1 John 3:16

"By this we perceive the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Image of Man

One emphasis in missions has been to avoid imposing values or ideas on others. This is coupled with recent emphasis on “political correctness” where all world views are held to be equal. The tendency is to accept whatever one meets in mission and adapt the Christian message to it. It is believed that this reduces offence. The result is a variety of views on Christianity, according to location.

One of the justifications for this is a claim that although man fell he is still made in the image of God and therefore his natural culture and religion will reflect this image in some way. People may then claim new interpretations of scripture based on their cultural views. It is then said that the preaching of the gospel in this culture must adapt to these local views. “We just have to preach this adaptation in that field.” This justification has problems:

1. The assumption that the fall of man into sin is not total, or that it has only partially affected the image of God in man. It is a denial of the Reformed and Evangelical doctrine of total depravity.

2. It assumes that what looks like a godly value in human culture is in fact godly according to actual biblical teaching. This concept of false equivalents is explained further below.

The notion that there is some residue of the image of God in man after the Fall is unbiblical. The Bible teaches that whatever man brings forth that is helpful to society in general is due to God’s common grace, not to man’s innate intelligence or goodness. It is true that man has intellectual abilities and moral appreciations, but these are due to God’s restraining power and kindness. When this kindness is lifted man will resort to his default nature.

When God outlawed murder after the Flood because man is made in the image of God (Gen 9:6), He was referring to His original creation of man. He did not deny the totality of the Fall. God said in Gen 6:5 that every thought and imagination of man was evil continually. Man’s natural state according to God is total, not partial evil.

The command not to murder acknowledges the distinction between man and animal and the original purpose for which God made man, into which we are redeemed by Christ. Evolution tries to eradicate this distinction, by making man an animal. God demands that we honour Him by treating all mankind with dignity, whether they are saved or unsaved. But after the Fall, man is born in the image of fallen Adam.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Monotheism & Problems with Anthropology

Anthropology disproves the theory of the evolution of monotheism. In ancient societies on all continents it has been found that societies started with a belief in monotheism and regressed into polytheism and animism. They started with some knowledge of God and as time went on and distance from other civilisations increased they went away from the knowledge of God.

This is true for the Australian Aborigines for example. There is evidence that when they arrived in Australia they lived in settled communities with farms. As they went further into witchcraft they regressed into nomadic hunters without settlements. Societies in Asia, Africa and Europe began with a monotheistic faith and regressed into spiritism. It is true of all mankind.

Faulty “evidences” for evolution are still taught in schools as valid. The techniques used to “date” artefacts have flawed presuppositions. “Proofs” in biology are without foundation. Its evidence in geology is better understood as the consequence of Noah’s Flood. Its theories in religion have no basis in anthropology and are unable to answer the historical resurrection of Christ from the dead. Nor can evolutionists account for the occurrence of miracles in our own time.

Problems in Anthropology

Problems arise when people use anthropology as a source of theology. We cannot learn the things of God through the study of man. The ancient Greek goal of education was knowledge of self and today secular educationists follow this anthropological route. Theology gives us correct anthropology, rather than anthropology giving us correct theology.

It is sometimes said that we can learn about God from human culture or from world religions. It is also said that we can learn about God from nature or from logic. We will cover some of these areas later, but here we address the idea that when we go into missions we can find truth about God in local culture or religion and then use that to replicate Christian ideas.

This may be seen as a quick way to results in missions and as a way to ensure that mission is local and indigenous rather than foreign and colonial. What may begin with an attempt to understand the local people and their culture may become a substitute for the gospel.

This concept would then be against the Reformation principle of faith called sola scriptura; scripture alone! This principle of finding truth about God outside of scripture is a departure from Christian faith. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine…” (2 Tim 3:16). This is the only source of theology.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Evolution of Religion

A theory of the evolution of religion states that man started with a primitive understanding of “god” and developed a more complex or sophisticated faith as his society progressed. (See the “founder” of cultural anthropology Edward Tylor, of the 19th and early 20th Century, who developed this theory.)

The theory claims that man started in an unorganised society, with a religion of spiritism, seeing spirits in all objects with no single ruler. As society progressed into tribal chieftaincies man’s view of spiritual rule devolved into polytheism, the belief in several leading deities.

Finally, as people grouped into nation states around the time of Moses and had one main ruler or king, they began to see the spiritual world the same way, with one main god - monotheism. So here we see a progression from spiritism to polytheism to monotheism. It is claimed that Moses was the founder of monotheism.

But biblical evidence shows that monotheism was the belief of all God’s people from the beginning. Abraham, for example, hundreds of years before Moses, was clearly monotheistic. The Greek, who were supposed to be the most advanced, were polytheistic.

Secular authors have stated that religion is a natural phenomenon. They say that man developed religious ideas naturally to meet his need for security. It is true that human religion is natural, developed by man to meet his felt needs. Religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism for example were developed from the imaginations of man and from a twisted view of God’s revelation. “Christianity” without God’s Spirit is the same.

This is human religion. It is a “fig leaf”. It is a substitute for truth. It is not man seeking for God, but man using a cover of religion to hide from God. It is to satiate his conscience. But when God’s Spirit calls us we know that religion is empty of any power to save and empty of any truth. Human religion is a means of hiding from God (as Adam hid), not of genuinely seeking for Him.

True Christianity is not a human religion. It has not developed by men “seeking God”. It is God’s Self-initiative and Self-revelation through grace. God sent Jesus to reveal Himself. Today, through the Holy Spirit and word of God, the knowledge of God is a gift. Man cannot find God through natural theology, reasoning or even self-induced spiritual encounters. A man comes to the knowledge of God because God seeks and finds him.

The Bible says “seek and you shall find”. This must come as a call of the Spirit of God within our heart. We seek Him in truth only if He first calls us. He must draw us to Himself first. “We love Him because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19).

This is important. It means we that cannot reveal God naturally through human religion or culture as we go into mission. God can only be revealed by His own initiative through His gospel, as we are sent by Him as His co-labourers. We must be sent by God. As Benson Idahosa said, “Some were sent: others went.”.

Tylor’s evolution of religion model claimed that societies developed in an evolutionary series from Stone Age, Iron Age, Bronze Age, etc. Excavations are “dated” by these artefacts found in them. However, societies progressed and regressed often according to their circumstances and such dating methods are conjecture. Iron and bronze were available in the very earliest societies in Genesis.

Sunday, 14 November 2010


From the previous discussions we can see the importance of culture in mission. How should we approach culture and other human sciences? By human sciences we mean not the study of chemistry or physics, but the study of man and his behaviour and history. Anthropology is the study of man, his nature, his society and his culture. It is an interesting and often very subjective field of study.

Archaeology is another category of anthropology. In the last 200 years a lot has been learnt about past civilizations by excavations, especially in Bible lands. Initially archaeologists were not able to confirm certain biblical narratives, such as the existence of the Hittite Empire.

In such cases rash archaeologists or media would announce that the Bible was inaccurate. They have always been proved wrong as archaeological work progressed. Whether it was about the Hittites, the occupation of Canaan under Joshua, the fall of Jericho, or the cultural practices of Abraham, the Bible has never been shown to be wrong. (See Werner Keller, The Bible As History.)

God acted out His redemption plan in history. The historical narratives of scripture, whether the history of nations, the history of creation, or the miracle ministry and resurrection of Jesus, are all literal historical events.

The Hebrew people did not use mythology or symbolic language when recording history. Governor’s names are given, cities and villages are identified and time periods are stated. All of these can be traced by independent historical sources and by archaeology. The Bible has not once been shown to be wrong after evidence has come to the surface.

Population Migrations

A study of human society down through the millennia has also verified the migration of humans from Mesopotamia after the Flood and Tower of Babel to all parts of the globe. Population levels in various parts of the world are consistent with a general migration from this biblical time period.

Cultures all over the earth have very similar stories in their history concerning the Tower of Babel, Flood, Creation and the Fall. (See anthropologist Don Richardson in Eternity in Their Hearts.) They also have similar constellations. They mostly perceive related pictures in the stars, showing a commonality in ancestry. There are many more myths that are common also.

Anthropology is also valuable in helping us to understand culture. Further below we will look at the extent to which anthropology may help us in the missionary task. First though, we see that anthropology helps us to refute false ideas about religion.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

What Went Wrong in Asia

Looking at the history of missions allows us an opportunity to see what might have gone wrong. Why was the gospel lost in Asia and Africa after those early years? The Mongols of Asia and the Muslims invaded much of the area, but we believe that syncretism was the main problem.

Syncretism means mixing the gospel with local perspectives of the culture. This happened a lot in the early African church with the adoption of the worship of Mary replacing Isis, for example. It also happened in most places in Asia where the Nestorians preached.

The Nestorians, being more humanistic, celebrated novel gospel interpretations in new cultures. They also went so far away geographically in missions that their “supply lines” grew thin. They were cut off from the main theological development in other sectors of the church.

For example, Bishop Qing Qing of China wrote in 780AD, comparing the gospel to Buddhist Confucian karma. Qing claimed that we return to our original good nature by works. In his Sutra of Returning to Your Original Nature, he claimed:

Christ says: From goodness in past lives, people come to this religion and through the faith they find Happiness…Simon (Peter) know this: You ask me about the Triumphant Law. What your ancestors have done bears fruit in you; their karma finds its outcome in you. (Cited from Martin Palmer).

Here is a Christian Bishop making a Christian theology for China 1,227 years ago. He believed in reincarnation. He misquoted Jesus’ words to Peter in Matthew 16. He claimed that the original nature of each man when born is good. He said we restore this original goodness through our good works. He said that Simon Peter was blessed, not by the free grace of his heavenly Father (Matt 16:17), but by his own good works. This is Buddhism, not Christianity. This is Nestorian humanism.

