I just finished reading “Encouragement for New Converts,” chapter 17 of The New Testament: An Introduction to its Literature and History (1976, 2009 Banner of Truth Trust) by J. Gresham Machen. This book makes a concise introduction to the major themes in the New Testament and clearly and effectively makes a positive presentation of orthodox New Testament scholarship, while at the same time providing textually based correctives to the academically popular theories of modernist liberal scholarship. Dr. Machen was, above all else, a New Testament scholar. While most known for both his New Testament Greek for Beginners, which is still used in many seminaries, and his popularly written Christianity and Liberalism, New Testament scholarship is his specialty.
Each chapter in Machen’s New Testament Introduction first assigns a selection of New Testament readings on which the following chapter is based. In this case, I read both 1 and 2 Thessalonians out of my ESV Study Bible before taking in Machen’s seven-page chapter on both books. While reading this chapter, which summarized the occasion, contents and issues related to the these earliest of Paul’s epistles, I was struck while reading the section on “The Second Coming of Christ,” in which he expounds “the second advent, with the events which are immediately to precede it” (p. 119). Machen interacts with the dominant modernist theory that Paul actually expected Christ to return during his lifetime.
But there is also a bit of timeliness to Machen’s exposition of 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, specifically in the light of the current prediction by Harold Camping that Judgment Day has been calculated by him to be soon to occur on May 21, 2011. That’s 51 days and counting! Despite the fact that Jesus himself said, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36 ESV), Camping, not to mention all other date-setters, appeal to verses such as 1 Thessalonians 5:4-6, which read, “But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.” Machen’s introductory commentary also puts these words in perspective for us in the light of Camping’s millennial madness. Following is Machen’s section on “The Second Coming of Christ,” from pages 119-121 in The New Testament: An Introdcution to its Literature and History. Enjoy!
The Second Coming of Christ
Undoubtedly the second advent, with the events which are immediately to precede it, occupies a central position in the Thessalonian Epistles. Evidently the expectation of Christ’s coming was a fundamental part of Paul’s belief, and had a fundamental place in his preaching. ‘Ye turned unto God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven’–these words show clearly how the hope of Christ’s appearing was instilled in the converts from the very beginning, I Thess. 1.9, 10. To serve the living God and to wait for his Son–that is the sum and substance of the Christian life. All through the Epistles the thought of the Parousia–the ‘presence’ or ‘coming’–of Christ appears as a master motive. I Thess. 2.19; 3.13; 4.13 to 5.11, 23, 24; II Thess. 1.5 to 2.12.
This emphasis upon the second coming of Christ is explained if Paul expected Christ to come in the near future. The imminence of the Parousia for Paul appears to be indicated by I Thess. 4.15: ‘For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we that are alive, that are left unto the coming of the Lord, shall in no wise precede them that are fallen asleep.’ This verse is often thought to indicate that Paul confidently expected before his death to witness the coming of the Lord. Apparently he classes himself with those who ‘are left unto the coming of the Lor’ as over against those who will suffer death. In the later epistles, it is further said, Paul held a very different view. From Second Corinthians on, he faced ever more definitely the thought of death, II Cor. 5.1, 8; Phil. 1.20-26. A comparison of I Cor. 15.51 with II Cor 5.1, 8 is thought to indicate that the deadly peril which Paul incurred between the writing of the two Corinthian Epistles, II Cor. 1.8, 9, had weakened his expectation of living until Christ should come. After he had once despaired of life, he could hardly expect with such perfect confidence to escape the experience of death. The possibility of death was too strong to be left completely out of sight.
Plausible as such a view is, it can be held only with certain reservations.
In the first place, we must not exaggerate the nearness of the Parousia according to Paul, even in the earliest period; for in II Thess. 2.1-12 the Thessalonians are reminded of certain events that must occur before Christ would come. The expression of the former Epistle, I Thess. 5.2, that the day of the Lord would come as a thief in the night, was to be taken as a warning to unbelievers to repent while there was yet time, not as a ground for neglecting ordinary provision for the future. In Second Thessalonians Paul finds it necessary to calm the overstrained expectations of the Thessalonian Christians.
Furthermore, it is not only in the earlier epistles that expressions occur which seem to suggest that the Parousia is near: Rom. 13.11; Phil. 4.5. And then it is evident from II Cor. 11.23-29 and from I Cor. 15.30-32 that Paul had undergone dangers before the one mentioned in II Cor. 1.8,9, so that there is no reason to suppose that that one event caused any sudden change in his expectations.
Lastly, in I Cor. 6.14 Paul says that ‘God both raised the Lord, and will raise up us throught his power.’ If that refers to the literal resurrection, then here Paul classes himself among those who are to die; for if he lived to the Parousia, then there would be no need for him to be raised up.
It is therefore very doubtful whether we can put any very definite change in the apostle’s expectations as to his living or dying between First Corinthians and Second Corinthians. A gradual development in his feeling about the matter there no doubt was. During the early part of his life his mind dwelt less upoon the prospect of death than it did after perils of all kinds had made that prospect more and more imminent. But at no time did the apostle regard the privilege of living until the Parousia as a certainty to be put at all in the same category with the Christian hope itself. Especially the passage in First Thessalonians can be rightly interpreted only in the light of the historical occasion for it. Until certain members of the church had died, the Thessalonian Christians had never faced the possibility of dying before the second coming of Christ. Hence they were troubled. Would the brethren who had fallen asleep miss the benefits of Christ’s kingdom? Paul writes to reassure them. He does not contradict their hope of living till the coming of Christ, for God had not revealed to him that that hope would not be realized. But he tells them that, supposing that hope to be justified, even then they will have no advantage over their dead brethren. He classes himself with those who were still alive and might therefore live till Christ should come, as over against those who were already dead and could not therefore live till Christ should come.
