Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Well Done Good & Faithful Servant.

Last week my Grandfather-in-law went home to be with the Lord. He was 95 years old and he was a very strong Christian. While his death was not unexpected it is still a loss for those of us who knew and loved him.

I have a few memories of Papaw that I will always cherish, like the time (when he was well into his 70's) that he and my father-in-law challenged my brother-in-law and me to a game of 2-on-2 in the back yard. He just stood back about 30 feet from the basket and waited for the ball to be passed to him, and every time it was he hit the basket. I don't think he missed a single three pointer that day (and I don't think I have played basketball since). That was the day that I learned that you don't have to be a young man to win a game of basketball (and that you are as young as you feel).

One of my other memories of him will always be of sitting in his living room discussing theology while a baseball game quietly played on the TV in the background. You see, there were four things that he loved (in this order): Jesus, his family, baseball, and cherry pie (some day maybe I'll write about Papaw and the biggest piece of cherry pie I ever saw).

I have a lot of respect for the way that he lived his life, and I pray that I will be able to live out the remainder of my Christian life the way he lived out his; he ran the race, he kept the faith, he finished the course, and last Tuesday he looked his Savior in the face as he heard Him say, "Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord."

He is home now, and as we were dealing with the loss of Papaw last week I opened my email and saw this and couldn't help but think about how appropriate it was for what we were dealing with and as I read though it several time I actually became jealous and I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to the day when I too will get to see my Savior face to face.

"The sound of weeping and crying will be heard no more!"
Isaiah 65:19
The glorified weep no more--because all causes of grief are gone! There are no broken friendships, nor blighted prospects in heaven. Poverty, famine, peril, persecution, and slander--are unknown there. No pain distresses, and no thought of death or bereavement saddens.

They weep no more--because they are perfectly sanctified! No "evil heart of unbelief" prompts them to depart from the living God. They are without fault before His throne, and are fully conformed to His image! Well may they cease to mourn--who have ceased to sin!

They weep no more--because all fear of change is past! They know that they are eternally secure! Sin is shut out--and they are shut in!
  • They dwell within a city which shall never be stormed!
  • They bask in a sun which shall never set!
  • They drink of a river which shall never run dry!
  • They pluck fruit from a tree which shall never wither!
Countless cycles may revolve--but eternity shall not be exhausted; and while eternity endures, their immortality and blessedness shall co-exist with it. They are forever with the Lord!

They weep no more--because every desire is fulfilled! They cannot wish for anything--which they don't already have in full possession.

Eye and ear, heart and hand, mind and imagination, desire and affection--all the faculties, are completely satisfied!

As imperfect as our present ideas are of the things which God has prepared for those who love Him--yet we know enough, by the revelation of the Spirit, that the glorified saints are supremely blessed. The joy of Christ, which is an infinite fullness of delight--is in them. They bathe forever in the bottomless, shoreless sea of infinite blessedness!

That same joyful rest remains for us! It may not be far distant. Before long--the weeping willow shall be exchanged for the palm-branch of victory! Sorrow's dewdrops will be transformed into the pearls of everlasting bliss!

"The sound of weeping and crying will be heard no more!"

"Therefore comfort one another with these words."
Charles Spurgeon
Take a few minutes today and thank God for the people that He has placed in your life, tell them that you love them, and remember that Isaiah 65:19 (quoted above) applies to you too if you are in Christ.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Revelation Chapter 4, Part 4 - The Objects Before the Throne

And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.” And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”
Revelation 4:5b-11 (NASB)
This section continues to describe what John saw in the throne room of heaven, and here he is going to tell us in detail the things he saw before the throne. He begins by telling us that he saw “seven lamps of fire burning before the throne” and immediately he tells us that these lamps “are the seven Spirits of God.” As we already saw when we studied chapter one, this is a reference to Isaiah 11:2 and is a picture of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
Isaiah 11:2 (NASB)

Next, John tells us that there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal, in front of the throne. It must be noted here that this sea is metaphorical and symbolic since, as we will see in Revelation 21:1, there is no sea in heaven. So what is it that John is describing here? J. Vernon McGee writes, "This sea represents the holiness and righteousness of God.” Then he adds:
This placid sea indicates the position of rest to which the church has come. No longer is she the victim of the storms of life. No longer is she out there on the tossing sea.1
In the book of Hebrews we are told that when Moses was given the plans to build the earthly tabernacle he was to follow these plans explicitly because the tabernacle that he was to build corresponded to on in heaven; that it was to be a copy of heavenly things (see Hebrews 8:5 & 9:24). The sea of glass that we are seeing here may very well be the picture that God was painting in the tabernacle with the bronze laver. The bronze laver was also referred to as the bronze sea and it was used for ceremonial washing by the priests of Israel (2 Chronicles 4:6); before they could serve the Lord they had to purify themselves in this water, which they called a sea.

