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.

Eschatology Outlines: No. 2 Noah and Lot

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.

Clearing Out the Fog

TE Reed DePace

Some months ago, I realized I was going to have to come to some conclusions about the nature of same sex attraction (SSA) and its interaction with the question of ordination in the Presbyterian Church in America. Up to that point, I had sought to stay on top of the wide variety of conversation on relevant topics. From social media chat, to blog posts, to online magazine articles, to podcasts, to private digital conversations, I made time to delve deeply into this topic. My calling as a pastor and a presbyter demanded this of me.

And, some months ago I acknowledged to myself that I was hopelessly in a fog about all this. One brother from one side makes a credible challenge. Someone from the other side offers a credible response. The former gives a valid pushback I hadn’t considered. Chalk up another “who’s right/who’s wrong” moment. Tally up months and months of exchanges, pro and con, for and against, yea and nay, and I think many can appreciate my fog imagery in these events and subjects.

About a month ago, in preparation for our forty-eighth general assembly, I determined to try and boil things down into a set of vital issues to be addressed. While neither exhaustive nor exclusive, these are:

  • Is there credible information validating TE Johnson’s orthodoxy on the issues before us?
  • Is a man with an ongoing struggle with SSA ordainable to office within the PCA?

It seems to me that these are the crux of the matters before us. Thus, if I was going to be able to navigate the churning fog of these issues to safely land on the biblical runway, answering these was essential.

On the first question, with sadness, my conclusion is a no.

To be sure, TE Johnson expresses a noble missional focus: to bring the gospel to a community at best ignored by the (evangelical) church, and at worst (often) stigmatized by Christ’s Bride. To this, I affirm with a willingness to invest some of my ministry in the same missional focus.

Also to be sure, TE Johnson expresses an understandable commitment to the need for contextualizing his gospel witness to this community. Again, while there is no common ground between God and the sinner, there is common ground between we saint-sinners and the LGBTQ-sinners we’ve been sent to reach. Of course, some contextualizing is a necessary part of our apologetic introduction to them. Even if this means nothing more than entering into deeds of love that “earn” trust within this suffering community, this is entirely understandable, and indeed, biblically sound.

Yet it is here that I’ve (again, sadly!) concluded that there is not sufficient credible information validate TE Johnson’s orthodoxy on the issues before us. Without seeking to prove these observations (since I expect these are rather common amongst many of us): TE Johnson’s contextualization involves adopting critical parts of the metanarrative (the worldview) of the Side-B community. To be specific, TE Johnson clearly and succinctly agrees that the Side-A position (SSA men/women identifying as Christians may engage in homosexual acts in the context of homosexual marriage) is biblically condemned. Yet in seeking to minister to those affirming the Side-B position (SSA men/women identifying as Christians engaging in celibacy), TE Johnson all too frequently adopts the words, the language, and even the dialogical constructs used by those in this community. That is, he adopts the hermeneutic of Side-B.These words, language, and constructs are at times sub-biblical, and at other times contra-biblical.

To be sure, over the years since these issues arose (circa 2018) TE Johnson has offered clarifying language to us inside his doctrinal camp. And most often, sometimes after a bit more questioning for clarity, he has offered expressions that are biblically sound.

Yet then, in another venue, speaking to those outside his doctrinal camp, TE Johnson will yet again offer contextualized expressions that fit with Side-B sub/contra-biblical positions! This pattern has been repeated again, and again, and…

It is not unreasonable for me to ask, “Wait a minute, that contradicts your previously clarification of what you first said that contradicted our biblical convictions. What gives?” It is not reasonable for TE Johnson (or those who defend him) to respond with: “See my prior answer; asked-answered, nothing new here, move on now, drop it.” To be sure, I’ve grown increasingly grateful for what I see as growing gracefulness in TE Johnson’s response to his interlocutors. Yet, my hope for unity then gets smacked in the face when I hear of yet another interview/comment, etc. in which he once again offers contradictory comments. It is entirely reasonable for someone to ask, “Since he continues to offer confusing and contradictory information, what, then, are TE Johnson’s real beliefs on these issues?”

