A Preview of Coming Contractions

A. B. Simpson, the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, once wrote, “The Second  Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is a distinct and important part of the apostolic gospel. The truth and blessed hope of the Lord’s return is the church’s great and blessed hope.”

During the 1970s through the early 1980s there was widespread discussion of the events that would lead to the return of the Lord Jesus, but it seemed to have waned since then. Much of the discussion of the end times then seem to try too hard to identify contemporary events with scriptural statements, and the speculation tended to try too hard to set a specific date or year. Yet the point of scripture is not to try to work out the time too precisely and exactly, but rather to live according to the promise of his return. Despite what tendencies to date setting and controversy over differences of understanding of the end time, the believer in Jesus Christ can continue with unshaken faith in the word of the Lord who promised his return. There is no reason to be distracted or dismayed by the circumstances which lead up to that time, to be concerned how others are thinking about it, but to continue in complete and utter confidence that he is returning. The point is that we are not to try to find our exact spot on the timeline of the last days, but rather to live each day as if we anticipated Jesus’s return that very day.

The Lord Jesus himself provided a long explanation of what would happen in the days that would lead up to his return from heaven to take up his dominion over the whole world. It is in the passage known as the Olivet discourse, the passage which is the bridge between the prophecies of the Old Testament that apply to the second coming and the prophetic passages in the New Testament epistles and the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John, the culmination of Biblical prophecy. In this teaching session shortly before the grand events of his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, the culmination of his first coming, he gave the preview of what would happen in his second coming in glory. He gathered together strands of Old Testament prophecy and brought them together, to explain what would happen with events in history that would happened up to and after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, and even more to the final intensification and domination of evil before the actual visible appearance of the Lord Jesus in glory before the entire world in his return.

Going back to what Jesus was actually saying will take us beyond ‘chart based’ eschatalogical teaching of a previous age, where there were too many attempts to plot out our moment in time on a map of history made from some rather iffy interpretations of some scriptures. We rather need to look to what all the scriptures say on the subject, not to try to pinpoint our place on a timeline on a chart. Rather, no matter in which age we life, no matter where we find ourselves on the timeline before his return, we can find in his teaching that Jesus left not so much as a set of special instructions for those who were to remain here until the last minute, but rather an abiding attitude of expectation for believers in all ages and in all places of looking forward to his return. And with that all those who truly believe in him and look forward to his return can agree that his expectation for us was not having right opinions about the order of events and the timeline, but rather a continuous faithfulness. The clear expectation of the Lord Jesus as for the believer who may live in the last few years, months and days before his return would be as faithful as any believer as in the years before, and that any believer who would die without seeing his return during his or her lifetime would remain as faithful during his or her life regardless of whether he or she lived until that moment. So with the realization of that expectation, let us turn to the first part of the Olivet discourse in Mark 13:3-13.

“And while he was seated on the Mount of Olives facing the Temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew privately privately asked him, ‘Tell us when these things will happen, and what the sign will be when all these things are about to come to their conclusion.’ And Jesus began to tell them, ‘See to it that no one leads you into error. Many will come in my name and say that, ‘I am the one!’, and they will deceive many. When you hear about wars and the rumors of wars, do not be disturbed. These things are destined to come about, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation and kingdom upon kingdom, and there will be earthquakes in many places, and there will be famines. These things are the beginning of the excruciating labor contractions. But watch out for yourselves. They will deliver you to councils and synagogues; you will be physically assaulted and you will stand before governors and kings for a witness to them – and it is destined that the gospel will be proclaimed to all the nations first. And when they drag you out and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand what you will say, but in that very hour it will be given to you as to what to say, because it will not be you speaking but the Holy Spirit. And brother will betray brother to execution, and a father his child, and children will rise up against their parents and have them executed. And you will be hated by everyone because of my name. But whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.”

So Jesus started out to speak about what would happen, and his first caution is this: The believer in Jesus Christ must take guard not to be led into error away from the truth of Jesus Christ. The sane appraisal of  truth according to the scriptures will be the only guide through the confusion and deception that will come up0n the entire earth. But again, this is simply the same kind of steadfastness and discernment that Jesus has always expected of all believers everywhere and in every time.

The first warning Jesus gave was against false Messiahs who would arise. He warned his followers first of all neither to believe nor to follow them. They are counterfeits of the true Lord, and with this saying he lets his people know that there will be a series of pretenders who would come in the months and years to come. His warning was not to scare or intimidate but to give his people the information that they needed to avoid being taken in by the counterfeits.

Note the strong warning that Jesus gave first in verse 5: “See to it that no one leads you into error. Many will come in my name and say that, ‘I am the one!’, and they will deceive many.”  This was a warning that began to come true in the years after he first gave it. In Jerusalem before its destruction by the Romans in A.D. 70, there were two deceivers mentioned in the book of Acts, Judas of Galilee and the Egyptian for whom the Roman centurion mistook the apostle Paul. Josephus, the historian who chronicled the fall of Jerusalem, reported the other false Messiahs that popped up as the Roman legions under Vespasian and Titus ravaged Palestine and burned and sacked Jerusalem itself. The apostle John could then write a few years later, “ . . . just as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have popped up . . .” (I John 4:18). And throughout the years since there have been many, many false prophets and false Messiahs who have arisen, so the warning of Jesus has been relevant for every age in which his people have lived.

The thing that we need to remain aware of, then, if we are the followers of Jesus Christ today, is that such deceivers still pop up all over the place, in many times and places. There are so many names of leaders of cults who could be put here, but the truth is that there will still be false Messiahs and false prophets coming until the day comes when the ultimate false Messiah, the Antichrist, makes himself known. Over history, there have been many political false Messiahs, such as Adolf Hitler and Kim Jong Il. But there have been also many religious leaders who have been unmasked as false Messiahs such as David Koresh, Jim Jones and Father Divine, and where there are the trappings of the personality cult within a church we can find that some of them will come from within the ranks of the professing church itself. They may start out as leaders who seem to have a solid grasp of the gospel and compassion and insight to help many, even out of poverty and the gutter, but eventually they begin to abandon the truth of scripture and arrogate to themselves the personal power and authority over the lives of their followers and demand the worship of others even as they claim Messianic titles for themselves. All these pretenders, though, are only foreshadows of the ultimate false Messiah, the Antichrist, and we can see him pretty clearly to be the first horseman of the Apocalypse, the final lie and counterfeit for which the entire unbelieving world will fall.

So then, the first consideration for the believer in Jesus Christ is to take these sobering words of Jesus to heart. He has already warned us that there will be false Messiahs, and that we are not to follow them. And in a world where the discernment of truth and error among believers seems to be getting lower, when people may throw up their hands in frustration and say, “How can I tell what’s what in this situation? Who am I to judge?”, the expectation of Jesus is still that his followers will not allow false Messiahs to deceive them. The false Messiahs of our age may hold up false hopes, false visions, false and grandiose visions and delusions of changing the world and bringing about a utopia on this earth – and each false Messiah also shares his own false eschatology – the false view of the coming kingdom – what it will be and how it will come. But certainly the expectation of Jesus remains that his people will not allow these false Messiahs to deceive them. And for this he provides his own Word and the opportunity to remain steadfast with him: “So then, as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, conduct your life in him, as you are rooted and built up in him and are made stable in the faith just as you were taught and as you overflow with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6-7, Dale’s sight translation).

But even after Jesus gave his warning against the the false Messiahs, he gave another warning. He warned us that the upheaval and turmoil of this world is not to alarm us unduly as it continues onward. This world will continue to experience catastrophes in various times and places, and indeed these may be expected to accelerate as the end approaches. But the direction of Jesus is that what we see happening around us is not to give us undue alarm. Here is what he said again: “When you hear about wars and the rumors of wars, do not be disturbed. These things are destined to come about, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation and kingdom upon kingdom, and there will be earthquakes in many places, and there will be famines. These things are the beginning of the excruciating labor contractions.”

So after Jesus gave the warning not to be deceived by false Messiahs, and then he gave the warning not to take the turmoil of national conflicts and strife and natural disasters in themselves to be an indication that the end has come at that moment. Certainly his words mean, with the use of the metaphor of a woman beginning to experience the first painful contractions of labor, that these events are moving forward to the end, but not that they are themselves the indication that that moment is the moment of the end. The labor contractions themselves foretell the birth, but they are not themselves the birth.

This warning was well suited for the generation of believers in Christ which lived in the years following his crucifixion and resurrection in Jerusalem and its surroundings. There was certainly an application to them, since they saw famines, earthquakes and political conflicts in the days before the destruction of the Holy City and the Second Temple. Yet the witness of history is that they continued steadfast to Christ and their witness to him despite what they were seeing around them, and that they continued to win others to Christ in those times where it appeared that the end might happen at any minute if they looked just at the conflicts and disasters around them.

This warning also applies to our generation as well. There have been devastating earthquakes and famines in the days since I first came to Christ in 1974, as well as wars and revolutions around the globe. But even though we might wish that they were themselves the coming of the end when we were in their midst, we can know that Jesus does not want us to view them as an indication that the moment of the end has come. But certainly all these upheavals will give way to the final upheavals to take place after the appearance of the Antichrist – the other three horsemen of the Apocalypse, of war, famine and death. The indication is rather that there will the a clear intensification and acceleration of these upheavals which will follow the appearance of the Antichrist. And I think that this is very clear that there is nothing that we can do to prevent war and disasters entirely until Jesus returns – so while there might be particular wars and disasters that could be prevented, we must recognize that the elimination of war and other disasters as a fantasy. And in the meantime, we are not to be misled by the troubles in this world, since they will occur, but these conflicts and catastrophes are not in themselves the irrefutable signs of the end. Rather, we need to hold off any identification of the end until the Antichrist is openly unveiled to the world – and I think that as we go on in this passage and throughout the scriptures, we will find that for the discerning believer the Antichrist will be hard to misidentify.

Therefore, from what Jesus has already said, the knowledge of the truth is our firm safeguard against being deceived and against being fearful as the times wind down toward the end. The truth of Jesus and his Word will guard us against false hopes and fear and despair as history comes to its culmination.

First of all, the knowledge of the truth requires a heart commitment to the truth of Christ in the Word of God above all, above all human tradition and the rumor and rush of the crowd. The attitude of wise and discerning faith comes from the trust in the Word of God, the written scriptures of the God of the Bible, and all other attitudes, ideas, teachings, opinion pieces and blog posts must be tested by that – and I do fear that many professed believers are too shallow or superficial in their own knowledge of the scriptures to have wisdom and discernment in this age.  Anything less will be shaky and unsure as the times become worse and the deceptions grow more seductive and severe. This heart commitment to the truth calls for us not to have a critical attitude toward our faith – that’s the wicked and arrogant advice that those who called themselves ‘Higher Critics’ (scare quotes intended) gave to undiscerning believers back in the nineteenth century. Rather, a person growing in his or her knowledge of the scriptures will find himself or herself looking at everything else in life with their mental and moral evaluative capabilities guided by the Word of God.

Just as much, the knowledge of the truth requires the constant prayer for the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, to lead us and keep on leading us into the truth of Christ. The humble prayer for the Spirit of truth to open the Word of God to us and show us the Christ of the scriptures will certainly be answered. And just as much, we need to seek for him to guide us away from the character flaws which keep us from receiving the truth of Christ. Like the ancient prayer, let us ask  —

“From cowardice, which shrinks from new truth,
From laziness, which is content with half truth,
From arrogance, that thinks it knows all truth —
O God of truth, deliver.”

And so, the knowledge of the truth will keep us from falsehood as we learn, follow and hold to the truth of Jesus. While the truth ignored leads to enslavement to falsehood, the knowledge of the true Jesus will keep us from caving to the falsehoods that may come.  As we learn the truth of God in the scriptures, it will enable us to recognize false teachers and Messiahs as they may come. And the truth of the scriptures will also keep us from being deceived by or attaching undue importance to the events of this world. Evil times will grow to their worst, to unparalleled depths, but they will only precede the arrival of the best of times, the unparalleled good that will arrive when Jesus Christ returns in glory to this earth.

So with all the warnings that Jesus has given of the turbulent times to come in this world, he has also given directions to his people as to what they are to do in the face of the difficulties and wickedness. In all situation the believer in Christ must stand firm for Christ. In all ages perseverance to the end is what he expects. In all ages he expects his people to remain firm and forthright in their confession of him as Lord and Savior before this world as it goes through its pangs of apparent death and contractions of coming life.

Even if the whole world goes in the direction of open and naked rejection of Jesus Christ, the believer in Christ must remain firm in commitment to Christ. Times of great unpopularity and outright persecution and martyrdom will come and go before the final, ultimate persecution and widespread martyrdom. The steadfast commitment to Christ in the midst of resistance to and suppression of the truth by a world which has been rejecting Jesus will mark the true, faithful disciple to Jesus, the one that Jesus chooses and accepts as part of his people for all eternity.

Jesus himself warned that there will be persecution throughout this world, but that the world will eventually be reached with the gospel. He said, “But watch out for yourselves. They will deliver you to councils and synagogues; you will be physically assaulted and you will stand before governors and kings for a witness to them – and it is destined that the gospel will be proclaimed to all the nations first.” We know upon his own word that the evangelization of this world will eventually be completed to God’s satisfaction. There will finally be no longer a time when anyone in the world can have the excuse of ignorance of the gospel.

So here by the word of Jesus himself we know that his church will finally succeed in the mission that he gave it. I’ve heard several rants by young pastors, where they’ve berated their helpless congregations sitting before them that ‘the church hasn’t reached the world,’ or changed and transformed the world. I’m not sure what convictions that they had about eschatology, though they were serving in a denomination that is supposed to be premillenial and believes in the literal coming of the Lord Jesus. But the word of Jesus here is not that one congregation, but that the entire church would eventually reach the world with the gospel. And his expectation is not that the world would be changed or transformed. Mark this carefully!! Jesus does not here give any assurance that his church will ever change or transform the world when the world has heard the gospel. Quite the opposite!

What will happen after the world has heard the gospel of Jesus is that the world will finally reject the truth of the gospel. The world will not be transformed or changed finally, but the world will reject the gospel finally. And then the world will give in to the final deception of the Antichrist. This will be the natural result of the rejection of the truth of the gospel – the world will foolishly come to the acceptance of the ultimate falsehood that Satan concocts for them. Jesus says more about this in this same discourse, but here is how the apostle Paul described what would happen at that time:  “The lawless one will come with the empowerment of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders and with the deceitfulness of iniquity for those who are perishing, because they did not receive the love of the truth so that they would be saved. And because of this God sends them the working of error so that they would believe the live, so that all would be judged who did not believe in the truth but when it came to iniquity – they were perfectly fine with that!” (II Thessalonians 2:9-12).

In all times, though, God will use the times of rejection to continue the witness to the truth of his gospel, in the face of the worst opposition possible, both legal and illegal under the law of man. In those times witness will become the greater priority than survival – but in the times of crisis the people of God will not be left alone, to their own strength and wisdom. In those times God will give his people the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to them.

Jesus gave this promise and direction to his people as to how they were to approach the times of witness before the world during the times of persecution: “And when they drag you out and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand what you will say, but in that very hour it will be given to you as to what to say, because it will not be you speaking but the Holy Spirit.”

This promise can be seen as it worked itself out in the times in the book of Acts when authorities tried to clamp down on the apostles of God and the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For Peter and John, Stephen and Paul, the times that they were brought before the civil courts and officials and religious courts and judges became platforms for their witness to Jesus, and the people who had them on trial found themselves in the awkward position of being on trial themselves. They were enabled by the Holy Spirit to witness to the gospel with forthrightness, yet without hate and disrespect, and to show love and the utmost courtesy and graciousness as they themselves displayed the countenances of angels.

