Eschatology Outlines: No. 4 The Apostolic Writings

Posted by R. Fowler White

Getting Our Bearings on the End from Hebrews

The author’s expectations appear to be shaped by parallels with the days of Noah and Lot and with the Sinai theophany. He anticipates the day of redemptive wrath (10:26) in which God will shake the present heavens and earth in the fury of theophanic fire (12:26-29), after which emerges an unshakable new heavens and new earth. In that day, the adversaries of God, among whom will be apostates and persecutors, will be consumed in the fiery conflagration (10:27, 30-39), and the people of God will receive their eternal inheritance of rest (3:7–4:11) in the lasting city (13:14) of that unshakable kingdom-homeland (11:14) in the world to come (2:5). The macrocosmic scale of the judgment with fire matches the scale of Noah’s flood, and in both cases the delivered remnant enjoys rest from their toilsome labors in a new earth. Also, the deliverance of God’s people into a new Canaan-earth is explicitly compared to the deliverance of Israel into Canaan, while the destruction of God’s enemies in Hebrews is implicitly compared to the fiery destruction of Sodom.

Getting Our Bearings on the End from Paul
(1 Corinthians 15; 2 Thessalonians 1-2; Romans 8)

I. The defeat of the last enemy, death, will mark the culmination of a complex of events (1 Cor 15:22-28), the essentials of which mirror the days of judgment in previous generations. As in the days of Noah and Lot, apostasy from the faith and lawlessness will bring cultural decline, provoking the wrath of Christ (cf. 2 Thess 2:3, 8-12; 1 Tim 4:1-5; 2 Tim 3:1-5 with Gen 4:17-24; 6:1-7, 11-12). Absent the restraint of God’s common grace (cf. 2 Thess 2:6-7 with Gen 6:3), the eschatological counterpart to Cainite Lamech (whether individual or corporate) will appear as a new abomination that brings defilement to and desolation upon the temple of God.

II. Special note on 2 Thess 2:4 and the expression temple of God

A. The phrase temple of God has multiple referents in Scripture: it is applied to the individual believer’s body, to the sanctuary structure in Jerusalem, to the church, and to the cosmos (heaven and earth). The question naturally arises, therefore: which temple, defiled as it is by the abomination of the man of lawlessness, does Paul have in mind in 2 Thess 2:3-12? We can reasonably exclude from consideration the individual temple of the believer’s body. Conceivably, the temple in view here, then, is either the temple at Jerusalem, or the church, or the cosmos. Though it is plausible that Paul, writing as he is before Jerusalem’s fall in AD 70, has that event in mind, the scale and finality of the phenomena mentioned in 2 Thess 1:5–2:12 fit most naturally with Christ’s second coming. Could the temple of God, then, be a reference to a future temple in Jerusalem? There is no basis in the Apostle’s writings for such an expectation. So, we are left to consider the church and the cosmos as the referent(s) of the phrase temple of God. Of these choices, it is reasonable to presume that the first referent in Paul’s mind is the church, that is, the visible church defiled by apostasy and by the man of lawlessness. Yet we are also able to discern a second referent when we consider that, once apostasy obliterates the boundary between the visible church and the unbelieving world, the defilement of the world fills the apostate church too. Furthermore, since it is clear in the context of 2 Thessalonians that the son of perdition fills the world with his lawlessness, we have to say that the cosmos-temple is defiled with lawlessness even as the church-temple is defiled with apostasy. It appears, therefore, best to see a twofold reference to the macrocosmic (world) and microcosmic (church) temples in the expression the temple of God in 2 Thess 2:4.

B. If the temple of God is interpreted as we suggest above, then, what Paul describes in 2 Thess 2:3-12 is a diabolical reprise of the idolatrous theocracy from the days of Noah and second temple Jerusalem, when the eschatological counterpart to Cainite Lamech will mock God as he assumes the posture of deity (cf. 2 Thess 2:3-4, 9-10 with Dan 9:26-27). To bring an end to his monstrous delusion, the Judge of Lot’s tormentors will again slay the wicked with fire and with His breath (2 Thess 1:8), sending His enemies to their everlasting destruction while rescuing His people (2 Thess 1:7) and bringing them into the glory of the new creation freed at last from the bondage of corruption and death (Rom 8:18-25).

Getting Our Bearings on the End from Peter and Jude
(2 Peter 2–3; Jude 7)

I. 2 Pet 1:19-2:9; Jude 7: Peter and Jude teach us to compare the coming of Christ in judgment with the judgment of the world of Noah (2 Pet 2:5) and the judgment of the city of Lot (2 Pet 2:6-9; Jude 7).

II. 2 Pet 3:1-7, 10-13: Peter teaches us to compare the coming of Christ to judge by fire with the coming of God to judge by flood.

III. Summary—Clearly, as Peter and Jude read the Bible, they teach us to see recurring patterns in God’s governance of history: the past is repeated in the future. It is remarkable to notice in these texts the traits of the days of Noah and of Lot: the decline of culture, the deliverance of a godly remnant, and the destruction of the ungodly.

Eschatology Outlines: No. 3B The Olivet Discourse (conc.)

