details and connecting dots. Giving the final examples and highlighting key points. These are the purposes of Revelation.

Since that is the case, the best way to prepare to study Revelation is to be crystal clear on what the Bible has already presented. The more you know about the existing geography of Scripture, the more readily you will recognize Revelation’s additional details and the more accurately you will be able to place them on the biblical map.

This post has focused on the purposes of Revelation. The next post will discuss key principles regarding Revelation which place limitations and boundaries on the reader’s interpretive options.

SDG                 rmb                 11/28/2022                 #593

Reading “Revelation” #2 – Where does this event fit?

POST OVERVIEW. One ofa series of posts giving principles for reading and interpreting Revelation chapters 4-20, which is the most difficult section of the book. This second post of the series will address the question of where a given event fits in terms of what happens before that event and what happens after it.

Previous posts in series: #590 (11/21)

SERIES DESCRIPTION. The book of Revelation is probably the most difficult book of the Bible to interpret correctly, and the main difficulties of the book are in chapters 4-20. Because of these interpretive difficulties of the book and because many Bible teachers have offered conflicting and bewildering ideas about what the various passages of Revelation mean, many earnest believers know just enough about the book of Revelation to be confused and intimidated by it. To clear up some of this confusion, in October 2021, I published my book, The Last Act of the Drama: a guide to the end times.

Now, a year later and before the 2nd edition of that book, I want to offer to readers of this beautiful prophecy a series of posts giving principles and guidelines for how to understand and interpret Revelation so that the book becomes a delight instead of a burden.

In the previous post on reading Revelation 4-20, post #590, we had discussed two main ideas. First, we made the statement that Revelation, like almost all biblical prophecy, is not written in chronological order and it is a mistake to read Revelation 4-20 as if these events were arranged chronologically. Second, we suggested that the reader of Revelation must repeatedly ask the question, “WHEN DOES THIS EVENT TAKE PLACE?” and must use keen observation of the text and thorough knowledge of Scripture to supply answers to that question. An interpretation of Revelation 6 was given as an example of this technique.

WHAT EVENT(S) ARE BEFORE THIS AND WHAT EVENT(S) ARE AFTER?

Another important question to answer when reading Revelation, is, “WHAT IS THE SEQUENCE OF THESE EVENTS?” That is, “WHAT OCCURS BEFORE THIS EVENT AND WHAT OCCURS AFTER?” For example, we know that the general resurrection of all believers, the living and the dead, occurs on the last day (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 11:24). The logical conclusion from this fact means that all events that do not occur on the last day necessarily occur before the general resurrection of all believers. Thus, “the thousand years” (Rev. 20:1-6), all the events of the 42 months (Rev. 11:2, 3; 12:6, 14; 13:5), the great tribulation (Daniel 12:1; Matt. 24:21), the rise of the beast and the false prophet (Rev. 13), the trumpet warnings (Rev. 8, 9), the first through fifth seals (Rev. 6), and the binding of Satan in the abyss (Rev. 20:1-3) all occur before the general resurrection.

Notice what was done in this example. First, a significant known fact was presented: Jesus declared that the resurrection will occur on the last day. Then logic was applied: if the resurrection occurs on the last day, then all the events of the end times that do not occur on the last day occur before the resurrection. Then we listed some specific end-times events which occurred before the resurrection.  

Another example of this arranging of events is the understanding that Armageddon (Rev. 16:13-16) occurs just before the coming of Jesus Christ (παρουσία) in Rev. 19:11-16. This understanding is based on the interpretation that Jesus returns from heaven just in time to rescue his bride, the church, from annihilation due to persecution (Rev. 11:7; 13:7). In the Armageddon passage, we observe that all three members of the unholy trinity, Satan (the dragon), the beast, and the false prophet (Rev. 16:13), are active in gathering the kings of the whole world together for “the war of the great day of God” (Rev. 16:14). Since Satan is active in gathering the kings, it is apparent that he has been released from the abyss (Rev. 20:3, 7), and since Satan has been released from the abyss, it means that “the thousand years” have ended (again, Rev. 20:3, 7). Also, in this scene of Armageddon, the beast has obviously appeared (see Rev. 13:1-10), as has the false prophet (“another beast” in Rev. 13:11ff). Notice that, according to Rev. 13:5, the beast appears during the forty-two months. Finally, since Satan (the dragon) is active after “the thousand years” are completed (Rev. 20:7) and the beast is active during the 42 months, we can conclude that the period of the 42 months occurs after “the thousand years.” These observations and conclusions constitute a significant collection of facts about the sequencing of the events of the end times which can be applied to other passages of the book.

Notice again what was done in this example. We made observations of the details of the passage (Rev. 16:13-16). From those observations we made logical conclusions. We discovered that, for the battle of Armageddon, Satan has been released from the abyss, the period of “the thousand years” has ended, the 42 months is coming to a close, and the last day is imminent.

One more observation should be made about this four-verse section of Rev. 16. As stated above, the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet are gathering the kings of the earth for “the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (Rev. 16:14) and they are gathering them at the place called Armageddon (16:16). This “great day of God” must certainly be the last day and it is obvious from the text that this day will occur in the very near future. What is the precise sequence? My personal interpretation of these events is that the gathering together of the kings and their armies (Rev. 19:19) takes place at the very end of the 42 months and that Armageddon is the war that occurs on the last day.

SUMMARY

Once again, we have seen that careful observation of details coupled with reasoned logic and knowledge of the Scripture allows the student of Revelation not only to discover when these events occur, but also to postulate a sequence of those events.

SDG                 rmb                 11/26/2022                 #592

Lessons from Ananias and Sapphira – Part 1 (Acts 5:1-11)

POST OVERVIEW. A study of the incident with Ananias and Sapphira from Acts 5:1-11. This post considers the severe judgment these two receive for what seems like a fairly minor offense. What is the message of this sudden judgment? We will also explore why the punishment was so severe and what God’s purpose was in this judgment.