When Christianity is no different from local religions what is the point of it? It is absorbed into traditional religion like a chameleon lizard and disappears into the fabric of its environment. This is one of the greatest hazards of international mission. This was the issue Paul addressed in Galatians and was the main problem addressed in the book of Hebrews: the gospel was being mixed with Jewish culture. Paul said that the gospel was then lost.

We also must consider the importance of church mission influencing government. In countries where Christianity did not impact and influence government it eventually lost ground. In Ethiopia, Armenia and Europe it held its ground. It is true that the church was corrupted by government in Europe, but at least there was something there for the Reformation to correct.

The conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine in the West in the early 4th Century brought relief to the Christians from the Roman persecution there. Persecution of Christians had become Roman policy, but Constantine made the Roman Empire Christian.

But Constantine’s coming led to a great increase of persecution against Christians in the East. The East and West were enemies then and Persia saw Christians in Persia as potential allies of Constantine in the West and spies. So the Western church celebrates Constantine, but maybe not the Eastern Church.

Friday, 12 November 2010


The Nestorian college at Antioch developed a literalist hermeneutics to counter the allegory used by ascetics in northern Africa. But they took their literalism too far, denying all mysteries by making them only symbols.

In the 16th Century Luther argued against this approach. However, the humanist Zwingli defended it on matters related to the communion and baptism. Luther was not upholding Catholic sacramentalism, but refuting humanist Aristotelian logic that denies mysteries simply because they are not understood.

Luther’s position regarding scripture was that we should accept its plain meaning and not allow our personal experience or reason to override it. Luther took this stand to refute humanism, which he saw as the greatest risk in eroding the truth of God’s word. He was correct, as this humanism in Europe later developed into liberal theology that denied the supernatural.

We believe that Christ has one nature, which is fully God and fully human in incarnation. It is indeed a mystery! But this is the power of the gospel. It neither contextualizes (humanises) or denies human context. It accepts humanity, but meets it miraculously, not on humanity’s terms. The human context is sin. The remedy is His faith.

The humanism of Nestorians left certain legacies. One of these was based on their denial of total depravity. They were semi-Pelagian. Today this is often reflected in Arminianism. They believed that all human cultures contained something of God and could be used in theological development. They also believed in derived holiness by works, or progressive sanctification and power through spirituality.

This humanism meant two things: Nestorianism became the fastest and most successful mission movement in history up until today. It moved into foreign cultures with ease and dedication. But the very reason for its success became the reason for its failure. Look at where Nestorianism went. In every one of its mission fields the gospel was eventually lost. We do not want to repeat this today.

Thursday, 11 November 2010


There is much more evidence of the extent of early missions. A Japanese professor P.Y. Saeki stated that Nestorian Christianity penetrated the whole of Chinese literature and that Asia was widely covered by missionaries. The Nestorians were an eastern branch of the church, which went out mainly from Persia (Iran).

Most of the world was reached in the first millennium. Australia and America are left out of this study. Leaving aside the theories of evolution it is doubtful that their populations were extensive. We need an anthropological study of migrations to show this. Philip Nicolai (1556-1608) claimed that European explorers to the Peruvians, Brazilians and West Indies found evidence of earlier Christian witness.

The Great Commission is not complete: it goes on in every generation. But this shows what a tremendous job the early church did. In the midst of persecution and heresy the European church dominated the continent by the 5th Century. The Nestorians, despite their humanism, made unbelievable strides and were highly dedicated to their task.

God does not require satellites and aircraft to fulfil the Great Commission. Current generations are not more able than past. We should use technology, but it is the gospel that is God’s power and God who makes His people willing in the day of His power.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010


Gregory the Illuminator went to Armenia around 230AD and converted the king. Armenia kept its Christian identity through the centuries. There is an earlier tradition that the Apostle Thaddeus went to Armenia but we do not know that for certain. Christians went very early into Russia. There is a strong Orthodox Church there still today.

The gospel spread as far as Britain before the first apostles died. The Germanic tribes were all reached before the break up of the Roman Empire. At the Nicaea Council in 325AD, 800 bishops from the West and 1000 bishops from the East were present, including one signature from “John the Persian, of the churches of the whole of Persia and in the great India.”.

The significance of this is that the theology of the early church councils is not Western theology. No one church was in charge. They met as independent bishops in one fellowship of the saints. Reformed Theology is not Western. It is derived from the early church councils before the Roman church became corrupt and before that from Pauline theology and the theology of the first church council in Acts 15.

Augustine brought a partial reformation to the church in the 4th and 5th Centuries, but he was too influenced by the asceticism of Tertullian and Origen to do much. Augustine was able to defeat Pelagius, who claimed that man was not born in sin and could be saved by works, but he did not overcome the syncretism of Greek philosophy in the early church.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The Christian Empire of Ethiopia

In the mid 500’s an Ethiopian army poured into Arabia to defend Christians being killed by pagan and Jewish persecutors. The Ethiopian king established his rule in Yemen, at a Christian pilgrimage site. Christianity flourished.

The Ethiopian king was the unrivalled ruler of the region, but his army was expensive to keep. The nearby city of Mecca held an annual pagan pilgrimage that was also lucrative. The Ethiopian king marched on Mecca to stop its idolatrous worship of the Kaaba stones. Whether the king was only against idolatry, but also wanted to stop commercial competition from Mecca we do not know.

The leader of Mecca at this time was Mohammed’s grandfather. Mohammad was a child. Mecca sued for peace and the Ethiopian king demanded they hand over the Kaaba, which would have ensured that the city no longer had status as a pilgrimage centre. Mecca refused. Surprisingly Mecca was able to hold off the attack and the Ethiopian king withdrew. Later Islam continued to use Mecca and the stones of Kaaba as a pilgrimage centre, ridding it of all pagan gods but Allah.

Islam’s justification for war was the idolatry of the church in those regions. Christianity had become syncretised (meshed in) with the cultures of the region. In Egypt and Ethiopia they worshipped Isis the mother god and her son, renaming them Mary and Jesus. It was syncretism, not really Islam, which was the church’s downfall. The church has survived in all those countries till today. In Iran there are significant numbers of Christians and Jews who are forced to pay a tax, to allow them some freedom of worship.

The rise of Islam was not novel. Mohammed claimed to be the Comforter that Jesus promised would come. Several false prophets before him claimed the same. By Comforter Jesus was referring to the Holy Spirit, given to the church on the Day of Pentecost. Manichaeism was a sect started prior to Islam, founded by Mani. His career was strikingly similar to Mohammed’s.

Mani claimed to be the Comforter and the greatest in a succession of prophets including Old Testament prophets and Jesus, just as Mohammed did. Islam is a syncretised Christian/Jewish sect. Mani distinguished between more spiritual worshippers and laity, the former taking confession from the latter and abstaining from marriage, which the Roman Catholic priesthood followed.

Monday, 8 November 2010


There are many traditions about early apostles and their travels. Thomas is said to have preached in India. We do not know this for certain, but it is certain that the church existed in India in the 1st Century. Secular sources show Christians to be living as far east as northern Afghanistan by 196AD, so we know that they were established there before that date.

Christians travelled very early on the trade routes to China and beyond and to India and the sub-continent region. By the 5th Century the Asian Nestorian group was very strong and missions orientated. From Selucia-Ctesphon in Persia (modern Iran) by the middle of the 6th Century mission groups went to Egypt, Syria, Arabia, Mesopotamia, Persia, India, Ceylon, China and Mongolia.

It is possible that Iran, in its past, sent out more Christian missionaries than any other nation since. They took the gospel all over the world. By the 500’s the church in China was strong. By the 700’s Chinese bishops were writing their own theology books. There is archaeological evidence of the gospel in Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines by the 700’sAD. Historian John Stewart states:

Whole peoples with their rulers had become Christians and it seems certain that there were few places in the whole of Asia that were not reached at some time or other…and in the 11th Century (the Asian church) is said to have outnumbered the Greek and Roman churches combined.

From the Pacific Ocean in the East to the Mediterranean in the West; from the Black Sea and Siberia to the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea, Assyrian missions were working. Asia Minor, Cyprus, Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Arabia, Persia, Afghanistan, India, China, Japan, Mongolia, Manchuria and Turkistan…all had missions where the gospel was taught by zealous workers of the Assyrian Church of the East...


Before the Islamic conquests of the 7th Century the largest Arab kingdoms were Christian. When Paul was saved he went into Arabia, not to meditate in deserts, but to fellowship with Christians. Persia had a bishopric in Qatar. Yemen in the far south west was evangelised in the mid 300’s by Theophilus on route to India.

Persecutions in Persia drove many Christians to evangelise Arabia. Monasteries were built along the Arab side of the Gulf. The Persian Synod of 410 had bishops from Qatar and Bahrain. In 225 settlers found a group of native Christians near Babylon. Nestorians formed Christian communities (umma) between normally aggressive tribal groups of Arabia. Some of these Christian communities survived long into the Islamic era.

Sunday, 7 November 2010


Early sources tell us that two Christians were shipwrecked off the horn of Africa and started churches in Axum, Ethiopia, which have been related to the church at Alexandria until the present day. Mission to Sudan also established a strong church before Islam. Tertullian, Origen and Augustine (Berber) were all North Africans.

Augustine’s mother was Tuareg. The Tuareg are part of the Berber peoples of North and West Africa, who traded across the Sahara to Northern Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and Côte d'Ivoire. The Berber are descendents of Ham. There was correspondence then between North and West African peoples, with archaeological evidence of churches then in such places as Mali.