Posted by R. Fowler White

Getting Our Bearings on the End from Jesus:
The Birth Pains Period from Beginning to End

I. The big picture: The Olivet Discourse starts with a survey of the time from the beginning of birth pains to the end of the age (i.e., the end of the birth pains period). See Matt 24:4-14//Mark 13:5-13//Luke 21:8-19. In other words, Jesus begins the Discourse by giving an overview of the entire birth pangs era.

A. The beginning of the birth pains period, Matt 24:4-8 and parallels—Jesus pointedly says the following are not yet the end: false christs, wars, and rumors of wars, 24:4-6; famines, pestilence, and earthquakes, 24:7-8. (See also Rev 6.) It is relevant here to remember the history of Cain and his descendants: according to Jesus, culture (with nature) suffers from degradation during the birth pains era (Matt 24:4-8) just as it did during the era narrated in Gen 4:17–6:8. Each age of birth pains culminates in the birth of a new world.

B. The end of the age = the end of the birth pains era, Matt 24:9-14 and parallels—The end comes only after gospel witness goes to all the nations, 24:14 (see 28:19-20). The end marks the limit of gospel preaching, persecution, and perseverance, 24:9-13.

II. Tribulation and persecution, from beginning to end—It is noteworthy that tribulation and persecution take place throughout the period of birth pains. That is, they last as long as gospel witness lasts, and the spread of the gospel witness to the nations brings the spread of tribulation and persecution to the nations. Tribulation and persecution, therefore, occur both early and late in the period.—From Christ’s 1st Coming through His 2nd Coming, there is intensifying pressure on the church to apostatize because of cultural degradation (i.e., apostasy, removal of restraint, lawlessness). In other words, the days of Noah and the days of Lot recur, and tribulation and persecution bear the fruit of apostasy and betrayal; false prophecy multiplies deception; lawlessness increases and culture suffers corruption.

IV. Tribulation in Jerusalem, Matt 24:15-20//Mark 13:14-18// Luke 21:20-22—After giving an overview of the entire birth pains period, Jesus answers the disciples’ question about Jerusalem and the temple.

A. Jerusalem in spiritual decline—In Matt 23:13-39, Jesus pronounced judgment on 1st century Jerusalem. Just as Moses compared the people and land to Sodom in Deut 30:22-28 and Isaiah compared Jerusalem to Sodom in Isa 1:9-10, so Jesus did (Matt 11:23-24; Luke 17:28-29). He characterized the city’s population for its apostasy, hypocrisy, murder, corruption, robbery, self-indulgence, lawlessness, and moral blindness. In short, they were very much like the neighbors of Lot and Noah in their days. With its worship and justice corrupted, Jerusalem had also persecuted the church.

B. Jerusalem to be destroyed: Your house is being left to you desolate, Matt 23:38.—The temple will be abominated by an enemy nation. In the destruction of Jerusalem, nation will rise against nation, kingdom against kingdom (Matt 24:7). With these words, Jesus connects Jerusalem’s tribulation and destruction to the beginning of birth pains, not the end of the age. As predicted by Jesus, then, the destruction of Jerusalem is at the beginning of birth pains, not the end; the tribulation in Jerusalem is early tribulation, not late.

C. A remnant to be delivered, Matt 24:16-20: like Noah and Lot, the Christian remnant in Jerusalem will escape to the mountains (cf. Matt 24:16 with Gen 8:4; 19:19).

V. Tribulation and false reports of Christ’s coming throughout the birth pains period, Matt 24:21-28//Mark 13:19-23//Luke 17:23-24, 37—Next, Jesus answers the question about His coming and the end of birth pains.

A. Tribulation in Jerusalem is only one early example of the tribulation that occurs during the entire birth pains period to the end of the age, Matt 24:21-22.—Jesus emphasizes three traits of the tribulation in the age of birth pains. That tribulation is great in its increasing severity, longevity, and scope, Matt 24:21. Tribulation in the birth pains period is comprehensive, in that it threatens not just Jerusalem, but all flesh, Matt 24:22a. (Note: tribulations in the earth threatened all flesh before the flood, Gen 6:11-13.) Tribulation in the birth pains period is shortened, even though it is great and comprehensive, Matt 24:22b. According to Gen 6:3, God had limited the duration of tribulation on the earth before the flood by limiting the apostates’ years in the earth without the Spirit’s restraint. God will limit the duration of tribulation again before Christ’s return.

B. False reports of Christ’s coming and the true character of His coming, Matt 24:23-28.—False christs and false prophets appear throughout the era, Matt 24:23-25: these pseudo-christs and pseudo-prophets will mock the true God and deceive the world with great signs and wonders.—False sightings of Christ recur during the age, Matt 24:25-27: we’re to remember that Christ’s coming will be not be secluded or hidden, but public, unmistakable, universal, cosmic. False prophets, like vultures on a corpse (of a dead nation or a dead world), will prey, however, on their hearers, Matt 24:28. Again, it’s important to recall that false christs and prophets are not yet the end; they appear from the beginning of birth pains, Matt 24: 6, 8.

