Below you will find short interactions with classic theological literature to help introduce you to some of the giants upon whose shoulders we stand. There will also be irregular posts formed out of sermons, Bible studies, or coffee after 5:00pm.
Humans have a fascination with the end of the world. That partly must be because we’re sentient creatures, the image of God, and therefore intuitively understand that the universe is headed somewhere. By “headed somewhere” we mean that there is a divine purpose to everything.
In Greek philosophy, there are two ways that the universe could have gone: cosmos and chaos. The universe is a cosmos, meaning that there is a clear order to how it works. There are laws of physics and laws of nature. Contrast that with chaos, which to understand today, look no further than western civilization.
So we live in a cosmos. Everything is headed somewhere. There is a purpose. Times and epochs have beginning and endings. That must mean that this time or epoch has an ending. And meaning is intimately tied up in how things end. A marriage that ends only because of the death of a spouse is not summed up as a tragedy but as a good marriage.
Scripture gives us information about how things will ultimately end up. But it doesn’t usually do so in a straightforward fashion with erudite and sophisticated essays. When it comes to the end of things, Scripture often sticks a specific form of literature. It’s full of vivid imagery and metaphor (read: not boring). And if we pigeonhole that literature into what we wish it said instead of what it does say, we will make all sorts of silly conclusions. Which brings us to today’s word.
Apocalyptic. Adjective. A genre of literature having to do with the revelation of unseen divine behavior or workings outside of human control.
The Bible is full of apocalypses. In the book of Isaiah, many call chapters 24-27 “Isaiah’s little apocalypse.” The book of Daniel, which even though it does have sections of storytelling, is an apocalypse. Sections of the gospels take the form of apocalyptic literature. And of course, when most Christians think of apocalypse, they think of the whole book of Revelation.
If anyone calls it Revelations, let him be anathema.
Popular notions of “the apocalypse” are of the end of the world, scorching heat, and death as far as the eye can see. Natural disasters take over land and sea, and bodies are strewn throughout the streets.
And while biblical apocalypses contain elements of those things, they are not the primary focus of the texts. The biblical apocalypses are concerned primarily, and almost solely, with one thing: the sovereignty of God.
If you read Daniel and look for Russia, Biden, or any number of contemporary entities, you’ll either be disappointed or have your own show on TBN at 3:00am.
If you read Revelation and look for God’s total control over where things are headed, which if we’re honest, never look that good, then you’ll have your spine straightened and your knees strengthened.
Things may look bad, but they’re never as bad as they should be. Things may look worse than yesterday, but the God of yesterday is the God of today and the God of tomorrow.
When you read Isaiah’s little apocalypse, you read about what God is going to do. Wealth will no longer be a means of safety. The earth will be made desolate. All of this is in graphic detail, and it’s because of God’s judgment on Israel for their faithlessness. The land will look like a field after harvest: bare. Israel needs some explanation for why they’re in the position they’re in. In other words, they need to see behind the curtain. They need to know that God is in control.
Daniel is often divided into two sections: chapters 1-6 and 7-12, but the book is more interconnected than that. Even if it mixes storytelling and apocalypse throughout, it always deals with these “kingdoms” that will fall. Daniel even received interpretations of the dreams he had, which reinforced what he saw behind the curtain.
In Matthew 24-25, we read the same kind of imagery. The sky falls, the land is scorched, and people die. But those are the consequence of wickedness taking over the world. Jesus even quoted Daniel.
Sometimes people ask, “What’s the point of living like a Christian now if everything just gets destroyed and things are perfected in the age to come?” Funny you should ask, because it seems as though Jesus knew what was in the heart of man.
Matthew 25 consists of a few parables that deal with the unexpected nature of the incoming of the kingdom of God. The theme of them all is consistent: be ready. There will come a day when the sheep and goats will wind up in different places as a consequence of their lives lived now. Live like a Christian now because Jesus said to. Is there a better reason?
