The disciple’s justification (Phil. 2:12-13)

POST OVERVIEW. This post begins a short series of articles on Philippians 2:12-13, exploring how the disciple of Jesus can work out their salvation with fear and trembling. The first post examines the doctrine of justification as background for study of sanctification.

The New Testament introduces us to the incarnate Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and has as its central theme the gospel of salvation. This gospel states that, for anyone who will place their faith in Jesus and confess Jesus Christ as Lord, God will forgive their sins and will save them from His wrath and give them eternal life. After this salvation event, the believer commits to walk with Christ for the rest of their life in obedience to His commands. One of the words the New Testament uses for the event of salvation is justification, and the believer’s subsequent walk of increasing holiness is called sanctification. This short series is mostly on sanctification, but we first need to understand justification in order to fully understand sanctification.

JUSTIFICATION

We have already spoken about the salvation event as justification, but we need to be a little more precise. Justification is the event whereby a sinner is declared fully and forever righteous in the sight of God because of the sinner’s professed faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

Three things should be noted about this definition. First, this justification is an event, not a process. Although the journey to the point of salvation may take years, justification itself occurs at a point in time. It is a one-time, once-for-all event that has eternal results. This is the moment when the sinner passes from death to life (John 5:24). This is the moment of spiritual birth when one is born again (John 3:3, 5). God justifies the sinner when he initially professes his faith in Jesus. So, event, not process.

But second, in justification, the sinner is declared righteous on the basis of their profession of faith in the Lord Jesus. God declares as righteous the one who confesses Jesus as Lord. Thus the believer, having been declared righteous upon their initial faith in Jesus, is forever viewed as righteous. This also means that all true followers of Jesus are equally justified and equally righteous, even though there may be great differences in terms of the disciples’ actual progress in practical holiness. Justification is God’s declaration of righteousness, not a reward for the disciple’s own efforts.

Third, justification is based solely on the repentant sinner’s initial profession of faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. That is, “having heard the message of truth, the gospel of salvation” (Ephesians 1:13) and having understood that Jesus has come from heaven to die on the cross as a “ransom for many” (Mark 10:45), the sinner believes in Jesus and publicly professes Jesus Christ as their own Lord and Savior.

JUSTIFICATION IS ENTIRELY THE WORK OF GOD

Notice that, in justification, God is the only actor. The Bible presents justification as entirely the work of God. God is the One who justifies (Romans 8:33). God is just and the Justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26 in the powerful verses of 3:21-26). God is the One who justifies the circumcised (Jewish people) by faith and the uncircumcised (Gentiles) through faith (Romans 3:29-30). All this attests to the fact that our God is the One who does the work of justification. In justification, God is active and the believer is passive. God declares righteous and the believer receives righteousness. God is the actor and the believer is the object. It is God alone who “delivers us from the domain of darkness and transfers us into the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13).

Having gotten a good handle on justification, in the next post in this series we will turn our attention to the corresponding subject of sanctification.

SDG                 rmb                 10/5/2022                   #579

Faithful in a little, in much and with another’s (Luke 16:1-12)

POST OVERVIEW. A Bible study from Luke 16:1-12 that examines the parable of the unrighteous steward and Jesus’ subsequent teaching about the use of money by His disciples.

Jesus spoke often to His disciples on the topic of money because money is such an excellent revealer of the true state of our heart. How you steward your money shows where your real priorities lie and is a good indicator of your maturity as a disciple of Jesus.

THE UNRIGHTEOUS AND MAMMON

In Luke 16:1-12, then, Jesus tells a parable about a rich man and the manager of the rich man’s household to teach us the importance of being faithful with our earthy wealth. Take the time now to read through these twelve verses. The story is easy to understand. A rich man entrusted his possessions to his manager, but the manager squandered the rich man’s resources. Then, when he was caught and fired for his mismanagement, the manager further cheated the rich man so that he would find favor with the man’s debtors.

And then, most astonishing of all, the rich man actually praises the manager who has repeatedly cheated him because he acted “shrewdly.” “Yes, you did cheat me out of a bunch of money and you are thoroughly dishonest and untrustworthy, but you are also resourceful and clever, and I have to admire that.”

