Tuesday, May 31, 2011

On Our Side

Romans 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

31 Τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν πρὸς ταῦτα; εἰ ὁ θεὸς ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν, τίς καθ᾽ ἡμῶν;

This is one of those very simple verses that packs a great punch. This comes after Paul describes what theologians call the ordo salutis, which refers to the order of events by which man is saved. I've heard the previous verses described as a "golden chain" as God links things together for our salvation and His glory. Paul then writes this verse immediately afterward.

The key phrase does not even have a verb in it. εἰ ὁ θεὸς ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν, τίς καθ᾽ ἡμῶν; This is a first-class condition. As we read this, we should assume that God is indeed for us. We have to supply the verbs as it literally reads, "If God for us, who against us?" Really that says it all, doesn't it?

If we really believe this and really submit to His will then there is no room for anxiety. The command of Philippians 4:16 is hardly burdensome if we truly believe this verse. How can we be anxious? God is for us. That means that no matter what happens it is ultimately for our good and for His glory.

Now I would probably not lead with that to someone in Joplin, MO whose neighborhood was just devastated by a tornado. But I would try to get there. Most people know Romans 8:28 about how God works all things together for the good of those who love Him. This verse is a corollary to that. If we are children of God then God is for us. Therefore, no matter what happens is ultimately part of His will for our lives.

What we then have to decide is whether or not God is worthy of our trust. How we react to trials will give us the answer to that pretty quickly. Do we trust Him or don't we? He is for us. What can possibly stand against Him? Satan can resist Him, but we know how it will all work out in the end.

The Ongoing Battle

Romans 7:23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

23 βλέπω δὲ ἕτερον νόμον ἐν τοῖς μέλεσίν μου ἀντιστρατευόμενον τῷ νόμῳ τοῦ νοός μου καὶ αἰχμαλωτίζοντά με ἐν τῷ νόμῳ τῆς ἁμαρτίας τῷ ὄντι ἐν τοῖς μέλεσίν μου.

This comes at the end of a chapter that is somewhat debated. Is Paul speaking of himself in his redeemed or unredeemed state? I don't see any reason from the context to think that he has had a flashback to his unredeemed state. No, I think that he is speaking to his current life as a believer who has to constantly fight his flesh.

I wanted to focus on this verse because of the struggles I've had with this in the past. The most egregious was when I used this whole passage to justify my life of ongoing sin. After all, I could look at the Apostle Paul and his struggles. If he struggled with sin then why couldn't I? Besides, he also had a thorn in his flesh, right?

That's a fairly obvious one to debunk. But I think there is something more subtle here as well. I kind of slipped into gnosticism with this verse. In fact, I would say that the language I used while with Setting Captives Free was more or less gnostic. I started to equate the flesh with evil. That is certainly a fair inference from what Paul writes if we take this passage in isolation.

However, that's not the overall sense of biblical revelation. Solomon spoke of the joys of physical pleasure and even wrote a whole book about sex. Paul addresses eating in 1 Corinthians. He puts it in its proper place by telling us to sacrifice our freedoms for the sake of the consciences of others, but he also seems to imply that we can eat with gladness. In other words, we do not need to be ascetics.

The point is that we need to take a reformed view of the body. God made our bodies for our good and His glory, just like everything else. All things were created for Him (Colossians 1:16). I do not think that Scripture calls us to asceticism, but to discipline. We are to discipline our bodies and make them our slaves, but we do not need to run in fear of our bodies. We do need to subdue them to the will of God, but we should also enjoy the good things He created out of common grace like food, the beach, sunsets, the mountains, sex, etc.

Maybe you've not had this problem. However, if you've had any experience in Independent Baptist Fundamentalism I suspect you have. Enjoy God's common graces!

Friday, May 27, 2011

How We Must Live

Romans 6:22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

22 νυνὶ δὲ ἐλευθερωθέντες ἀπὸ τῆς ἁμαρτίας δουλωθέντες δὲ τῷ θεῷ ἔχετε τὸν καρπὸν ὑμῶν εἰς ἁγιασμόν, τὸ δὲ τέλος ζωὴν αἰώνιον.