Now before the throne of God we see a sea of glass, or crystal, and we cannot help but make the connection to the symbolism of the Old Testament tabernacle.

But there is one more possibility that I want you to consider: in the book of Micah there is another verse that mentions a sea, which might very well be connected to what we are reading here in Revelation chapter four.
He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities under foot. Yes, You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.
Micah 7:19 (NASB)
This verse teaches us that God, when He forgives our sins, casts them into the depths of the sea. Just like the priests of the Old Testament left their sins at the brazen laver before they entered the presence of God, our sins too will be “cast into the sea” and that sea may very well be before the throne of God.

Now John tells us that in addition to everything else he has already seen, he saw four living creatures. He calls them “living creatures” because he doesn’t know what else to call them; these beings are not like anything that we have ever seen on earth. John describes them like this; he says they were full of eyes in front and behind; they each had six wings, which were also covered with eyes. He tells us that one creature had a face like a lion, one like a calf, one like a man, and one like an eagle. And he tells us that day and night they never cease offering praise to God.

So who are these creatures? Ezekiel tells us in Ezekiel 10:15 that they are Cherubim; in this verse he writes:
Then the cherubim rose up. They are the living beings that I saw by the river Chebar.
Ezekiel 10:15(NASB)
In this verse Ezekiel says that the creatures he saw by the river Chebar are Cherubim, so let’s go with Ezekiel to the river Chebar and see what he saw there:
Now it came about in the thirtieth year, on the fifth day of the fourth month, while I was by the river Chebar among the exiles, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.
Ezekiel 1:1 (NASB)
In verse one Ezekiel lets us know that he was by the river Chebar and the heavens were opened and he saw visions of God. So far this sounds very much like what John is experiencing here in Revelation chapter 4. Ezekiel continues:
As I looked, behold, a storm wind was coming from the north, a great cloud with fire flashing forth continually and a bright light around it, and in its midst something like glowing metal in the midst of the fire. Within it there were figures resembling four living beings. And this was their appearance: they had human form. Each of them had four faces and four wings. Their legs were straight and their feet were like a calf’s hoof, and they gleamed like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides were human hands. As for the faces and wings of the four of them, their wings touched one another; their faces did not turn when they moved, each went straight forward. As for the form of their faces, each had the face of a man; all four had the face of a lion on the right and the face of a bull on the left, and all four had the face of an eagle. Such were their faces. Their wings were spread out above; each had two touching another being, and two covering their bodies. And each went straight forward; wherever the spirit was about to go, they would go, without turning as they went In the midst of the living beings there was something that looked like burning coals of fire, like torches darting back and forth among the living beings. The fire was bright, and lightning was flashing from the fire. And the living beings ran to and fro like bolts of lightning.

Now as I looked at the living beings, behold, there was one wheel on the earth beside the living beings, for each of the four of them. The appearance of the wheels and their workmanship was like sparkling beryl, and all four of them had the same form, their appearance and workmanship being as if one wheel were within another. Whenever they moved, they moved in any of their four directions without turning as they moved. As for their rims they were lofty and awesome, and the rims of all four of them were full of eyes round about. Whenever the living beings moved, the wheels moved with them. And whenever the living beings rose from the earth, the wheels rose also. Wherever the spirit was about to go, they would go in that direction. And the wheels rose close beside them; for the spirit of the living beings was in the wheels. Whenever those went, these went; and whenever those stood still, these stood still. And whenever those rose from the earth, the wheels rose close beside them; for the spirit of the living beings was in the wheels.

Now over the heads of the living beings there was something like an expanse, like the awesome gleam of crystal, spread out over their heads. Under the expanse their wings were stretched out straight, one toward the other; each one also had two wings covering its body on the one side and on the other. I also heard the sound of their wings like the sound of abundant waters as they went, like the voice of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army camp; whenever they stood still, they dropped their wings. And there came a voice from above the expanse that was over their heads; whenever they stood still, they dropped their wings.

Now above the expanse that was over their heads there was something resembling a throne, like lapis lazuli in appearance; and on that which resembled a throne, high up, was a figure with the appearance of a man. Then I noticed from the appearance of His loins and upward something like glowing metal that looked like fire all around within it, and from the appearance of His loins and downward I saw something like fire; and there was a radiance around Him. As the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the surrounding radiance. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face and heard a voice speaking.
Ezekiel 1:4-28 (NASB)
This is a rather lengthy passage, but what we have here is a clear parallel to what John is seeing in Revelation. John MacArthur writes:
Ezekiel’s description appears incomprehensible, almost incoherent, as he struggled to make sense out of the spectacular, supernatural scene that he witnessed.2
This must have been what John was feeling too as he witnessed the scene that he is describing here in Revelation four.

