Raised together with Christ – Colossians 3:1-12 Part 2

In the previous article (Raised together with Christ – Colossians 3:1-12 Part 1 – Roy’s Reflections), we had begun a fairly deep dive into Colossians 3:1-12 in an attempt to answer the question, “If, for the believer, the ‘old self’ has died (Colossians 3:3) and our sin has been atoned for and forgiven because of Christ’s death on our behalf (Colossians 1:13-14), why does sin and the ‘old self’ continue to plague us?” This passage in Colossians had been chosen because we discovered that here, in these verses, the apostle Paul gives doctrinal teaching and exhortations that directly address these issues. The first article covered Colossians 3:1-4. This second article will look at the commands we can now obey since we have been raised up with Christ (Colossians 3:5-9). Then the third article will focus on the doctrinal truths about salvation that give the believer the power to obey His Savior’s commands (Colossians 3:9-12).

ALL IS CONTINGENT ON BEING RAISED UP WITH CHRIST (3:1)

In the first article, we saw the crucial importance of the first phrase in the passage, which reads, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ (3:1, NASB).” The “if” in this verse should be understood as meaning “since,” because everything that follows in this passage applies only if you have, in fact, been raised up together with Christ. If you have not been raised with Christ, Paul’s teaching and exhortation will be confusing, at best. But if, by God’s grace, you have, Paul will teach you doctrinal truth about what it means to be raised up with Christ and will issue commands that you are now able to obey.

SINCE YOU HAVE DIED, PUT SIN TO DEATH (3:5) COMMAND #1

In our last lesson, we discovered that “raised up with Christ” means that “we have died (3:3).” When anyone hears that Jesus Christ died on the cross to save sinners, and they repent of their sin and trust in Christ as their Lord and Savior, at that moment their “old self” dies. Now, we must understand that, while our “old self” was living, it loved sin and so it accumulated an ugly collection of sins in which to indulge, and our physical body (our “members” – NASB; our “flesh”) became accustomed to this sinful indulgence. Now we have been raised up with Christ and the “old self” has died, but our “members” are still craving the old sins. What are we to do? Since you have died, you are to put to death! “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you (3:5 – ESV).” Now that the “old self” has died, your former ugly sins are to be killed. Hunt them down. Shoot to kill. Make them become extinct. Starve them from all nourishment. Drive them away. Take no prisoners. Give no quarter. Celebrate the death of the “old self” by putting to death all its old friends. Yes, because you have been raised with Christ, you have the responsibility to put your sins to death.

PUT YOUR SINS ASIDE. THROW THEM OFF (3:8) COMMAND #2

In 3:5, Paul gives us instruction about what to do with our more fleshly sins, our former sexual sins, but we know that our former sins included much more than these. Now that we have been raised up together with Christ, we are a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17) who walks in newness of life (Romans 6:4) and who walks in the same manner as Christ walked (1 John 2:6). That means that now we are also to be done with our sins of anger and our sins of the tongue. Paul commands us to “put them all aside (Colossians 3:8).” For many believers, our anger is barely contained inside us, lurking just below the surface, ready to burst forth without warning like an exploding pressure cooker. Before we met Christ, we had no interest in containing our anger and were unconcerned about who was wounded by it. But now we have been raised up with Christ. Now we have died (3:3) and we no longer walk as the Gentiles walk. Now, therefore, we must put aside all these sins. Anger is a sin that must be thrown off like a soiled coat. The angry tongue must be silenced, and its slashing edge must be dulled, because we have been raised up with Christ.

DO NOT LIE TO ONE ANOTHER (3:9). COMMAND #3

Paul issues his third command in a row, and then tells doctrinal truths which empower the believer to obey the commands. “Do not lie to one another (3:9).” There may be times when we think that these instructions from Paul are new and that the Holy Spirit has revealed to Paul a new mark of holiness, but that is certainly not the case here. In Leviticus 19:11, in the Old Testament Law, the LORD commands His people, “You shall not lie to one another.” Also, the ninth commandment says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (Deuteronomy 5:20).” Truthfulness has always been a mark of God’s people, because our God is a God of truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14:6).” Since Jesus is the truth, those who have been raised up with Him must speak truth.

We may wonder where we are supposed to find the ability to obey all these commands. Paul has given us these commands, but these are anything but trivial, especially if we were in the “old self” for a long time. Putting sins to death and putting other sins aside and stopping my habits of lying; that is a pretty tall order. How do we do this? That will be the subject of the next article in this study.

SDG                 rmb                 3/1/2021

Raised together with Christ – Colossians 3:1-12 Part 1

If I have died to sin (Romans 6:2), why do I still struggle with sin (Romans 7:15-25)?

If he was a slave of sin, but is now a slave of righteousness (Romans 6:17-18), how can it be that Paul, the model Christian, laments his wretchedness in his struggle against sin (Romans 7:24)?

If the “old man” has been crucified, why does he still influence my behavior to sin?

I was musing on these and other weighty issues this morning and was led to consider Paul’s letter to the Colossians. As I meditated on Colossians 3:1-12, I discovered that the apostle Paul deals with several of these meatier matters here in this passage, so I decided to devote two or three articles to teaching on this.

ALL IS CONTINGENT ON BEING RAISED UP WITH CHRIST

What Paul is going to now teach in Colossians 3:1-12 is all contingent on his implied assumption in the first verse, which reads, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ (3:1, NASB).” The “if” in this verse should be understood as meaning “since,” because everything that follows in this passage applies only if the person described has, in fact, been raised up together with Christ. If you have not been raised with Christ, Paul’s teaching and exhortation will be confusing. But if you have been raised up with Christ, Paul’s teaching will be amazing and encouraging.