This is the chapter that begins with the rhetorical question as to whether we should go on sinning so that grace may abound. Paul responds with the emphatic  μὴ γένοιτο, which is translated "by no means" in the ESV. I think a stronger translation is something like, "may it never happen!" or "let it never be so!" though of course neither of those flow as nicely in English. 

The point is that Paul uses this chapter to explain what it means to be a child of God. The key phrase here is νυνὶ δὲ ἐλευθερωθέντες ἀπὸ τῆς ἁμαρτίας δουλωθέντες δὲ τῷ θεῷ. The words ἐλευθερωθέντες and δουλωθέντες are both aorist passive participles. They get a verbal sense to them with the pronoun νυνὶ. What he is saying is just what the text says in the ESV. He is saying that two things happened when we were saved. First, we were set free from sin. Second, we became slaves of God.

The reason I want to emphasize this is because Americans in particular tend to minimize the idea of slavery in the New Testament. We might go on and on about what slavery meant in that culture as we try to explain Colossians 3:22 or Ephesians 6:5. No matter how we slice it, a slave was bound to his master. Therefore, he had to do his master's will.

If we are truly saved then we are slaves of God. Now of course slaves disobey from time to time. We will deal with that tomorrow. The point is that we need to be in the mindset of total devotion to the Lord. To think less is to minimize what happened on the cross.

Where are you? Are you a slave of God or of sin? It's going to be one or the other.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Still Paying

Romans 5:17 For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

17 εἰ γὰρ τῷ τοῦ ἑνὸς παραπτώματι ὁ θάνατος ἐβασίλευσεν διὰ τοῦ ἑνός, πολλῷ μᾶλλον οἱ τὴν περισσείαν τῆς χάριτος καὶ τῆς δωρεᾶς τῆς δικαιοσύνης λαμβάνοντες ἐν ζωῇ βασιλεύσουσιν διὰ τοῦ ἑνὸς Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ.

Paul continues his argument explaining the problem of sin and the need for justification. Here he uses a first-class conditional sentence, as seen by his use of  εἰ followed by the verb ἐβασίλευσεν in the indicative. According to Wallace, a first-class condition assumes truth for the sake of argument. Here Paul assumes that death reigned through Adam because of his sin. We of course know this to be true because we have the record of Genesis to tell us this.

This verse is one of those verses that pretty much encapsulates the gospel. All of humanity has a problem because of Adam. We are born with a sin nature, which means that we are sinners by nature and by choice. In other words, we come into the world with an inclination to sin and that is just what we do. We are free to choose, but because our nature is bent toward sin we choose sin. This alienates us from God.

But the the second half of this verse is pregnant with hope, isn't it? Here we see that despite our sin problem God gave us a solution in Christ. It is a gift that God offers everyone. The question is whether or not we will take it.

I realize that this would be a fine place to split hairs about election and God's sovereignty. The problem is that I don't know who the elect are. Spurgeon famously said that if God put a yellow stripe on the back of all the elect then he would be in the business of lifting men's shirt tails. But since God didn't do that he had to preach with the assumption that the elect would hear and believe the gospel. That's what I'm trying to do here. My prayer is that those who read this would accept the free gift of grace that God offers. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Who are the Heirs?

Romans 4:14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.

14 εἰ γὰρ οἱ ἐκ νόμου κληρονόμοι, κεκένωται ἡ πίστις καὶ κατήργηται ἡ ἐπαγγελία·

We continue walking through Paul's argument here. Basically, what Paul has told us is that circumcision is not what saves anyone. Works cannot save. It is through faith and faith alone that we are saved.

What does this mean? As a Gentile, I am thrilled that God would open up His kingdom to me. Frankly, I deserve nothing better than the Moabites got, for example. I would be, as David put it in 1 Samuel 17, an uncircumcised Philistine. Or at least I may as well be because I am not a Jew.