As we have already noted, Ezekiel tells us that these beings are Cherubim. We get a similar picture from Isaiah, when he says in chapter six:
In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.
Isaiah 6:1-2 (NASB)
Though not nearly as detailed as the accounts of Ezekiel or of John we do get the idea that Isaiah may have been seeing the same beings, although Isaiah calls them Seraphim. If these are not the same beings they are similar in appearance and function. So, what is the function, or job, of a Cherub? Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary says that the Cherubim “served the purpose of magnifying the holiness and power of God.” It then adds:
In addition to singing God’s praises, they also served as a visible reminder of the majesty and glory of God and His abiding presence with His people.3
From this we can conclude that the job of a Cherub is to guard the holiness of God and to offer continual praise to Him. This is what we are seeing here in Revelation chapter four, and this is what we see throughout Scripture.

Again we only have to look to the instructions that Moses was given for the tabernacle and its furnishings to see this truth illustrated. In Exodus twenty-five Moses was instructed to make an ark, which we know today as the Ark of the Covenant. He was told that this ark was to have a lid, called the mercy seat, and he was to make two Cherubim, one to be placed at each end of the mercy seat:
“You shall make two cherubim of gold, make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim of one piece with the mercy seat at its two ends. The cherubim shall have their wings spread upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings and facing one another; the faces of the cherubim are to be turned toward the mercy seat.”
Exodus 25:18-20 (NASB)
As we can see by comparing these verses in Exodus with the passage we are studying in Revelation, the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant was a perfect picture of the actual throne of God. It was here, between the Cherubim, that God told Moses that He would meet with him, and here in Revelation we see that God’s throne is surrounded by these four living creatures, who as we have just seen, are Cherubim.

Let’s look now at how John describes these creatures. First of all he uses the Greek word zó̄a, to refer to these creatures. This word, which is the word from which we get our word zoo actually means, “a living being”4 is quite different from the Greek word thēríon, which refers to, “A wild beast.”5 When we encounter the antichrist later in this book, and he is referred to as the “beast” it is the word thēríon, but these are not wild beasts, they are highly intelligent beings whose whole purpose for existence is to offer praise and worship to God.

Now as we move into verse seven John tells us that the first creature was like a lion, the second was like a calf, the third had a face like a man, and the fourth was like a flying eagle. Continuing in verse eight he says that each of the four living creatures have six wings and that they are full of eyes around and within. Again we see a similarity here to the visions of Ezekiel and Isaiah, which we have just looked at.

One of the main differences between the vision of Ezekiel and the vision of John is that John tells us that each of the four living creatures had a face like a lion, a calf, a man, or and eagle while Ezekiel tells us that each of the creatures had all four of these faces. Also, In Ezekiel’s vision the living creatures only had four wings and here in Revelation, as well as in Isaiah they had six. This has lead some to believe that these were different creatures, and that is possible, but it could also be that the visions were just so incredible and awesome that as they struggled to put them into words a human could understand they were emphasizing different things. Whether they are the same creatures or not there is enough similarity here to at least link them in type.

The first obvious comparison between these visions is the use of the lion, calf, man, and eagle to describe their faces. There are many differing opinions on what this may mean, so let’s look at a few of these and see what we can uncover.

One possible interpretation is that these four animals represent the nation of Israel. We see in Numbers chapter two that there was a specific manner is which the tribes were to camp in relation to the tabernacle. They were, according to verse 2, to camp “each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers’ household.” As we read on in chapter two we are given the specifics of how this was laid out: On the east side of the tabernacle, under the banner of Judah, which was a lion, were the tribes of Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. On the south side, under the banner of Reuben, which pictured a man, were the tribes of Reuben, Simeon, and Gad. On the west, under the banner of Ephraim, the ox (or calf) camped the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin. And on the North side, under the banner of Dan, an eagle, were the tribes of Dan, Asher, and Naphtali.

