Tag Archives: Theology

Light vs. the Sun in Genesis 1

The creation of light on Day 1, before creation of the sun (on the 4th day), has profound theological significance.  All ancient, pagan peoples worshiped the Sun as the source of light.  In Genesis 1 God reveals that light preceded the sun, and its source was the very Word of God (Genesis 1:3).  The Apostle John makes clear in his gospel that Jesus Christ, the Word [of God] (John 1:1), was the Divine Agent of creation (John 1:3) and “the true Light” (John 1:9).  The Lord Jesus Christ is worthy of worship (Revelation 4:11), and all men past or present who “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served [any aspect of] the creation more than the Creator” are fools and idolaters (cf. Romans 1:22-25).  In Genesis 1, the literal, historical order of Divine creation is a rebuke to all pagan perversions of theological truth.


Not Apostasy, But Rapture!

Paul’s second epistle to the Thessalonians was written as a response to a query that church had sent to the Apostle. The Thessalonians were troubled by a letter they had received, purportedly from Paul (but actually a forgery), alleging that they had entered into “the day of the LORD” (2Thess2:2). They were troubled by this since Paul had previously taught them that the rapture of the Church would happen before the outpouring of God’s wrath during the Tribulation period (1Thess4:13-5:9); if this allegation were true, and the day of the LORD had indeed begun, that meant the believers in Thessalonica had been left behind! It should be noted that the believers in Thessalonica were undergoing intense (albeit local) persecution (1Thess3:2-4), so that it was no doubt tempting for them to believe that the Tribulation had begun.

Paul’s reply was to immediately remind them of what he had previously taught them (2Thess2:5); namely, that the Antichrist cannot even be “revealed”, which begins the Tribulation (Dan9:27), until after an event he calls “the falling away” (2Thess2:3). The Greek noun translated “falling away” is apostasia, transliterated as ‘apostasy’ in some English versions. The correct translation of apostasia is ‘departure’; exactly what kind of departure is in view depends upon context, and can just as likely mean a physical departure as it does a departure from the faith (i.e., apostasy). It is interesting that all English translations before the KJV rendered apostasia in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 as “departure”, whereas the KJV and most subsequent translations render it “falling away” or something which similarly implies the ‘departure’ is religious in nature. There is nothing in the context of 2 Thessalonians 2, however, that demands (or even suggests) that the departure to which Paul refers be non-physical.

Furthermore, in the Greek text there is the definite article in conjunction with apostasia, so that the best translation is not “a falling away”, but “the departure”. The use of the definite article means that Paul is referring to a specific event that he expects is already known to the Thessalonians. Since Paul’s first epistle to them included the most detailed revelation of the rapture of the Church in the N.T., and in fact mentions the rapture in every chapter (1Thess1:9-10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-17; 5:1-11), while not one reference to a religious apostasy or departure from the faith occurs, context demands that the specific departure to which Paul refers is the rapture. The context of 2 Thessalonians 2 also supports this, since the rapture, referred to as “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him”, introduces the chapter (2Thess2:1). Thus, the evidence is overwhelming that the departure Paul holds out as necessarily taking place before “the day of the LORD” and the revealing of the Antichrist is the rapture of the Church. Thus, 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is the most explicit teaching of the Pre-Trib rapture in the Bible.


Significance of the Biblical Covenants

F. Albright, the father of American Biblical archeology, made the sweeping observation in 1968 that “only the Hebrews, so far as we know, made covenants with their . . . God.” The fact that God deals with man by means of covenants is incredibly significant and immensely practical. The ancient pagan lived a life of fear and uncertainty, never sure of how to please his gods or how they would react to his actions; his gods were by their nature capricious and, therefore, unpredictable (e.g., this continues to be true today for the Hindu gods, the Allah of Islam, and even the god of Mormonism). In contrast, the Biblical Covenants establish a stable and predictable relationship between men and Jehovah. By infallibly recording the terms of the covenant in writing, which is supernaturally preserved throughout all of history (Psalm 12:6-7; Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 24:35; 1 Peter 1:24-25), the performance of both parties (i.e., Jehovah and men) with regard to the terms of the covenants can be objectively measured. The Biblical Covenants allow Jehovah to demonstrate His attributes of faithfulness and immutability to His creation, and the stable foundation they provide for man allow him to live a life free of fear and uncertainty regarding the future.


The Name of Jesus in the O.T.

“Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead … neither is there salvation in any other; for there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:10,12)

The name of Jesus, as we have it in the New Testament by way of the Greek language, or Joshua (i.e., Yeshua) in Hebrew, means “Jehovah [i.e., the Lord] is salvation”. As the angel told Joseph, the child to be born of the virgin Mary was to be named “JESUS, for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). The child was also to be called “Immanuel, which, being interpreted, is God with us” (Matthew 1:23); that Jesus would be known as Immanuel (i.e., a manifestation of God Himself) is not uniquely a New Testament notion, but comes directly from the Old Testament (Isaiah 7:14).

In a similar way, the name JESUS also comes from the Old Testament. Isaiah 62:11 reveals:

“Behold, the Lord hath proclaimed unto the end of the earth, Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh; behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him.”

In this verse given through the prophet Isaiah, “salvation” (Heb., Yesha) is a Person (note the masculine pronouns “his” and “him” used in the clauses that follow). A Person who will be known as “salvation” is said to be coming, bringing both his “reward” and his “work”; clearly, this is the Person of JESUS. Compare this verse with Isaiah 40:10, which reads:

“Behold, the Lord God will come … behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him.”

Isaiah 40:10 asserts exactly the same truth, using exactly the same words, as Isaiah 62:11, but in this instance the Person known as “salvation” is identified as “the Lord God”. Thus, the Person known as “salvation”, that is Jesus, is equated with Divinity; Jesus and Jehovah are one (cf. 10:30). Such equations of “Jesus” and “Jehovah”, which are implicit assertions of the Deity of Jesus Christ, are common between the New and Old Testaments (Cp., Hebrews 1:8; Psalm 45:6).

Finally, consider the words of Jesus Himself, spoken in the closing chapter of the Bible. Revelation 22:12 records Jesus as saying:

“… behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me …”

Jesus takes the words of “the Lord God” spoken in Isaiah 40:10, the very same words that in Isaiah 62:11 are ascribed to a Person known as “salvation”, for Himself. Jesus connects the dots for us. The name of “Jesus”, by which alone comes salvation, just like “Immanuel” comes straight out of the Old Testament!


Signs of the Second Coming

“And what I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch.” (Mark 13:32-37)

The Lord Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees for failing to recognize the signs of His First Coming (Matthew 16:1-3). Obvious signs they should have recognized included: 1) the virgin birth in Bethlehem (Isaiah 7:14; Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:1-12; Luke 1:26-35; 2:1-14), 2) prophesied Messianic miracles (Isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 4:16-21), and 3) Daniel’s prophecy of the 69 Weeks which gave the very day Messiah would present himself to Israel (Daniel 9:25; Luke 19:41-44).

During His ministry at His First Coming, Jesus taught there would also be signs that precede His Second Coming (Matthew 24:3ff; Luke 21:25-28). For these signs (Mark 13:4), Jesus commanded us all to “Watch” (Mark 13:32-37).

A new study titled Signs of the Second Coming has been added in the Biblical Studies area.


Kept by the Power of God

“. . . God . . . hath begotten us again . . . who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5)

The Bible reveals that a person is saved by the grace of God, through personal faith in Jesus Christ, entirely without any works on his part (Ephesians 2:8-9; John 20:31; Romans 4:5), and that the saved believer is given by God the gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23; 1 John 5:13). This is part and parcel of the gospel itself. The teaching of the Bible on this issue is clear and unequivocal, against which no Christian would argue.

Argument arises among Christians, however, over the question of whether a genuine believer can ever lose his salvation, which (at least at a particular time) he actually possessed. Arminians answer this question, “Yes”. They argue that salvation is conditioned on personal faith, and that once a person ceases to believe he is no longer saved, nor is he in possession of eternal life, though at one time he may have been in actual possession of it [1]. In their view, a “believer” who commits heinous and/or habitual sin is one who has ceased believing and has, as a consequence, lost his salvation. Thus, in Arminian theology, the maintenance of a believer’s salvation is the responsibility of the believer.

Calvinists answer the question, “No”. They argue that the salvation of an individual is a sovereign work of God that is unconditional and immutable. God even supplies as a sovereign gift the personal faith upon which salvation would appear to be conditioned. In Calvinistic theology, there is no possibility of ever reversing God’s sovereign work that bestows upon an individual the entire package of personal faith, regeneration, salvation, and eternal life. In their view, since personal faith is part of an unconditional and immutable work of God on behalf of an elect person, a genuine believer will necessarily persevere in faith to the very end of his life. Any “believer” who commits heinous and/or habitual sin is one who was never actually in possession of salvation, even though at one time he may have professed personal faith and even appeared to manifest behaviors associated with salvation.