Augustine was an early major theologian of the church. There was North and West African influence in his development. Augustinian theology follows the Pauline gospel and contributed largely to Reformation theology and to the present day Evangelical/Pentecostal roots.

Christianity remained dominant in a wealthy Ethiopia until the Persians conquered the trade routes in the late 500’s. Ethiopian history is less clear after that but Christianity remained dominant until a new dynasty arose in 1270AD claiming descent from Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Religion became fashioned after Solomonic and Jewish traditions and the worship of Mary.

This continued until Jihads in the mid 1500’s. Ethiopia moved its capital to Gonday, where Christian rulers remained until the military coup in 1974. Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia today comprise 43% of the population.

Africans Reached

The Bantu populations of Africa were not widespread in southern regions of Africa until much later. This is well established by language studies and explorers in the second millennium. After initial Islamic expansion in the 7th and 8th Centuries the Bantu people began to migrate south and east from West Africa and populated much of the tropical and southern portions of Africa. It was a slow migration south, still going on well into the second millennium.

In the early years the greatest portion of the African people groups were in the northern regions of Africa and did have a witness among them of the gospel. God did not abandon Africa until the modern mission movement. When jihad pushed the people south it appears they did not take the gospel with them. It appears also that the Ethiopian church lost its life and failed to reach out.

From the 1800’s we see the rise of indigenous churches once again in Africa, but we cannot see a link between any of these and 1st millennium indigenous churches, even though some indigenous churches in southern African today bear the name “Ethiopian” to identify them with indigenous tradition. All modern indigenous churches were started after the beginning of the modern mission thrust into Africa.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

The First Millennium

Immediately the Day of Pentecost came the gospel exploded into the nations, fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies about the reign of Christ over all flesh. By the end of the first millennium AD the church in the East was twice as large as the church in the West. Archaeology shows that the main portion of humanity was at least in proximity to the gospel in the first millennium. (America or Australia is not studied here, in respect to actual population levels, or the possibility of gospel penetration in the first millennium.)

It is evident that by the end of the 1st Century AD the gospel had reached Africa, Russia, the Middle East, Asia, India and Europe as far as Britain. The gospel strengthened rapidly in these regions in the years that followed. By the 700’s Christianity had a strong presence in much of China and was in Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines.

These studies are supported archeologically, not by tradition. For an introduction see Samuel Moffett, A History of Christianity in Asia and search Martin Palmer, P.Y. Saeki, John Stewart and John England on the Internet.

It is helpful to ask why missions in some of these earlier reached regions eventually failed and they became largely lost to the gospel. It is helpful also to see how the early church succeeded so rapidly in the midst of strong persecution and heresy. Jesus said, “I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Matt 16:18).

The Book of Acts

Acts records the expansion of Christianity to the West. It was written by Luke who worked with the Apostle Paul. Paul worked west of Jerusalem, as far as Spain. Acts says very little about other missions that were obviously going on concurrently with Paul’s.

For example, the Magi came from the east (Persia) when Jesus was born (Matt 2:1). Persia is modern day Iran. Magi were not kings, but wise men, or scientists/astrologers. They took the gospel back to Persia. An African also carried Jesus’ cross.

On the Day of Pentecost men were present from “every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). These included Iranians and Russians and those from Elam, east of the Persian Gulf. These also took the gospel back with them.

In 37AD the church at Jerusalem was scattered in the early persecutions (Acts 8:1). Believers travelled out preaching the gospel everywhere. These at first preached to the Jews only and the largest Jewish community then was in Babylon. These believers would have gone to many places not mentioned in Acts.

In Acts 8 Philip spoke to the eunuch who served the Queen of Ethiopia. The eunuch took the gospel back to Ethiopia. Ethiopia then was a more general notation for the sub-Sahara races, not just limited to the Ethiopia of today. Asians and an African were present at the first church council in Acts 15. There were many other outreaches the Holy Spirit was undertaking that we know very little, if anything, about.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Not Related to End-Times

Mission is not an end-times strategy. Some say we must preach to all the Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims and then Jesus will come back. The Bible does not say this. We preach the gospel to all these people, with a heart of strong desire to reach all, because Jesus has commanded us to in His Great Commission and from compassion.

We do it because Jesus lives in us and His heart is our heart. We do it because we care for people. We do it because we have a call from God to do it. We do it because “such as I have, I give to you…” (Acts 3:6). We do it because we want others to share in the fellowship we have with one another and with the Father (1 John 1:3). Basing missions on end-times may excite people, but it is not biblical. It is wrong motivation.

“Jesus is coming in five years!” So everyone rallies and sends out missionaries to reach the world. When Jesus does not come in five years, people loose their motivation and leave the missionaries on the field unsupported. We do not need untrue “popular” motivation for the Lord’s work. Mission should come from the heart, rather than from excitement. True motivation lasts and even grows.

Many people are unaware that all nations have already been reached with the gospel. There is not one major people group on earth today that some time in the last 2,000 years has not lived in the vicinity of the gospel message. This shows again that interpreting Matt 24:14 in relation to the Second Coming of Jesus is not correct.

God created the world because it pleased Him to create us, to show us His love and to bring us into fellowship through His Son. He called Abraham and elected him to make him a blessing to all nations (Gen 22:17-18). That is why He has elected us, to work through us to show His love to all mankind. This is the purpose of election, to make us His vessels to reach all mankind with the gospel. Transformed man is then to transform his culture and nation.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

The Un-Reached

Christ’s mission is to those who have not heard the gospel. It was Paul’s desire to preach where Christ was not known (Rom 15:19-21). Every true Christian and every true church has this heart. A church is not a church of Jesus Christ if it does not have the heart of Jesus. Jesus “came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). We know a true church in part because it is evangelical and missions orientated, which shows that Jesus is there.

The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all orientated towards mission. The Father called Abraham for the purpose of blessing all nations of the earth. Jacob received not only a blessing, but also a birthright. The birthright was the Father’s promise that their seed would bless all nations of the earth (Gen 22:18). Esau cared only for the blessing, for which he shed tears, but not at all for the birthright.

Today also there are “birthright Christians” and “blessing Christians”. Blessing Christians live off the fruit of the gospel others have laboured for. Birthright Christians labour giving their lives and substance to ensure that the gospel is established. This is not just a duty, but comes naturally from the heart where Christ lives.

Jesus said He came to preach the gospel in every place and village (Luke 8:1). Many are content when Jesus is preached in a few large cities when thousands of villages remain un-reached. The Holy Spirit is centred on Christ’s mission. He moves the church to preach the gospel to all people, directing which way to go and confirming the message with signs and wonders. In the book of Acts we see the Holy Spirit initiating outreach to all people. This is His heart and purpose.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The Scope of Mission

The scope of mission in Matt 28:18-20 encompasses the whole of life, including preaching the gospel to every person in all nations upon earth. It is not limited to any race. The church is not to be racial, but one family of all nations, tongues and races. In all nations the gospel is the same one gospel, unchanged by local conditions.

The scope includes teaching people everything that Jesus handed to us through His first apostles. The message is conservative, not changing with generation or culture. We are to teach faithfully what was handed to us. We have no say in what the message is, but as faithful ambassadors, we are to teach what Jesus taught. We do not add to it, nor take away from it: we must continue in the Apostle’s doctrine (Acts 2:42).

This means that mission is teaching the whole counsel of God. It is not specialising in a certain message, such as healing, or prosperity, or kingdom. He did not call us to be “specialists” in the sense of giving people only a part of the message. He called us to be faithful to His whole counsel (Acts 20:27).

“Make disciples of all nations” does not mean of the political nation, but make disciples in all nations. It is the disciples who change the nation by their renewed lives. We are salt, light and leaven in society, bringing godly change at all levels. This is not done by means of churches adopting a “social gospel”, but by preaching the true gospel of Jesus Christ. God then transforms people’s hearts and they impact society.

We can see in history that if believers do not impact society, but hide their light under a bushel, then society will impinge upon the church and eventually overshadow it. It will be trodden under foot by men, governments, laws and armies. Society is not neutral. It is opposed to God unless the people in it are renewed by faith.

This means that Christians should influence business, government, media, education and arts. This does not mean that we should use these fields just to make money. It means Christians bring God’s values, principles and truth into these fields, for the good of the people in society. We are the leaven.

This is one way in which God brings His general grace to the nation for the benefit of all. It allows us to hand on a better society to the next generation. This does not make people in society Christians, but it does mean that all men benefit from the Christian gospel.

Mission includes going into every sphere of human life and preaching Christ and the values of the kingdom of God. We go into all the world (kosmos), every part of man’s life and preach Christ to the people there (Mark 16:15).

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Christ’s Mission

God’s heart is for mission. He came to seek and to save that which is lost. That is why He sent Christ. His heart is outreach and evangelism to all people. Our mission is to every person of every nation, of every religion and of every background. We go to the cities and the far away villages, to the civilized and to the naked, with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We preach the free grace of Christ urgently to all men, women and children, compelling them to repentance and to faith through Jesus Christ. This urgency and zeal marks all true believers in Christ.

In this chapter we look at missions as the life of Christ manifested in us, in contrast to a methodological approach. Topics covered include:

• Missions in the 1st millennium.
• Syncretism.
• Contextualization.
• Contextual theology.
• Traditional and biblical factors in missions.
• The social gospel.
• Interviews with missionaries.
• Factors affecting mission in Islamic centres.

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, All power is given to Me in heaven and in earth. Go therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world. Amen. (Matt 28:18-20).