TWO QUICK COMMANDS

To his “raised-up-with-Christ” audience, the apostle issues two commands: seek and set. Since you are a born-again (John 3:3) believer in Christ, “Keep seeking the things above (Colossians 3:1b).” Keep hungering and thirsting for righteousness (Matthew 5:6). Keep thinking about your heavenly citizenship (Philippians 3:20). Keep eagerly waiting for our Savior from heaven (Phil. 3:20-21). And again, since you have been raised up with Christ, “Set your mind on the things above (3:2).” Your sight is to be fixed upward. Allow your mind to dwell on noble things (Phil. 4:8). Renew your mind through the Word (Eph. 4:23; Romans 12:2; 1 Peter 2:2). These blessings are only possible if you have been raised up with Christ.

DOCTRINE: SPIRITUAL DEATH AND LIFE, AND GLORIFIED WITH CHRIST

Now Paul adds doctrinal truth to his teaching. A word about doctrinal truth: Doctrinal truth is universal in that it applies to all persons in a defined group without exception. Our “defined group” is all those who have been raised up together with Christ. The doctrinal truth is, “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God (3:3).” So, we see that, according to Paul’s teaching, all true believers have “died.” In some real sense, we have died, and yet it is obvious that we also live. How do we untangle this knot? This is a complex subject that we will attempt to address briefly. Because of the sin of Adam and the Fall of man, all people without exception are born into the world with a bent toward sin and with a love of sin. This “old self” (Colossians 3:9) is a slave of sin (Romans 6) and, unless and until this person is raised up together with Christ, they continue to be under God’s wrath and judgment because of their sin (Romans 1:18). If they physically die in this state, they will spend eternity in the lake of fire. But the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims the news that when anyone who is living in the “old self” hears that Jesus Christ died on the cross for sinners, and they repent of their sin and trust in Christ as their Lord and Savior, at that moment their “old self” dies, their “new self” (3:10) comes to life, and that person is raised up together with Christ. At that moment, that person has died to their old life of sin and they have been raised up with Christ to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). Their “old self” has been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20), but they live to the glory of God. So, in that sense the believer has died, yet they live. And since Paul is teaching doctrinal truth, this “died-yet-living” is true of all believers.

Finally, in Colossians 3:4 we learn still more doctrinal truth about those who have been raised with Christ. Since you have been raised with Christ, “When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” Paul speaks unambiguously about that time in the future when Christ will be revealed. It is an undeniable fact that Jesus Christ is going to appear from heaven in blazing glory to judge the living and the dead (2 Timothy 4:1). It is a certainty that Christ will be revealed, but “When Christ is revealed,” what will be true of those who have been raised up together with Him? “Then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” This is the doctrinal truth that the apostle here declares: All those who have been raised up with Christ in life will be revealed with Him in glory in the resurrection. Those who have been raised with Christ will be glorified with Christ (Romans 8:30). (See also Phil. 3:20-21; 1 John 3:2; 1 Cor. 15:50-54; 1 Thess. 4:14-17.)

SUMMARY OF RAISED TOGETHER WITH CHRIST (COLOSSIANS 3:1-12) PART 1

Here is what we have discovered so far, in Colossians 3:1-4. “Therefore, since you have been raised up together with Christ:”

  • Keep seeking the things above (manifestation of faith / obedience)
  • Set your mind on the things above (manifestation of faith / obedience)
  • You have died in a spiritual sense, because the “old self” that loved sin and that lived a life of sin, has died (This is a doctrinal truth and is a consequence of faith.)
  • Your new life of holiness and obedience to God has begun (This is a doctrinal truth and is a consequence of faith.)
  • When Christ is revealed in glory, you also will be revealed in glory (This is a doctrinal truth and is a consequence of faith.)

The next lesson will continue with this passage and will see more of what Paul is teaching in Colossians 3:1-12.

SDG                 rmb                  2/27/2021

A sense of urgency: Witnesses (Isaiah 43:10-12; Acts 1:8)

These are indeed remarkable times. Paul wrote that “in the last days, difficult times will come (2 Timothy 3:1),” but I am not sure if we fully anticipated what he had in mind. It seems to me that each day brings new surprises about how quickly the foundations are being removed. Perhaps it is just me, but evil and lawlessness seem to be rising at an increasing pace, and there is nothing that I see on the horizon to restrain them.

But the beautiful thing about being a Christian is that my calling and my mission are not dependent on any circumstances. My mission is not one that I have chosen because I prefer it or because it is to my advantage to have my particular mission. Neither is my mission one that I adopted from my ancestors or selected because of its cultural relevance. Like every other Christian, my mission was given to me by the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords. When I trusted Christ as my Lord and Savior, I accepted the mission He gave me. And the mission He gave me was to be His witness, to testify of His death and resurrection, and to proclaim the gospel to the world. And that mission has not changed and will not change with any changes in society and culture, or with any changes in my personal situation. I have been given my mission, and that is a beautiful thing.

Because this mission is a stewardship that I have been given from Christ Himself (2 Timothy 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:16-17), I think it is wise to consider how I am doing at carrying out my King’s mission. Do I have a sense of urgency? Is this mission something that is on my heart? So, I wanted to examine an Old Testament passage and a New Testament verse and evaluate my performance.

AN OLD TESTAMENT PASSAGE ABOUT WITNESSES

After declaring the futility of the nations in their pursuit of false gods, the LORD says,

“You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed and there will be none after Me. I, even I am the LORD, and there is no savior besides Me. It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed, and there was no strange God among you. So, you are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And I am God.” Isaiah 43:10-12

While this passage appears in the Old Testament, its message is timeless and applies to me in the 21st century. Notice that the LORD has chosen me as His servant, so that I may know Him, and may believe Him, and may understand that He is the one true and living God. There is no God before Him or after Him. There is no savior besides Him. He has taken the blinders off my eyes and raised me to newness of life so that I can know Him and believe Him, but there are many who do not know this and who still worship strange gods. There are many who do not know the only Savior. My mission, then, is to consider how I can be an effective witness to those people. Do I feel the urgency of the task? Do I devote appropriate time and energy to fulfilling my mission? Do I risk in order to communicate the message? What is there in my life to demonstrate this is a high priority? These questions spur me on and remind me that this mission of witness for the Lord deserves my attention and must not be allowed to fade off the radar.

