The man of lawlessness (2 Thessalonians 2:3-10)

In any discussion of the end-times in the Bible, the conversation will eventually touch on the antichrist. The speculation about the antichrist is often wild and unbridled, conjuring up images and activities that are completely foreign to any biblical text, but in those situations where the speculation is sober and biblically based, attention will turn to 2 Thessalonians 2 and the passage about “the man of lawlessness.” The man of lawlessness represents the clearest and most explicit teaching about the antichrist in all of Paul’s writing, and therefore deserves serious consideration when discussing the antichrist at the end of the age.

In my upcoming book, The Last Act of the Drama, I cover 2 Thessalonians 2 in depth, along with other eschatological Scriptures that highlight biblical manifestations of the antichrist, so this article is not about my thoughts, because they are expressed there. Rather, this post is about the thoughts of Herman Ridderbos, a Dutch biblical scholar, and are taken from his magnificent work, Paul: An Outline of His Theology. Ridderbos carefully exegetes this passage in 2 Thessalonians 2 and gives clear and helpful guidelines for how to understand this evil person who will appear at the very end of the age. I have selected quotes from his writing below that I think are most insightful and helpful in any study of the man of lawlessness. A careful reading of these quotes will give you a solid understanding of the biblical antichrist.

“The most striking thing of course is that this power inimical to God is concentrated here in the figure of what Paul calls the man of lawlessness.” (RMB: It is noteworthy that Paul concentrates all this evil in a single man.) “Furthermore, it is certainly indicated in the denotation “the man of lawlessness” that this man is not merely a pre-eminently godless individual, but that in him the humanity hostile to God comes to a definitive, eschatological revelation.” (p. 514)

Also, “just as Paul places Adam and Christ over against one another as the first and second ‘man,’ as the great representatives of two orders of men, so the figure of ‘the man of lawlessness’ is clearly intended as the final, eschatological counterpart of the man Jesus Christ.” “The coming of ‘the man of lawlessness,’ just as that of Christ, is called a παρουσία. It is marked by all manner of power, signs, and wonders, like those of Christ in the past.” (p. 514) “The man of sin (lawlessness) is the last and highest revelation of man (humanity) inimical to God, the human adversary of the man Jesus Christ, in whom the divine kingdom and the divine work has become flesh and blood. The divine antithesis between God and Satan that dominates history is decided on the human plane in those (two individuals) who as ‘the man’ represent salvation and destruction.” (p. 515) (RMB: Consider the parallel in 1 Samuel 17 when David, the coming king of Israel, fights Goliath, the champion of the enemies of Israel. Each represents their people, such that, as the champion fares in the battle, so go the people. David, as a type of Christ, vanquishes Goliath, who is a type of the antichrist. At the end of the age, the ultimate representatives will face one another, and the man of lawlessness (antichrist) will be finally vanquished by the returning Jesus Christ. That’s Ridderbos’ picture here.)

“As Christ is a person, but at the same time one with all who believe in Him and are under His sovereignty, so the antichrist is not only a godless individual, but a concentration of godlessness that already goes forth before him and which joins all who follow at his appearance him into unity with him. (He is now restrained because at his appearance unbelief, lawlessness, and godlessness will attempt to set themselves as an organic unity over against God and Christ.” (p. 516) “Paul does not stop with an ‘it,’ with an idea, or with a force, but the organic and corporate unity of human life finds its bearer and representative, as in Adam and Christ, so also in the antichrist, in a specific person. The antichrist would be no antichrist if he were not the personal concentration point of lawlessness, if he were not the man of lawlessness.” (p. 516)

Satan’s activity and God’s sovereignty in the end-times

NOTE: This article is an excerpt from my book on the end-times, “The Last Act of the Drama,” a guide for the end-times that will be completed and self-published soon. rmb

There is no doubt that our world today gives us reasons to fear. A lot of people, myself included, see a marked increase in evil in many spheres and at many levels, and it is unsettling. Things in which we used to trust as rock-solid and unchanging have collapsed and worst-case scenarios are common. Most challenging of all is that the trajectory into the future seems to be for things to get more chaotic and for losses to continue to outpace gains. Yes, the view is troubling and we as believers can be tempted to think that God is no longer in control and that Satan and wickedness have gotten the upper hand.