The mission of Christ is based on His victory and His complete authority in all realms in heaven and on earth. This mission does not require the permission of any person, devil or human government. It comes from the highest authority – Christ Himself. We do not have to “earn” the opportunity to preach Christ to any person. We have it already in the Commission.

The mission was not only given to the 11 disciples in this passage, but to the church as a whole. When Jesus prayed for His disciples in John 17:20, He included all that would hear the gospel through them. His commands to them are also His commands to us. The “world” (age) in Matt 28:20 refers not to the Jewish age, but to the whole church age before His Second Coming.

Mission is necessitated by the truth of the total depravity of man. All classes and races of men are equal. All are born depraved before God and all require salvation through Jesus Christ. The total depravity of fallen man means there is no superior race and that any blessing a people has comes only from the gospel. This truth has inspired mission to all people. Sometimes people think their nation is blessed because the people are good. No, any goodness is only because of the grace of God.

Some recent theories in mission ignore fundamentals of biblical truth. Theories that find truth in culture or human religion deny sola scriptua and total depravity. This is a common trend in our time, trying to make the gospel acceptable. Truth is only found in Jesus Christ.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Great Tribulation

Though trouble was widespread in the Roman Empire from 60-70AD, the greatest blow would come to Judea. This is the period that Jesus spoke of in Matt 24:21. Jesus called this the time of the abomination and desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet. (Matt 24:15) In Luke, Jesus said that this was when the armies of Rome would encircle and destroy Jerusalem (Luke 21:20). See also Mark 13:14.

How is it possible that such a momentous season of trouble, that Jesus so clearly warned about, would not be in the apostle’s mind in some way and referred to in their writings in the New Testament? When the siege of Jerusalem finally occurred, Jews from the whole known world were there, for the siege began at Passover (Josephus, Wars, 6, 9, 3.). “Accordingly, the multitude of those that therein perished exceeded all the destructions that either men or God ever brought upon the world.” (Wars, 6 9, 4.).

And the people of the prince that shall come (Rome) shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end shall be with a flood and to the end of the war desolations are determined…And for the overspreading of abominations He shall make it desolate; even until the consummation (end) and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate. (Dan 9:26-27).

The Appearing

It is in such a climate that Peter encouraged the church concerning the appearing of Christ. We repeat the text:

That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire, be found to praise and honour at the appearing of Jesus Christ. (1 Pet 1:7).

What might this term appearing mean in this context? It is referring to His kingdom, His intervention in the affairs of men at His appointed time, for the vindication of our faith and the comfort of the church with days of peace. Those who remain faithful to the Lord during the day of trial will be vindicated at the appearing of Christ’s authority. Our trials are not in vain, not only for our own souls, but also for the blessing and heritage we leave.

We see this meaning portrayed in Luke, where Jesus stated that He was speaking about the siege of Jerusalem:

And when you see these things begin to come to pass, then look up (be encouraged) and lift up your heads, for your redemption draws near…So likewise you, when you see these things come to pass, know you that the kingdom of God is near at hand. Truly I say to you, this generation shall not pass away until all be fulfilled. (Luke 21:28, 31-32).

Could it be put any plainer? Jesus was not speaking to us, but to His disciples. He said that they would see all of this. He repeated it, saying that their generation would not pass away until all this was fulfilled. It is clear in the context that the redemption and the kingdom were the deliverance of the saints from their persecution by the Jews and Rome.

The Jewish and Roman persecution stopped. Roman persecution did not start again until the mid 3rd Century. There was sporadic persecution in the Roman Empire, but persecution did not become a state policy again until the reign of Decius in the mid 3rd Century and more so in the reigns of Diocletian and Galerius in the late 3rd and early 4th Centuries.

Parousia means coming and appearing. It is not limited to one event at the end of the world, at the resurrection of the dead. The word relates to the kingdom of Christ. It means Christ rules and He appears to the church, through the church and in history.

His kingdom and authority reign through the New Covenant. He comes to save, to fill with His Spirit, to vindicate His saints, to take to heaven when saints die, to bring down earthly kingdoms and to raise up new ones and He comes to end the curse at the resurrection, when corruption puts on incorruption.

There is no doubt that the apostles used the term Christ’s appearing to exhort the disciples in the perilous times that they were then going through, without meaning that the end of the whole world was at hand. They did not think that the whole world was about to end.

It is likely that references to last-days in Acts 2:7, 2 Tim 3:1, James 5:3, 1 Pet 1:5, 1 Pet 1:20, 2 Pet 3:3, 1 John 2:18 and Jude 18 do not refer to the end of this whole world. References to the last day in John 6:40, 44, 54, 11:24, 12:46 and 1 Cor 15:23 do refer to the end of this age at the second resurrection and final judgment. We discuss this in the next chapter.

However, Peter was not speaking of the end of the world, but of the fulfilment of the Jewish prophets, the time of consummation, when Jesus came to redeem us:
Who (Jesus Christ) truly was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you. (1 Pet 1:20).

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Appearing of Christ

That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire, be found to praise and honour at the appearing of Jesus Christ. (1 Pet 1:7).

If we remember what was happening in these days it brings a lot of meaning to the context. Christians were being burnt by Rome. Not only was Jerusalem against the church, but in Nero’s time Rome had become an enemy of the gospel. Nero demanded emperor worship, which the Christians would not give.

Rome burnt many Christians. Nero used them for human candles to light the streets of Rome at night. They were tortured and killed by gladiators and lions in Nero’s games as he tried to please the multitudes with entertainment, as Nero’s temperament grew worse and worse.

It is hard to imagine how we could read the New Testament without reflecting on the impact that these things made on its context. If today’s Christians were commonly burnt as street lamps and if a despotic and insane ruler was tearing down the fabric of society, our writings would comment on the trouble. This is exactly the context of the much of the New Testament. But with a Dispensationalist outlook, we shift our mind’s attention from their day to our day. This is not genuine exegesis of scripture.

Suetonius Tranquillus, a Roman government official, described Nero’s behaviour, which was not too dissimilar to what may happen in our own time:

He castrated the boy Sporus and actually tried to make a woman of him; and he married him with all the usual ceremonies, including a dowry and a bridal veil, took him to his home attended by a great throng and treated him as his wife. And the witty jest that someone made is still current, that it would have been well for the world if Nero's father Domitius had that kind of wife.

This Sporus, decked out with the finery of the empresses and riding in a litter, he took with him to the courts and marts of Greece and later at Rome through the Street of the Images, fondly kissing him from time to time.

Tacitus described the persecution of Nero against Christians:

An immense multitude was convicted…of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. (Tacitus Annals XV.44).
Tacitus wrote generally of this period:

The history on which I am entering is that of a period rich in disasters, terrible with battles, torn by civil struggles, horrible even in peace…there were civil wars, more foreign wars and often both at the same time.

He went on to describe distress all over the empire, natural catastrophes and the many people who died and concluded:

Besides the manifold misfortunes that befell mankind…never was it more fully proved by awful disasters of the Roman people or by indubitable signs that the gods care not for our safety, but for our punishment. (Tacitus, The Histories).

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Perilous Times

We are saying that the term last-days was primarily about this transition for Israel, between the Old and the New Covenants. Many resisted this transition and still tried to live as though under the law, even as Christians. But when the temple was removed in 70AD they could no longer do this. This transition occurred during what the Bible called perilous times. In other places it was called great tribulation.

(We do not say that last-days only refers to that period. If can refer more generally to this present evil age, which is under God’s judgement, in which the lives of people are but a vapour [brief]. We speak of this in the next chapter. The principles that the 1st Century met still apply.)

Israel had entered this messianic age that they were expecting and that which the Essenes were preparing for. It was only that this messianic age was not as many of them had expected. Instead of ruling from Jerusalem in the Middle East, Jesus was ruling from the heavenly Jerusalem.

We will now look at how Peter used the term last time, or the end. Peter spoke of the salvation ready to be revealed at the last time. He spoke of the appearing of Jesus Christ. He said that the end of all things was at hand (1 Pet 4:7). What could he have meant by this?

1. The end of the whole world, in which case he was wrong. It is 2,000 years since Peter said this and the world has not ended.

2. He meant that the end was “at hand” or near from God’s perspective. But Peter was not speaking of God’s perspective here. He was speaking to those he wrote to and said to them plainly that the end was at hand.

3. By “at hand” Peter meant that we could die at any time and must be ready for judgement. That is, the end is always at hand for all of us. It is difficult to show that Peter meant this. He was referring to the historical events the people of that time were passing through.

4. Or was Peter referring to the perilous time of that generation, leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem?

It is clear that they were living in exceptionally perilous times. Paul had said perilous times would come in “the last-days”, while addressing how Timothy should conduct himself, meaning that Paul was referring to their own time (2 Tim 3:1).

In 1 Cor 7:26 Paul recommended not marrying, if any had the gift, due to the “present distress”. Paul addressed this in 1st Thessalonians 5, when speaking of the approaching trouble. Paul said that the Thessalonians (a mixture of Jew and non-Jewish believers) should be prepared for this, intimating that this was to happen in their own time.

Jay Adams, a respected Evangelical author, wrote in Trust and Obey: A Practical Commentary on First Peter:

In six or seven years from the time of writing, the overthrow of Jerusalem, with all its tragic stories, as foretold in the Book of Revelation and in the Olivet Discourse upon which that part is based, would take place.

Titus and Vespasian would wipe out the old order once and for all. All those forces that led to the persecution and exile of these Christians in Asia Minor—the temple ceremonies (outdated by Christ’s death), Pharisaism (with its distortion of O.T. law into a system of works-righteousness) and the political stance of Palestinian Jewry toward Rome—would be erased.