A NEW TESTAMENT VERSE ABOUT WITNESSES

In the New Testament, the LORD of the Old Testament reveals Himself as King Jesus in His first advent. After His death and resurrection, Jesus gives His people their mission for the time until His return. Notice the beauty of this mission, that it is given to everyone who names Jesus as Lord and Savior, regardless of era when they live or ethnicity or social status or ancestors or wealth or any other distinguishing characteristic. If you claim that “Jesus is Lord,” then this is your mission.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (Jesus Christ in Acts 1:8).”

The Lord has entrusted His followers with the task of being His witnesses in the world. Jesus has accomplished His work on the cross (John 17:4; 19:30) and now He has ascended back to heaven and is reigning until the time when He returns, and He has charged His church with the mission of gathering in His elect. Empowered with the Holy Spirit, His people are to go to the remotest part of the earth as His witnesses. I am not so much concerned about the remotest part of the earth as I am concerned about my part of the earth. In my corner of the globe, am I being a witness for Jesus? In practical terms that means giving off the aroma of Christ (2 Cor. 2:14-16) to those in my sphere of influence. Do those who know me have an opportunity to learn about Jesus? A faithful witness testifies about what they have seen and heard (Acts 4:20). Am I telling others about what I have seen and heard and about how Jesus has changed my life?

The time is short, and Jesus is coming quickly (Revelation 22:7, 12, 20). Soon the time to witness for Jesus will be gone. Soon His faithful servants will be done with their work and the Master will return for His own. “Well done, good and faithful slave (Matthew 25:21).” But before we hear that, let us be about the mission the Lord has given us.

SDG                 rmb                 2/25/2021

A Purpose Worth Your Soul (Matthew 16:26)

What is the greatest satisfaction? What is that one thing that, if we find it, we will be content? Perhaps another way of asking the question is, “What is that endeavor that is worth the cost of my one God-given life?” Jesus stated the problem this way:

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul (Matthew 16:26)?”

This search for purpose has been a persistent theme in my life, especially since I trusted Christ as Lord and Savior over thirty years ago. Maybe I am unusual in this, but I think that many wrestle with these same thoughts: “What am I going to do with my life?” God has placed within us a desire for purpose. It may be our strongest human desire, the yearning to find that great work, that place where we feel the deepest sense of fulfillment. “This is the reason I exist!”

In a way, we are all exchanging our soul for something. When I was much younger, I was exchanging my soul for rock climbing. Although there were pleasures and accomplishments from my years of rock climbing, there was never any sense that clawing my way up crags was worth my soul. I felt a need for purpose but climbing was never going to get me there. Then I met the Lord Jesus and He changed everything. Now my life had a sense of purpose. When I was a new believer, I had not come close to finding THE PURPOSE, but I knew that now I was on the right road.

THE MASTER ARCHER ANALOGY

I imagine God as the Master Archer and my life as an arrow. The target is that place where I feel the deep satisfaction and contentment of living my life fully to the glory of God, of finding my unique purpose. Before Christ, I had placed my arrow in the hands of clumsy archers who were poor marksmen, and my life was being spent in dissipation to no purpose. But now I have placed my arrow in the hands of the Lord, the Master Archer, and the Lord has launched me from His bow. Like every one of my brothers and sisters in Christ, I am now either a contented arrow in flight, useful to the Master Archer as I fly toward His chosen target, or the greatest of all satisfactions, a fulfilled arrow which has found its target and is living out my purpose. I have found my great work (Nehemiah 6:3). My search is over. This, my purpose, is why I exist.

BIBLICAL EXAMPLES OF PURPOSE

The Bible is full of examples of people who found their purpose. Nehemiah left Susa and the court of King Artaxerxes to find his purpose. He realized that the work of his life was rebuilding Jerusalem. “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down (Neh. 6:3).” Having found his life purpose, nothing was going to distract him.

The apostle Paul found his purpose in the dust of the Damascus road. He was a chosen instrument for Christ, and nothing was going to prevent him from fulfilling his purpose. “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24).” He was a man who had found his purpose, and so he could say, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21).”

The Lord Jesus Himself was completely aware of the reason why He was sent by the Father and was focused on fulfilling His purpose. There has never been and there never will be a Person on earth who was more intent on His purpose. As He was preparing for the cross, Jesus said, “I glorified You (the Father) on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do (John 17:4).” Even Jesus knew the joy and satisfaction of perfectly fulfilling His purpose.

In Isaiah 6, the prophet saw the LORD, lofty and exalted, and realized his own sinfulness (“Woe is me, for I am ruined!”), but he found his life purpose.

The Lord said, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me!” – Isaiah 6:8

Jeremiah was given his life purpose when he was still a youth.

But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ because everywhere I send you, you shall go, and all that I command you, you shall speak (Jeremiah 1:7).” “Now, gird up your loins and arise, and speak to them all which I command you (1:17).”

Many others knew the satisfaction and contentment which comes from fulfilling God’s purpose for their lives. Amos 7:15 – “But the LORD took me from following the flock and the LORD said to me, ‘Go prophesy to My people Israel.’” Peter was given his purpose one day on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus said to Simon (Peter), “Do not fear. From now on you will be catching men (Luke 5:11).” Moses was a washed-up shepherd in Midian when the LORD met him in a burning bush and gave him a life purpose, to lead Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 3). The LORD commanded Joshua to be strong and courageous and then gave him the life purpose of leading Israel in to conquer the land of Canaan (Joshua 1). Caleb demanded to be given the city of Hebron, because he knew that the LORD had called him to drive out the giants there (Joshua 14:6-15). Ezekiel was also given his assignment from the LORD: “Son of man, I am sending you to the sons of Israel, a rebellious people who have rebelled against Me (Ezekiel 2:3).” And thus was his life determined.  

