Note: Several months I typed in the wrong week number and have been off ever since. So this week is really and truly week 48.
God gives prophecies against Edom and Israel. In order for the people to come to their senses and recognize the God is the one true God, he will devastate their land. God says he hates the bloodshed perpetrated by the Edomites, so why does he have them die? Because the Edomites killed senselessly and selfishly. God is just in what he does. The earth is his, and what matters is the righteousness and holiness of his name.
The vision of the valley of dry bones is a vision confirming that God will restore Israel, almost through the power of resurrection. If the Jews didn’t believe in a future resurrection, this vision would lose its potency. God shows Ezekiel a graveyard. Ezekiel will tell the breath of life to fill the dead bones and return them to life. There is less talk of resurrection in the Old Testament, but it is definitely present. This vision asserts the God will bring Israel back to the land and put his Spirit within them, which also hints toward the new covenant. Ezekiel then prophecies that the divided nation will be reunited by two different sticks and joining them together. But the point of the vision is that there will be ruler over them both, not just that they’ll reconcile. God will give his people one shepherd, his servant David. Who could that be?
The prophecy of Gog and Magog is a vision of God’s sovereignty even amidst Israel’s rebellion. The difficult part is that there is no land or nation called Magog or king called Gog. Since there are no time hacks given in this vision, the traditional interpretation sees this as a future invasion. This check out, because the apostle John picks up on this prophecy and places it at the end of the millennial reign in Revelation 20. The reference to “the latter years” of 37:8 seems to place this at least in Ezekiel’s far future, as well.
Ezekiel 40-48 is one coherent vision. It is the vision of the restoration of the land. The vision of chapters 33-37 are about life after the destruction of the land, chapters 38-39 comes comes between destruction and restoration, and chapters 40-48 promise the restoration. The question then becomes, is this the second temple built after the exile, or is this referring to some temple further out in time? Is it even referring to a literal temple? It’s a legitimate question, because we have already seen outrageous visions, such as the valley of dry bones, which don’t seem to refer to a woodenly literal moment in time.
In the beginning chapters of Ezekiel, God’s glory left the temple and it was destroyed. Several abominations were rehearsed in the temple. Chapters 40-48 see the undoing of all that destruction and rebellion. That’s why there are so many details. The temple is being rebuilt. Instead of seeing God’s glory leave the temple, he will see it restored. Ezekiel gets a tour of the temple already rebuilt, the glory of God returns, then God tells Ezekiel how the people should then worship him. The vision ends with water flowing out of the temple and bringing life to the entire world. There is then a new city, which is open to all. This sounds remarkably like the new city of Revelation 21 and the river of life of Revelation 22. I’m of the opinion that the new city and temple of Ezekiel 40-48 is referring to the new age, not a rebuilt brick-and-mortar temple in the millennium. John, the author of revelation, places the fulfillment of this vision after the battle of Gog and Magog, which takes place at the end of the millennium, not during.
1 Peter 5
Peter concludes his first letter by encouraging the elders and pastors of his church to be faithful. Peter also refers to himself as a fellow elder; he does not elevate himself above them. The idea that Peter was the first pope does not hold much clout. Elders/overseers/bishops/pastors are the administrators, teachers, and primary example-setters of the congregation. Faithful pastors will receive the crown of glory at the end of the age. While elders should be honored, they must stay humble. Because God blesses the humble, all his people should practice humility. It is God who exalts us, not ourselves. Part of that humility is resisting the temptations of Satan. Instead of fearing Satan, Christians need only resist him. We must remember 1 Peter 1:5, which tells us we are “being guarded through faith” for a future.
2 Peter 1-3
Some have argued that Peter is not the author of this letter. But he claims to have written the letter in 1:1 and then claimed to have seen Christ’s majesty, which is a reference to the transfiguration. If Peter was not the author, this letter is an act of deceit, which the early church would not have accepted.
The themes of the letter are common ones: false teachers and living righteously. Peter begins by addressing righteous living. God calls his people to live a certain way because he has pulled us out of the kingdom of corruption and brought them into his. Our faith does require effort even if our salvation does not. Faith is sustained through virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. What does it mean to grow in faith? Practice those things and find out. We are firmly established in the truth, and therefore, we know to practice those qualities.
Peter knows that eternal life does not negate physical death, and his departure is in the offing. Therefore, he wants the church to continue to be strong after he is gone. Peter grounds his message in being an eyewitness to the transfiguration and knowledge of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan. And because no one living today witnessed those things, we also need to ground our faith in something. Peter says that this is Scripture, “the prophetic word more fully confirmed” (1:19). The church remembers Christ’s life and the evidence of his divinity not through experience but through knowledge and understanding of Scripture.
False teachers are a perennial threat. They are greedy and exploitative toward their followers. They are blasphemous, stupid animals. But while it may appear as though they have a measure of worldly success, their end is condemnation. In the same way God did not spare sinful angels, Noah’s contemporaries, or Sodom and Gomorrah, neither will he spare false teachers. God is just and holy. Christ is returning, and that should spur us on to faithfulness. From the prophets of old to the apostles of Christ, we have been warned of childish scoffers in the last days. Christ has not yet returned, so they mock God by doubting he will.
But it is God’s patience that gives scoffers opportunity for repentance. What does it mean that God does not wish any should perish but that all would repent? God does not delight in the death of the wicked. But he will hand us over to our evil desires if we turn from him. And yet, though God’s patience is what holds back the end of the age, we still eagerly anticipate his return.
1 John 1-3
John the Evangelist is traditionally considered the author of this letter (we often have to deal with authorship because some letters are technically anonymous since the author’s name is not mentioned in the writing). This particular writing carries more marks of a sermon than a traditional Greek letter. When the Jews were kicked out of Rome around AD 65, John went to Ephesus and pastored there. This letter may have been a circulated sermon or one he gave on more than one occasion.
This letter (or sermon) even begins much like John’s gospel. Both are emphatic that Christ was present before time began. The author even claims to be an eyewitness to Christ, which lends credence to the authorship of John the Evangelist. John calls us to walk in the light, which sounds remarkably like John 1. Jesus’s blood continues to cleanse us from our sin. When Christ entered the heavenly places, he carried his blood with him. Its power is so great that it continues to save us today. Christ is currently on the throne in heaven, interceding for his people. “He is the propitiation for our sins” is present tense. Christ’s blood continues to be the only necessary sacrifice to cancel our debt of sin. To “keep” God’s word is to cultivate it in your heart. It’s a similar idea to Adam keeping the garden and the priests keeping the temple.
We keep God’s word by burying it in our hearts and minds, not unlike listening to a song on repeat. At some point, the song is stuck in our heart forever. You could wake up from a 50-year coma and still hum the tune. That should be the kind of place Scripture has in our hearts and minds. John cares deeply that we have confidence in God and Christ’s sacrifice. His letter serves to give us assurance. Our sins are forgiven for the sake of God’s name, that he might be known as just, righteous, and primarily holy. Therefore, there should be great confidence that if God’s concern is his name, then our sins are no impediment.
The church has always been looking for the antichrist. But John tells us that many antichrists have already come into the world. An antichrist is anyone who denies that Jesus is the Christ. This both affirms that there is yet one antichrist at the end of the age who will supersede all other antichrists, and that it is likely the antichrist will actually come out of the church. John says that the antichrists that have already appeared have left the church, and so will the final, end-of-the-age antichrist. For this reason I think the church will be on the earth at the end of the age and will recognize the antichrist. But John writes these things to guard us against the deceit of the antichrists. They are here, so be alert to their lies.
God has turned his enemies into his family. We are his children. While we suffer and are persecuted now, when Christ returns, we will be made like him—holy and indestructible. And so, we live in such a way now that reflects our blessed hope. To confess Jesus is Lord and then to live as though I am lord is to repudiate my confession. We cannot keep on sinning (which means without repentance and godly grief) and think our confession holds any water. No one “born of God” (which is the same phrase used in John 1; again, more weight that John wrote both letters) will enjoy their sin in such a way that we defend it.
Instead, those born of God will love one another. That is the example Christ set out for us—his own life was laid down for ours. His innocence did not merit his suffering, but he took it on himself out of love for us and obedience to the Father. To have your heart condemn you is to have a prick of the conscience. That is a sure sign that you know the love of God. But God is greater than our hearts! Even when my conscience is burdened with my sin, I am reminded that God forgave me long before I was conscious of my sin.
God sends a prophetic word to Ezekiel that compares the northern and southern kingdom to two women of ill repute. In the same way that a wild woman whores herself (Ezekiel’s word!) with any willing partner, so too have God’s people played the whore with foreign nations, seeking safety and security the arms of another. The names given to these women, Oholah and Oholibah, mean something like “her tent” and “my tent”, signifying that the northern kingdom had made their own temple or place of worship even while God still have his true temple in Jerusalem. The prophetic word is full of sexual imagery, which shows how graphic of a sin idolatry is. It might be off-putting to us, but consider how “off-putting”, to say the least, our sin is to the Almighty. The penalty of Ezekiel 23 is defined is Ezekiel 24—Jerusalem will fall.
In another prophetic act, Ezekiel’s wife will die. But in a twist, he will be kept from mourning for her. The point is to show the people that in the same way God took what Ezekiel prized the most, he will also take their city and temple.
What follow are a series of prophecies against various nation-states. What concerns us most in this section is Ezekiel 28, which is often used to portray the fall of Satan. While there may be some truth to the idea that Ezekiel 28 portrays the fall of Satan by way of allegory, it certainly does not mean that primarily.
To begin with, God tells Ezekiel to actually address the prince of Tyre, who was a real person, not a prophetic figure of Satan. Verses 2-10 are a prophecy about the death of the prince of Tyre. To say that he made his heart like the heart of a god or that he says he is a god is not unusual for a pagan king. Kings truly believed they were deity. We should not assume that Ezekiel is speaking about the fall of an angel that took place before Genesis 3 out of nowhere. This is interpretation by free association. Context, context, context!
Most of the support for this passage being about the fall of Satan comes in verses 11-19. The only reason that people think Satan used to be the most beautiful angel is because of verse 12. There is no other reference to the beauty of Satan in all of Scripture. It does mention that the king of Tyre was in Eden, which does require some interpretation (but I would argue far less interpretation than arguing this is about Satan). What does it say the man in Eden was doing?
This being in Eden is covered with the stones that covered the breastplate of the priests. Where does it say that Satan served any priestly function? But let’s remember that the garden of Eden was in fact intended to be God’s temple. God would live and walk in the garden with Adam. And Adam would “guard” and “keep” the garden, which are the same two words used for the job that the priests would do in the temple. This more clearly aligns with the king of Tyre being a type of Adam than of Satan. The language and books that follow Genesis are clearly meant to present Adam as a king-priest in the temple of God.
This type of Adam is even said to be an anointed guardian cherub. Cherubs always have a guardian function, and Satan does not. He is the accuser, not a guardian. God placed Adam in the garden, not Satan. Have you ever wondered why Satan was allowed in the garden to begin with? It was Adam’s sin of failing to guard the garden that allowed Satan into the garden. Because of Adam’s sin, he was cast from God’s holy mountain when “unrighteousness was found” in him. This passage is one of many prophecies or laments against pagan kings. There is no reason to isolate this one as secretly referring to the fall of Satan. Ezekiel is simply comparing the king of Tyre, with all his power and might, was like Adam—he was a great man on the earth, but his sin and rebellion will cause him to fall.
A couple of early church fathers argued that Jesus saying he saw Satan fall like lighting in Luke 10:18 is referring back to Isaiah 14. But in Luke 10, context shows that Jesus is referring specifically to the casting out of demons that he just sent his apostles out to do. And since this passage in Ezekiel somewhat resembles Isaiah 14, some have argued that they are both referring to the same moment in time. But careful reading suggests otherwise.
The people have been warned repeatedly not to run to Egypt for safety. If God has ordained judgment, there is nowhere to flee. Because of the sin of the people and of Egypt’s own sin, Pharaoh will die. Read carefully and you will find other references to Eden, equating Assyria to a tree planted in God’s garden. But no one argues that the king of Assyria is Satan!
God sends Ezekiel as a watchman on the wall of a city. If God sends a warning and Ezekiel fails to spread the word, then the blood of the people are on him. But if he is faithful to the word, the blood of the people are on their own hands. A man’ will die for his own sins. As Jerusalem falls, Ezekiel prophecies against her shepherds. The religious and political leaders utterly failed in their responsibilities to teach and protect the people of Israel. But God is the good shepherd, and he will seek out his people. He will gather his sheep for whom he will provide in abundance.
When we think of the human body, we think of the dangerous parts as the fists. But James says the most dangerous part is the tongue. Our words have a significant power which we often neglect. It’s such a great evil that no one can tame it. Because it is so destructive, only God can tame it. We must seek to only speak what builds up and edifies, not that which destroys and tears down. We must seek wisdom, which God gives in abundance.
The tongue is not the only danger the church faces. One of the other great threats is worldliness infecting the church, whether it be in worship, discipleship, or in missions. We must not think pragmatically about these things. Sometimes it’s scary how powerful the words “We’ve never done it like that” can be. It’s as if that statement overrides the word of God. If Scripture is the highest authority, then it must decide these things for us. We cannot seriously think we are doing God’s will if we are not starting with Scripture and not our own thoughts and traditions.
Part of worldliness is the temptation to presume upon tomorrow. If the church is rightly to live in anticipation of Christ’s return, it is theologically presumptuous to treat tomorrow as if it is a certainty. Other worldly concerns are those such as money. Finances has such a stranglehold on many of us. To prioritize luxury over worship, discipleship, and missions is to speak one way and live another. Finally, while the world strives to safety, the church must be ready for and anticipate persecution and suffering. While we never hope for it, we recognize that as the world hated the Lord, so will they hate us. So, we live in a pattern of prayer, which is powerful for changing us.