Notice that “the sons of this age,” the manager, the debtors, and the rich man himself, do not value honesty or faithfulness, trustworthiness or good stewardship, but instead praise the manager for his dishonest shrewdness.

Thus Jesus establishes the first half of the comparison. This is how the unrighteous view mammon. They are focused on achieving their own advantage and advancing their own best interests with little thought to righteousness. The rich man shows that “the sons of this age” also “give hearty approval” to those who practice unrighteousness. (See Romans 1:32.)

By means of this parable, then, Jesus has shown how the unrighteous behave with regard to money and possessions. They do not acknowledge the Lord as the owner of everything, who graciously gives to His creatures so that they can be His stewards, but instead they selfishly and cleverly cheat one another and try to accumulate the most “mammon.” After all, “he who dies with the most toys (gold, money, stuff) wins,” right?

DOES JESUS CONDONE THE STEWARD’S BEHAVIOR?

As an aside, this parable can trouble Bible students who misunderstand Jesus’ teaching, because they interpret the rich man’s praise of his unrighteous manager as meaning that Jesus Himself is condoning the dishonesty of the cheating steward. Of course, Jesus, who never sinned (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15), would never condone any unrighteous behavior, but also the explanation given above should also clarify the passage. The parable means to spotlight the despicable way the unrighteous relate to possessions.

Having established the behavior of the unrighteous with respect to money, Jesus is now going to contrast that behavior with the expected behavior of His disciples. The key verses in this regard are 16:8 and 16:9, with 16:8 being a summary of the parable and 16:9 being a command from the Lord (“make friends” is an imperative, thus a command).

THE RIGHTEOUS AND MAMMON

Luke 16:8. As has already been said, Jesus is not praising or condoning the dishonest behavior of the sons of this age. He is saying, however, that the unrighteous are more shrewd (“prudent,” even “wise”) than the sons of light in their use and management of unrighteous mammon, and this should not be. In a sense, this is a rebuke or at least an exhortation to His disciples to be wise, shrewd stewards of their “mammon.” For if the unrighteous are shrewd in their selfish, godless use of money, how much more should the sons of light be wise with what the Lord has entrusted with them. There is nothing inherently noble or godly in the poor stewardship of God’s possessions.

Luke 16:9. Now Jesus translates His veiled exhortation (16:8) into a command. To understand this command, we must unpack the phrase, “by means of the wealth (mammon) of unrighteousness.” Although “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20), we now live in a material world and therefore we need to learn how to be shrewd in our use of the material means at our disposal. Money is one of the most powerful means we have, so we should be wise (shrewd) in how we steward our money for maximum kingdom impact. Thus, the disciple is intent on learning how to more and more effectively us “unrighteous mammon” to empower the kingdom of God.

Eventually your mammon will fail. I think this simply means that no amount of money can buy you one more heartbeat. Eventually you will die and then you will need to give an account of how well you stewarded the Lord’s possessions (Matt. 25:21, 23; Luke 19:15-19). Steward them well now and you will be welcomed into heaven then.

Jesus has given His disciples a command to make friends in heaven by the shrewd use of money (16:9) and now He will give us some instructions about how to do that.

Luke 16:10. It goes against our fallen logic to think that, if I continually squandered and frittered away my modest salary for twenty years, I will also squander my $20 million in lottery winnings. For some reason, we think that my poor stewardship of my money is related to how much I have. If I just had more then I would suddenly learn how to manage money. But that is not the case, as hundreds of lottery winners can attest. It is only slightly more difficult to squander $20 million than it is to squander $50,000. Faithfulness in the wise use of money is independent of amount.

Thus, Jesus gives us a universal principle that is true for all times and all places: “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.” The message is clear – If you are a disciple of Jesus, you are to be a faithful steward of the Lord’s resources.

Luke 16:11. Your use of money reveals your true attitude toward many things. This also is a general pattern, that the Lord entrusts you with some of His wealth and then He watches to see what kind of a manager you are. The Lord owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10) and He is able to dismiss a debt of 10,000 talents (Matt. 18:24-27) without noticing the loss, but nevertheless He tests His disciples with little to determine their faithfulness. And money is His most common test medium. If you are unfaithful with His money, then why should He entrust you with more?