It is in times like these that we open our Bible and dig deep to find out what God has said in His Word. With regard to what we see in our present times, our Bible gives us a foundational truth that never changes:

Our God is always in absolute control of all things.

But, if God is in sovereign control of all things, why do we see escalating wickedness in our world? How can God’s sovereign control be reconciled with Satan being able to increase evil and lawlessness in the world? Doesn’t a rise in Satan’s work of chaos and strife and violence indicate that God is not in complete control?

The short answer is, “No.” God remains in complete control, but as the world moves toward the end of the age, God will manifest His sovereign control by using Satan’s activity to take history in a new direction. At the appropriate time, God will begin to fulfill all the prophecies about the end-times that are written in His Word so that the world will be prepared for the glorious return of the Lord Jesus.

This means that, as we study the end-times and see Satan and his demons creating chaos and strife, we must maintain a settled view of Satan’s power and his role. Despite his reputation, the Bible reveals that Satan is merely another character on the Lord’s stage. As Judas was chosen as one of the Twelve because the Lord Jesus needed a betrayer, so Satan has been created because the Lord required someone to do the grand evil acts scripted into His great drama. The Lord needed someone to tempt Adam and Eve, and Satan was ordained as the tempter (Genesis 3:1-6). God needed someone to test Job, so Satan was selected for that part (Job 1, 2). Someone was needed to test the Lord Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), so Satan received that part, as well.

So it will be in the future, when Satan is released from the abyss (Revelation 20:3, 7) to play his role as God’s supporting actor and to fulfill everything that God has created him to fulfill in the last act of the grand drama. “The great dragon, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan” (Revelation 12:9) is the actor needed to move history toward the end of the age. In his role, the devil will accomplish exactly as much destruction and lawlessness as the Lord, before the foundation of the world, ordained for him to accomplish, but not even the slightest bit more. Satan will freely choose to do all the evil that the Lord has sovereignly scripted for him to do, and he does not get to adlib. He is an actor on God’s stage, and he enters and exits that stage according to the Director’s precise instructions. He can do no other.

Therefore, we need not be frightened when, as we approach the end of the age, we see Satan doing those things that the Bible declares he must certainly do. He is simply playing the role that God has sovereignly ordained for him to play. The Lord Jesus Himself told us these things would surely take place and He told us these things so that we would not be frightened when they came to pass (Matthew 24:5-13, 21-28). We conclude that Satan acts exactly as God has decided for him to act, completely contained by God’s sovereignty.

SDG                 rmb                 7/21/2021                   #424

Ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:15-21)

In this passage, the apostle Paul teaches how it is that the “not many wise and not many noble (1 Corinthians 1:26)” who make up the majority of the people of God are transformed into ambassadors for Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:15-21

15 and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.

16 Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. 17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

5:15 – The apostle starts by telling us that we (believers in Jesus) are “no longer to live for ourselves.” That means that “I” have moved way down the list of priorities. I am no longer consumed with the question, “How can I benefit from this?” I am not obsessed with “what’s in this for me?” My desire now is to be useful to Jesus.

I have been bought by another. My life is not my own and, therefore, my life and its preservation and pleasure are not my concern. Another now holds the title deed to my life. I am no longer the master. Instead, I serve the Master, the Lord, and do what pleases Him.

I now “live for Him who died and rose again on my behalf.” Therefore, my new first question is, “What is my Master’s will?” What is His highest priority? What has He bought me to do for Him? What has He called me to do for Him, in general and specifically?

5:16 – Now we do not assess a person based on what they are “in the flesh.” In other words, we do not judge our fellow believers on the basis of outward appearance or worldly circumstance. It is immaterial if the brother is rich or poor. It is of no consequence whether the disciple is a man or a woman, young or old. Their ethnicity is only a feature of their personhood. “We recognize no one according to the flesh.” Why?

5:17 – Now we see every believer as a new creature in Christ. Whatever came before has passed away. Were you a drunk or a drug addict? It matters not. You are now a new creature in Christ, and new things have come. Were you a homosexual or were you a prostitute? Gone! Those things have passed away and you have now put on Jesus’ white robe of righteousness. You are a new creature in Christ. Were you a thief or a liar or a cheat? Did you have a foul mouth and a fouler mind? Were you angry and hateful and vengeful and cruel? For His people, Christ has vanquished all these things by His death on the cross. “If ANYONE is in Christ, he is a new creature!” The old is GONE. The new has come.