But I have become convinced that the Lord intends for all His children to know the satisfaction and peace and contentment of finding their life purpose. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).” Now, if He has prepared our good works, he must also know the purpose for those good works.

I feel that, after a search of almost thirty years, I have now found my purpose; my great work. I am now writing full time and have never been more enthusiastic about my life. “Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).” If the desires of your heart are to glorify God with your life and rejoice in Him, then He has promised to give you the desires of your heart. One of those desires should be finding His purpose for your life. “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33).” The world searches for riches and fame and power, but the believer seeks the Lord Himself and fellowship with Him. Seek righteousness (Matthew 5:6) and the Lord has promised to add all the other things. “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13).”

SDG                 rmb                 2/24/2021

Eschatology: Entering a new culture

Reading biblical eschatology, especially in books like Revelation and Daniel, is like being a stranger in a foreign country. The Bible student is suddenly immersed in a confusing culture of strange language and unfamiliar customs and alien sights and sounds. All that they have learned and experienced in their native country is of little value as they try to make sense of the new environment.

What is the student of eschatology to do? The student must study end-times literature (“eschatology” = study of last things) with the humility of a traveler going to a foreign land, having the attitude of an observant learner. Here is what this looks like:

“Oh, wait! I have heard that phrase before. That seems to be an important phrase. I wonder what that means.”

“Now, wait a minute. When my host said this word, that happened. So, that word must mean this.” And so on, through countless iterations, the learning continues.

As time goes on, the traveler develops theories about the language and the culture, and then begins testing those theories to see if they are true. “Let me see. I think this means that. Does this mean that? Oops! Awkward moment! No, maybe this doesn’t mean that.” Gradually, step by step the culture begins to make sense. Words that were once strange become familiar and useful. Sights and sounds that were once alien and confusing become normal.

Time and humble observation are the keys. Couple humble observation with a system for capturing and connecting your observations and, over time, you will understand the culture. If you are humble and patient and diligent, you may eventually be mistaken for a native.

But notice that with eschatology, as with a foreign culture, you are required to adopt it. You do not impose your views on it, but you patiently and humbly conform to this unusual, unfamiliar, God-breathed Scripture, as you adopt it as your own. In other words, you do not conform the inspired Word to your ideas, but rather you allow the Word to teach you its ideas. In our analogy, the Word is the native, and we are the foreigners.

To give a personal example, I moved to Russia in January of 1997 to begin what turned out to be three years of “missionary” work with the Navigators, a US-based parachurch organization. I lived in a small town called Pushkin outside of St. Petersburg. I immediately entered a foreign culture where I could not talk (I did not speak Russian at the time) and where I had difficulty walking, since the streets were covered with ice and snow. If I had entered that environment resolved to teach the people of Pushkin how to speak English and to convey to them the pleasures of peanut butter, I think that I would have been frustrated. A better approach was to resolve to learn Russian and to try to walk on ice and to eat what they eat and to adopt their culture as my own. By God’s grace, that is what happened.

You can see the analogy with eschatology. Perhaps one of the reasons why Americans have difficulty with understanding eschatology is that most Americans have never had to adopt a foreign culture. That means most Americans have never been through the process of humble observation needed to change their perspective and to see things through a different lens. But eschatology is not like gospel or like narrative history or like Psalm or Proverbs. When studying eschatology, you must adopt the culture of eschatology or you will remain a foreigner and the culture of eschatology will be forever confusing.

SDG                 rmb                 2/17/2021

Who is the first horseman in Revelation 6:1-2?

OVERVIEW – This article presents a step-by-step exegesis of Revelation 6:1-2. This exegesis employs techniques that are helpful when studying biblical eschatology, especially in the book of Revelation. The article also presents an overview of the flow of the book of Revelation and introduces the idea of three phases: the “thousand years,” the 42 months*, and the Last day.

A tour through the book of Revelation can be a bewildering journey, as visions of dragons and beasts and serpents writhe in our head, and angels blow trumpets and pour out bowls of wrath. What does all this mean? And how are we to interpret all this so that it makes sense?

To help shed some light on how to understand the apocalyptic language of Revelation, I wanted to look at a sample passage and seek to interpret it so that we know what it says.

GETTING OUR BEARINGS

Before we begin looking at the details of Revelation 6:1-2, the specific verses under consideration, we must do our preparation work. We must establish where we are in redemptive history. In what “phase” are we? To answer this question, and thus to complete our “homework,” some background is needed.

BACKGROUND AND OVERVIEW OF REVELATION 4-20

The contents of Revelation chapters 4-20 speak about the events in heaven and on earth during the time-period from the ascension of Christ after His resurrection to His return on the Last Day, when He will judge the earth. Then Revelation 21-22 describes the new heavens and the new earth. While Revelation 4-20 addresses the entire time between Christ’s advents, the great majority of this section of Revelation focuses on the end of the age, a period called “the end-times,” shortly before the return of Jesus Christ from heaven.

So, earlier I mentioned “phases.” What do I mean when I say “phases?” After Jesus commissions His church (Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:19-20), He ascends to heaven. Christ’s ascension inaugurates a long phase called the “thousand years,” which is explicitly mentioned in Revelation 20:1-6. This is not a literal “thousand years” but is a figurative expression simply meaning a long period of time when the church is fulfilling its mission of proclaiming the gospel and “making disciples of all nations” as Jesus builds His church (Matthew 16:18). During this “thousand years,” the church is relatively unhindered in its task of being Jesus’ witnesses.