Another interpretation is that the four faces represent the whole of God’s living creation. This view points out that the lion is the king of the wild animals, the ox (calf) is the strongest of all domesticated animals, the eagle is the supreme bird, and man is the highest of all creation. David Guzik, in his commentary on Revelation writes:
There are four which have principality in this world: among intellectual creatures, man; among birds, the eagle; among cattle, the ox; and among wild beasts, the lion: each of these has a kingdom and certain magnificence, and they are placed under the throne of glory, to show that no creature is to exalt in this world, and that the kingdom of God is over all.6
Warren Wiersbe writes:
The faces of the living creatures parallel God’s statement in Genesis 9:10—His covenant is with Noah (the face of the man), the fowl (the face of the eagle), the cattle (the face of the calf), and the beasts of the earth (the face of the lion). 7
Yet another interpretation says that since the lion represents strength, the calf service, the man reason and the eagle speed, these faces could even be a picture of the attributes of God with the lion being His Omnipotence, the calf His Faithfulness, the man His Omniscience, and the Eagle His Sovereignty.

I believe; however, that the best interpretation, if these faces are in fact representative of anything, is that they are a picture of Christ as portrayed in the gospels. Let me explain, there are four gospels each written from a different perspective and each bringing out a different aspect of the person and ministry of Jesus, and each of these gospels is represented by one of these four animals. First is the gospel of Matthew, which is the most Jewish of the four gospels; Matthew presents Jesus as the King and is symbolized by the lion. Next is the Gospel of Mark, which was written to show Jesus as a servant; the symbol of Mark is the calf. The third gospel is Luke, which showcases the humanity of Jesus, and the man is the symbol here. Last is the gospel of John, symbolized by the eagle, which presents Jesus as Lord.

The last thing I want to point out about these creatures is their wings and their eyes. In verse six John tells us that they were full of eyes in front and behind, and then he mentions their eyes again in verse eight where he says that they each had six wings, full of eyes within and without. According to John MacArthur, by saying that they are full of eyes he is:
[S]ymbolizing their awareness, alertness, and comprehensive knowledge. Though they are not omniscient, nothing pertaining to their duties escapes their scrutiny.8
MacDonald and Farstad add
This speaks of clarity, breadth, and depth of vision. 9
Their six wings are a picture of their responsibility and privilege of continual worship and praise to God. In Ezekiel’s vision he only mentions four wings on each of the creatures that he saw; this does not mean that they were not the same creatures, only that from his perspective he only saw four wings, but the seraphim in Isaiah’s vision did each have six wings and he tells us:
Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.
Isaiah 6:2 (NASB)
Again, John MacArthur writes:
Four of their six wings related to worship; with two they covered their faces, since even the most exalted created beings cannot look on the unveiled glory of God without being consumed. They also used two wings to cover their feet, since they stood on holy ground. Worship is thus their privilege, calling, and permanent occupation.10
At the end of verse eight John tells us that they are continually offering worship and praise to God; the verse says, “day and night they do not cease.” This means they never rest, they never take a break, and there is never a pause in their worship. The KJV and the NKJV both translate the phrase “day and night they do not cease” as “they rest not day and night” and “they do not rest day or night” respectively. On earth there are many things, including our need for rest, that continually interrupt our worship, but in heaven where there is no need for rest the worship will continue forever, and that is the picture here.

Continuing in verse eight John gives us the lyrics to the song of praise that the four living creatures are singing to the One who sits on the throne; they sing:

“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God
The Almighty, who was and who is
And who is to come.”

This song, the second doxology of the book, begins with the words “Holy, Holy, Holy” which is the only of God’s attributes that is ever repeated in Scripture. The word Holy, which is the Greek word hagios, means, “set apart, sanctified, consecrated… Its fundamental idea is [of] separation, consecration...”11 Dr Vine adds that this word is:
[P]redicated of God, as the absolutely ‘Holy’ One, in His purity, majesty and glory.12
John MacArthur writes:
Holiness… is the summation of all that He is. God’s holiness is His utter and complete separation from evil in any and every form.13
God is completely separate and different from us and we seem to forget this; we approach God with familiarity and rush into His presence without a second thought, but the Cherubim do not cease, day and night, to exclaim Holy, Holy, Holy. “The Cherubim constantly remind all who would approach Who it is they draw near unto.”14

Following this thought, J Vernon McGee writes:
This pictures the holiness and glory of our God. He is high and lifted up; and, if we would see Him today in that position, we would be delivered from low living. It would also deliver some folk from this easy familiarity that they seem to have with Jesus. They talk about Him as if He were a buddy and as if they could speak to Him in any way they please. My friend, you cannot rush into the presence of God. He doesn’t permit it. You come to the Father through Christ. This is the only way He can be approached. You can never come into the presence of the Father because of who you are. You come into His presence because you are in Christ. The Lord Jesus made that very clear when He said, ‘No man cometh unto the Father, but by Me.’ If you are His child, you can come with boldness to the throne of grace, but you cannot come to Him on any other basis.15
There is a lot of truth in that brief paragraph, and we would do well to remember that our God is Holy, He is set apart and altogether different from us. He is majestic and glorious, and He alone is God, which is the very next thing the four living creatures say; they shout Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God.

