Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The End Of Time

Biblegems # 51

Question (with background):
Daniel 8: 19-25 is a prophecy about Greece overcoming the Persian and Mede Empire and then dividing into four separate kingdoms following the king's death. This clearly matches what happened with Alexander the Great after his death in 323 BC. But in verse 19 it says that these events will take place at the very end of time. Did Daniel mean the end of time itself, or did he mean the end of the Old Covenant time, or something completely different?

In this passage, Daniel has been given a vision of the End Times. As the question above indicates, Daniel 8:19 places the rise and fall of these kingdoms at the end of human history: I am going to tell you what will happen later in the time of wrath, because the vision concerns the appointed time of the end (see also verse 17).

Verses 20-25 present a classic example of dual fulfillment of predictive prophecy. The “stern faced king” of verse 23 predicts the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes, a Greek Emperor of the 2nd cent. B.C. Antiochus’ rule over Israel was brutal and aimed at assimilating the Jewish people into the Greek culture. Antiochus sought to cement his grip on the Jews by forcing them to sacrifice a pig to Zeus1.

But Antiochus is not the complete fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy. He foreshadows “the man of lawlessness”:
2 Th. 2:3-4 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for [that day will not come] until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

This the Beast and the Antichrist who is identified in the book of Revelation:
Rev. 13:3-5 One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was astonished and followed the beast. Men worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?” The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for forty-two months (see Rev. 13:8ff).

Daniel’s phrase “the appointed time of the end” in 8:19 treats the unfolding events of history as if we were seeing them through a telescope. It takes the distant future from Daniel’s point of view and brings it rapidly up close. But in doing this, the vision also “compacts” the events of unfolding history, so that whole empires and several centuries are compressed into a few verses of Scripture. The rise and fall of Media-Persia and the Greek empire move imediately in this “compressed” view to the very end of human history and the unleashing of the Day of God’s wrath on rebellious mankind.

1 1 Maccabees 2:15

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Jesus—God, And Praying To God

Biblegems #50
How can Jesus be God if Jesus is “obeying the will of the Father” and praying to God?

This question gets right to the heart of one of Scripture’s greatest mysteries—the Trinity. And we have to be very careful to get this right, because many heresies have risen over the centuries based on misunderstandings of this critically important doctrine.

Scripture teaches Jesus possesses a dual nature as both God and man.
Colossians 1:15-17 declares:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
“Image” means that Jesus is the “exact likeness” of God on the one hand, and God Himself perfectly manifested in the person of Jesus on the other hand. As verse 19 goes on to explain:
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him
And, as John 1:1 plainly states:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

These are just two of many passages that describe Jesus as being God, yet also being with God as a distinct person. Human beings are spirit, soul and body. We can speak of each of them separately, or as ‘this is who and what I am.’ God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each can be spoken of separately, or as who and what He is.

The Scripture also makes it very clear that Jesus is fully human:
For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people (Heb. 2:17).
And again:
For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5),

When God took on human form He did not cease to be God. However, as a human, Jesus willingly surrendered some of His abilities as God. For instance, while God the Father is still able to be present everywhere at the same time, God in human flesh could only be in one place at a time. As it says in Philippians:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross (Phil. 2:5-8)!

As God in human flesh, Jesus placed certain limits on Himself. This necessitated that He communicate to God the Father just as any other human being needs to do. And in doing that, Jesus also demonstrated how human beings were originally designed to live in perfect harmony with the will of God through prayer and obedience.

Monday, August 15, 2011

God's Plan, Our Accountability

Biblegems #49
How can God “turn the heart of a king” to do sin (i.e., pharaoh) yet hold them accountable?

The question seems to draw from two portions of Scripture. The first reads: The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases (Prov. 21:1).

The second is Romans 9, beginning with verse 17: For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” (18) Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. (19) One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?”

Romans 9 gives a two-fold answer to this question. First, we are cautioned not to be arrogant in questioning God’s right to do as he pleases, just as a lump of clay has no right to challenge what the potter chooses to make of it (20).

Second, Romans 9:22-23 lumps humanity into two groups of people, those who are ‘objects of His wrath,’ and those who are ‘objects of His mercy.’ Those who are objects of God’s wrath have been “prepared for destruction” (22), whereas the objects of His mercy He has prepared in advance for glory. The question is, what does “prepared for destruction” mean?

Is God the one responsible for preparing the objects of His wrath for destruction? This is not what the Scripture actually says. In fact, the English translations accurately convey the Greek in pointing out that God is the one who prepares the objects of His mercy for glory, while the objects of His wrath are simply described as “prepared for destruction,” without naming God as the one responsible.

When verse 22 says that God “bore with great patience” the objects of His wrath, it reveals God’s desire to see those who are under condemnation to come to repentance. As Jesus told Nicodemus, the entire human race stands in condemnation (John3:18). We are all objects of God’s wrath, prepared for destruction by our own sinful nature. God’s love for us is so great, however, that He sent is own Son into this fallen world, “that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

The apostle Peter says the same thing:
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9).

Pharaoh was the object of God’s wrath because, like all of us, he was a sinful human being. He, like all of us, was prepared for destruction by his own sinful nature and sinful behavior. God chose to use him for the purpose of displaying His power and glorifying His Name throughout the earth (Rom. 9:17). All the while, God gave ample opportunity for Pharaoh to repent, rather than destroying him on the spot. God used Pharaoh’s lack of belief and repentance to harden his heart (Rom. 3:18), much like God covers an open wound with scar tissue that has no feeling.

God makes no man sin. But He will use man’s sinfulness for His own glory, and as an example to others of God’s patience in bringing many sons and daughters to glory.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Witnessing & Election

Biblegems #48
Question: If God has chosen those who will be saved (which is His right, and the Scriptures seem to say He did) then how can a commitment to Christ be free/voluntary? Wouldn’t this diminish our roles as witnesses, and the urgency that Kirk Kameron and Ray Comfort stress?

Jesus stressed the urgency of witnessing:
“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full… (Luke 14:23).

The apostle Paul spread the gospel with a sense of urgency, knowing that God’s plan for people hearing and responding to the good news required messengers being sent:
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? (Rom. 10:14-15)

In fact, the timing of the “end of the age” and the Return of Jesus Christ hinges upon the Church completing the Great Commission:
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come (Matt. 24:14).

So how does this sense of urgency square with the Bible’s teaching on election?

First, we need to humbly realize that the Church over the centuries has wrestled over what “election” and being “chosen” actually mean. This article will not settle that debate; and many will disagree with me. All I can do is share my understanding of God’s Word on the matter, and trust the Holy Spirit to bring glory to the Father.

There is a certain tension (not contradiction) in Scripture regarding election:
1. God’s Desire: 1 Tim. 2:4 [God] wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

2. God’s Choice: 2 Th. 2:13 … from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.
Notice, this does not tell us who God chooses to be saved, but how a person is saved: through the agency of the Holy Spirit and believing God’s Word.

In similar fashion, Ephesians 1:4-5, 11-13 teaches that it was the apostles who were specifically predestined to be adopted as Gods sons and chosen to be His apostles (1-12), but that we who follow were “included in Christ” when we believed the gospel (13).

A careful reading of Scripture demonstrates that God does not predestine all who will be saved and all who will go to hell. He has predestined certain individuals for salvation (the apostles), but the rest of us are saved when we believe the gospel, and this is made possible through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

And this is precisely why there is such an urgency to share the gospel with those who are not saved.