The Roman armies would wipe Jewish opposition from the face of the land. Those who survived the holocaust of A.D. 70 would themselves be dispersed around the Mediterranean world. “So,” says Peter, “hold on; the end is near.” The full end of the Old Testament order (already made defunct by the cross and the empty tomb) was about to occur.

We fully agree with Adam’s appraisal expressed here.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Former Sins

Jeremiah showed that in the New Covenant God would forget former sins, remove sin altogether and forever sanctify His people. The purpose of the New Covenant was, “I will put your sin from Me, as far as the east is from the west.” (Ps 103:12). This would make us New Creations. This gives us a new heart. Because of this new heart we do not forsake the Lord. This is the whole reason that Jesus came.

God’s problem with the Old Covenant was that the people broke it, “Which…covenant they broke…” (Jer 31:31-33) There was a continual cycle of sin, captivity, prophet, repentance, blessing, sin…(See the book of Judges.) This is not the life of one who is born again.

In Christ He has put all those former things away, “For I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sins no more.”. Jeremiah continues in chapter 31 to say that God has not cast off His people despite their sin, but will bring them into this New Covenant of renovation and change of heart. This is what the book of Hebrews describes.

Isaiah also showed that former things are gone:

…because the former troubles (sins) are forgotten and because they are hid from mine eyes (through Christ’s blood). For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.

But be glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing and her people a joy. (Is 65:16-18).

The gospel is such good news.

A New Heart

A New Jerusalem is a new heart. We have something to sing about! Why would we be dragged back under an Old Covenant religious mindset, as if Jesus Christ did not prevail in fulfilling these prophecies? Hebrews describes this New Jerusalem:

But you are come to mount Zion, to the city of the living God, to the heavenly Jerusalem…to the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, which are written in heaven and to God the judge of all and to the spirits of just men made perfect and to Jesus…(Heb 12:22-23).

We have come to this now. We are in this New Creation that God has made in Jesus Christ. This is what the gospel is. This new order is our redemption:

For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, He said, Behold, the days come when I will make a New Covenant… (Heb 8:7-8).

Passages such as 2 Chron 7:14 do not apply to the church:

If My people who are called by My name shall humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their evil ways: then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

This was the problem of the Old Covenant. The people did not know God and did not continue in His ways. God kept sending them deliverers and they would go back into sin. Considering the state of their heart under the Old Covenant God cried out, “Behold, I make all things new.”. We are not saying that we never sin, but God’s people who are in Christ are not repeatedly brought down into a cycle of sin and deliverance and should not expect to be, nor should they pray like that.

A backslidden nation needs to pray this prayer and the people of that nation given a new heart. Then our nation’s lands will be healed.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Not a Temple of Stone

Dispensationalism claims that the above passage (Is 66:21-23) is about Jesus returning to Jerusalem and setting up the temple and making Gentiles literal Levites in the temple. This is wrong for several reasons:

1. Jesus never said this and neither did any apostle in the New Testament.

2. It denies the clear intention of prophetic language.

3. It is literalism.

4. It denies the New Covenant in Christ.

The clear interpretation of these passages by the apostles cannot be denied:

To whom (Jesus) we come, as to a living stone, disallowed indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious. You also as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believes on Him shall not be confounded. (1 Pet 2:4-6).

True Zionism is Jesus Christ and His church. So how can it be said that we are spiritualizing the texts? This is what Peter said: “A spiritual house.”.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

New Heaven/Earth

God applied the same language to the removal of Israel and the Old Covenant and the bringing in of the reign on His Son in the New Covenant. This is the greatest establishment of a New Order in prophetic history.

And I will also take of them for priests and for Levites, says the Lord. For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before Me, says the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain. And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before Me, says the Lord. (Is 66:21-23).

This is about the New Covenant, as the Gentiles worship the Lord. God said that He will take of the Gentiles and make us Levites and priests. The term Levites here means that God will make priests of the Gentiles through the New Covenant. Levites is not used literally, but symbolically for priests.

Imagine the outrage of the early Jews over this. “How could those Gentiles be made priests?”. We are made priest through Jesus Christ, through new birth and by the gift of the Spirit. This is the only priesthood now and it includes believing Jews also.

Then God said that this New Heaven and New Earth would remain before Him forever. That is, the new order, the New Covenant, is an eternal covenant in His Son. There is no doubt that the New Heaven and New Earth are symbolic of the New Covenant, the everlasting covenant where there is an eternal remission of sin by one sacrifice.

Heb 9:10 claimed that the Old Covenant was “ordinances imposed on them until the time of reformation”, meaning correction or perfection. Kittel, in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, commented on the Greek word διόρθωσις (reformation), saying that the Old Covenant:

Lasted until the setting up of the order of the fulfilled time…when the Law and the Prophets were replaced by the διόρθωσις…the time of the true order…From this time on there is in force the order of the dawning time of consummation in the fashioning of the relation between God and man. Thus διόρθωσις is a witness to the fulfilment of Judaism in Christianity and an expression of the eschatological faith of primitive Christianity.

Eschatology in the mind of early Christendom meant the fulfilment of the Old Testament expectation in Christ. Is 66:23 also uses the term Sabbath symbolically for worship. Paul said that the literal Sabbath was abolished forever in Christ (Col 2:16). The literal Sabbath will never return. To say it will return in a future dispensation opposes the finished work of Christ.

Hag 2:5-7 and Heb 12:26-28 together also show that the New Heaven and New Earth refer to the New Covenant. This is the contextual meaning of the passages. (We discussed in the previous chapter.)

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

All Nations to Battle

Prophets such as Joel and Zechariah spoke of the “latter days”. By this they meant the end of the nation of Israel under the Old Covenant or Mosaic era. The period was definitely in the latter days of Israel’s nationhood, hundreds of years after those prophets wrote. Our mistake is that we do not read the Bible from the perspective at the time that it was written.

They spoke about all nations coming against Israel. Nations means ethnos, Gentile people groups. This was fulfilled by Rome which gathered the nations in that region into its army (much as a UN army would today) and destroyed the state of Israel. This is where the rulers of Israel fell, its governors and priests, as stars and the sun from heaven. Any historical commentary would show us this.

The prophets also referred to many battles that would precede this last event, such as Ezekiel’s reference to Gog and Magog. Historical commentaries show that these were tribes in that region that came against Israel in the Intertestamental period.

The prophets then spoke of a restoration of Israel in the New Covenant after its destruction in the 1st Century. This restoration was fulfilled by the gospel. This is what John the Baptist declared in the opening of his ministry. The nation was about to be thrown into the fire, but there was an escape through the Son of God.

God has not cast off His people, but has called them into His Son, where all His promises are fulfilled. This is how Paul and the early apostles interpreted the prophets and these events.


So we are speaking about the fall of the nation state of Israel, as declared by the prophets and the restoration of those called to salvation through the Seed of David. The language used to depict this fall was the same language used concerning the judgement of Idumea;

And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falls off from the vine and as a falling fig from the fig tree. For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea and upon the people of my curse, to judgement. (Is 34:4-5).

Here again is a parousia (come down). It is used in terms of judgement. The Lord said that the heavens would be dissolved. All the stars would fall down and the heavens would be rolled up as a scroll.

This is the same language that Peter used in his second epistle. Peter said, “The heavens being on fire shall dissolve (2 Pet 3:12). We read this and suppose that Peter was speaking literally. But was he? Are we not interpreting his words according to pagan chiliasm (spoken of in our previous chapter) and not according to the Hebrew literary intention?

If the heavens were not literally destroyed in the reference to Idumea, but it referred to their leaders and kingdom being completely removed and dissolved, as it was, then why should we apply a different principle of interpretation to Peter’s prophecy? Again, why the distinction? We will address this prophecy of Peter further below.

Monday, 11 October 2010

The Old World

Peter spoke of the last-days in Acts 2:17. He referred to Joel’s prophecy about the last-days, when God would pour out His Spirit. Peter said “this is that”, meaning that the events of Acts 2 were those that were to occur in Joel’s last-days.

Peter referred to Joel’s prophecy about the sun and moon turning red and said it was fulfilled in his time then. These were not the last-days before the Second Coming of Christ, but the last-days of the law and the prophets and the last-days of the nation of Israel as a nation under the Old Covenant.

The prophecies about the sun and moon are again symbolic. We can see this in many Old Testament texts. They refer to earthly kingdoms, rulers and princes. The symbolic language means that one kingdom, era, order, rule, dynasty or nation is about to come down and a new order arise in its place.

This is the time when the Old Covenant was ended by Christ and the New Covenant established. A whole new order had been brought in.

Sun, Moon and Stars

Take Babylon for example. When Isaiah prophesied of its destruction this is the language that he used:

For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light; the sun shall be darkened in his going forth and the moon shall not cause her light to shine…Therefore I will shake the heavens and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the wrath of the Lord and in the day of His fierce anger. (Is 13:10, 13).

If we read the whole chapter in Isaiah we will see that Isaiah was speaking about the coming judgement on Babylon. Isaiah used symbols to show that the destruction would be complete. All the leaders fell and the empire was overturned. A whole new order in terms of earthly dominion was established.

God said that the stars, sun and moon would be darkened and the earth would be removed. The heavens also would shake. We read this and know that it is symbolic. The earth was not literally removed out of its place. The stars, sun and the moon still gave out their light.

If it is clear that this did not literally happen in Babylon’s time and that it was symbolic, then why would we interpret New Testament verses like this literally? Why would we go to the same statements that Jesus made in Matthew 24 and say that these must be literal? Why the distinction?