Certain passages in the epistles of Paul, which are not confined to any one period of his life, seem to show that at any rate he did not exclude the very real possibility that Christ might come in the near future. But such an expectation of the early coming of Christ was just as far removed as possible from the expectations of fanatical chiliasts. It did not lead Paul to forget that the times and the seasons are entirely in the hand of God. It had no appreciable effect upon his ethics, except to make it more intense, more fully governed by the thought of the judgment seat of Christ. It did not prevent him from laying far-reaching plans, it did not prevent his developing a great philosophy of future history in Romans, chapters 9 to 11. How far he was from falling into the error he combated in Second Thessalonians! Despite his view of the temporary character of the things that are seen, how sane and healthy was his way of dealing with practical problems! He did his duty, and left the details of the future to God. Hence it is hard to discover what Paul thought as to how soon Christ would come–naturally so, for Paul did not try to discover it himself. [emphasis mine, highlighting Machen’s correction of Camping-like date-setting].
The following was preached on March 6, 2011 by Rev. Joe Troutman, pastor of Mid Cities Presbyterian Church, in Bedford, Texas. This just happened, in the providence of God, to be the weekend after the controversy about which I’ve been posting for the past couple of weeks. The heresy of some becomes an opportunity for the orthodox to proclaim the truths of the Bible with all the more clarity. I hope you find the following words at the same time edifying and challenging.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:47-50 ESV)
The third parable, which is found in verses 47-50, is the longest of the four. There is some similarity here to the first two, but overall it is different. Some commentators group it with the parable of the wheat and the tares because it describes a harvest–a harvest of the sea, as opposed to a harvest of the field. In this parable, Jesus says again, “The Kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea, and gathered fish of every kind. Like the second parable, there is a great search taking place. But instead of a search for a precious pearl, it is a search for fish. This search is being done, it says, by angels.
The first two parables describe men who find the Kingdom, but this parable is about the Kingdom finding men. We may think we found God. We may think that in some way we stumbled across him; that in our search in the marketplace, we have found the pearl of great price. But in reality, the parable shows, Jesus is continuing to tell us that it is God who found us. It is God, the Lord Jesus Christ himself—who sought us out. Jesus said in Luke 19:10, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” The value of God’s Kingdom, and the place of God’s elect in it, are so great that the purchase price was nothing less than Jesus Christ himself. It is, in fact, more than you and I could pay. More than we could ever pay. It is a debt that is too great for us. Because God made a covenant with himself to save a people for himself, he was willing to go to any length to procure his people’s salvation. He was willing to give his Son as a ransom for lost sinners like you and me. This is what the Lord was willing to do for all who truly believe.
In this parable, the Kingdom of heaven is compared to a net. Don’t think of a fishing net, don’t think of a net that’s at the end of a pole, that people use to scoop up a fish at the end of a fishing line. Don’t necessarily even think of a net that is cast out into the water. This is a large net. This is a dragnet. This is what may be termed a seine. One of the things my dad, my grandfather, my brother and I would do when we were younger, we had a creek running through the property of our farm, and every so often we would take a seine and we would go, men on one side and men on the other, and go up the creek and catch whatever we could find–turtles, snakes, fish–whatever it was, we would try to catch it. This is the kind of thing that Jesus is describing here in this parable. The angels, the reapers, are catching whatever they can get, and the sorting of the good fish from the bad ones would take place on the shore, which is what Jesus says in verse 48. He says, “When it was full, men drew it ashore, and sat down and sorted the good into containers, and threw away the bad.”
Then he explains this part of the parable in verses 49-50. He says, “So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” What is Jesus talking about? He’s talking about the final judgment. He’s talking about when he returns; when he returns as the Savior of his people and the Judge of those who have rejected him. What is he saying will happen? He is saying that some will be kept, and some will be thrown away. There will be a final sorting that takes place: some will be welcomed into glory by their Savior, and others will be cast into hell by their Judge.
This is what Jesus is teaching. Yet if we affirm this, we are in danger, we need to know, as being regarded as radical fundamentalists by most of the people in our society–even by fellow evangelicals. Yet there is an inconvenient truth for those who would deny the existence of hell and eternal punishment in it by the Lord. And this is it: Scripture says it exists! Scripture repeatedly talks about the existence of hell. The weeping and the gnashing of teeth, the casting of those who refuse to believe into hell, Jesus himself–regarded by many on the more liberal side of the church as just a friendly and nice guy, a lovable teddy-bear type of Savior–Jesus himself talks about hell. It is inescapable.
Now we are not to revel in it; it should sadden us that some are lost. And yet, in God’s casting unbelievers into hell, he is glorified. This may be difficult for us, but just because it is difficult does not give us the right to throw this doctrine away. In so doing, we are throwing portions of Scripture away. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus warned his followers not to fear someone who could kill the body but not the soul; he says instead to fear him who can destroy both the body and the soul in hell. In other words, fear God.
The book of Revelation also has something to say about that. It is the place where Satan and his angels and everyone whose name is not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. It is described in Revelation 21:8 as the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the Second Death. There are many today who are challenging Jesus’ teaching in our passage, and many others that say he will save some and send others to hell, but they are denying God’s Word. If they’re denying that he sends some to hell, they are denying his Word, and they have nothing left to stand on when they make their own pronouncements.