This promise of Jesus continued throughout the ages, from the days after the apostles, during the many persecutions and martyrdoms in the Roman empire and elsewhere, as the gospel went forth from Jerusalem. Persecutions and martyrdoms continue, as they had behind the Iron Curtain, in Islamic countries, in India under the ideology of Hindutva, and in Nepal and Bhutan under militant Buddhism, but unshaken witnesses still continue for Jesus when they are brought before the bar of human justice. And the scripture does indicate that the persecution will become worldwide during the last years before the return of Jesus. Make no mistake about it – holding a view that the rapture will happen before the tribulation will never be any kind of insurance for any believer in Christ against having to stand for Christ in the face of earthly persecution and possible martyrdom. It has been said that many who held the view of the pre-tribulation rapture fell away in China after the Communist revolution because they believed that they would never have to suffer for Christ. Corrie ten Boom herself is reported to have said that she held the view of the pre-tribulation rapture before her imprisonment and the martyrdom of her sister and father under Nazi rule, but she came out warning against taking that view as any kind of personal comfort or insurance against suffering and dying for Christ, and indeed, she became a convinced believer in the rapture taking place at the end of the tribulation. Now certainly the issue of when the rapture takes place must always come down to what the scriptures say in themselves about the issue. So the warning here is against using this view as any kind of expectation that the future will not hold possible suffering and death if I follow Jesus with all my heart, and that a particular view of the rapture is not to be held because a person does not want to stand for Jesus and be faithful until death.

It’s noteworthy, then, that in the next several verses Jesus hits at three specific things about which I believe that many believers today have very little clarity.These things are what believers need to have clarity so that they can stand for Christ in the midst of this world, both in the present and as the coming contractions continue and deepen until the Lord returns.

The first thing that Jesus hits at is the need for a proper perspective on family loyalty in the time of persecution. He specifically predicts that betrayal to the pagan, God rejecting and Antichrist exalting state will come from family members and will result in the execution of innocent believing family members. Make no mistake about what he said: “ And brother will betray brother to execution, and a father his child, and children will rise up against their parents and have them executed.” While there has been a real concern for the salvation of and harmony among marriages and families

for the past generation, I’ve stated that there has been a real tendency among many professing believers and Christian leader to the idolatry of family and often to the idolatry of their own family. And betrayal will come from family members whom they may have pampered and idolized and for whom they may have made a number of little compromises of love and obedience to Christ.

So let’s consider what Jesus  says in Matthew 10: 37:  “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and the one who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (See also a parallel passage in Luke 14:25-27). So when I witness the little compromises that Christian parents and leaders make for their children – how they tell a lie here to make that child look better than he or she is, or how they poison the well for a supposed rival to their children, or they ignore the blatant and growing selfishness and character flaws of their children – it makes me wonder how will they stand in the end if they have become habituated to putting their family above Christ and scripture by little and hidden compromises.

The second thing that Jesus says deals with our reception by the world as a whole, and it deals with the worldwide hatred that there will be toward believers before Jesus returns. Jesus gives the exact motive of the hatred of the world toward believers here, and make no mistake about why it will come upon believers: “And you will be hated by everyone because of my name.”  And this also touches upon another tendency in our day and age: the  idolatry of reputation among many professing believers. We tend far, far too much to think that there’s something wrong with us and what we may say if we displease the world without Christ. While this is sometimes the case with believers who are obnoxious or unnecessarily offensive with the way that they may express or live out their faith, I think that there are far fewer of these kinds of believers than there were in years past. I think that we have reacted far too much to the other extreme, to an oversensitivity to the slightest negative reaction to our faith from the world without Christ. Jesus has already made his expectation clear: “Whoever, then, acknowledges me before other people – I will acknowledge that person before my Father in heaven. And whoever denies me before other people – I will deny that person before my Father in heaven,” (Matthew 10:32-33).  So this makes me wonder – how will anyone stand before the world that hates those who trust in Christ if they put avoidance of any negative reaction by the world without Christ above the open confession of Christ in their daily lives.

The third thing which Jesus clarifies is the issue of perseverance in staying loyal to the Lord Jesus. He said, “But whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.” Again, make no mistake about what Jesus expected from those who were expecting the salvation that he came to bring. He expected perseverance to the end. This does not mean that he did not anticipate that there would be failures, cowardice and outright betrayals, such as Peter, but that there would be perseverance to the end despite these failings of human nature. And with this statement Jesus touches upon something else that has been an issue in this day: idolatry of going through the motions of a set prayer to receive salvation. I have written elsewhere that there is definitely the need to receive salvation by telling God about it in prayer. There can be no mistake about it from scripture, that the first person to tell about one’s repenting of one’s sins and putting one’s faith in Jesus Christ for salvation is God himself! And that will take the form of some kind of prayer, whether someone gives out the words to someone who is ignorant and stumbling or that person has come to know enough to let the words flow from his or her heart to God! But, the idea of ‘Once saved, always saved’ has become for too many the idea that you are eternally safe if you simply repeat the prayer, regardless of how you live your life afterwards or even whether you continue to have a testimony to continued faith in Jesus as your Lord and Savior. I believe that, on the one hand, many believers are not taking the time to deal with family members and friends who have simply repeated the prayer but living outside the transforming grace of God and faith in Christ as if that person was as assured of salvation as a believer who was abiding in Christ and bearing fruit for Christ all one’s life. And, on the other hand, the idea that it’s just repeating the prayer that receives salvation has become so repugnant to so many who have seen so many have false hopes for themselves and for others who may have repeated a prayer but afterwards show little to no understanding of the scriptural gospel and no desire to follow Christ and live in his transforming power.

But I think that this simple statement of Jesus turns the emphasis around for us, that the final profession of Christ, especially in the face of a hateful world that may reward that profession with capital punishment, matters as much as the first profession of faith in Christ. The same Jesus who said, “He who comes to me I will not by any means cast out” (John 6:37) also said, “ . . . whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.” He obviously meant them both and never intended either statement be pitted against each other. So here’s what I think it comes down to. Of course Jesus will receive every one who comes to him in repentance and faith. And he expects those who comes to him in repentance and faith to persevere to the end in that profession of repentance and faith. That one statement from Jesus about perseverance to the end matters more from than a stubborn grasping of ‘once saved, always saved’ applied to a repeated prayer rather than a lifelong perseverance in the grace of God and faith in Jesus Christ. Just as much, we need to understand that perseverance to the end also means that Jesus expects falls along the way; after all, one of those he was speaking to was Peter. But I think that as we draw closer to the end that may be more of those who made shallow professions and cherished false hopes fall away from Jesus before a hateful world and those who have found the Savior continue with him to the end.

Whatever view of the tribulation a believer has, still a settled commitment to Christ and a consistent witness for Christ are binding upon all believers in all ages. The need will always be for a resilient life in Christ before the watching and often hostile world around us. If we are now in a time of relative ease, the time is now to continue with Christ, to be able to withstand the pressure of growing unpopularity and hatefulness from the world when it comes. And in whatever time or place we live in, there will be people and cultures which will be hostile and even murderous toward Christians. So the key is not to build and hide in our Christian enclaves and ghettoes and hope that the storms at the end pass us by, but to seek steadfastness in Christ now. Seek to be a solid witness now and not to remain lukewarm and silent. If Jesus is worth dying for before this world, he is worth living for now before this world!

So then, the warning of the prophecy of the Word of God, from the mouth of Jesus Christ himself, declares that there will be dark and difficult times up until the time that he returns. He is coming back! And that calls us to have our hope and joy in him now, and to become prepared now.

The first issue of preparation for the return of Jesus Christ is to have the issue of one’s own salvation in Jesus Christ settled completely. Be sure in your own heart that you have truly repented and believed in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and that you have been born again of his Spirit. Seal your commitment to him in public baptism, and follow him in a life of faith, love and obedience.

Then, be prepared by keeping the truth of the Word of God alive in your own heart. That’s the surest defense against the false Messiahs that are here now and the ones who are to come. Depth and stability in the truth of Jesus Christ and an unswerving devotion to the Lord Jesus now means that you will not be taken for a fool by the c0unterfeits that are here now and later to come.

Finally, be prepared to stand for Christ as things get worse and worse for believers by standing as a witness for Christ now. Show no shame of him now and he will show no shame for you when he returns. Let it be known who you will serve, now and forever.

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Authority Over Spiritual Darkness in This World

Updated!

In World War II, in 1942, General Jonathan Wainwright became a prisoner of war when the fortress island of Corregidor fell to the Japanese. As he was held in a concentration camp, he became a broken, crushed, hopeless and starving man. But in August 1945, a Japanese colonel told him that the war was over, he was free and he was in command. So, as he returned to his living quarters, he met the same old guards who attempted to mistreat him again. But he met them with a completely unexpected reaction, as he declared with authority, “No, I am in command here! These are my orders!” And so he used his now legitimate authority as he was released from cruelty and bondage to command those who had previously tormented him.

This is part of the good news for believers in Jesus Christ: they are in the winning side, with the victory that has come for them through Jesus Christ. And so Jesus himself has delegated authority to us by which our own former deceivers and tormentors must yield.

In the depiction of spiritual warfare in the gospels, Jesus exercised his own rightful sovereign authority as the Son of God over every kind of demonic manifestation. But when he ascended into heaven after his resurrection, he left us his authority as well, an authority which continues today the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ and his people continues in warfare against the kingdom of this world under Satan and his minions. It’s not always as blatant as it is in the gospels, with demonic possession and demons speaking openly through the mouths of the possessed, but the same terrible issues remain in this conflict. The lives and eternal destinies of real men and women remain in the balance, whether to remain in sin and death by the deceit and oppression of the determined and cunning enemy of our souls, or to come to life and liberation by the power of God in Jesus Christ.

What Jesus has to say is the reason for believers in Jesus to be confident in this warfare. We are in possession of an authority which has been delegated us from the Son of God himself, Jesus Christ, the Lord of all. But even more, the exercise of this authority is also assurance of an even greater fact, that we have received and possess the greater gift of salvation from sin and death to eternal life through the Son of God. And yet as we approach spiritual warfare, it calls us to a wise and serious consideration of what the scripture has to say, not only because of the subtlety, power and deception of the enemy, but also for the quiet confidence that comes to us in the power of Jesus to conquer through us. So even in this world, the way is open for the believer in Jesus Christ to share and enforce the victory which Jesus gives through his death for sin and his resurrection and through his endless and unchallengeable sovereignty. So in Jesus, by the authority of his name, by the possession of eternal life through faith in him, there is the victory for us to be received, possessed, shared and won.

So here is what Jesus had to say to us about the authority which he has given to us: “And the seventy two came back with joy as they said, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’ And Jesus said to them, ‘I was watching Satan as he had fallen from heaven like lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy, and by no means will anything hurt you. Only don’t rejoice because the demons are subject to you, but rejoice because your names have been written down in heaven.’” (Luke 10:17-20)

Jesus has given his people the authority to defeat the enemy. The use of the authority of the Son of God in the name of Jesus is delegated to the believer to conquer the wicked deeds of the enemy. So the genuine, born again believer is assured the victory in Christ on that basis. The same authority which was delegated in the past is still effective today.

So this is where this authority was first demonstrated beyond just Jesus and the apostles: “And the seventy two came back with joy as they said, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’ And Jesus said to them, ‘I was watching Satan as he had fallen from heaven like lightning.’” The seventy two were a group of disciples of Jesus from his earthly ministry that did not include the apostles. The number that he had chosen is significant, since it was the same number as the elders of Israel under Moses. And Jesus had earlier given this group  a short term missions project, and for that project he gave them practically the same authority and directions that he had given to the apostles when he gave them the same kind of mission to the villages of Galilee. So they returned beaming over their success, and their experience of success stood out to them especially in their authority over demons n the name of Jesus only. So they had experienced an unprecedented authority in their lives which had not been available to anyone beyond Jesus and then the apostles. Moreover, Jesus recognized their victory on the spiritual plane as it was happening. What he said about “ . . . watching Satan as he had fallen from heaven like lightning . . .” was probably describing the defeat of the enemy as they exercised the authority Jesus had given them on their mission.

So, the reality of this authority over the power of the enemy has been a part of the demonstration of the reality of the gospel throughout this world. Wherever those sent out by Jesus on his mission to communicate the gospel, they have also often had to exercise his authority. This has happened whenever and wherever believers in Christ have encountered such works of the enemy, and very often – in fact, almost invariably – wherever the gospel of Jesus Christ has been proclaimed in a place and among a people for the first time.

This authority is then delegated from Jesus to those whose faith is in him for their eternal salvation. It’s there for the continued exercise by believers in Christ when they still face conflicts in this world with the spiritual agents of darkness and evil. And understanding this authority in the light of the scriptures is crucial for it to be properly and wisely wielded under the guidance and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In verse 19, Jesus goes on to say, “See, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy, and by no means will anything hurt you.” There are no textual difficulties in this verse. There are no historical or exegetical difficulties in extending this to the entire church and especially to the eldership of the church, because otherwise all promises that Jesus made during his earthly ministry to his disciples would have expired at the end of his earthly ministry. The ‘you’ here needs to be understood in the light of the promises that Jesus gave to his disciples during his earthly ministry as applying to all his disciples in all places at all times until his return. It cannot be understood as applying to the world at large, or even to a merely nominal Christian, but to those who have truly repented of their sins, trusted in Jesus Christ for their eternal salvation, and who have been born again of the Spirit of God. In other words, those who truly have the right to use his name in prayer (John 14:13-14) are the same ones who have the right to use his name in authority over the forces of spiritual darkness in this world.

In support of this point, that believers in Christ only have the right to use the name of Jesus with authority over the demonic, we need only see what happened in scripture when a couple of people who did not have the right tried to use it. This is what happened during the time of the ministry of the apostle Paul, in the Greek city of Ephesus, on the west coast of what is now Turkey: (Acts 19:13-16): “Some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had wicked spirits as they said, ‘I exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.’ These were ‘The Seven Sons of the Jewish High Priest Sceva.’ But the wicked spirit replied, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but WHO ARE YOU?’ And the man who had the wicked spirit in him jumped on them, overpowered them and sent them running from the house stripped and beaten.’” We may contrast this with the time in Philippi when the apostle Paul clearly commanded the girl with the evil spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus to come out of her!” (Acts 16:18), and it came out of her at that moment.

Moreover, we need to see the great extent of this authority: it is over all the dominion of Satan and over all his malicious spiritual emissaries, in whatever works that they may do. The metaphor of serpents and scorpions are the fallen angels who already met with defeat and who will be continually defeated by the authority which Jesus has delegated until the time when they meet their final defeat in the hell which has been prepared for them.

And Jesus also has given us this great assurance with the delegation of his authority: this authority can be exercised without any fear of personal counterattacks by the enemy while the disciple wields this authority. There is no need to fear immediate demonic vengeance that may try to come against the believer, so that the faithful have no need to be fearful and intimidated when they see the power of the spiritual enemy when they may face them openly. This is no small assurance whatsoever: while the demons themselves may stir up human opposition to the gospel and the servants of God, yet the believers in Christ have no need to be intimidated if they face the naked power of a wicked fallen angel during the time of their ministry. The enemy may gibber and threaten, but the promise of Jesus himself is that none of the demons may use the power that they possess fallen angels against his servants.

But even more, we need to see that there is a special meaning to the fact that this was given to the apostles and then to a group which corresponded numerically and most likely symbolically to the elders of Israel in the Old Testament. I think that we can see a special level of delegation to those in the body of Christ who have truly the levels of spiritual character, experience and discernment to wield this authority. We need to recognize that this will not come to a person who has merely managed to get the votes to be elected an elder in a local church nor to a person of such spiritual pride to arrogate to himself or herself the position of an elder. Rather, I think we need to see that the character qualifications of I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 are also qualifications for those who are to wield this authority with the greatest spiritual confidence in Jesus and capability through Jesus as well as the greatest humility and servantlike heart as possible. And so as well, this also is a stark reminder that spiritual authority in the body has responsibilities and capabilities far beyond discussions about financial statements and church infrastructure. It’s not going to come to someone who has strong opinions and a vocal, argumentative and overconfident personality. Rather, that person would be probably among the most vulnerable when faced with the most severe cases of demonization (see I Timothy 3:6). The ministering elders of the church should rather be those of such deep humility, Christlikeness and faith that they can deal with the most severe cases of demonization with unity of spirit, deep prayerfulness and spiritual confidence.