The New American Standard Bible reads, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is The Lord God, The Almighty” while the KJV, NKJV, ESV and NIV all translate this as either “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty”, or “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty.” The Greek phrase here is Kúrios Theós Pantokrátōr. Let’s break this down and look at what John is telling us here: the first word, Kúrios, means, might, power, master, owner, Lord; it is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew word Jehovah. The next word, Theós, means God; this is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew Elohim. This is an interesting word in Greek, Dr Zodhiates writes of this word:
The Septuagint constantly translated the Hebrew plural name Elohim, when used for the true God, by the singular. Theós, God, never by the plural theoi, gods. The reason for this was that at the time the Septuagint translation was made, Greek idolatry was the prevailing superstition, especially in Egypt under the Ptolemies. Their gods were regarded as demons, i.e., intelligent beings totally separate and distinct from each other. If the translators rendered the name of the true God by the plural theoi, they would have given the heathen under Greek culture an idea of God inconsistent with the unity of the divine essence and conformable to their own polytheistic notions. However, by translating the Hebrew Elohim as ‘God,’ they inculcated the unity of God and at the same time did not deny a plurality of persons in the divine nature.16
The final word here, Pantokrátōr, comes from two Greek words, pás, meaning all or every, and krátos, meaning “power, strength, dominion. Ruler over all, omnipotent, almighty” this word is “spoken only of God.”17

This is the first title that God uses for Himself in the Bible; we can see this in Genesis 17:1, where it reads:
Now when Abraham was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before Me and be blameless.”
Genesis 17:1 (NASB)
Of the use of this phrase here in Revelation John MacArthur writes:
That term identifies God as the strongest, most powerful being, utterly devoid of any weakness, whose conquering power and overpowering strength none can oppose. Because God is Almighty, He can effortlessly do whatever His holy will purposes to do.18
This is the God that these four living creatures praise and worship.

Nest they remind us that this God, this One who sits on the throne, the Lord God Almighty, is eternal when they say, “who was, and who is, and who is to come.” Of this phrase A.W. Tozer writes:
When the four living creatures before the throne cry day and night, ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come,’ they are identifying God with the flow of creature-life with its familiar three tenses; and this is right and good, for God has sovereignly willed so to identify Himself. But since God is uncreated, He is not Himself affected by that succession of consecutive changes we call time.
He then goes on the write,:
God dwells in eternity but time dwells in God. He has already lived our tomorrows as He has lived all our yesterdays. 19
What comfort we can take, in light of the coming judgments of the next few chapters, when we remember that the God we serve is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come!

In verses nine through eleven we are told that when the four living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, and who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders who are sitting around the throne also fall down and worship. Verse ten tells us that they cast their crowns before the throne and say (verse 11):

“Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our
God, to receive glory and honor and
power; for Thou didst create all
things, and because of Thy will they
existed, and were created.”

What we see here is picture of true worship. The twenty-four elders are not concerned with their own glory; in the presence of the One who sits on the throne they see themselves, their accomplishments and their rewards as insignificant. In the presence of God all that matters is God.

So let’s take a quick look at the song of the twenty-four elders and see what we can learn. The first word here is the Greek word áxios, which we translate worthy. This is a word that expresses the meaning of value, but this is not attributed value, it is inherent value. In other words the elders are worshiping God because He is God, not because of anything He has done. Don’t get me wrong, God deserves our worship for all that He has done, but first He deserves our worship just because He is. The elders express their worship by casting their crowns before the throne; this act of worship is an acknowledgment that “They are not concerned about their own holiness, honor, or reward. All those things pale into insignificance and become meaningless in light of the glory of God.” 20

What is the focus of their worship? They are worshiping God because He created all things; He created this universe for His own pleasure and by His own will. What this is saying is this, creation didn’t exist, then God willed it to exist and it existed. He created, and it all belongs to Him. This is very important because what we are going to see in the rest of the book is God judging and reclaiming what is His.

J. Ramsey Michaels wraps up this chapter with these words:
The elders’ song celebrates creation and God the creator, probably as a reference point for the new creation to come. Although John in his vision does not claim to experience the passage of time, he manages to convey a sense that what he saw is something still going on in heaven even as we read his prophecy today. 21
As we move into chapter five of Revelation keep this in mind - the judgments that follow are God redeeming His creation.