In the photo above, Rev. Troutman is posing with Dr. K. Scott Oliphint, professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He came to town as a speaker at the recent Full Confidence Conference, about which I posted a few weeks ago. In the Q & A Session at the end of the conference, Dr. Oliphint concludes the entire event with some very compelling words on the nature of hell as eternal, conscious torment. I highly recommend you give it a listen as well.
Dr. Kim Riddlebarger has written a helpful article in the January/February 2011 issue of Modern Reformation Magazine called “‘You Are Here'”: The Map of Redemptive History.” Especially enlightening for us recovering Dispensationalists is his treatment of the ever-popular “signs of the times.” If you like scouring current events for prophetic fulfillment, be ready to have your bubble burst! You’ll have to subscribe at the Modern Reformation website to view the entire article.
I’ve frequently repeated the saying of apparently unknown origin, “you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.” I, however, usually modify it this way: “When you learn where you’ve been, you can see where you are, and know where you’re going.” In other words, as this applies to the visible church, when we’re informed by church history, we learn from many of the valuable lessons learned in the past, and it helps us figure out how to avoid those mistakes in the future. But if we ignore the past lessons learned, we in the present are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past (an allusion to a better known saying). Dr. Riddlebarger assists us by appropriately moving us further back into our formative collective past by summarizing the history of redemption as progressively revealed in the Bible. His article helps us see where the church has been from the very beginning, the book of Genesis, and the promise and fulfillment of redemption in the Person and Work of Christ. But especially, we learn how to better interpret those signs of the times which we recognize in the present, and the portions of Scripture that reveal them, and how they point forward to the future coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. If you want the theological terminology, Dr. Riddlebarger helps the Dispensational-Premillennialist see how the Amillennial view of eschatology interprets end-times prophecy. If you’d like to learn more about Amillennial eschatology, I’d like to recommend Dr. Riddlebarger’s audio series “Amillennialism 101” located in the sidebar of his Riddleblog, and his books, A Case for Amillennialism, and Man of Sin. If you give this position some thought, I think you’ll find it makes clear some things that remain fuzzy for the average Dispensationalist.
In “You Are Here,” His synopsis of the article is as follows:
In this article, I will concentrate upon the nature of the course of the post-apostolic history of the church as defined in the New Testament itself, and consider several of the signposts—given to us by those same New Testament writers—that serve as indicators of what to expect as post-apostolic history continues to unfold until the end of the age.
Dr. Riddlebarger illustrates the history of redemption and the end times by the image of a Mall Directory with it’s “You Are Here” sign. He writes:
The practical ramifications of finding the “You Are Here” arrow are immediately apparent. Since we live in the post-apostolic age—some two thousand years removed from the time of the apostles—how do we relate to the apostolic age so long ago? Should we do as many Pentecostals do and understand the dramatic events found in the book of Acts as normative for what should go on in the church today? Or should we see ourselves as living in a different age entirely—one that has little or no connection to the time of the apostles?
We can push this matter even further. How do we as Christians living in the post-apostolic age relate to the old covenant era that preceded the time of the apostles? Can we look to the history of ancient Israel to help us understand how we are to relate to non-Christians around us? Should we look to the monarchy in Israel for guidance as to how the nations of the earth should govern themselves in the modern world?
These questions find their answers in knowing where we are in terms of the progress of history after the close of the canon of Scripture with the composition of the book of Revelation, written in the early- to mid-nineties of the first century. For those of us who live nearly two thousand years after “Bible times,” where do we place the “You Are Here” arrow? In order to place that arrow properly, we need to have a good understanding of what has gone before, especially since those living during the apostolic era (that is, Jesus and the apostles) told us what to expect after the close of the apostolic age.
We are also introduced to the so-called “Already/Not Yet” approach to the Kingdom of God in the New Testament:
In the so-called prison letters (Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians), Paul speaks of a believer’s heavenly citizenship (Phil. 3:20) based on the believer’s assurance that Jesus’ bodily resurrection guarantees our own resurrection at the end of the age (Phil. 3:21). Paul also tells us to seek the things above where Christ is (Col. 3:1-3) because this gives us a heavenly perspective on earthly things. Paul reminds us that all those who trust in Christ are seen as though they were already raised with Christ and seated with him in the heavenly realms (Eph. 2:4-7). For Paul, Christ’s death and resurrection (the critical historical events of the apostolic era) ensure our own salvation and grant us a heavenly perspective on earthly things. Even though the “You Are Here” arrow is placed in our own day and age some two thousand years after the apostolic age, the placement of the arrow itself must be seen as the guarantee that the same Savior—who was crucified, died, and was buried—will also ensure we reach our final goal: the redemption of our bodies and life eternal.
This future hope based upon certain historical events reflects another major theme running throughout the New Testament: What God has done in Jesus Christ (“the already”) ensures that everything God has promised his people will come to pass (“the not yet”). Paul speaks this way in Romans 8:23-25 when he talks of understanding our present sufferings in the light of that glory yet to be revealed when Christ returns at the end of the age. Because we trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ, we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who not only grants us hope (based on what God has already done for us through the doing and dying of Jesus), but the Spirit’s indwelling is itself the guarantee of the redemption of our bodies (Eph. 1:13-14).