Yet in His grace God chose to save Gentiles as well as Jews. It is not those who adhere to the law, but those who have faith that are saved. The personal application is that we must know Christ. We'll keep building on this as we go through Romans.

On a more global scale, this tells us that we need to be careful about mixing up the current nation-state of Israel with the Israel spoken of in Scripture. Yes, God still has a plan for these people and they will be gathered in at the end of the age. But we don't have to get all worked up over the President's plea for them to retreat to their 1967 borders. I don't want to get too political on this blog, but I do ask that you think through the implications of this combining of Jew and Gentile as it pertains to politics. Things are not quite as simple as some would make them seem.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The God of Everyone

Romans 3:29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one--who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.

29 ἢ Ἰουδαίων ὁ θεὸς μόνον; οὐχὶ καὶ ἐθνῶν; ναὶ καὶ ἐθνῶν, 30  εἴπερ εἷς ὁ θεὸς ὃς δικαιώσει περιτομὴν ἐκ πίστεως καὶ ἀκροβυστίαν διὰ τῆς πίστεως.

This is how Paul ends a pretty lengthy and difficult argument. Frankly, I don't get a ton out of this when I read it in Greek because it is difficult to follow his arguments. But a quick read in English clears things up.

Paul begins chapter 3 by asking if there is any advantage to being a Jew. It seems that they do have an advantage in that God chose them to speak His Word. We call that the Old Testament. He also used the Jews to bring the Savior of the world in Jesus. In that sense there is a huge significance to being an ethnic Jew.

However, he ends the argument with these rhetorical questions. When he uses the construction οὐχὶ καὶ ἐθνῶν he is basically saying, "isn't that so?" That's what the particle οὐχὶ does. It's sort of like the French phrase "n'est-ce pas" that is tacked on to the end of a sentence when you expect a positive answer.

The point is that Paul is leveling the playing field between Jews and Gentiles. When Paul refers to the "circumcised" or the "uncircumcised" he is referring to Jew and Gentile. Basically, he is dividing the world into two classes of people - Jews and non-Jews. That includes everyone. And he says that God will justify everyone by faith. 

In other words, genetics will not save anyone. Removal of foreskin on the 8th day will not save anyone. Only faith will save people. That faith needs to be in Christ. If you are reading this and are Jewish I entreat you along with Paul to trust in Christ as Messiah. If you are reading this and are not Jewish I entreat you along with Paul to trust in Christ as the one will justify you before the Lord. In other words, I don't care who you are -- you need Christ. Will you trust Him?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Being a Jew

Romans 2:29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

29 ἀλλ᾽ ὁ ἐν τῷ κρυπτῷ Ἰουδαῖος, καὶ περιτομὴ καρδίας ἐν πνεύματι οὐ γράμματι, οὗ ὁ ἔπαινος οὐκ ἐξ ἀνθρώπων ἀλλ᾽ ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ.

This is the end of a long argument that Paul makes about what it means to be a Jew. He uses the word τῷ κρυπτῷ to describe what it means to truly be a Jew. This word means "hidden," which certainly stands in start contrast with the sign of circumcision. His point is that one's ancestry is not the important thing here. Even the sign of circumcision is not the important thing. It is a matter of the heart.

I won't go so far as to say that God has finished with ethnic Israel. We will see more about that as we go through this book. But what is undeniable is that somehow Israel and the Church are combined right now. We will definitely see more of that as we go through Romans. If we know Christ then we are sons of Abraham. But we're not just any sons of Abraham. Ishmael was a son of Abraham too, but we see that his descendants build mosques and a few of them crash airplanes into buildings. 

We are Abraham's covenant children if we are in Christ. We will see more of this in Colossians 2 as well. Of course, this is all fascinating in its own way, but what difference does this make to us? It means that as Gentiles we should be completely cut off from the blessings of God. But as sons of Abraham we get to enjoy salvation and blessing.