Yet still we must also see this promise as applying to every believer in Christ, from the most recent convert, to the youngest child, and to the elderly and infirm. The ‘you’ of Jesus generally applies to believers as a whole throughout the scriptures where it is a promise that came first to the apostles and the first century disciples and then to the church for all ages. So this is also a promise that can also be used against the common, everyday onslaughts of the enemy that all believers in Christ usually face throughout their lives on a regular basis. Many times there are those times when someone of greater or even average spiritual experience are not physically available when the enemy unleashes a spiritual onslaught against a believer. Many times believers may find themselves in situations where they are unwittingly isolated or even alienated by a sudden onslaught of human opposition, but still the believer has this authority from Jesus available. In fact Tertullian, one of the leaders of the early church who lived a little over a hundred years after this promise was given, thought that it was so important in his day, where there was naked paganism and occultism, that any Christian who did not know how to exercise this authority in the name of Jesus should be put to death! Doubtless that was hyperbole, but it does show that there were those in other ages that thought much, much more of this authority than so many in our day.

One thing to note: in our day there have been reports in the popular culture about “alien abductions.” One thing which Timothy Dailey brings out in his book The Paranormal Conspiracy: The Truth about Ghosts, Aliens and Mysterious Beings is something that you do not see reported in the popular culture about these situations. When a believer in Jesus Christ exercises the authority in the name of Jesus against these experiences when they come upon him or her, they stop immediately! So the demonic connection to these experiences has been noted at different times, and that they stop immediately at the name of Jesus shows that the origin of those that cannot be attributed to the power of suggestion must be from the demonic realm.

So understanding this authority which has been delegated by the Lord Jesus is essential to gaining and sustaining victory over the works of the enemy around us. It is necessary to understand it and to use it when necessary. It is necessary to be able to use it in a wise and mature way, as it was advised in the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization some years ago: “Never go looking for demons, but if one appears under your feet, step on it!”

Since this authority is delegated and effective in Christ, it calls us to be submissive and obedient to Christ and to be full of the Holy Spirit and walking in the Spirit. This is the key to be someone who is properly serious and discerning yet cautious, to be assured and confident through faith in Christ and trusting in his Word. And it calls us to use the authority which he has given us when we face different aspects and degrees of the work of the enemy, from deception to temptation to influence to oppression to possession. And certainly the most serious cases are then to be referred to those who are the most spiritually mature, to be faced with fasting and prayer (Mark 9:29). In our own lives as we know the authority that Jesus has given to us, we need to face the enemy with determined resistance, as determined as an eight year old girl once showed when a short, stocky man attempted to grab her: “I bit him, then I stomped on his feet. I hit him twice with my knuckles. I gave him a bloody nose.”

So then , Jesus has given us this great authority to use in this world, but that is by no means the full impact of this passage. Being able to use the authority of Jesus over the enemy is a sign of the even greater blessing of salvation in one’s life. The use of the authority is not as important in any way as much as whether a person has the presence and assurance of salvation in this life. The infinitely greater benefit is simply salvation in Jesus.

Salvation is greater than the authority over the enemy, and therefore it is something that believers need to consider as a greater reason for joy and celebration. This is what Jesus himself did, to redirect to the joy of the seventy two to the greater reality in their lives: “Only don’t rejoice because the demons are subject to you, but rejoice because your names have been written down in heaven.”

Take another look at how Jesus describes salvation here, as their names have been written down in heaven. They have been recorded as God’s own through faith in Jesus. They were already in possession of salvation. They would learn even more of what it was they possessed: they had passed from darkness to light, from sin and death to eternal life and glory. This was what they were to take joy in. And we can take this also as part of a greater principle: that salvation from sin to eternal life in Jesus is a greater good and blessing than any outward manifestation in this world. There will be healings and miracles of provision also, but the new birth is always more important, and more to be a center of our joy than the outward blessings. Jesus told us this so that we would keep the authority he has given us in proper perspective, that it is a benefit of having received salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

So with what Jesus has said, we can avoid brazenness and undue fascination with the authority that he has given us. I’ve heard some of our Pentecostal brothers and sisters in Christ describe this as “ . . .  seeing a demon behind every rock.” In this world we neither need to go looking for trouble nor to try to  use it when the situation may be merely inconvenient or uncomfortable and not a definitely demonic work of evil in this world. There is a greater reason for joy, the joy of salvation, the joy of the knowledge and assurance of eternal life in Christ. There is the reason for gratitude and joy in the Lord, in being in fellowship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, in the security of his presence and love for all eternity.

So, for us now, so many years later, we can also recognize that the decisive victory for us has already come for us through Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection has already brought the conquest of sin, death and Satan, and first of all, we can have through Jesus pardon for our sins and acceptance with God, eternal life, namely, salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. And this also assures us now of victory in spiritual conflict with the forces of darkness.

Soberly take the authority which Jesus has given us for our present battles and struggles where we meet spiritual evil. Keep it in remembrance for all that we may yet have to face, and keep a clean heart before God and man for the purity and spiritual stamina necessary for the proper use of the authority. But again, remember that salvation in Jesus Christ is a far greater reason for joy than authority over the enemy.

Living Confidently in the Sick Society

The following photograph is one that I took at the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition at the Cincinnati Museum Center in February 2013 with their permission to display it on a blog for personal use. This is a series of small idols which were found in the outlying towns of Israel and Judah during the time of the Old Testament prophets, and it corroborates their declarations about what was happening in their times. In their day it was literally a ‘build your own god’ movement out of wood, stone and clay, and their choices were for a Yahweh with the characteristics of a pagan god and only the name of the one true God. Or the idols show that they would make their preferences for one or more of the pagan gods around them who wasn’t as picky on matters of personal morality and integrity as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

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The prevalence of idolatry in ancient Israel and Judah during the time of the Old Testament prophets is a factor which is often rightly mentioned in current preaching and teaching as the reason for the judgment of ancient Israel and Judah. This judgment of God culminated in the destruction by the Assyrians of the northern kingdom of Israel, centered in the city of Samaria, in 722 B.C.E., then in the destruction of Judah in two phases, in the judgment from the Assyrian emperor Sennacherib which destroyed the outlying cities and towns but which God stopped short of Jerusalem in 701 B.C.E., and then in the final destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians under their emperor Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.E. And certainly idolatry was at the heart of God’s indictment against Israel and Judah during these years.

There was, though, another count in the indictment which often goes overlooked: the decline in personal honesty and trustworthiness and the pervasive cheating and deceit in business matters and personal matters among his people. These were indications of how far they had departed from the one true God, and their society became more and more sick as a consequence.

The prophet Micah saw the decay of devotion to God around him and the decay of his society, and spoke strongly to the people in his day about the consequences that would come because of it. He lived about seven hundred years before Christ, and he spoke to the people of Jerusalem, in the southern kingdom of Judah, which had become a house divided and a society at war with itself. The root was that they had neglected and then abandoned God. The consequence was that sins against God had infiltrated into all aspects of their lives, and this was defiling and destroying civil institutions and families. And to those in the midst of this situation, Micah gave them guidance on the need for godly wisdom that their circumstances made more necessary than ever. Their times were difficult, and growing more difficult, but the times were certainly not hopeless. The greatest reason for hope always remained, in the almighty, all loving and all wise God of Israel, the God of the Bible. So in all that they were experiencing as their society started to crumble around them, what was called for was not despair and despondency but rather a continued faith and a confident expectation of the mighty intervention of God himself.

These words of Micah still speak to us today, because we see the same kinds of conflict happening, and the same kinds of sins still infiltrating our society and causing decay and rot throughout. While many cast off restraints in their self centered definition of freedom, there is still the same hope in the God of the Bible for each one who has been born again of the Spirit of God through faith in God, and that means that there is always good reason to remain steadfast in faith in God. Even though scripture does indicate that society will become sicker to the point of terminal illness as the end approaches, there is still every reason to remain confident in God. This is the direction for the attitude and actions of the people of God in all ages, from the encouragement of the prophet of God to remain faithful to god, and from the personal declaration of the prophet himself of his own abiding faith and expectation in the God of the Bible.

“How much heartbreak is mine!
I am like someone gathering fruit in summer, like someone picking the last few grapes of this year’s vintage,
There are no grapes to eat, no early figs for the longings of my soul.
The people who were serious about God have been obliterated from the land, and there is no one left with a modicum of honesty.
Everyone left waits in murderous ambush, each one waits for his brother with a net. The highest bureaucrat expects favors,
The judge wants bribes, and the political bosses dictate their own whims,
They all make their little plots and schemes together. The best one among them is like a briar, the most honest one like a prickly hedge.
The day your watchmen predicted, the time of God’s judgment, has come, now is the time that they all get lost in their own confusion.
Do not put your trust in a neighbor, do not even trust someone that you may know well.
Even with the wife who is in your close embrace watch your words.
Because a son shows contempt for his father, and a daughter places herself above her mother
And a daughter in law places herself above her mother in law, and so a man’s enemies are the people in his own dwelling.
And so I am looking for the LORD, I am waiting for God my Savior!
My God will hear me!”

(Micah 7:1-7, Dale’s translation).

The people of God must live wisely in the midst of the sick society. Dissatisfaction with the circumstances can mean an honest lament over where things have deteriorated, but still there is wisdom from God available, even when there is disappointment and disillusionment with other people as we live our lives in the middle of the sick society. The people of God can look out upon all the deterioration and depravity and yet find that there is a path of wisdom from God for them in the midst of all that. The circumstances are heartbreaking, though, to the person who knows God.

The deterioration of society to become the sick society is one where even the institutions intended to restrain evil and wrongdoing become accessories to the performance of evil. Rampant sin means the perversion of justice in those offices which were intended to preserve justice. While there has always been some injustice in human society, something can happen where someone realizes that he or she is living in the sick society, and this realization breaks the heart when it comes. All that is left is a lament for civil society as it is. 

The prophet begins with a lament, about how it seems like all the good stuff is all used up and all the good times are gone, and that he is left with nothing around him that gives him hope:

 “How much heartbreak is mine!
I am like someone gathering fruit in summer, like someone picking the last few grapes of this year’s vintage,
There are no grapes to eat, no early figs for the longings of my soul.”

The prophet is feeling like everything good has been sucked out of life. His ministry began in the time of Jotham, one of the godly kings of Judah who reigned in Jerusalem as his capital city, continued during the long reign of Ahaz, who was one of the most ungodly and incompetent kings from the line of David to reign in Jerusalem, and concluded during the time of Hezekiah, who was one of the most godly kings from the line of David. He seems to lived and prophesied roughly about the same time as Isaiah, but may not have lived until the time of the invasion of the Assyrian king Sennacherib that Isaiah 36-39 describes, and which happened in 701 BCE. This description of his disappointment may reflect the realization that the good times for the kingdom which happened in the early years of Hezekiah were going to come to an end, that the restoration and revival which had come with Hezekiah would give way to the judgment on the outlying cities and towns of the nation of Judah.

This description is of his emotional reaction to the sin of his people and the coming judgment of his people. He expresses this with the traditional poetic form known as lament. Earlier he had begun this book of prophecy with a lament and the lament in this current passage is reminiscent of lament of 1:8-16. Though his lament was a traditional poetic form, it is nevertheless heartfelt, and with it the prophet shows the scriptural response to heartbreaking circumstances that he was seeing. In his own society he was seeing a sick defiance of God which was daring God to take action and do something. In fact he shows us that for a godly person, witnessing a decline in personal morality throughout one’s own society is something well worth mourning over, and it is something that is worth giving one’s own heart into grieving over the evils that must provoke the holy God of the Bible as well.

We always want the joy and happiness in life, but if we look at the world and our times with the lens of scripture, we may find great reasons for sadness and sorrow. That’s why there is such a strong current of lament in the Old Testament Psalms and prophets, and why you also see lament in the New Testament also. It’s the appropriate emotional and spiritual reaction when a godly person looks out and sees a decline in godliness around himself or herself. And certainly there will be times when churches and societies increase and decrease, prosper and decline, as time goes on. So the reaction of disappointment and grief to the decline and impending judgment of God is as appropriate to godly people as satisfaction, peace and joy when the gospel spreads, people come to Christ and the church is built up. Somewhere some people get the idea that following Christ means nothing but joy, peace and happiness and that there’s something wrong with us if we experience disappointment and grief in this world. But that’s looking for the cause in the wrong place often enough – for a godly person looking out at this world the disappointment and grief may well be the sign of something really right with himself or herself – the growth in personal holiness and being able to look out at this world with a focus based on and guided by the absolute holiness and righteousness of God himself.

”The people who were serious about God have been obliterated from the land, and there is no one left with a modicum of honesty.
Everyone left waits in murderous ambush, each one waits for his brother with a net.”

Micah lamented the loss of the people who were serious about God from those who were supposed to be the people of God. His contemporary Isaiah lamented the same thing (Isaiah 57:1-2 59:1-12 for the lament). They may have been thinking about the loss of faithful, believing Israelites such as Barzillai the Gileadite (II Samuel 17:27-29, 19:31-39). What they were seeing were that the generation which had remained faithful from the days of Jotham through the reign of Ahaz to the reign of Hezekiah were dying off, and the generation which had grown up during the reign of Ahaz were gaining ascendancy. They were seeing the generation which had known previous security was giving way to a much more self concerned, self seeking and rapacious generation – those who were the children by relation shared little of the faith of their fathers. While there will always be such individuals in families who do not follow the faith of their parents, the prophets of God realized that some kind of line had been crossed in Israel and Judah during their lifetimes. And soon the judgment of God fell upon Israel and Judah: first upon Israel in the days of Hezekiah, in 722 BCE, and then upon Judah through the Assyrians later in the reign of Hezekiah, in 701 BCE.

The tripwire for the coming judgment was given as the withering of personal morality and trustworthiness in comparison to the standards of God which were held up in the Word of God. The judgment would come not just for the rampant idolatry and the attendant sexual immorality which had grown in the past generation (the connection in the ancient world between idolatry and sexual immorality was well known throughout the Old and New Testaments). The judgment would come for the cheating lifestyle: the person who is trying to cheat God out of his due glory under the Word of God that “You shall have no other gods before me,” his family out of their due honor and loyalty under “You shall not commit adultery”, and fellow human beings out of due honesty and fairness under, “You shall not murder . . .  you shall not steal . . . you shall not bear false witness . . . you shall not covet.” It would not be too much to say that one of the greatest generations had become the cheating generation.

This is a common and pernicious delusion that can take hold of a person, a family, a generation, a nation: that God doesn’t care about my personal integrity. From this delusion even the people who may claim to know the holy and righteous God of the Bible may descend to taking unfair and immoral advantage of others and using others for one’s own benefit at their expense. Yet this does come from idea that a person can build your own God. The people of Israel and Judah had come to the point where they thought that they could building a God for their own tastes from bits of the God of the Bible and the pagan gods from the people around them. So they came up with a God who looks the other way and doesn’t care about sin – not a holy God who cares about the holiness of his people. And unfortunately, this has been the same delusion that has infected believers throughout the ages, from professed believers in the USA around the late 1800s and early 1900s, to the late 1960s to the late 1970s, and now since the past decade as well.

The prophet then went on to expose how the decline in personal morality among those who were to be the people of God in Israel and Judah was corrupting the institutions of civil justice. The corrupt ruling class would lead the way for the nations which were heading insanely into the judgment of God.

“The highest bureaucrat expects favors,
The judge wants bribes, and the political bosses dictate their own whims,
They all make their little plots and schemes together. The best one among them is like a briar, the most honest one like a prickly hedge.
The day your watchmen predicted, the time of God’s judgment, has come, now is the time that they all get lost in their own confusion.”

Micah was describing what was happening with corrupt ruling class over the people of God and how they were daring the judgment of God. Isaiah also decried this, and and spoke about the coming time of judgment from God (1:23, 10:1-4). Micah’s words echo of his more graphic indictment of the predatory leaders earlier in his prophecies, in 3:1-12.

“And he says,
“’Hear now, you leaders of Jacob, and you judges of the house of Israel,
isn’t it proper for you to know justice,
you who hate what is good and love what is evil?’
. . .
‘Hear this, heads of the house of Jacob and judges of the house of Israel,
who detest justice and pervert all that is right,
who build Zion with bloodshed and Jerusalem with injustice?
Her leaders render judgments for a bribe, and her priests pontificate for profit,
her prophets read tea leaves for money.
Yet they still rely on the LORD as they say,
‘Isn’t the LORD in our midst? Nothing bad will come upon us.’””