VI. The end of birth pains, the end of the age, Matt 24:29-31 // Mark 13:24-27 // Luke 21:25-28—Christ returns to judge heaven and earth. It is the judgment of heaven and earth, not the judgment of Jerusalem, that marks the end of birth pains and the end of the age.—Note the shift in focus and scope from Jerusalem to heaven and earth. With the heavens shaking (sun, moon, stars, heavenly powers, Matt 24:29; see Heb 12:26-27), the end of the world that now is comes in days of cosmic judgment, like the days of Noah.—The sign of the Son of Man and the gathering of the elect, 24:30-31 (//13:40-43, 49-50). Note the elect are gathered from the four winds, the point being that the gospel will have gone to all the nations before the end of the age comes.

VII. Admonitions and instruction on alertness between the beginning and the end, Matt 24:32-25:30//Mark 13:28-37//Luke 21:29-36—Jesus declares that His disciples are not to be afraid, misled, or surprised. Instead, we’re to be courageous, discerning, and vigilant.

VIII. The transition from the end of this birth pains age to the regeneration of heaven and earth, Matt 19:28; 25:31-46—The transition from this age to the age to come, the eternal state, is accomplished through redemptive judgment, according to which God’s people are ushered into eternal life in the world to come, while His enemies depart into eternal judgment.

Eschatology Outlines: No. 3A The Olivet Discourse 

Posted by R. Fowler White

Getting Our Bearings on the End from Jesus:
Overview of the Olivet Discourse

I. As others have noted, for many the study of the Olivet Discourse specifically and eschatology (aka the future, last things) generally is overwhelming and ought to be avoided because it’s daunting, divisive, and leads to some to bizarre and kooky conclusions. After all, experienced and mature Christians, even after considerable study, differ over even the basic approach to these subjects. Can we expect to reach a settled conviction on these matters when such differences exist? Isn’t it best perhaps to leave the subject alone? In short, no. The better approach is to keep studying, proceeding methodically.

II. It is vital, for example, to consult the church’s historic creeds, confessions, and catechisms composed over the centuries by the shepherds and teachers whom Christ has given to His church. We consult those documents not as rules for our faith, but as helps in our faith. From them we learn where consensus and differences have existed. We also learn which conclusions are novel or new, thus requiring weightier evidence than usual to convince others.

III. Turning to Scripture as our rule of faith, we should reckon with the way Jesus responds to the disciples’ questions about the future. His response should forever silence the notion that the study of last things ought to be avoided. The disciples came to Jesus after His words regarding the future (see, e.g., Matt 23:37–24:3), even if we still find ourselves asking, “the future of exactly what?” The disciples asked Jesus questions about the temple’s destruction, about the end of the age, and about His coming, questions showing that they already had knowledge of certain future events and that they were still curious about those events, questions requiring detailed responses from Jesus. One important thing to notice is that Jesus considered their questions to be legitimate concerns. He did not discourage or chide His disciples for asking questions about the future. In fact, the Discourse that Jesus gave following their questions is the longest answer that He ever gave to any of the questions they asked. We ought, it appears, to be very interested in the topics related to last things.

IV. Three interpretations of the Olivet Discourse: Jesus answers His disciples’ questions by connecting the temple destruction, the end of the age, and His coming to either 1) the judgment of Jerusalem, or 2) the judgment of the world (the present creation), or 3) the judgment of both Jerusalem and the world. For our purposes, option #3 accounts for more of the evidence than the others.

V. General orientation to the Olivet Discourse: Jesus teaches His disciples to compare the days of His coming with the days of Noah and of Lot. See Luke 17:22-37 and its parallels.—In Scripture God has not left us without guidelines and boundaries by which to understand and anticipate the future. He has given us examples, patterns, shadows (foreshadowings), and types of the future. In fact, it is the past that is a predictor of the future: the past tells us the shape of things to come. From episodes of divine judgment in biblical history, we discern that divine judgment has a patterned character, and from it we can learn what God wants us to know about the future. As we see in our “Eschatology Outlines: No. 2 Noah and Lot,” divine judgment followed the discernible pattern narrated in Genesis 6–7 (cf. Jesus’ words, “as in the days of Noah”; see also 2 Peter 3). We get our bearings on our questions about the future by noticing that in His Olivet Discourse Jesus instructs us to compare the day of His coming, the days of Noah, and the days of Lot.

A. As we suggested above (under IV.), in the Olivet Discourse Jesus presents the judgments on both Jerusalem and the present creation side by side, the former judgment being a microcosmic version that foreshadows the latter, macrocosmic judgment to come. We might use the word stereoscopic (cf. stereophonic) to describe this presentation of the two judgments in the one context of the Discourse. (Aside: arguably, a similar stereoscopic presentation of these two judgments is at work in Revelation.)

B. Presuming for the sake of this post that Jesus presents both judgments in the Discourse, one thing that makes discerning the distinction between the two judgments challenging is the fact that they both follow the paradigm of the flood judgment. (Recall that the days of Lot followed the pattern of the days of Noah.) Generally, though, we can distinguish the two by giving careful attention to temporal markers and geographical markers in the text (e.g., the beginning vs. the end of birth pains; in Judea vs. from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other).