The story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 is one of the most startling events in the New Testament. These two seemingly upstanding disciples join with many others in making a sizeable contribution to the Jerusalem church, laying their large gift at the apostles’ feet. Their contribution, which would seem to be worthy of notice or even commendation, is met instead with a withering rebuke by the apostle Peter and, within a few hours of making their gift to the church, both Ananias and Sapphira have dropped dead and have been buried. And why have they been so severely judged? Because they “lied to the Holy Spirit and kept back some of the price of the land” that they sold (Acts 5:2-3). To many readers, this doubly lethal judgment seems confusing and maybe even unfair since their violation appears to be relatively minor. How do we explain this radical justice?

GOD IS HOLY AND HE WILL JUDGE SIN

Before we dive into this text, we need to remind ourselves of some fundamental ideas. First, God is holy and He decides when He will judge. In this age of grace, even disciples of Jesus can begin to believe that God is obligated to indefinitely delay His judgment, but we will search the Scriptures in vain for any such promise. God remains God and He is free to unleash His judgment when He chooses (Psalm 115:3). Consider Uzzah when he tried to steady the ark and the LORD struck him dead (2 Samuel 6:6-7). The LORD will be treated as holy and He reminds His people of their call to be holy as well. (Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2; 1 Peter 1:14-16.)

THE CHURCH IS HOLY AND MUST PURGE SIN

The New Testament community, the church, is to be holy and, therefore, the foundational church in Jerusalem must establish its complete intolerance of sin. But notice that it is the Lord Himself who purges the evil from the midst of this church. (ASIDE: Later Paul will instruct the church to maintain purity from sin by removing an unrepentant member from their midst in 1 Cor. 5. Thus, one mark of a true New Testament church is that there is no tolerance of known sin. If sin is discovered in the ranks, then it will be exposed and, if there is not repentance, the sinning member must be formally removed.) The Lord Himself takes this action because, in the newly formed Jerusalem church, there was as yet no instruction for how to treat sin in the church and the holiness of the church had not yet been clearly established. Thus, in this instance, God Himself demonstrates the church’s absolute intolerance for sin as He Himself purges the evil from the church.

HOLINESS AS LEGAL AND EXTERNAL VS. HOLINESS AS ESSENTIAL

Of course, even in the Old Testament, the people of Israel were commanded to be holy (Lev. 11:44, 45; 19:2), and that the people were also commanded in the Law to purge the evil from their midst (see Deut. 22:21, 22, 24, to name only a few of the references). But under the old covenant, Israel continued to view holiness as legal and as obtained by external adherence to the Law (for example, see Paul’s words about his own pharisaical attitude in Phil. 3:6, 9).

In the new covenant church, however, holiness is essential. The disciples of Jesus, the people who have believed in Him, are now part of an entirely new covenant community, for whom holiness is no longer merely external and legal, but holiness has now become an essential part of what it means to be a disciple. The New Testament makes this very clear in numerous places, perhaps none more sobering than in Hebrews 12:14, where the writer says, “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” Therefore, since the members of the new covenant community are individually holy, it follows that the congregation of holy disciples will have no tolerance for sin.

And so, in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, when sin was discovered among the ranks of those who claimed to follow Jesus, God Himself judged that sin swiftly and decisively. Through Peter, God judged sin in the church and so gave the fledgling church and every church of any age, a clear picture of the seriousness of sin in the body. As God tolerates no sin among His people, so the church is to tolerate no unrepentant sin in its professing members. As the LORD commanded His old covenant people to purge the evil from their midst (see Deut. 22:21, 22, 24, etc.), much more the Lord commands His new covenant church to REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES (1 Cor. 5:13, quoted from Deut. 13:5).

DIFFERENCE IN THE MEANS OF REMOVING EVIL

Although church discipline is not addressed at all in this passage, it seems appropriate to make a couple of comments on the subject to remove any remaining confusion about the judgment of Ananias and Sapphira.

There is a significant difference between how the old covenant people of God purged evil from their midst and how the church does this. Under the old covenant, the Law required that, on the evidence of two or three witnesses, this purging of evil was to be conducted by the people stoning the offender to death. As the author of Hebrews writes, under the Law, willful sin brought with it “a terrifying expectation of judgment. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses” (Hebrews 10:27-28). So, under the old covenant, the people purged the evil by executing the offender.

The death of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 may appear no different than “purging the evil” under the old covenant until we realize that it was God, not the church, who administered this punishment. This means that Acts 5 is not an example of church discipline but is an example of God’s holy judgment. To compare old covenant purging of evil (above) by the people of God with its new covenant version, we need to compare the death by stoning without repentance (Num. 15:32-36; Deut. 22:21, 22, 24) with the administration of church discipline that we find in 1 Cor. 5. This new covenant “purging of evil” has the aim of restoring the offending member to the fellowship and so provides generous time for repentance. If the offender does not repent, he is not executed but is removed from the church. But even if removed from the fellowship, there is still an opportunity for restoration on the condition of genuine repentance.

THE HOLY SPIRIT IS DIVINE

One final comment before we go to a verse-by-verse exegesis of the passage is that Acts 5:1-11 makes plain the deity of the Holy Spirit. This will come out clearly as we go through the text and see that the Holy Spirit is God, the third member of the Trinity.

SDG                 rmb                 11/23/2022                 #591

Reading “Revelation” #1 – When does this event occur?

POST OVERVIEW. One of a series of posts giving principles for reading and interpreting Revelation chapters 4-20, which is the most difficult section of the book. This first post of the series will address the crucial question of when events in Revelation occur.

[NOTE: This post was edited on November 27.]

SERIES DESCRIPTION. The book of Revelation is probably the most difficult book of the Bible to interpret correctly, and the main difficulties of the book are in chapters 4-20. Because of these interpretive difficulties of the book and because many Bible teachers have offered conflicting and bewildering ideas about what the various passages of Revelation mean, many earnest believers know just enough about the book of Revelation to be confused and intimidated by it. To clear up some of this confusion, in October 2021 I published my book, The Last Act of the Drama: a guide to the end times.