1 Peter 1-4
Peter clearly claims to be the author of the letter while using a secretary to do the writing (Silvanus; 1 Peter 5:12). He open with a highly Trinitarian prayer, attributing foreknowledge to God the Father, sanctifying power to God the Spirit, and sacrificial obedience to God the Son. Peter refers to Jesus as our living hope. The resurrection of Jesus proved his claims to divinity, and now he ministers in heaven. Even under the trials of this world, the object of our hope is so great and powerful that it overshadows any suffering we experience now. Even the prophets of the Old Testament looked forward to the hope we have see with our own eyes. They placed their faith in the same promises we do, but we have the benefit of looking back at the finished work of Christ while they had to look forward in faith.
The Christian life is a call to holiness. We are no longer slaves to the old man but are a new creation. So, we must conform to who we are, not stay in bondage to who we were. Peter says that we were “ransomed” with the blood of Christ. There was an insurmountable debt we owed to God himself we could never repay. Christ ransomed us from that wrath we so rightly incurred. But now that we are purified by his blood, we have been born again to an unending life. God’s word must be preached!
As a new creation, we are also forming a new spiritual house. Under the old covenant, there was a temple in which the presence of God dwelt. But now, he dwells in his own people. The church, the people of God, is his temple now. The same attributes of Israel are now said to be true of the church—a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people possessed for and by God. Any theology that wants to make too much separation between Israel and the church is to be disregarded.
Our great hope also has ramifications for our time on this earth. We should respect those in authority over us, because God has placed them there; they are God’s agents to reward the righteous and punish the wicked. Do governments do this perfectly? No. Do they often actively work against this mandate? Yes. But the principle of submission to godly governments stands. The church does not establish a theocracy like Israel, but neither do we submit to ungodly laws. We must obey God and not men. When governments resist God and legislate like a nation that hates God, the church follows the teachings of Scripture over against wicked mandates.
Peter moves to the local level and addresses husbands and wives. Wives should submit to their husbands and be respectful to them. One reason given is that it exhibits Christlike conduct and might be key to husbands being won to Christ. This is one way the Christian family stands out. Another way is by the way the women of the family dress themselves. They would focus on the beauty of the inner woman instead of outer appearances. It is not a call to not take care of yourself but a call to pay attention to the heart and mind over above the quality of ones clothes. One example of this done well is Sarah, Abraham’s wife.
Husbands should not act as tyrants but should be understanding and accommodating. Husbands do not submit to their wives. Women are not to be treated as less-than; but because of creation order, there is a family order. Peter makes that clear by saying that husbands should honor their wives. Women being the “weaker vessel” is likely nothing more than a reference to the general stature of a man over a woman. Feminism despises anything less than artificial equality, but Christianity loves and thrives under the created order.
Returning to the theme of suffering, Peter encourages his readers to not seek vengeance. If the church receives the blessing of Abraham, then like Abraham, we are to be a blessing to the world, even those who persecute us. If we seek the good of society, there will be those who hate us, but there will be those who listen. Seeking the good of society means speaking biblical truth into the public square, not pandering to the zeitgeist. Because of a generation’s worth of hard work and seeking the public good, the wickedness of Roe v. Wade was overturned. Part of that success was because the church was zealous for what was good, others came to share the perspective of the dignity of all human life.
Chapter 3 carries a couple of interpretive difficulties. When Peter says that Christ proclaimed to the spirits in prison, I believe the best contextual clues point to the understanding that as Noah was a herald (or preacher) of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5), he preached repentance toward God’s promises, which would be fulfilled in Christ. Because of their continued rebellion, those spirits are now in prison, having died in the flood. Christ was even proclaimed to them, which fits with the one message of salvation for all time.
The second difficulty is tied to the first. While comparing our salvation to the days of Noah, Peter compares baptism to the flood. He also says that this baptism saves us. All that Peter is saying is that we are brought through the waters of judgment in the same way that Noah was. Peter is not advocating a salvific view of baptism, meaning that baptism actually brings about salvation. He knows no true Christian who rejects baptism. It is the contemporary church who has belittled baptism. Therefore, to be a Christian is to be baptized. Our baptism does not reflect a clean body but rather a clean conscience before God.
While still writing about suffering, Peter writes that when we are willing to suffer, sin suffers. Sin loses its power over us. So, we should not seek to turn away from suffering as a good and natural part of the Christian life. Didn’t Christ suffer far more than we have and will? Besides, Peter writes, the end of the age is approaching. Our suffering is a temporary station. Don’t suffer for stupid reasons which you bring on yourself. But when you suffer for doing good, take peace in the fact that the time is near.
Catastrophe strikes—God’s presence leaves the temple. In a terrifying vision, Ezekiel sees angels, wheels, fire, and eyes leaving the holy of holies. God is withdrawing from his temple. God’s presence is typically a sign of his blessing. So when God withdraws his presence, he is withdrawing his blessing from Israel. Yet, in his mercy, God will both be the sanctuary for his people in the absence of a temple and will eventually bring them back to the the land of Israel from exile.
In another prophetic performance, Ezekiel is to pack his bags. Not only that, but he will dig a hole through the wall and crawl through it with his luggage. He will become filthy as he crawls on his belly, just like how Israel has become filthy in their rebellion. Ezekiel is to be anxious as he prepares the people for exile. Exile is a certainty, and the people must simply wait for it with a fearful expectation.
A host of false prophets (and later, some elders, as well) are going around declaring that everything is fine. “Peace, peace” when there is no peace. God has declared judgment, and others are trying to temper that expectation. But God will not be mocked. Ezekiel condemns those false prophets. God will send his wrath on them. The Israel within Israel, the true remnant, will be always be spared from God’s wrath, even if they are in the midst of it.
Jerusalem, the center of God’s presence because of the temple, is called a “useless vine”. What good is a broken twig except to be as fuel for a fire? Jerusalem will indeed burn. Jerusalem is also as a faithless bride. She is a harlot, breaking her covenant with her husband, the Lord. Marriage is likely the most common illustration of the relationship between God and his people, and Jesus makes the same illustration between himself and his church.
Ezekiel is then given a parable to tell. The cedars of Lebanon were famous for their size and strength. In the parable, a beautiful eagle perches on a beautiful tree. The eagle plants a seed form the twig of that great tree. Another great eagle sees the freshly grown vine. The parable is the story of Jerusalem (the twig) being sacked by Babylon (the first eagle) and seeking safety from Egypt (the second eagle). God told Israel to seek help from him, not other nations. And because they sought help from Egypt, they will suffer the consequences.
What God requires, and has always required, is purity. Therefore, the one who sins shall die. A man is not judged by the sins of another; a man dies for his own. This is to show the complete unfairness of un-earned righteousness, which will take place in the work of Christ. Ezekiel recounts several of the Old Testament laws to which the people were accountable. However, they had been unfaithful in every area.
In the first of many laments against princes and powers, Ezekiel laments against the kings of Israel. The monarchy has become as weak and rebellious as the rest of the people. The king has led the people astray as the primary covenant-keeper. God again promises to pour out his wrath on his own people. There is a popular theology that says God never pours out his wrath on his own people, which has led many to believe in a position that at the end of the age, the church will not be on the earth for the final acts of judgment. However, based on the fact of God’s wrath being poured out throughout the ages on his own people while preserving the remnant, we cannot say that this is necessarily true. After judgment comes restoration. In this passage, God again promises to restore Israel after his wrath is poured out.
God gives Ezekiel the image of God drawing his sword against Israel. Not only does God draw his sword, but it is polished and clean. This is an image of judgment. He will cut off both righteous and wicked. All of Israel is the covenant community, and all of Israel will face the consequences of rebellion. HIs sword is bright like lightening, flashing as he brings down the reprobate. But this is true not only for Israel but for the Ammonites, as well. God will judge those who have performed atrocities upon Israel. But Israel will receive the brunt of the judgment. God calls Jerusalem “the bloody city” (22:2). Israel has become a violent place and full of idolatry. As God lists their sins, it becomes impossible to deny that God is just in sending judgment upon them.
The final section of Hebrews deal with how God’s people persevere in faith. We are given plenty of examples of what faith looks like so that we are able to emulate the great cloud of witnesses. In faith, Cain gave a better offering, Enoch never died, Noah built an ark before it rained, and Abraham left everything behind, which resulted in nearly offering up his own son as a sacrifice.
Isaac and Jacob both blessed the irregular son. Joseph believed God would deliver his people to the promised land even before slavery. Moses stayed with the Hebrews rather than live in the luxury of the Egyptians. Israel crossed the Red Sea on dry and and destroyed Jericho. Rehab kept a promise to spies she just met. All of this is to serve as an example of an active faith accompanied by works.
You see all the people who had a rough go of it but still made it to the end. Let those examples push you through the rest of the day and into tomorrow. Then, let them encourage you tomorrow. Perseverance comes from the joy ahead of us, our hope of redemption, the promises of God, a new city, eternal life, friendship with God. These are the same things that made Jesus persevere. Endurance or perseverance is looking to Jesus yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Because he is unchanging, I will continue to trust him. It’s not as if you’re holding a priceless glass ornament, and if you drop it, you face the death penalty. It’s that Jesus is holding you, and if you persevere in your faith in him throughout your life, it’s the evidence that he is holding you.
Things are not as bad as they could be. Even if they get there, you won’t have been the first and probably won’t be the last to endure horrible, wicked people because they hate God and you love him. Suffering is not evidence of a lack of faith. In the fiery furnace, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.’”.
Image of a body being healed and restored to health and strength. People go to the gym to strengthen the weak parts of your body. A life of consistent faith grows stronger through the bad days and shines in the good days.
Be a part of a church. See perseverance in Scripture; see perseverance in action. It’s not saying that your pastors have everything down to a science; it’s saying that we need to see perseverance at work in the life of believers today. Paul said in his letters, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Only imitate me in so far as I imitate Christ, not the ways that I don’t. We endure because we know that what is to come is far superior than any experience we have today.
If you struggle with understanding and living out the relationship of faith and works, or if you struggle to see how you could still be saved even when your best is still imperfect, the book of James is for you. James begins by shining a light on the sovereignty of God in suffering. Suffering and trials is a cause for joy, because God is at work. That takes wisdom, and we should seek wisdom only from God. Wisdom will lead to humility, which will lend itself to being unmovable in suffering. Suffering can lead to contempt an danger, but the anger of man is not the anger of God. It does not bear righteous fruit.
We keep anger in its rightful place by putting into action the words of Scripture. To not practice these things at all is like looking in a mirror and forgetting what you look like. We cannot read the words on the page and retain nothing. We will not be perfect this side of eternity, but we will put the law of Christ, the law of liberty, into practice.
Partiality is the sin of elevating some to a higher status because of superficial trappings and lowering others to a lower status for the same reason. This is especially horrific in worship, which is apparently what was going on in the church who first received James’ letter. The connection to the previous section is this: it is impossible to obey the law of liberty while simultaneously judging people by the world’s standards. The world is partial; the church is not.
The most contentious section of the book of James comes at the end of chapter 2 where he deals with the relationship between faith and works. Even going back to the time of Martin Luther in the early 1500s, this was considered a difficult passage. Luther even wanted to remove the book of James from the Bible; he considered it to be a gospel of straw. But by the end of his life, he was more than willing to see that both Paul and James shared the same theology of faith and works.
The issue was that at first glance, without any discernment, it can seem that James is saying that works are a necessary component of salvation. If that is true, it stands in direction contradiction to Paul who teaches that salvation is by faith alone; the righteous shall live by faith, not by faith and works.. However, once we see that James uses the word “justified” to reflect a demonstration of faith rather a declaration of faith, then it all comes together.
Paul was writing to a group who said you had to add works to faith to be justified. Jame was writing to a group who said they had faith but whose works implied otherwise. Paul used “justified” to refer to the declaration of God’s imputing Christ’s righteousness to you. James use “justified” to refer to the demonstration of good works as a result of God’s grace to us.
Both authors use Genesis 15:6 (Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.) to make their case. If God’s word does not contradict itself, then they’re simply using the same passage to draw out two different “significances” that are really there. There are two ways of applying the same passage.
In Romans 4:3, Paul is looking at how a person begins their right-standing with God. In James 2:21-23, Jame is looking at how a person fulfills their right-standing with God. The events of Genesis 15:6 took place between 30 and 40 years before Abraham placed Isaac on the altar. Clearly James is not using “justified” in the exact same sense that Paul is. It is similar to vindication or proof of a previous declaration. “I’ve been saying this all along!”
James is simply saying that Abraham’s and Rahab’s faith was genuine. Sacrificing Isaac and protecting the spies came after they had come to saving faith. The book of Hebrews says that it was in faith that Abraham left his homeland and offered up his son (Hebrews 11:8,17). That is what people of faith did, not what they did to receive faith. James’ point is that real, abiding faith causes both interior and exterior changes.
Week 46, November 7-11
The Jews are finally going to be exiled. Their sin has grown to such an extent that God’s anger is fully kindled. Babylon has surrounded the city and has nearly destroyed it. The king is captured, the sons of the priest Zedekiah are killed, Zedekiah is blinded, and the officials are slaughtered. The temple is burned to the ground. Most people are taken as captives, but the poorest are left behind to care for the land.
The exile is the judgment of God on a rebellious people. But his mercy is as plentiful as his judgment. This exile will last nearly 70 years, or just a single lifetime. God’s mercy is reinstate them in the land for a time. When the people kill the Son of God hundreds of years later, they will face judgment again by being cast out of the land and the temple again being destroyed in AD 70.
The book might be technically anonymous, but tradition holds that Jeremiah wrote both the book of Jeremiah and Lamentations, which is why they are usually kept together. Lamentations is a series of poems about God’s judgment on the land and the people, which are usually called “laments”. Jeremiah wrote many laments in his book of prophecy, and he was present for the actual beginning of the exile.
The laments tell the story of the exile while praying to God to forgive the people and restore them to their land. It may sound as though the entire book is a practice in sadness, and in a sense, it is. Is there another appropriate response to sin and rebellion? But in all that grief, we also read of God’s mercy. In the middle of the book, we read the section of Scripture that was the inspiration for the hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”
We read, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 'The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him’” (Lamentations 3:22-24). Amidst our great wickedness and rebellion, God’s mercy shines even brighter. The Lamentations are a great reminder if we weren’t such a great sinners, we wouldn’t need such a great Savior.