C. Given the markers of time and place in the Discourse, Jesus’ intent seems clearly, in part, to get the disciples to disconnect Jerusalem’s destruction from creation’s destruction: that is, He wants them to understand that the two judgments won’t happen contemporaneously. Jesus bases that disconnection on, among other things, this observation: both judgments take for granted that the remnant, whether in the nation or in the world, has come to salvation through gospel preaching. So, before creation’s destruction but separate from Jerusalem’s destruction, the gospel must go to all the nations so that, once the destruction of creation arrives, the elect remnant from all those nations might be gathered from the four winds of the earth. 

D. In other words, Jesus would have the disciples to keep this straight: whether they’re thinking about the destruction of the nation’s temple or of creation’s temple, the destruction of either temple presupposes that the populations associated with each have been evangelized and that the elect remnant in each has been saved. This observation doesn’t answer every question, of course, but it seems to help.

VI. Periodization in the Discourse: Jesus answers their questions by describing what He calls a period of birth pains, a period with a beginning, Matt 24:8, and an end, Matt 24:6, 13-14.

A. The beginning of birth pains is linked historically with the Great Commission because gospel witness, tribulation, and persecution among all the nations are all linked with the birth pains.

B. The end of birth pains comes at the end of the age, Matt 24:3. As such, it ushers in the regeneration (of heaven and earth), Matt 19:28, a situation otherwise known as the eternal state that follows the Day of Judgment, Matt 25:31-32, 46; 13:40-43, 49-50. (Interestingly enough, the word regeneration encourages us to compare the emergence of the new heavens and earth with the creation of the world, Gen 2:4.)

Eschatology Outlines: No. 2 Noah and Lot

Posted by R. Fowler White

Getting Our Bearings on the End from “the Days of Noah”:
Universal-World Judgment

I. Overview: The post-fall, pre-flood history of man became a “Tale of Two Cities,” a history of conflict between the worship and city founded by Cain and the worship and city founded by the Lord God through His curse on the serpent. That history is a history of civilizational decline (degradation) culminating in redemptive judgment, a history of the apostate malformation of the city of man. As man rebelled against the Cultural Mandate and sought Edenic security, beauty, and community according to his own standards, so his cities became increasingly idolatrous parodies of the city of God ripe for judgment. The work of fallen man, faithful or faithless, culminated in all the earth being filled with violence. Despite the eschatological hope of man’s pre-fall history, fallen man did not proceed to fill the earth to God’s glory through God’s Spirit according to God’s word. No, the “glory” of fallen man was an earth filled not with peace and righteousness, but with unrighteousness and violence, Gen 6:1-7, 11-13.

II. Decline (degradation) of culture: its features. See Gen 4:1-24; 6:1-7, 11-13.

A. Apostasy, Gen 4:1-15; 6:1-2: In the first generation of the household of faith, a culture war broke out with a murder over worship: an enraged Cain, in effect, slaughtered Abel as a bloody sacrifice (see 1 John 3:12 NET). After Cain’s excommunication, the faithless households descending from him built a city for refuge (Enoch, Gen 4:16-17), while the faithful households descending from Seth (Gen 4:25–5:32) built altars from where they called on the name of the Lord their God. Regardless of the precise interpretation of “the sons of God” (Gen 6:2) that we adopt, the last generation of descendants from Cain and Seth before God’s judgment appears to have yielded to apostasy through intermarriage. Once the households of faith apostatized, there was no remedy for that generation: they had degraded themselves into the terminal generation of the era between the fall and the flood.

B. Removal of the Spirit’s restraining presence, Gen 6:3: God set a timetable according to which His Spirit’s restraint would become obsolete. His patience had suffered long, but it would not suffer forever. Meanwhile, civilization exhibited the spirit of its father, Cain: it was carnal, diabolical, anti-Christ, and anti-Christian.

C. Lawlessness, Gen 4:16-24; 6:4-7, 11-12: As we noticed above (II.A.), civilization became progressively degraded at the hands of apostates. The culture of the faithless exhibited all the basic elements of civilization, but it was a culture that culminated in violence and death, instead of peace and righteousness. Through Lamech, the Nephilim, and the Men of Renown (“of the Name”), civilization became an idolatrous theocracy in which, like Lamech, man mocked God and assumed the position of deity. The culture of fallen man became the cult of fallen man. Out of the violence of Cain’s fratricide had come a city and culture distinguished by violence in the family and in the state. The absence of even civic good became complete. Evil, lawlessness, and contempt for all God’s ordinances were rampant. The corruption of the world that was reached its nadir.

III. Deliverance of a remnant, Gen 6:13-21; 7:23: In judgment, God remembered mercy. God the Deliverer entered into a covenant of deliverance with Noah and his household, Gen 6:18-21. It is noteworthy that God delivered a remnant, but only a remnant, of all kinds, human kind and non-human kind. Divine deliverance, in that it reaches a remnant, is always particular, never general (universal), Gen 6:13-15; 7:23. The remnant here anticipated the birth/beginning, the first generation, of the world that now is.

A. Noah, a type of the Last Adam (Christ): As a temporal reward for Noah’s exemplary obedience of faith (WCF 16.6), those in his household enjoyed the temporal blessing of deliverance from the flood, Gen 7:1, 5; 6:8-9, 22; cf. 5:29. By faith Noah was obedient in that he built the ark—a floating city, a boathouse with window and door, Gen 6:16—according to the word of God his Deliverer and to His glory, Gen 6:22.