Revelation becomes more clear when it’s read in light of the previous biblical apocalypses. Beyond Isaiah and Daniel, there are bounties of apocalyptic sections in Ezekiel, Haggai, and Zechariah. You’ll come across the same imagery and many allusions from those books in Revelation. Suddenly, the scales fall from your eyes. Revelation is no longer a primer in astrophysics.
Revelation gives us an explanation of why the world is the way it is. But, it does this by means of perhaps the clearest, most awe-inspiring picture of the way things really are in heaven. Chapter 5 is like standing in the place where the ocean meets the beach, and you slowly begin to take a step backward. You see things now that were only in your periphery before. You keep taking steps backward, and you begin to see things more and more awesome. This is the throne room of God.
In that throne room, seals are opened on a scroll. Every time a seal is broken, something happens on earth. And those things sound a lot like Old Testament apocalypses. That tells us that what happens here on earth has been decided in heaven.
So when we read biblical apocalypses, we don’t need to be afraid or look for politicians or Communists. We need to look for God.
In one of my favorite television comedies, there is an episode where a cult wants to rent a public park to host a group meeting. They want this park so they can wait for Zorp the Surveyor to return, to melt everyone’s faces, and subsequently to destroy the world. The thing is that they’ve rented the public park many times only to have their eschatological prophecies thwarted. But to appear rational to the public, the name the group gave themselves was The Reasonablists.
Since the Enlightenment, reason and faith have been seen, at least in the public sphere, as at loggerheads with each other. You can have one or the other, but not both, they say. Oil and water. But is this really the case, or is it a tactic used to downplay religion’s place in public? Has reason become religion? Do religious people, by extension, not use reason in the formation of their beliefs? Historically, at least within Western Christian thought, reason and faith, though not identical, were siblings. They came from the same family.
To add some brio to the blog, today I’m going to define a word that is something to reject.
Fideism. Noun. One must ascent to Christian truth by faith alone and reject reason and evidence as necessary components of theological knowledge.
You’ll find all sorts of forms of fideism. For some, fideism relates to all truth in every field of knowledge. 2+2=4 on faith alone. For others, fideism only extends to the theological, moral, or philosophical. This is a circular loop. Fideism in the theological realm, even if we say is rooted in authoritative Scripture, can’t help but be circular and somewhat arbitrary. Do you think Christians disagree now?
Fideism is rooted in authority. So in one sense, all Christians are fideists. We believe in one supreme authority, God himself. And from him comes all truth, and we are obligated to believe all that God has said. But to jump to the conclusion that reason, therefore, is unnecessary, denies how God conveys truth.
What fideism does do is show the limits of human knowledge. There is a sense in which everything we “know”, especially in the scientific realm, is accepted on faith. For instance, we see gravity at work in the tides and kids falling off of bicycles, but ne’er a soul has seen gravity itself. This is how science works. People make observations and try to repeat them. That’s the best we can do. How many other scientific theories have been corrected or discarded?
But here we see the limits of fideism proper. Scientific theories are corrected or discarded because of empirical evidence, or reason.
But what about theological convictions? Do we need reason to believe in every doctrine?
In order to believe what God says is true, you must first prove that God exists. Do we believe that God exists on faith alone, or has God given us evidence of his existence, his authority, and therefore our obligation to obey him?
At this point the Christian turns to Scripture. The skeptic says, “We haven’t even gotten to 500 words yet, and you’re already using circular logic.” It’s at this point I say, “Your logic is circular unless there is an authoritative point of origin for all ideas.”
Paul wrote in Romans 1:20, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse”
The very nature of God is revealed in the cosmos. We see God’s power and divinity in the expanse of the sky as well as in the precision of microbiology.
Think about what Paul is saying. You can know that God exists. You don’t have to take the existence of God on faith. In fact, every single one of us has no excuse for denying the rationality and reasonableness of the existence of God.
Engage your senses. Use your mental faculties. What’s more reasonable, that all physical matter comes from nothing and nothing made it, or that all physical matter comes nothing and a being outside of physicality made it? Which one actually requires a healthy amount of faith? To say that something came from nothing is an assault on reason and logic. The person who believes that something came from nothing is the one rejecting intellectual honesty.