5:18 – So we have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ and, having been reconciled and made new, we have been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. Having experienced the power of the ministry of reconciliation, we are now to be participants in proclaiming reconciliation to as many as we can.

5:18-19 – God has reconciled us to Himself so that our highest priority is to fulfill our ministry of reconciliation. We have been reconciled to be reconcilers.

Since we have been saved by the gospel, we are now obligated to proclaim the gospel. God has committed us to the word of reconciliation.

5:20 – THEREFORE! What is the reason that Paul has told us about this ministry of reconciliation? Why has he declared to us the glories of the new birth, that if ANYONE is in Christ, they are a new creature? Where has Paul been headed in this passage? Well, he has been headed here! This has been his intended destination. Because we now no longer live for ourselves but now all believers live to please Christ. Because, regardless of the wreckage of our past, we are new creatures in Christ, and the old has passed away. And because we have now received the ministry of reconciliation, THEREFORE, we are ambassadors for Christ. The living God makes His appeal to lost sinners through us. THEREFORE, the disciples of Christ beg the perishing to be reconciled to God through Christ. This is our mission.

5:21 – And what is it that we are to proclaim to those who are outside of Christ? What are we to tell those who are still hell-bound? Here is 2 Corinthians 5:21 we have a one verse summary of the gospel.

21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, has died an atoning death on the cross so that all who believe in Him will receive His righteousness imputed to them and will be reconciled to God.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us commit fully to our role as ambassadors for Christ and let us fulfill our ministry of reconciliation.

SDG                 rmb                 6/29/2021                   #419

The Angel of the LORD and Moses (Exodus 3)

This article is another of our studies on the mysterious character of the angel of the LORD. As we go through the appearances of this person in the Old Testament, it will quickly become obvious that this is no ordinary angel. In fact, my conviction is that this is none other than the pre-incarnate Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity before His appearance in Bethlehem. My goal in these posts is to demonstrate how the Scriptures present the angel of the LORD as divine and thus to show that He prefigures Jesus Christ. I also want to discover what characteristics the angel of the LORD displays which will later be manifested by Jesus in His earthly ministry. Finally, an objective in all my posts is to show the beauty and the power of the Scriptures, and to make plain that the Scriptures are God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16).

EXODUS 3: MOSES AND THE BURNING BUSH

The basic story of Moses and the burning bush is very well known. Many people in our culture even today can tell you that Moses was in the desert and God spoke to him out of a bush that was burning but was not being burned up. It is as we dig deeper down into the details of Exodus 3, however, that we begin to see the complexity and the mystery of what, on the surface, appears to be a simple story. Our focus here will be on the angel of the LORD and trying to determine his identity. As the story opens, Moses has been a shepherd in Midian for forty years. One day, he wanders over into the west side of the wilderness and comes near Mount Horeb.

Then the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of the bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not being consumed.

COMMENTS: Observe that the Scripture explicitly says that the angel of the LORD (AOTL) appeared to Moses. The AOTL was visible to Moses, as if the AOTL allows God to be seen.

Also, “the AOTL appeared to him in a blazing (flaming) fire from the midst of the bush.” We will see later in Exodus 3:4a that “God called to him (Moses) from the midst of the bush.” The repetition of the exact phrase is the literary means of intentionally connecting God with the AOTL.  

The final comment from this verse is the author’s choice of the Hebrew word for “blazing,” elsewhere translated as “flaming.” This same Hebrew word appears in two other passages involving the AOTL, in Judges 13:20 when the AOTL announces the conception of Samson and in Isaiah 10:17, an allusion to the destruction of the Assyrian army by the AOTL.

The point of these comments is that they begin planting seeds in our thinking that this AOTL is not just an ordinary angel but may be much more.

When the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”

COMMENTS: In commenting on Exodus 3:2, we had observed that the AOTL appeared, and that God called to him from the midst of the bush. The message being communicated by this repetition of phrase is that persons who do the same things are very closely related to each other.

There is further mystery here, as “the LORD saw that he (Moses) turned aside,” but then God is the one who called to Moses from the midst of the bush. For those keeping track, we now have the AOTL, the LORD, and God all in the midst of the bush.

