Sunday, December 16, 2018

Eschatology - How Should We Now Live?

Eschatology Application

These past 5 weeks we have taken a quick look at the 4 accepted systems of eschatology. I mentioned in the introduction that eschatology is not a standalone doctrine but the outworking of how we view Scripture. Our personal theology, including how that works out in our eschatology, will affect how we live and how we view the world and interpret the Word. Our main priority is to keep a proper focus on the Lord Jesus as the alpha and omega of our faith and of history. I want to emphasize again - I have no fight with brothers and sisters holding a sober-minded view of postmill or historic premill, though I think there are significant problems with those systems.

So if being this or that millennial is not the most important thing, why did we take this tour? Eschatology is not unimportant, as it is a study of a biblical doctrine. Since no system of eschatology is water tight, I've encouraged us to consider which system aligns best to Scripture, with a consistent focus on the glory of God in Christ. I am convinced that Amillennialism aligns with Scripture better than of any of the other systems. No distractions of looking to temporal things to determine how the golden age is progressing; no distractions of looking for a temporal halfway kingdom that elevate a people. In a book I recently read, the author points out that life and death are opposites; there is no third state between them. So it is with this and the age to come; there is no partially redeemed millennium between them.

This final message serves the same purpose as the conclusion of a sermon - answering the "so what?" question. In light of what we've learned, How Should We Then Live? As eschatology is the outworking of one's basis for interpreting Scripture, one's way of life is the outworking of one's theology. How we think about God and man affects how we live.

First a lesson from history. In the early years of the 20th century, dispensationalism was the hot topic in many circles. This nation's policies toward the infant nation of Israel was influenced to a large degree by dispensationalists. I read a letter from a dispensational Baptist preacher that was sent to Harry Truman, encouraging him to do all his could see to it Israel was given the land that is "theirs". This idea that the 20th century nation of Israel is the Israel of the Bible and is still owed prophetic fulfillment by God is the basis for the essential doctrine that defines dispensationalism - elevating national Israel to a place only the redeemed in Christ have, but reducing the inheritance of the saints from eternal bliss to earthly struggles under a renewed Davidic covenant. As Charles Ryrie asserted, viewing the separation between national Israel and the church as the foundation of dispensationalism, one cannot take his eyes off the ethnic group, elevating their millennium to the fulfillment of God’s redemptive purpose. Contrary to Ryrie, we are instructed to set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For we have died, and our lives are hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:2).

Here's a very practical example I use often. Far too many Christians advocate "sin management" although most of would never call it that. There is very good, solid teaching about our need to mortify the sin in our lives. But if such teaching focuses only, or even mainly, on how to kill sin, we will be drawn to our sin. It is a function of our being that we are drawn to that which we focus on. While we are clearly told to mortify, or put to death, the sinful deeds of the flesh (Romans 8:13, Col 3:5) – we should never take our eyes off the Savior. If we focus on killing sin without always keeping our eyes of faith on Christ, we will be drawn to the sin we hate. This is why the proper theology is Christ-focused: He has conquered sin and death, His righteousness is ours, He intercedes for us, and He will come and take us to be with Him forever! And if we don't, we end up trying to manage our sin - for we cannot mortify the deeds of the flesh apart from a deliberate focus on the glorious blessed hope we have been given to.

In a big picture way, that's the point. As for how our eschatology has practical applications, there are several ways. How many people do you know that are terrified of John's Apocalypse? I have a friend who belongs to a mainline protestant church. He told me he has never read Revelation; said the thought of that book terrifies him. Is that the reason God gave us that book? The right view of Scripture, including Revelation, is to show how awesome God is, how faithful He is, how terrifying it is to be without the right clothes on that great and terrible day, and how wonderful it is to have the God of all creation as your personal God, redeemer, and refuge!

Dennis Johnson has written a wonderful commentary on Revelation, Triumph of the Lamb. He learned that "God gave the Apocalypse shown to John in order to bless us — to do us good, to convey His grace, to fortify our hearts. In Revelation, God promises His blessing seven times (a symbolically significant number): to those who hear and hold Revelation’s message (Rev. 1:3; 22:7), who die “in the Lord” (14:13), who stay awake and alert (16:15), who attend the Lamb’s marriage supper (19:9), who share the first resurrection (20:6), and who wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb (22:14; see 7:15). God gave the book of Revelation neither to tantalize nor to satiate our curiosity about His hidden timetable but rather to arm us for the spiritual conflict that we face every day."