(Micah 3: 1-2, 9-11, Dale’s translation)

The ruling class of ancient Israel and Judah, the corrupt officials whom Micah and Isaiah addressed, did not have just a secular responsibility to the nation. While in the Old Testament there is some sense of the consent of the governed, but also the ultimate responsibility of the government and the ruling class in particular was their responsibility to God and the Word of God. In the most real sense the only true theocracy the world has ever seen as was ancient Israel, especially under the godly kings, and the times of godliness were the times that the nation looked back to as the golden ages, especially the times of David and Solomon. What happened was their sense of responsibility to God and their people gave way to a cynical ‘What’s In It For Me?’ mentality, where doing anything at all in connection with their responsibilities for honesty, fairness, justice and mercy under the Law of God gave way to not doing anything except what was in their own personal advantage. But the judgment of God would come upon them, and the mark of the judgment would be their own cluelessness and their own confusion as things started to turn against them.

This abuse of human institutions meant to protect the weaker from the stronger came through the disappearance of godly and honest people from the ruling class as it became more and more corrupt. Those who were in the place of judgment and enforcement of justice themselves were falling into the deceit and greed of the society as a whole, of the society which had neglected, disregarded and disdained the God of the Bible. The corrupt ruling class were using their positions for the pursuit of personal gain and cashing in, and as such were a bitter disappointment to those who were still around who still trusted and followed the God of the Bible.

The injustice in the sick society is very much the responsibility of those in authority, of the corrupt ruling class: the responsibilities of the office are discharged no better than the personal morality of the officeholder. Too often men and women even within the people who claim to know and follow the God of the Bible have shown far too little concern over the moral convictions and personal morality of public officials, whether those officials were elected or appointed. Yet the personal moral compass of those officials has a great bearing on whether the execution of the office becomes the enforcement of genuine Biblical justice and mercy in line with the God of the Bible or the enforcement of the whims, pipe dreams, folly and immorality of others. Yet compare the reason why Governeur Morris encouraged George Washington to become accept the presidency of the United States during its infancy: “The exercise of authority depends upon personal character. Your cool, steady temper is indispensably necessary to give firm and manly tone to the new government.”

This shows very much the corrupting power of sin. Sin can turn the people in the institutions, both religious and secular, intended by God to restrain sin, into the weapons of its own warfare. And this infection of sin in the cheating generation can weaponize the civil and even the religious leaders and institutions to speak and act contrary to the righteousness and holiness of the God they claim to serve. So then, even within the professing church of Jesus Christ, within the vocational ministry and denominational hierarchy, the infiltration of this subtle idolatry, to make the generation following a faithful generation the cheating generation, can defile the ministry of church leaders. This same kind of ‘What’s In It For Me?’ mentality can infect the church as an institution as well within the vocational ministry and a denominational hierarchy. And the cheating infects the professing church as well when its leaders start to follow the idolatries and follies of the cheating generation. And the decline begins as the presence of the holy and righteous God begins to withdraw from ministries, churches and denominations which once reflected his character and experienced his power to save to the uttermost.

This shows, then, another pernicious delusion that often takes hold of those who seek and attain political power: that God doesn’t care about how I deal with others in the conduct of my civic responsibilities. It is the delusion that my personal morality and integrity in the execution of my office do not matter before God. The ruling elite becomes influenced by the behavior of others in the ruling elite – they can see others of the cheating generation doing what God has condemned, and they then eagerly follow them to make sure that they get their own pieces of the pie. And indeed so many times this abuse of political power for personal gain becomes rampant simply because  those in power and part of the ruling elite see others ‘getting away with it’ and they simply want to do what they can to get their part of the undisclosed benefits. Giving and receiving bribes and working to keep on funneling benefits to myself and my family at the expense of others becomes a normal way of life among the ruling elites.

So this build your own God mentality  can come up with a God who looks the other way and who does not care about the integrity and justice of those who pursue and receive political power. It can change within one generation, when a faithful generation gives way to the cheating generation. But this politics for personal profit will ultimately be exposed, according to the words of Jesus himself in Luke 12:2: “For there is nothing which has been concealed which will not be brought out into the open, and hidden which shall not become known.”

But this is not the whole story yet — the prophet of God then went to describe how deeply the decline in personal morality was infecting the family of the cheating generation. What was happening was horrible betrayals, with family members ratting out each other, so that no one could ever be certain of the loyalty even of a spouse. In the sick society, even family and friends are of little or no support. When the loss of truthfulness and integrity penetrates a nation and a generation, it means the loss of trustworthiness, and so within the family itself there is rampant betrayal and conflict.

“Do not put your trust in a neighbor, do not even trust someone that you may know well.
Even with the wife who is in your close embrace watch your words.
Because a son shows contempt for his father, and a daughter places herself above her mother
And a daughter in law places herself above her mother in law, and so a man’s enemies are the people in his own dwelling.”

The infiltration of the trend of society into the family circle makes the family a prime area of conflict in the cheating generation. Where there should rather have been mutual love and respect, disrespect and conflict are rampant among the cheating generation. What the prophet is describing is role reversal –  where personal arrogance results in contempt and disdain for family members and ultimately the betrayal of family members. And as far as what would be expected to be normal and praiseworthy behavior – go to the book of Ruth and contrast the humility and respect of Ruth for  her mother in law Naomi with the behavior that the prophet describes here.

Yet there would be betrayal rather than support for family members among the depredations of the cheating generation against their neighbors, even to their closest earthly neighbors. Even more, the repeating pattern of deceit and aggression among the cheating generation means that family life itself becomes a bitter disappointment. The moral that the prophet drew was that even among one’s own family members the person who seeks to follow the God of the Bible must watch his or her words and be careful of what he or she says. Thus the godly person must watch his or her back even while he or she is standing for God in the middle of the cheating generation. It is a situation where love and fidelity are sacrificed, and anything you say can and will be used against you.

So this highlights another pernicious delusion that can come from the build your own God mentality: that God doesn’t care about my loyalty to my family members and how I treat them. I can still pursue my dreams and fantasies of plenty and power and personal glory despite what it means to my family members, my closest neighbors in this world. In fact, this drive to plenty and power and personal glory often builds greater disruption and conflict within families as ambitious and ruthless family members build unholy and unrighteous internal alliances for and against other family members with those who are outside the family circle. Instead of mutual love and respect within the family, having to deal with the repeated pattern of deceit and aggression means that family life itself, intended from the beginning by God to be a blessing, a source of enjoyment and happiness, becomes instead bitter disappointment and disillusionment.

And where there is lukewarm devotion to God at best among so many with only a vague kind of religiosity – the result seen in the past hundred years in the United States and the result of liberal theology that compromises and explains away Biblical truth and dead orthodoxy which fails to live out Biblical truth – it is no wonder that the restraining influence of the church of Jesus Christ wanes. Then the infiltration of tolerated and indulged sins into the family, the increase of material good without devotion to God, gives way to an onslaught of social evils. The children may only have the bad example of the mistakes, follies and sins of lukewarm parents, and they may fall into drugs, out of wedlock pregnancy, idleness and unemployment and despair and suicide. But the responsibility of each one before God remains, and he is there and he is not silent.

So the people of God who are standing for God in this situation find may this to be the way of wisdom with untrustworthy family members. They need to be extremely careful with what they say. The situation calls for guarded and carefully weighed words – to tell the truth but not necessarily full disclosure – as the shrewdness necessary for someone who has to watch his or her back in one’s own household. And even more, this is also noteworthy as one of the problems of a church that has probably grown too large, or a church which is declining, is that professed believers become untrustworthy as well among themselves. They fall into the habits and practice a lot of petty backstabbing and backbiting, sometimes with vicious little bits of second hand gossip that are decades old. But this becomes necessary in the wake of the build your own God mentality – it calls for extreme caution in dealing with those who can come up with a God who does not care if they bear false witness against and betray the members of one’s own family.

This, then, is also something especially that believers in Jesus Christ need to note. Jesus himself, during his earthly ministry as Prophet and Teacher, referred to these same verses and said that they would continue to be characteristic of times of persecution for his church afterwards:

“Do not think that I came to push peace upon the earth; I came not to push peace but a sword, because I came to divide a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother and the bride against her mother in law, and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household. The person who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and the person who love son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me,  and whoever does not pick up his or her cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. The person who finds his life will end up losing it, and the person who loses his life for me will find it” (Matthew 10:34-39).

During the times of the sick society and the cheating generation, there is still one thing left for the person who knows, trust and follows the God of the Bible. Despite the moral insanity of the sick society and the cheating generation, God himself remains an unchangeable and unshakeable source of security. No matter what, continuing in trust and confidence in God will always be appropriate. Only through God can discouragement, despondency and hopelessness be turned to hope, trust and confidence.

The faith that is secure in God looks forward to his intervention in the sick society. The people who follow the God of the Bible can then live with confidence in his wisdom, power, compassion and justice, and they can live with the realization that however bad the situation is and however bad it may become, God is greater than that situation, and he is never at a loss.

The prophet himself held up a lantern of the kind of faith in God that the situation was calling for:

”And so I am looking for the LORD, I am waiting for God my Savior! **
My God will hear me!”

The prophet showed the people of God to look to their God beyond all the circumstances and to wait for his solution, for his salvation in the midst of the sick society. He showed them to look to God, that whatever the wrong being done in the present, that God will judge and overrule that evil. Moreover, that time of waiting will also be the time of God’s patience in offering his mercy and the opportunity for repentance before he imposes his justice upon the unrepentant. The man or woman of God in these circumstances will then imitate the patience of God as he or she waits upon God, with the expectation that God’s wisdom will mean perfect timing for the time that he intervenes in the world that he created, which he rules and for which he takes the ultimate responsibility that justice will be served.

Note that the prophet had no schemes or resources for any changes in himself that he could do for the reformation of the sick society. The situation was so beyond the prophet and the people who followed the God of the Bible that all that they could look for was his solution to the sick society. So the prophet went on with the assurance that his prayers would make a difference since he was going to the God who would make the difference. He could say with confidence, “My God will hear me!”

As the sick society starts to unravel and disintegrate at the fringes and within, the way of the people of God has always been to trust in God and to seek him earnestly and diligently in prayer. No matter how difficult the times become, there is always an immovable basis of security in our God. He is the true and living God, the Almighty and the Eternal, who never changes. So then, he is our source of our confidence and security when we have been placed in the midst of the sick society. And the way of the godly then is to take refuge in prayer, to give full confidence to God in all the troubles of the current times. They turn to the one true God, the God of Israel, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, since he will not betray or disappoint.

And this turning to the God of the Bible will mean turning away from the gods that we try to imagine out for ourselves. The statement of confident faith of the prophet exposes the problem with the ‘Build Your Own God’ mentality: the gods we build out of our own preferences and imagination can’t hear us. They aren’t real and cannot answer us. They bring out God’s continuous taunt to those who try to build their own gods: go ahead and cry out to them and see if they can save you. And those who try to build their own gods find out quite quickly that made up gods cannot save them in the time of trouble.

But the person who turns to the God of the Bible will quickly find that he is not like our imaginary gods at all. That person will find that the God of the Bible is quite willing to be called, “My God” by the people who give themselves entirely to him and seek to live in harmony with him throughout their lives. They will know that know that his presence gives the incentive to pray and the assurance of answered prayer, as they live with him and they grow closer to him in intimacy, love and trust. They will know that the God of the Bible is a God who genuinely hears the prayers of his people, and who trust that, “My God will hear me!” when they pray to him. They will know that there is no deficiency in his ability to intervene in our world and in our lives and in his willingness to hear and answer prayer. All that he was waiting for was the simplicity of faith that trusts him wholeheartedly, to receive his answers for our lives and our world. And this will then mean actual prayer to God who hears, in response to his many invitations to pray. It will mean that our prayers are not vague expressions of hope but the actual expression of our genuine faith and reliance on what God can do and is willing to do and will do. As A. C. Dixon once said, “When we rely upon organization, we get what organization can do; when we rely upon education, we get what education can do; when we rely upon eloquence, we get what eloquence can do; and so on. But when we rely upon prayer, we get what God can do.”

So the times of disintegration in the sick society are the times which simply call for continued confidence in God. Because of the eternal, almighty and faithful God, there is never a reason to give up any hope when we look out at the situation we see in our world. When we experience bitterness and disappointment because of what we see around us, it rather calls us to seek his intervention in our lives and in our world. The need is to continue to  be in prayer to the God who truly hears and answers prayer. No matter how difficult the times become, there is always an immovable source of security in our God. He is the true and living God, the Almighty, the Eternal, who never changes. Therefore he is the source of our confidence and security, and he becomes the one to whom we turn as well to change the sick society around us.

Then let us continue to pray to our God for a revival in our churches, that our generation and the generations to come may come to a full experience of God the Savior through his Son Jesus Christ. Let us ask for the transformation of our sick society through the mighty working of the Holy Spirit, first among the believers in our churches, and then among those who have not received his salvation in our society. Let us have that reliance upon God for his work of conviction, of cleansing and of reconciliation between God and man. Let us seek for the revival of the love of Christ among us to where we see the reconciliation and restoration of families. There are known cases of people who prayed for thirty and forty years for revival, and God did answer them and brought transformation. I would hope that we would not have to wait that long, but still we can persevere with the assurance that our God will hear us.

The God of the Bible remains the same despite whatever happens in the society around us. Thus his people can remain confident in him no matter what occurs, because he is faithful and mightier than every situation. And this calls us in our day, in our sick society, to continue to in faith and prayer in our day, to wait upon God because God will hear us.

So remain in prayer, and in the way of faith in God in the midst of the sick society. Continue to look for change to happen, from the God who know and changes the human heart, hardened and sick as it may be and as it may become in the sick society. Look for his revival and spiritual awakening to come upon our sick society.

And finally, each one of you, make certain that you have taken the most urgent and necessary step to place your deepest confidence and ultimate security in God alone. I mean make certain of your own eternal salvation before God  through Jesus Christ. Enter the reconciled fellowship with him through repenting of your sins and placing your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior now and for all eternity. Make certain that you can stand before God not because of anything that you have done but solely and entirely upon the death of Christ upon the cross for you, for your own eternal salvation. The security in God for all eternity is for those who have been reconciled to him through Jesus Christ. If you don’t know how to do this, simply take every word I have written in this paragraph and address it back to God in prayer, that that is what you want from him – eternal pardon and acceptance with him through faith in Jesus Christ alone – and state to him that you are now, at this very moment, repenting of all your sins and placing your trust in Jesus Christ alone for your eternal salvation.

The Common Delusions of John Bunyan, David Brainerd and John Wesley

It’s possible that you came to read this out of curiosity about what delusions that I would be writing about here that was common to John Bunyan, David Brainerd and John Wesley. It’s not about their faith in Jesus Christ alone as a Savior that they came to in their lives, or their conviction that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, or in the eternal destinies of heaven and hell. Those were all convictions that they came to as a part of their conversions to Christ, and I would not only not consider those delusions but I would concur with these declarations of their faith as I would concur with everything that is a part of our common faith in Christ as based in the Bible.

Rather, the delusions that I speak of are the common delusions that the unconverted John Bunyan, David Brainerd and John Wesley had, and about which they wrote about in their own journals and testimonies. And I think that understanding these delusions that they openly admitted were a part of their lives before they came to Christ will give us a greater insight in how to preach the gospel from the pulpit and how to deal with people when we’re sharing the gospel one on one. The common delusion that they all had was this: that they could do something in their unregenerate state to recommend themselves to God apart from trust in Jesus Christ alone. They became hard religious workers, but had no assurance of salvation in Christ and were not even sure that they had saving faith. In fact, you can find within their testimonies evidence that their hard religious work before their conversion was an attempt to try to find salvation apart from putting their trust in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation – and that they were deeply convicted by the example of ordinary believers who had the assurance of salvation, knew that they had been born again of the Spirit of God and who were living out their faith in Christ.

All three testify to the following process to their coming to a scriptural faith in Christ, a scriptural conversion and a full assurance of regeneration and salvation:

  • Insensitivity to their true state of being unregenerate (see Isaiah 6:10 and Romans 3:10-18).
  • Awakening to the reality of Christ (John 15:26-27, Acts 1:8, 5:32).
  • Conviction of sin and of their utter inadequacy of earning salvation (John 16:8-11).
  • Full trust in Christ alone for salvation (Acts 16:31).