Now, a year later and before the 2nd edition of that book, I want to offer to readers of this beautiful prophecy a series of posts giving principles and guidelines for how to understand and interpret Revelation so that the book becomes a delight instead of a burden.

IS REVELATION WRITTEN IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER?

We begin with a fundamental question: “Is Revelation 4-20 to be understood as written in chronological order?” To state this question another way, “Is Revelation 4-20 one continuous series of events with chapter 4 beginning the events and chapter 20 ending the events, and all the events in between occurring one after the other in sequence?” Many readers of Revelation claim that chapters 4-20 should be read chronologically, assuming that John is writing of these events in the order in which they occur. This would mean that chapter 4 occurs before chapter 5 and chapter 7 occurs before chapter 8, chapter 11 occurs before chapter 12 and chapter 20 occurs after chapter 19. But while it is true that the events of historical narrative like 1 Kings or the gospel of Matthew or the book of Acts or Exodus are presented in chronological order, the ordering of the events of biblical prophecy is not necessarily presented this way. Rather, the timing of the events of prophecy like Revelation must be determined by carefully evaluating the details of the prophecy itself and then connecting those details with the timing of known events. (See examples of this in Revelation 6 below.)

This means that, while John’s visions in Revelation are assumed to be recorded in the order the visions were received, they are not necessarily written in the order they will occur. In fact, it is this requirement to accurately determine the timing of these future events that makes reading and interpreting Revelation so difficult. It means that each scene in chapters 4-20 must be examined for details and then those details must be compared to known scenes so that a time of occurrence can thus be determined. All of this necessitates patience, persistence, and skill on the part of the reader or interpreter, but the net result of this effort will be a coherent picture of the events of the end of the age.

AN EXERCISE USING REVELATION 6

So, as an illustration, let’s try to identify when the events of Revelation 6 occur.

Before we begin with this exercise, we need to acknowledge that the last days, which is the time between Christ’s ascension (Acts 1:9) and His return at the end of the age, contain three categories when events occur: “the thousand years,” the 42 months, and the last day. In my view, “the thousand years” represents a very long period of time that begins at Christ’s ascension and that ends when Satan is released from the abyss (Rev. 20:3, 7). The “42 months” begins when Satan (or the dragon) is released from the abyss and extends until the last day (the day of the LORD, that day, the end of the age, etc.). Finally, “the last day” is exactly what its name implies, the last day of the age. The last day is followed immediately by the inauguration of the new heaven and the new earth.

As one last comment, you will observe that it is not always possible to be certain about the precise occurrence of an event, either because there is not enough evidence to give certainty or because the precise order or timing is not crucial. We will see, for example, that the precise placement of the second, third, and fourth seals (Rev. 6:3-8) has some ambiguity, but the ambiguity does not affect the interpretation of the passage.

So, let’s begin.

The timing of the breaking of the first seal (Rev. 6:1-2) is significant and this significance makes the timing certain. (For a more detailed treatment of this first seal, see my book Last Act of the Drama.) The rider with a crown seated on the white horse (6:2) represents the church, which is riding out with the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8) and with the charge of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), conquering and to conquer with the bow of the gospel. Thus, the first seal is broken immediately after Christ’s ascension (or perhaps symbolically on the day of Pentecost) so that the church can begin her work of gathering the elect into the church. This occurs at the very start of “the thousand years.”

My understanding of the second, third, and fourth seals (Rev. 6:3-8) is that these seals are also broken during “the thousand years” and represent what life will be like during that period. Although not as tumultuous as the 42 months, “the thousand years” will definitely reflect a fallen world filled with wars and famines and the ever-presence of death. These miseries will be part of the routine during “the thousand years.” [NOTE: I do not consider these seals to be part of the 42 months because there does not appear to be anything out of the ordinary about these seals and their results.]

The fifth seal (Rev. 6:9-11) reveals the souls of those slain because of the word of God and because of their testimony. As we compare these martyrs with those who are slain in Rev. 20:4-6, we see that there are many similarities. Notice that the scene of those who had been beheaded in Rev. 20 explicitly occurs during “the thousand years” (20:4, 5, 6), but when does this event with the souls under the altar take place? I believe that, as there are martyrs throughout “the thousand years” (20:4-6), so there will be martyrs who will be able “to rest for a little while” (Rev. 6:11) during the 42 months. In other words, as Rev. 20:4-6 pictures for us the martyrs that are killed during “the thousand years” (explicitly stated), so Rev. 6:9-11 pictures for us the martyrs who are killed during the great tribulation of the church during the 42 months. Thus, the fifth seal is broken during the 42 months.

The sixth seal (Rev. 6:12-17) is broken during the last day and shows us the catastrophic events that will terrorize the unsaved on the last day. It is obvious that Rev. 6:12-17 occurs on the last day, for all these events that take place are last-day events. The last verse, Rev. 6:17 is conclusive: “The great day of their wrath (the wrath of Him who sits on the throne and the wrath of the Lamb) has come, and who is able to stand?” We know that the Lord’s full wrath will be poured out on the earth on the last day, so we know that these events take place on the last day. [NOTE: Since we now know that these events take place on the last day, when we see these same events and catastrophes mentioned somewhere else in Revelation, we know that we are probably looking at a last-day event. For example, an earthquake, the kings of the earth are terrified, the sky rolled up like a scroll, and every mountain and island removed from its place. These can be helpful clues when trying to determine the timing of other passages.]

SUMMARY

In summary, then, we can see that, just in the seventeen verses of Revelation 6, we journey from the time just after Christ’s ascension at the very beginning of “the thousand years” to the events of the last day as Christ is coming to judge the earth (Psalm 96:13).

The purpose of the exercise was to demonstrate how knowledge of the basic structure of Revelation and some logical deductions can be used to establish the sequence of events in Revelation.