Johnson provides seven helpful things to bear in mind as we ponder the wonder and glory of John's Apocalypse. There had to be 7, right? And they are very practical:

Appearances can be deceiving. We often gauge how “the war” is going by the way things look to us today based on headlines about political and economic trends or global crises. The paradoxes in Revelation’s visions remind us that “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). Christ’s cross looked like the slaughter of a helpless lamb, but it was actually the triumph of Judah’s Lion (Rev. 5:5–10). When faithful martyrs shed their blood, their foes seem to have conquered (11:7; 13:7). In fact, the martyrs are the true victors who vanquish Satan “by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (12:11).

Our enemy is stronger and savvier than we are: “the great dragon … that ancient serpent … the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (12:9). But the seed of the woman has come, conquered the Serpent, and ascended to heaven (v. 5). Satan can no longer accuse: his charges have been silenced by Christ’s sacrifice (vv. 10–11). Frustrated over his defeat at the cross, Satan vents his wrath against the church on earth (vv. 12–17). His weapons are violent persecution (the Beast), plausible deception (the False Prophet), and seductive pleasure (the harlot Babylon). The sovereign state, civil religion, and luxurious indulgences may seem to be “saviors.” Don’t be fooled: they aim to destroy. Revelation’s symbolism peels back the fa├žade that often hides the grotesque hollowness of Satan’s counterfeits.

As its title promises, this truly is “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1). It unveils Jesus and fixes our hearts and hopes on Him. He is the hero of each dramatic scene. He is the Son of Man foretold in Daniel 7, luminous in divine glory, who by His resurrection seized death’s keys and now walks among His churches. He is Judah’s Lion who conquered by being slain, redeeming people from all the earth’s peoples. He is worthy of worship from every creature everywhere. He is the Captain of heaven’s armies, riding into battle against His and our enemies, defending beleaguered saints, and finally destroying the Dragon and his beasts. Our Champion lifts our weary hearts with His promise: “Surely I am coming soon.” We reply: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (22:20).

Jesus’ messages to the churches of Asia show that His fiery eyes (1:14; 2:18) see us accurately, commending our faithfulness but exposing our flaws (chaps. 2–3). Nevertheless, as mottled as the church’s spiritual complexion is now, our Bridegroom loves us and will not rest until He presents us to Himself “as a bride adorned for her husband” (21:2), clothed “with fine linen, bright and pure” (19:8). Revelation paints our coming wedding in such vivid colors that we long to pursue now the loveliness that will then be fully ours (1 John 3:2–3).

Revelation was originally addressed to Christians who were suffering for their faith. They experienced poverty, slander, prison, and even death (2:9–10, 13). Writhing in his death throes in the aftermath of the cross, the Dragon escalates his assault against the saints until Christ returns to consummate history. Jesus does not promise a painless escape from this war of the ages. Instead, He promises His presence as the one who is “alive forevermore” (1:18). In response to that promise, we must heed the King’s call to patient endurance (1:9; 2:2–3, 10, 13, 19, 25; 3:8, 10; 13:10; 14:12).

Some of the first-century churches, like many churches in the twenty-first century, faced a subtler threat than persecution. Satan, the father of lies, tried to mislead believers through purveyors of false teaching (2:15, 20). Material comfort and compromise with the paganism of the surrounding culture also proved alluring (2:14; 3:17). Such insidious assaults on wholehearted allegiance to Christ are still with us. Against the Devil’s lies and invitations to idolize pleasure and prosperity, Revelation calls us to keep our hearts and lives pure as befits those who will be the Lamb’s white robed bride (3:4–5, 17–18; 7:9, 14; 14:4; 19:7–8; 22:14–15).

Lest Revelation’s summons to endure and stay pure incline us to withdraw into bunkers, hiding from the dangerous and defiling world, we need to heed Revelation’s encouragement to bear witness to “the testimony of Jesus.” Our word martyr is derived from the Greek word meaning “witness” (martys, 2:13). John was on Patmos “on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (1:9). The church is symbolized in two witnesses who announce God’s word, sealing their testimony with their blood (11:4–12; 13:7). Christ’s witnesses suffer not in timid silence but for their bold declaration that Jesus is Lord of all. Through our testimony, God is fulfilling the vision of Revelation 7: “Behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb … and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!’” (7:9–10).