I think that our current lack of understanding of these stages may mean that we are persuading people that they are saved before they have really been awakened to Christ and convicted of sin. None of these stages have to happen over a protracted period of time – a person can pass from death to life through faith in Christ in a very short time from a state of insensitivity, such as Lydia through the personal evangelism of Paul and Silas (Acts 16:13-5) or the 300o who were converted on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:36-41). But I do think that this helps to explain why people may pray a prayer with perfectly orthodox words about repentance and faith and remain substantially unchanged afterwards. They never came to a full sense of their need for Christ alone because we never explained the gospel clearly and fully and we never realized the need for so many to go through these stages to receive salvation through faith in Christ alone. We rushed them to pray a prayer instead of explaining their full need for Christ and how in the gospel Christ satisfies their need fully and eternally.

Up From the Old Life to New Lives in Christ

Albert Benjamin Simpson, the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, had been raised as a staunch Calvinist Presbyterian, and ministered as a staunch Calvinist Presbyterian pastor. In his poetry, hymns and testimony, though, there’s a longing that’s visible for something more than stumbling and confessing, something more than just ‘continuous repentance.’ Rather, it was a longing after a victory over sin in this life – not sinless perfection – but rather the victory that he saw written and explained in the New Testament. Here’s what he had to say:

“I’m weary of sinning and stumbling,
Repenting and falling again;
I’m tired of resolving and striving,
And finding the struggle so vain.
I long for an arm to uphold me,
A will that is stronger than mine,
A Savior to cleanse me and fill me,
And keep me by power divine.”
(I Want to be Holy, A.B. Simpson)

Is this the desire of your heart? Have you been coming to church for years, and finding that in your heart that before even the opening prayer has begun that you are under conviction for the way that you’ve been living throughout the week and especially on Friday and Saturday evening? Do you sense that y0u’re continually having to try to dig yourself out of a spiritual hole, to try to keep on trying and confessing, to get back some of the joy of salvation that you once experienced?

The answer to this longing is to go back to the scriptures and to grow deeper into the understanding of the gospel, to understand the depth of the provision of the salvation of God for your life through Jesus Christ. So often I think that some of the people who leave off attendance at the public services of our churches do so because they do not find an answer to the conviction that they feel when they come in being beaten down by their own besetting sins. Sometimes they settle for less than the promised victory over sin promised in the salvation of God, and they become accustomed to what we can call ‘cheap grace.’ They come to accept the idea that a person can grow deeper and continue onward in the ways of sin and self-indulgence because of the depth of the free mercy and grace of God.

The scriptures themselves provide the the strongest correction to the dangerous misconception of cheap grace, that the preaching and teaching of freedom from the eternal consequences of sin means a divine permission slip for self-indulgence in more and more sin. This is what we could call ‘antinomian orthodoxy’ – the idea that if you just have faith in Christ you are not responsible to grow in Christlike holiness and love. While there is often today a rightful reproof of legalism, the idea that salvation comes from adding on additional rules and regulations to faith in Christ, there is a tendency also today towards antinomian orthodoxy. This is where some may take the truth of the gospel of grace to a seemingly logical conclusion but in the totally wrong direction. This is the dangerous misconception that the gospel is permission to sin and can even be taken as an encouragement just to sin more and more. Make no mistake, the result of antinomian orthodoxy is that it discredits the gospel as truth from the holy God and leaves professed believers wallowing in rampant hypocrisy.

The key passage for the understanding of victory over sin in this life is Romans 6:1-13 .This passage gives the proper understanding of our position in Christ, our new standing and our new identity in Christ and our special privileges, as those who have been brought from death to life in Christ. This passage is key to understanding the scriptural teaching on sanctification which is so necessary to live for Christ in this world . It is key to growing deeper in what Christ has for us, and to grow beyond spiritual babyhood to maturity in the scriptural truth of who we are in Christ.

“So what then are we saying? Should we remain in sin, so that grace may overflow? Never, never, never! We who have died to sin – how can we live any longer it it? Or don’t you know that as many of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried with him through baptism into his death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also might continue to live in newness of life. For if we were united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be united with him in the likeness of his resurrection, since we know this, that our old Man was crucified with him, so that the body of sin would be destroyed, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin, because the person who has died has been freed from sin. And if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him, since we know that Christ, once he had been raised from the dead, no longer dies – death no longer is his master. For that death that he died, he died to sin one and for all; that life that he lives, he lives for God. In the same way consider yourselves to be dead to sin but living for God in Christ Jesus.”

“Then don’t let sin have dominion in your mortal body so that you obey its desires, and don’t keep on presenting your bodily members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin. But rather present yourselves to God as if you were alive from the dead and your bodily members as instruments of righteousness to God.”

THE TRUTH OF OUR DEATH WITH CHRIST MEANS FREEDOM FROM THE POWER OF SIN. This  is truth that some believers may have heard at some time and may no longer be part of their awareness, but it is truth for the heart which needs to be regularly remembered, considered, and reviewed before God. It is part of the Emancipation Proclamation for all believers from God through Christ of freedom from the slavery to the power of sin and part our legal standing and privileges in Christ. So then, it is truth which we need to understand well and remember often.

The full message of the gospel means that the free grace of forgiven sins includes freedom from the power of sin through Christ. His death to provide a full pardon from the penalty of our past, present and future sins also means freedom from the power of sin both now and forever. This freedom is made possible by something done outside of us, our past death with Christ, and it already has been completed for us, whether it is part of our personal experience or not.

So, in verses 1-5  — “So what then are we saying? Should we remain in sin, so that grace may overflow? Never, never, never! We who have died to sin – how can we live any longer it it? Or don’t you know that as many of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried with him through baptism into his death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also might continue to live in newness of life. For if we were united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be united with him in the likeness of his resurrection . . .” Paul confronts antinomian orthodoxy as he anticipates a possible objection to what he has just had written about justification by grace through faith. He understands that someone might consider what he had just written about justification by grace through faith as a license for sin, as the permission slip to do what had been considered impermissible. He meets this possible objection with an extremely indignant rejection of that as an impossibility. It’s hard to represent in English without resorting to profanity (so I won’t). He strongly rejects antinomian orthodoxy, the gospel as a permission slip for sin, as something unnatural for those who have already died to sin in Christ. Incidentally, here he also gives a fuller answer to reported slander of 3:8;

So as Paul starts to explain what it means for believers in Christ to have died to sin in Christ, he assumes that they as believers have been baptized. And likewise he assumes that this significance of baptism has been explained to them as a part of their having been baptized. So he then reminds them of the meaning of water baptism ,as identification with Christ in his death and resurrection, as an enactment after the fact of the believer’s incorporation into Christ, and the legal position of the believer as being acted out before God as they had already submitted to water baptism in obedience to Christ from about the time of their conversion. His explanation is a reminder of the original practice of believer’s baptism by immersion by the early church from the earliest time of the apostles – something which even acknowledged by Roman Catholic commentators on this very passage and on the history of baptism in the church. His explanation here has nothing to do with any kind of assertion of baptismal regeneration but is rather an explanation of the significance of believer’s baptism for believers after they have already been baptized. So what a believer is in Christ through death and resurrection with Christ, what a believer is assumed to have publicly professed through baptism Paul shows to be contrary and unnatural to a life lived in full surrender to sin.

So here we see the apostolic explanation and scriptural meaning of baptism as something that has been based in the full scriptural meaning of salvation through Jesus Christ. The scriptures do not teach and the apostles did not teach not that baptism leads to salvation, but that salvation by grace through faith, in the full apostolic and scriptural teaching of salvation, leads to baptism. So if we understand baptism in this way from the apostolic teaching and the scriptures, we realize that it is just and outward ceremony without power or meaning for anyone who does not already have faith in Christ and has not already been genuinely born again by the Spirit of God. Rather it is adequate to explain it as a ‘regular procedure of Christian discipleship’ and as a signpost act, of the end of an old life and beginning of a new life in Christ. There is no need for it to be area of controversy but let us leave it in its scriptural significance as part of a new life in Christ and an act of obedience to a new life of fellowship with Christ. And this is what we will see. I know of a church several years ago that made a real attempt to start to evangelize intentionally again, after years of benign neglect. They were then surprised first by seeing a number of people come to Christ – they had forgotten that the gospel works, that it is the power of salvation to those who trust in Christ. But even more, they were surprised when they saw a number of people explicitly asking for water baptism, and that they needed to have a number of baptisms of adults in their worship services.

The general practice of baptism in the Christian and Missionary Alliance simply follows the practice of A.B. Simpson, back in the Gospel Tabernacle in New York City, the grandmommy of all CMA churches. He himself was from a Presbyterian background and had been baptized as an infant, but he came to be baptized as an adult by immersion after he had spent some time studying the scriptures and after he had left his New York Presbyterian pastorate. In the old Gospel Tabernacle, only believers were baptized by immersion. But there was no one who was excluded from membership who was satisfied by infant baptism. But during the ministry A.B. Simpson, he presented the identification of the believer with the Lord Jesus in his crucifixion and resurrection was so clear that many were baptized during the conferences he led once they had accepted his explanation who had no intention of leaving their churches where infant baptism was taught.

So then, baptism shows the change in life that comes for the believer shows the first reason to live a life of newness in Christ. But then, as we understand that the scriptural significance of having died with Christ means freedom from the heritage of enslavement to sin that has been part of the heritage of the entire human race. This long sentence introduces a concept that is difficult to understand at first, since it is something that it is outside our normal ways of thinking and acting, but it is definitely part of the truth of scripture for believers in all ages. The apostle explains further that the freedom from the power of sin for the believers comes from liberation from the inheritance from Adam through the believer having died with Christ.

So, in verses 6-7, the apostle Paul goes on to write, “ . . .since we know this, that our old Man was crucified with him, so that the body of sin would be destroyed, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin, because the person who has died has been freed from sin.”  So consider this, which seems to have been common knowledge among believers in the time of Paul: the incorporation into Christ, into his death and resurrection, cancels the legal authority of the power of sin over the believer. This means no legal authority in the universe can compel the believer to sin. This means that freedom from the consequences of sin in Christ also means freedom from the power and the legal compulsion to sin.

And this was accomplished by the crucifixion of the old Man with Christ – and that requires some further explanation. So we are to understand this term, the old Man, not as being our immediate earthly father, but rather our distant earthly father, our father Adam. So here Paul takes up something from previous context of chapter 5:12-21 when he speaks of the old Man, as the old Mankind as summed up in Adam. So we can understand this term the old Man, as modern commentators on the book of Romans do, as a collective technical term for the old Mankind as summed up in Adam. So Paul is here explaining that the old Mankind has been crucified with Christ, so that the body of sin rendered a useless, incapacitated corpse with no authority to make us sin anymore. He has then presented as a gospel statement not of experience or feeling but of fact, as having already been accomplished once for all in the death of Christ, as part of the truth that the past death and resurrection of Christ included us with Christ, and that is to be the truth that is to rule over our present and future. He describes our position in Christ, and our death with Christ, as an already completed and decisive event, as surely as forgiveness has completely been provided, past present and future through the death of Christ for us. So the apostle explains for us critical benefits of the atonement and resurrection that have been often not very well understood within our churches and less well communicated by Christian leaders among our churches – but still crucial to understand who we are in Christ and how we are to live in Christ.

The death of the old Man means the death of our heritage to sin, and we need to let this sink in to our awareness of who we are in Christ. The death of the old Man means the removal of the legal enslavement of the old Mankind in Adam from the death of Chris, from the heritage of slavery to sin. It means that believers are not legally under the dominion of sin and are not legally obligated to sin by any power in the universe. The past death to sin with Christ is part of the legal standing of the believer, one of the benefits of the atonement, whether we live in it or not. And because of that there is no need for slavery to sin, to the bondage to the old life among believers who have truly been born again and incorporated into the new Mankind as summed up in Christ. And so, as we continue with this passage, as well as the whole of scripture,  will find nothing in scripture to excuse continuation in bondage to sin as a master of our lives, as if we had never come to Christ.

This understanding of our legal freedom in Christ from the power of sin is comparable to the remarkable statement of the former slave Frederick Douglass. He came to the conclusion, after he had carefully read the Constitution of the United States , that it was actually contrary to slavery: “The Constitution will afford slavery no protection.” Slavery, Douglass tells us, “dreads the presence of an advanced civilization. It flourishes best where it meets no reproving frowns, and hears no condemning voices.”  So it is the same where there is careful understanding of the teaching of the apostles and scripture about freedom from slavery to sin. Antinomian orthodoxy can only flourish where there is only a superficial preaching and teaching of scripture, and where there is no one who will stand up and preach and teach the whole gospel of Jesus Christ, which includes freedom from the slavery to sin, to the compulsion to sin.

But wait! There’s even more to what scripture has to say to us about who we are and what we have in Christ. Even more, the death to our heritage of slavery to sin through Christ means the participation in the resurrection life of Christ now and in the future. And the freedom through Christ and with Christ means freedom for the dominion of righteousness, for the will of God in our lives now.

The apostle goes on to explain, in verses 8-10, that the reality of our resurrection with Christ: “And if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him, since we know that Christ, once he had been raised from the dead, no longer dies – death no longer is his master. For that death that he died, he died to sin one and for all; that life that he lives, he lives for God.” So the outcome of our death with Christ means that our life  is then to be ruled by the resurrection of Christ, to live in newness of life rather than in oldness of life  — and we can identify that oldness of life as self-indulgence in sin. In this explanation, the apostle is moving from our legal position in Christ the definition of newness of life. He defines newness of life in Christ as living like Christ in resurrection life and completely for the will of God as Christ lives in his risen life. The explanation is that as the resurrection of Christ was the victory of Christ over sin and death, so our resurrection with him also becomes our victory over sin and death and newness of life now. Make no mistake, this is definitely part of apostolic teaching – see Colossians 3:1-4 and I Peter 2:24. And note now carefully the apostle defines what this means for our life now: newness of life. He does not describe it as complete sinless perfection in in this life – that will wait until glorification, the complete physical resurrection of our bodies to be like Christ. So here we have a comprehensive scriptural explanation of what Christ has done for us, what we have in Christ, how we are to live now in Christ and what we still have awaiting us in Christ). So the scripture asserts that we are not to live as if sin were still our master, but but rather we are to live as those who are living with Christ for the will of God.

The scriptural depiction of the risen life in Christ for us now was common in the past in the preaching and teaching of the church, particularly in the 19th century, but rarely heard today in the preaching and teaching of the church. It is, though, liberating truth, truth for the heart, truth that means that we as believers always have a new beginning, that comes not from ourselves, but from having died with Christ and being given his life, to live in newness of life now. So it is something the calls for regular inclusion in the preaching and teaching of the church, based in careful exegesis of the scriptures, and presented as something for very serious consideration, as basis of our lives as believers now and forever.

The great educator Booker T. Washington recalled  in his autobiography how, as a child, he had heard a stranger made a little speech and then read a rather long paper to a himself and a number of other slaves. That man turned out to be an officer of the Union Army and that paper was the Emancipation Proclamation.  He wrote, “After the reading we were told that we were all free, and could go when and where we pleased. My mother, who was standing by my side, leaned over and kissed her children, while tears of joy ran down her cheeks. She explained to us what it all meant, that this was the day for which she had been so long praying, but fearing she would never live to see.” And he went on to say that there then scenes of great rejoicing and thanksgiving, but that the next day then realization of the great responsibility of freedom took hold of them: “To some it seemed that, now that they were in actual possession of it, freedom was a more serious thing than they had expected to find it.” And this is what I think that we would find from the scriptures, that the freedom from the power of sin that we have in Christ is a very, very serious thing, something that should change the direction and purpose of our lives on this earth forever, and something that calls for serious understanding of who we are in Christ.

So then, the freedom from the power of sin through Christ is truth that means freedom for the believer in Christ. It means freedom from the life of resolutions to do better, falling and asking forgiveness over and over Freedom from the power of sin in Christ is, moreover, critical to finding freedom from the past, from addictions, bitterness and abuse, to finding newness of life in Christ. And for the believer who may not be caught in spectacular life dominating sins of addiction and abuse, it also means freedom from a double life, from rampant hypocrisy, from rollercoaster Christian life. It means that as believers it is not necessary to to live as if we were spiritually having to dig ourselves out of a ditch again and again and again because of falling into habitual sins, but that we can live in freedom through understanding and embracing who we are in Christ.