But history is linear and is moving toward a definite end. Jesus is certainly coming back and all the prophecies about the end of the age and about His return must be fulfilled. Therefore, at a time determined by God, the “thousand years” will end, and the final phase of history will begin. Revelation 11-13 gives three different expressions for this final phase: “time, times, and half a time,” “forty-two months,” and “1,260 days.” Since these three expressions all equal a literal forty-two months, I refer to this phase as the 42 months*. Again, this is not a literal 42 months, but is a figurative expression simply meaning a fairly short period of time. It is during the 42 months* that the prophecies about the end of the age are fulfilled and the world is made ready for Jesus’ Second Coming.

After the 42 months* are completed, the world experiences the Last Day, also known as “the Day of the Lord,” when Jesus returns, the righteous are glorified, and the unrighteous are forever condemned to the lake of fire. Thus, there are three phases in the Revelation 4-20: The “thousand years,” the 42 months*, and the Last Day.

TACKLING THE PASSAGE

Having gotten some orientation to the overall flow of Revelation, we now encounter another difficulty in interpreting portions of the book, which is determining where a specific passage is located in redemptive history. In the previous section we defined three phases, but how do we turn to Revelation 6:1-2 about a rider on a horse with a crown and a bow, and fit this passage into the right phase and how do we understand the passage’s meaning? We will tackle this step-by-step.

First, a little more context is needed. Back up to Revelation 5 and notice that chapter 5 is about the Lamb, who is the Lion from the tribe of Judah, who “has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals (5:5).” This Lamb is worthy because He “purchased with His blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (5:9).” This is obviously the victorious Lord Jesus Christ in heaven, risen from the grave and now ascended to heaven. He is worthy to break the seals.

From earlier study, we know that Jesus’ ascension to heaven inaugurates the “thousand years.” The breaking of the first seal in Revelation 6:1-2, therefore, must be at the start of the “thousand years.” As a reminder, during this phase, the church is proclaiming the gospel and “making disciples of all nations” as Jesus builds His church (Matthew 16:18).

Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, “Come!” I looked, and behold, a white horse, and the one who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer. – Rev. 6:1-2

 Our attention will now focus on the second verse, since it contains the information needed to interpret the meaning. The questions are, “Who is this rider? What does this rider symbolize?” In interpreting Revelation, it is crucial to find the clues that are placed in the text to aid in discovering the meaning. What do we observe in this text? We see a white horse, and its rider has a bow. He has been given a crown, and his mission is conquering and to conquer.

There are two more important clues that are not in this immediate context. The first clue is to note that, in Revelation 19:11-12, which is the climax of the entire book of Revelation, there is another Rider on a white horse, and on His head are many diadems (crowns). This is the glorious Lord Jesus Christ in His awesome Second Coming. A Rider on a white horse with many crowns. The comparison should be obvious.

The second clue is contained in the Greek word for “conquer” (from “conquering and to conquer”), which is nikao. In the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3, all seven churches are given a promise from Jesus Christ if they “overcome.” The Greek word for “overcome” is nikao. Yes, that is correct: “overcome” and “conquer” are the same Greek verb, nikao. This suggests that what Jesus declares to the seven churches (to overcome) is what we see happening in the first horseman (conquering and to conquer).

PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER

In Revelation, white always symbolizes righteousness. This is without exception, so white is a huge clue. A white horse is, therefore, determinative in associating this rider with Jesus and His saints. We have also just pointed out that Jesus Christ will return on a white horse, crowned with many diadems (Revelation 19:11-12). This identical symbolism of the white horse confirms that the rider on the first horse (6:2) is related to Jesus and His church. These are obvious clues that cannot be ignored or dismissed.  

The rider is given a crown. It should be noted that this is the only one of the four riders (Rev. 6:1-8) who receives a crown. In Revelation, who else is given a crown? In Rev. 2:10, the church at Smyrna, representing the persecuted church, will be given the crown of life, if they remain faithful until death. In Revelation 12:1, there appears “a woman clothed with the sun,” representing the faithful saints of the Old Testament. “On her head was a crown of twelve stars.” Thus, we see that it is the faithful church that is given a crown. It is the same thing in the case of the first horseman. He represents the faithful church and receives a crown.

Notice that this horseman in Revelation 6:2 only has a single crown. “A crown was given to him.” By contrast, remember that Jesus had many diadems (Rev. 19:12). And this is as it should be. Jesus, the victorious Conqueror, is worthy of many diadems, while the faithful church, the representatives of the Conqueror, receive only a single crown.

What is the mission of this horseman on the white horse? His mission is “conquering and to conquer.” “Conquering” speaks of the ongoing, steadfast pursuit of the mission. “Conquering” conveys the idea of determination and persistence. “To conquer” declares the goal in uncompromising terms. The faithful church persistently, steadfastly continues in its mission, and the church will continue until the mission is decisively accomplished.

The rider also “had a bow.” Notice that the rider has the mission of conquering and to conquer, but his only weapon to accomplish this colossal mission is a single bow. The mission seems impossible, with too little ammunition to defeat even the weakest enemy. But although the bow appears to be weak and ineffective, it is actually “mighty before God for the pulling down of strongholds (2 Cor. 10:4).” For the bow represents the gospel, which is “the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).” The faithful church wields the bow of the gospel to conquer the hearts of men and women and bring them into the church.

THE MEANING OF THE FIRST HORSEMAN – SUMMARY

All the pieces have now been explained and the clues have been examined. Now we are ready to both correctly place this first horseman in redemptive history and declare what he is picturing for us. When the Lamb (Jesus) breaks the first seal, one of the four living creatures calls the church (the rider on the white horse who has been given a crown) to begin her task of proclaiming the gospel (using the bow) for the ingathering of the elect into the church (conquering and to conquer). This task of proclaiming the gospel will continue throughout the “thousand years.”