One of the characteristics of this appearance of the AOTL, and of appearances of the AOTL in general, is that there is intentional ambiguity about identity. When the AOTL and God and the LORD appear in the same scene, it is difficult to determine where one ends and the other begins. This is done intentionally in the text to convey the idea that there is a lot of overlap in these characters. So, right now it seems that the AOTL is closely related to God.

Since God is now calling to Moses from the midst of the bush, we need to ask the question, “What happened to the AOTL?” The AOTL does not appear again in the chapter. Where did He go? Did He just disappear? Also, when did God enter the scene? The solution could be that the AOTL is the visible manifestation of God. It could be that the AOTL is “the image of the invisible God” (spoken of Jesus Christ in Colossians 1:15).  

Another interesting observation is seeing how God calls Moses. “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” In an earlier encounter with the AOTL in Genesis 22, we saw that the AOTL called Abraham by saying, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” (Genesis 22:11) Again, it is significant when the Scripture presents this sort of repetition: A double calling of the name with a response of, “Here I am.” This serves to create further ambiguity between God and the AOTL. “If they speak the same way, maybe they are the same person.”

Up to this point, then, both the AOTL and God act from the midst of the bush, but also both God and the AOTL call people in the same way. Hmmm. They certainly have a lot of similarities.

16 Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has appeared to me, saying, “I am indeed concerned about you and what has been done to you in Egypt.”’

COMMENTS: We are skipping down to this verse (3:16) to see what God instructs Moses to tell the people of Israel: the LORD, the God of Abraham has appeared to him. What is interesting is that, in this chapter, only the AOTL is recorded as having appeared to Moses (Exodus 3:2). What do we conclude from this? The conclusion seems to be that when the AOTL appears, it is as if the LORD Himself has appeared. An appearance of the AOTL is an appearance of the LORD.

GENERAL COMMENTS: It is difficult to tell how many people are in this scene. We see the AOTL, the LORD and God all mentioned in this chapter, but the Person talking with Moses is only one person. In other words, the name changes between the AOTL and the LORD and God, but it is obviously the same person speaking throughout.

CONCLUSION

Even though the angel of the LORD is only mentioned once (in 3:2), it seems that throughout the chapter, the AOTL is the visible manifestation of the LORD and of God. Just as Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, could say, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father,” so in the Old Testament the one who had seen the AOTL had seen the LORD.

SDG                 rmb                 3/18/2021

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

DOCTRINAL TRUTH THAT EMPOWERS OBEDIENCE (3:9-11)

In the two previous articles we have been attempting 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?” Colossians 3:1-12 has been chosen as our study passage because here, in these verses, the apostle Paul gives doctrinal teaching and exhortations that directly address this question. On March 1, 2021, I had posted an article focused on the commands Paul issues to the believer because the believer has been raised up with Christ.

We may wonder, however, where we are supposed to find the ability to obey all these commands. Paul has given us these commands, but these are not trivial, especially if we were in the “old self” for a long time. Putting sins to death (3:5) and putting other sins aside (3:8) and stopping my habits of lying (3:9); that is a pretty tall order! How do we do this?

After he issues his commands, Paul then tells of the power supply for obedience. What Paul presents as fact is that, when you were raised up with Christ in salvation, you simultaneously laid aside the “old self” (3:9) and you put on the “new self” (3:10), and the “new self” that you put on is itself being renewed into the image of Christ (3:10; Romans 8:29). Best of all, this renewal of the “new self” is a process called sanctification that continues (Phil. 2:12-13) in every believer from the moment that you are raised up with Christ (conversion) to the day of your physical death. For those who were counting, there were four doctrinal truths given. We will unpack all four briefly.

When you first responded to the gospel by trusting Christ as Lord and Savior, part of the salvation package was that you laid aside the “old self” (3:9). This is not something that you consciously did but was rather something that was done for you because you trusted in Christ. Having laid aside the “old self” (3:9), you laid aside the old self’s love of sin. Since the old self died (3:3), the old self’s craving for the evil pleasures of sin also died. Although it may have taken some time, maybe even a long time, for you to fully experience this death, the doctrinal truth is that, at the moment of conversion, your love of sin was doomed. And this laying aside of the old self is a universal experience for all believers.