SDG                 rmb                 11/21/2022                 #590

Edited 11/27/2022.

The need for a demanding definition of discipleship

POST OVERVIEW. This post points out the problems with a broad and shallow definition of discipleship and simultaneously argues for a demanding definition in which conscious, intentional effort produces growth in Christlikeness.

If the disciple is to progress in holiness, usefulness, and obedience in his walk with Christ, then his course of discipleship must be rigorous enough to produce these desired results. And the beginning of any course of discipleship is a clear understanding that discipleship is the means to bring about a desired end.

In Philippians 2:12, the apostle Paul commands believers to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” This is an excellent theme verse for your discipleship. “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” When? All the time. Where? Wherever you are. For how long? Till Christ returns or calls you home. To what end? To the end that you will be conformed to the holiness and usefulness and obedience of Christ. What falls under this idea of working out my salvation? As a disciple of Jesus, everything in your life is part of your discipleship. “Disciple” is your identity and discipleship is your activity. The disciple is consciously and intentionally and purposefully engaged in discipleship to the greatest of all ends, to be pleasing to Master, to be useful to the Master, to be holy like the Master, and to be obedient like the Master. I contend that a demanding definition of discipleship is necessary if we, as fallen and weak human beings, are going to use our limited days and our feeble energies to make serious progress in our journey toward Christlikeness.

THE PROBLEM IDENTIFIED

I have gone to some length already to set the bar high in terms of defining discipleship because my observation is that a vigorous definition of discipleship is hard to come by in American churches. My sense is that most American churches do not even have a concept of discipleship. The idea that all professing believers are expected to grow in Scriptural knowledge, in obedience to Scripture, in holiness, in usefulness to the church, and in their witness for Christ in the world is a foreign concept in most American churches. This is lamentable, but it is not about these churches that I am concerned right now.

There are other churches which do have a concept of discipleship, and which do desire to be engaged in it, but their definition of what constitutes “discipleship” is so weak that it will fail to produce any meaningful results in sanctification. An anemic definition will produce anemic results. One example I heard of recently had a course in the church that was named “Discipleship” but which was, in reality, simply a year-long Bible survey. While this might qualify as a basic component of a vigorous course in discipleship, to equate this Bible overview with discipleship falls well short of the mark. This situation is not good, and it is difficult to see how this attitude toward “discipleship” is going to produce any meaningful or lasting fruit. But I am not targeting this group of churches now, either.

Finally, there is a third group of churches that not only has a concept of discipleship, but their church leadership also intentionally seeks to lead the church into a culture of discipleship. But there is a common flaw even among these well-meaning, intentional churches, and it again comes down to the definition of discipleship. In a church that I have attended recently, the definition of discipleship was “doing spiritual good to another believer.” While this is not technically wrong, such a broad and benign definition brings with it the very real possibility that the disciples in your flock think they are engaged in discipleship when, in fact, they may be doing nothing more than fellowship. If the aim of discipleship is not clearly stated as persistently growing in Christlikeness in all aspects of the disciple’s life, then broad and shallow tactics and strategies will suffice, but you will find that the lives of the disciples in your flock will be little different from the world.

The following are some further comments on this theme:

  • Discipleship involves the EFFORT of the disciple himself. That is, each disciple’s spiritual growth in Christlikeness is his own responsibility. In Phil. 2:12, the apostle Paul commands every disciple to work out HIS OWN SALVATION with fear and trembling. So, discipleship is not a committee activity. Rather, I am personally responsible for working out my own salvation. Other disciples can certainly help me, but it is my responsibility before the Lord to grow in holiness, obedience, and usefulness. I can and should solicit the help of other disciples to help me with skills and knowledge, but the working out is up to me. In college, you could get assistance from professors or tutors or other classmates, but your grade in the class was your responsibility. It is the same principle with discipleship.
  • Discipleship is purposeful, meaning that the disciple pursues a particular course of action for the purpose of growing in a particular area of our walk with Christ. Examples might be attending an Equipping Class at your church on Evangelism to be a more effective witness for Jesus or memorizing a chapter of the Bible to hide the Word in your heart and to have that Scripture available for meditation at any time.
  • Discipleship implies there is a target or a reason for an action. Usually growing disciples will plan their discipleship activities and then be sure to execute those plans so that progress is sustained. Planning your goal-centered activities puts the theoretical on your calendar, but only execution of those plans allows you to reap the benefits of your planning. So, growth in Christlikeness occurs only where there is intentional effort in specific activities aimed at the desired end of spiritual growth.

Of course, this does not mean that there is no benefit or spiritual growth to be had in routine activities. It is certainly true that much is learned, and much growth can be obtained from small steps over a long period of time. The point I am emphasizing here is that true discipleship does not occur randomly or accidentally. A disciple does not accidentally memorize the book of Ephesians or randomly come to understand the doctrine of election.

  • Imagine that you desire to run a marathon and so you begin your training. If you are planning to run 26.2 miles, then you need a training plan strict enough and demanding enough to allow you to accomplish your desired goal. In that training plan, you do not consider walking from the parking lot into the grocery store to be a training activity. Why not? Well, there are several reasons why not, but one of the reasons would be that walking the short distance into the grocery store is not an activity done in order to run a marathon. It is not done with the marathon in mind and for the conscious purpose of completing the 26.2-mile marathon. A legitimate training activity is done with the goal of the training in mind. And so it is with discipleship. A disciple engages in discipleship activities because these, if executed diligently, will help me grow in Christlikeness. These activities will bring about spiritual growth in me and will enable me to accomplish my goal of being holy and useful and obedient.
  • A person who says they want to be a concert pianist, but whose only musical activity is thirty minutes a day on the guitar will not achieve their aim, no matter how convinced they are that their musical regimen is creating a pianist. And why not? It is because their regimen is too weak. Just so, if you desire to be useful to the Master, an effective ambassador for Christ, an example to other disciples, a person who passes on spiritual strength and encouragement to the succeeding generations, and holy as the Lord is holy, then you need a discipleship regimen that is capable of those desired results.
  • Discipleship requires the disciple to expend conscious effort. Paul commands each disciple to “WORK OUT your salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). “Working out” anything requires effort. If you would “work out” your physical fitness with fear and trembling, you will be required to sweat and groan and endure some level of pain over a relatively long period of time. Your amount of progress is directly related to the degree of EFFORT. Just so discipleship requires conscious effort over a long period of time.