B. We should note that, though Noah was a foreshadowing of Christ, he was not a federal (covenantal) head in the same way that Christ is. In Noah’s case, the obedience of the one (Noah) was not credited to those in his household. (Noah was exemplary in righteousness in his day, but not perfect.) In the case of Christ, the obedience of the One is credited to the many.

IV. Destruction of the world by flood, Gen 6:7, 11-17; 7:21-24: The flood marked the death/end of the first world. God the Judge had set the date for the judgment of the first world. He had threatened to judge the world by the flood, and then He did so.

Getting Our Bearings on the End from “The Days of Lot”:
Local-City Judgment

I. Decline (degradation) of culture, Gen 18:16–19:11; 2 Pet 2:6-8; Jude 7: Sodom was a city with fewer than ten righteous in it, just as the earth of Noah’s day had fewer than ten righteous in it. It was utterly corrupted by lawlessness, depravity, sensuality, ungodliness, and apostasy (even in the cases of Lot’s wife and others in his household). Contempt for God’s ordinances was pervasive: family and civil government were both corrupt. Civic good had vanished: the absence of safety in the city gate is noteworthy.

II. Deliverance of a remnant: Lot found grace, Gen 19:19, so that he and some in his household were delivered, as Noah had found grace, Gen 6:8, so that he and his house were delivered. The angels shut the door of Lot’s house for safety, Gen 19:10, just as God had shut the door of Noah’s ark, Gen 7:16. Lot and his household members found safety in the mountains, Gen 19:17, 30, just as Noah and his household members had found safety on Mt Ararat, Gen 8:4.

III. Destruction of the city by fire: God destroyed the wicked in Sodom and the surrounding region by the “rain” of fire (Gen 19:24; 2 Pet 2:6), just as He had destroyed the world with the rain of water (7:4).

Eschatology Outlines: No. 1 The Beginning

Posted by R. Fowler White

Getting Our Bearings on the End from the Beginning:
Genesis 1–3

I. The eschatology of Gen 1:28—the earth ruled, filled, and at rest

The creation workweek of God had an eschatology, an end in view. The God of Creation is the Divine Artisan who rules and fills (brings form and fullness to) the originally unformed and unfilled earth. The eschatology of Gen 1:1–2:3, then, focuses on the rest of God after the work of God.

A. As God had ruled and filled the earth to His glory by His Spirit according to His Word, so man male and female was to rule and fill land, sky, and sea to God’s glory, by God’s Spirit, according to God’s Word.

B. Gen 1:28 expressed the hope that, through God’s Spirit and according to God’s word, man, being the image and likeness of God, would enter into God’s rest, having finished the work God had commissioned and blessed them to do.

II. The eschatology of Gen 2:15-17—the world city (cosmopolis), secure and pure, with God on His mountain

A. The holy setting: There was a habitation for God and man male and female, together in a garden on a mountain. There was community in beauty and security: the beauty of trees surrounded by precious metals and cosmic rivers and the security of its elevated summit location (cf. v 10). Eden was the site of the city of God and man in a garden on a mountain (see Ezekiel 28).

B. The holy task with an eschatology: Made in God’s image and likeness, man was to emulate God in His person and work. From the Edenic summit, man, like God, was to undertake the original commission under God’s benediction, to rule and to fill the earth to God’s glory, according to God’s Word, by God’s Spirit. Man was, in effect, to extend the city from the garden into the whole earth, making a holy habitation for holy inhabitants throughout the earth. The goal of human history, then, was the building of the house of man and his bride, which God would have them construct throughout the world, filling the earth with the glory of God.

III. The eschatology of Gen 3:14-19—first suffering, then glory: the Last Adam as Dragon-Slayer and Temple-Builder

A. The antithesis between creative word (blessing) and prophetic judgment (curse)—History, according to the Bible, is determined by the word of God both in curse (anti-creation; judgment) and in blessing (re-creation; salvation). God’s creative word created the world at the beginning; God’s prophetic word creates history thereafter.

B. The prophetic (i.e., eschatological) paradigm is found in Gen 3:14-19.—God’s curses here express the eschatologically significant moral principles by which He achieves victory over His enemies. In Gen 3:14-19, we find statements of those principles of re­tributive irony and redemptive irony.

1. Means and results—God sees to it that the means by which the serpent and his seed intended to defeat Him end up being the very means by which He defeats them. In addition, the actual results effected by God are the opposite or a greater degree of the results intended by the serpent and his seed.

2. Death of one, life for many—By the grace of redemptive judgment, God appoints the death-suffering of one as the way to new life-glory for many; He ordains the weak, even in death, to conquer the strong; He transforms curse into blessing. The Last (eschatological) Adam will be victorious over the serpent where the First (pro­tological) Adam had been defeated, and that victory will come by means of the curse of death.

IV. Summary: Moses gives us the basis for a true moral optimism.

A. It is the Last Adam and His seed who will fulfill God’s mandate for man. Ironically, in the curse on the serpent, the man and the woman could find God’s Gen 1:28 promise of victory and life restored. God’s curse on the serpent in Gen 3:15-21 is His gospel of deliverance from the vanity and futility of fallen man’s work. To one of the woman’s seed would belong the blessings of victory over the serpent: through the victory of that One seed, many of the woman’s otherwise cursed seed would be blessed with life (Gen 3:15). In the victory of that one righteous Son and the remnant He redeems, the earth will yet be ruled and filled by a righteous immortal seed of man to the glory of God.