Having laid aside the “old self,” you then needed something to put on in its place. Thus, the “old self” was put off and the “new self” was put on (3:10). This “new self” or “new man” is the spiritual counterpart to the “old self” and is also part of the salvation package. As the “old self” loved sin, so the “new self” loves holiness and righteousness. As the “old self” spoke lies, so the “new self” speaks truth. As the “old self” loved self, so the “new self” seeks to love others. All believers have put on the new self.

Having put on the new self (3:10), the believer is ready to begin growing in practical holiness, a process that is called sanctification. When you first trust Christ and when you have just been raised up with Christ, the new self is like a spiritual toddler. But as the believer walks with Jesus and begins to drink the spiritual milk of the Word (1 Peter 2:2; Colossians 3:16) and fellowships with other believers, “the new self is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him (3:10).” This means that another part of the salvation package (“being raised up with Christ”) for all believers is that we are being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).

But there is still more doctrinal truth here. This “renewal,” that we also know as sanctification, is a process that occurs in all believers, regardless of any social or cultural consideration. Paul lists groups of people who are as diverse as people can be (3:11) to show that anyone who has been raised up with Christ has an equal opportunity to be “renewed.” All believers without distinction should be growing in obedience and sanctification, whether their “old self” was as uncivilized as a Scythian or as self-righteous as a Pharisee. This is because their “new self” is being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16), and this renewal continues in the believer until their race here on earth is finished.

CHOSEN, HOLY, AND BELOVED (3:12)

Finally, Paul states the strongest doctrinal truth of the passage: “Therefore, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved (3:12), put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” The doctrinal truth contained in this verse is essentially a definition of a Christian. All Christians are “chosen of God,” they are “holy,” in that they have been set apart to God, and they are “beloved” by God. Because this is true, “therefore” the Christian is duty-bound to put on a heart of compassion, kindness, etc.

SUMMARY

What we have seen in the passage is that the doctrinal truths of salvation obligate us to holy and righteous living and compel us to reject our old life of sin. These same doctrinal truths provide the believer with the power they need to obey the demands of a sanctified life.

SDG                 rmb                  3/2/2021

End-Times Study of 2 Thess. 2 #2: The apostasy (2:3)

Back on January 21 I published a blog post introducing an end-times Bible study on 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12. The title of that post was not terribly creative: “End-Times Study of 2 Thess. 2: Introduction to the study.” As I have further considered this study, I have decided to publish the long articles as “pages” on my “Roy’s Reflections” site and to announce each long article with a blog post, summarizing the longer article and also providing a link to the “page” for those who want to read more. So here is the first of my announcements. I hope you enjoy the study. rmb

WHY THIS STUDY OF 2 THESSALONIANS 2?

The Lord has given us eschatological passages (passages about the end of the age or “last things”) in His Word to show us “the things which must soon take place (Revelation 1:1).” Jesus Christ will surely return to this earth bodily in power and glory (Acts 1:11) and will draw history to a close, and there will certainly be a generation of people who will see Him coming on the clouds (Revelation 1:7; Matthew 24:29-31). Given the unprecedented events of recent history and the general trajectory of events into the future, I have wondered if, perhaps, we might be that generation of people. That is, does what the Bible describe as the events at the end of the age bear any resemblance to what we see swirling around in our world today? This study through 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12 is an attempt to answer that question.

WHAT ARE WE LOOKING AT TODAY? THE APOSTASY

“Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.” – 2 Thessalonians 2:3

In this article the subject will be “the apostasy” from 2 Thessalonians 2:3. The apostasy (“rebellion” in the ESV) is one of the “gating events” mentioned in this passage, for Paul says that “it (the day of the Lord) will not come unless the apostasy comes first.” Thus, according to Paul’s teaching, the apostasy must take place before Jesus will return. Our study of the apostasy, then, should answer two questions: 1) What exactly is “the apostasy?” and 2) Has the apostasy taken place yet? If we can answer the first question satisfactorily and then answer “yes” to the second question, we can be confident that at least this end-times event is not preventing His return.

The article then goes on to attempt to answer these two questions (above) and then to draw some conclusions.

Link to article: End-Times Study of 2 Thess. 2 #2: The apostasy (2:3) – Roy’s Reflections

SDG rmb 1/27/2021

The distinguishing mark of a “religion”

The distinguishing mark of every “religion” is that, if Christ had never come into the world and there was, therefore, no cross and there was no resurrection and no empty tomb and Christ was not coming again to judge the earth, the “religion” would continue to function without interruption.