Yet, seeking to cut through the fog, I’ve concluded that I simply do not have the time, resources, and maybe even the ability, to adequately answer such questions. Thus, following the precepts of assuming the best of a brother (1Co 13:4-7), I’ve chosen to conclude the best in these circumstances: TE Johnson is most likely confused on how to apply our doctrinal standards to his apologetic to the Side-B community. Whether this is due to a defective understanding of biblical contextualization (my sense), or something else, does not matter. A TE is called to speak with clarity, not be a fog machine. (To be sure, I’m not suggesting I’d do any better; but then, I’ve not sought to engage at the level TE Johnson has.)

Let me be clear: my answer to this first question does not resolve to saying TE Johnson does not have a credible faith, or even that he is not orthodox on these issues. Rather my conclusion simply states that his lack of clarity, based on this repeated pattern, yields a fog making it impossible to validate his orthodoxy on these things.

That leaves me with the second question: is a man struggling with SSA ordainable? My answer is a qualified no.

My answer revolves around the issues of what does it mean to be above reproach, and the issue of what the Bible describes as sexual immorality contrary to nature (i.e., “unnatural” desire, Jude 1:7; Rom 1:26-27). Rather than repeat myself, I’ll let my words at this prior post offer more explanation. Suffice to say here, a man affirming that he has an ongoing struggle with same sex attraction (homoerotic desire as suggested by a fellow TE supporting TE Johnson), is NOT above reproach, and therefore not ordainable.

How this applies to the situation of TE Johnson is still in the fog for me. As implied above (necessarily inferred by me), I think TE Johnson might not be as he presents himself to those outside the PCA, as a man who is in effect a “gay” Christian as they are, i.e., someone firmly in the Side-B camp. It may very well be that TE Johnson is better described according to the past tense language of 1Co 6:11 (in the context of 1Co 6:9-10). Yet, as long as he continues to adopt the Side-B hermeneutic in his apologetics, it is unclear (i.e., the fog machine issue) whether he has experienced the degree of mortification that would make him above reproach.

To simplify here: a man with SSA in his life is ordainable depending on whether a present tense or a past tense applies to this issue in his life. If a man demonstrates that his struggle with SSA is past tense, then he has experienced the mortification that makes him above reproach on this issue. If however, this man demonstrates that SSA is a present struggle for him, then mortification has not yet qualified him as above reporach on this issue.

I get my expressions here may be frustrating to some, even on both sides of these issues. Yet my purpose has been to help any I might to the degree they too feel like they’re in a fog on these issues. With malice toward none, mercy and grace toward all, may God grant the PCA purity and peace on these issues.

reed depace

A New Baggins?

She prefers “Galadriel” to Baggins, but you can follow my daughter Ila’s new blog over at Galadriel’s Musings.

The Incarnate Son Obeyed the Father by the Spirit

Posted by R. Fowler White

A friend emailed me recently to ask what I had meant when I wrote in a note that “the incarnate Son obeyed the Father by the Spirit.” So I offered the following explanation. It was a help to my friend, so maybe it’ll help somebody else too. Here goes …

God the Son became incarnate—took to Himself human nature—by the powerful work of God the Spirit. Conceived by the Spirit, the Son was born and lived full of the Spirit, anointed with the Spirit, empowered and equipped by the Spirit for the tasks He came to do.

He appeared before John the Baptist for baptism in the Jordan and was there identified as the Son by the Father’s words and by the Spirit’s descent upon Him (Luke 3). Full of the Spirit, He went on to stand His probation against the temptations of the devil in the Wilderness (Luke 4). Emerging from His probation, He introduced Himself in the synagogue at Nazareth as that Son of David who is first and foremost the Anointed One, “the man of the Spirit” (Luke 4). He proclaimed His empowerment for His mission, and His power was not merely because of His Davidic lineage. His power was in His anointing with the Spirit of the Lord, described in three pairs of attributes by the prophet Isaiah (Isa 11; Luke 4).