God gave us the book of Revelation not only to inform our minds but also to transform our lives. It gives us insight into the realities of our situation, our enemies, our Champion, and our true identity, and it calls us to patient endurance, hopeful purity, and courageous witness.

Recall how I mentioned we should pattern our eschatology after Abraham? In Hebrews 11, after describing the faith of Abel, Noah, Sarah, and Abraham, we read, (verse 13 – 16, page 2380) These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

Is this our perspective? Are we seeking a return to the land that these saints left? Or are we looking for and desiring a better country, a heavenly one, where our Lord dwells? The Author of life draws a line between these two countries and the people who dwell therein. Reminding the saints of the blessings and responsibilities that accompany our citizenship in heaven, we read (Heb 13:10) We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. The altar mentioned here in Christ, the eating mentioned here is the Lord’s Supper. Those who serve the tent, the earthly tabernacle, have no right to this supper. When the kingdom was taken from national Israel and given to a nation (a people) who will bear the fruit of true repentance, that people who were known as Israel lost their standing as a people. Ethnic Jews need Christ, not a rebuilt earthly place of worship.

Do you have faith like Abraham or like John Nelson Darby?

Here are a few short passages from Scripture that I pray will help us comprehend how now to live. Nothing is more practical than clear instruction from the Lord God.

2 Cor 4:16-18 (page 2229) So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

2 Peter 1:3-8 (page 2418) His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 8:31-36 (page 2172) What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

1 Peter 4:12-14 (page 2412) Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

Each of these short passages remind us of the temporary nature of this age and the eternal, immanent nature of the age to come. Knowing our standing in Christ, deliberately seeking to keep the eternal in plain site is the biblical means to our stability and usefulness while we yet have time here.

1 Peter 4:7-11 9page 2411) The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

This ought to be on our lips, day by day – to Christ alone belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen!

War on the Home Front, Luke 4:14-30

Let it be known to the listener: I referred to Jezebel as Bathsheba, my mistake, in this sermon. Enjoy!

War on the Home Front, Luke 4:14-30

Previously, Paul preached about the war against evil that had been declared by Jesus in His baptism and then we learned about the personal confrontation with Satan in the 40 days of testing Jesus endured.

There is a change in today’s passage; we have an abrupt break between verse 13 & 14. And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time. And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. In verse 13 we see that Satan had broken off the attack and departed until an opportune time. This is a classic tactic in any war - engage the enemy to discover weaknesses and defeat him, if possible. If not, retreat to recoup and seek out a better engagement, based on what you learned in the first one. And Satan must learn as he goes – he is not omniscient. In our text today we will see that Satan has redrawn the battle lines, from the spiritual domain of this age to Jesus’ home front, Nazareth. What Satan may have thought was a more opportune time.

As we consider these events, let us bear in mind the weight of what the Lord Jesus bore. The Creator of all flesh was the object of scorn and wrath by His creatures – including some of those He grew up with. Man of sorrows, obedient to the Father to save His own people, bearing shame and rude scoffing from those He grew up with. For our sake, God made Him who knew no sin to take our sin upon Himself.

Contrary to Satan’s slinking off to regroup, Jesus went back to Galilee refreshed, in the power of the Spirit. This is a mark of the one with whom the Spirit of God dwells – rather than shrinking back from conflict, Jesus knew His defense would be found in being obedient to the Father. People heard about Him, far and wide, and as He taught in the Jewish synagogues, they all glorified Him – they made much of Him. The account in Matthew gives us some insight as the Lord’s activities while Galilee and the reception He received. Matt 4:23-25 (page 1827). Many signs and miracles – attesting to His identity.

It is still as it was when the ancient preacher said that the ear never tires of hearing something new. People flocked after Jesus, just as they had John. Some of these people rushed to hear these new prophets because they desired healing and feeding and others because they believed on the Lord Jesus; this is pattern we see throughout the Scriptures. Those the Spirt has quickened will receive the gospel with joy; those still in their natural condition will reject the message. And the numbers in the crowds, both groups of people, were large enough to intimidate the religious leaders.

Verses 16-22. When Jesus went to His home town of Nazareth, He stood up to read from the Scroll of the Word of God, as He had been doing for some time – it was His regular practice at this point, having begun when He was twelve. But something was different this time. The time was approaching for the kingdom to be declared. The Son of God had been validated by heaven, it was now public knowledge who He claimed to be.