This “already/not yet” perspective on things reminds us that we are pilgrims making our journey to the heavenly city. Although God has ordained all things in this life—giving everything we do meaning and purpose—the journey is not complete until we reach our final destination. Like the ancient Israelites who wandered through the wilderness of the Sinai desert awaiting entrance into the Promised Land of Canaan, we too look forward to our entrance into that heavenly city of which the earthly Canaan was but a dim shadow. Material blessings are not an end in themselves, but point to heavenly blessings far greater than our minds can conceive. This is what the author of Hebrews was getting at when he commended Abraham for looking beyond the land of the promise to what lies ahead at the end of the age (Heb. 11:9-10).
When we see God’s record of faithfulness in the past, we are able to look to the future, knowing that God keeps his promises. Knowing how things will turn out in the end gives us the “big picture” perspective we need to make sense of a life lived between the time of Christ’s first advent and his second. The “You Are Here” arrow makes sense only when placed on a map of the whole shopping mall. An arrow on a blank sheet of plastic does us no good. The same holds true for seeing our current place in redemptive history in the light of all God has done before we came along, knowing that Christ’s finished work is the guarantee of reaching our final destiny. The arrow makes sense only against the big-picture backdrop of redemptive history.
But what about the signs of the times? Here’s an excerpt of Dr. Riddlebarger’s treatment of them:
There are three categories of “signs” of the end in the New Testament. The first category of signs includes those that are specific to the apostolic era. The second group deals with those signs that characterize the entire interadvental age (the time between Christ’s first and second coming). The third group of signs includes those that specifically serve to herald the end of the age.
As for those signs that are specific to the apostolic age—those signs to be witnessed by the disciples in their lifetimes (“this generation,” Matt. 24:23)—there are four specific events foretold by Jesus. There will be false prophets, along with the arrest and persecution of the disciples (Matt. 24:9-14; Mark 13:9-13; Luke 21:12-19). Jesus also predicts the Roman siege of Jeru-salem, as the so-called “times of the Gentiles” begins (Luke 19:41-44; 21:24). Our Lord also speaks of the destruction of the city and the temple in A.D. 70 (Matt. 24:1-2; 14-22; Mark 13:1-2; 14-20; Luke 24:56; 20-24). Finally, Jesus speaks of the desolation and the Diaspora of Israel (Matt. 23:37-38), which came to pass with the complex of events associated with the Jewish Wars. These signs have been fulfilled with an amazing accuracy.
Then there are a series of signs that characterize the entire interadvental-period birth pains of the age to come. Jesus warns of false Christs (Matt. 24:3-8; Mark 13:3-8; Luke 21:7-11), wars and rumors of wars (Matt. 24:3-8; Mark 13:3-8; Luke 21:7-11), earthquakes and famine (Matt. 24:3-8; Mark 13:3-8; Luke 21:7-11), false teachers and false doctrine (2 Tim. 3:1-5), as well as the persecution of believers (2 Tim. 3:12-17). These things are not only present during the lifetimes of the apostles, but may be said to characterize the entire post-apostolic era. Given the presence of such things until our Lord returns, Jesus compared the interadvental age to the days of Noah (Matt. 24:37-38). God has announced that judgment is at hand, yet unbelievers go on with their immorality as though nothing important was about to happen.
Finally, the New Testament speaks of certain signs that particularly serve to herald the end of the age and the return of our Lord. The first such sign is that the gospel must be preached to the ends of the earth (Matt. 24:14)….
The second sign that foretells of the end is the salvation of “all Israel” as recounted by Paul in Romans 11:25-26….I take Paul to be speaking of the dramatic conversion of large numbers of ethnic Jews immediately before the time of the end as gospel progress rebounds from a largely Gentile mission to a Jewish one. I understand “all Israel” to be a reference to those ethnic Jews who embrace Jesus as their Messiah because God once again has mercy upon his ancient people. These folk become members of Christ’s church as a testimony to the grace of God. This mass conversion of “all Israel” tells us the end is at hand….
The land promise God made to Abraham (Gen. 15:18-21) has already been fulfilled—at least that is what Joshua reports (Josh. 23:14). It is Paul who universalizes the original land of promise far beyond the narrow confines from the rivers of Egypt and the Euphrates to include the whole world (Rom. 4:13). Although Israel’s national role in redemptive history has run its course with the coming of Jesus, when we see large number of Jews becoming Christians we know that the end is rapidly drawing near. The presence of a modern nation-state of Israel in the ancient land of promise is certainly tied to God’s mysterious purposes for the Jews, because all of the promises God made to the true children of Abraham (those Jews and Gentiles alike), who believe the promise and receive the Holy Spirit, have come to pass because Christ has come and the gospel has been preached to the Gentile nations….
The third sign of the impending dawn of the end of the age is a great apostasy, which is closely connected to the appearance of the man of sin (“the antichrist”), who is the final eschatological enemy of the church (2 Thess. 2:1-12; Rev. 20:7-10). Although Christians have often been tempted to see any moral decline in their own age as a sign of the end, the final apostasy will surpass anything witnessed to date. Even though there have been many “wannabe” antichrists since the apostolic era, and many of the signs associated with the antichrist have been present to some degree throughout the post-apostolic period, at some point in the future God will cease his restraint of the mystery of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:7), when Satan is released from the abyss (Rev. 20:7-10). Only then will the final antichrist appear, soon to be crushed by Jesus at his return.