Sunday, 10 October 2010

What Others Say

Because this is new to many Christians, we will list a few statements from other believers. We will get a bit ahead of our topic with these quotes, which include a few matters that we will discuss further below.

John Owen, in his sermon to the British Parliament (The Advantage of the Kingdom of Christ in the Shaking of the Kingdoms of the World, available at www.ccel.org/ccel/owen) commented on Matt 24:29:

Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened and the moon shall not give her light and the stars shall fall from heaven and the powers of heaven shall be shaken. The Judicial state, in all the height and glory of it, was utterly consumed; so that all flesh, all the Jews, were in danger of utter destruction. (Referring to 70AD).

John Gill, famous Evangelical commentator and mentor of Charles Spurgeon, wrote much on these matters. We have just a line here. On Mark 13:26 Gill noted:

And then shall they see the Son of man, etc. Not in person, but in the power of His wrath and vengeance; of which the Jews then (in 70AD) had a convincing evidence. (Commentary on Mark).

The well known Evangelical commentator Adam Clarke said on Matt 24:30:

Then shall appear the sign of the Son of man. The plain meaning of this is, that the destruction of Jerusalem will be such a remarkable instance of divine vengeance, such a signal manifestation of Christ's power and glory, that all the Jewish tribes shall mourn and many will, in consequence of the manifestation of God, be led to acknowledge Christ and his religion.

By ‘land’, in the text, is evidently meant here, as in several other places, the land of Judea and its tribes, either its then inhabitants, or the Jewish people wherever found. (Commentary on Matthew).

Bishop John Lightfoot (not the liberal Lightfoot, but John of the 17th Century) was a signatory of the Westminster Confession and he held to the same view on Matthew 24. You can find his works easily on the Internet. He wrote much on the topic.

There are many more authors in our current day that could be listed here, including Kenneth Gentry and Gary DeMar. See DeMar’s books End Times Fiction and Last-days Madness. Jay Adams is a respected Christian author today. He has written two books on these issues that are worth reading; Time Is At Hand and Preterism: Orthodox or Unorthodox?

Preterism comes from the Latin root for past. Preterists claim that prophecy has been fulfilled. We hold to partial preterism, meaning some prophecies are fulfilled, but the final prophecies about Christ Second Coming and the resurrection have not yet been fulfilled. We write more on this in our next chapter.

Marcellus Kik, John Lightfoot, Jay Adams, Kenneth Gentry, Andrew Sandlin, C. Jonathin Seraiah, Richard Pratt, David Chilton, Gary North, Rousas Rushdoony, Lorraine Boettner, Adam Clarke all interpret Matt 24:31 as the destruction of Jerusalem, none of whom are full preterists.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Troublesome Texts

Further texts that describe the Lord’s coming follow. Consider what these mean:
But when they persecute you in this city, flee into another: for truly I say to you, You shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come. (Matt 10:23).

Jesus said that His disciples (them, not us) would not have reached all the villages of Israel before He would come. Some have said Jesus was crazy, that He predicted His soon Second Coming and was wrong. The parousia Jesus was speaking of here was with reference to Jerusalem in that generation. This scripture was fulfilled.

J.W. McGarvey, Albert Barnes, F.F. Bruce, D.A. Carson, R.C.H. Lenski, Theodor Zahn, W.W. How and J. Barton Payne are among the many commentators who claim that the “coming” in Matt 10:23 is the Roman invasion of Palestine, which occurred in 66-70AD.
Truly I say to you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom. (Matt 16:28).

Jesus said that there were some that He was speaking to, who would not die before He would come. This cannot be fulfilled by His glory being revealed on the Mount of Transfiguration or by His coming at Pentecost, because the transfiguration was a few days later and Pentecost was within a few months. None of the people Jesus addressed had died by then (except Judas).

The normal meaning of this statement is, “Among you lot standing here, many will have died in the normal cause of events, but some of you will still be alive.”. This is about the time of one generation. To interpret this some other way is to change its natural meaning. Jesus said that He would come before that generation had all expired. Like it or lump it, this is what He said.

Again the high priest asked Him, Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said, I am: and you shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven. (Mark 14:61-62).

When the high priest slapped Jesus, Jesus answered that he would see His coming of in glory. Coming in the clouds of heaven are the exact words used in the Old Testament for judgement against a city. The meaning to the priest was clear. The priest was judging Jesus, but it was the temple and priesthood that was about to be judged.

Jesus here made a clear reference to Daniel 7, about the Son of man ascending and given authority. The priest knew it. It was an answer to his question, “Are you the Son of God.” Jesus said, “Yes, I am the one in Daniel.” The biblical meaning is as plain as day. This is why the priest rent his clothes are cried, “Blasphemy.”

Friday, 8 October 2010

The Roman World

In Matt 24:14 Jesus said that the gospel shall be preached in all the word and then the end shall come. The end Jesus was referring to was the age His disciples asked about – the temple era. The world He referred to was the Roman world.

Jesus used the Greek word oikoumene for world. This means a region. When Joseph and Mary were taxed, Caesar sent out a decree to “all the world.” (Luke 2:1). This is the Roman world. See Strong’s Greek Dictionary for world in Matt 24:14:

3625: Land, i.e. the (terrene part of the) globe; specially, the Roman Empire.
On the Day of Pentecost people were present from “every nation under heaven.” (Acts 2:5). This is not literal, it does not include Australia! Paul said a few times that in his day the gospel had been preached in all the world and to every creature under heaven. Again, he was referring to the Roman Empire.

…your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. (Rom 1:8).

Obviously Paul did not mean the whole planet. He was using a figure of speech referring to the region in which they lived. In Col 1:6 and 23 Paul said that the gospel in his day had been preached in “all the world” and to “every creature which is under heaven”. Again, he was talking of the Roman world.

These verses show that Jesus’ prediction was fulfilled exactly. Before that generation expired the gospel had gone to the whole Roman world. It appears that God gave the Diaspora of the Jews throughout the Roman Empire one generation after the Lord’s coming to hear the gospel and repent. When the gospel was preached to the world Jesus spoke of, all that Jesus said about that generation came to pass.
This is just as Peter said, the Lord is patient, not willing that any should perish (2 Pet 3:9).

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Coming of the Lord

Now we look at another part of the disciple’s question; “What would be the sign of Your coming?”. Today we think of this language as referring to the Second Coming of Christ. Is this what the disciples had in their mind? Did they know about His Second Coming then? They had no idea about that.

What then was their context or mind? We answer this by looking at the word they used – parousia. Parousia is a Greek word meaning coming, presence or appearing. It is used many times in the Old (Septuagint) and New Testaments and it rarely refers to the Second Coming of Christ. The Strong’s Greek Dictionary defines parousia;

Strong’s 395: from the present participle of 3918; a being near, i.e. advent (often, return; specially, of Christ to punish Jerusalem, or finally the wicked)…

Old Testament

Parousia is also used in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. It is translated “come” in English:

The burden of Egypt. Behold, the Lord rides upon a swift cloud and shall come into Egypt…(Is 19:1).

In this verse we have the parousia of the Lord on a cloud to judge Egypt. This is the same language that Jesus used about His coming on a cloud. The disciples would have thought about such Old Testament texts when they asked their question about the judgement on Jerusalem. This was the disciple’s mind.

He bowed the heavens also and came down: and darkness was under His feet…yes, He sent out His arrows and scattered them; and shot out lightening and discomforted them. (Ps 18:9, 14).

This is exactly the language that Jesus used in Matthew 24 about His coming on a cloud with lightening. Why should we interpret Matthew 24 literally when the clear indication of the Old Testament is that this language is symbolic in prophetic literature of judgement?

For, behold, the Lord comes forth out of His place and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth. And the mountains shall quake under Him and the valleys shall cleft…(Mic 1:3-4).

When these same terms are used in Revelation some people interpret them literally. Again, why when in the Old Testament these terms are clearly symbolic of judgement, should we interpret them literally when they appear the same way in the New Testament? To literalise these terms is clearly not biblical.

See also a few other examples; Gen 11:5, Ex 3:8, 1 Chron 16:33, Ps 50:3-4, Is 31:4, Ezek 32:7-8, Zeph 1:15. These all speak of a parousia of the Lord. In each case it is referring to judgement.

In all of these texts clouds, lightening and coming down are all symbolic language for storms of judgement. Judgement is obviously portrayed by storms: thick, black clouds coming from the horizon, showing that strong wind, lightening and destruction are on their way. The symbolic intention is plain.

In none of these texts was there a physical appearing of Christ. If that is how the scripture is interpreted then why should we interpret the same words that Jesus used in Matthew 24 differently?

To show what Jesus meant, the theme is repeated in Luke 17. Here the lightening from one side of the sky to the other is mentioned (vs. 24), then the revelation of the Son of man, followed by calamity. Jesus warns those on housetops to flee, meaning to get out of Jerusalem. In this context Lot’s wife is remembered, meaning, “Do not tarry but move out hastily”.

Why would they be fleeing Jerusalem after the Second Coming of Jesus? This is plainly speaking of the Christian Jews fleeing Jerusalem before 70AD. This is the context of two men or women and one taken and one left (vs. 34-36). It has nothing to do with a rapture. It means that one is taken in death by the calamity and one is left. It is a warning.

When Jesus spoke about His coming on the clouds and that every eye shall see Him, He was answering the disciple’s question about Jerusalem, expressing the severity of the judgement and not speaking about His Second Coming. Matthew 24 is not about the end of this world. It is about the end of the Old Covenant era.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

That Generation

The context tells us that Jesus was speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem. He said that all this would come upon that generation:

Truly I say to you, This generation shall not pass away, till all these things be fulfilled. (Matt 24:34).