B. Meanwhile, to reveal without delay His holy wrath against sin, God’s immediate judgment was to drive Adam, Eve, and the serpent from Eden’s earthly summit and to station the cherubim at its entrance to guard it against any further defilement by His now cursed creatures (Gen 3:24). Thereafter, amidst the suffering and death of the curses, the conflict between the woman, the serpent, and their seed began its course toward the consummation of God’s purpose, all the while bringing to pass an eschatology of hope for victory over the beast by persevering in faith despite suffering and death.

C. In Gen 3:15, then, we find a denial of the ultimacy of evil and, thus, the basis for the believer’s hope in the vindication of good. The eschatology of Genesis 1–3, expressed in its pronouncements of blessing and curse, is a true moral optimism, an eschatology of victory, wherein God makes curse the way to blessing, death the way to life, for His believing people. We Christians do not serve a frustrated deity.

Sovereignty, Satan, Saruman, Sauron, and Spying Scary Stuff

There is in Christian circles today a pandemic of fear. Two main fears have presented themselves. One, of a virus; the other, of government. These two fears are threatening to drown out the fear of God. They are also threatening to undermine Christians’ belief in the sovereignty of God. People are behaving as if a virus or the government is becoming or already is more powerful than God.

There is a variety of reactions visible at the moment. Some take the cocoon approach. Others display a sort of obsession to know the worst, and they tend to wallow in the bad news, thinking that if they can just know the worst, then they will retain some degree of control over the situation. This latter reaction is the one I am primarily addressing.

The primary analogy I wish to use is that of Saruman and Denethor’s twin desires to know everything through the seeing stones (the palantiri). The problem with both of them using the palantiri is that Sauron controlled the flow of information. They both saw only what Sauron wanted them to see. As a result, Saruman capitulated to what he saw and feared. Denethor went mad with hopelessness, even though he did not capitulate to Sauron’s tyranny. They were both tempted by the same thing: the thought that knowledge equals power equals control. The problem for them both was that Sauron was stronger, and the flow of information was controlled. They couldn’t see anything that Gandalf would have wanted them to see, nor could they see anything that would give them hope.

In our modern age, the information is also being controlled in a majority of cases. It is not news (usually!) to report positive things in this world. What makes the news is almost universally negative. The flow of information is carefully controlled in order to present a world that is spiraling out of control, especially out of God’s control. Fear is very intentionally the goal of much of this information flow. The actual Sauron (Satan) is a master of misinformation. He is directing his forces to paint a very negative picture so that people who could actually do anything about the situation are paralyzed.

This picture is quite misleading. In Revelation 12, if you didn’t know how the story turns out, you would think that the brainy and brawny dragon very obviously was going to win. At the very least, you would probably have put your money on the dragon. Except, he doesn’t win. In fact, he is shown to be laughably, absurdly impotent. He can’t even destroy a woman in labor with her infant child? The lesson of Revelation 12 is that appearances are deceptive. It might look like evil is gaining the upper hand, but in the spiritual realm, this is never the case. And the physical realm does not control what goes on in the spiritual world. If anything, it is the reverse.

We need to learn the lesson of not fearing anything or anyone but God Almighty. His sovereignty cannot be seriously challenged. His plan, however incomprehensible to us at the moment, will eventually be evident as the best possible plan. Worried obsession with information will get us nowhere. It will not result in the control we think we are gaining. Instead, it will only result in capitulation (a la Saruman) or the madness of despair (like Denethor). Instead, we need to be meditating on the actual battle in the spiritual realm, reflecting on the sure and certain knowledge that God cannot possibly lose. Indeed, He has already won.

Armageddon in Rev 16:16

Posted by R. Fowler White

Many sincere Christians have concluded that the term Armageddon in Rev 16:16 describes the predicted geographic location of the final battle between Israeli and anti-Israeli armies, the decisive war to be fought in the plain of Megiddo, near Mount Carmel approx. 25 miles east of the Sea of Galilee. In common parlance, folks apply the term more broadly to a worldwide, age-ending war. Our purpose below is to provide evidence supporting an interpretation of the term in the light of biblical theology.

I. The Holy Wars of the Lord God in the OT

A. The Lord our God as King waged holy war on behalf of His people to make them secure and pure for fellowship-worship in His dwelling place.

B. God’s presence in holy war was manifested in earthquake, thunder, phenomena in sun, moon, and stars, rain and hail, terror and panic. The following are examples.

1. Holy war victory through Moses against the Egyptians; see Exod 15

2. Holy war victory through Joshua and then the faithful judges against the Canaanites; see, for example, Judges 5

3. Holy war victory through David and his faithful sons against their enemies; see, for example, 2 Sam 22:1-16, 32-40, 47-51; Ps 2

4. Holy war victories for Zion; see Pss 46, 48

5. Holy war victory against even faithless apostate Israel; see Habakkuk

6. The final holy war victory against the last assailants of the Spirit-filled Messianic Israel; see Joel 3:9-21 with Joel 2:28-32

7. Interestingly, holy war is never presented in Scripture outside of Revelation as a secular military struggle between nations.