He read from Isaiah 61:1-2, a passage the Jews identified with their being set free from all political tyranny. At first everyone was impressed – Jesus read the scroll with authority that did not come from man! All eyes were on Him as they waited anxiously to hear what He would say about the text He had read. When Jesus said He was the One spoken of in this passage, they were amazed at His gracious words, yet confounded by their fleshly knowledge that He was the son of Joseph. Wasn’t that what Nathanael asked – could anything good come from that town, Nazareth? The Jews knew their deliverer would come from the house of David – Bethlehem – not from the nowhere town of Nazareth.

Verses 23-27. Jesus cites a proverb and refers to the miracles He had performed in Galilee – doubtless keenly aware of what these men were thinking. After commenting about how hard it is to be accepted by one’s home folk (Is this not Joseph’s son?), He brings up two accounts from their history. After Elijah won the famous victory over the prophets of Baal, he found refuge in the care of a widow mother in Sidon. People were starving and only this widow – not even a Jew! – was saved by a miracle. And note: her jar did not stay full until she obeyed Elijah and fed him with the last bit of flour she had. The second example is the well-known story of the Syrian army officer who was cleansed of leprosy. There was no record of the many Jewish lepers of that time being healed; God chose to save this Syrian.

Note an incident that would take place later in the Lord’s life. He and his disciples are traveling between Samaria and Galilee – the same region our text in chapter 4 takes place. Luke 17:12-19 (page 1857). The only leper who gave thanks and praise God for his physical healing was a Samaritan, not a Jew. And he was the only one of the lepers whose soul was healed. Here is the message: being a Jew, a descendent of Abraham according to the flesh, does not provide eternal life, reconciliation with God, entrance into His kingdom.

Verses 28-29. When those in the synagogue in Nazareth heard Jesus read Isaiah 61, they marveled and spoke well of Him. When the man they knew as a youth taught them the fulfillment of that passage, they were filled with wrath. The message in the Scripture citations was not lost on them – their God sometimes favored Gentiles over Jews. They tended to forget that their father Abraham was promised he would be a father to nations, far and beyond the boundaries of national Israel. This was the common reaction of the Jewish people, anger at the message from their Messiah, stiff-necked blindness, and a love for temporal comforts – just as they grumbled about being led out of Egypt to wander in the wilderness. Slavery was better than the constant wondering, not knowing where they were going or when they would get there. Note the contrast with the man they called “father” – God had called Abram to leave his family and go to a country God would show him. No map, no GPS, no direction or duration. And Abram went, as the Lord had told him. We learn that he was led to Canaan, but Abram didn’t stay there. He was a wonderer all his life, looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

Abram was a man of faith – he trusted God more than he trusted his own reason. People who demand a sign as evidence give evidence they don’t have faith. They want to see with their eyes of flesh what only spiritual eyes can see. About these Jesus said, The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at Jonah's preaching, and look--something greater than Jonah is here (Luke 11:32). We see frequent evidence that even those closest to Jesus were prone to fall into this pattern – Thomas said he would not believe Christ had risen from the dead, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25). This is the default for man, trusting in what his natural sight can see, what his human mind can reason out. In Romans 5 we read that natural man is an enemy of God, in Phil 3 those who are devoted to things of the world are enemies of the cross, in James we are told friendship with the world is enmity (hostility) towards God, and in Col 1 we see that natural man is hostile and alienated from God by evil actions.

And when the men from Jesus' home town reacted to His message with anger, seeking to murder Him, verse 30: But passing through them, He went away. Jesus came to earth in the fullness of time; God's time. He would ascend back to the Father in God's time, not according to the whim of men. Verse 30 is a subtle reminder of Who He is. And this message and identity of their Messiah was lost on most of the Jews; even those who knew Him best - according to the flesh.