Notice that this verse is recorded late in the chapter, after the advent of Jesus on the clouds of heaven. Jesus said that everything He spoke of in Matthew 24 would be fulfilled before that generation passed away.

Was Jesus speaking about His Second Coming? Some have said that He was mistaken, because that generation passed away and His Second Coming has not yet taken place. If everything that Jesus spoke of had to be fulfilled in that generation then He could not have been speaking of His Second Coming. He must have been speaking of the destruction of the temple in 70AD.

A generation is about 40 years. Matthew used this word generation many times in this Gospel and it always meant the people who were alive at that time. (See Matt 1:17, 11:16, 12:39, 12:41, 12:42, 45, 16:4, 17:17, 23:36, 24:34.) We cannot change the meaning of the word to refer to some future generation that Jesus was not addressing then.

Jesus was speaking to a group of people face to face and said, “This generation.”. The plain meaning of the text is that He was referring to the generation that He was speaking to. The passage says nothing to indicate a different meaning. We have to assume a different meaning if we wish to interpret the passage some other way.

Jesus spoke this about 30AD. This puts 70AD well within the time frame that Jesus was speaking of.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010


Flavius Josephus was a Jewish historian alive when Jerusalem was destroyed in 70AD. He may not have been a Christian, but he gave a graphic detail of events, showing that everything Jesus said in Matthew 24 was fulfilled in the period when Rome destroyed Jerusalem.

About the period 53-60AD Josephus said, “The country was full of…false prophets, false messiahs…who deluded the people with promises of great events.” (Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews 20.8.5-6.). Many Jews followed these false messiahs and lost their lives. Josephus described the blasphemy and punishment of Jerusalem during that period as a direct fulfilment of Daniel, i.e. the abomination that made desolation (Dan 9:26-27).

These men, therefore, trampled upon all the laws of man and laughed at the laws of God; and for the oracles of the prophets they ridiculed them…for there was a certain ancient oracle…that the city should be taken and the sanctuary burnt, by right of war, when a sedition should invade the Jews and their own hand should pollute the temple of God. Now while these zealots disbelieved these predictions, they made themselves the instruments of their accomplishment. (Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, 1:321. 4.7.3.).

According to Jesus and Josephus the prophecy about an abomination in Jerusalem has been fulfilled and is not a future event. Rome laid siege against Jerusalem for 3 ½ years, before destroying it in 70AD, just as Revelation 11 stated would happen.

Josephus recorded many signs in the heavens that signified God’s judgement, such as a sword that stood over the city, a comet that continued a whole year, a light that lit the area at night, chariots and housemen seen on the clouds around the city, as well as shakings and noises from heaven. As the high priest offered a heifer, it gave birth to a lamb (Josephus, The War of the Jews, 1:453-54 6.5.3., 1:454 6.5.3).

When Roman stones began to destroy the city, some cried out, “The Son is coming.”. James, brother of Jesus, had publicly testified in the temple that the Son of man was about to come in the clouds of heaven to destroy Jerusalem and the Jews mocked this (Stuart Russell, Parousia). See also Eusebius, Church History for James’ testimony, which according to Eusebius occurred when he was martyred.

Historians of the period speak of wars in the whole region of the Roman Empire. Ancient writings referred to provinces within the Empire as nations and kingdoms, for kings ruled over each of them, such as Herod and Agrippa. Millions of people died between 55-70AD, including millions of Jews. Millions more Jews went into slavery. History records a great increase in earthquakes, famines and false christs in those days.

Jesus said that there would be trouble such as there never was before or ever shall be again (Matt 24:21). Whether this is literal in terms of the number of deaths we do not know for certain. But this is a Hebrew idiom used to lay emphasis, such as when both Hezekiah and Josiah were said to have served God more than any before them or after them (2 Kings 18:5, 23:25). See also Ex 10:14, 11:6, Ezek 5:9, Dan 12:1 and Joel 2:2.

For a full description of the terrible events in Jerusalem and Roman region in the decade leading up to 70AD see the Full Works of Flavius Josephus, available on the Internet and in libraries. See relevant extracts from Josephus in The Last-days According to Jesus by R. C. Sproul. This book is an examination of issues raised in Matthew 24.

See also The Most Embarrassing Verse in the Bible for a commentary on Matthew 24, by Assemblies of God pastor and president of the International Correspondence Institute, Australia, Andrew Corbett. You can buy this as an e-book at www.andrewcorbett.net.

Monday, 4 October 2010


The wider context of Matthew 24 is important. In Matt 21:33-46 Jesus gave the parable of the vineyard about those who killed the prophets and the Son. The elders of Israel agreed that the Lord “will miserably destroy those wicked men and let out His vineyard to another husbandman, which shall render Him the fruits in their season.”(vs. 41).

Jesus then said, “The stone that the builders rejected is become the head…” (vs. 42). Here He is referring to Dan 7:13-14. The one they crucified ascended, sat down, was given a kingdom and dominion and returned in judgement and glory against that generation. The theme continues in Matt 23:33-36:

You serpents, you generation of vipers, how can you escape the damnation of hell? Wherefore, behold, I send to you prophets and wise men and scribes: and some of them you shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall you scourge in your synagogues and persecute them from city to city:

That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom you slew between the temple and the altar. Truly I say to you, All these things shall come upon this generation.

Jesus said that the generation He was then speaking to would have a visitation of the judgement of God. Matthew 24 then described this visitation in detail. Jesus spoke of earthquakes, famines, false Christ’s, wars and rumours of wars. He said all the tribes of the land shall mourn (Matt 24:30). The Greek word used here for tribes is phule and the Greek word for land is ge.

The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia claims that apart from rare exceptions phule is used for the tribes of Israel. (See its use in Matt 19:28, 24:30, Luke 22:30, Acts 26:7, James 1:1, Rev 7:4, 21:12.) Stuart Russell claimed, “The restricted sense of the word ge in the New Testament is common; and when connected, as it is here with the word “tribes” (phulai), its limitation to the land of Israel is obvious.” (Stuart Russell, The Parousia).

Jesus spoke to those that He was addressing face to face and told them to take the warning from the fig tree. Just as they know the season by the leaves of a fig tree, so they shall know when these troubles begin that the time of the destruction of Jerusalem was at hand. He told them to flee the city in that day.

This fig tree has nothing to do with our own day and has nothing to do with Israel becoming a nation again in the 20th Century. Jesus spoke this only in regard to the Roman advance on Jerusalem.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Matthew 24

In Matt 24:1-3 the disciples asked Jesus about the “end of the age”. Some translations put it “the end of the world”. At that time the disciples did not know anything about the Second Coming of Christ. They did not even understand that Jesus would die for sin and rise again. They did not understand that He would ascend to heaven and one day come again.

This should be apparent without listing the Bible references. The disciples did not then know why Jesus had come. Peter told Jesus not to go to the cross. John and James’ mother wanted her sons to reign with Jesus in Jerusalem. Judas Iscariot was trying to make this happen. Even after the resurrection Jesus rebuked them for still not understanding why He came. It was not until they were filled with the Spirit at Pentecost that they understood.

So what did their question in Matt 24:3 mean?

And Jesus went out and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to Him to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, See all these things? Truly I say to you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.

And as He sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the world? (Matt 24:1-3).

The context is the destruction of the temple. Jesus said the buildings would be totally destroyed. The disciples asked one question in three phrases, when would this be, what would be the sign of Your coming and the end of the world, or age? Mark and Luke also record this incident and show it was only one question about the destruction of Jerusalem.
And Jesus answering said to him, See these great buildings? There shall not be left one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down…Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled. (Mark 13:2-4).

So the end of the world they asked about was the “end of the age” that Jesus said would be signified by the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. The Strong’s Greek dictionary defines the word used here for world as “age”:

Strong’s 165…properly, an age…

This was the end of the Mosaic age and the end of the political nation of Israel. John the Baptist had already warned the Jewish nation of this, saying “The axe is already laid to the root of the tree.” (Luke 3:9). Malachi had called this the great and terrible day of the Lord (Malachi 4:5). Jesus said that John the Baptist was Elijah, whom Malachi said would come before this day (Matt 11:14).

Donald Hagner (Fuller Theological University) claimed in his Matthew Commentary, "The conceptual unity of the Parousia (coming) and the end of the age is indicated by the single Greek article governing both (Sharp's Rule). The disciples thus were unable to separate the two events in their minds: the destruction of Jerusalem must entail the end of the age and the Parousia of Jesus...".

This shows that the disciples were asking only one question: “When was the current age going to end in the messianic fulfilment?”.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

The Consummation

The term in the Greek for “last” is eschaton and can refer to common things as well as theological. We can have the last-days (eschaton) of a school term for example. The term can apply to any use.

In prophecy it can mean three things:

1. The end of the Old Covenant Jewish age as expected by the Old Testament prophets.

2. The kingdom of Christ, in which we now live, as the eschaton expected by Israel.

3. Or the end of the world which is yet ahead of us.

How did the apostles use the term?

God…has in these last-days spoken to us by His Son…(Heb 1:1-2).

This verse is referring to the end of the Old Testament age, when all the law and prophets were fulfilled by the coming of Christ. It is the last-days of the Jewish age and the beginning of the age of Messiah. It is the time of the consummation (fulfilment of the types, shadows and prophecies), the establishment of the New Covenant through Christ’s work.

But now once at the end of the world has He appeared to put away sin…(Heb 9:26).