When this final apostasy occurs and the final antichrist is revealed, God’s people will face horrific persecution from a reinvigorated beast (the state) and its leader (the antichrist) who insist that the people of God declare “Caesar is Lord.” This is the one thing Christians will refuse to do, while at the same time refusal to do so is that which provokes the beast to its great fury against the people of God. Thankfully, the reign of this archenemy of Christ and his people will be short, as he is revealed only to go to his destruction (2 Thess. 2:8; Rev. 20:7-10).
Although it would behoove you to invest in a subscription to Modern Reformation Magazine to read the entire article for yourself, and benefit from the other helpful features, I’ve pretty much given you the heart of the article. I don’t want you to wonder as you wander, unnecessarily fearing things you shouldn’t as you look forward to the return of Christ. Reformed theology in general, and Reformed Amillennial eschatology in particular, is a liberating, comforting and most importantly, Biblical approach to our redemption in Christ from “In” (see Genesis 1:1) to “Amen” (see Revelation 22:21).
In Part II of Dr. John Fesko’s book, Word, Water and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism (2010, Reformation Heritage Books), he, in 3 chapters deals with the Biblical data related to baptism as “New Creation” (chapter 8), “Covenant Judgment” (9) and as “Eschatalogical Judgment” (10). The following is my summary of his remarks on this material at the Christ Reformed Church Friday Night Author’s Forum in Anaheim, California last Friday, January 21, 2011.
When you look at New Testament texts that teach about baptism, not merely the occurrences of the event, but which present the theology behind the event, the passages tend to point back to Old Testament passages and concepts. In 1Peter 3, the apostle shows the correspondence between the flood and baptism:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.(1 Peter 3:18-22).
Elsewhere, the apostle Paul mentions the Israelites were baptized while crossing the Red Sea.
For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:1-5).
Notice that not only did the adults of the nation of Israel cross the sea and so become baptized into Moses, but so did the entire households of those adults, which necessarily includes any and all infants that were present at the time. Even the cloud, we learn, typifies the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 10, says Dr. Fesko (see Isaiah 63:10-14).
Colossians 2:11-12 has been the field of a pitched battle between credobaptists and paedobaptists:
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead (Colossians 2:11-12).
Critical of the paedobaptist appeal to such a correspondence between circumcision and baptism based on this text, some Baptists argue that circumcision is a physical, national rite–the “Jewish passport,” if you will–whereas baptism is entirely spiritual. To this, Fesko responds by pointing out that water of baptism is physical. Old Testament circumcision had spiritual connotations as well as baptism. For example, in Deuteronomy 10:16, the Israelites are commanded to circumcise their hearts. “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn” (Deuteronomy 10:16). Later, we find that in chapter 30, this command becomes a promise, when Moses proclaims that the LORD will circumcise their hearts. “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6). Paul in Romans 2:28-29 says the true Jew has had his heart circumcised.
“For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God (Romans 2:28-29).
Thus Fesko describes the spiritual referent of circumcision.
But why was the act of circumcision chosen to serve as the sign of the covenant in the first place? Remember the first gospel promise in Genesis 3:15?
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel” (Genesis 3:15 NASB).
It is the seed of the woman who will bruise the serpent’s head. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, it is the seed of Abraham who will be “cut off.” The prophets applies the terminology of circumcision to the cross of Christ. Consider Isaiah’s great 53rd chapter alludes to circumcision in the sacrificial death of the Servant of the LORD: “By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?” (Isaiah 53:8)
In Genesis 17, those who are circumcised are included in the covenant, and those who are not are said to be “cut off” from covenantal relationship with the LORD.
He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant” (Genesis 17:12-14).
Finally, the sex of the recipient of circumcision was significant in its allusion to the fact that the Seed of Abraham to come, who would be cut off for his people, would be a male—the Lord Jesus Christ. These are some of the reasons that the act of circumcision is the appropriate sign of the Covenant of Grace. Therefore it makes sense that when we go to the New Testament, we find in Colossians 2 that when Paul makes reference to the “circumcision of Christ,” it is to his crucifixion, when Christ was cut off for his people, that he refers.
But why is it, then, that circumcision is replaced as the sign of the Covenant of Grace by a rite such as water baptism? What is it about the application of water that so well fulfills in the New Testament the significance of Old Testament circumcision? In the opening of the Gospels, John the Baptist announces:
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:11-12).
Did John simply pull this ceremony out of thin air? Did he appropriate the immersion ceremonies of the Qumran community with whom he is considered to have possibly resided for a time? Was he simply applying Jewish proselyte baptism to repentant Jews? In the case of Jewish proselyte baptism, Dr. Fesko’s research seemed to indicate that, in fact, this baptism may have been devised only sometime after Christians began baptizing in the name of Jesus, and it may have been that they did so in imitation of Christian baptism. Instead, Dr. Fesko affirms that the true point of origin of John’s baptism is found in the Old Testament itself.
Joel refers to an outpouring of the Spirit (Joel 2:28); again, the Genesis flood corresponds to baptism in Peter (1 Peter 3:18-22); Ezekiel’s vision of the Temple features water flowing out from underneath it which makes fruitful everything it touches (Ezekiel 47:1-12); in Isaiah, the Spirit is poured out, making the desert bloom like the garden of Eden (Isaiah 51:3; cf. 35:5-7). John, then, would have concluded from passages like these that the Messiah would come and would baptize his people in the Spirit. Therefore, now, under the New Covenant, we baptize young and old, male and female to testify to the fact that the Christ has come and fulfilled circumcision by being cut off for his people and he has baptized his people in the Spirit.