There are many philosophical proofs for the existence of God. For some examples, Thomas Aquinas had “five proofs” for God’s existence.
1. If you try to follow the chain reaction of events that leads creation to this moment, there must be an “unmoved mover” who initiated movement. Creation duplicates itself, but it could not have made itself.
2. The cosmos operates by cause and effect, which we can witness. What was the initial cause?
3. If one person or object dies or is destroyed, the rest of the world does not die or get destroyed along with it. Therefore, it is possible that everything could stop existing, yet it doesn’t. God must continue to hold creation with purpose.
4. Humans make judgments on truth and beauty. Therefore, there is a standard outside of ourselves that has been imposed on us in the essence of who we are.
5. The world has a clear design to it. This is true because inanimate objects have no intellect yet behave a certain way. Rain does not turn to snow because it wants to. Magnets do not attract metals because they made a choice. There is a great designer to the cosmos that has set rules for operation in place.
And because we can know that God exists, we can and must take reason and faith as siblings that mutually inform the other. Proofs for the existence of God do not lead anyone to salvation, but that’s not Paul’s point in Romans 1. His point is actually that we have rejected reason and logic, and that is why we turn from God and make a law for ourselves.
But thank God that not only has he given us proof of his existence, but in his Son and his substitutionary death for us, he has also given us evidence of his mercy and justice.
Last week we defined the exaltation of Christ. I said that Christ’s exaltation, which began at his resurrection, continued through his ascension, and will culminate in his return, is the biblical witness to Christ’s dominion over all things. God’s right hand is the image of his power and authority, and at his right hand is where Christ is enthroned.
I also said that Christ is praying for us, and we are assured that the Father hears the prayers of the Son. So let’s look at that a little deeper.
Intercession. noun. Prayers by the Son and the Spirit directed to the Father on behalf of God’s people.
Paul makes it clear that the Son is definitely at the right hand of the Father and is praying for us. He says in Romans 8:34, “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”
And the author of Hebrews wrote, “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (7:25).
But what is interceding? Is it a special kind of prayer? Can only Jesus do it? Maybe the Spirit?
Intercession happens all the time in forms other than prayer. Another word for intercession is mediation, one we may be more familiar with. This is what some lawyers do. Trial lawyers mediate on behalf of a defendant or plaintiff by speaking for them in front of a jury and judge. Lawyers do this because they know the right things to say in the right contexts. They know the law better than us plebs. You and I may not know when we’re about to step in it, and our lawyer is there to do the walking for us. In a court system, you want a lawyer.
We intercede for people in prayer, however, all the time. Whenever you pray for someone else, you’re interceding on their behalf. If you’re praying for someone’s salvation, returned health for the sick, or safety in someone’s travels, you’re interceding. And more generally, when you pray for the end of abortion or success in missionary endeavors, you’re interceding. Much of prayer should be intercession.
But back to Jesus and the Spirit. How exactly is Jesus interceding, or mediating, for us? We get a glimpse of that in 1 John 2:1. John wrote, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
Sin is the problem. Jesus’s blood is the solution. His once-for-all substitutionary sacrifice covers over our sin. And yet we still sin, and we will until this life is over or he returns. But, like a lawyer before a judge, Jesus Christ is advocating for us before the only righteous Judge. He is, in effect, saying, “Look at my blood, not their sin. You sent me in their place, and I went willfully. Look at me, not them.”
Will not the judge of all the earth do what is just?
Jesus is not re-sacrificed when he intercedes, mediates, or advocates for us. On the cross, he said, “It is finished.” But Jesus continually prays for us and advocates for us before the Father. And the Spirit continually applies that redemption to people in real time. That’s how we know our salvation is assured in this moment.
But what about the Spirit? How is his intercession like or different from Christ’s? Paul wrote in Romans 8:25-26, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
So while it might be said to be a difference without a distinction, the Spirit prays for us in Spiritual ways.
Jesus intercedes for us so that we are saved. Our Father is not so wishy-washy that Jesus is trying to convince him we’re still “worth saving”. Jesus intercedes for us because, like John wrote, we still sin. But, that means his blood is still the saving kind.