From the prophet, we learn that on Him rested the Spirit of wisdom and understanding for holy nation building and for governing, for discerning true from false, good from evil, right from wrong. Not fooled by appearances, He treated the socially marginalized and vulnerable with dignity and equity—and He punished the wicked. Moreover, on Him rested the Spirit of counsel and might for planning and carrying out holy warfare. Wonderful Counselor and mighty God that He is (Isa 9), He was empowered by the Spirit to destroy the wisdom of the wise and to thwart the discernment of the discerning (Isa 29; 1 Cor 1). Furthermore, on Him rested the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord for living a right and holy life with and before His God and Father, whose Person, work, will, and ways He knew so well. With all these attributes, Jesus introduced Himself as perfectly and permanently “the man of the Spirit,” the ideal King, who is delighted to live His life before God with affection and reverence for Him and who rules as the Anointed One because He is equipped by the Spirit with moral integrity and steadfast loyalty. In Him, by the Spirit, are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. The incarnate Son, then, had the sevenfold anointing with the Spirit, the fulness of the Spirit.

Endowed with the Spirit, we also see the incarnate Son going about in the Gospels waging His spiritual warfare with weapons of the Spirit. Baptized, tested, and introduced for public ministry, He entered into spiritual combat with those who occupied the Land. He engaged in battle with the rulers and powers, with the worldly forces of darkness, with those who are of the world, the flesh, and the devil. In the Land He went about delivering sinners through faith from all manner of illness, from disease and pains of body (Matt 4; Acts 10), so that they might learn that He also has the power to save them from the bondage of their sins (Mark 2; Luke 5). He found “lost sheep” in the state of sin and death, in the domain of Satan’s darkness, and He called them to repentance and faith in Himself alone. He delivered them from their sins by the Spirit and the Word to the kingdom of His marvelous light. Then, in His death, through the eternal Spirit, He offered Himself without blemish to God (Heb 9). Having done His Father’s will in life and in death, He was designated the Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead (Rom 1). Enthroned in heaven, Christ now reigns, in and with the power of the Spirit, as Ruler of the nations, commanding sinners everywhere to repent and believe in Him as their only hope of salvation from the wrath to come (Acts 17).

Summing up, the incarnate Son was endowed with the Spirit to obey the Father, and by His obedience through the Spirit, He satisfied all the righteous requirements of God’s law and is now the source of eternal salvation to all who repent and believe His gospel.

Unity in Psalm 133

Psalm 133 is very often quoted or sung in presbytery and general assembly meetings in the PCA and OPC. Rightfully so. It makes unity look very attractive indeed. However, whether the psalm is always rightly understood (in terms of how this unity comes about) may be doubted.

Two images serve to make unity attractive. The proprietary anointing oil coming down on Aaron’s beard, and the dew of Mount Hermon coming down to Zion (quite a ways from Mount Hermon, incidentally!) have one thing in common: both the oil and the dew come down, a fact noted by several commentators. It is not too much of a stretch to see a sort of geographical irony here, in that a psalm of ascent has something coming down.

More theologically, however, something coming down in this manner, particularly the dew of Mount Hermon, points to God’s grace. This unity is not so much an achievement, as it is a gift (see Kidner’s commentary, 134). All too often, unity is preached as law, not as gospel, as something which we achieve with little or no reference to God’s grace at all. Even when we pray for unity, our thoughts often run more along the lines of God’s simple enabling, rather than God’s grace actually accomplishing the unity.

The unity in question is a powerful one. If the dew of Mount Hermon (which is located in the far north of Israel) has repercussions for Zion, in the south, the implications have to do with the north-south tension already in evidence in David’s day. If this is a psalm of David, then the north-south tensions were already a matter for prayer. All the more so later on, when the two kingdoms split, but people still sang this psalm when they went up to Jerusalem for the feasts.

In Christ’s person and work, the potential for a unifying truth in the gospel has become a reality. Paul takes the widest sociological gaps he can think of (race, class, and sex) and claims that the gospel of Jesus Christ transcends those natural barriers. Notice something important about Paul’s claim. It is a unity built on the truth of the gospel, not a unity for unity’s own sake. The latter would be something that has no foundation and is inherently unstable. Contrary to the CWAGA folks (“Can’t We All Get Along?”), the prophets say, “How can two walk together unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3). Truth unifies. It does not divide. Modern Christianity needs to be reminded of this simple fact. Perhaps more unity could actually be achieved if these things could be remembered. Then we would pray for God to do it, to change our hearts towards the truth and towards those with whom we disagree. We need to pray for a unity based on truth.

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