So, again, the main point I am trying to make here is that, if discipleship is going to be the grand adventure it is intended to be, the disciple must envision a grand end and must strive to reach that grand end via intentional, conscious, purposeful efforts. To be meaningful, your discipleship must be capable of bringing you to your desired destination.

SDG                 rmb                 11/20/2022                 #589

This Jesus is both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:22-36)

POST OVERVIEW. The second post of a two-post series which examines Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost. (See first post, #587 on November 16, 2022, which gave the background for the apostle’s message.) This second post will be a verse by verse exegesis of the sermon, showing how Peter brilliantly makes his meaning clear.

OVERVIEW OF THE SERMON

The last post (#587) gave important background information for the sermon Peter delivered on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. In that post, we explored why Peter began his message by referring to Jesus as “the Nazarene” and we considered the two Davidic psalms which Peter quoted in his sermon, Psalm 16 and Psalm 110. Building on that foundation, we are now going to examine the sermon verse by verse to see how Peter crafts his message so that he brings his audience to a saving understanding of who Jesus is.

Before the exegesis, however, we need to see the structure of the sermon and understand specifically what Peter is intending to communicate. (The section of Scripture we will be exploring is Acts 2:22-36, which is the main body of the sermon and contains Peter’s most important points.)

In broad strokes, Peter’s message is that Jesus the Nazarene, whom “you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:23), this Jesus whom God raised up again (2:24, 32), “this Jesus whom you crucified” is “both Lord and Christ” (2:36). Thus, Peter must demonstrate from the Scriptures that this Jesus is the Christ, Israel’s promised Messiah, and he must demonstrate from the Scriptures that this Jesus is Lord, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob.

The structure of the sermon is as follows:

  • Acts 2:22-23. Opening. “You crucified Jesus the Nazarene.”
  • Acts 2:24-32. From Psalm 16 (of David), Jesus is the Christ.
  • Acts 2:33-35.  From Psalm 110 (of David), Jesus is Lord.
  • Acts 2:36. Closing. “You crucified Jesus, who is both Lord and Christ.”

Now that we see the direction of the sermon, we are ready to explore the details.

VERSE BY VERSE EXEGESIS

This exegesis assumes that the reader is following along in their Bible. I will be using the New American Standard Bible (1995 Edition).

OPENING

Acts 2:22. Peter introduces Jesus the Nazarene. Although He had been crucified almost two months before Pentecost, Jesus’ name was still known to this Jewish crowd. Jesus’ earthly ministry had made an impression on the region around Jerusalem and into Galilee and beyond, so Peter here reminds them of Jesus. As we have said, Jesus as “the Nazarene” emphasizes His humble humanity and His humiliation in His shameful death. But also, Peter reminds the crowd that Jesus was no ordinary man, for He performed miracles and wonders and signs which were attested to many people. In fact, God performed these miracles through Jesus.

Acts 2:23. The vileness of Jesus’ execution and their own corporate guilt is now hammered home. “This Man you nailed to a cross and put Him to death.” Notice that Peter places the responsibility for Jesus’ death not on the ones who carried it out, but on the ones who planned it and agreed to it and who desired it. “YOU nailed Him to a cross.” But the Jews already knew and accepted this. “Yes, we saw to it that Jesus the Nazarene was executed. We were told He was a heretic.” So far, Peter is simply telling them facts they already know.

NOTE: This verse also contains the immensely important phrase, “delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God.” This post will not explore this but will leave its explanation for another post at a later date.

JESUS IS THE CHRIST

Acts 2:24. This verse begins the section of the sermon (2:24-32) in which Peter will demonstrate from Psalm 16 that Jesus is the Christ. “But God raised Him up again.” Peter delivers a thunderclap to the crowd: “You crucified Jesus, BUT GOD RAISED HIM UP.” The crowd begins to understand the wickedness of their act. “We put Jesus to death, but God raised Him to life again. Whom we crucified God resurrected. We must have acted against God.”

The big news, however, is that, in Jesus, we have a resurrection. Peter has thus made the focus of the sermon to be the resurrection. Among the Hebrews at that time, whenever the subject of the resurrection would come up in a conversation, Psalm 16 would be the Scripture referenced. So, if this is a resurrection, then this is a fulfilment of Psalm 16:8-11, which Peter will quote in the next verses.

Acts 2:25. Peter states that, in Psalm 16:8-11, David is speaking of Jesus. (NOTE: Acts 2:25-28 is a direct quote of Psalm 16:8-11.) Remember that, among Hebrew scholars of the time, this section of Psalm 16 was acknowledged to be Messianic. Also, as we have already mentioned, this section of Psalm 16 was the “go to” passage in the Old Testament for the resurrection. Therefore, when Peter says, “For David says of Him (Jesus),” he is saying that, in Psalm 16, David is telling of the resurrection of Jesus.

Acts 2:26. Peter continues to quote Psalm 16 with verse 9.

Acts 2:27. This is the key verse in the passage, a quote of Psalm 16:10.

Because You will not abandon my soul to Hades,
Nor allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.

Before we dig deeper into this verse, we need to notice that Peter has established an important point. In Acts 2:25, Peter declared that, in Psalm 16:8-11, David was speaking about Jesus and here in a quote of Psalm 16:10, he refers to Your Holy One. Thus, Peter has established that “Your Holy One” is Jesus. Remember this when we get to Acts 2:31.