For the most part, baptism is presented as a blessing, but what about the baptized who apostatize? Is baptism somehow neutralized, or rendered ineffective? Dr. Fesko declares that there are no neutral encounters with the living God, according to the Word of God. You do not enter God’s presence and leave unchanged. The professing believer, and his household, receives the visible sign of the baptism of the Spirit either to their blessing or to their cursing. When Christ was crucified between two thieves, was the thief who asked him to remember him the only one affected by his encounter with the Son of God? No, the other thief, who mocked Christ, went to his doom. Scripture identifies Christ either as the Rock on which the believing fall upon, or he is the Rock which crushes those on whom it falls (Matthew 21:44). Thus, the revelation of Christ is double-edged.
Ministers often fear that when they see no tangible results to their preaching in terms of conversion, that perhaps the preaching of the Word is an ineffective enterprise. But the faithful minister who sees no results isn’t a failure, for the unresponsive will be judged. Just as the Old Testament prophets preached with no prospect of positive response. Isaiah was called to preach a message of judgment. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 says that ministers are either the fragrance of life to some, and the fragrance of death to others. Consider the warnings for unworthy reception of the Lord’s Supper—Paul indicated that for this reason, some were sick and dead among the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 11:27-32). Likewise, water baptism is either the water of new creation, or it is the water of judgment. Again, during the flood, those sealed in the ark were saved through the waters (1 Peter 3:20), while those outside of the ark were lost in judgment. Similarly, the Israelites in the exodus were saved through their Red Sea baptism, while their Egyptian pursuers were drowned (Exodus 14:26-29).
Subjecting the New Testament doctrine of baptism to the classical Protestant hermeneutic of the analogy of faith, by interpreting unclear passages in light of the clear parallel passages, demonstrates how it corresponds in many of its particulars to circumcision. I find it especially helpful to see how the connection between the two is found ultimately in the Lord Jesus Christ himself. The Great Seed of Abraham has been cut off from the covenant for the transgressions of his people, and he now baptizes his redeemed with cleansing influence of the Holy Spirit, but false professors who receive the sign of the Spirit’s cleansing will instead be burned with unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:11b-12).
I heard an interesting description of how American Christianity effectively developed into a form of Anabaptism. Dr. R. Scott Clark, Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California (WSC), was interviewed this past week on Christ the Center podcast episode #157 regarding his contribution to Always Reformed, a festschrift that has recently been published in honor of WSC President and Professor of Church History, Dr. Robert Godfrey (see Dr. Clark’s post here). From what I’ve been able to gather over the past couple of years, Dr. Godfrey is an earnest student of the phenomenon of Sister Aimee McPherson’s ministry in the 1920’s, and holds her up as an example of what American Christianity is. Clark’s chapter is entitled, “Magic and Noise: Reformed Christianity in Sister’s America.” To some extent, it seems that this very subject of the Anabaptistic flavor of American Christianity is at the heart of this chapter, as may be inferred by the chapter’s title itself.
About twenty-two minutes into the interview, Clark introduces this topic by urging the study of “Sister” (as she is wont to be called) on Reformed believers. He does this because, according to Clark, in many ways McPherson’s type of Christianity is more indicative of the nature of American Christianity than the Reformed faith can lay claim to anymore. America has come a long way since the faith of the pilgrims of Plymouth Rock and the Salem witch trials (which is probably all Americans remember about those early Christian settlers (for help with that, listen to this and this). Clark believes that the Reformed would be aided in reaching America for Christ, and American evangelicals for the Reformed faith if they would see themselves more as cross-cultural missionaries, rather than natives.
Dr. Clark offers the disclaimer that his Anabaptist diagnosis of American Christianity is largely due to the fact that his primary field of research is the sixteenth and seventeenth century Reformation, rather than early twentieth century Christianity. He admits that in part he is interpreting the McPherson phenomenon and the nature of “native” American Christianity in the light of the sixteenth century Anabaptist movement, but he does attempt to support his conclusion with appeals to others who have written more extensively on Christianity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
There are parallels between the Anabaptist movement of the sixteenth century and current American Christianity. Clark explains that people tend to think of the Anabaptist movement as just another facet of the Protestant Reformation, but he points out that the Anabaptists (also known as “Radical Reformers”) more or less “rejected all of the key doctrinal commitments” of the Protestant Reformation in favor of much more radical positions. Clark’s thesis is that the way American Christians commonly think about the nature of authority, epistemology (how we know what we know), Scripture and its authority, the church and eschatology (the doctrine of the end times) often bears strong resemblance to sixteenth and seventeenth century Anabaptism. Dr. Clark goes into a little more detail on this in the interview between minutes 33:15 and 42:06.
This portion of the interview caught my attention because Clark’s comparison is consistent with a conclusion I came to in my own personal pilgrimage from independent Baptist fundamentalism to Reformed theology and practice. After learning that the ultimate source of the bulk of historic Baptist theology comes from the Reformed Westminster Confession of Faith (see my newly updated “Creeds, etc.” page), and the parallels I saw between Baptist distinctives and the historic Anabaptist movement, I concluded that everything that’s right in the Baptist tradition was learned from the Reformed tradition, and everything that’s wrong in the Baptist tradition was learned, or “caught,” if you will, from Anabaptism. I realize that the 1689 Baptist Confession disclaims any formal connection between their doctrines and those of the Anabaptists, but the parallels are just too striking to Reformed paedobaptists.
This is why I encourage you to take time to listen to at least this section of the interview, if you don’t have the time or inclination to enjoy all of it. It’ll be thought-provoking time well-spent, if you ask me.