In Romans 8, Paul wrote that we have “the first-fruits of the Spirit”. Even more so than the rest of the world, the church groans for new creation because we’ve tasted it in the Spirit. We wait for adoption and redemption; this is our great hope. And the suffering around us doesn’t compare to the glory ahead of us.
Throughout Romans 8, Paul has outlined the work of the Spirit. In verse 2, it’s the Spirit’s law that freed us from sin and death. In verse 4, it’s the Spirit who makes us walk in righteousness. In verse 6, the mind set on the Spirit gives life and peace. In verse 11, the Spirit will give life to our mortal bodies. In verse 13, the Spirit helps us kill the sin that remains. In verse 14, the Spirit leads the sons of God. In verse 15, the Spirit assures us of our adoption. In verse 16, the Spirit aligns our spirit with his to assure us of our adoption. In verse 23, the Spirit guarantees redemption.
And if that’s not enough, Paul then wrote in verses 26-27 that the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses. Every moment, our physical decay picks up speed. We only get weaker. Our bodies groan for redemption. Every moment, we become more and more aware of the decaying nature of not only our bodies but the world. And we become more aware of sin's deep-seated effects.
Up until this point in the passage, Paul has been summarizing what the Spirit will do. But today, the Spirit prays for us. In this moment, the Spirit intercedes for our heartbroken groaning about the things that are not right in us and in the world because of rebellion against God.
We may not always know the will of God for each and every moment, but that’s okay. The Spirit does, and that’s enough, because the Spirit prays for us “according to the will of God.” If the Spirit prays in God’s will and we seek to walk in the Spirit, we will be in God’s will. Don’t get frustrated when you don’t have a point-by-point outline for your future. The Spirit will guide you.
The church need not be a worrisome, frustrated, panicky people. Jesus is interceding on our behalf, and his blood has already paid the debt. The Spirit guides us in our daily lives and guarantees our future in God’s kingdom. What more could be done?
The church rightly focuses on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. His name is the only name under heaven by which men are saved. His sacrificial substitution on our behalf absorbed the wrath of the Father so that we might be justified. But we also don’t want to relegate Christ’s work to the resurrection. Christ is the eternal Son of God. He existed before the incarnation, and of course, he is now seated at the right hand of the Father.
We say that Jesus Christ “preexisted” eternally. Of course that’s just in reference to the incarnation, hence the “pre-.” In his preexistent state, Christ was often present as the angel of the Lord throughout the Old Testament. Also, Paul says that Christ was the rock that Moses struck to give the Israelites water.
But what about now? What’s Christ doing now, as he sits in authority at the right hand of the Father? That leads us to today’s definition.
Exaltation of Christ. noun. Beginning with his resurrection, Christ received all authority and power. After a period of 40 days, Christ ascended to the Father in his glorified body and to exercise dominion. His exaltation will result in his return to earth to finalize the defeat of sin and death.
We may not often wonder what Christ is doing right now, but Scripture does not keep it from us. He is our greatest intercessor. He prays for his church, that we might not fall away. And because that is the prayer of the Son, we can be assured that the Father will do what the Son asks.
Hebrews 4:14-16 says, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Christ is our great high priest. Because he was tempted like us but without seeing that temptation through to evil behavior, he can satisfactorily be our perfect priest before God. He has truly earned the right to mediate between God and sinful man.
Isaiah 49:5-6 says, “And now the Lord says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him—for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord, and my God has become my strength—he says: ‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’”
Israelite priests were just priests for Israel. Old Testament prophecy about Christ made statements like that that did in fact say that the nations would be saved through the servant that God would send, or, the messiah, the anointed one. In fact, how amazing is it that God says “it is too light a thing” that the messiah would be just for Israel. God is in the business of doing amazing things, so why not save a few nations while he’s at it?
Luke 24:50-53 says, “And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.”
The final act of Jesus was to bless his disciples. As he ascended and was exalted to the right hand of the Father, the Son of God began his ministry of prayer for them. And he continues that ministry of prayer for us.