Ezekiel begins already in the earliest days of exile, even before all of the Jews are removed from the land. We also find out quickly that Ezekiel is a priest. The book of Ezekiel is a series of awesome, horrifying visions. Ezekiel’s first vision is of God’s glory. There are four gruesome-looking creatures. There is a corresponding wheel for each the creatures, and each wheel is full of eyes. Above the creatures and the wheel is an expanse or sky. Above that expanse is a throne. The one on the throne looks like a man, but he is not. Below his waist is fire, and above his waist is iron. All around him is the brightness of a rainbow.
If that wasn’t enough, the one on the throne begins to speak. He commissions Ezekiel as a prophet to go to the people in exile. The one on the throne open a scroll before Ezekiel. On both sides of the scroll he reads words of suffering. Ezekiel is commanded to eat this scroll, and even with the words of lament, it tastes as sweet as honey. After judgment will come mercy.
Ezekiel then experiences a miraculous event. He is supernaturally moved from one place to another. He is to stay there for seven days. Ezekiel’s prophetic ministry is one like a watchmen set to cover a wall. If the watchmen sees something dangerous and says nothing, then whatever happens to the innocent people inside the wall is on his hands. For Ezekiel, if he does not call the people to repentance, their judgment will be on his hands. God will send Ezekiel to a certain house to be bound with cords and made unable to speak. Then at the appropriate time, God will loosen his cords and his tongue to draw the attention of the people.
Ezekiel’s first prophetic act is to create a scene out of bricks and iron and dirt to give a vision of what will happen to Israel. In addition to the scene, he will be required to lay on his left side for 390 days and then on his right side for 40 days for Judah. During those days, he will make bread to eat, but he will use human excrement (but God permits him to use that of a cow) as fuel to bake it. It is a sign that the people will eat unclean food in the nations where God will send them.
An astute reader will see those numbers add up to 430, which is also the number of years that the young nation of Israel was in slavery in Egypt before the exodus. Ezekiel’s sign is of another exodus, already determined by God, that will be like the first exodus.
Ezekiel’s next prophetic act has him cutting off all of his hair and beard. He is to divide the hair into thirds to represent three different fates for various groups of Jews during the time of the exile: sword, famine, and pestilence. Not everyone will face a horrific fate. There is yet a remnant that God will guard and protect to build up the nation once God has purified the people himself.
Even while the “abominations are in your midst”, God will pour out his wrath on his own people and on his own land. Does it seem to go against what we think of God, him pouring out his wrath on his own people? Aren’t God’s people spared from his wrath? This is a crucial distinction to make. Even while God pours out his wrath, his people are guarded from it. Think of Noah and the ark. Noah was in the midst of the flood while he was spared from God’s wrath in the boat. He had a front-row seat to all of the devastation going on around him for an extended period of time. And yet, we can rightly say that he and his family was spared from God’s wrath. Paul tells us that “not all Israel is Israel” (Romans 9:6). Therefore, even if God pours out his wrath on Israel, the faithful (or the remnant) will be spared. This will hold true at the end of the age when the tribulation comes.
Ezekiel again sees the figure of the one who has fire below his waist and gleaming metal, or iron, above his waist. In another supernatural act, this figure takes Ezekiel to the temple to show him the abominations going on. Every time the great figure tells Ezekiel to shift his gaze in another direction, he sees even greater abominations. As they get nearer to the center of the temple where the sacrifices were made, Ezekiel is finally shown that there are men in the temple worshiping not the one true God but the sun.
The figure calls for executioners to slaughter the idolaters. Six executioners arrive. There is also a seventh figure who carries all the items necessary for record keeping. This man is sent to mark the remnant in Israel, or those who have not taken part in the abominations Ezekiel has witnessed. This kind of imagery is picked up later by John in Revelation. God has elected the remnant to salvation, and they are marked out. By contrast, those who do not bear the mark of God will bear the mark of the beast.
In chapter 3, we are shown how Jesus is greater than Moses. Israel is in Egypt because God was protecting his people. God had sent Joseph ahead of his family to rise up in power and guard against an upcoming famine. Generations of Israelites were born in Egypt, which led to them being enslaved by Pharaoh who commands all Israelite women to murder their male children. Moses is born, but his mother trusted that God would act on her son’s behalf instead of obeying a wicked command to kill him. There are times to reject authority, but only when it clearly goes against God’s word. God ensures the right person finds the boy Moses. God knew Pharaoh’s daughter would have compassion on an innocent child. Moses’s sister keeps an eye on the basket to see where it lands. She approaches Pharaoh’s daughter and offers help nurse the child. Not only does his mother get to save her son’s life, but she will get paid to do what mother’s do anyway. This was all in God’s good providence. Only when he is brought back to Pharaoh’s daughter is he named Moses.
Being adopted into Pharaoh’s family meant a high level of education and living. Life is good for Moses in Pharaoh’s house. Education, food, luxury, servants—everything he wanted. But he had compassion on his own people and hated that they were being forced into labor. When Moses saw an Egyptian murder a Hebrew, he acted in vengeance. He later sees two of his fellow men arguing, and he realizes they know what he’s done. Pharaoh finds out that a Hebrew, even Moses, has killed an Egyptian. He can’t stand for that, so Moses flees to Midian. He starts a family and spends forty years as a shepherd.
God listens to his people and takes mercy on them and will send Moses to help. God used Moses to set up a series of events that led to the release of the Hebrews slaves. From that point on, Moses was seen as a deliverer. They cross the Red Sea on dry land. On their way to Mt. Sinai, they have to fight other people groups. But God protects them on their journey.
They arrive at Sinai about three months later. Moses goes up the mountain to hear from God. On this mountain, God will give the Ten Commandments and the law to Moses so he can give it to the people. Remember how angels delivered the covenant to Moses? This is that point in history. The book of Hebrews connects all of this for us.
Moses is sent by God, is born from God’s chosen people, rescues God’s chosen people, and he ascends God’s mountain to both speak to God on behalf of the people and then reveal what God said to the people. But Moses will fail again and again, never fully living up to the righteous standard of God. He will eventually die and be buried without ever getting to enter the promised land.
Moses himself believes that God will one day send a prophet like himself (Deuteronomy 18:15). Moses was a deliverer, and he expected an even greater deliverance. We can see how the Bible used Moses’ life to prepare us for the coming of Jesus.
The apostle Peter preaches in the temple in Acts 3. His point is that the Jews had met this prophet that Moses told about and rejected him. They didn’t listen to him, to their own destruction. Not just Moses, but all the prophets who came after Moses spoke about and pointed to this greater prophet, one who would do the things that Moses did but at even greater level. All the prophets proclaimed the days when the Jews would kill Jesus Christ, the prophet better than Moses.
Jews considered Moses to be the greatest prophet who ever lived. He delivered them from slavery; he led them through the wilderness; he gave them the law of God; we can understand their devotion to Moses. Hebrews makes the case that one greater than Moses has come, if you can believe it.
Hebrews calls Jesus an apostle and high priest while talking about him as if he’s better than Moses. Why’s that? An apostle is a special messenger, and a priest speaks to God on our behalf. Didn’t Moses do those things? Moses faithfully delivered the law. Even when the people built a golden calf while he was receiving the law, Moses received it a second time for them. Moses didn’t change anything God said (hard parts, easy parts, left it all in).
So Jesus was also faithful in all he was called to do. The Father appointed the Son to give his life as a sacrifice for sin. Describe the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus recognizes his appointment, but the pain grieved him. But still, faithfulness to God was more important than how he felt. Jesus would deny himself if it meant glorifying God.
Moses sinned all throughout his life. He murdered an Egyptian. He disobeyed God many times while leading the Hebrews through the wilderness. His disobedience was the reason God didn’t permit him to enter the promised land with the rest of the Israelites. But he faithfully delivered the covenant and the law to the people.
How much more faithfully did Jesus deliver his new covenant? How much more was required of Jesus than Moses? Moses gave the law from God to the people that included the system of animal sacrifices. No person ever had to die. But Jesus’ new covenant did include the sacrifice of a man, and it was himself, his own blood, not an animal’s. Would Moses have been that faithful? Would he have died for the people? Unlikely; besides, he was a sinner like them. His death wouldn’t have done anything for them. But Jesus was innocent and sinless. Not only was he willing to die for his people, but his death actually accomplished something.
Moses was God’s servant. Jesus is God’s son. “God’s house” means his family. Moses may have lived in God’s house, but he was a humble servant. He lived in the servant’s quarters, in the basement. Moses simply had a job to do. He received a paycheck for what he did. Servants aren’t usually considered to be children. They’re employees; replaceable.
Is that where real children live? No; parents keep their kids with them. They don’t send them to live in the shed/barn/basement/closet, but they keep their children in their house, close to them. Jesus is even faithful over God’s house, meaning he is in charge of it. He’s no employee; he’s a son.
Jesus offers a better Sabbath than Moses. One of the laws God gave the people through Moses was the Sabbath, the 4th commandment. Six days and a rest; no work; specific laws prohibiting certain kinds of work. When most people in the ancient world worked 7 days a week, God promised to provide for his people and they would only work 6. It showed the nations around them how trustworthy and kind the one, true God was. Some Sabbath violations even had the death penalty. The Sabbath was Friday evening through Saturday afternoon. So the Sabbath is not Sunday; the church does not keep a Sabbath. The Sabbath was a condition of the old covenant, not the new that Christ gave us.
The promised land was a beautiful place where the Hebrews would prosper if they were obedient to God. But even before they got there, they proved to be disobedient, so the whole generation of adults who left Egypt were not allowed to enter the PL. The people led by Moses were kept from entering God’s plan of rest.
But the rest that Jesus offers is better. We enter that rest by belief (4:3). In what? In the finished work of Christ. Hebrews is clearly talking about the Sabbath and not just a day off of work (4:4-5). Hebrews warns us not to avoid trusting in Jesus and entering into his Sabbath in the same way that the Hebrews at Sinai avoided trusting in God were not allowed to enter into the rest God had prepared for them in the promised land. But we’re offered that salvation every single day, if we have not yet received it. God offers salvation again today, every day, until Christ returns.
Moses of course eventually died, and a man named Joshua took his place as the leader of the Hebrews. Moses couldn’t give them rest, so maybe Joshua could finally bring them to it. Nope! The kind of rest we need couldn’t come through just a man. It would have to come through someone greater.
Because Jesus is now our priest, we can actually draw near to God in ways that those under the old covenant could not. Hebrews spells this out for us.
Priests did not appoint themselves. The law of Moses spelled out exactly how that worked (Aaronic and Levites). It was inherited, not won in an election or appointed by the government. God appointed the priests and determined their role.
The Levitical priesthood could not make anyone perfect. The blood of animals could not cover over human sin. It was a temporary device to teach about the wickedness of sin. The priests never claimed to be messiahs. They had a temporary function until the fullness of time came—until the real, final, eternal priest arrived who could be the only necessary mediator between God and man.
His resurrection made Jesus a priest forever. Under the old covenant, priesthood was determined by genealogy. If your father was a priest, you would be a priest. If you weren’t from the tribe of Levi, you would never be a priest. If you were from the tribe of Levi, you had an obligation to be a priest.
But Jesus did not inherit the role of of priest. He didn’t appoint himself, but he didn’t inherit it, either. God made him a priest, and Hebrews tells us he was a priest “in the likeness of Melchizedek” (7:15).
Why was Jesus appointed to the priesthood? Not because of where he came from, but because of the resurrection, an “indestructible life”. He was perfectly obedient throughout his life, he fulfilled the sacrificial role the Father sent him to accomplish, and because of that he was raised to new life which is indestructible, or eternal.
Jesus’s priesthood truly saves all those for whom he died. The Levitical priesthood was good, but its weakness was that it was insufficient. It didn’t forgive sins. It didn’t make anyone sinless. But the sacrifice that the great high priest, Jesus Christ, offered his own body, those who draw near to him are saved permanently. Being saved “to the uttermost” means that nothing is capable of undoing that salvation. Where the old priesthood fell short, the new priesthood saved to the highest possible degree.
The old covenant is the Mosaic Covenant, which was given at Sinai. For the whole nation of Israel. It is distinct from Davidic Covenant, which was only for David’s lineage. The Abrahamic covenant preceded Israel but would be fulfilled through Israel, finally in Christ, the true Israelite. The Noahic covenant preceded Israel and was for the whole world.
The Old Covenant consisted of obligations, blessings, and curses. Every covenant had these. Obligations were for both parties. For God, he was obligated to give provision. For Israel, they were obligated to obey God’s laws. There were blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. Blessings involved children, prosperity, safety. Curses would undo the blessings and eventually lead to exile from the land.
The old covenant was temporary. It was a tutor or a guardian. Paul wrote in Galatians 3:24-26, “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” The law was inherently a temporary set of laws.
The old covenant could not change the human heart. Laws might bind your actions, but they can’t change your motives. Laws make it so that you have a reason to obey b/c they bring consequences. The law makes it clear what our sin is. Romans 7:9, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’” The law can’t change our hearts; it only proves the wickedness of our hearts.
The Old Covenant prepared people for the New Covenant. In the same way that Moses said a better prophet than he was going to arrive one day, a new covenant would come along with that better prophet. In Ezekiel 36:26 we read, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Then again in Jeremiah 31:31 we read, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” The old covenant could not satisfy the problem of the human heart; that would require a new covenant with a new law and a new priest. Jesus will bring everything that the law could supply fallen human beings.
Old Testament priests served on earth, in the temple. They took turns and rotated every few weeks. The sacrificed every day and often many times a day. They worked double-time on holidays. The “tent” was the temple. The true tent is in heaven. That doesn’t refer a literal building but the truth that Jesus satisfied the demands of heaven. Hundreds of people and billions of dollars built the first temple. God himself built the heavenly tent, and that’s where Jesus has shown the Father his own blood.