SDG                 rmb                 2/14/2021

Biblical Prophecies and Eschatology

One of the most distinguishing marks of the Bible is its many prophecies about the future. In this, the Bible is unique among all books ever written. No other book, and certainly no other “religious book,” contains anything like biblical prophecy, but in the Bible, prophecy is common. The Bible makes predictions about things that are going to take place centuries or even millennia in the future, and then those prophecies come to pass.

Another distinctive of the Bible is the God-centered worldview it contains from Genesis to Revelation. Part of this God-centered worldview is the concept that history is linear. “History is linear” means that God has determined the beginning of history and God has also appointed the end of history. God is eternal, but His creation is not, and things will not endlessly go on as they are. Jesus Christ is coming back, and so the creation is hurtling toward the end at the rate of sixty seconds a minute.

Combining the idea of “prophecy about the future” with the concept that “there is an end to history,” we arrive at a working definition for eschatology: The study of the Bible’s prophecies about the end-times (also known as “last things”). This article will consider end-times’ prophecy and some thoughts about how to do that study.

What is the purpose of a prophecy? A prophecy is given in the Scriptures so that, when that prophecy is fulfilled, it will again be demonstrated that God is the one who has planned all things (Romans 4:21) and that He is able to fulfill the prophecies that He makes. “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3).” For this reason, when God makes a prophecy in His Word, He not only guarantees the fulfillment of that prophecy, but He guarantees that the fulfillment of the prophecy will be recognized. For example, in Isaiah 7:14, the LORD made a prophecy that “The virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” Then, more than 700 years later, God fulfilled that prophecy in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem (Matthew 1:23). The virgin, Mary, was with child and she bore a Son, Jesus, who was Immanuel, “God with us.” Prophecy made. Prophecy fulfilled and prophecy recognized. And this pattern, of “Prophecy made – Prophecy fulfilled and prophecy recognized,” is repeated literally hundreds of times, especially regarding the first advent of Jesus Christ. Prophecies made. Prophecies fulfilled and recognized.

Now, the prophecies about the first advent of Jesus have all been fulfilled, because Jesus Christ appeared in the flesh almost 2,000 years ago. But there are many prophecies in the Bible that are still unfulfilled because those prophecies are concerning Jesus Christ’s Second Coming at the end of the age. Even though these prophecies of Jesus’ return are yet unfulfilled, their purpose is the same as the purpose stated above and their guarantee is the same as the guarantee above. God has written prophecies about the end of the age for the purpose of proving that He has planned all things and that He is able to fulfill the prophecies that He makes. God is glorified by making then fulfilling prophecies. This also means that, since God has made these end-times prophecies about the end of the age and the return of Christ, He has guaranteed their fulfillment and has guaranteed that their fulfillment will be recognized.

These two ideas about prophecy, that end-times prophecy will fulfill God’s purpose and that all end-times prophecies are guaranteed fulfillment and recognition, justify the effort involved in discerning the meaning and the timing of the end-times prophecies in the Scriptures. Since all the prophecies of the end of the age will certainly be fulfilled, then the disciple of Jesus is encouraged to “make careful searches and inquiries seeking to know when we can anticipate the revelation of Jesus Christ (adapted from 1 Peter 1:10-13).”

While making careful searches and inquiries, it must also be acknowledged that the study of eschatology is hard work, and there are special challenges when studying end-times’ prophecy.

  1. The first thing to try to figure out is if this vision or passage is about the end of the age or about Jesus’ return at all, or is it about something else entirely?
  2. What is the nature of the prophecy? Since many of the prophecies about the end of the age and the return of Christ are given in figurative, apocalyptic language, it can be difficult to discern what is being prophesied. Discerning this is critical, for if the nature and meaning of the prophecy are not correctly discerned, then it is impossible to recognize the prophecy’s fulfillment.
  3. Understanding prophecy demands a thorough knowledge of all of Scripture. The more Scripture you have in your head, the more material the Holy Spirit has to use in showing related words and phrases and visions. Also, a deep familiarity with the whole Bible helps you to understand the language and the idiom of Scripture.

All these steps in exegesis require skill, prayer, and patience. Skill means gathering good exegetical tools and learning to use them well. Prayer is needed for the Holy Spirit’s insight. Patience keeps you moving forward in the study and prevents giving up. And all of this is meaningful because prophecy glorifies God. So, we willingly sacrifice ourselves (Romans 12:1) to see what God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Cor 2:9).

WHAT PROPHECIES ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?

We have established that God will certainly fulfil the prophecies He makes in His Word. Guaranteed. Our task is to identify God’s prophecies in the Scriptures and then interpret them such that they form a cohesive picture. So, what are some of the prophecies we need to examine in our study of the end-times? A partial list follows.

Resurrection * (1 Thess. 4)                             The Seventy Weeks (Daniel 9)

The apostasy (2 Thess. 2)                               The man of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2)

The beast (Rev. 13)                                         The false prophet (Rev. 13, 16)

The 144,000 (Rev. 7; 14)                                 Time, times, and half a time **

Forty-two months **                                      1,260 days **

The trumpets (Rev. 8-9)                                  The seals (Rev. 6)

The “four horsemen” (Rev. 6)                        The battle of Armageddon (Rev. 16)

The bowls of wrath (Rev. 16)                          The two witnesses (Rev. 11)

The “thousand years” (Rev. 20)                      The great white throne judgment (Rev. 20)

The little horn (Daniel 7)                                 The small horn (Daniel 8)

The rider on the white horse (Rev. 19)           The lake of fire (Rev. 19; 20)

NOTE “Millennium” = “thousand years”      * Resurrection includes “the rapture”

** These three expressions are what I refer to collectively as the 42 months*.

And there are others, but the main point is this: God has placed these prophecies in His Word for His glory. They will certainly come to pass, and they will be recognized. This is what makes the study of eschatology so exciting and rewarding.