Luke 16:12. If you have ever been a landlord, then you have had an opportunity to learn something about human nature. Virtually all landlords have stories about so-called human beings who rented from them and who did astonishing damage to their property without the least sign of remorse. How could these renters do such a thing? Because the property was not theirs. Rather, it belonged to another, and so they didn’t care how they treated this house which was another’s.

In the same way, as disciples of Jesus, we know that we have been entrusted with that which is another’s. The Lord has entrusted us with His wealth and He calls us to be faithful with it. We are accountable and He will call for a reckoning.

CONCLUSION

What, then, have we learned from this short parable and exhortation form the Lord Jesus? First, the disciple of Jesus is to be wise and prudent in the use of the Lord’s resources, and particularly of the financial resources the Lord has entrusted to him. There is simply no excuse for the believer to be careless or naïve or indifferent in the use of mammon. Money is a powerful tool here on earth for bringing about Kingdom advances and it is incumbent on the disciple to become skilled in its use.

Next, faithfulness in the managing of money is the goal, not accumulation of the greatest amount. Learn to use the money you have well, and it is likely the Lord will entrust you with more.

Third, be faithful with whatever you have. He who is unfaithful in little is unfaithful in much, and the Lord will not entrust His money to fools.

Also, while having a lot of wealth is not a sin, being entrusted with significant wealth can be a temptation for us to worship the treasure rather than the Giver of the treasure.

Finally, as almost every honest person will admit, it does not take a lot of money to reveal a person’s greed and covetousness. The goal is contentment with whatever God chooses to supply.

SDG                 rmb                 9/30/2022                   #578

Speaking of Melchizedek (Part 4) Hebrews 7:11-17

POST OVERVIEW. This fourth post in our series on Melchizedek from Hebrews 7 explores why the priesthood of Melchizedek is superior to the Levitical priesthood established by the first covenant at Sinai. (See post #574, #575, and #576 for previous posts in this series.) (Updated October 5, 2022)

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. Our fourth post will begin to unpack the author’s argument about how our High Priest, Jesus, is far superior to any old covenant priest and how the priesthood of Melchizedek is far better than the weak Levitical priesthood created by the Law.

REVIEW

We ended the last post by listing the weaknesses of the Levitical priesthood and then showing the ways that Christ’s priesthood, the priesthood of Melchizedek, was superior. (see post #576) Now we are going to go through Hebrews 7:12-17 verse-by-verse to follow the author’s theological argument.

As I had mentioned before, I will not generally be quoting the verses from the biblical text, so I am assuming that the reader has an open Bible as they go through this post. I use the NAS as my study Bible, but an ESV Bible should also work well.

Hebrews 7:12. This verse, is to be understood as parenthetical, since it does not address the subject of priest or of priesthood but speaks about the changing of the law. Also, note that, in this context, “law” and “covenant” can be used interchangeably.

The point that the author makes is that, when the Levitical priesthood, established by the old covenant (the Law), changes and is replaced by the priesthood of Melchizedek, then the old covenant must also be replaced by a new covenant. Simply put, old priesthood, old covenant, but now new priesthood, new covenant. This point is established here but comes into focus in Hebrews 8:6-10:18, when the author will demonstrate the superiority of the new covenant over the old.

Hebrews 7:13-14. Jesus was never associated with the imperfect, temporary priesthood of the first covenant, for Jesus was from the tribe of Judah, and the Law (first covenant) mentions nothing about priests from Judah.

Hebrews 7:15. Not only was Jesus definitely not part of the weak Levitical priesthood, but He definitely was “according to the likeness of Melchizedek” (7:15), and thus is a Priest of his order.

Remember in post #575, we had carefully collected the characteristics of Melchizedek given in Hebrews 7:1-10 (from Genesis 14:18-20) to arrive at his “likeness.” We saw that Melchizedek was king of righteousness, king of peace, priest of God Most High, without father, without mother, having neither beginning of days nor end of life (7:2, 3). It is apparent that Jesus conforms exactly to this “likeness” and, therefore, is the priest according to the permanent order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4).

NOTE. Having established that Jesus is the High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek, we will see that it becomes difficult to distinguish High Priest from priesthood, since the two are essentially one. The order of Melchizedek has only one Priest, and Jesus is our High Priest from the order of Melchizedek. Because this is the case, I may use priest and priesthood interchangeably in the rest of the passage.