We had noted in post #587 that, at that time, the exact understanding of this verse remained a mystery. It was clear that the verse spoke about a resurrection (“Nor allow Your Holy One to undergo decay”) and it was acknowledged that “Your Holy One” referred to the Messiah, but how the pieces fit together was a puzzle. For Messiah to be resurrected and “not undergo decay,” it would seem that He would need to die, but that did not agree with their teaching which said, the Christ is not to die, but “the Christ is to remain forever” (John 12:34). But now, with what Peter has said so far in his sermon, we have all the information we need to solve the puzzle. Peter, like any good preacher, will now connect the dots for his hearers so that they can fully grasp the significance of what has occurred and what he has said so far.

Acts 2:28. Peter finishes quoting Psalm 16 with verse 11 of that psalm.

Acts 2:29. In this verse, the apostle Peter eliminates the possibility of someone saying that David is here speaking about himself. In fact, Peter proves that David cannot possibly be referring to himself because “David died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.” Thus, David himself certainly underwent decay and was not resurrected. But if he is not speaking about himself, of whom was he speaking in Psalm 16:10?

Acts 2:30. Significantly, Peter reminds his audience that David was a prophet. This means that his writing is divinely inspired and, thus, absolutely true. (“The Scripture cannot be broken” – John 10:35; 2 Timothy 3:16; John 17:17). This leads into Acts 2:31.

Acts 2:31. The apostle Peter declares that David, as a prophet of God, spoke in Psalm 16:10 of the resurrection of the Christ. “He was neither abandoned to Hades, not did His flesh suffer decay.” Notice carefully what Peter has done. In quoting Psalm 16:10, he used the pronoun “His” in place of “Your Holy One.” But note that Peter has also said that this verse speaks of the resurrection of the Christ. Thus by simple logic, Peter has proved that “Your Holy One” is the Christ. But there is more. Remember from 2:27 that “Your Holy One” is Jesus. We again employ simple logic and discover that Peter has proven that Jesus is the Christ.

Acts 2:32. Peter again declares the resurrection of “this Jesus” (“God raised Him up again”) and adds that there are hundreds of witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. Therefore, from the clear teaching of the Scriptures, from logic, and from the fact that Jesus has been raised up by God from the dead, this Jesus is the Christ. This concludes the first part of the sermon.

JESUS IS THE LORD

Acts 2:33a. The second, brief part of the sermon (2:33-35) is intended to demonstrate that this Jesus (whom you crucified) is the Lord, that is, He is God. Peter makes two declarations in Acts 2:33 that we will address separately. First, he declares that this Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of God. We know that, when God raised Him up again, He seated Jesus at His right hand (Mark 16:19; Eph. 1:20; Heb. 1:3). So, now Jesus is at God’s right hand. Hold that thought until we consider 2:34.

Acts 2:33b. Peter also declares that Jesus is the one who “poured forth” the promised Holy Spirit. Now, to understand what Peter is doing, we need to look back in Acts 2 to the quote from Joel 2:28-32a in Acts 2:17-21. There we read (Acts 2:17) “THAT I WILL POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT ON ALL MANKIND.” But we need to know who is speaking in Joel 2:28, 29/Acts 2:17, 18. Who is it that will “pour forth His Spirit?” To answer that question, we need only look back one verse to Joel 2:27, where we read, “I am the LORD your God, And there is no other.” The LORD your God is the one speaking in Acts 2:17, 18 and so “the LORD your God is the one who will “pour forth His Spirit.” But notice that Peter has declared that Jesus has poured forth the promised Holy Spirit. So, from the prophet Joel we can conclude that Jesus is the Lord.

Acts 2:34. Here, the apostle Peter first establishes that Jesus, not David, ascended into heaven, and then Peter quotes Psalm 110:1.

The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand,
Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”’

The main point to notice in this passage is that, according to Psalm 110:1, the Lord is seated at the LORD’s right hand. But wait! Peter has already demonstrated, in 2:33a, that Jesus is at God’s right hand. What do we conclude? Again, we must conclude that Jesus is the Lord.

Acts 2:35. Peter simply finishes the rest of Psalm 110:1. He has made his second point, that Jesus is Lord, and so will conclude his message.

CLOSING

Acts 2:36. With this verse, Peter will put the final nail in the coffin. He has demonstrated from Scripture that this Jesus is the Christ (2:24-32). He has proven from Scripture that this Jesus is the Lord (2:33-35). Now Peter delivers all the guilt of crucifying the Messiah onto the heads of all the house of Israel as he proclaims, “This Jesus whom you crucified is both Lord and Christ!”

CONCLUSION

What we have discovered in this two-part series is that the apostle Peter, an untrained fisherman from Galilee, has, by the power of the Holy Spirit, masterfully proven from two Davidic psalms, Psalm 16 and Psalm 110, that Jesus the Nazarene is, in fact, the Lord of the universe and the promised Messiah, the Christ.

SDG                 rmb                 11/18/2022                 #588

This Jesus whom you crucified (Acts 2:22-36)

POST OVERVIEW. The first post of a two-post series which examines Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost. This first post will provide some background for the apostle’s message, revealing the Holy Spirit’s inspiration. The second post will be a verse by verse exegesis of the sermon, showing how Peter brilliantly makes his meaning clear.

PENTECOST

The importance of the events of Pentecost in Acts 2 can scarcely be overstated. The Holy Spirit comes like a mighty rushing wind, manifesting Himself as tongues of fire; Galileans spontaneously speak in many of the languages of the Mediterranean world; Peter preaches the first sermon of the church age; three thousand people hear the message, repent, and are baptized; and the New Testament church is born. In my most recent study of Acts, I have been struck by the brilliance of Peter’s sermon and how, by carefully expositing the Scripture, he leads his Jewish audience to the conclusion that Jesus the Nazarene (Acts 2:22) is, in fact, Jesus, both Lord and Christ (2:36). We will spend a couple of sessions looking at Peter’s sermon to understand what he is proclaiming and how he communicates his message.