Read Hebrews 8:4-7. “Copy and shadows” means that they were real but not the main point. The sacrifices, the laws, the priests, the temple were all shadows of the real thing, which is Jesus. Sacrifices were a shadow of the fact that Jesus would shed his own blood for the church. The laws were a shadow of the fact that Jesus would actually be righteous and fulfill the demands of God’s perfection. The priests were a shadow of the fact that Jesus would stand between you and God and pray to him for you. The temple was a shadow of the fact that God is absolutely holy, and only a holy person can approach him. The whole old covenant was a lesson in the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, and the ministry of Jesus.
Hebrews quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34. God promised that once the old covenant had completed its duty, once its demands had been met, he would bring a new covenant. He mentions Israel and Judah. The divided kingdom will be restored to one, meaning all of Abraham’s seed will be in the new covenant. And who is Abraham’s seed? All who believe (Gal. 3:29, “And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.”)!
One of the issues with the old covenant was us. We could break it. As soon as the Israelites received the covenant on Sinai, they began to break the various laws and demands. The new covenant won’t be breakable. That’s one of the primary differences. The old covenant laws were written on stone tablets—the ten commandments. The focused on the exterior. The new covenant will be written on our hearts and minds. “Mind and heart” mean the whole person and everything about us. We will actually be changed from the inside out. We will not just be pretending. Does that mean we’ll be perfect and never sin again? No; but it means we hate it when we sin and we mourn offending a righteous an holy God.
The new covenant gives us a new desire to please God and live righteous lives, even when we fall short and sin. Part of the new covenant is recognizing sin in ourselves. God says that we will know him and he will know us. That means a closeness we don’t have with God otherwise. Israel knew God as a nation, like how we know our president. The church knows God as a Father, far more closely.
Israel needed priests to offer sacrifices on their behalf. Individuals were not permitted to do that. Teaching was one of the most important parts of the priests’ job. In the new covenant, we enter into the presence of God through Jesus Christ and not an earthly priest. It was possible to be a citizen of Israel and not know God. Priests were those who got close to God for the people. In the new covenant, there’s a huge difference. Every truly born-again Christian has direct fellowship with God as his Father. It’s hard for us to even imagine the magnitude of that difference. It wasn’t that Old Testament believers couldn’t pray to God. People like Daniel prayed. We have hundreds of recorded prayers. But the existence of the priesthood proved that there was a massive distance between ordinary, sinful people and an extraordinary, righteous God. The new covenant closes that gap.
Jeremiah now describes the fall of Jerusalem. This is the event of 588-586 BC when Babylon completely took down the walls of the city. Babylon had attacked Jerusalem previously in 597 BC, but it was not a complete destruction. The Jews who survived the destruction of the city rebelled against Babylon, as you would expect them to do. Gedaliah is the governor that Babylon placed in Judah, and this is who the Jews are rebelling against. A group of men conspire together and assassinate Gedaliah, which only serves to further infuriate their Babylonian overlords.
Lest we think that the Jews have learned their lesson, we read chapter 42. They rightly pray for mercy from God. They seek a word from God through Jeremiah. Whatever God says, they will do. Ten days later, God speaks to Jeremiah. God says that the people must stay in the land. God will rebuild them. God also said that if they flee to Egypt for protection and provision, they will face judgment. In their foolishness, many still fled to Egypt for safety, even with a clear word from God through a trusted prophet. The people will not be spared from their sins; God will now send Babylon to sack Egypt. Jeremiah is now taken to Egypt, as well. God sends a word through Jeremiah to the Jews living in Egypt. He has sent no shortage of prophets, but the people continue in their abominations. None of those who left Judah for Egypt will survive. God will send the armies of Nebuchadnezzar to kill Pharaoh Hophra and destabilize all of Egypt. God then sends Jeremiah a word about the impending judgment on several nations: Egypt, Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Damascus, far out nations, and finally, Babylon. These are nations that were the enemies of Israel and therefore enemies of God.
2 Timothy 3-4
Paul warns Timothy about what he can expect to experience in his ministry. Paul lists a variety of characteristics for Timothy to monitor in the churches. He pulls from an Old Testament example when Moses was opposed, and in the same way, there will be those who oppose Timothy. But “they will not get very far” (3:9). Timothy, however, must be content with a ministry focused on God’s word. Only the Scriptures are sufficient for life and ministry, which contrast with false teachers who would rather teach a pagan philosophy and pass it off as religion.
Timothy must spend his days being in the word and preaching that word. Preaching and teaching serves these purposes: reproving, rebuking, and exhortation. To reprove is to gently call out a sin in someone’s life. To rebuke is to criticize a philosophy or worldview that is inimical to Christ. To exhort is to call to faithfulness and endurance. Scripture is the only sufficient and necessary means of fulfilling these important parts of the ministry.
Paul finally sends Timothy off with some personal instruction. This primarily has to do with Paul’s travel and his companions in the ministry. He urges charity and compassion on those who are facing difficulty in the complex circumstances of the Christian life.
Paul’s letter to Titus reads a lot like 1 Timothy, so it’s possible they were written around the same time, which would be the mid-60s. Overall, Paul is here concerned with faith being proved by works. This is another good example of how Paul and James are in complete agreement when it relates to the relationship of faith, works, and justification.
Titus is ministering on the island of Crete in churches likely planted by Paul, although that missionary journey is not recorded. After the greeting, Paul moves right into the necessary qualifications for church leaders. Note that most of what Paul says consists of character qualifications and not skillsets. Most of these qualifications are not controversial in any way, save maybe the faithfulness of an elder’s children. How can a father ensure his children will become Christians? Is that not the Spirit’s work?
What Paul is likely saying is not that a man can only become an elder if his children are already Christians but that they are being discipled as Christians and not reeling against their father. Paul says something similar in 1 Timothy 3, and there Paul only mentions that the children of an elder/overseer must be well-behaved. This heavily implies that Paul is focused on order in the household, not necessarily conversion. The primary qualification of an elder is sound, biblical character and the ability to “give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (1:9).
While there are others want to bring in popular teachings that go far beyond the word of God, Titus must “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (2:1). This looks like encouraging people with the word of God in every stage of life and in every circumstance in life. The gospel moves us to be self-controlled while we wait for the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Titus will face plenty of discouragement throughout his ministry, but he must be a strong, devoted man who cares little if any regards him as foolish.
Some people are quarrelsome, and Titus is to call it out when he sees it. Christian maturity is not pugnacious. Even amidst disagreement, we must be gentle and respectful to our brothers and sisters. After all, were we not all once at war with God? So Titus must avoid anything quarrelsome. That’s not to say that Titus must avoid controversial issues; but he must direct the church back to the word of God, which is the only means of settling the issue. Some issues are necessarily controversial, and in other cases, there are “foolish” controversies (3:9). Let the word of God decide. If there are those who insist on being quarrelsome over foolish controversies, warn them twice, then remove them from fellowship. It is not worth poisoning the whole church because of one person’s or one group’s hobby horse.
Philemon is the shortest of Paul’s letters. Philemon must have a been a man of some wealth and standing, because he had at least one slave. Slavery in the ancient world is a mixed bag, but it must be said that we should not unthinkingly assume slavery at one time in the same as slavery in another. Chattel-style slavery of early America was the purchase of people as property. The entire framework behind the mid-Atlantic slave trade was that if you paid money, you could treat another human being as if they were a piece of farm equipment. It was wicked, and the good people of that age, primarily Christians, were right to abolish it.
There were many forms of slavery in the ancient world. First-century Rome knew of many of them. Some were viewed as property. Some were working off a debt. Some were seeking citizenship. It seems as if the situation that Onesimus finds himself in resembles something between a debt relationship and property. Otherwise, it seems unlikely that Paul would want Philemon to receive Onesimus, a runaway slave, as a brother in Christ. Paul stops short of asking for Onesimus’s freedom. He simply wants Philemon to treat Onesimus as he would any other brother.
At some point in the time between Onesimus running away and Paul’s letter to Philemon, Paul had been a player in Onesimus’s conversion to Christ. That new reality necessarily changes the relationship between master and slave. There are too many other passages in Paul’s letters to say that slavery in every form is sinful. It is beyond dispute that many forms of slavery are nothing short of oppression and are therefore evil. But can we say the same for those paying off a debt? What about those who willingly enter into a master-slave relationship for the mutual benefits?
When English translators translate the Greek word δοῦλος, or doulos, they have the difficult decision of whether to use the word “slave” with all of its connotations, even though that’s literally what the word means. Most translations select either slave, servant, or bondservant in different contexts. But we cannot move away from the fact that 1 Peter 2:16 calls Christians δοῦλος of Christ, or slaves to Christ. So slavery does carry a theological sense. We are not our own; we were bought at a price. Slavery is a common image of the believer’s relationship to Christ. Marriage is a common image for the relationship between Christ and the church, much like how adoption is a common image for the relationship between God the Father and the believer. We must understand these images as Scripture uses them and not load them down with contemporary weight.
The book of Hebrews is all about how Jesus is better than the angels, Moses, priesthood, and the old covenant. The Jewish people highly valued all of these things, and the author of Hebrews is dedicated to showing how those things actually point to Jesus, which is why he’s better than them. The real thing is better than the substitute. The movie is better than the script. Jesus is better than everything that came before. Jesus has always been the point, but before getting to Jesus, God used other people, places, and events to prepare us for the coming of Jesus. Since before creation, God had a plan to save sinners. The point here is that everything else that came before Jesus was like the trailer for the movie.
The Exodus? To show us that God draws us out of wickedness into righteousness. The priests? To show that Jesus talks to God for us. The sacrifices? To show us how evil sin really is. The temple? To show us that worship is based on what God says, not what we say. The kings? To show us that God is our only righteous ruler. All the Old Testament expectations are fulfilled in Christ. This is Hebrews’ point.
Paul wrote in Galatians 3:19, “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.” Paul is saying much more there, but for our purposes the point is that angels delivered the law to Moses on Mt. Sinai.
Earlier in Galatians, Paul wrote, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the on ewe preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8). Angels are God’s mediators, or servants. They are the go-betweens. And they only serve the purposes of God.
In Hebrews 1, we’re given seven reasons why Jesus is better than the angels:
The book of Hebrews does have its interpretive difficulties. One of those is the presence of what have been called the “warning passages”. These passages warn believers about falling away from God’s grace. Some have interpreted these to say that the believer may truly be declared just by God at a point in time, but it is possible to fall away from grace to such a degree to lose that justification. I believe that to be a cursory reading of the warning passages that avoids their overall context.
The first of these warnings is Hebrews 2:1-4. The point is that since the message delivered by angels came with curses fore disobedience, what kind of curse must the message delivered by Jesus bring? What the author is not saying is that the believer can ever reject that message. He is simply warning against what happens when people are confronted with that message and then reject it.
Even though chapter 3 is a part of this week’s reading plan, we will address chapter 3 next week since the author clearly has Moses as a different section from chapters 1-2.
Several kings and their armies have laid siege on Jerusalem. God sends Jeremiah out with a prophetic performance. He is to yoke himself like an animal and present himself before the kings. The point is that God will actually make these nations subservient to Babylon, not Judah. God even calls Nebuchadnezzar his servant! This is further evidence of all creation being under God’s sovereign sway. Of course, Nebuchadnezzar is only unwittingly God’s servant, but he is God’s servant nevertheless. These nations will be under the yoke of Babylon. God also promises that the exiles will return in two years, as well as the temple artifacts that were taken when Jerusalem was sacked. Another prophet, Hananiah, then takes the yoke off of Jeremiah to show that God will even break the yoke that Babylon has over Jerusalem by having the Jews return to their land.
Jeremiah sends a letter to the exiles still in Babylon. He calls for them to settle down, build businesses, and raise families. They are to seek the good of the city they are in. This would have had to have been a difficult word to hear. How could the people not be overcome with anxiety and bitterness? But Jeremiah also tells them that the exile will last a period of 70 years. The times are in God’s hand; they will be released at the proper time. This prophecy will come true, which is the test of a true prophet. There are many other false prophets sending a very different message than Jeremiah’s.
While all of Jeremiah’s prophecies are significant, one does stand out. In chapter 31, the new covenant made in Christ’s blood is specifically foretold. Not only will it be a new covenant, but it will be entirely different. This passage is incredibly significant for the two distinctive facets of Baptist ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church): regenerate church membership and credobaptism (or believer’s baptism).
God tells Jeremiah that he will write the law on our hearts and that those in the new covenant will not need to teach anyone about knowing God. That does not mean there is no teaching ministry in the church, otherwise there would not be specific mention of teachers and preachers in the New Testament. What that refers to is the distinction between the redemptive application of the old and new covenants. Under the old covenant, the law had no redemptive power. Not all of Israel was redeemed or regenerated. To be a full-fledged member of Israel, you were bound to keep the law. There were certain laws that if broken required being expelled from the nation. But under the new covenant, God has sealed us already. Every covenant member is truly born again. Yes, there are those who act like Christians without ever being converted. And yes, those people might at times be difficult to pinpoint. But there is a categorical distinction between the lack of redemptive power of the law and the perfect redeeming power of the blood of Christ.
When the English Puritans were still seeking reform in the church of England, they did not see how a state-church fit the biblical model of the church. They read passages like Jeremiah 31 and saw that only the regenerate were truly members of Christ’s church. No one was born in to the church by virtue of having Christian parents or especially by virtue of being born in a Christian nation. It was their ecclesiology that led to them to consider credobaptism. The New Testament witness of repentance and baptism leading to church membership should be normative, not the other way around. So, these English Puritans were derogatorily called “baptists” because of their high view of baptism.
God then has Jeremiah buy land in Judah even though it is under seige. The point again is that the land will be returned to the Jews, and this serves as a sign and a promise. This prophecy is interesting because Jeremiah doesn’t understand the point of it. But God kindly answers Jeremiah, reminding them that the authority to do to the land what he wishes is his right. Since the people have abandoned the covenant, he will turn them over to foreign powers for a time of discipline and judgment. But God will restore their fortunes in jealousy for his own name and love for his own people. God will restore joy to the people. The land will no longer be a wasteland but will be full of people and animals. The eternal covenant made with David will be fulfilled in the coming of a righteous branch, Christ Jesus.