II. The issue in God’s holy wars was not primarily geography, nationality, or ethnicity; the issue was principally theology, Christology, ecclesiology. The issue in God’s last holy war in Revelation is, Are you the Lamb’s Bride or the Bride’s enemy, the Harlot?

A. Taking our point of departure from Revelation, it’s noteworthy that the entire world population before Christ’s return will be divided into the Bride of Christ the Lamb, on the one hand, and her enemy, the Harlot Babylon, on the other. The Bride of the Lamb, Jerusalem-Zion, is a composite entity made up of the tribes, tongues, nations, and peoples of the earth, Rev 5:9. The Harlot Babylon is also a composite entity made up of the peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues of the earth, Rev 17:15.

B. Question: in the context of holy war, how was the identity of Israel’s enemies characterized? Answer: not merely by their geographical or ethnic origin, but by their hostility to the Lord their God. We read of certain Gentiles like Canaanite Rahab in Joshua’s day, Moabite Ruth in the judges’ days, and the Ninevites in Jonah’s day who were marked by conciliation (expressed in faith and repentance), not hostility toward the Lord God.

III. Conclusion: Armageddon is best understood as the worldwide site—the worldwide battleground—of the war at the end of the age between the Harlot and the Lamb on behalf of His Bride.

A. The word Armageddon probably combines two Hebrew words that mean “Mountain of Assembly, Mount of Meeting.” Three contexts in Revelation—16:13-16, 19:19-21, and 20:8-9—all have the same plot and tell the same story. In those contexts, Armageddon is the Mount of Meeting, the encampment of the saints, the beloved city.

B. As the Mount of Meeting, Armageddon is the place where—better, it is wherever—God is present as Divine Warrior to save and to judge.

1. It is wherever He assembles the spirits of the righteous-made-perfect with myriads of angels: it is “Ecclesia Mountain.”

2. It is wherever He engages in judicial surveillance of the world: it is “Lookout Mountain.”

3. It is wherever He convenes His heavenly court for deliberations: it is “Council Mountain.”

4. It is wherever He marshals His troops for battle: it is “Staging Mountain.”

D. Armageddon is wherever God is present as Divine Warrior in final judgment against the Harlot as He brings about the final salvation of the Lamb’s Bride.

1. God’s presence in the final holy war will be manifested in cosmic collapse: earthquake, thunder, phenomena in sun, moon, and stars, rain and hail, with the terror and panic that accompany these phenomena.

2. The Lamb will wage the final holy war against the Harlot to make His Bride secure and pure for fellowship-worship in His eternal dwelling place on the new earth.

Who are the 144,000 in the Revelation to John?

Posted by R. Fowler White

I. Two proposed answers

A. The Christian remnant of ethnic Jews either at the end of the 1st century, or in the future tribulation, or at the 2nd Coming; the number is usually interpreted as figurative, occasionally as literal.

B. The Christian remnant from all nations, Jews and Gentiles; the number is figurative.

II. My answer: The Christian remnant from all nations, Jews and Gentiles, the Church; the number is figurative.

A. The list in Rev 7 is a military census list, and the vision in Rev 14 describes the army of the Lamb. Both chapters in Rev follow the pattern of the military census lists in the OT: see Num 1; 2 Sam 24.

B. The number “1,000” is technical terminology for a military division, as it was in the OT. – It is comparable to the name Legion, which means “thousands,” a word taken from a Latin term for a large group of soldiers that could vary in number from as few as 3,000 to as many as 6,000 men.

C. The 144,000 are an all-male army, 14:4, as the armies of the OT ordinarily were.

D. The 12 tribes of Rev 7 are the 12 tribes of the New Jerusalem in Rev 21. The New Jerusalem is the Church Triumphant, the True Israel composed of the innumerable remnant from all nations, 21:12, 14, 24; 22:2-5. Gentile Christians receive the name of the New Jerusalem, 3:12. These tribes are the Israel of God from whom the idolatrous tribe of Dan (Judg 18) has been omitted. They are Israel according to the Spirit, not Israel according to the flesh.

E. The number “144” is evidently the number of apostles (12) multiplied by the number of tribes (12) of the New Jerusalem in Rev 21. It represents the complete number and perfection of the Church, the whole of God’s people, 21:9-10.

F. The number “144,000” describes the totality of the army of the redeemed, conscripted, and made ready by Christ the Lamb to fight in His holy war.

G. In Revelation John takes OT labels (names, epithets, titles) for Israel away from unbelieving Jews and applies them to the Church, which included both believing Jews and believing Gentiles.

1. Rev 2:9; 3:9 – John takes the name “Jew” away from unbelieving Jews and gives it to believing Gentiles, 2:17; 3:12. They are Israel according to the flesh; they are not the True Israel who worships God in Spirit and truth.

2. Rev 1:5-6; 5:9-10 – John takes the label of “kingdom of priests” from Israel and applies it to believers from all nations, regardless of ethnic origin.

H. This is consistent with the rest of the NT.

1. Christ Jesus declared that the kingdom would be taken from Israel and given to a new nation and people, the Church, Matt 21:43. Israel forfeited its kingdom identity in the fall of Jerusalem.