1 McGee J. Vernon (c 1983). Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee Vol.5 1 Corinthians–Revelation Pg.931. Nashville TN.: Thomas Nelson.
2 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (153). Chicago: Moody Press.
3 Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., Harrison, R. K., & Thomas Nelson Publishers. (1995). Nelson's new illustrated Bible dictionary. Rev. ed. of: Nelson's illustrated Bible dictionary.; Includes index. Nashville: T. Nelson.
4 Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W. (1996). Vine's complete expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words (2:53). Nashville: T. Nelson.
5 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G2342). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
6 Guzik, David. (c2001). Commentary on the book of Revelation (96). Simi Valley CA: Enduring Word Media.
7 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Re 4:1). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
8 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (154). Chicago: Moody Press.
9 MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997, c1995). Believer's Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments (Re 4:6). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
10 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (154). Chicago: Moody Press.
11 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G40). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
12 Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W. (1996). Vine's complete expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words (2:307-308). Nashville: T. Nelson.
13 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (155). Chicago: Moody Press.
14 Van Kampen, Robert. Revelation Commentary Ch4 Pg5 (© Orlando Fl.: Sola Scriptura
15 McGee J. Vernon (c 1983). Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee Vol.3 Proverbs–Malachi Pg.209 Nashville TN.: Thomas Nelson.
16 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G2316). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
17 Zodhiates, S. (2000, c1992, c1993). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (G3841). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
18 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (156). Chicago: Moody Press.
19 Tozer, A.W. (1961). The Knowledge of the Holy (39). New York: Harper Collins
20 MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (158). Chicago: Moody Press.
21 Michaels, J. R. (1997). Vol. 20: Revelation. The IVP New Testament commentary series (Re 5:1). Downers Grove, Ill., USA: InterVarsity Press.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Eight Reasons Why I Believe That Jesus Rose From The Dead

Here is the final post in the Easter Series; Eight Reasons Why I Believe Jesus Rose from the Dead, by Pastor John Piper.

Eight Reasons Why I Believe That Jesus Rose from the Dead
by John Piper

1. Jesus himself testified to his coming resurrection from the dead.

Jesus spoke openly about what would happen to him: crucifixion and then resurrection from the dead. "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again" (Mark 8:31; see also Matthew 17:22; Luke 9:22). Those who consider the resurrection of Christ unbelievable will probably say that Jesus was deluded or (more likely) that the early church put these statements in his mouth to make him teach the falsehood that they themselves conceived. But those who read the Gospels and come to the considered conviction that the one who speaks so compellingly through these witnesses is not the figment of foolish imagination will be unsatisfied with this effort to explain away Jesus' own testimony to his resurrection from the dead.

This is especially true in view of the fact that the words which predict the resurrection are not only the simple straightforward words quoted above, but also the very oblique and indirect words which are far less likely to be the simple invention of deluded disciples. For example, two separate witnesses testify in two very different ways to Jesus' statement during his lifetime that if his enemies destroyed the temple (of his body), he would build it again in three days (John 2:19; Mark 14:58; cf. Matthew 26:61). He also spoke illusively of the "sign of Jonah" -- three days in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:39; 16:4). And he hinted at it again in Matthew 21:42 -- "The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner." On top of his own witness to the coming resurrection, his accusers said that this was part of Jesus' claim: "Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, 'After three days I will rise'" (Matthew 27:63).

Our first evidence of the resurrection, therefore, is that Jesus himself spoke of it. The breadth and nature of the sayings make it unlikely that a deluded church made these up. And the character of Jesus himself, revealed in these witnesses, has not been judged by most people to be a lunatic or a deceiver.

2. The tomb was empty on Easter.

The earliest documents claim this: "When they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus" (Luke 24:3). And the enemies of Jesus confirmed it by claiming that the disciples had stolen the body (Matthew 28:13). The dead body of Jesus could not be found. There are four possible ways to account for this.

2.1 His foes stole the body. If they did (and they never claimed to have done so), they surely would have produced the body to stop the successful spread of the Christian faith in the very city where the crucifixion occurred. But they could not produce it.

2.2 His friends stole the body. This was an early rumor (Matthew 28:11-15). Is it probable? Could they have overcome the guards at the tomb? More important, would they have begun to preach with such authority that Jesus was raised, knowing that he was not? Would they have risked their lives and accepted beatings for something they knew was a fraud?

2.3 Jesus was not dead, but only unconscious when they laid him in the tomb. He awoke, removed the stone, overcame the soldiers, and vanished from history after a few meetings with his disciples in which he convinced them he was risen from the dead. Even the foes of Jesus did not try this line. He was obviously dead. The Romans saw to that. The stone could not be moved by one man from within who had just been stabbed in the side by a spear and spent six hours nailed to a cross.