God continues to restore his people. Then Jeremiah sends Baruch, his assistant, to the temple to read a prophecy. The people hear him and tell Jeremiah and Baruch to hide. King Jehoiakim is furious that anyone would prophecy against him and against Israel, so he burns the scroll. Baruch records Jeremiah’s words again, plus many more, and gives it again to Jehoiakim.
Jeremiah is later arrested on charges of desertion. He claims his innocence, but he is imprisoned anyway. King Zedekiah asks to hear from Jeremiah, if he has a word from the Lord. Jeremiah does in fact, and he assures Zedekiah that he will be spared from Babylon. Zedekiah keeps Jeremiah safe and feeds him. But Jeremiah is still prophesying the worst is yet to come. The people simply won’t stand for it, and he is thrown into a cistern. Zedekiah turns from his word and does nothing to keep Jeremiah safe.
A eunuch who worked for the king saves Jeremiah. He tells Zedekiah what has happened to Jeremiah, and he is given thirty men to help. Jeremiah doesn’t really trust Zedekiah anymore, but Zedekiah wants another word from the Lord. Jeremiah insists that Zedekiah promise to protect him if he tells him. Jeremiah tells Zedekiah that if Zedekiah gives himself over to Babylon upon the invasion, his life will be spared.
2 Thessalonians 3
Paul warns the Thessalonians about idleness. It’s not explicit, but there does seem to be some logic in that many were confused about the end of this age and therefore decided that work and production was futile. Any eschatology that understands the Christian life as kicking back and waiting for the end is not biblical. Regardless of your particular views on the various components of the end-times, Jesus gives plenty of parables in Matthew 25 about staying sober and ready for his return. It is not in dispute. What Paul does here is take that to its logical conclusion and affirm that Christians must still seek the welfare of the city in which they find themselves.
1 Timothy 1-6
Some have argued that since 1-2 Timothy and Titus focus heavily on church order rather than the Holy Spirit leading the church that Paul did not write these letters. But that just indicates a lack of reading comprehension. Even back in Acts 20, Paul addresses church elders. The church has had leadership since its inception, beginning with the apostles. The Jerusalem council is a council of men giving direction to the early church.
This book highlights in short form the similarities between Paul and James. Both of them use the term “justification” differently, which has led some to believe that they disagree on the place of works in the Christian life. But context makes clear that Paul is focused on the how of justification in books like Romans and Galatians, and James is focused on the end of justification. Paul speaks about justification as God declaring us to be righteous. James speaks of justification as our demonstration of that righteousness. In 1 Timothy, Paul somewhat bridges that gap in our understanding. He focuses on how the gospel leads to godliness.
He opens with a traditional greeting and quickly moves to a warning against false teachers. He mentions “myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculate rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith” (1 Tim. 1:3). In the early church, one of the ways that pseudo-Christian groups went off the rails was by using the apocryphal books and Old Testament genealogies as means of special knowledge not found in Scripture. Paul says that those things do not belong in Christian teaching and doctrine. Stick to the word that’s more fully confirmed, not the speculative nonsense that’s so ready available. Stick to the word “in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” (1 Tim. 1:11), which is that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of which I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15).
The gospel has implications for daily living and how the church governs herself. The Christian prays for everyone. We do not back down from engaging the world, and we primarily do it by praying that God would intervene. He goes to say that the way the church orders herself in worship is a sign of how we will live in the world. Is worship orderly and reverent, or do we focus on fun and entertainment? Paul clearly articulates the need for order and reverence in worship when he calls for the proper way of praying and modesty.
This is the context for Paul calling for wives to learn quietly. Paul roots this command (“I do not permit…”) in creation, not competency. Women are not trophies to be kept clean and quiet on a shelf. The basis for this command is that Adam was formed first and that Eve was deceived first. This command is still binding today because Paul does not root it in cultural situations or something education levels. Church order, like marriage, is a living parable of Christ and the church. The Greek words for “man” and “woman” can sometimes mean “husband” and “wife” in the right context. But since Paul is speaking about the church and not marriage, “man” and “woman” are what he has in mind.
The mention of women being saved through childbearing is difficult, no doubt. Paul never teaches that women attain salvation by having a child. Otherwise, barren women are damned from the outset. The Greek sozo, or “saved”, is used multiple ways, depending on context. Here, in the context of church order, Paul must not be referring to how a person is saved, since they are already in the church; that is always by grace through faith. Sozo can also refer to the progressive sanctification of the Christian life (IE, was saved, am being saved, will be saved, as in Philippians 2:12-13). Only in the modern age have we said that a women’s role as a child-bearer and a mother is a second-class station in life. That is the fruit of wicked ideology that seeks to undermine the family. While we should not make the other extreme error and worship mothers, in no way, shape, or form does motherhood ruin a woman’s life.
Paul then lists the qualifications for those in church leadership, those of elders and of deacons. You’ll notice that they are primarily character qualifications. The only significant difference between elders and deacons mentioned here is the requirement that elders be teachers (3:2). And no matter how charismatic or gifted a person is, there is no substitute for time as a believer (3:6). “Recent” might be determined in the local church context since no specific time in mentioned here. It’s noteworthy that both elders and deacons must be leaders in their homes.
Since women are not to teach or have authority over a man, and since Paul mentions the elder must be the husband of one wife, it stands that the office of elder is reserved for men. Again, it’s not because of competency but because of creation. For deacons, however, the issue of women serving in that office is less obvious. Some translations include the word “their” in 3:11, implying that “their wives” refers to the wives of the deacons, meaning that deacons must be qualified men. However, “their” is not in the text, and “wives” can also mean “women”, depending on the context. It is not out of bounds to suggest that what Paul is saying is that women serving as deacons “must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things” (3:11). Then verse 12 indicates that male deacons should not have multiple wives, which was not unheard of in that day. Women did not have multiple husbands at one time, so there was no need to mention it. This is somewhat circumstantial, I must admit. But in sticking to the words of text, I believe firmly but charitably, Paul does permit women to serve as deacons but never as elders, especially since deacons are not called to be leaders or teachers as elders clearly are.
So can women teach at all? There are other passages that clearly commend the teaching of women to children and other women (2 Tim. 1:5, Titus 2:4). But what about other areas, such as Bible studies? What about Sunday school? What if other adults are in the room? Where is the line dividing faithfulness and disobedience?
Colossians 3:16 calls all believers to be teachers. In Acts 18, a husband and wife, Aquila and Priscilla, take a teacher, Apollo, aside to give him a correction in his teaching. Priscilla is mentioned explicitly as contributing to that scenario. Paul mentions women praying and prophesying in 1 Corinthians 11. So clearly, there is not a full-blown barrier to women teaching in mixed contexts. I believe wisdom calls for case-by-case decisions. For instance, at Mt. Pisgah, Sunday school curriculum is determined by the pastors. Can a woman teach it? We believe the answer is yes. Is it gathered worship? No. Can a woman teach a mixed-group Bible study? Is she usurping the pastors on central Christian doctrines? If no, then yes, she can instruct a group of men and women. Women, by definition, cannot fulfill the office and function of elder. But then again, neither can unqualified men.
Paul goes on to say that if the church focuses on spiritual maturity, order, and reverence, that some will abandon the church because of it. By sticking to the gospel of Christ crucified and biblical church order, we will offend some. But let them be offended by the truth instead of God being offended by substandard worship.
Paul ends with some general, final instructions. Take care of widows and orphans. Let young windows remarry with a clear conscience. Respect your church elders. Let servants respect their masters. Excommunicate false teachers. Pursue righteousness. Guard the deposit of faith.
2 Timothy 1-2
This letter was likely written during a Roman imprisonment after the end of the book of Acts, making this Paul’s final letter. The purpose of this letter is to call Timothy, and us by extension, to greater faithfulness even in the midst of suffering. Don’t let suffering make you think that God’s plan has been undone. You are exactly where he wants you.
After a traditional greeting, Paul remarks that Timothy shows fruit of real faith. He was faithfully taught by his mother and grandmother, as well as Paul. So he should guard that with all his might. When this world mocks you and hates, don’t be ashamed of the one who died for you. There are many who have done just that—they have abandoned both Paul and the faith.
But Paul calls Timothy to be a good soldier. Stick to the teaching of the gospel. Say the same things over and over. Persevere through difficulty and mockery. Soldiers focus on the one who enlisted them, not on their own gain. What awaits for us, what was earned for us by Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice, doesn’t begin to compare to what we’re going through now. Rightly handle the word of God. Irreverent babble, or disrespectful and foolish teaching, marks much of contemporary teaching. But we must stick to the Scriptures and nothing else.
Timothy is much younger than Paul, so Paul warns him about youthful passions. They are strong, but the gospel is stronger. When we’re young, we’re prone to the latest controversies. The same was true in Timothy’s day. Paul encourages him to move beyond that. Don’t be quarrelsome, but stick to the Scriptures.
Jeremiah takes note of how bad things are in Judah. Evil people prosper, and the land is not producing anything. He brings these issues to God in prayer. And God responds, but he tells Jeremiah that things will get worse. His own family will turn their backs on him. The state of affairs in Judah is squarely on the shoulders of the people who have turned their backs on God and the covenant.
Jeremiah is given a handful of symbolic acts throughout his ministry to show the people of Judah. One is the spoiled loincloth to represent God spoiling the pride that Israel has in themselves. Another symbolic image is of drunkenness. While the people presume upon God’s grace to have their wine vats filled, God will actually fill the people with drunkenness for their sins. Keep in mind that Jeremiah ministers both before and partly during the Babylonian exile. God gives Jeremiah a vision of the forthcoming exile to preach to the people. Foes will come from the north, invade the land, and take many hostages. God will expose their true natures and all their sins. In addition to exile, God will send many other judgments on his rebellious people. This will include famine, wars, pestilence, and false prophets. These judgments are to show the people how far they have fallen.
Perhaps most horrifying in all of this is God’s insistence that judgment will take place. Chapter 15 assures the people that if God has destined some to die by pestilence, it will take place in short order. If some have been destined by God to die in battle, it will take place in short oder. The same goes for famine and exile (chs. 15-16). The notion of “destroyers” are mentioned in the Olive Discourse (Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, Luke 21) and Revelation 6. They are relatively common prophetic images of judgment on sin. While judgment is a certainty, it is not without mercy. After judgment, God will save and deliver his people (15:20, 16:14-21).
Israel’s collective heart has become stone (17:1). They break the covenant every moment of every day by living in reckless rebellion. They even teach their children to do the same. God’s anger will “burn forever”, which is a way of saying “until it is satisfied”. When Jeremiah prays for salvation and deliverance, God simply tells Jeremiah to preach repentance and keeping the conditions of the covenant, summarized by the Sabbath.
The next symbolic image is of the potter. The potter has right to do with the clay whatever he pleases. If the clay spoils, he can start over and make something new. In the same way, Israel is the clay in God’s hands. The apostle Paul uses the same imagery again in Romans 9 to communicate the same idea. God is also “shaping disaster” against Israel for their stubborn hearts. Even after this prophetic call to repentance, the people insist on living their lives apart from the covenant, to the point they decide that the whole nation will no longer Jeremiah.
Another symbolic image is the broken flask. Jeremiah will speak God’s words of judgment and then throw the flask to the ground, and this will symbolize God breaking the people and the city. Topheth was a cemetery already filled to the max with dead bodies. God will make Jerusalem like a full cemetery.
Not only have the people decided to no longer listen to Jeremiah’s prophecy, but the priest Pashhur beats him and puts him in the stocks. In return, Jeremiah assures Pashhur that he and his friends, those who believed his false prophecy, will be among those going into exile. King Zedekiah sent Pashhur to Jeremiah for a word from God. Jeremiah sends word back to Zedekiah, saying that not only will God still send the Babylonians but that God will also fight against Judah. Their sin is so great that they are blinded to the reality that they have been so disobedient. Their hearts are so hardened that they still expect God to be on their side instead of them being on God’s side.
One of the primary charges against Israel is against the priests. They have abdicated their responsibilities, namely that of teaching the people to obey the law of God. That is tantamount to hating the people. God will send a new shepherd to love and teach the people. This shepherd will be a priest, but God tells Jeremiah that he will also be a king, or, a branch from the root of David. Here we see the king-priest theme once again. Under the old covenant, the monarchy and the priesthood were intentionally kept distinct. Kings like Saul were condemned for usurping the priests and performing sacrifices themselves. Under the new covenant, the roles of priest and king will be reunited as they were in Melchizedek. Jesus Christ is our great shepherd and priest-king.
Chapter 24 notes that exile has already started. Jeremiah sees a vision of two baskets of figs in the temple. One contains ripe figs and another contains bad figs. In the same way, God will separate the good and the bad exiles. Those who God has chosen he will return to the land. God then tells Jeremiah that the exile will cover 70 years (25:11-12). The first exile started in 605 BC, and 70 years later would be 535 BC. However, some exiles returned in 538 BC. So it is likely that 70 is an intentionally rounded number. For instance, Psalm 90 says that the number of our years is 70, meaning the average lifespan is 70 years, or 80 years in a strong man (v.10). Context determines the literality of a number. The prophet Daniel, while in exile in Babylon, began praying for an end to exile when he read this section.
The cup of God’s wrath is a common prophetic image of what God has in store. As he pours out his cup, his wrath is manifested. As Jeremiah is prophesying, the people become infuriated to the point they try to kill him in the temple. Jeremiah again calls for the people to repent. But he will die a martyr’s death if it comes to that. However, that will bring more innocent blood on their hands. Ahikam son of Shaphan pipes up and speaks sensibly. He reminds the people that another prophet in the past prophesied similar things and was spared from death. If he’s a prophet, then there is no stopping what God has decreed. If they continue in killing Jeremiah, they will have only heaped judgment upon themselves.
Paul asks a rhetorical “if…then” statement. If you have been raised with Christ, then seek the things where Christ is. You could also say, “Since you’ve been raised to new life in Christ, your mind should necessarily be on the things of heaven.” That’s the positive impact of being raised to new life. The negative side of it is that we must mortify, or put to the death, the sin that remains. Paul makes a list of vices that summarize the sins we must put to death. The opposite of mortification is vivification. We kill what seeks to kill us, and we bring to life the things that are above, which Paul then lists as compassion, kindness, humility meekness, and patience.