            This, in fact, is basically a functional definition of any “religion”: Any system of man-made practices and rituals intended to provide a worldview that intentionally operates or can operate without any meaningful reference to Christ. The point I am trying to make is that this is not an incidental product of the religious system but is completely intentional and is the very reason that the religion was created and exists. As we consider some examples of “religions,” it will be apparent that these systems are deliberately antichrist.      

A COMMON AUTHOR AND INVENTOR

            All religions are invented and crafted by the chief antichrist himself, Satan, and are therefore designed to exclude all references to and reliance upon the finished work of the Lord Jesus, to deny His glorious resurrection, and to omit and ignore the fact that He will return one day to judge the earth. Although religions come in a wide variety of guises, their primary purpose is to prevent the religious slave from seeing their own sinfulness, and from “seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4).”

Satan invents religions and then passes them on to wicked men who then propagate the lies of the religion so that religious devotees will never encounter our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, they will not become aware they are sinners, and they will become ensnared in useless rituals and works and ideas which profit them nothing. Religions are Satan’s primary means for obscuring Jesus. They avoid the biblical Jesus, they distort biblical teaching, and they twist the meaning of biblical words and ideas, and they do so intentionally and actively. Again, the reason they all have common characteristics is that they are invented by the same person, Satan, and they have the same purpose.

Religions exalt the devotee by appealing to the “works” that the religious person does to merit their “salvation.” The works and the efforts involved vary from religion to religion, but all religions base the achievement of the end goal (purgatory, nirvana, paradise, oblivion, heaven, your own planet, etc.) on the meritorious efforts of the followers. If the follower works hard enough and long enough, and they are good enough, they might get in. Oddly, this results in strengthening the chains of slavery that bind them to the religion by appealing to their fleshly pride and encouraging them to rely on his own efforts to please God.

HOW TO IDENTIFY A RELIGION

There is a marked and easily detected difference between true biblical faith and practice, and “religions.” Here is a series of questions that will help make this distinction:

  • Regarding SIN – Is sin clearly defined and presented as a major issue and as the guarantee of condemnation to an eternity in hell, or is sin undefined or vaguely defined and seldom or never addressed?
  • Regarding man – Is man portrayed as a sinner in need of rescue, or is man presented as basically good and possibly in need of a little help from above? Is man declared to be wretched and rebellious, or is he “better than most” and “doing the best that he can?”
  • Regarding the centrality of Christ – Is Christ the center of the worship and the preaching of this group and, therefore, mentioned often, or is Christ off to the side somewhere and seldom mentioned? Is Christ central or is He expendable?
  • Regarding salvation – Is man’s need for salvation made clear and then is Christ presented as the only means of that salvation, or is man’s need for salvation vague or unknown and Christ’s role in salvation likewise unclear?
  • Regarding the cross of Christ – Is the cross of Christ preached from the pulpit and exalted by all, or is the power of the cross and the purpose of the cross unknown? Does this group proclaim what Jesus accomplished on the cross or is this group ignorant of what Jesus accomplished on the cross?
  • Regarding the resurrection of Christ from the dead – Is the resurrection of Christ from the dead regularly preached from the pulpit without apology or nuance, or is the resurrection not mentioned at all or is it ignored as unimportant or explained away by natural means?
  • Regarding the return of Christ at the end of the age – Is the return of Christ something that is anticipated with excitement and that is proclaimed loudly by pastors from the pulpit, or is the return of Christ effectively unknown?

BE ALERT AND BE WARNED; THERE ARE FALSE RELIGIONS OUT THERE

            In his short epistle, Jude says, “Have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh (Jude 22-24).” The last verse is addressed at false religions. Be wary and be warned! They are dangerous.

            There are many antichrists (false christs, false prophets, and false teachers) who have gone out into the world (1 John 2:18), and so the church is to be warned that there are deceivers and liars all over.

            What should we do in light of these things?

            Know your Bible as if your life depended on it. Be able to recognize false doctrine instantly by being intimately familiar with true doctrine.