The truth of who were are in Christ meant for our heart, to guide us in what newness of life is, but it does not stop there. THE TRUTH OF OUR DEATH AND RESURRECTION WITH CHRIST CALLS US TO ENTIRE CONSECRATION TO GOD THROUGH CHRIST. The truth of who we are in Christ calls for a response from us; the truth of who we are in Christ needs to change our understanding of ourselves and the direction that we follow in life. It calls for a radical change in our lives that often becomes decisive and radical when we realize who we are in Christ.

Our new identity, as those who have died to sin but are alive to God in Christ, is to  be fundamental to our understanding of ourselves. Then this consideration of ourselves as not under the authority or compulsion of sin, as alive to God becomes the basis of our total consecration to the will of God.

The apostle explains and calls for the response to God appropriate to our new standing in Christ in verses 11-13: “In the same way consider yourselves to be dead to sin but living for God in Christ Jesus. Then don’t let sin have dominion in your mortal body so that you obey its desires, and don’t keep on presenting your bodily members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin. But rather present yourselves to God as if you were alive from the dead and your bodily members as instruments of righteousness to God.”

The word ‘consider’ is translated ‘reckon’ in the King James Version, and what it means is the serious and continued consideration and the taking up of the statement of the truth of the gospel concerning who we are in Christ to be who we consider ourselves to be now. It is taking up of the identity and standing into our hearts which God says is true of us now. This is the farthest thing from any kind of psychological self-esteem based on anything that we are in ourselves. Rather, our identification with Christ and our position in Christ is to become the new fundamental understanding of ourselves, all that we have and all that we are. But we need to be careful here – the apostle does not ascribe to our ‘reckoning’ in itself as having any power over sin  or granting us any power over sin – he does not use the phrase ‘make it real’ in our lives as many preachers and teachers in the past have explained it. He will, of course, later explain the source of power in the Holy Spirit in chapter 8 in the progression of scripture, after he has completed his explanation of our legal standing here.

But rather the apostle Paul explains  our standing in Christ, our having died with him and having been raised with him, as the reason for consecration to Christ, as those who are dead to sin but alive to God in Christ. Thus his call is for our position in Christ to lead us to the refusal to surrender to the rule of sin over us. He calls us rather to the presentation of ourselves to God, each one of us,  as someone who is alive from the dead. This is the logical conclusion of our  incorporation into Christ, identification with Christ, the new standing in grace: it is to lead to that once for all consecration of oneself to God through Jesus Christ. The apostle’s teaching this shows how much he thought that this was lacking in the lives of believers in Rome, particularly those who seemed to be drawn into the paths of antinomian orthodoxy. And this was something he wanted to correct, both in a possible misunderstanding of his teaching and of the Christian life in general, now and for all eternity.

So as we approach this scripture, it has called for careful understanding of the scripture, what it says, in the order and manner that it says, and thus we have come to a place where we can avoid the hoary formulas that make it say more or less than what it says and more or less than what is necessary to understand what this means for us to know and do now. What the apostle is calling for is not something that would be called an ‘inward crucifixion’ and it is not a ‘reckoning’ that ‘makes it real’ in our experience. The real point is the continuing realization of who we are now in Christ calls for us to make a complete consecration to God through Christ in this life. Though the King James uses the word ‘yield,’ what the apostle calls for is not a passive ‘surrender’, but rather a positive refusal to let sin rule over us and actually to present ourselves to God. It is a positive, active presentation of ourselves to God, as  conscious act. So the scriptural terminology is crucial to understand and put into practice the new realization, the new direction of the new life in Christ. And the correction of the terminology that we’ve often heard in our songs and some of our holiness literature from the past gives a new appreciation of who we are in Christ and often forms the basis of a fresh consecration (the crisis experience of sanctification) into an new life of holiness (experiential sanctification).

This is what we have often enough sung about in the past, such as in this verse by Isaac Watts:

“Lord, we have long abused thy love,
Our e’en bled to see
What rebels we have been.
No more, ye lusts, shall ye command,
No more will we obey . . .”

The power of identity as determining what a person will live for something is extremely important, and too often far too little understood from the standpoint of scripture. So unscriptural understanding of oneself, even after salvation, will mean surrendering one’s life to the wrong things. But even more, the power of a new identity in Christ, means understanding that Christlikeness is not up to us. Becoming like him and living like him in this life is not about trying harder, learning more rules and regulations. Rather the understanding of what freedom from sin, from careful examination of the explanation of scripture, means freedom to look beyond ourselves, our abilities and liabilities, to consider ourselves as God in scripture has defined us. We are now those who have died to sin and are alive to God in Christ. And the real revolution in this world happens when believers consecrate themselves to god as those who are dead to sin and alive to God and then step out to live in the newness of life which Christ provides for us now.

THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST THEREFORE PROMISES MORE THAN JUST THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS. BY OUR UNION WITH CHRIST IN HIS DEATH AND RESURRECTION THE POWER AND AUTHORITY OF SIN HAS ALREADY BEEN BROKEN FOR US. THIS IS NOT SOMETHING THAT IS BASED IN WHO WE ARE IN OURSELVES BUT ON WHAT CHRIST HAS DONE FOR US AND WHO WE ARE IN HIM. AND THIS MEANS THAT GOD HAS PROVIDED IN CHRIST AN ENTRANCE INTO A SUBSTANTIAL FREEDOM FROM THE POWER OF SIN IN OUR LIVES NOW. A NEW LIFE IN THE WILL OF GOD HAS BEEN MADE AVAILABLE FOR US IN CHRIST; IT IS OUR POSSESSION AND PRIVILEGE IN CHRIST NOW, AND HE CALLS US TO UNDERSTAND IT AND LIVE IT OUT.

So the first step is the freedom from the guilt of sin by his faith and resurrection through faith in him; to receive eternal life in the first place. This message  so far is for believers who have already received eternal life by faith in Christ primarily. And it does answer the question of why some professed believers are hypocrites. It is not a problem with the gospel, but what they have taken the gospel to mean. And it can allay any fear you may have of being a hypocrite if you receive eternal life by faith in Christ. The full gospel of Jesus is that that Christ provides freedom from the consequences and power of sin, so that forgiven people can live with victory over sin in Christ. this means that God has provided the power in Christ for you not to have ever to live as a hypocrite if you turn to Christ.  So then, have you received the forgiveness of sins in Christ, and been born again of his Spirit through faith in Christ?

So, if you have put your faith in Christ for your eternal salvation, have you sealed your commitment to Jesus Christ by water baptism? Look beyond the traditions and opinions of others, but rather to the Word of God, as the only rule of what we believe, what we do as believers. Follow through with whatever the Word calls you to do.

Finally, have you consecrated your entire life to Christ? Make a conscious decision before God against the rule of sin in your life, as the scripture calls you to do. Turn from the dominion of sin and self-indulgence and decide for entire obedience to God Present yourself to God as a conscious act before him, upon the basis of who you are in Jesus Christ – someone who has die to sin and who is alive to God.

The Eternal Need of the Person Who Is Perfectly Happy Now

This week I can remember a pastor on the radio sharing how someone had become flummoxed when he was attempting to share the gospel with an aged hedonist. He approached gaining an opening to share the gospel from the perspective of felt needs: an inner loneliness, emptiness and lack of a sense of fulfillment. Unfortunately, the hedonist came back with the answer that he was having the time of his life and couldn’t be happier. And that left the person who was attempting to share the gospel at a loss on how to proceed.

It’s simple enough to proceed, though, if you remember how scripture describes, “ . . . the pleasures of sin for a season . . .” (Hebrews 11:25). The question becomes, “How long do you think that will last?” And if the person replies, “Till I die” or “Until the end of my life,” simply ask, “And what then?”

At that point, after receiving whatever reply the happy hedonist gives,  it would be possible to go to the normal Evangelism Explosion questions. It’s always necessary to remember that whatever ‘felt’ needs a person has, he or she always has the eternal need of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And though Jesus and the apostles often used a felt need or a ‘hook’ from the situation at hand to get an opening to share the gospel, the eternal need will always be there, since, “. . . an hour is coming when all who are in their graves will will hear his (the Son of God’s) voice, and will come forth: those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done wicked  to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29).

The Final Miracle of the Son of God

Wilbur Smith once wrote, “It is time to come face to face with the fact that God is righteous, that God’s laws are righteous, that God demands righteousness, that God has sent his righteous Son to save us, and that an hour is coming when men are going to stand before this righteous Judge, and unless they have repented and believed, be condemned for their own deliberately unrighteous life.”

The realities of the future resurrection and judgment show the need of saving faith in Jesus Christ for everyone. Those realities to come show that need for entire reliance on him for eternal life and wholehearted submission to God’s anointed King who will also eventually be the Judge of each one of us. Far too often, due to our foolish complacency in our reasonably happy and affluent life, it takes a crisis in our lives to bring a person to the end of himself or herself and see his or her need of Christ. Yet far beyond the crises that come in our lives, there yet remains that final crisis which is coming to the whole world. That will be the time of the final miracle of the Son of God in his Messianic mission, and that will be the crisis which will decide the final destiny of all. The final miracle of the resurrection of all mankind for judgment before Jesus Christ personally is the final crisis that awaits each one of us, and it is a final crisis which is reason in itself to make known the gospel of saving faith in Christ to everyone.

Jesus explained this at length during his earthly teaching ministry in the Temple at Jerusalem. He had healed a paralyzed man on the Jewish Sabbath by the pool of Bethzatha – or Bethesda – there seems to have been a bit of confusion and several attempted corrections in the manuscripts since it had been first written. While there are several plausible locations that the miracle of healing took place, the result for this one was that the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem started to give Jesus a really hard time over it. It’s hard to say what exactly they were doing at this point, but they were known for plots against him, slanders against him, and trying to trick him and trap him throughout his earthly ministry, and what was happening seems to have been some kind of escalation of that kind of treatment after this miracle. Jesus used this time to explain more of his identity as the Son of God and how that miracle of healing pointed forward to an even greater miracle that would happen by his own command.

“Jesus, then, answered them and said, ‘Most assuredly I say to you, that the Son is unable to do anything from himself except for what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, the Son does the same things in the same way. Because the Father loves the Son and shows him everything that he is doing, he will show him greater works than these, so that you may be astonished. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son as they honor the Father. Most assuredly I say to you that everyone who hears my word and believes in the One who sent me has eternal life, and that person will not come into judgment but has already passed from death to life. Most assuredly I say to you that an hour is coming and now already is when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so also he has granted to the Son to have life in himself; and he has given him authority to judge, because he is the Son of Man. Don’t be amazed at this, because an hour is coming when all who are in their graves will will hear his voice, and will come forth: those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done wicked  to the resurrection of judgment’” (John 5:19-29, Dale’s sight translation).

The miracles of Jesus are the unique revelation of his unique nature. Those miracles which amazed the spectators and confounded his enemies and detractors were the expression of who he is. They express how no one has been nor ever can be anything like him and they establish him as more than a teller of interesting stories. They establish him as the one who has no parallel in our history.

The miracles of Jesus point to his unique identity as the Son of God. That identity is shared with no one ever who has lived on this earth in the same way that it was true and is true of Jesus. His Sonship was and is unique, and it was not something that someone else made up later and applied to him. Rather, it rests in the miracles which he performed and his own explanations which he made of his miracles during his own ministry. Moreover, this wasn’t simply something that he disclosed to simply the select few of his disciples, but something that he explained as well to those who treated him with hostility, and something he showed before a hostile world.

In verses 19-23, Jesus starts one of those big conversations and extended teachings which often followed his stunning actions. In fact, stunning, prophetic teaching following stunning actions is one of the patterns of the gospel of John, in each of the chapters from 2 through 9. His jaw dropping miracles were followed by jaw dropping statements. These conversations, then, are the stunning explanations of the stunning actions he delivered continuously throughout his earthly life and ministry. In this case, he was expanding on an earlier, briefer explanation of why he had healed on the Sabbath, and it always ticked them off when he did that. At first it sounds like he’s starting a parable about a father and a son but his hearers clearly understand that he’s talking about himself as the Son of God, and they give him a very rough time about it. In fact, the word that John uses to describe how they treated him was that they persecuted him. He is making a claim about God as his Father, equality with God and the personal authority to act as God in performing an act of healing on the Sabbath. He does not deny the charge that he was making God his Father.  At this time, as well as many other times throughout the gospels, he had a perfect opportunity to correct this misconception if he in fact in any way considered it a misconception. But not only does he not deny it, but he goes on further, to deliver an even deeper explanation of his divine nature to a hostile and rejecting crowd. His explanation of himself in the third person, as the Son who sees and acts with the Father in what he does in itself was a stunner. This brief but stupendous explanation definitely shows that Jesus could easily give an answer to his questioners far greater than any of them could ever completely grasp, and which could often confuse and even gall them for a long time afterwards. In fact, the memory of this explanation continued to rankle his hearers for months afterwards, as can be ascertained from later indications in the gospel of John (7:23, 9:16).

So as Jesus starts his explanation, it sounds a little like he’s starting a parable about a father and a son, until it becomes clear that he’s talking about himself as the Son and God as his Father. He’s explaining that something that was revealed in the Old Testament to his ancestor David about the Messiah, how God would be his Father and the Messiah would be his Son was more than the divine patronage that the kings of David’s line in the Old Testament had experienced. He’s explaining that the Son of God as applied to himself as the Messiah was not a kind of of adoption but rather it was true of his nature as the eternal Son of God.  He was explaining that his relation with God the Father as the Son means that he lived continually in the relation of love with the Father and the revelation of the nature of the Father, and it even went into acting as one with the Father in what he did – and that extended to the miracle which they had seen, and would extend to even greater miracles to come. And if that wasn’t enough, he went on to give them some more chunks of truth that they would find hard to digest. He didn’t use any large words – just an analogy to a father and a son. He didn’t engage in any deep philosophical discussion with explorations and refutations of alternative points of view – but simply explained a miracle.

The parable, then, that happened in this situation wasn’t what sounded like the beginning of a parable about a father and a son working together, but rather the miracle itself, where Jesus commanded a helpless man to get up and walk. The healing itself was a parable, and it looked forward to the coming resurrection and judgment. Most likely some in the hostile crowd knew about Daniel 12:2-3, which talked about resurrection, and it was already known to all of them that Jesus had already said, “Rise” to a prostrate and helpless man – and he rose and walked.  And Jesus was saying to them that he would be the one would be giving resurrection life to the dead and then serving as the judge of all. And the conclusion to this was not that he was committing blasphemy as if he were a mere man making himself to be equal to God by calling God his Father, but that the miracle pointed to the logical conclusion that they all were called by God himself through the miracle to honor him as the Son of God as they claimed to honor the God he called his Father. And in this as previously, Jesus was on solid scriptural ground, as placing himself in the place of the Son that everyone was called to honor in Psalm 2:8. These are the kinds of statements that could send the guards of the Temple who were sent to arrest him back in open mouthed astonishment that, “No one ever spoke like him!”

The stupendous claims about himself and the deeds which backed them up are the reason why the church has said that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. They are the reason why his Sonship is totally unique and different than any other way in which those words can be understood of anyone else. And this is why it is necessary to take Jesus Christ with the utmost seriousness, as God the Son, who came, acted and spoke with the glory, power and authority of God. All that he said and did that was set down for us was in full accord with God the Father, and the revelation of that ultimate, special, unique relationship that those words mean. This is why believers have been so careful to understand and explain as clearly and carefully as possible over the years his unique nature as the Son of God who is one with God the Father.  Over the centuries it has been and will always be necessary to make clear what it means for Jesus to be the Son of God from all eternity. In the Heidelberg Catechism, for example, question 33 gives this question and answer: “Why is he called God’s only begotten Son, since we also are God’s children? Because Christ alone is God’s own eternal Son, whereas we are accepted for his sake as children of God by grace.” And even more, as the ministry of Jesus went on, it became apparent that he brought a fuller and deeper revelation, hinted at as early in the scriptures as Genesis 1:2, that the one God not only revealed himself in two divine Persons, the Father and the Son, but in a third as well, the Holy Spirit – but that revelation would receive the fuller explanation on the night of his betrayal, during his last teaching session with his disciples, in John 14, 15 and 16.