2.4 God raised Jesus from the dead. This is what he said would happen. It is what the disciples said did happen. But as long as there is a remote possibility of explaining the resurrection naturalistically, modern people say we should not jump to a supernatural explanation. Is this reasonable? I don't think so. Of course, we don't want to be gullible. But neither do we want to reject the truth just because it's strange. We need to be aware that our commitments at this point are much affected by our preferences -- either for the state of affairs that would arise from the truth of the resurrection, or for the state of affairs that would arise from the falsehood of the resurrection. If the message of Jesus has opened you to the reality of God and the need of forgiveness, for example, then anti-supernatural dogma might lose its power over your mind. Could it be that this openness is not prejudice for the resurrection, but freedom from prejudice against it?

3. The disciples were almost immediately transformed from men who were hopeless and fearful after the crucifixion (Luke 24:21, John 20:19) into men who were confident and bold witnesses of the resurrection (Acts 2:24, 3:15, 4:2).

Their explanation of this change was that they had seen the risen Christ and had been authorized to be his witnesses (Acts 2:32). The most popular competing explanation is that their confidence was owing to hallucinations. There are numerous problems with such a notion. The disciples were not gullible, but level-headed skeptics both before and after the resurrection (Mark 9:32, Luke 24:11, John 20:8-9, 25). Moreover, is the deep and noble teaching of those who witnessed the risen Christ the stuff of which hallucinations are made? What about Paul's great letter to the Romans? I personally find it hard to think of this giant intellect and deeply transparent soul as deluded or deceptive, and he claimed to have seen the risen Christ.

4. Paul claimed that, not only had he seen the risen Christ, but that 500 others had seen him also, and many were still alive when he made this public claim.

"Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep" (1 Corinthians 15:6). What makes this so relevant is that this was written to Greeks who were skeptical of such claims when many of these witnesses were still alive. So it was a risky claim if it could be disproved by a little firsthand research.

5. The sheer existence of a thriving, empire-conquering early Christian church supports the truth of the resurrection claim.

The church spread on the power of the testimony that Jesus was raised from the dead and that God had thus made him both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). The Lordship of Christ over all nations is based on his victory over death. This is the message that spread all over the world. Its power to cross cultures and create one new people of God was a strong testimony of its truth.

6. The Apostle Paul's conversion supports the truth of the resurrection.

He argues to a partially unsympathetic audience in Galatians 1:11-17 that his gospel comes from the risen Jesus Christ, not from men. His argument is that before his Damascus Road experience when he saw the risen Jesus, he was violently opposed to the Christian faith (Acts 9:1). But now, to everyone's astonishment, he is risking his life for the gospel (Acts 9:24-25). His explanation: The risen Jesus appeared to him and authorized him to spearhead the Gentile mission (Acts 26:15-18). Can we credit such a testimony? This leads to the next argument.

7. The New Testament witnesses do not bear the stamp of dupes or deceivers.

How do you credit a witness? How do you decide whether to believe a person's testimony? The decision to give credence to a person's testimony is not the same as completing a mathematical equation. The certainty is of a different kind, yet can be just as firm (I trust my wife's testimony that she is faithful). When a witness is dead, we can base our judgment of him only on the content of his writings and the testimonies of others about him. How do Peter and John and Matthew and Paul stack up?

In my judgment (and at this point we can live authentically only by our own judgment--Luke 12:57), these men's writings do not read like the works of gullible, easily deceived or deceiving men. Their insights into human nature are profound. Their personal commitment is sober and carefully stated. Their teachings are coherent and do not look like the invention of unstable men. The moral and spiritual standard is high. And the lives of these men are totally devoted to the truth and to the honor of God.

8. There is a self-authenticating glory in the gospel of Christ's death and resurrection as narrated by the biblical witnesses.

The New Testament teaches that God sent the Holy Spirit to glorify Jesus as the Son of God. Jesus said, "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.... He will glorify me" (John 16:13). The Holy Spirit does not do this by telling us that Jesus rose from the dead. He does it by opening our eyes to see the self-authenticating glory of Christ in the narrative of his life and death and resurrection. He enables us to see Jesus as he really was, so that he is irresistibly true and beautiful. The apostle stated the problem of our blindness and the solution like this: "The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.... For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:4, 6).

A saving knowledge of Christ crucified and risen is not the mere result of right reasoning about historical facts. It is the result of spiritual illumination to see those facts for what they really are: a revelation of the truth and glory of God in the face of Christ -- who is the same yesterday today and forever.
Pastor John

I hope you had a wonderful Easter.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

He Is Risen!

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6 And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Mark 16:1-8

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Calvary's Tragedy!