I just finished going to school with some people who make a huge deal about the Jew. We should make a big deal out of them because the Bible does. We need to make sure that we realize how Christ is at the center of all of this. It is not about the nation of physical descendants of Abraham anymore, but about the spiritual descendants. Those are the true Jews. So, in a manner of speaking, I am more Jewish than Jerry Seinfeld.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Come, Lord Jesus!

Revelation 22:20 He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

20 Λέγει ὁ μαρτυρῶν ταῦτα· ναί, ἔρχομαι ταχύ. Ἀμήν, ἔρχου κύριε Ἰησοῦ.

I find it interesting that I read this chapter today. As most people have heard, there is a guy in California named Harold Camping who has predicted the rapture today. It seems that he has been able to discern something in the Bible that leads him to calculate today as the day of Christ's return for His people. It seems ironic to me that he could have scoured the Bible so thoroughly and missed Matthew 24:36, but apparently he did.

This verse actually gives the Preterist some weight to his argument. After all, Jesus says ναί, ἔρχομαι ταχύ. The particle ναί gives a sense of emphasis to the affirmative. The word ἔρχομαι is in the middle voice, so it is difficult to pin down exactly. You can't necessarily put it in the future tense. I think that the word ταχύ is the really interesting one. I learned the gloss "quickly" for it. I checked the NIV, NASB, and the KJV on this. The KJV is the only one that translates it "quickly" rather than "soon." 

I'm not sure that is incredibly significant, but understanding it as "quickly" indicates more a sense of manner than time. For what it's worth, Beale agrees with the idea of "quickly" as well. If we take it as "soon" then we have a strange case where Jesus' version of "soon" does not look anything like what we would consider "soon." But if we take it as "quickly" we understand that when He comes it will be sudden and decisive. That seems to make a lot more sense.

We need to remember that when it comes to eschatology there is a sense of already and not yet. Here in the present age there are some things that Christ inaugurated at the cross. However, we wait for the final consummation upon His return. That's what this verse points us to.

My prayer is the same as John's. I want to see Christ come. I'd love for Harold Camping to be right for myself, but it grieves me to consider all those who do not know Christ. We need to balance this hope with 2 Peter 3:9. Let's remember this as we hope for His return, but also as we share the gospel with those who do not know Him.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Back in the Fire

Revelation 20:10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

10 καὶ ὁ διάβολος ὁ πλανῶν αὐτοὺς ἐβλήθη εἰς τὴν λίμνην τοῦ πυρὸς καὶ θείου ὅπου καὶ τὸ θηρίον καὶ ὁ ψευδοπροφήτης, καὶ βασανισθήσονται ἡμέρας καὶ νυκτὸς εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων.

We saw yesterday that the beast and the false prophet were thrown into the lake of fire in Revelation 19. Here it appears that Satan joins them and this is a continuation of what was described in Revelation 19. However, the language in this verse is a bit ambiguous. The English translations have to add "were" to this phrase:  ὅπου καὶ τὸ θηρίον καὶ ὁ ψευδοπροφήτης because it lacks a verb. It is very literally "where also the beast and the false prophet." This means that the tense of the verb is an interpretive decision. It could just as easily be "are" or "will be." 

Beale gives the following explanation:

The devil is again highlighted as the one who deceived the nations to attack the saints. His deceiving activities are mentioned again to show that he will undergo judgment because of such deception. He will be “cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where also the beast and false prophet [supply “are” or “will be cast”]” (see on 14:10 for the OT background of “fire and brimstone”). The devil is cast into the fire together with or immediately after his two fiendish allies. The probability that 20:7–10 is a recapitulation of 19:17–21 makes unlikely the supposition that he is cast into the fire ages after his Satanic cohorts have gone into the fire at the end of ch. 19. Some think that for 20:10 to recapitulate the events associated with the demise of the beast and false prophet we would need more explicit language, something like “After the battle of Gog and Magog, Satan was thrown into the lake of fire along with the beast and false prophet.” But this is not a necessary expectation, especially since the style of recapitulations in the OT prophetic literature is not characterized by such explicitness, nor are the recapitulations elsewhere in Revelation so characterized.

G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation : A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 1028.