The section of Scripture we will be exploring is Acts 2:22-36, which is the main body of the sermon and contains Peter’s most important points. I will cover this in two posts. This first post will consider the background issues of the label “Jesus the Nazarene” and the two Davidic psalms which Peter quotes in his sermon. Then the second post will build on the first post and explain the passage verse by verse.

JESUS THE NAZARENE

Peter begins the main body of his sermon by speaking of our Lord as “Jesus the Nazarene” (Acts 2:22). He begins here because this is where most of his audience is in their thinking about Jesus. To them, Jesus was a maverick prophet, an upstart who had been exposed by the religious leaders and executed by the Romans almost two months ago. For many, Jesus had probably been forgotten, just another renegade among a long line of heretics. “Yes, we remember that Jesus the Nazarene. So what?”

But there is a theological reason why Peter speaks first about Jesus the Nazarene. This label is a term of derision that speaks of Jesus’ humiliation, of His human childhood in the dusty streets of Nazareth, in an obscure backwater of Galilee of the Gentiles (Isaiah 9:1). In this description there is no hint that this Jesus is the Son of God, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, the Maker of all things visible and invisible. Instead, Peter starts with Jesus the Nazarene, “the carpenter, the son of Mary” (Mark 6:3), the one who was without honor in His hometown and who was almost killed after He gave His first public reading of Scripture (Luke 4:16-30).

Jesus the Nazarene “was despised and forsaken of men. He was despised, and we did not esteem Him” (Isaiah 53:3). After Philip tells Nathanael that they have found the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:45), Nathanael asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (1:46). This is the message of the label “Jesus the Nazarene.”

Jesus the Nazarene speaks of the Man we see in Philippians 2:6-8. God the Son, equal in every way with God the Father, “emptied Himself and humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Jesus is first presented as the Nazarene because it is in His abject humiliation that the Lord of glory could be “nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put to death” (Acts 2:23). So Peter begins his message by talking about Jesus the Nazarene, Jesus in His lowly and inauspicious humanity.

THE DAVIDIC PSALMS 16 AND PSALM 110

The next background issue we will consider is the nature of the two Davidic psalms Peter quotes in his sermon, Psalm 16 and Psalm 110. It is important to note that both these passages were unsolved mysteries, even to the Hebrew scholars of the day. Psalm 16:8-11 and Psalm 110:1 were acknowledged to be Messianic, but the exact meaning of these Scriptures was unknown.

For example, what David meant in Psalm 16:10 when he wrote, “You will not allow Your Holy One to undergo decay” (quoted in Acts 2:27) was a mystery to both Sadducee and Pharisee. If the Pharisees (who believed in a resurrection) had seen this verse as telling of a resurrection, they probably would have adopted that view, but then they would immediately have been confronted with the question, “Resurrection of whom?” The most likely understanding of “Your Holy One” would be the Messiah, but that would mean that the Messiah would need to die and then be resurrected before He began to decay, and none of that made any sense before Christ. So, the meaning of Psalm 16:10 remained opaque until Pentecost.

The other psalm that Peter quotes is Psalm 110. Like Psalm 16, Psalm 110 was also regarded as Messianic and like Psalm 16, the meaning of this psalm was also a mystery. Especially opaque was the understanding of Psalm 110:1 – The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” The difficulties of interpreting this verse are perhaps even greater in the original Hebrew, which reads, “Yahweh says to my Adonai.” Here are some of the questions the interpreter needs to answer from this one verse:

  • How can God speak to God (Yahweh to Adonai)?
  • When does this conversation between Yahweh and Adonai take place? What is the context of this dialog?
  • Where had Adonai been that He was only now taking His seat at Yahweh’s right hand?
  • Although this psalm is obviously Messianic, where is the Messiah in this psalm?

Because a cohesive interpretation eluded even the wisest scholar, Psalm 110:1 remained an unsolved puzzle, shrouded in mystery until Pentecost.

But the main point here is that Peter’s sermon at Pentecost did not introduce some new heretical interpretations of well-known passages of Scripture. Rather, we see that Peter’s sermon simultaneously revealed the true meaning of two well-known but mysterious Davidic psalms and clearly demonstrated from these psalms that this Jesus is both Lord and Christ. Astonishingly, Peter, an untrained fisherman from Galilee, had suddenly emerged as an expert in Scriptural interpretation and as a powerful orator. The only explanation was that he had been filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). And also, wasn’t he one of those who had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13)?

With this understanding of the label “Jesus the Nazarene” and given some background on Psalm 16 and Psalm 110, we are ready to begin going carefully through Peter’s sermon and exegeting it verse by verse. We will do that in our next post.

SDG                 rmb                 11/16/2022                 #587

A race against time (Ephesians 5:15-16)

POST OVERVIEW. A meditation on the use of our time as a disciple of Jesus.

From the time the disciple is called to faith, from the moment he begins following Jesus, the disciple is in a race against time. What do I mean by this? After a person comes to faith in Christ, the believer gains a new awareness of the brevity of life and of its fleeting nature. Having passed from death to life (John 5:24), the follower of Jesus begins to understand that “childhood and the prime of life are fleeting” (Ecclesiastes 11:10), and that “now” is the only time he has. With the new eyes of faith, the believer sees that life can only be spent and that life is to be given away in service to the Lord and to others (2 Cor. 12:15).

The new believer also has a sense of duty that did not exist before, a desire to glorify the Lord with his life. There is now a God-given purpose to the disciple’s life that replaces the previous selfish ambitions. “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21) and with this compelling purpose comes a greater awareness of the finish line. “We must work the works of [the Lord] as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4). The disciple is increasingly aware that, unless the Lord returns first, night is coming. There is coming a day when his race will have been run (2 Tim. 4:7), and the question will be, “Have I fought the good fight, have I kept the faith?” So, before that day, the disciple is eager to “walk not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time for the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16). In this sense, then, the disciple is in a race against time.

RACING AGAINST TIME TO DO WHAT?

With the unknown finish line coming irresistibly closer, what is it that the disciple is racing against time to do? Here are some of my own ideas.