As Paul often does, he briefly addresses how the gospel moves in the home. The family was the first institution ordained by God, so it is right to spend some significant time focused on it. Wives submit to their husbands. Husbands love their wives, and fathers do not discourage their children. Children obey to their parents. Bondservants obey their masters.
Paul then says farewell to the church at Collosae. He urges them to keep in prayer, primarily that the word of God would expand and grow into more of the world. In addition to prayer, keep a watch on your life. Don’t give unbelievers an excuse to hate you beyond your faith in Christ.
1 Thessalonians 1-5
1 Thessalonians was likely the first letter Paul wrote, probably around AD 52. Paul reminds the Thessalonians that it was God who chose them, not the other way around. Why is salvation so astounding? Because the rebels were forgiven by the one rebelled against. The rebels didn’t gravel and hope for the best. In salvation, we receive the word and the Spirit. Now, we turn from our idols and wait for the Son to return.
Paul and his associates have had a hard time as apostles, but that has served to confirm their ministry. No one would withstand what they have time and time again without a clear commission from God. Once Paul got to Thessalonica, he was received warmly. He says that he was gentle like a nursing mother (1:7) and encouraging like a father (1:11-12). Because of the power of the gospel, the Thessalonians received the word of God in power.
This letter arrives between visits from Paul. He hopes to be able to see them again in person. He was adamant about knowing their current state of affairs, so he sent Timothy to get the latest updates. It was Timothy’s good report that has sustained Paul during his many persecutions. Because of this love he has for the Thessalonians, he prays that God would do even more for them and increase their joy. He encourages them to stay on the path of brotherly love. Stay sexually pure. Live quiet lives.
Probably the most famous passage of 1 Thessalonians is 4:13-17, which concerns the rapture. While it does teach a rapture, Paul’s primary purpose in this section is to comfort the minds of those who are concerned about those believers who have already died. What concerns me is the prooftexting that uses this passage to support a pretribulational rapture.
When Paul says that God will “bring” (ago) with him those who have died (4:14), it most likely cannot be referring to those who were raptured 3.5 or 7 years earlier. He is speaking of the same people in v.16 who are raised first and yet are already with Christ in v.17. So who Christ is bringing with him are the souls of those who have already died. Those who are living at his return are “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (v.17). It is clear, and makes more sense, that the dead in Christ return to the earth at the rapture than those left alive meet him in the air and go to heaven for seven years, which is not mentioned at all. Christ’s return and both the resurrection of the dead and the glorification of the living take place simultaneously.
“Caught up” is harpazo, which means to be seized by force. Meeting Christ in the air should be no surprise. At his ascension, the angels tell the disciples that he will return the same way he left (Acts 1:11). Paul is using a common Roman image of meeting a victorious army outside the gates and parading back into the city with them. He calls out his people to return to his kingdom with him, which perfectly lines up if he is returning with the intent of establishing his millennial kingdom.
The word for “meet” is the same word used in the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:6, “apantēsis”. The five wise virgins are prepared for the groom’s arrival. And once he arrives, and they immediately go to the marriage feast. There is no interval of time between meeting him and the feast. In Matthew 25:6, “Come out to meet him”, is the same verb used in the phrase “meet the Lord in the air” in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. Again, the five wise virgins meet their groom and go immediately to the marriage supper. That would imply that, because the invitation to the marriage supper of lamb is announced in Revelation 18 (even though it does not happen yet), and since Christ returns in Revelation 19, meeting the Lord in the air is simultaneous with his return.
If the rapture takes place at the conclusion of the tribulation, some ask, “What’s the point of meeting Jesus in the air and returning immediately to the earth?” The same question can be asked of those who hold to a pretribulational rapture. What’s the point of bringing those who have fallen asleep and returning immediately to heaven? Both sides have to answer that question. It’s not a slam-dunk for either side.
Keeping in the mind the chapter divisions are arbitrary and not original, Paul is actually continuing his argument at the beginning of chapter 5. He is saying that the believers do not need to be taught anything else about the second coming because they know it will happen in an instant. Even though a pregnant woman knows she will give labor, the exact moment is unknown to her. And in 5:6, we read that we should be awake for when the time comes. Note, we are not to stay sober and wait for the rapture but for the day of the Lord, which is universally the day of wrath, or the day of judgment.
In 5:9, Paul does tell us that we are not destined for wrath but for salvation. Some argue that this means we will not be present for the tribulation when God’s wrath is poured out. But that is assuming a lot from a single verse when many others mention God’s people being preserved even amidst wrath. When Jesus speaks of the end of the age in Matthew 24, he intentionally uses the story of Noah to say what the last days will be like. Noah was spared from wrath, but he was present for it.
Paul then says his typical farewell. The word “encourage” comes up throughout the letter, especially at the end. We would do well to encourage our fellow believers, and ourselves, with Paul’s words in this letter.
2 Thessalonians 1-2
Paul is adamant that they understand Christ has absolutely not returned yet. Some people had argued that he had secretly returned, invisible to the human eye, and they had missed it. It’s the same problem as dispensationalism. They argue that the rapture will be secret and invisible. People will just disappear. It’s an old problem. But John writes in Revelation 1:7, “Behold he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him.” Jesus says in the Olivet Discourse that his return will be as visible as a lightning strike in the sky (Matthew 24:27). Paul had taught that there would be a rapture in his first letter to them, so now he’s writing to confirm that it hasn’t happened. It will not be missed. He says that those who say the rapture has already happened, or that it is a secret, are deceiving you (v.3).
The dispensationalist and the preterist have wildly different methods, but they wind up saying the same thing about the rapture. Preterists say that Christ coming in judgment in AD 70 was an invisible return. In fact, it was so invisible that no one living at that time wrote about it as if it was the second coming of Christ. The dispensationalist says that the rapture hasn’t happened yet, but when it does, it will be invisible and a secret. There will be no signs that come before it.
In 2:3-4, he lays out a sequence of events similar to the various “sevens” in Revelation. The rebellion against God’s people takes place, the antichrist/man of lawlessness/son of destruction (also the abomination of desolation from Daniel) is revealed and attempts to take over worship from God. He will try to make true believers worship him, but they won’t, which is why they are killed. But the antichrist is being restrained right now, meaning he will be released later (v.6). V.7 says that “he” is restraining the man of lawlessness, so God is restraining the antichrist until his appointed time.
The man of lawlessness is presently restrained, but the mystery of lawlessness is at work (v.7). There will always be forces at work to deter true worship of God. But when the restraining ends and the lawless one is revealed, Jesus will destroy him—how and when? “By the appearance of his coming” (v.8). The antichrist is destroyed at the second coming.
John writes in Revelation 19 that the beast and the false prophet are cast into the lake of fire at Christ’s second coming, never to be seen again, and Paul says the same thing here in a less apocalyptic way. 2:9 makes it even clearer that the man of lawlessness works for Satan. He will do false signs and wonders. In the same way the various sevens of Revelation are to show that the unregenerate will never love God despite his clear punishments, Paul here writes that the lawless one’s followers “refused to love the truth and so be saved” (v.10). In my estimation, Paul’s “man of lawlessness" is John's “beast”.
These chapters continue God’s words of comfort and promise of restoration for his people. I want to focus primarily on chapter 65 where Isaiah speaks of the new creation. This passage is often used as a prooftext for the premillennial view of Christ’s return. This position holds that Christ’s return precedes (hence, pre-) an earthly reign of 1000 years when Satan is bound and inactive. At the conclusion of the 1000 years, Satan is released to instigate a failed rebellion, Christ banishes him eternally to the lake of fire, and he establishes the new heavens and new earth.
There are other views that harmonize the relevant passages differently. Postmillennialism argues that this current age ends with a period of heightened churchly influence, and Christ returns at the conclusion of that time. Amillennialism argues that the millennium is not literal but is how Revelation 20:1-6 describes the current age. Therefore, Christ simply returns at a point in the future, and that is the end of this age.
I affirm premillennialism, but if we interpret this passage the way the New Testament apostles do, this passage must be referring to the eternal state and not the millennium. It’s better to stick to the primary texts than scour the Bible for a prooftext and skew the meaning to fit our predetermined interpretation.
Both Peter and John reference Isaiah 65:17 (“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind”). 2 Peter 3:13 says, “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” Immediately before this, Peter says that “the heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare” (2 Peter 3:10). These things take place not before but after the millennium. The new heaven and the new earth come after the current heaven and earth is gone.
John writes in Revelation 21:1, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” John places the new heaven and new earth after the conclusion of the millennium of Revelation 20:1-6. Both of these New Testament authors reference the Isaiah passage and apply it directly to the eternal state.
One reason (we) premillennialists often apply Isaiah 65:17-25 to the millennial reign of Christ is that Isaiah speaks of things that will eradicated in the eternal state, primarily death, and yet a young man will die at age 100. What’s going on here? Isaiah also says that former things will not be remembered (v.17). In the context of there being no weeping or crying or death, we should not interpret this to mean that our memories are wiped clean but that we will no longer remember our sins, just as God has done.
If we consistently apply the principle that Scripture interprets Scripture, and if we see that the New Testament applies this passage specifically to the eternal state and not the millennium, then we must interpret the verses concerning long life in a corresponding manner. Instead of just saying that death will be no more, much like the apostle Paul would do, the prophet Isaiah speaks metaphorically. Metaphor does not negate or preclude interpreting the text based on grammar and historical context. In fact, metaphor springs forth naturally from reading the text according to the rules of grammar and history.
We read about long life, peace and security, enjoying our work, peace in the animal kingdom, and the presence of God in our midst. This is all about the return to the state of things before death entered the picture. Could this be anything other than a call back to Eden? If not, what is the overwhelming amount of Edenic allusions pointing to? We have to reconcile verse 19 with verse 20. There will be no more weeping or crying in verse 19, but the age of 100 will be considered young in verse 20. They are easily harmonized if Isaiah is speaking metaphorically. Again, that interpretation rises naturally from the next, not from an exaggerated imagination.
The prophet Jeremiah is a prophet of the southern kingdom of Judah from the tribe of Benjamin. He ministers to Judah before the exile begins, and his ministry of one of warning. Jeremiah lives between the splitting of the kingdoms between north and south and the beginning of the Babylonian exile. The northern kingdom of Israel fell to Assyria in 721 BC. Shortly after, Babylon conquered Assyria. By 586 BC, Babylon had conquered the southern kingdom of Judah. Jeremiah died in roughly 570 BC, so he saw a little over a decade of the seventy-year exile and prophesied for about forty years.
Early in the book we read a clear description of the work of a prophet. “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth” (Jeremiah 1:9). Jeremiah, as well as every other true prophet, is not speaking his own words but the words given him to speak from God. Therefore, when prophet speaks, it is the same as if God himself were speaking. Jeremiah’s prophecies are common to all the major prophets: Israel’s failure to keep the covenant, the consequences of that failure, and God’s mercy in the giving of a new covenant.
Israel is a nation that resembles a lot of the spiritual life: a lot of energy and commitment in the beginning but a dwindling amount as time goes on. Chapter 2-3 are a series of charges levied against Israel for all the various ways they have broken the covenant. Worship is idolatrous and marriages are broken. But in his mercy, God calls his people to repentance instead of destroying them. God calls them to acknowledge their evil ways. He is merciful, so why do they continue to wait? Repentance is characterized as circumcision, which in the ancient world was indicative of separation. Typically, only the priests of any given religion, and therefore the most pure, were circumcised. God is calling for even greater purity by a circumcision of the heart. In chapter 6, God will call for circumcised ears so that the people will listen (v.10).
God specifically calls for the invasion of enemies from the north in chapter 4. It is Judah’s own sin that has brought this about. They have no one to blame but themselves; it has “reached their very heart” (4:18). Such judgment is painful to Jeremiah to watch. He knows that what God says will happen is about to come true, and he’s watching the people continue in their way of life. He has a broken heart (4:19). He will later again comment on his grief (8:18-9:26).
And yet, the people continue in their defiance of the covenant. In all the ongoing displays of God’s mercy, the Jews refuse to repent and receive God’s overflowing mercy. Not only that, but the Jews refuse to believe that God will be true to his word and judge them (5:12). They can refuse to turn to him, and yet, God will be merciful anyway. God has a plan for his people, and nothing they do will thwart his plan. “But even in those days, declares the Lord, I will not make a full end of you” (5:18). Our sin does not override God’s eternal plan. God tells the people to flee because of what the people will experience if they stay (6:1). The land will face great devastation.
God sends Jeremiah to the temple (ch. 7). The people and the priests have an objective view of the temple, meaning that they think if they follow the letter of the law when it comes to sacrifices and offerings that God will owe them his protection and provision. That is not the case. God tells them, “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever” (7:5-7). Keeping the covenant goes far beyond religious rites; it is a spirit of love and obedience to God and his covenant. As God told their forefathers at Mt. Sinai, “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you” (7:23). Any sense of obedience is a pretense (8:8).
Judah is following in the idolatrous paths of the surrounding nations. God compares lifeless idols to “scarecrows in a cucumber field” (10:5). They were placed there by humans and offer the humans nothing in return but a false sense of security. God’s wrath brings the earth to its knees while the idols are sitting there doing nothing.
God sends Jeremiah throughout the kingdom of Judah urging the people to return to the covenant (11:6). The people have created as many idols as their neighbors. The Jews will turn to the idols and wonder why they aren’t doing more to help the people from their suffering, but they will not turn to the one, true God. Their sin is so great and God’s will is so decisive that God tells Jeremiah, “Therefore do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer on their behalf” (11:14). That seems harsh, but it is an appropriate response to generations of idolatry. Is God worthy of perfect worship apart from all idolatry, or is he not?
Philippians is a special letter where both Paul and Timothy are shown to have had a hand in writing it. The letter reads like Paul, so the writing process probably looked like Timothy writing as Paul dictated. Philippians is one of Paul’s four letter written in prison (Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians). Though Paul is in prison, Philippians is often called the letter of joy because of its content. His primary concern is that regardless of what happens to him, whether life or death, that the gospel remains the primary concern of the Christians at Philippi.