The Jewish people were, by and large, spiritually dead, ruled by their fleshly desires of temporal comfort and prestige. The Levitical religion they were given to point them to the promised Seed who would take away their sin had been turned into a religion of painting the outside of a tomb white so everyone would think it clean. They mostly had little regard for God, with the leaders taking advantage of the poor and the widows, robbing the priests who took care of those. And to these Jesus would say, You are of your father, the Devil (John 8:44). Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing its fruit. (Matt 21:43) That nation, or people, producing fruit are those given by the Father to Jesus, that He would redeem the sheep of national Israel and the sheep beyond those borders, bringing all into His sheepfold. He would pray for us (John 17:24-26): Father, I desire those You have given Me to be with Me where I am. Then they will see My glory, which You have given Me because You loved Me before the world’s foundation. Righteous Father! The world has not known You. However, I have known You, and these have known that You sent Me. I made Your name known to them and will make it known, so the love You have loved Me with may be in them and I may be in them. And to His people, the Lord Jesus provides this guidance through His apostle: though we live in the body, we do not wage war in an unspiritual way, since the weapons of our warfare are not worldly, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds (2 Cor 10:3-4). Just as Jesus waged war through obedience to the Father, so we wage war as spiritual people, not as worldly people. Christ has won the victory over sin and death and the devil – we are equipped by the Spirit to stand fast in the grace He gives to us.

This is our security – not our work, not our religion, not our earthly pedigree or station in society. God saves sinners, to the uttermost, through the redemption found in His Son, by grace alone. Unless a man is born from above, Jesus told a leader of the Jewish people, he cannot see – much less enter – the kingdom of God. In the New Covenant, we all know the Lord, we see Him with eyes of faith. We believe what was written even when the best human minds tell us it cannot be. While the world seeks a sign so they make a judgment, the sheep of God hear their Shepherd and believe.

To sum up. Satan had attacked true Israel directly; that was the scene last Sunday. In our passage today, he goes to Jesus’ home town to stir up family and friends in national Israel against the Israel of God. The Jewish leaders didn’t know it but they had grown lax, complacent, as their fathers had before them. They had grown attached to the idea that their physical connection to Abraham was their assurance of being in favor with YHWH. When YHWH shows up in the flesh, reads their Scripture about Himself, tells them it was being fulfilled as they listened to Him, their true colors were revealed.

When Job was suffering, his friends assumed it was because he had sinned and was being punished by God. They thought wealth and health were sure signs of God’s favor; illness and poverty signs of His wrath. Job was of the same mind as Abraham – he trusted God and dared not curse Him, though everything was taken from him. Do you and I see God the way Job’s friends and most Jews did, or do we see God as Job and Abraham did? Do you and I trust wealth, comfort, and the applause of man or do we trust the righteous one who judges justly? If we trust the gifts He gives, we are idolaters; if we demand signs, the men of Nineveh will rise in judgment against us.

The Jews of Jesus’ home town looked like and were treated as men of God. Yet most of them hated God and loved and trusted in their traditions and positions and sought signs. Some of the Jews in Capernaum, as in Berea, trusted the Word Who walked among them and was preached unto them.

For those of us who are in Christ, your background does not define you; your friends and family do not; your identity in Christ does. Rahab was a harlot, but she believed in God and is a sister in Christ. One Samaritan leper gave thanks to God and praised Him and was healed body and soul. Do not allow those who know you from childhood define you, as those who heard Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth judged Him. Do not allow the fear of what people close to you might say to keep you from serving God and His people, bringing joy to the brotherhood of saints and glory to your Father in heaven. If you are in Christ, you have a family that is closer and more dear that your friends and family according to the flesh. Jesus said (Matt 12:46-50) that His family was not defined by the flesh, but those who do the will of the Father in heaven were His “brother and sister and mother.” Do we identify with that family or do we cling to things and people of the flesh?

For each one of us, God forbid we allow our family, traditions, and positions blind us to the truth being taught in our midst. Let us search the Scriptures, not our traditions, to see if these things be so. Faith that saves is faith that believes the Word, obeys the Word, loves the brotherhood, and does not grow weary in doing well. Our Lord promised to defend His people, declaring that hell itself could not tear down the New Jerusalem He is building. Though Satan is defeated, his influence is seen everywhere as people of the world exalt in shameful deeds. Many who call themselves Christian despise His truth and, though many accept them as Christians, their words and their traditions betray them.

When the spiritual war stirs up trouble on the home front, when family and friends turn against you because of your testimony of Christ, look to Him, put no confidence in the flesh. We have a sure refuge, the man of sorrows who bought us at a high price. Trust Him, rest in Him, today. There is no other savior, no other advocate with the Father, no other refuge from the storms of this life or from the judgment that is surely coming upon this world. Do not live to please men. Warn those who love the world to turn and embrace Christ. He surely will save all that the Father gives to Him.