And this, then, is the stupendous thing about the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, that he came not just to give us some stories and a few moralisms. He was God the Son and showed us what God was like in person, and he came to provide the way for us to enter into that personal relationship with us so that we could know the love of God personally. And this means that these statements which we may term doctrinal and theological are not mere theory, notions or opinions that we take up when we call ourselves Christians and sing our hymns. These are  statements about the reality of the God whose universe we live in and who has come to us in Jesus Christ.

Jesus was thus saying that when he said, “Rise up,” to a paralyzed and helpless man, he was making the deep theological point that he was doing it in the will and with the full cooperation of God the Father, and that it was in fact together their doing. And he was using this heavy theology, a brief and pungent explanation that strained the very limits of human language, to explain himself to some people who were giving him a very hard time over what he had already said and done. There was no hint of any kind of apologies or excuses in what he said, for being sorry about their feeling angry over what he had done. How in the world could or should the Son of God apologize to any human being for speaking and acting in full cooperation with God the Father? And even more, he presented what he had done as not being about the need of the paralyzed man, but about the nature of the person who told him to rise up and walk. With our modern addiction to easy, pat answers and formulas in our churches and our ‘me’ centered songs and sermons about my experiences, my feelings and my blessings, Jesus shows us that what matters is not about us but about who the Son of God is, and what he has done. And when we lose that focus on Jesus we lose the whole point of what it means to be a Christian and our worship comes down to little more than gushing out of our current emotional state or striving after a desired emotional state.

So Jesus’s identity as the unique Son of God means that he deserves unique honor as the Son of God. The reality which was shown in his life and ministry, the miracles which really happened to real people, the real teaching which was heard by real people who were often astonished, sometimes offended, and sometimes left scratching their heads, was a revelation that called for an appropriate response to the Son of God. And the honor that he expected as the Son of God was simply to be heard and believed and obeyed.  So consider a more down to earth example of what this entails for us. The owner of a a big electronics firm once told his personnel director, “My son will be graduating from college soon and needing a job. He’s going to be your new assistant, but he’s not to be shown any favoritism. Treat him just as you would any other son of mine.” 

So, when we understand from the gospels what it means for Jesus to be the unique Son of God, in a way in which no other human being can ever claim, this means that we are bound by the unbreakable chains of an eternal reality to give him the honor due to him as the Son of God, and give him the honor of being heard above everything and everyone else, believed in and trusted above everything and everyone else, and followed and obeyed above everything and everyone else. As we go further in to what Jesus is saying here, we will find out more of what this means for us in the here and now.

In verse 24, Jesus starts out another statement with that phrase, “Truly, truly I say to you . . .” If it may not be trite to paraphrase this as Jesus saying to us, in effect, “Underline this! Highlight this!”, we certainly should pay very close attention to his emphasis on the next statement. So, to those who were hearing him he made still another stupendous statement about what he came to offer them in his life and ministry. And again, the honor that he sought from them was simply to be heard and believed. He offered them pardon before the trial, in eternal life now and the certainty of not coming into judgment, the ultimate sentence from the ultimate Judge at the ultimate courtroom. His description of this was that the person who gave him the honor he came to give would have already passed from death to life. This is in one verse what it means to have saving faith in the Son of God, and it shows that in what he had done and what he was now saying that his goal was not to bring them to astonishment, shock and awe. Rather, he was calling them to saving faith, to receive eternal life by faith in himself. Note that his call was not for tolerance, not for sharing possessions, not even for baptism. His call was simply for them to take that step of saving faith, and that step would be giving him the honor that God the Father would honor with eternal life.

Many can remember the tremendous scene toward the end of the movie Chariots of Fire, where the great American runner Jackson Sholz supposedly gave Eric Liddell the quotation of scripture, of God’s statement that he would honor those who honored him. Jackson Sholz was still alive at the time of the movie, and he denied that it was he that had done that, but certainly someone did. And that is the kind of thing that Jesus is saying here also. As the Son of God, God would honor with eternal life those who honored him with hearing and believing.

So Jesus here was explaining saving faith, and this is characteristic of many of the conversations from the gospel of John. This accounts for many of the differences between the gospel of John and the other three canonical gospels: the other gospels contained a great deal of material, such as the Sermon on the Mount, which was meant for those who had already become the disciples of Jesus. But the gospel of John contains many of the conversations which Jesus had with people who were not yet disciples, in which he explained further and deeper what it meant to have faith in himself. The revelation of what saving faith is was not the invention of the apostles, not even of the apostle Paul, nor of an institutional church hierarchy after the death of Jesus, but what Jesus himself repeatedly explained throughout his earthly ministry. Certainly after his resurrection and ascension, after the day of Pentecost, the transmission of the gospel came through apostolic preaching, but the origin of the gospel and saving faith came from Jesus. And although this was characteristic of the gospel of John, it is by no means foreign to the other gospels, to the Jesus who came from Galilee proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and telling people, “The kingdom of God has arrived; repent and believe in the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15). And again, this whole explanation of the miracle with a story contradicts the post modern cliché that Jesus was just a teller of stories; but the gospel truth is rather that he told whatever stories he told to explain what faith in himself means and to bring others to that point of faith in himself.

The eternal stakes of faith in Jesus Christ are firmly based in his own explanations of saving faith. Think of that: the person who has trusted in Jesus Christ, believed in him as the unique and eternal Son of God, has eternal life and has passed from death to life. It may seem to be too easy, but it is what God has done through Jesus Christ to make salvation, eternal life, within the grasp of every human being. Professing Christians over the years have often tried to dumb down or trivialize these eternal stakes to just having church membership or a religious reputation or going through the motions of simply repeating a prayer and undergoing baptism. Certainly church membership and undergoing baptism can follow saving faith as a real expression of the reception of eternal life by those who have put their faith in Christ. But Jesus himself did not express receiving or having eternal life as being reducible to any of these outward acts. Rather, his own words declare the reception of eternal life to be through hearing the Son of God and coming to faith in him.

And so what Jesus said about believing in him means that person has received eternal life and has passed from death to life corrects so many of the confused ideas of confused Christians. Even further, what Jesus said about having eternal life and not coming into judgment furnishes a welcome correction of so many of the religious ideas and notions that people throughout the world have had now and in the past. It contradicts, for instance, the later ideas of Gnosticism, which started up over a century later, and preyed upon naïve Christians who were told that Jesus wasn’t enough, that there needed to be this extra gnosis, this extra knowledge that certain whacky, excommunicated teachers could give them – which turned out to be a whacky song and dance built up on tidbits of Greek philosophy and mythology and highly embellished by some people with overactive imaginations. Moreover, Jesus contradicts the idea of purgatory also, when he says that by faith in him there will be no future condemnation, and that the person who trusts in him has eternal life now. The idea that there is some purgatory for anyone does not come from the Old or New Testaments. Rather, Jesus puts the issue simply at trust in him determining whether a person goes to an eternity of shame apart from God or glory in the presence of God.

What Jesus said about believing in him means that person has received eternal life and has passed from death to life contradicts and corrects many of the ideas of what people have thought may happen after death.  For instance, what Jesus said also contradicts the ideas of reincarnation – rebirth, as some Hindus put it – and the cycle of 64,000,000 rebirths which Hinduism says are necessary to escape the cycle of rebirths, which they say are necessary because of karma of previous lives. Rather, Jesus says that hearing him and believing his Word is enough, and that no special teaching is necessary, and no cycle of millions of rebirths and karma is necessary. So Jesus brings freedom from this onerous teaching and guides to the truth of what he offers in eternal life in the gospel: not continuation in some altered form and identity over thousands of rebirths, but coming to resurrection life as the same person in a body radically changed in life and power, to be like his own resurrection body.

So this is why we say that Jesus Christ is the Son of God in our preaching and teaching. It is not a statement made upon the basis of no evidence or against the evidence; that is not scriptural faith but ignorant credulity. Rather it is that the explanation that Jesus gives is in the scripture for who he is and what he has done is what we have found to be the best explanation of the evidence of history, and that in our age also it still calls for the response of faith. What Jesus has revealed to us throughout his life, ministry, death and resurrection about himself, as he did in a stupendously brief claim after a stupendously awesome act of healing, shows how stupendous his gospel really is. It reminds us that his gospel is not kid’s stuff, childish make-believe, and not something for the ignorant and weak to use for false and naïve comfort in the hardships of life. It shows us how much we lose when we try to downplay it and dumb it down to self help, trite phrases and bumper sticker formulas and reduce the glory of the gospel of Christ to a series of religious tips and tricks. It shows us how much we lose when we sidestep these kinds of passages in the preaching and teaching of our churches because they are so heavy and significant. But we do not do anyone any kind of favor by doing anything less than honoring the Son of God as we read, meditate on, preach and teach on the Biblical passages about the unique nature of the Son of God and the nature of saving faith.

Even more, the strong truth of the Son of God, being one with God the Father, and the source and foundation of eternal life, needs also to penetrate and saturate our praise, worship and prayers and our evangelism as well, with crystal clarity. We do no one any kind of favor by trivializing, paraphrasing, over explaining, soft pedaling, hinting or obliquely alluding to these truths in what we sing, preach, pray and share. True gospel belief in the Son of God, from the authority of the Son of God, is the most serious and significant step that anyone can take. And because it is from the authority of the Son of God, it is not open to speculative addition, subtraction or modification by any human being in any age – and certainly there will always be a challenge in every generation when someone wants to try to bring it down to what he or she thinks will make it easier or more appealing to someone else. But ultimately, it is impossible to combine or compare the Jesus of the scriptures, the unique Son of God, with anyone else, and his message of eternal life by faith in himself with anything else. And ultimately, we will find that every step we take to make Jesus palatable to the petulant and impatient people of our age is a step away from the truth of the words, deeds and person of the Jesus of the scriptures.

It is at this point that Christian preaching and teaching loses its relevance when it loses its eternal perspective and significance. Not too long ago I went back to reading over some of the writings of the apostolic fathers, who were the first generation of Christian leaders after the apostles, from about A.D. 100 or so to about A.D. 175. I was immediately struck by the emphasis in such writings as I and II Clement to the future resurrection and judgment and the incentive to godly and virtuous living for Christ that this means. But what is the emphasis in so much preaching and teaching today? Having a happy family and learning tools and techniques to get well adjusted – in other words, following Christ as simply being another form of self help to build a personal utopia in this age. What reason, then, would there be for anyone to continue on in following Christ if they find that for some reason the tools, techniques and formulas don’t work in their situation or that they can’t find their way to the happy Christian family in this life? What reason, then, would anyone find to follow Christ if what they find being preached and taught inside the church is pretty much the self help of the world without Christ, when they pretty much can find the same thing elsewhere without the strong moral demands of following Christ?

In addition, we need to recognize that many of those who may seem to have dropped out from church may never have come to the realization of the eternal stakes and consequences of faith in Christ and the authority of the person who spelled them out. If all that they saw was a way to a happy life now, then they missed the entire point of why Jesus came, lived, died and rose again. And if that was all that they saw, then maybe they never really had saving faith in the first place, since they never gave Jesus the full honor as the eternal Son of God who came from the Father, but rather treated him only as an ancient self help guru and his church as a religious kind of human potential movement. It’s at that point, when anyone considers letting go of Christian belief because of disappointment in people or the formulas, to consider what Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, to whom else would we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:69).

But Jesus does not leave the matter at that; he goes on to give a more thorough and direct statement of the future that his miracle points forward to. That is a future which too often people nowadays often do not realize, understand or clearly recognize, even if they claim to be believers in Jesus. It is the future which those who take a piecemeal, pick and choose, bits and pieces approach to the scriptures often miss, because they look for what they find emotionally appealing or sentimentally reassuring.

The ultimate truth about the future which Jesus reveals is this: the future belongs to the Son of God. With his words he takes ownership of the ultimate fate of everyone and claims the accountability of everyone who has ever lived to himself alone. These words by themselves are either the most amazing truths or among the most deluded fabrications of a shockingly diseased mind possible. Jesus has not left us the alternative with these words of just taking him as a teacher of mildly helpful aphorisms. Someone who would claim this kind of power and authority to himself must be either the eternal Son of God himself, to whom they rightly belong, or someone who is not to be taken seriously in anything else that he would say.

In verses 25-27, Jesus continues to make some shocking claims about himself: “Most assuredly I say to you that an hour is coming and now already is when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so also he has granted to the Son to have life in himself; and he has given him authority to judge, because he is the Son of Man.” It is clear by the reaction of those around him that they understood that he was not referring to anyone else besides himself with what he said. And certainly he did not offer any correction to them if he did not intend that these words be understood about himself.  He claimed for himself the titles of Son of God and Son of Man within the space of several short sentences. And in this short utterance he claimed for himself the role of God’s agent for the resurrection and judgment of all mankind. And in one short utterance he brought together two strands of Old Testament prophecy and pointed them back to himself.

The first strand of Old Testament prophecy that Jesus takes and points to himself is from Daniel 12:1-2:  “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.  And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” This passage is the clearest prophecy of the resurrection of the dead in the Old Testament. And Jesus brings this up to point out that the voice which will be calling forth the dead from their graves to judgment and their ultimate fate will be his. He has already claimed for himself the title of Son of God, and in the healing of the paralyzed man he has already showed how his word alone was sufficient to make a helpless man rise to his feet. His justification for doing that miracle in the way that he did it was his claim to be the Son of God.

So then, Jesus takes the further step of making the shocking claim that the voice which will raise the dead in the future will be his own. Those who were around him, for the most part, did not have a problem with believing that there would be a future resurrection. The influence of the Pharisees, who taught the resurrection of the dead, had influenced many, many more than that of the Sadducees, who denied a future resurrection. What was not merely controversial but utterly unprecedented was that there was someone who had been raised in their utterly monotheistic culture and taught in their utterly monotheistic synagogues who was claiming the power in himself to fulfill this prophecy. This was far beyond any claims to be able to do something showy or ostensibly magical like the levitation of an unsuspecting person. Rather, he was making right in front of them the claim that he was able and was actually going to raise from the dead by a single utterance everyone who had ever lived and died.

Then Jesus goes on to the next shocker. He backtracks within the book of Daniel to grab another strand of Old Testament prophecy and apply it to himself. The next strand of Old Testament prophecy that he grabs is Daniel 7:13-14, and he applies it to himself: “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.  And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.”

This is the ‘Son of Man’ passage, and it demonstrates that Jesus clearly wanted those who heard him to understand that he was claiming to be the Son of Man from the book of Daniel. In the other three New Testament gospels it is a way in which Jesus often referred to himself, and by his reference here to the Son of Man passage he makes it clear that he was using it in a way that wasn’t simply some weird circumlocution to refer back to himself, that when he spoke of the Son of Man, he wasn’t simply saying, ‘Just little old me.’ It wasn’t common in the days of Jesus to understand the Son of Man as the Messianic king of Old Testament prophecy, but here Jesus endorses that connection. And even more, his claim is that the Son of Man who brings the kingdom of God is the one who will call forth the resurrection and judgment, and that he is standing right there and declaring to them who he is and what he will do.

So here we will pause and allow all this to sink in, and then to consider its significance for us today. Note that Jesus stood his claims upon Old Testament prophecy regularly, consistently and without apology. His constant  explanation of Old Testament prophecy, and his connection of one passage with another and expansion of Old Testament prophecy upon his own authority shows unclouded intelligence of the Son of God and his own unparalleled knowledge of the Old Testament. The use of the Old Testament throughout his ministry was his endorsement of its authority and eternal validity and application. So then, the acceptance of the authority of Jesus is the acceptance of the authority of the Old Testament. Because of Jesus, the Old Testament and its prophecies cannot be dismissed as the moldy old ravings of old men stuck in a patriarchal culture. Rather, because of Jesus we understand the Old Testament to be the instruction guide to the people of God of the greatest blessing of God in the Messiah and the future of all mankind as wrapped up in his chosen King. Even more, it shows the eternal plan and patience of God that he would take a man by the name of Abram, call him Abraham, and then bring forth a people that would be the people of the Messiah. The Old Testament itself is the demonstration that the preparation of the coming of the Messiah was all part of God’s plan, the whole counsel of God from all eternity.