This letter is not the first appearance of Philippi in Scripture. In Acts 16, Paul is in Philippi and leads several to Christ. We meet Lydia, a possessed girl, and a jailor. Philippi would be the site of the first church in Europe. Paul begins by urging the Philippians to be thankful regardless of their circumstances. He wants them to be sober, awake, and ready when Christ returns (“the day of Christ”, 1:10). Even in a prison cell, Paul’s theology of God and his sovereignty keeps him focused on what lies ahead. What has happened to him increases the spread of the gospel (1:12). Even those who preach from a place of greed and self-interest are actually serving to promote the gospel. Even if that’s the case, the Philippian Christians should live holy lives themselves (1:27).
We have no other example of that than Christ. Like our own day, the culture in which Paul finds himself is selfish and proud. That is not the way of Christ. We don’t simply aim for high ethics, but we ground our ethics in the attributes of God. Philippians 2:7 mentions that Christ “emptied” himself. Some argue that means Christ laid aside his divinity during the incarnation and picked it back up again at his exaltation. That’s simply out of bounds according to many other clearer passages. Christ had a human nature and a divine nature in one person. Those natures never mixed to form a third nature, and neither did he go between the natures at different times.
Paul even tells us exactly what “emptied” mean for Christ. He continues by saying that Christ “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (2:7-8). The Greek kenoō actually has a range of meaning, and in context, there is no reason to define it as a casting aside of his divinity but rather of his divine rights.
We also see Paul’s genuine love for his brothers. Timothy is like a son to him. They have been through thick and thin, besides their common faith. Epaphroditus is also called a brother. He is someone like Timothy, someone who is almost like an aide de camp for Paul. Paul exhibits what he teaches, which is a deef affection for his fellow believers.
Paul rehearses the gospel, as he often does in his letters. In this case, Paul reminds us that, because of the gospel, we are not to boast one iota in our works. If anyone has a good reason to boast, it’s Paul. His heritage was a prime example of a man who should have been the upper echelon of Jewish society. But a true understanding of the person and work of Christ as the culmination of the ages sets aside all reasons to boast. We should therefore follow Paul’s example of his humility.
Paul closes his letter urging the Philippians to remain unified in this great truth. Practically, that means unity in striving for excellence in the work of the Lord. Think about these things, and you will have the peace of God. The Philippians have supported Paul spiritually but also financially, and he is expressing his thanks. He goes as far as calling it an “acceptable sacrifice” (4:18). In the same way that the Philippines have met Paul’s needs, God will meet all of their needs. It is always God who fulfills the needs of his people, regardless of the means by which they are met.
Starts with a major thanksgiving section, 1:1-14
Colossians is another of Paul’s four letters which he wrote in prison. As is common among most of his letters, he begins with a lengthy thanksgiving. The Colossians have prayed for him, and he has prayed often for them.
Colossians reads much like the other prison letters. They are relatively short, and they speak of many of the same topics. What sets Colossians apart is its incredibly high view of Christ. We would do well to imitate Paul in this. God has rescued us from a kingdom of darkness into the kingdom possessed by his Son. Then 1:15-23 is simply a beautiful, elevated description of who Christ is. He is the reason for all of creation, and he himself is the creator. He is eternal. He is the head of the church. He is the first of the resurrection. He is the fullness of God. Everything is about him and for him. There is no such thing as overstating the eminence of Christ. Therefore, Christ is the God of all people, not just Israel. Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles is rooted in that truth.
There will always be people trying to undermine the gospel. The same was true in Paul’s day. Wolves had infiltrated the church and were urging people to turn back to the rules and regulations of Judaism in order to be fully pleasing to God. That much is clear by Paul mentioning “what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day” (2:16). Those are Jewish distinctives. The old covenant and all of its components are not conditions of the new covenant. The impositions upon the Christians have the appearance of wisdom, but they are not able to contribute in any meaningful way to one’s holiness. If we want self-control and holiness, we look to Christ, not the law. We look to “things above, where Christ is” (3:1).
Under the law of Christ, we put the earthly nature to death. All men, because we are all fallen, must fight the same spiritual battles. That is what Paul means when he writes, “Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (3:11). As we put sin to death, we take up a holy life that consists of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and peace” (3:12). That takes form in relationships, from marriages, families, and households.
Paul ends by listing several names and what they are doing in the ministry. Christians support each other in their various ministries. We are all each a hand, a foot, or an eye. We need each other, and the body grows when each part is working at full capacity, not trying to be another part.
Isaiah 44 reads like a series of incredible, individual conversions to the Lord. This is what Paul is referring to in Romans 11 when he speaks of a great ingrafting of Jews at the end of the age. Many Jews will call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and so be saved. The imagery of what is happening to the land is just that—imagery. That’s made clear by the statement that people will spring up among the grass. It’s the reversal of the utter destruction from the previous chapter.
God works in history, even though all of history is before him at once. God chose to use king Cyrus to restore Jerusalem and rebuild the temple at the conclusion of the exile of that generation. Even then, the point is to draw glory back to God himself. When the nations see the restoration of Jerusalem, many will call on the one, true God (ch. 45). God stands over against the idols because he is true; he is real and hears the cries of his people (ch. 46). Babylon will fall and be humiliated (ch. 47). John picks up this language of the fall of Babylon throughout Revelation. As you’ve seen already, the book of Isaiah is instrumental in understanding the book of Revelation. Old Testament prophecy helps interpret New Testament prophecy and vice versa.
God will do a new thing in Israel (48:6ff). They will be acts that Israel has not heard of before and will not expect. This is seemingly to safeguard them against rejecting what he will do for them. He again does all of this for his own glory. Salvation is not ultimately about us; it’s about God and his willingness to redeem his enemies. He is constantly calling his people back from rebellion (48:12ff).
Isaiah 49:1-7 is the second “servant song” of Isaiah. This servant is the one who will bring Jacob, or Israel, back to God in faithfulness. God will make his servant “as a light for the nations, that [his] salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). Paul quotes this verse in Acts 13:47 to describe the person and work of Christ. Jesus even tells his disciples that they will be sent to the end of the earth, showing that the ministry of Christ will extend as far.
The next servant song is Isaiah 50:4-11. The servant is hated, disgraced, and spit upon. Even in the midst of all of that, God helps his servant. This encourages the servant to persevere and be faithful to the end. All of God’s enemies will be destroyed, but the servant will be saved. The final servant song is Isaiah 52:13-53:12, and it is the longest. It is also perhaps the most well-recognized. It is read most often at Easter services because of its direct application to the crucifixion. The servant will be disfigured because of what is done to him by wicked men, but he will save men from every nation through it. The servant won’t be anything physically remarkable, but he will be hated by all. But in his crucifixion, Christ had imputed to him our sins and sorrows. “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crush for our iniquities; upon him ws the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). He did not return hateful speech for the hateful speech he received. A rich man, Josephus, gave his tomb for Christ’s burial. You see how many specific prophecies Christ fulfilled from this one single passage. And perhaps most astonishing of it all is that this was God’s will (Isaiah 53:10). God absorbed our debt to him. And today, Christ continues to intercede for the transgressors.
God’s grace is immeasurable. He tells his people to celebrate and prepare for what he will do for them. Instead of being in exile, their children will possess the nations (54:3). Shame will be a thing of the past. God may have been angry at them for their sins for a time, but his love is everlasting by contrast. In the same way God promised Noah that he would never again destroy the world through flood waters, neither will he continue to be angry with them. Not only that, but God himself will teach the children. That is a direct reference to the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:34, “And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”). God will judge his people, but he will also vindicate them for his own glory. God’s compassion is undeserved and unfathomable. That is why he compiles us to seek him while he may be found (Isaiah 55:6).
Israel will not be the only ones saved by God. Old covenant law demanded foreigners keep themselves from the temple. But in the new covenant, that will be changed. Any gentile who keeps the covenant will be made even better than a son or daughter (56:4-5). God’s house will be a house of prayer for all people (56:7), not just the Jews.
One of the primary problems within the hearts of the Jewish people was their willingness to do the right things for the wrong reasons. They took part in the right ceremonies and rituals but with hardened hearts. God calls attention to their fasting, or withholding of food for a specified period of time to devote yourself to God, and how they have tried to be manipulative. Instead of seeking greater devotion to God, they seek their own pleasure (58:3). The only Old Testament command to fast was concerned with the Day of Atonement once a year (Leviticus 16:29 & 31). At times, various prophets or kings might declare a time of fasting as a special occasion. But fasting was intended to mourn over sin and seek the Lord while he may be found.
But fasting had become a means of self-righteousness and pride. By the time of Jesus, he has to remind people that they shouldn’t make a show of fasting and to take care of themselves while they fast (Matthew 6:16-18). The kind of fasting that pleases God takes the focus of one ones self and onto God and neighbor. The people had turned a blind eye to the injustice around them but insisted they were good people by their fasting.
God promises that his glory will shine through his people, which will be the draw for the nations to seek the Lord (60:2-3). I believe this to be speaking of the end of our own age. Isaiah is shown a time far in his future, when the Jews and the Gentiles both seek the Lord because he has sought them. The nations will enter the new city and bring their glory into it (60:11, Rev. 21:24). Isaiah 60:19-20 sounds suspiciously like Revelation 21:22-23.
Isaiah 61 is the passage that Jesus preached in Luke 4. Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of this Old Testament prophecy. While this is not technically a servant song (which are usually about the servant himself, not written from his own perspective), the servant is the one speaking here. The servant has come to proclaim forgiveness as well as God’s wrath. But for those who mourn their sin and seek the Lord, they will be new clothes and are commanded to stop their mourning. Their forgiveness has arrived.
It’s amazing to see that in 61:8, the Lord is speaking, but it has been the servant speaking all along. It is another passage confirming that Jesus Christ is God. The covenant he makes, the new covenant in his blood, is everlasting. It is not temporary as was the old covenant. Every nation will have Christians before the end of the age. The nations will be drawn by Israel’s righteousness (62:1-2). No more will God’s people be marred by their sin but will be redeemed and be God’s delight. God will rejoice over his people as a groom does over his bride. The Lord will avenge his enemies, all those who harden their hearts against him; but those who do not deal falsely, who seek after him, the Lord will surely save (ch. 65).
Paul’s argument in this section began in 5:16. He is still concerned with living in the Spirit, but now he has turned his specific focus toward helping our fellow believers. More mature (“spiritual”) Christians should help those who are struggling in the faith. This is one often overlooked component of gathered worship. How much have you been helped, whether or not you have thought about it like this, just by seeing other Christians with their own weaknesses, sins, and doubts all together worshiping the same God? The fruit of the Spirit (5:22-23) have real implications in real life.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me’” (Romans 15:1-3). He is essentially saying the same thing here. We are never more like our Lord and Savior than when we support a brother or sister. The “law of Christ” likely refers to the two great commands that summarize the whole law of the old covenant: love God and love neighbor. The spirit of every other law is fulfilled by fulfilling these two.
Paul also tells the Galatians to compensate their teachers fairly. This is especially true when good teachers are faced with such opposition, as they were in Galatia. Whatever teaching the Galatians follow, they should know that they will receive the appropriate recompense from God, hence, “whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (6:7). When we are confronted with the gospel message, we are then responsible for our answer.
In his closing words, Paul takes the pen from his scribe and writes it himself. It was a way of putting a personal touch on all the harsh words he has just dictated, showing that he has said all of it in love. He quickly summarizes his complaints against the false teachers: they only want you to be circumcised and and keep the law to make themselves proud. They can’t even do it themselves! There is only one reason to boast in the Christian life, and it has nothing to do with our ability to be obedient. The only reason to boast in the Christian life is that Jesus Christ died for me, and I will boast in his greatness.
The letter to the Ephesians is one of Paul’s letters he wrote from prison. Two big themes makeup this letter: reconciliation and union. God has reconciled his people to himself, and Christ has united people from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people under himself. More than perhaps any other letter, Ephesians focuses on the cosmic scope of Christ’s person and work. Not only has Christ redeemed our souls, but he has redeemed every molecule of creation, from the center of the earth to the furthest reaches of the universe. This will be incredibly important for a city that was fascinated with mysticism and divination.
The letter begins with a typical opening and welcome. Paul is simply overwhelmed at the cosmic scope of redemption. From 1:3-14, Paul writes one huge, worshipful sentence. It’s about 127 words in the Greek. Most Bibles break it up into shorter sentences, otherwise it breaks every conceivable English convention. But in Greek, it’s perfectly normal.
In his opening sentence, he notes that we were chosen before the foundation of the world. There is nothing that we have done or that God foresaw that caused him to save us. But neither was his choice arbitrary. We do not know, and probably cannot understand, why God made the choice he did. But it is good and right, regardless of our finite understanding. Ultimately, beside whatever reasons he may have had, our election is to the praise of his glorious grace.
What is the inheritance we have obtained? An inheritance is something yet future, even if we have currently obtained it. It is a promise of something to be received later. So our inheritance is our fellowship with God and eternal life. Our promise is confirmed in the fact that we were predestined according to his own purposes. Predestination is often a term that receives a lot of pushback because it seems to make it so man has no responsibility. But that is the furthest thing from Paul’s mind. Predestination is meant to be a massive comfort for God’s people. Our sins were not too great for God to overcome, and what he has purchased for himself, he will not lose.
Christ is seated in heaven today. Paul says that means he is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (1:21). There is no greater authority than that of Christ Jesus, through whom the world was created and through whom the cosmos was redeemed.
One of the most-quoted verses in Paul’s letters is Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” It is hard to get any clearer picture of redemption. Grace is not your own good work. Faith is not your own good work. The only good work that contributes to your redemption is Christ’s. Christ’s life and death are often broken down into two categories: his active obedience and his passive obedience. In his active obedience, Christ lived a life according to the covenantal law of Moses. He kept both the letter and the spirit of the law. He was a perfect sacrifice on the basis of his perfect life. In his passive obedience, he permitted the will of evil men to take place. He died an innocent man.