            Find a solid fellowship in which you can trust the pastors and elders of the church to teach the word of God faithfully and truthfully. You must be able to trust that you are not the only one defending yourself from false teaching. You must know that your pastors and elders are guarding the flock from any false teaching and from false teachers. They are watching for wolves who would destroy the flock (Acts 20:24??). This trust in the pastors and elders must be implicit, and their vigilance must be intentional, not just incidental. The church must be serious about guarding itself from false teaching.

SDG                 rmb                 12/17/2020

Forgiveness of sin and consequences of sin (Psalm 130:3-4)

If You, LORD, should mark iniquity, O Lord who could stand?

But there is forgiveness with You that You may be feared. – Psalm 130:3-4

What does the Lord do with the consequences of sin? “There is forgiveness with the Lord,” but after forgiveness, what does the Lord do with the consequences of sin? Will He remove the consequences of sin from the sin that is forgiven, or does He leave the consequences, even when He forgives the sin? And what about the sins of unbelievers? Since all their sins are unforgiven, does the Lord bring on these people all the consequences of their sins? I was thinking about this recently and wanted to share some brief thoughts.

THEOLOGICAL TRUTH, BUT GOD IS GRACIOUS

It must be said up front that God’s forgiveness of sin does not mean that God will remove the natural consequences of sin. God is never under any obligation to remove any of the consequences of any person’s sin. If the worst consequences of every sin came to pass, God would not have violated any of His justice. He would remain perfectly just. God is obligated to forgive all the sins of every person who has placed their faith in Jesus Christ, but He is obligated to remove none of the consequences of anyone’s sins. Having stated this theological truth, we need to also state that God “is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and great in lovingkindness (Psalm 145:8),” and, because of His grace and mercy, He ordinarily chooses to remove the consequences of people’s sins, of believers and unbelievers alike.

THE GLORY OF GOD’S GRACE

Now, we should consider these things for a moment to understand the greatness and the glory and the compassion of our God. Because God is gracious and merciful, and because He is mindful that we are but dust (Psalm 103:14), He has sent His Son Jesus Christ to become flesh and to dwell among us and to die on the cross for us, and God has obligated Himself to forgive all the sins of every person who believes in Jesus. God has promised that any person who believes in Jesus is forgiven of all their sins and will never come under judgment. But while God has obligated Himself to forgive the sins of believers, He is not obligated to remove any of the consequences of those sins. But because God is, by His very nature, merciful and gracious, and because His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8), then God ordinarily and usually chooses, by His perfect wisdom and for His glory, to remove the consequences of people’s sins, not only those of believers, but also those of unbelievers, even though the sins of the unbelievers are not forgiven and even though unbelievers remain under God’s wrath and judgment. Think about how foreign this is to our human experience. In this world, we expect enemies to receive no mercy, but God’s mercy manifests itself by usually (but not always) removing the worst consequences of the sins of His enemies.

In Romans 9:22, we read that “God, though willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.” What this means is that God deferred His wrath and His judgment on the reprobate, even though they were destined for hell.

In Romans 3:25, Paul writes that, “in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed.” Again, God delayed judgment because of His grace.

Paul is addressing the pagans in Lystra when he says that “In generations gone by God permitted the nations to go their own way,” while still giving them rains and good things. The point is that God’s common grace means that He defers His judgment, and He often removes the consequences of sin.

SDG                 rmb                 12/12/2020

What is the price of a treasure or a pearl? (Matthew 13:44-46)

What is so valuable that it is worth the ultimate price, the price of my life? That is the question that Jesus is going to address with these two short parables in Matthew 13:44 and then in 13:45-46. What cost are you willing to pay for that one thing you have been seeking your whole life?

In the first parable, a man finds treasure buried in a field. “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field (Matthew 13:44).” The second parable is about a merchant seeking pearls. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it (Matthew 13:45-46).” Although the details of the parables are different, their structure and their flow and, most importantly, their message is the same.

But before we get too far, we need to define what we mean by “the kingdom of heaven.” This phrase basically means salvation, and the peace and rest that King Jesus offers. The kingdom of heaven is that place where Jesus is King.

In both parables, the main characters are seeking something. There is something “out there” that they desire and so they seek it diligently. They were seeking something of immense value that can only be obtained at huge cost. But they know that, if they find what they are seeking, any price they pay will be justified by the value of what they obtain. So, they seek.