Of course, here he makes an assumption as well. He is assuming that this is a recapitulation of what was described in chapter 19. But I think that his last sentence is compelling. We've already seen how Revelation keeps recapitulating itself. Or, as I have heard it said, the book of Revelation is like getting different camera angles on a close play while watching a football game on television. The point is that it is perfectly plausible to see this as a recapitulation rather than as a continuation of the same vision described in Revelation 19. 

What this means is that if you see this as a recapitulation you are likely to end up amillenial like Calvin, Luther, and most of the historic church. If you see this as a continuation from chapter 19 you are likely to be premillenial like Piper, MacArthur, and much of the modern church. Salvation does not hinge on how you interpret this, but it is something to consider.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Final Judgment

Revelation 19:20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.

20 καὶ ἐπιάσθη τὸ θηρίον καὶ μετ᾽ αὐτοῦ ὁ ψευδοπροφήτης ὁ ποιήσας τὰ σημεῖα ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ, ἐν οἷς ἐπλάνησεν τοὺς λαβόντας τὸ χάραγμα τοῦ θηρίου καὶ τοὺς προσκυνοῦντας τῇ εἰκόνι αὐτοῦ· ζῶντες ἐβλήθησαν οἱ δύο εἰς τὴν λίμνην τοῦ πυρὸς τῆς καιομένης ἐν θείῳ.

This is what happens after the return of the coming King who will defeat Satan once and for all. We see the King in the previous verses. I know that I write this a lot, but I cannot emphasize too strongly how He is going to return. We have emasculated Jesus in our culture and reduced Him to a hippie in a pink dress. He is going to return as a conquering warrior. This is the hope that we have as Christians.

I'm going to write more tomorrow as there is something in the next chapter that seems to merge with this. I'm tempted to consult some commentaries, but I'm going to try to stick to the text by itself. In the meantime, consider this Jesus that the book of Revelation describes. In the gospels we see Him as a suffering servant. Here we see Him as a conquering King. The question you need to answer is whether He is your King right now. Are you going to submit to Him now or when you are forced to later?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Final Justice

Revelation 18:20 Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!"

20 Εὐφραίνου ἐπ᾽ αὐτῇ, οὐρανὲ καὶ οἱ ἅγιοι καὶ οἱ ἀπόστολοι καὶ οἱ προφῆται, ὅτι ἔκρινεν ὁ θεὸς τὸ κρίμα ὑμῶν ἐξ αὐτῆς.

This comes at the end of chapter 18, which describes the ultimate fate of Babylon. Babylon is portrayed as a city of great wealth, but also of great sin. It is ultimately judged and will be destroyed. One could even conceivably make a parallel of what happened with New York on 9/11, but I don't think that is what this passage refers to. It is possible that is what John was predicting, but it is highly unlikely.

I do, however, suspect that Babylon is a metaphor of some kind. John and his audience would think of the actual city of Babylon. After all, it was Babylon that led to their captivity. But here we get a vision of Babylon falling some time in the future. At least, that's what we get if we take Revelation to be a continuous story speaking of the future.

Basically, we are left with three interpretive options:

  1. The futurist view of Revelation is wrong and this speaks of a judgment already past from our perspective
  2. The city of Babylon will be rebuilt, will regain its former splendor, and will then be destroyed
  3. It is symbolic for a great city that is a hub of sin and rebellion
I'm inclined toward the third view. This is something that I need to study more deeply before I make any kind of final decision though. What do you think?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Once More

Revelation 12:9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world--he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

9 καὶ ἐβλήθη ὁ δράκων ὁ μέγας, ὁ ὄφις ὁ ἀρχαῖος, ὁ καλούμενος Διάβολος καὶ ὁ Σατανᾶς, ὁ πλανῶν τὴν οἰκουμένην ὅλην, ἐβλήθη εἰς τὴν γῆν, καὶ οἱ ἄγγελοι αὐτοῦ μετ᾽ αὐτοῦ ἐβλήθησαν.