Both of these theological positions result in scenarios in which a genuine believer can never find rest, having an unshakeable confidence that he is saved and can never lose his salvation. The Arminian believes he can, through a lapse in faith or temptation into sin, lose his salvation and the eternal life he once possessed. The Calvinist believes that, in order to be assured he is one of God’s elect who has been sovereignly regenerated, saved, and granted eternal life, he must persevere in his faith and good works without significant lapse until death or the rapture [2]. In practice, neither Arminianism nor Calvinism afford a believer the confidence one finds revealed in the New Testament (John 10:27-29; 20:31; 1 John 5:13).

The New Testament answers the question, “No”. A genuine believer who has been born again and received from God the gift of eternal life can never lose his salvation. The reason for this conclusion, however, is different than that offered by Calvinism, and it undergirds the basis of a believer’s assurance, peace, and rest. The security of the believer in his salvation is a gracious and certain work of God. This is clearly seen in 1 Peter 1:3-5. The “who” of the relative clause in 1 Peter 1:5 hearkens back to the “us” in 1 Peter 3:3 (i.e., believers, recipients of the new birth). Believers are said to be “kept” (a present passive participle, ‘[are] continually being guarded’), that is preserved. The believer’s preservation is “by the power of God” (the efficient agency), “through faith” (the secondary cause), “unto salvation” (the result); for this reason it is sure, depending on the promised work of God alone. This is perhaps the strongest assertion of the eternal security of the believer in his salvation to be found in the New Testament.

Endnotes:

[1]  One does have to wonder how something described in the New Testament as eternal life could endure for only a finite, and perhaps very short, period of time.

[2]  Most Reformed theologians, of course, would not make a distinction between the rapture and the second coming of Christ.


Issues in Calvinism

“To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Isaiah 8:20)

The Five Points of Calvinism (i.e., TULIP) are a logically consistent soteriological system. Beginning from the first point, Total Depravity[1], the subsequent points of Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints seem to necessarily follow. It is this elegant and logical consistency that can be very intellectually satisfying, accounting for Calvinism’s power of attraction for many thinking believers. Logical consistency alone, however, is not the standard of truth. Rather, “[God’s] word is truth” (John 17:17), and it is against the absolute standard of “the law and the testimony” (Isaiah 8:20) that every claim must be measured.

The deviancy of Calvinism from the plumb line of Scripture begins with its understanding of Total Depravity. Scripture asserts that the unregenerate man is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Calvinists understand this assertion to mean that “the sinner is so spiritually bankrupt that he can do nothing pertaining to his salvation[2]; he cannot even respond to God by exercising the personal faith required for salvation (Acts 16:30-31) without first being sovereignly regenerated by God[3]. From Paul’s use of the word “dead” in Ephesians 2:1, Calvinists construct the metaphor of the unregenerate man as a corpse (R. C. Sproul) or a cadaver (John F. MacArthur); since a literal corpse would not be able to respond to God in any way, the unregenerate man cannot either. Many Calvinists prefer the term Total Inability over Total Depravity to better express this concept, but based on their own analogy of corpse/cadaver the most accurate expression would be utter inability.

Metaphors (by definition) are partial, incomplete representations of reality; they inevitably break down when pressed too far. The Calvinist’s metaphorical construct of a physical corpse for the unregenerate man goes too far. For example, a physical corpse, in addition to being unable to believe, is also unable to sin, and yet the unregenerate man has no impediment to such an activity whatsoever. Scripture clearly presents a picture in which all men are commanded by God to believe in order to be saved (e.g., Isaiah 45:22; Mark 1:15; Acts 16:30-31), along with the implication that it is possible for unregenerate men to do so (e.g., John 3:16; 6:40; 7:37; 20:31; Revelation 22:17). The Calvinistic construct of the unregenerate man’s abilities/inabilities clearly lies beyond the true picture one sees in Scripture. Thus, although the subsequent four points may logically follow from the first, they suffer from an unbiblical understanding of Total Depravity that proves fatal for the system as a whole.

For additional analyses of Calvinistic teaching compared to Scripture, see:

Is Faith the Gift of God?

Who and How Does the Father Draw?

Kept by the Power of God

Endnotes:

[1] “The view one takes concerning salvation will be determined, to a large extent, by the view one takes concerning sin and its effects on human nature. It is not surprising, therefore, that the first article dealt with in the Calvinistic system is the biblical doctrine of total inability or total depravity.” David N. Steele and Curtis C. Thomas, The Five Points of Calvinism (Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg, NJ, 1963) 24.

[2] Steele and Thomas, The Five Points of Calvinism, 25.

[3] An axiom of Calvinism is that regeneration precedes faith.


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