SDG                 rmb                 2/11/2021

The Angel of the LORD – Introduction

Of all the characters in the Old Testament, perhaps none is more fascinating and mysterious than the angel of the LORD. He first appears in Genesis 16 talking to Hagar, the Egyptian servant of Sarai as she is running away into the wilderness, and he makes random appearances in the Pentateuch, the history books, and occasionally in the prophets. Although he is called the angel of the LORD, he is no ordinary angel. He exhibits powers and a presence that separate him from all the other characters who appear in the Old Testament. Why do I say that?

When the angel of the LORD speaks, he speaks as God, and not as a mere messenger of God. Whereas prophets would say, “Thus says the LORD,” the angel speaks in the first-person singular: “I say.” So, although he is not YHWH, he speaks as YHWH. Note that he does not speak for God, but he speaks as God.

The LORD Himself appears in some of the scenes where the angel of the LORD also appears, and in those situations, the angel is indistinguishable from the LORD. One seems almost to blend into the other. It is difficult to tell which is which. It is as if they are the same, even though they are distinct, almost as if the LORD and the angel of the LORD are one.

The angel of the LORD knows all the details of the situation as soon as he appears. He knows names of the people involved and he knows the issues involved; it is almost as if he is omniscient. He also knows the future and declares it as fact.

The people who see the angel of the LORD believe they have seen God face to face, and they are struck with terror when they realize who he is. Men and women encountering the angel of the LORD somehow know they should worship him. It is appropriate and fitting to do so. Their worship is almost spontaneous, as if it is incumbent on them to worship him. And, unlike all other angels in the Bible, the angel of the LORD accepts the worship of men as fitting and appropriate.

One final interesting point to make about the angel of the LORD: He never gives his name, nor is he ever identified by name. Several times the people that meet him directly ask him his name, but he avoids the question. He deflects the question and leaves it as a mystery. That is very interesting, that this amazing character remains nameless throughout the Old Testament. Other powerful angels like Michael and Gabriel are identified for who they are, but this powerful angel remains anonymous in the Old Testament.

WHO IS THE ANGEL OF THE LORD?

The angel of the LORD made the LORD visible. The LORD said, “You cannot see My face and live (Exodus 33:20),” but in the person of the angel of the LORD, sinful man could see the Holy One of Israel and not be consumed. As YHWH, God was a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), but as the angel of the LORD, the eternal one who dwells in unapproachable light could be seen and heard. Although clearly divine, the angel of the LORD had the appearance of a man. He was the image of the invisible God, a mediator between God and man.

Who is the angel of the LORD? Surely, it is obvious who he is. The angel of the LORD is none other than the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus Christ. There is no other candidate, no other suspect. Who else can speak as the LORD and yet not be the LORD? Who else is indistinguishable from God? Who else is divine, although He has the appearance of a man (Philippians 2:5-8)? Who is the one mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:4-6)? Who is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15)? Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father (John 14:9).” Just so, he who has seen the angel of the LORD has seen the LORD. And now we know His name: “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).”

A NEW SERIES OF BLOGS ON THE ANGEL OF THE LORD

For a long time, I have thought about writing about the angel of the LORD, and now I am committing to that. The series will probably be about 12-14 blogs. We will look at appearances of the angel of the LORD and see if he really is the pre-incarnate Jesus. It should be fun.

Our first post will be on Genesis 16 when Hagar, the Egyptian servant girl, encounters the angel of the LORD.

SDG                 rmb                 2/10/2021

The Beauty of Old Testament Narratives: A series

One of the fascinating features of the Bible is the large percentage of the Scriptures, in both the Old and the New Testaments, that are made up of narrative stories. Narrative stories have an inherent attraction to us because we all like to read a good story. We see other people like ourselves wrestling with the challenges of life or making decisions or trying to figure out their meaning and purpose or dealing with conflict and confusion and loss, and we identify with them. Narratives connect us at a basic human level, and it is the same with the narrative stories of the Bible. They are remarkably accessible, and the characters are surprisingly real.

But there is something else to consider in these narrative stories in the Scriptures, and it is this: Why were these stories selected to be included in the pages of the Bible? Of the uncountable events that have taken place in history and the millions of characters who have walked on the face of the earth, why did the authors of the Bible select these narrative stories to be preserved for all time? It would be one thing if these stories had great political or historical interest and showed prominent world-changers as they made history, but the narratives in the Scriptures, and particularly those in the Old Testament Scriptures, are chosen seemingly at random. The characters are, for the most part, ordinary people in ordinary circumstances. So, why these people? And if we figure out why these people are included (Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, and so on), we may still have questions about why these events. Is there a reason these stories were selected?

The narrative stories we will explore are from the pages of the Old Testament. The Hebrews held these writings to be inspired revelation from the LORD Himself and were, therefore, sacred writings. Since they were sacred, they could not be changed or altered, for then they would not be God’s word. These Scriptures were central to the life of the Hebrew faith community. In fact, two important jobs came from the Hebrews’ veneration of the Scriptures: the lawyer and the scribe. The lawyer’s job was to study the Scriptures to see what they meant, while the scribe was tasked with painstakingly copying the Scriptures, letter by letter, onto new scrolls so that the word of God would be preserved exactly as it had been received.

But why all this effort? Why all this tedious attention to detail to make sure that these obscure events about unknown people were preserved in their original form? Why? Because in the mind of God, there was a definite purpose for the Old Testament and even a definite purpose for how the Old Testament was written. These books of Torah and history and prayer and wisdom and prophets were given by God to the Hebrews to prepare the world for a coming event. The Scriptures were written to prepare the world for the appearing of Jesus, the Messiah. And so, some of these narratives point forward to show us the promised Messiah.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I plan to post a series of articles on selected narratives from the Old Testament Scriptures which give us foreshadows and clues about the first advent of Jesus the Messiah. As we explore these stories, we will see that, though ordinary in their characters and their details, the stories have a quality about them that transcends their ordinariness. We will also discover that the stories, though interesting in themselves, are written for the purpose of foreshadowing the one to come.