As I noted in my previous post, we see cycles happening in the book of Revelation. Here we see the great dragon  ἐβλήθη. This is an aorist to show that at some indefinite time he saw the dragon thrown down. It's not necessarily puncticular as some older theologians may say, but it did happen sometime. It's certainly not a continuous action.

My reason for bringing this up is to emphasize that Revelation probably should not be read as one continuous story. That is how I'm learning to read it in seminary, but I don't think that is right. One way I've heard it described is cameras at a football game. Think about when there is a close play on the sideline where you're not sure if the receiver got both feet in with control of the ball. You first see the play at full speed with one angle. Then you might see a reverse angle. Then you might see a view from across the sideline at 90 degrees from the play. Then you might see another view from straight above. Then there is the view down the sideline. 

I think that's a good metaphor for how the story unfolds in the book of Revelation. Try reading it in that light and see what you find.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Round and Round

Revelation 9:1 And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit.

1 Καὶ ὁ πέμπτος ἄγγελος ἐσάλπισεν· καὶ εἶδον ἀστέρα ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ πεπτωκότα εἰς τὴν γῆν, καὶ ἐδόθη αὐτῷ ἡ κλεὶς τοῦ φρέατος τῆς ἀβύσσου

My point today is not so much exegetical as it is hermeneutical. The question is how we should read the book of Revelation. If we take the simplest approach, we just read it like a sequential letter. We take the first three chapters to be like a straight epistle and then we take the rest to be a description of what will happen at the end of time.

However, there is another way that I think is perhaps more plausible. Instead of reading it like a sequence of events, perhaps we should read it as sort of a commentary on itself. It looks like concentric circles that get larger and larger in scope. I'm not going to detail every example, but this is one of them. It seems like this is retelling what we just saw in chapter 8 with Wormwood falling to earth. In other words, I don't think it is a separate event.

I don't really have time to develop this more deeply right now, but I just wanted to point out that there are different ways to read Revelation. Obviously they are not all legitimate since God did not write it with multiple meanings in mind. However, I would submit that perhaps the literalistic method is not the best. I realize that is a heretical idea to a dispensationalist and I also realize that this opens the door a crack for liberalism to barge its way in. However, I also think that a plain reading of Revelation makes a lot more sense if we see it a continually retelling a story and elaborating on it each time rather than a straight sequence of events.

Friday, May 06, 2011

The Wrath of the Lamb

Revelation 6:16 calling to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb,

16 καὶ λέγουσιν τοῖς ὄρεσιν καὶ ταῖς πέτραις· πέσετε ἐφ᾽ ἡμᾶς καὶ κρύψατε ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ προσώπου τοῦ καθημένου ἐπὶ τοῦ θρόνου καὶ ἀπὸ τῆς ὀργῆς τοῦ ἀρνίου,

If you were to take this verse completely out of context it would look absolutely ridiculous. The phrase  τῆς ὀργῆς τοῦ ἀρνίου looks completely absurd. It's certainly  not something that seems to warrant the preposition ἀπὸ which means "from," but it has the sense not so much of place like εκ does, but it has the idea of being kept apart from something. Their prayer is to be protected from the wrath of the lamb.

You will notice that in this verse the word "Lamb" is spelled with a big "L." It has to be or else it would not make any sense. A fully-grown sheep is hardly threatening. Who is afraid of a lamb? Lambs are for petting zoos. They are certainly not an animal to be feared. You should worry about an angry ram, but not an angry lamb. I keep thinking of the puppet Lambchop.

The point is that Jesus came to be the sacrificial lamb for the world. He was the perfect Passover lamb. He died a humble death on a Roman cross. Just like how the Passover lamb saved the Jews from God's wrath, Jesus' blood saves us from God's wrath and will save us from the judgment to come. 

The problem for those who do not know the Lamb is that He will come back in wrath. He will no longer be like a cute and fuzzy animal to be cuddled. He will return as a conquering king. We can argue about rapture and millenial systems all day. We can talk about the proper way to interpret Revelation for another 2000 years, assuming that the Lord tarries. However, what we cannot do is expect His return to be like His departure. He is going to come back in glory to judge the world. You want to be on His side when He does.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Eternal Praise

Revelation 4:8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!"