So here too, in these claims of personal authority and in these claims of his personal fulfillment of the Old Testament, as he tells the world of the final miracle of his Messianic office, we see Jesus standing in the office of the ultimate and final Prophet as he states what he will do in his office as the coming King. In this short statement of the Apostles’ Creed the professing church week by week mentions the final miracle of the Son of God: ‘From whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead . . .” So then, the question comes down to each one of us -– do you really believe what is a regular part of the confession of orthodox faith handed down?  And when in the Apostles’ Creed we say that we believe “. . .  and the life everlasting . . .” do we mean when we say these words that they reflect the scriptural teaching of the resurrection to life and do they reflect our personal acceptance of the scriptural teaching from the words of Jesus Christ? Or are they – as I am afraid that I think that they are for many who attend church around the world — just phrases that we repeat mindlessly just to get some kind of emotional buzz, by hearing and repeating something familiar, like some sort of Christian mantra? So if they are something that we say that we really don’t mean just to get some comfort by repeating some familiar words, then all the more reason for us to consider what Jesus is here saying about himself.

But finally Jesus brings home the zinger at the conclusion of what he said there in that day in Jerusalem. The zinger, in what it meant for them and also what it means for each one of us takes us far beyond what we think of ourselves, what others may say to us and far beyond our ideas and the standards of those around us. It takes us beyond the common tendency of human spiritual blindness to give ourselves too much credit for being good enough and points us rather to  what it takes to be prepared for the time when Jesus shows up to perform his final miracle.

So Jesus goes on and brings home the conclusion of all that he has said to those who were hearing him: “Don’t be amazed at this, because an hour is coming when all who are in their graves will will hear his voice, and will come forth: those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done wicked  to the resurrection of judgment.” It’s a fool’s quest to contradict Jesus, but it’s hard not to be amazed at what he is saying! But I think that the point that he is making is that our amazement at what he has said is not to drive us to suspend our belief and acceptance of what he is saying. It can be human nature to dismiss truth just because it does not fit our preconceived ideas or our personal orthodoxy. It is amazing contemplate these things and to imagine based upon scripture what they will be when they come to pass, but our imagination and amazement must not lead us to incredulity and unbelief.  But the emphasis of Jesus is that the first thing that dead people will hear is the voice of the Son of God, his own voice, the man standing before them. His voice will be the voice that calls all the dead back to life.  His claim is then that he would decide the final fate  of all after they have come back to life. He would be the one that would bring life and judgment to them, in his eternal being as the the Son of God and his heavenly office as the Son of Man that had been predicted by Daniel the prophet.

Note that Jesus said all these things in the context of what we could call a small group evangelistic dialogue. He was speaking to a small group about eternal matters. Here he shows us more about what it really means to have an evangelistic dialogue with a small group. It often seems that our generation has been spending too much time in John 4 and has been hearing too much about the woman at the well in current preaching and teaching and not enough in the other evangelistic dialogues of Jesus. I think that we’ve not heard enough preaching and teaching this passage in John 5, or for that matter, John 3 or any of the other evangelistic teaching sessions and dialogue of John 6-10. Our generation has too often treated the conversation with the Samaritan woman as if it were the only one on one evangelistic conversation he ever had, or maybe we’ve also focused some attention on the conversation with the rich young ruler when someone wants to sneak in a plug for the redistribution of wealth. But this passage shows that Jesus was very ready to tell people about his identity as the eternal Son of God, the Messiah, base that upon his miracles, tell them of eternal realities of sin and judgment, and then to call them to a repentance and faith in himself.

So not only would Jesus tell people about the eternal consequences of the person and authority of himself during his ministry, he also based the revelation of his person and authority upon his own exegesis of the Old Testament. The apostles themselves would later do the same thing during their own ministry, as they followed the example of Jesus. In this case it’s likely that those who heard Jesus would have had a reaction of would have provoked ‘I never made that connection’ among his hearers of Daniel 12 on the resurrection and Daniel 7 on the coming of the Son of Man. Further reflection  on what Jesus said would have brought them to the realization that ‘He’s right!’. In other words, Jesus did not base his claims just upon his own stupendous authority and miracles but also upon his own explanations of the Old Testament, and with this the apostles also followed his example. So then, Jesus’s own example here shows how he is treating those who were hearing him as adults who were capable of witnessing what he said and did and comparing them to the Old Testament revelation. He was not simply expecting them to accept things just on the basis that he was saying them – though no one else in history could have ever had that expectation – but to see the consistency between himself and the revelation of the Old Testament.

So, when Jesus talked about the coming resurrection, he was not telling them anything new. He was giving them a deeper explanation about a future event but something that most of those who heard him probably already believed would happen. Belief in the resurrection was quite common in  Judaism at the time of Jesus. It was the belief of the Pharisees, as blurted out by Paul in  funny moment in Acts 23:6. During his earthly ministry Jesus usually didn’t debate the reality of the coming resurrection, except in an exchange with the Sadducees in Matthew 26:4-6. But most of what is revealed in the New Testament about the resurrection and the final state of mankind actually comes from Jesus himself, especially ab0ut the resurrection of judgment.

So what Jesus says here is his declaration of the final, ultimate miracle of the Son of God. the eternal state of mankind, every person who has ever lived, is resurrection to one of two states, to eternal life or to eternal death.  Jesus makes his statement on the ultimate consequences for those who have done good and for those who have done evil. The challenge is not to inject our own ideas of what is good and bad here, who are evil people and who are good people, since our own ideas tend to be quite self centered and childish – often not much more than the ‘goodie’ and ‘baddie’ language of the preschooler. Rather, the challenge is to understand what Jesus means by those who have done good and those who have done evil from the standpoint of what he had just said and the standpoint of what he has said throughout the whole gospel of John.

S0 let’s consider what Jesus meant by life and judgment, by going good or doing evil. Those were never anything that he ever soft-pedaled – and certainly we are never going to be any nicer or more loving than Jesus if we soft-pedal those huge, significant truths. But here in this very passage we can find that what he meant  simply by what he has already said. The good thing that he means is honoring him as the Son of God by faith in him; the evil thing which he means is rejection of him and his salvation. This is entirely consistent with his other statements such as John 3:16-18, and the statement of John 3:36 in prior context of the gospel, and the later statements in John 6, 7 and 8. So the good which Jesus seeks first of all is the acceptance of him by faith as the Messiah, as the eternal Son of God, and the salvation which he has brought. And the evil which he says leads to judgment is the rejection of himself as the Messiah and the claims he meant for himself. This is the gospel, the good news from Jesus on that answers the ultimate questions of life. Certainly not everyone liked his good news then, and not everyone likes his good news now. But he provides the only answers which stand up in the light of eternity. 

So then, finding such words about the resurrection to life and the resurrection to judgment in the mouth of Jesus across the gospels lends credence that the teaching about eternal judgment – hell – that this teaching certainly did not come from nor was it dependent upon the apostle Paul – whom some critics ignorantly try to disparage with the origin of the teaching about eternal life and eternal judgment. It furthermore discredits the claim that the parts of the gospel that these critics find unappealing come from Paul – rather from Jesus who is standing on the prophecy from the Old Testament  which they despise also.  But with the awareness of the reality of progressive revelation in the scriptures – that some realities are revealed gradually through a number of God’s spokesmen over many years – the doctrines of eternal life and eternal judgment come into clarity. In fact, the doctrines of heaven and hell and the consequences of faith in or rejection of Jesus in the New Testament stand pretty much the same even if a person ignores all that the letters of Paul have to say on the subject.

Again, it’s not loving but it is ultimately dishonest to downplay the real eternal consequences of faith in Jesus or to downplay the real eternal consequences of rejection of faith in the eternal Son of God. Perhaps this may have come as a  reaction against unloving, strident and scary ways of preaching and teaching the realities of heaven and hell that happened in the church over the years. I suspect that more often it’s the personal arrogance of some professed believers who have become embarrassed at the gospel of Jesus Christ and who are trying to posture a kind of worldly pseudo-sophistication and intellectualism. But downplaying the eternal consequences it’s only unloving if you consider the claims of Jesus to be false in the first place. It means that you’re taking that side of the world that rejected Jesus and disdained contemned his words.

But even more then, the suggestion needs to be made – as lovingly as possible — that for some people, the offense at these statements of Jesus and attempts to downplay or ignore them in witness may itself be evidence of an unregenerate heart. I would never bring this to anyone as a dogmatic declaration of the state of his or her heart. Rather, there’s a real question of the reality of regeneration to be put where the witness of the scriptures rings clear and yet there is still tremendous internal and external resistance to the truth of the gospel of Jesus, his identity and the eternal consequences of acceptance of the truth. The challenge then means for that person to look into these things part of the habits of an adult faith, which is based upon first hand convictions from examining the scriptures, not upon family pressure, hand me down slogans and sound bites. And this grounded, adult faith will then give us the perspective to stand outside the hip, the trendy, the pseudo sophistication of this world, and to live beyond the desire to be ‘radical’ or  ‘extreme’ because it makes us feel cool and superior.

A. W. Tozer once said something to the effect that God put the preacher in the pulpit not to ask questions but to answer them. Here, in this passage, perhaps more than anywhere else in scripture, Jesus addresses the ultimate questions all in one place.  We can reduce the ultimate questions of life to the four questions that Billy Graham sought to address in his evangelistic ministry:

  • “Who am I?”
  • “Where did I come from?”
  • “Where am I going?”
  • “Is there any meaning to my life?”

So when Jesus said certainly contradicts much in this age. He certainly contradicts atheism – the assertion that there is no God – and scientism – the  assertion that science is the ultimate guide to truth — and materialism – the assertion that material reality is all that there is. He also contradicts philosophical and nihilistic Buddhism as being fundamentally wrong  in their ultimate authority and worldview, however moralistic they may be at times. They may be attractive in the West as a kind of moralism and often pseudo-spirituality. But with regard to their ultimate basis and their understanding of the ultimate consequences of life, Jesus himself contradicts them all with his assertion that the dead will rise to either eternal life or eternal judgment.

But what many people may not notice, even those who may attend or be a part of the church, is that Jesus’s assertion of the resurrection to life or judgment contradicts spiritism as well. There has been a seeming resurgence in interest in what scripture calls necromancy, ghosts and ghosthunting in the past few years in the United States like I have not seen since the early 1970s. That resurgence shows how unsatisfying to the human heart the assertion is that this life is all that is. But Jesus’s words assert that the fate of the dead is not to be disembodied spirits and ghosts but rather the resurrection to life or judgment. But it is also far too left unsaid lately in the modern evangelical church that this resurgence and undue curiosity leads to the demonic, and in this modern evangelical churches are repeating the mistakes of the mainline churches of the past. In the 1960s and the early 1970s I can personally remember how the mainline churches were often horribly undiscerning on this, often syncretistic in trying to combine the occult and superficial Christianity.  For instance, I personally first came into contact with séances at a church camp from a mainline denomination from the son of a pastor of a mainline church back in the 1960s.

In addition, the declaration of Jesus about the resurrection to life and to judgment also contradicts the beliefs in reincarnation and Karma which have entered the belief systems of many from a very watered down Hinduism. It is noteworthy that the the popular belief in Karma bears no resemblance to the 40,000,000 rebirths of orthodox Hinduism. For some people, though, a belief in Karma is often a kind of shorthand for consequences and retribution in this life, which they received from the impeccable spiritual authority of John Lennon and the Beatles during their flirtation with Eastern mysticism (sarcasm intended). But this belief also receives direct contradiction from but the Jesus who lived in Palestine in orthodox Judaism, and his assertion means that that each of us has one life, that all will not be punished or rewarded in this life, but some will wait until his return to the resurrection to life and judgment. 

Again, it needs to be noted that professed Christians tend to fall into these ‘ism’s and that people tend not to be converted to Christ from them unless the truth of the ultimate revelation of God in Jesus and the ultimate state of each of us is not made clear. When things like the statements of Jesus on the resurrection to life and to judgment are not a regular part of the preaching and teaching of the modern evangelical church, people get fuzzy and foolish on the eternal destinies of men and women around them. They tend to mix pagan ideas with shallow and unscriptural notions of the eternal state of men and women upon death. This becomes a severe problem when so much preaching and teaching stays in the shallow end of the pool, and when the public preaching and teaching ministry of the church ignores or dumbs down these incredibly significant eternal realities. Many people may come to a church out of curiosity, entertainment or to find quick fixes for personal dissatisfactions and problems. But they will quickly get bored with the Christianized self help and pop psychology when the world without Christ offers so much of it without the strong moral demands of Christ. The result may be when the disappointment comes with our Christianized self help and entertainment a type of moralistic cynicism and nihilism.

But even among these casual and occasional church attenders, God has set eternity in their hearts – instincts to want more than the comfy family and sexual satisfaction in a wonderful marriage. Unless the preaching  and teaching addresses and addresses regularly ultimate questions, people become more and more dissatisfied. They lose the awareness of the deep and ultimate realities of the faith and this leads to a loss of growth in spiritual maturity. This likely has a lot to do with the  shocking laziness after God, insensitivity to fellow believers in Christ and for the need of the world at large among so many professed believers and still so many pastors still tend to trot out the same ‘marriage, family, financial responsibility and sex’ sermons and teachings over and over again and keep on embellishing them with stories about their own families, and their  congregations which are led down this path tend to become the seed sown upon thorny ground. But when Jesus speaks to us about the eternal realities, and his words permeate the preaching and teaching of the church, the foundational truths tend to keep believers safe and properly directed and grounded in the truth of God in this world.

Finally, words of Jesus about the resurrection to life and the resurrection to judgment should be the ultimate buzzkill to any utopian fantasies that may ever infiltrate the church of Jesus Christ and the imaginations of professed believers. Taking up the false mission of Karl Marx – “I’m out to change my world” — is missing the whole point. In our age, very selective citations of the gospels and the New Testament – these hoary interpretations of old mainline nineteenth century liberalism, which have long  since been refuted exegetically, long since been bypassed  by believers from not so long ago who saw through their falseness to the message of the New Testament – have been brought back to influence the shallow, superficial and spiritually immature and possibly unconverted people in our churches who have come to think that it’s chic and cool to be radical.  (The truth is that his sheep hear his voice – they don’t go looking for the voices of this world in his words.) The challenge is then to read all the red lettered sections, not just a couple of them, and you’ll find that eternal realities such as the resurrection to life and the resurrection to judgment was much more the emphasis of Jesus than anything close to warmed over Marxism of the 1960s counterculture and mainline churches. And you’ll find that the writings of the apostles, including the much maligned Paul, are much more faithful to the message of Jesus than those who brazenly asserted that they knew what Jesus meant better than the apostles. But then again, it was always one of the problems of the very characteristic of the mainline churches in the 1960s and early 1970s, that they tended to  major on the very minor portions of what Jesus said to come up with very twisted ideas. But the challenge remains to actually read the New Testament and don’t blindly accept the moldy old statements stolen from long dead 19th century ‘higher’ critics, and you’ll find that Jesus takes the ultimate and final responsibility to change our world: “See! I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5).

The shocking claim of Jesus Christ himself is that he personally is the Son of God and the Son of God mentioned in the Old Testament, and his personal power and authority will one day bring about the resurrection of the dead and the judgment of every person who has ever lived. This final miracle of the Son of God is the ultimate hope in this world for the final and eternal victory of  the infinite goodness of God and the ultimate justice of God. But his final miracle would be preceded by his walking up the hill of Golgotha outside the wall of Jerusalem to suffer and die by crucifixion, and by this he would pay the price for to provide eternal forgiveness and eternal life for anyone who ever lived. Moreover, he preceded his final miracle by the miracle  of his own resurrection, by being the first one raised from the dead as the portent of the final resurrection of all. And his resurrection to life preceded the next miracle of his ascension to the ultimate authority in heaven and on earth, where he offers to those in this world the first of eternal life if they will repent and trust in him. Therefore, since he has already given notice to this world far in advance of his final miracle, submission to him as Lord and trusting in him as Savior to receive his gift of eternal life is the preparation he has already called for.