This cannot be referring to a literal end of the world, for Hebrews was written some 2,000 years ago and the world has not yet ended. This is not said to scoff, but to have a sensible look at the meaning of the apostle, while we believe in the inerrancy of scripture.

The Greek word for world here (KJV) does not mean this planet, but it means ages. A better translation is the end of the ages. The term refers to eras, ages, or order of things. This term the end of the world literally means the consummation of the ages.

Heb 9:26 is speaking of the consummation where a new age replaces the Old Covenant. Jesus did not appear to put away sin at the end of the whole world, but at the end of the Old Covenant age. In Heb 9:26 the end of the age means the fulfilment and end of the Old Testament law and prophets, when Christ came to put away sin.

The book of Hebrews was written before the destruction of Jerusalem and temple. While the Old Covenant had ended with the cross, resurrection and ascension of Christ, the temple was still functioning when Hebrews was written. Heb 8:13 refers to it’s soon demise.

Heb 9:26 says that Christ appeared to put away sin at the end of the ages. The results of this were:

1. The end of the Old Covenant through the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ.

2. The beginning of the New Covenant on the Day of Pentecost, with the gift of the Spirit.

3. A time of gospel proclamation to that generation of Jews.

4. An end of the old age structures by a removal of the temple and judgment on Jerusalem.

This is what John the Baptist and Jesus both said in the Gospels, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand.” (Mark 1:15). They were moving out of one era and into the next era. It was the time of the fulfilment of all the prophets had foretold. Paul said the same,

…they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. (1 Cor 10:11).

This term again literally means the consummation of the ages. Paul was not referring to the end of this planet or the Second Coming of Christ. Many have accused Paul of thinking that the Second Coming of Christ was at hand in his time. None of the authors of the New Testament said that. Paul was referring to the transition from the Old to the New Covenant age, which occurred in their day.

Friday, 1 October 2010

New Nature

A born again Christian has a new nature. When Paul taught we are justified by faith and not by what we do, people thought he was teaching that we could continue in sin and it would not matter. But Paul’s answer was, “How shall we who have died to sin continue any longer therein?” (Rom 6:2).

Paul’s claim here is that when someone is born again their old sinful nature is crucified and buried with Christ and so its power is broken. This is not a process, but an instantaneous miracle in the new birth. Therefore, Paul’s teaching was, if the sinful nature is dead with Christ, then how can sin rule in our lives? The obvious answer is sin cannot rule in the life of one born again.

John said he who is born of God cannot sin because the seed of God remains in him (1 John 3:9). He was talking about the nature of Christ within the born again believer. Because of this new nature, the believer cannot continue in sin. This is not saying a believer will never sin, or will live in sinless perfection. It is saying that sin cannot take dominion over any child of God. John said this is how you know those who are of God (1 John 3:7).

So a believer is not free to live a life of sin. This is because Christ lives within him and has put to death the body of sin. A believer will choose according to his nature. A believer chooses righteousness, not of himself, not of works, but of grace, by the life of Christ within, which makes him alive to Him daily.


A person will choose according to his nature and his nature is according to his birth. That is, if we are born in Adam we choose according to that nature. If we are born in Christ we choose according His nature. This is not freedom in a humanistic sense, but it is freedom from sin. We are only free when we are a bond servant of the Lord Jesus Christ by faith.

Freedom does not mean that we are free to live for self. It means that the Son of God sets us free from sin. This is the only freedom, the freedom of the grace of God. His life gives us faith, hope and love and the desire to do His will. This is freedom. The Father has life in Himself and has given the Son to have life in Himself and to make alive whom He will. The Son‘s life gives us the ability to be free.

God commanded Israel that they should not make bond servants of their own people (Lev 25:39-40). This is because God had redeemed them from bondage, through the blood of the Passover lamb. We should never bring people into bondage. They are God’s. And if we lord it over other people’s faith, then they cannot stand on their own faith (2 Cor 1:24).

This redemption pictured in Israel also meant that if a person was in slavery for a debt he owed, in the seventh year he must be set free. But if the servant loved his master he could choose not to be set free. Then he would have his ear pierced as a mark that he was a love slave, by choice, for the rest of his life (Ex 21:1-6). This was a grace relationship. He served in love.

Paul (Rom 1:1, Phil 1:1), James (Jam 1:1), Peter (2 Pet 1:1) and Jude (Jude 1) all called themselves bond servants of Jesus Christ. In society today we talk of freedom, but redemption means that we are bought with a price, that we belong to the Lord, because by love He has changed our heart. We are servants of Jesus Christ, not of ourselves. And we are servants of one another in the Lord.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Freedom of the Will

Does mankind have freedom of will? First, God does not determine the choices we make. He commands that every person repent and believe the gospel, as that is God’s righteous requirement upon all men. No matter the ability or inability of man, God’s requirement and command will not change. He still commands all men to repent because that is His righteous requirement.

If any man does not repent God has not determined the will of that man not to repent. Man is free to choose as far as God is concerned. In fact he has been commanded by God to repent. God has not willed that any man not repent. God’s will is that all men repent and come to the knowledge of the truth and thus He commands all men to do so.

This does not mean man has the ability to repent and believe the gospel. Man is born a slave to sin and as a slave he is not free. Just as any man born in the house of a slave is also a slave, so the man born in sin in Adam is a slave of sin. Man is not free, not because of God, but because of his own nature which he inherited from Adam. His nature holds him in bondage to sin. Why then is he accountable for Adam’s sin? He is not. Every man has sinned and has become accountable for his own actions.

Man’s Will

Man does not have the ability within his nature to repent. This is the consequence of his own sin and not of God’s decree. God does not determine man’s will. His own sin has bankrupted his nature of any helpfulness or ability or righteousness.

As Paul said, “That which I would, that I do not and that which I would not, that I do. I find a law working in my members, the body of sin…” (Rom 7:15-17). This is the case with every person born in sin. Man is under bondage to sin. That is, no man is free to choose, not because of God, God is not responsible for this, but because of our own sinful nature.

Jesus answered them, Truly, truly, I say to you, Whosoever commits sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abides not in the house for ever: but the Son abides ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed. (John 8:34-36).

Jesus said he that sins is the slave of sin. So the sinner is not free. That much is clear in scripture. Only Jesus can set the sinner free.

Those Born Again?

When we are born again we still have freedom of will in the sense that God does not determine our will, but because we have a new divine nature in the end we will choose those things that are pleasing to God. In this sense we are a slave to righteousness. We can do no other in the end, because this is our nature as children of God. One is either a “slave of sin” or a “slave of righteousness” (Rom 6:16-19).

No one can live to himself, but either to sin or to God. As Bob Dylan once wrote, “Gotta Serve Somebody”. We serve either sin or righteousness. No one is free. Freedom is a humanist illusion. Biblical freedom means being free from sin and from self-love.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Unable to Help Himself

If it is true fallen man is totally depraved it means we can do nothing to save our self. It means we cannot come to God. It means we are even unaware of our spiritual state. Being dead in trespasses and sins we are not even aware of our sin. In fact, we deny we are a sinner. We rather accuse God.

The depravity of man means because man is spiritually dead he does not understand his position before God and how to fix it. He cannot have faith in God because faith is a spiritual power and quality he does not possess. He is in a state of enmity with God, as the Bible says, the natural mind and man is enmity with God (Rom 8:7).

Natural man, while being religious, hates God, is in rebellion, is reprobate, is unregenerate and dead in his spirit and can do absolutely nothing about it and is even totally blind to his state. He is absolutely without hope, as Paul said:

Without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in this world. (Eph 2:12).

Having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is within them, because of the blindness of their heart: Who being past feeling have given themselves over to lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. (Eph 4:18-19).

Natural men born from Adam are unable to come to God. They cannot have faith because their heart is in a fallen state. Their heart is full of self, hate, fear and unbelief. They have no faith in God and cannot have it because of the state of their own heart in death.

Down through the centuries this has been orthodox Christian faith: man’s total inability with respect to righteousness, faith, love and the keeping of God’s commandments. Notice also in the Romans text that the only reason why society is not totally undone at any time is because God has not handed man fully over to what he deserves, that is, to what his nature really is (Rom 1:24, 26).

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Mankind as a Whole

In Romans 5, Paul shows that Adam’s sin and death passes to all men who are born. All men in every race on earth descend from Adam and not one is born without inheriting Adam’s sin and state of spiritual death and separation from the life of God.

Adam is the federal head of the human race. When he sinned all men sinned, for all were in his loins and seed when he sinned. He sinned as the representative of all men, just as Hebrews says in Abraham Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek, being in Abraham’s loins (Heb 7:9-10). Therefore, all are born sinners from Adam. The Bible says “in Adam all die” (1 Cor 15:22).

In Romans chapters 1 to 3, Paul describes in detail the nature of all men, to give a foundation for gospel truth. If Paul preached the gospel by starting with this truth, so should we. Paul needs to be quoted at length here. The following describes the nature of every person born of Adam, the whole of mankind:

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations and their foolish hearts were darkened.

"Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man and to birds and to four footed beasts and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth into a lie and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

"For this cause God gave them up to vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature; And likewise the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one towards another; men working that which is unseemly, receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.

"And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful.

"Who knowing the judgement of God, that they that commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. (Rom 1:18-32).
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable, there is none that does good, no, not one.

"Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes." (Rom 3:10-18).

These passages are not speaking of just bad people. They are speaking of mankind as a race, all of us, “against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men”, not just some of it. These passages set the whole context for anthropology and theology, in regard to man and salvation. All practical theology in mission, evangelism and education must start with the truths in these passages.