We may at times be discouraged with the state of affairs in which we find ourselves. Sometimes it’s because of our own doing, and sometimes it’s because stupid people are promoted to the highest level of incompetence, thereby making life hard on everyone. Either way, we often don’t know what to say. We worry that because we’ve made our own lives such a wreck or because other people have made life so hard in general that we’re at a loss for words.
The exaltation of Christ means many things, but one of them is that even as you stare into the void and have no words to say to God, even as you try, your great high priest, who was tempted like you and was faced with the same kind of discouragement, is seated next to our Father and having a prayerful conversation.
The exaltation of Christ also means that he is returning. The coming age is an earthly age, where heaven descends, the new Jerusalem comes out of heaven to the new earth, and Christ rules eternally. The nations are being converted and discipled so that the elect of the world will one day enter into the heavenly city.
One comedian joked that as he grew up in the church, he knew that the stories the preacher included in his sermons were totally made-up. They were always the same nondescript kind of people doing things no that one really does. Why were the sermons so boring and predictable? After all, as the comedian humored, the preacher had a week to work with a book that’s 2,000 years old.
So what exactly is a sermon supposed to be? Is it a book report? Is it a bunch of good advice? Is it the declaration of the greatest truth in world history?
Book reports are boring, and good advice doesn’t pay the debt of sin. When you listen to a sermon, what are you listening for? We should’t be hyper-critical, but surely there is a purpose to listening to one man speak for 30 minutes. What exactly makes up the content of a sermon?
Kerygma. noun. The necessary components of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Kēryssō, which gives us kerygma, is a Greek word from the New Testament itself that describes what people like John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, and Paul did as they proclaimed the good news. If you were to read the sections of the New Testament where that word is used to describe what they’re saying, you’ll come across a clear pattern of what preaching is supposed to be. Theologian Gregg Allison summarizes the five consistent themes in the New Testament kerygma:
You can find New Testament sermons in Matthew 5-7, Luke 4, Luke 24, Acts 2, Acts 7, Acts 8, Acts 17, as a few examples. Other places, such as 1 Timothy 4, gives some basic instruction on what is necessary in preaching. Those passages aren’t relevant only for preachers.
New Testament preachers realized that what they were preaching was simply the continuation and fulfillment of God’s promises to his people. So, they often followed an Old Testament pattern, which we get a glimpse of in Nehemiah 8:8, which says, “They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”
When Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is at hand in Matthew 4:17, Jesus is declaring that his presence is the in-breaking of God’s kingdom. It has begun, even if there is a consummation yet to come. That hope the Old Testament saints had believed in? We are witnesses to it.
The kingdom of heaven was inaugurated through the person and work of Christ. He taught what the kingdom was like in places such as the sermon on the mount, he died an obedient and substitutionary death on our behalf, and he was resurrected to be vindicated and receive all authority in heaven and on earth. Jesus Christ is the king of the cosmos.
The Holy Spirit was sent at Pentecost, as promised by Christ before his ascension. The Spirit is the seal on the church and the guarantor of our inheritance. While the new covenant was instituted in Christ’s blood, the Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son to apply that redemption to us.
The second coming of Christ will be the end of the new covenant era and the beginning of the eternal state. Christ’s second coming will be public, every eye will see him, he will destroy the enemies of righteousness, and sin and death will no longer have any power.
Participation in the kingdom of God requires repentance from sin, belief in the one God has sent, and baptism into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Predestination and election cannot be defined apart from this.
It may very well be that not every specific sermon has an entire section devoted to simply reviewing Christ’s ascension and session, but do some? Any? Do the sermons at least assume that truth?
And of course, sermons will have substantial points of application. James warns us about being the kind of people who look in a mirror, turn our head, and forget what we look like a moment later. But where does that application come from? The latest show the preacher binge-watched, or the clear implication of the gospel?
The point is that there is one gospel, and the church proclaims that one gospel in everything we do. We may say many things, but if they are removed from the central truth of Christ and him crucified, we have strayed from the kerygma.