His obedience is what gave us access to the Father. Therefore, we are no longer a smattering of people groups but one united church who make up the household of God (2:19). And this was, in fact, a mystery only then revealed (3:4-6). That mystery was that the Gentiles are fellow heirs with the Jews without having to become Jewish! We believe the same gospel and receive the same promises. Paul’s ministry is to bring that mystery to light. This in-grafting of the Gentile vine into the branch of Israel shows the “manifold wisdom of God” (3:10). We will be turning the diamond of God’s wisdom until Christ returns, never exhausting its brilliance. We are only beginning to comprehend “the breadth and length and height and depth” (3:18) of the love of Christ.
Because of God’s love for us, we should seek to live a certain way. We should seek “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling” we have all received (4:1). Christ has unified us in his Spirit, and we seek to maintain it by supporting each other. Paul quotes Psalm 68:18 in Ephesians 4:8. In the Psalms, it is God who ascended and received gifts. In Ephesians, it is Christ who ascended and gave gifts. Paul tells us that those gifts were “apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” (4:11). Like all believers, those gifts are not for building up of the self but of the church. Those specific gifts are are specifically about working toward. Unity of the faith and knowledge of Christ. These offices built the foundation of the church, of which Christ was the cornerstone. There is no substitute for sound doctrine. Worship is rudderless without doctrine. Missions are rudderless without doctrine. Discipleship is rudderless without doctrine. Nature abhors a vacuum, and if the Bible is not the source of our doctrine, something will fill that void. The church must always be reforming to the standard of the Scriptures.
Paul says twice in this letter that it is the Holy Spirit who “seals” us for the day of redemption, both in 1:13 and again in 4:30. In Romans 4:11, Paul says that Abraham “received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.” Many Christian denominations equate baptism to circumcision, even going as far as claiming that it is only an “administrative” change. That means that baptism means what circumcision meant, that of inclusion in the covenant, old or new. Here, though, Paul seems to equate circumcision (the sign and seal of the old covenant) not to baptism but to the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit (the sign and seal of the new covenant). This has implications for ecclesiology, or the doctrine of the church. Who should receive the sign and seal of the new covenant? If baptism has essentially replaced circumcision, then the same people who received circumcision should be baptized, namely, offspring of those already in the covenant. However, if the indwelling presence of the Spirit has replaced circumcision, the the indwelling presence of the Spirit is what makes you a member of the new covenant. Therefore, only those who have already received the sign and seal of the new covenant should be baptized. Baptism is ritual of obedience and purity, not of entry into the new covenant. It is unavoidable that Peter does make connections between circumcision and baptism, and we will deal with that when those texts come up.
Paul then addresses how walking worthy of our calling plays out in real life. In general, we recluse ourselves from wicked people and wicked practices. Avoid darkness. In fact, we expose shameful acts, not ignore them or let them go on unchecked. We do not slander anyone, but we take on every false idea and, through well-formed arguments, prove them to be riddled with errors. He applies the same logic, that of walking worthy, to the household. Wives submit to husbands, and husbands loves their wives. Christ’s headship over the church proves his authority. A husband’s headship over his wife proves his authority. But the authority of a husband over his wife is modeled only in Christ’s authority over the church. It is an authority to love and protect, to be willing to give up ones very life. Likewise, children should recognize the authority of their parents and slaves the authority of their masters. The authority of the family is ordained by God and modeled in creation. Earthly authority typifies heavenly authority.
Paul concludes this letter with great encouragement for the Ephesian believers. In living the Christian life, in dealing with the wickedness of the world and the deceit of our own hearts, God has supplied us with his own armor. God gives us shields for defense and weapons for offense against cosmic evil powers. The result of picking up this armor is the ability to stand firm (6:13). We will be immovable because of God’s great gifts in Christ Jesus!
One of the promises of the Old Covenant is the redemption of Israel, but that doesn’t mean there will not be judgment on their wickedness. Even in the midst of judgment, God will show mercy by sending one who will be called “a precious cornerstone” (28:16). It is by belief in this cornerstone, this sure foundation, that Israel will be saved (28:16). Isaiah remarks how the Jews had been seeking help from Egypt against Assyria, but there will be no need for hurry on that day. God will supply all that is necessary and at the right time.
One of the great questions in theology is how the promises made to Israel will be fulfilled, if they have not been fulfilled yet. Some argue that by interpreting from a grammatical-historical method, you must agree that there will be a restored Israel in a millennial kingdom after Christ returns. That entails a restored temple, worship, and sacrificial system in Israel that will be interrupted by the antichrist about halfway through a period of seven years, or the great tribulation. Some, though not all, within that camp say that the restored nation of Israel in 1948 is just a foretaste of that future.
I affirm a millennial, earthly kingdom of 1000 years, the appearance of the antichrist, and a period of intense tribulation. What I question is the reestablishment of Israel as a theocracy (it is a parliamentary-democracy right now, a far cry from the Old Covenant form of government). I’m not saying it’s entirely impossible, but I do think it’s an argument built on inference rather than a grammatical-historical interpretation like its proponents say it is.
Both Peter and Paul interpret Isaiah 28 as being fulfilled in Christ. Paul says in Roman 10:11, “For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame’”, showing the Roman Christians that we must confess and believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. Peter quotes the same passage in 1 Peter 2:6, showing that as Jesus is the cornerstone, individual believers are living stones being built up into a spiritual house. We do not know better than the apostles.
So how will Israel be saved? They will be saved in the same way as the Gentiles—by faith in Christ. Paul wrote in Romans 11 that ethnic Israelites are hardened in their heart, but it’s temporary. When all the elect Gentiles are saved, all of Israel will then be saved (vv.25-26). God will keep his promises; but we must understand fulfillment as Scripture makes clear.
Isaiah 29 looks forward to when Jerusalem gets sacked. God will punish Jerusalem, which everyone believes took place in history. Why do we project her restoration as a nation far in the future? God again warns his people against seeking help from foreign powers (ch. 30), because he is their God and helper. For those who do rebel and seek help from Egypt, they will perish.
The millennial kingdom fulfills the promises of restoration, not a period of great tribulation preceding the millennial kingdom. That much is clear in chapter 32, where a king reigns in righteousness. When Christ reigns on the earth before the new heavens and new earth, there will be shelter from the wind and water in dry places. Things will be better, but they will not all yet be new. The earth will be restored, but not yet renewed.
Isaiah’s beautiful prayer of chapter 33 is for God’s enemies to be destroyed. Assyria serves a purpose, but they are another rebellious Gentile nation who hates the things of God. That awful truth expands out to the rest of the nations in chapter 34. And yet, there is always remnant of God’s people who remain faithful. Chapter 35 mentions the desert blooming, blind eyes being opened, ears of the deaf being unstopped, and the lame being strengthened, where are other likely references to restoration before renewal.
Chapter 36 begins a historical section, where Assyria attacks Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel. When the people trust in God and know that he will defend them, they are safe. The king of Assyria sends a Rabshakeh, or a military official, to taught Hezekiah of Judah to force him into submission. In doing so, the Rabshakeh breaks the third commandment in 36:10. He takes the Lord’s name in vain and lies about receiving a word from the Lord. If the Jews will simply place their trust in the king of Assyria, says the Rabshakeh, they will be well-cared for. The people are silent, as Hezekiah commanded.
Hezekiah seeks out Isaiah for a word from God about what to do. Because the king and the people sought the Lord, Isaiah tells the people, as the of God, that the king of Assyria will die in his own land. Israel will be safe. Hezekiah continues to seek God, even as the king of Assyria mocks God and the people. God sends word to Hezekiah through Isaiah that they will be guarded. In fact, God will quite literally protect the city; he sends an angel to slaughter 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. King Sennacherib of Assyria is killed in a coup.
King Hezekiah is not well and knows he is about to die. Isaiah confirms that he is near death. In his grief, Hezekiah asks God to remember his good works. God shows Hezekiah some kindness and extends his life by fifteen years. The king of Babylon hears of Hezekiah’s recovery, and he uses it to get a sense of Judah’s wealth. It’s a foolish thing for Hezekiah to give the king of a foreign, pagan nation a glimpse of the wealth of Israel. Hezekiah is wasting the life he has left. God will punish this and other sins by having the Jews carried away to Babylon in exile. Part of Hezekiah’s sin is that he cares so little for the people. His only concern is that he won’t life long enough to see exile (39:8). This is the end of the historical section. Chapter 40 begins a new section of prophecy.
In the final sections of Isaiah, we read what are called “the servant songs”, the first of which is Isaiah 42:1-4. These are prophecies of a man who will bring about Israel’s redemption, God’s chosen servant, his own Son Jesus Christ. The first servant song speaks of the gentleness of God’s servant. Throughout Isaiah 40-55, sometimes the phrase “the servant of the LORD” speaks directly about Israel, and other times it refers to a specific Israelite. This is another indiction that Jesus Christ stands in for the nation of Israel.
The servant of the Lord is gentle, but he is about justice. He does not only bring justice to Israel but to the whole world, or the nations/Gentiles. The servant will form a new people of God, all of whom are united under this servant.
2 Corinthians 13
Paul is still bringing all the threads of his letter together. He was warned them to repent, and he has reminded them of his apostolic heritage. Be sure, there will be church discipline for the unrepentant. He has been inordinately patient until now. But because there are those who obstinately continue in sin, despite repeated calls for repentance, there comes a time when they must be cast out of the camp to ensure the purity of the local church.
It is likely that Paul wrote the letter to the church in Galatia around the year AD 48. The Jerusalem council took place sometime in AD 48-49, and should that have already occurred, it is strange Paul would have never referred to it in this letter. The problem in the Galatian church would have been directly addressed by the letter that the Jerusalem council produced.
Paul had been to Galatia previously. Since the time he had left, the church had been visited by a handful of teachers teaching a false gospel. It seems to have been primarily about a version of the gospel, which required many Jewish components, such as circumcision. Unfortunately, many of the Christians in Galatia had fallen prey to the logic and reasoning of the false teachers. The natural result of this was division in the church. No other message is compatible with the gospel.
Galatians is famous for not including a mention of thanksgiving at the beginning. He goes directly from “grace and peace to you” to “you idiots.” He is absolutely dumbfounded that anyone would fall for the lies of the false teachers. However, we see it even today. People love to have their ears tickled. There is no other gospel, and there is no version of the one, true gospel. Even if Paul began to change his message, it would not be true even if he’s an apostle. If an angel did the same thing, it wouldn’t be true.
As he does in a few other letters, he recounts his conversion and first few years as a Christian and an apostle. The point of including this is that the gospel he preached to them is not a human construct. He did not form it himself. It is not the product of combining a bunch of different ideas together into “the gospel”. He received it directly from Jesus himself. Paul’s message of that same gospel should be the criterion for anyone else proclaiming the gospel. Paul’s not afraid to stand up for that gospel, either. Even Peter went through troubled times, behaving one way with Jews and another way with Gentiles. When Paul and Peter talked it though, Peter repented. The gospel is worth the fight—literally.
The false teachers had introduced works into the equation by demanding that the Galatian Christians obey certain components of the Mosaic law. To combat this, Paul tells the Galatians to think back to what took place at their conversion. Did he expect them to maintain fidelity to Israelite law as a condition of faith in Christ? Of course not!
This gets to the heart of the new covenant. The old covenant, the Mosaic covenant, was a temporary covenant, or formal relationship, between God and the nation of Israel. When Jesus said that he did not come to abolish but to fulfill the law (Matt. 5:17), no one got up and asked, “Which ones?” He fulfilled them all, because the old covenant looked forward to him in its entirety. Each covenant found in the Scriptures must be taken on its own terms; they are not all the same. The conditions of the new covenant are laid out in the new covenant, not the old.
This much is made clear in Galatians 3:10 when Paul quotes Deuteronomy 27:26. Paul’s whole argument hinges on the fact that the old covenant law was an indivisible unit. To pick and choose which ones were still binding on Christians was essentially playing darts blindfolded. The point is that everyone who lives under the law, either as a Jew or by choosing to uphold it has a Christian, has placed themselves under the entire law, not the specific laws you might think Christians should still obey. Even going back to Abraham, who received his promises centuries before the law was given, we see that inheritance comes through faith, not the law. The law is a captive; don’t put yourself back in bondage. In Christ, we are free from the law. Faith makes us Abraham’s offspring, not the Israelite law.
Paul also illustrates this point by saying the law was a guardian or a tutor. When a child is still quite young, there’s virtually no difference between him and a slave. They have no real rights. They have no claim to the patriarch’s inheritance. While the son is that age, he is under the authority of a guardian or a tutor while he waits to come of age. Once he comes of age, the guardian no longer has any binding authority on him. This is like what happened with the law; once we came of age, the law was no longer a condition of the new covenant.
Paul then uses the illustration of Sarah and Hagar. He’s already made mention of Abraham. Sarah was Abraham’s life, and Hagar was Sarah’s servant. Since Sarah doubted that she would be blessed with a son in her old age, she had Abraham sleep with Hagar. But the offspring of Abraham and Hagar was not the vehicle of the promise; that would have to come from Abraham and Sarah. Paul interprets these two women allegorically, meaning he uses a real situation that has an underlying meaning. Hagar represents the children born under the law; they are in bondage under the old covenant. Sarah represents the children born again in the new covenant; they are free in Christ.
If the Galatians return to being children of Hagar, they are no longer free in Christ. “Christ will be of no advance to you.” So in fact, they will have never truly been in Christ. These Christians are seeking justification by obedience to the law, which is an oxymoron. There is in fact no justification to be found under the law. We are only justified by grace through faith. Circumcision, and all the rest of the Jewish identity markers of the law, are nothing on their own. Only faith in Christ, proving itself in love toward God and others, is what counts.
What does this freedom look like, then? If we don’t live according to the obligations of the law, are we then free to live however we want? Of course not. Paul outlines the work/fruit of the flesh: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like that. But the work/fruit of the Spirit shows itself in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. In living out the fruit of the Spirit in ever-increasing measure, we actually fulfill the point of the law without needing the law. Living in the Spirit fulfills the law in ways insistence on following the rituals and ceremonies of the law can’t imagine.