Every disciple has been called to Christ to accomplish the good works which God prepared beforehand for him to do (Eph. 2:10) and so I desire to complete these good works before I am taken away by death or the Lord’s return.

There is a race against time to leave a legacy, to accomplish “a great work” that the Lord has given only me to do. Nehemiah was called to leave his job as a cupbearer to the king and rebuild the wall in Jerusalem. He said to his two nemeses, Sanballat and Tobiah, “I am doing a great work” and I cannot be distracted (Neh. 6:3). Gideon was chosen to defeat the Midianites (Judges 6-8). Joshua led the nation of Israel into the Promised Land. Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem. Noah built an ark. Perhaps God will be gracious to give me a great work as well. So, there is a race to leave my legacy.

In Matthew 13:3, we read, “The sower went out to sow.” The Lord has given me a sack of gospel seeds to scatter and I want my sack to be empty before I am called home. So, there is a race against time to scatter gospel seeds.

There are so many who do not know about Jesus and His finished work on the cross and the salvation that He offers to lost sinners. But I do know Jesus, and it is a race against time to tell as many as I can about my great King.

From time to time, my fellow disciples can become discouraged by the trials and pressures of the world and by the evil in the world, and I am racing against time to encourage as many as I can, “to spur them on to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). Also, I have been given gifts of teaching and so I am in a race against time to edify others with power from the Word.

When I came to Christ more than thirty years ago, I was morally polluted and had developed ungodly habits of life and thought and had a foul mouth. But God has been changing me day by day over these thirty years so that I have made progress in my sanctification. Now I want to display this ransomed life to the world to show God’s power to transform anyone into His useful instrument.

Finally, the Lord has entrusted me with significant financial resources and I am in a race against time to wisely spend the money entrusted to me so that I do not die with a lot of unused funds. The man in Luke 12 was a fool for building bigger barns and not being rich toward God. In the same way, I want to be generous in wise investments of the Lord’s money as a good steward.

So, I am racing against time to accomplish these things with my remaining years.

SDG                 rmb                 11/15/2022                 #586

A definition of discipleship

OVERVIEW. Over the past several months, I have been gathering ideas and writing about the broad topic of discipleship for the purpose of organizing these thoughts and ideas into a book on the subject. This post is my attempt at a comprehensive definition of discipleship to be used in that book. In this post, the definition is stated and then explained word by word. In all this work on discipleship, the key verse is Philippians 2:12, where Paul commands us, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling. – Philippians 2:12

The purpose of this article is to state and explain the definition of discipleship I will be using in all my writing and my work on the subject of discipleship. My definition is based on Paul’s words in Philippians 2:12, where the apostle commands every disciple of Jesus to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” This “working out” is the task of discipleship, but what does this mean to the 21st century disciple? Answering that question begins with defining what we mean when we use the word “discipleship.”

Another comment is probably in order here. The definition that I am proposing for discipleship is demanding, but I think this is the challenging task to which we are called as followers of the Lord Jesus. It is the most glorious calling imaginable for any mortal, to be called to live in fellowship with the living God and to display His glory through this jar of clay. Therefore, the lifelong task of “working out my salvation” such that my life conforms more and more to the perfect righteousness of Christ imputed to me through faith should be likewise demanding.

DEFINITION OF DISCIPLESHIP

Discipleship is the lifelong process of conscious, intentional, purposeful actions taken by the disciple aimed at progressively conforming the disciple into the likeness of Jesus Christ in thought, word, and deed in all areas of the disciple’s life.

Lifelong – The process of discipleship is begun as soon after justification (conversion) as possible and then continues until the disciple’s last breath. This process lasts the rest of life because there is always more to learn and more “conforming” that needs to take place to move the fallen and redeemed man into the image of Christ. Thus, in discipleship there is no retirement, because the phase that follows discipleship is to be without sin, either in heaven with Christ as disembodied souls awaiting the resurrection or in eternity as glorified saints.

Process – While justification is an event that occurs at a point in time, discipleship is process of many incremental steps over a long period of time.

Conscious – The actions the disciple takes aimed at his own growth in Christlikeness are taken consciously. The disciple is aware that he is taking these actions and is aware why he is taking these actions. The actions are thus clearly volitional.

Intentional – The actions the disciple takes are selected based on the fact that these actions bring about the desired result. The actions are selected based on wisdom and are executed after planning.

Purposeful – In the ideal, each action is taken to achieve a specific purpose or objective. There is a target in mind, a reason for the action. The goal is not to merely generate activity but is to move one step closer to the perfection of Jesus Christ in some area of discipleship. Paul did not box as a man beating the air (1 Cor. 9:26). Metaphorically, Paul boxed in order to knock out his opponent. Therefore, he “exercised self-control in all things” (9:25).He “bruised his body to make it his slave” (9:27). These are discipleship words which speak of vigorous effort aimed toward a conscious purpose.

Actions (or activities) – The result of a discipleship plan is visible, intentional action. The disciple sees areas in his walk with Christ that need to grow and then moves confidently into those areas to work out that growth. Like the salmon that will jump up the waterfall until it gains the higher stream, so the disciple continues to act until he gains the desired spiritual growth. The disciple manifests his desire for spiritual growth by intentional actions.

Aimed at (see “Purposeful”)

Progressively conforming – The aim of each conscious, intentional action is to produce change in the disciple such that the flesh is weakened and opposed and that holiness and obedience to Christ are strengthened and are more evident in the disciple’s life.

In thought, word, and deed – Our thoughts are open before God (Hebrews 4:13) and will be manifested in our words (“out of the heart, the mouth speaks”) and evidenced in our deeds. “The LORD desires truth in the innermost part” (Psalm 51:6) and His disciple “hungers and thirsts for righteousness” (Matt. 5:6), so the goal of discipleship is for the disciple always to be growing in Christlikeness in all areas of life.

SDG                 rmb                 11/9/2022                   #585