And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them” (Revelation 14:13)
Since January 10th, at my local non-Reformed Southern Baptist church, I’ve been teaching on Sunday evenings a class summarizing church history from the days of the apostles through the Reformation. To assist my presentation, I selected a PowerPoint presentation by Rose Publishing called “Christian History Made Easy,” by Dr. Timothy Paul Jones (see also Dr. Jones’ own site) of the Calvinistic Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
My preparation for this survey of church history has enhanced my understanding of, and appreciation for first and second century life in the pagan Roman Empire. Although the Pax Romana largely enabled most to live in relative peace as long as they pluralistically accepted and paid homage to the Roman pantheon, such an existence forced the Christian church to practice its faith underground. The moral implications of following Christ also made Christians a nuisance to Roman society because of their biblically-based respect for women, children and even slaves. Although persecution was not an everyday occurence for Christians in pagan Rome, there were occaisional periods during which persecution would break out. This is the source of the infamous act of throwing Christians to the lions in the Coliseum, where many Christian martyrs were made.
This morning, one of my Facebook friends, Henry Christoph, Jr. directed my attention to a Lutheran YouTube page which apparently commits many classic hymns to video paired with either still art or live action selections to illustrate the spiritual truths featured in each hymn. One such video dovetailes nicely with my current focus on ancient church history. Below, you can view the video of the hymn “For All the Saints,” a processional hymn featured in Anglican and Lutheran observance of All Saints Day and other similar occaisions on the church calendar.
Part of the scriptural basis of this hymn is the text I featured at the beginning of this post. This text, as applied in “For All The Saints” highlights one of the practical applications of the otherwise mysterious book of Revelation: a message of comfort and hope for Christians who are suffering persecution even in the present day. Many dispensational premillennialists view these as applying only to future martyrs, and so at times shy away from preaching from the book of Revelation because their eschatology causes them to miss how the book of Revelation applies to Christians today. Christian martyrdom is a daily fact of life for more believers around the world today than at any time in church history. Is there no valid word from the Lord in the book of Revelation to strengthen the faith and resolve of these suffering believers?
I’ll provide the text of the hymn first, and below you will find the YouTube video. May the Lord grant to each of us the courage to so let our lights shine as it so effectively did in the earliest centuries of church history, and may he continue to be praised for the gift of religious liberty in his common grace. Let us not take it for granted, nor allow it to enable us to forego the taking up of our crosses.
William Walsham How, 1864, 1875
SINE NOMINE 10.10.10.al.
Ralph Vaughn Williams, 1906
For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
Thou was their rock, their fortress and their might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true light.
O may thy soldiers faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest.
But lo! There breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on his way.
From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
Looking back on my years as an Independent Baptist who kept his eye on TBN, and his ear on Christian radio, I must admit that I had always been susceptible to just about every end times related conspiracy theory that came my way. Believe me, if you watch TBN, at least back in the eighties, you learned about a lot of end times related conspiracy theories. When it comes to Independent Baptist church life, however, preaching on the end times can be a mixed bag: some will major on it, others will minor on it and still others may avoid it almost completely, claiming they find no practical application to be had in the preaching of prophecy.
After I discovered Peter Ruckman, whom I affectionately refer to as “The King of the King James Onlyists,” I gained, not only a rich source of bad information regarding biblical textual criticism, but also a rich source of bad information regarding end times related conspiracy theories. Eventually, I discovered that prophecy preacher, Texe Marrs, whose books I sold as a teenager in the Christian bookstore at which I worked as a high school student, was a fellow “Ruckmanite.” Now, this man is a conspiracy theorist par excellence! Like Will Rogers once said about men, Texe Marrs never met a conspiracy theory he didn’t like. You can enjoy this man’s ravings at www.texemarrs.com.
One of the most outstanding conspiracy theories that I recalled hearing about frequently during those years, was the claim that the burgeoning European Union had developed a super-computer in Brussels, Belgium which had the capability of tracking and storing not only the vitals statistics of everyone on the planet, but also their shopping habits. Rumor had it that the “Revived Roman Empire” that was the European Union had further plans to one day see to it that everyone was marked with some sort of electronic device on their forehead or the back of their hand, that featured a number by which the entire population of the world could be catalogued and tracked by this EU super-computer that just happened to be nick-named “The Beast.” This, we were assured, would be the way Revelation’s prophecies regarding the mark of the Beast would be fulfilled in the Great Tribulation period. Oh, the dread that overtook us all as we periodically heard the news of further technological advancements that brought us step by step closer to the eventual unveiling of the New World Order under the seductive, yet tyrannical rule of the Antichrist.
I don’t have the words to describe the paranoia that can develop in one who pays as close attention to such sensationalistic claims as I once paid to end times conspiracy theories. I know what it is to look for and find a demon behind every bush, and under every rock. Such a lifestyle is truly paralyzing. I recall as a Bible College student fearing to so much as throw a paper route just to earn money to live on and with which to put myself through school. I could not, in good conscience, be a party to misinforming my neighbors with the propaganda published by the liberal media who served as the useful idiots of the behind the scenes architects of the New World Order. I guarantee you, that if I still had today the same mindset I had in my early twenties, I would never have sought employment by the federal government in order to print U. S. currency as I now do. Are you kidding? U.S. currency is just riddled with New World Order and masonic symbols! Just what do you think “Novus Ordo Seclorum” means, anyway? New World Order! It’s printed right there on your money! As Randy Newman sings in the theme song for the TV show, Monk, “if you paid attention, you’d be worried, too!”