8 καὶ τὰ τέσσαρα ζῷα, ἓν καθ᾽ ἓν αὐτῶν ἔχων ἀνὰ πτέρυγας ἕξ, κυκλόθεν καὶ ἔσωθεν γέμουσιν ὀφθαλμῶν, καὶ ἀνάπαυσιν οὐκ ἔχουσιν ἡμέρας καὶ νυκτὸς λέγοντες· ἅγιος ἅγιος ἅγιος κύριος ὁ θεὸς ὁ παντοκράτωρ, ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος.

When I read this I immediately think of Isaiah 6:3. I am fairly certain that this describes the same thing. Apparently God created beings whose sole purpose is to spend eternity worshiping Him. Not that here they are seen in worship of Christ. How can we be sure that it is Christ? Verse 11 tells us:  for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created. This should remind you of Colossians 1:16 where we see that everything was created by Christ and for Christ.

So what do we make of this? There are some who consider this to be a very boring picture of heaven. Basically, these are the folks who want for heaven to be like a really ideal version of earth. Imagine your best day ever. Now multiply that for eternity. For some that may be an eternity of eating chicken wings while watching your favorite team win the Super Bowl. For others that may be an eternity of hiking in perfect weather and finding an idyllic scene with a waterfall. These sound great, don't they?

The problem is that they all fall short. I maintain that the greatest days we have here on earth are made greater because they are not eternal. It's no fun to see your team win the big game every year unless they lose periodically. Being trapped in a cubicle farm under artificial light during the week makes that hike in the woods that much nicer. There needs to be tension before there can be release. Read any good story and you will see that. 

Why are we like that? Everything goes back to Genesis 3. Thanks to the Fall we live under tension all the time. Our nature is now such that we need the bad to enjoy the good. But heaven won't be like that. Heaven will be ideal all the time. 

What does that look like? Unceasing worship of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We will be in the presence of God. And as we come into the presence of God the pressing cares of this world will fade away. As humans we read this passage and think that these seraphim got a bad deal. They remind us of the animatronic show at Chuck E Cheese that can do nothing but sound like a broken record. But what we don't realize in our fallen state is that they have the best job imaginable. They get to exist in the presence of the Lord and worship Him as He deserves.

If that still sounds boring to you, please let me know. We need to talk about who God is.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Keep the Love

Revelation 2:4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.

4 ἀλλὰ ἔχω κατὰ σοῦ ὅτι τὴν ἀγάπην σου τὴν πρώτην ἀφῆκες.

This is one of those verses where different translations communicate very different meanings. That phrase at the end is sometimes difficult. Should  τὴν ἀγάπην σου τὴν πρώτην ἀφῆκες be "the love you had at first," or should it be "your first love?" I can see a pretty compelling argument for the latter, as do the translators of the KJV and the NIV. The word σου is in the genitive, so there is definitely a sense of possession here. It links two accusatives together: τὴν ἀγάπην σου τὴν πρώτην, so they should probably be taken together as the object of what was abandoned. It probably goes with τὴν ἀγάπην, which gives more credence to the KJV. However, that leaves the other accusative just hanging there. 

I can see the reason behind this translation.  John accuses the church in Ephesus of abandoning your love, the first one. This is because both of the accusatives are tied together with the genitive. The KJV translation is perfectly valid too, but this also seems to make more sense theologically, which is important as well.

Basically, John accuses the church in Ephesus of starting out great, but then losing some of the fire while keeping up the motions. This verse hits me upside the head every time I read it now that I understand it properly. This is a microcosm of my spiritual walk. It's not that I ever abandoned my first love, which is Jesus. But it's that I lost the love that I had at first. 

Of course, the cure is the gospel. That's always the cure. We need to remain steeped in it so as to keep the fires going. If we remember who we are and from what we've been saved how can we help but be in love with the Savior? To do less is to severely cheapen grace.