2. The Apostle Paul takes OT labels for Israel away from unbelieving Jews and applies them to the Church, in which Jews and Gentiles together are the one new people of God, Rom 2:28-29; Gal 6:15-16; Phil 3:3; Eph 2:14-21.

3. The Apostle Peter takes OT labels for Israel away from unbelieving Jews and applies them to the Church, 1 Pet 1:1; 2:9.

I. This is consistent with the OT.

1. Unbelieving Israelites, who didn’t share Abraham’s faith, were declared “Not My People” – they lost the labels of Israel. They lost their national identity in the exile.

2. Believing Gentiles, who like Rahab and Ruth shared Abraham’s faith, received the labels of Israel.

III. Summary: The 144,000 is a symbol representing the Lamb’s army of holy warriors from among the Jews and the Gentiles. They are the Church Militant who becomes the Church Triumphant, the “overcomers” of Revelation. They are not Israel according to the flesh, but the True Israel who worships God in Spirit and truth. They are the true Israel sealed by Christ the Lamb to keep them from apostasy. As many as believe in Christ alone for salvation are among the 144,000.

Discipline in PCA BCO 27-3: Its Proper Usage and Ends

Posted by R. Fowler White

Elders in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) affirm that they “approve of the form of government and discipline of the denomination, in conformity with the general principles of biblical polity” (The Book of Church Order 21-5). Consequently, they affirm the following statement that appears in the BCO of the PCA, Part II The Rules of Discipline, Paragraph 27-3:

27-3. The exercise of discipline is highly important and necessary. In its proper usage discipline maintains:

a. the glory of God,

b. the purity of His Church,

c. the keeping and reclaiming of disobedient sinners. Discipline is for the purpose of godliness (1 Timothy 4:7); therefore, it demands a self-examination under Scripture.

Its ends, so far as it involves judicial action, are the rebuke of offenses, the removal of scandal, the vindication of the honor of Christ, the promotion of the purity and general edification of the Church, and the spiritual good of offenders themselves.

There would be wide agreement that the above statement is a good and faithful expression of what Scripture teaches. When reading that section, however, the question might arise: as good and faithful as the statement is, does it say all that it should say? Posing that question does not disparage the care with which the BCO generally or paragraph 27-3 specifically expresses “the general principles of biblical polity.” It is understandable and agreeable that the statement should in fact be both general and principial and not exhaustive. Even so, it might be asked if the statement has in fact identified all the general principles that are necessary and sufficient. For example, two related questions emerge: 1) Does the statement above contain what is necessary to express the proper usage of discipline? 2) Does the statement above contain what is necessary to express the ends of discipline?

Scripturally speaking, the statement is accurate … as far as it goes. But it is, arguably, not complete. Here is what I mean. In WCF 15.6, we affirm that “he that scandalizeth his brother, or the church of Christ, ought to be willing, by a private or public confession, and sorrow for his sin, to declare his repentance to those that are offended, who are thereupon to be reconciled to him, and in love to receive him.” It seems reasonably clear here that the Confession envisions a usage of discipline that BCO 27-3 does not mention, namely, the recuperation of those whom the offender had scandalized and their reconciliation with the offender. Is it not the case, then, that the proper usage of discipline will maintain not only the glory of God, the purity of the church, and the keeping and reclaiming of disobedient sinners, but also the wellbeing of the offended parties, whether they be the church generally or the injured church members specifically (e.g., 2 Cor 2:5-11). Is it not the case also that the ends of discipline will include not only the rebuke of offenses, the removal of scandal, the vindication of the honor of Christ, the promotion of the purity and general edification of the Church, and the spiritual good of offenders themselves, but also the spiritual good of the offended parties (e.g., Matt 18:15)?

In answer to the question about discipline’s proper usage, we might say that the wellbeing of the offended parties was meant to be implied in the words “the … reclaiming of disobedient sinners.” In answer to the question about discipline’s ends, we might say that the spiritual good of the offended parties was meant to be implied in the phrase “the promotion of the purity and general edification of the Church.” Neither reading seems to be plausible, however. The phrase describing the reclaiming of offenders seems distinctly insufficient to convey the idea of the wellbeing of the offenders’ victims. Likewise, the words describing the ends of discipline seems to have omitted consideration of a necessary element of biblical judicial action, namely, the spiritual good of the offended. As a result, the statement found in BCO 27-3, though good and faithful as far as it goes, looks to be incomplete.

Would PCA BCO 27-3 not be improved if it included explicit reference to the benefits that discipline holds for those offended and injured?

On Evangelism in the Old Testament

I just finished reading this slim volume, hot off the press, written by a minister attending the congregation I serve. It is a commonplace belief that claims there is little to nothing that the Old Testament contributes towards the idea of evangelism. Dr. Norm De Jong begs to differ. Some key insights: 1. Evangelism might have a larger purview than we thought before; 2. God is a direct evangelist in the OT; 3. The sovereignty of God is so far from being any kind of obstacle to evangelism that it actually accomplishes evangelism. 4. Any book that helps us connect the OT and NT together is worthy of our attention, and this is the only lay-person oriented book to take up this subject.

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