At long last, freedom from such bondage came to me in the form of…yes, you guessed it! Reformed theology! Specifically, Reformed eschatology (the study of last things, or the end times). At last, I found the courage to divest myself of any and all fear from the countless rumors that swirl about regarding all the things going on behind the scenes about which, “they don’t want you to know!” Man, Reformed air is so refreshing! At last, I can breathe easy.
Last night, I was reminded by a friend of the Belgium-based super-computer called “The Beast.” My friend hears that it can track upwards of 15 billion people, not that the population of the earth is expected to reach that number before the Rapture! But that just goes to show you, folks, how close we are to the Tribulation period! If such rumors are to be believed. When my friend mentioned these things to me, as I politely nodded and grinned, I thought to myself, “I need to check Snopes about ‘The Beast.'” So, check I did. I didn’t find anything about it at www.Snopes.com–it may be there, but I didn’t find it. But my search did lead me to a similar urban legend website called www.TruthOrFiction.com, which did contain an entry which–wonder of wonders!–pronounced “‘The Beast,’ a supercomputer in Belgium, is Being Used To Track Every Human Being On Earth–Fiction!” Whew! What a relief! But the details they provide regarding the origin of the urban legend simply blew my mind. Here’s how the entry reads:
Summary of eRumor
A three-story computer in Brussels, Belgium called “The Beast,” is described as being the brain-child of the European Common Market. It is said to be “self programming” and is intended to track the buying and selling activities of every person on earth. Additionally, the system is alleged to depend on invisible tattoos on the forehead or back of the hand of each person for identity purposes. Ominously, the tattoo will be of a unique, personalized number composed of three entries of three digits each.
- The Truth
It’s easy to see how this story would grab the attention of Christians. It’s almost as though it were tailor-made to fit with the book of Revelation. And… it was.
Unlike most urban legends, we have a clear trail that leads to where the story came from. There are various printed versions of the story that date back to 1973, but the most widely circulated early account appeared in Christian Life magazine in August 1976.
Three months after publishing the story, Christian Life received a letter from Christian author Joe Musser. In it, he explained that the Beast Computer of Belgium did not exist in reality, but in fantasy. Musser said that he created the scenario for a novel he wrote, titled Beyond a Pale Horse (actually, it’s Behold, A Pale Horse–jdc), and for a screenplay for the David Wilkerson film, The Rapture. In the letter, Musser said that for three years he had seen the story he had created being passed along as fact.
The possibility for confusing fiction with fact was there from the outset. As a part of the promotion for the David Wilkerson film, some mock newspapers had been printed which had convincing-looking news stories about events that could be associated with the rapture, including the Beast Computer of Belgium. Unless one read the small print next to the copyright notice, there was nothing to indicate that it was fiction.
As with other urban legends, some thoughtful evaluation of the facts would cast doubt on the story. For example, anybody who is savvy enough about computers would know that it’s not going to take a computer occupying three stories of a major building to catalog all the people on the earth. Today’s computers can handle the task in a fraction of that space – assuming there was some way to know who all the people were.
Also, some versions of the story stated that the computer was self-programming, suggesting that perhaps it had a life of its own outside of the humans who programmed it. Artificial intelligence is a fascinating subject, and computers are getting smarter every day, but no computer expert that I know of is worried about whether a database program could become the Antichrist. Additionally, even if a decision were made to track all humans, it is not clear that the European Common Market would be the entity to initiate or control it. (Here’s the source)
My mind was officially blown. I never dreamed that I would learn, not only how it is that Belgian “Beast” Super Computer was a mere urban legend, but the very name of the man who dreamed up the idea in the first place! Let alone my astonishment that it was a fictitious scenario developed for a Christian novel on the end of the world! My adrenaline was flowing, and I couldn’t stop running around telling everyone I thought might have heard about this conspiracy theory, because I had to personally make sure they were utterly divested of any and all anxiety over such a prospect. Was I ever giddy! I didn’t know what to do with myself! But telling a few of my co-workers, both believing and unbelieving, I had to help make sure the world had more access to this information. I must make sure these facts are featured on Wikipedia! The world’s free online encyclopedia! Under the heading of “The Beast (Bible)” on Wikipedia, you will find my first ever contribution to this global pooling of knowledge. In the article, under the sub-topic of “Alternative Views” I found this single sentence referencing “The Beast” supercomputer: “Some identify the Beast with a Super Computer in Brussels, Belgium.” To this, I added the truly “alternative view”: “However, author Joe Musser, attributes the origin of this urban legend to his 1970 novel, Behold, a Pale Horse and the movie The Rapture which is based on his book. (Read the article here)
Finally, a little more surfing of the web produced a more in-depth discussion of this story. Silicon.com, a website featuring writing on all things computer related, interviewed Joe Musser, and the resulting article features what he had to say. I highly recommend that you read this article here.
Forgive my amateurish first attempt at live blogging, but I’m following online a web conference called “Then Comes the End” put on by the Midwest Center for Theological Studies.
It’s 10:15AM central time, and the host is just introducing the participants and waiting for others to log in, I suppose. So far, we’ve got Dr. Vern Poytress, R. Gaffin and Dr. Sam Waldron, and will have Dr. Kim Riddlebarger.
Some of us viewers had a little fun in the chat room early on, but we were cleared and summarily instructed to reserve our comments for questions to the professors.
more to come . . .