What are we seeking? Before we know Jesus as Lord, I believe we are seeking something “out there” that will satisfy our soul. Each of us has just one life to give away, but what is so valuable that it is worth the price of my life? Jesus asked, “What will a man give in exchange for his soul (Matthew 16:26)?” So, we seek something that is worth our soul. In Isaiah 55, the prophet says, “Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near (v. 6).” In Jeremiah, the LORD says, “You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart (29:13).” So first, we must seek.

Again, in both parables, the man and the merchant find what they are seeking. The man finds the treasure in the field and the merchant finds the pearl of great value. They realize that this is the moment that have been waiting for. This is that once in a lifetime find, the discovery on which their life pivots. This is it! Now is the opportunity to end their seeking and make the commitment.

What is Jesus telling us? It is clear from these parables that the kingdom of heaven with Jesus as King is the treasure in the field and is the pearl of great value. Jesus is declaring to all who will listen that this is the moment you have been waiting for. The kingdom of heaven is the end of your search. Will you make the commitment?

Finally, both the man and the merchant agree to pay the outrageous price. What is the price for the find of a lifetime? They go and they sell all that they have and buy it. There is no hesitation and there is no “buyer’s remorse.” Instead, there is joy! But how can there be joy when you have spent all that you have? There is joy when the value of what you obtained is infinitely greater than the cost. For the man with the treasure, the field cost him everything he had, but he obtained lifetime satisfaction. His treasure hunt was forever over. The pearl merchant was left with nothing but the fabulous pearl, but now he could rest from his search for pearls.

What is the price I must pay for the kingdom of heaven? What will it cost me to obtain eternal satisfaction for my soul? When Jesus was talking to the rich young ruler about the cost of eternal life in Mark 10:21, He says, “Sell all that you have and give it to the poor, and come, follow Me,” but the man was not willing to pay the price and he suffered infinite loss. The apostle Paul lost everything to follow Christ, yet he counted all he lost “as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Phil. 3:8).” When Jesus called Peter, James, John, and Matthew (Levi), they “left everything and followed Him (Luke 5:11, 28).” It is the same for all who would follow Jesus. The price you must pay to obtain the kingdom of heaven is the price of your whole life. You must give everything you have. “Whoever finds his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it (Matthew 10:39).” The message of these two short parables is that Jesus is offering the infinite value of the kingdom of heaven to anyone who is willing to seek Him and find Him and give their life away in serving Him and obeying Him.

There is another reason why the kingdom of heaven is of infinite value. We have been talking about what it will cost us to obtain it, but we also need to consider how much it cost to make the kingdom of heaven available to seeking sinners. The kingdom of heaven is of infinite value because it was purchased for us at the price of the death of the Son of God. It cost the Lord Jesus the price of His life poured out on a Roman cross to buy access for sinners to the kingdom of heaven. Now the kingdom of heaven can be obtained by anyone who is willing to give their life away to Jesus. SDG                 rmb                 10/31/2020

Two biblical studies: Daniel’s Seventy Weeks and Yom Kippur in Leviticus 16

I am doing a lot of reading and studying in the end-times passages in the Scriptures, and have been digging deep into chapters 7-12 of Daniel lately. I have always enjoyed the narrative stories in Daniel 1-6 with their heroes and the amazing ways the Lord rescued and promoted His brave and faithful servants in Babylon, but I have thus far been reluctant to plunge into Daniel’s visions and prophecies in the second half of the book. But now, since I have more time available for study, I have rolled up my sleeves and drilled down. The latest fruit of that “drilling” is a thorough study of Daniel’s Seventy Weeks in Daniel 9:24-27. My study can be accessed by the link below. Please read it and let me know your thoughts. rmb 9/22/2020

https://wordpress.com/block-editor/page/roysreflections.com/1721

Since the Jewish day of atonement, Yom Kippur, is approaching (it will be here on September 27 this year), I decided to take a long look at Leviticus 16, where the Bible records the LORD’s commands regarding this most serious of days, to discover what riches I might find there. It turns out that this passage is rich with symbolism and heavy with foreshadows. I wanted especially to help my Jewish friends answer the question, “Since this ceremony can no longer be practiced as the LORD commanded it to be done, how do we atone for our sins?” In the article that I wrote (see the link below), I describe what I believe is the answer. Check it out and see if you agree with me. SDG rmb 9/22/2020

https://wordpress.com/block-editor/page/roysreflections.com/1709