Hebrews 7:16-17. The author now shows the superiority of Christ’s priesthood by comparing the appointment of the Levitical priests with Christ’s appointment to His priesthood. Every priest under the first covenant was subject to death and was appointed to fulfill a commandment in the Law, but Christ was uniquely appointed “a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” by an oath from the LORD (Psalm 110:4). Clearly Christ’s appointment is far superior.

SUMMARY

In this short passage, then, the author has shown how Christ is far greater than any of the Levitical priests, for Jesus was not of the dying, sin-stained Levitical priests appointed to fulfill a commandment of the Law. Rather, He was a sinless Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek who was appointed by an oath from the LORD.

Our next post will continue our verse-by-verse exegesis of this passage.

SDG                 rmb                 9/28/2022 (updated 10/5/2022)                    #577

Speaking of Melchizedek (Part 3A) Hebrews 7:11-22

POST OVERVIEW. This third post in our series on Melchizedek from Hebrews 7 begins to dive into the heart of the passage as we explore why the priesthood of Melchizedek is superior to the Levitical priesthood established by the first covenant at Sinai. (See post #574 and #575 for previous posts in 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. Our third post will begin to unpack the author’s argument about how our High Priest, Jesus, is far superior to any old covenant priest and how the priesthood of Melchizedek is far better than the weak Levitical priesthood created by the Law. This post will cover only Hebrews 7:11.

Now that the author has discussed the person of Melchizedek and described his priestly order (Hebrews 7:1-10, see post #575), he turns to consider the significance of there being a permanent priesthood which is better than the priesthood of Aaron. The author’s main purpose for presenting Melchizedek in such detail is to give us a clear picture of his “likeness” (see Hebrews 7:15). This “likeness” defines the characteristics of his priesthood and thus shows us the nature of the High Priest of that order.  

In addition to the “likeness” of Melchizedek, the author’s argument will also draw on the profound truths revealed by Psalm 110:4, in which the LORD (YHWH) makes an oath to Adonai.

The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind,
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.” – Psalm 110:4

In this study, I will not generally be quoting the verses from the biblical text, so I am assuming that the reader has an open Bible as they go through this post. I use the NAS as my study Bible, but an ESV Bible should also work well.

Hebrews 7:11. It is evident that perfection (completion, finality, fulfillment) was never possible from the Levitical priesthood, because Psalm 110:4 speaks about another priesthood, the order of Melchizedek, in which the priest abides forever. This logical conclusion establishes the point that the Levitical priesthood under the first covenant was a temporary priesthood and was in place only until “another priest arose according to the order of Melchizedek” (7:11).

But there is more here than merely realizing the temporary nature of the Levitical priesthood. Notice the author states that “perfection” (Greek  τελείωσις) was not through the Levitical priesthood. Because perfection was not through the Levitical priesthood, it was necessary that another priesthood arise which was perfect. This would be the answer to the question, “Why did we need another priesthood?” But that leads to another question: “What was imperfect or incomplete about the priesthood under the first covenant and how is Christ’s priesthood better?” It is the answering of this second question that constitutes the rest of the chapter and that reveals the glory of our great High Priest, Jesus Christ.

But, before we go on in the verse-by-verse interpretation of this passage, we should pause to make a preliminary list of answers to this second question. This will give us a good idea of where we are headed as we proceed through the rest of the chapter. To repeat the question,

“What was imperfect or incomplete about the priesthood under the first covenant? “

  • The Levitical priesthood was temporary, not permanent
  • Priests were appointed solely based on a law of physical descent from Aaron
  • The Levitical priests all died
  • The Levitical priests were all sinners
  • The priest under the first covenant could not offer forgiveness or salvation

“and how is Christ’s priesthood better?”

  • Because Jesus is a priest forever (Ps. 110:4), He holds His priesthood permanently
  • Jesus was appointed a priest forever by an oath from the LORD (YHWH)
  • Jesus never dies, but lives forever
  • Jesus is “holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners”
  • Jesus is able to save completely and entirely because He lives forever

Now everything is in place to proceed through the rest of the chapter verse-by-verse. That is what we will do when we pick up our study in the next post.

SDG                 rmb                 9/26/2022                   #576

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

“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