So, that is the plan. The first post in the series will look at Genesis 22:1-14, the story of Abraham and his son Isaac going to the land of Moriah to make a very unusual sacrifice.

SDG                 rmb                 2/9/2021

Means of Spiritual Growth (Romans 8:29)

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren. – Romans 8:29

Spiritual growth is almost synonymous with being a disciple of Jesus. When a person repents of their sin and trusts in Jesus as Savior and Lord, they pass from death to life (John 5:24) and are made alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:5). Once blind, now they see (John 9:25). All this means that when you and I came to faith in Christ, we knew little about what it meant to walk with the Lord. We began our journey like newborn babies (1 Corinthians 3:2; 1 Peter 2:2), and now we grow in spiritual maturity until we are received into glory. So, all believers long to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29) and to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23). But what is the means of spiritual growth?

The Lord has given the believer three primary means of spiritual growth:

  • The Word of God / the Bible
  • fellowship with other believers
  • prayer

In this blog post I will talk about these means of growth. I also want to say that, since spiritual growth is vital to a disciple of Jesus Christ, these means of growth should also be high priorities. These activities should appear on your daily and weekly schedules (explicit) and should also lodge in your brain as a non-negotiable part of your mindset and lifestyle.

THE WORD OF GOD AS MEANS OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH

Of the three means of spiritual growth, the Word is primary, because the Word of God informs all aspects of our spiritual life, including our fellowship and our prayer. The Bible is our spiritual food (Matthew 4:4). The Word is the primary means of our sanctification (“Purify me with hyssop.” Psalm 51:7) and allows us to see our sin (Romans 3:20; Psalm 119:9, 11, 67) and then guides us into repentance (Romans 2:4; 2 Corinthians 7:9, 10).

The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to man. As such, it is the source of all truth because God’s word is truth (John 17:17). When you are reading the word of God, you can trust what you are reading because it comes from the God who can never lie (Hebrews 6:18). The entire word of God is God-breathed and is therefore “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).” It equips you for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17).

Perhaps the most important thing about the Word of God is that it is the source of the gospel of our salvation. The Bible declares to man the holiness of God, a holiness that manifests itself in wrath against all ungodliness and unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). The Bible repeatedly warns man that he is a sinner in danger of eternal condemnation because of his sin (Genesis 2:17; Ezekiel 18:4, 20; Romans 6:23). Then the Bible proclaims God’s supreme act of His mercy and grace when it announces the Savior and the Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, whom God sent to earth to die on a cross for the sins of His people. Finally, the Bible urges us to be saved from this perverse generation (Acts 2:40) by believing in the Lord Jesus as our Savior and following Him wherever He leads.

One final comment: there is a direct correlation between the time spent in God’s Word and spiritual growth. If you want to grow in spiritual maturity, you must commit to spending significant time in the Word.

FELLOWSHIP AS MEANS OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH

First, we need to be clear by what is meant by “fellowship.” Fellowship, as I am using the word, necessarily involves other believers (2 Cor. 6:16; 1 John 1:3, 6-7), other people who are indwelt by the Spirit (Eph. 1:13; 2 Cor. 1:22), and therefore excludes nonbelievers. Also, spiritual growth from fellowship depends on the quality and the intentionality of the time. It is fellowship when it is understood that “spiritual benefit” is one of the main reasons for the interaction. Fellowship, then, is any interaction between believers where spiritual benefit/growth is implicitly or explicitly the intended result.

The New Testament is full of “one another” verses which urge us to encourage one another and to interact with one another for our spiritual good. The idea is that, as I spend time with other believers, the Holy Spirit within us is going to cause spiritual growth. This fellowship is hard to describe, but it is commonly experienced. As I spend time with other believers, I hear how they talk and how they respond to life’s joys and challenges, and the Holy Spirit shapes me. As we discuss theological topics or examine a Bible study, ideas are presented and challenged and debated, and truth is indirectly instilled. As I interact with brothers and sisters different than me, the Spirit incrementally changes me into a person who understands others and loves them despite our differences. This is how we grow by fellowship. If Christ is at the center of the interaction, and we are longing to pursue Him more closely and to be conformed more and more into His image, we will long for more times of fellowship when other members of the Body can pour into our lives.

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. – Proverb 27:17

“Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:24-25

PRAYER AS MEANS OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH

Prayer certainly is the most mysterious of these three means of spiritual growth. In prayer, the creature is allowed into the presence of the Creator, and the unholy draws near to the Holy One. In the time spent in prayer, as we offer up worship and praise and confessions and repentance and thanksgiving and supplications, the Lord is imperceptibly but irresistibly transforming us day by day.

Prayer is learned. The disciples asked the Lord Jesus to teach them to pray, and He taught them the “Lord’s prayer (Luke 11:1-4).” Just so, we must patiently learn to pray. Often in prayer, our mind drifts. There are long silences in the dialog. We do not know what to ask for. We do not know how to pray as we should (Romans 8:26). And how do we listen to the Lord in prayer? These are all things that every disciple must learn for themselves as they spend time with the Lord.

In prayer, we have the undivided attention of the most fascinating Person in the universe. The Bible declares to us that the Lord delights in His people (Psalm 147:10-11; 149:4) and He has chosen gladly to give us the Kingdom, so He is patient as we learn to talk to Him in prayer. “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him (Psalm 103:13).” We also have His Holy Spirit dwelling within us, so as we spend time in His presence, the Spirit within us is molding us into greater Christlikeness. Like any relationship, the more time that we spend together, the better our communication. Therefore, it is wise to include times of prayer on your weekly and daily schedules. The more we “pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17),” the more we will see spiritual growth from our prayers.

SUMMARY

As we spend time fully engaged with the word of God and intentionally interacting with God’s people and wrestling with the Lord is prayer, we will experience spiritual growth.

SDG                 rmb                 2/4/2021