Today I have another Grace Gems excerpt from Charles Spurgeon.

"The place which is called Calvary."
Luke 23:33
The hill of comfort--is the hill of Calvary.

The house of consolation--is built with the wood of the cross.

The temple of heavenly blessing--is founded upon the cleft rock--cleft by the spear which pierced His side.

No scene in sacred history ever gladdens the soul--like Calvary's tragedy!

Light springs from the midday-midnight of Golgotha!

Every flower of blessing blooms sweetly beneath the shadow of that accursed tree!

In that place of thirst--grace has dug a fountain which ever gushes with waters as pure as crystal, each drop capable of alleviating the woes of mankind!

You who have had your seasons of trouble--will confess that it was at Gethsemane, Gabbatha, and Golgotha that you have found real comfort.

The bitter herbs of Gethsemane--have often taken away the bitters of your life.

The scourge of Gabbatha--has often scourged away your cares.

The groans of Golgotha--have yielded you rare and rich comfort.

We would never have known Christ's love in all its heights and depths--if He had not died. Nor could we guess the Father's deep affection--if He had not given His Son to die. He who would know real love--let him retire to Calvary, and see the Man of sorrows die!
Charles Spurgeon

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Crucifixion of Jesus

And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole Council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate. 2 And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” 3 And the chief priests accused him of many things. 4 And Pilate again asked him, “Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.” 5 But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.
6 Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. 7 And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. 8 And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. 9 And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. 12 And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13 And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” 14 And Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.

16 And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. 17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. 18 And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19 And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.

21 And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. 22 And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). 23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. 25 And it was the third hour when they crucified him. 26 And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27 And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. 29 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.

33 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” 36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
40 There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.

42 And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. 45 And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. 46 And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.
Mark 15:1-47

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Lamb

Day two of my Easter themed Grace Gem posts in an excerpt from Charles Spurgeon.

"Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne!"
Revelation 5:6
Why should our exalted Lord appear in heaven--with His wounds? The wounds of Jesus are--His glories, His jewels, His sacred ornaments. To the eye of the believer, Jesus is lovely, because He is "white and ruddy"; white with innocence, and ruddy with His own blood. We see Him as the Lily of matchless purity--and as the Rose crimsoned with His own gore. Christ is lovely in His life and His teaching--but oh! there never was such a matchless Christ as He who hung upon the cross! There we behold all His beauties in perfection, all His attributes developed, all His love drawn out, all His character expressed!

Beloved, the wounds of Jesus are far more lovely in our eyes--than all the splendor and pomp of kings! The thorny crown is more attractive than any imperial diadem. Jesus wears the appearance of a slain Lamb--as His court dress in which He wooed our souls, and redeemed them by His complete atonement.

Nor are these only the ornaments of Christ--they are the trophies of His love and of His victory! He has redeemed for Himself a great multitude whom no man can number--and these scars are the memorials of the fight! Ah! if Christ delights to retain the thought of His sufferings for His people--how precious should His wounds be to us!

"Behold how every wound of His,
A precious balm distills,
Which heals the scars that sin had made,
And cures all mortal ills.

Those wounds are mouths that preach His grace;
The ensigns of His love;
The seals of our expected bliss,
In paradise above!"
Charles Spurgeon
It is only because the Lamb was slain that you and I can have eternal life, and find peace with God

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Over the next few days leading up to Easter I am going to post some Grace Gems that I have been collecting that all have an Easter theme; today I have an excerpt from Arthur Pink's work Beholding the Crucified Christ.

"They kept shouting--Crucify Him! Crucify Him!"
Luke 23:21
The Word of Truth declares that "the carnal mind is enmity against God" (Romans 8:7). Men do not believe it--in fact most of them pretend the very opposite. Nevertheless, at Calvary--they gave proof of their hatred of God.

Not only was Christ unwelcome here--but men hated Him--and that "without a cause" (John 15:25). He gave them every reason to admire and adore Him--but they had an inveterate detestation of Him!

Multitudes go through the form of paying homage to God--but it is a "god" of their own imagination. They hate the true and living God, and were it possible--they would rid the universe of His existence! This is clear from their treatment of Christ, for He was none other than "God manifest in flesh" (1 Timothy 3:16). They hated and hounded Him to death--and nothing short of His cruel death by crucifixion would appease them!

Here at Calvary the real character of man was revealed, and the desperate wickedness of his heart was laid bare. There it was shown, that man was capable of the blackest of all crimes!

As evil as man had shown himself all through his history--the coming of Immanuel to this earth brought sin to such a head--that all that which had gone before, was relatively but a trifling thing--when compared with the monstrous wickedness which was done against Love incarnate! In the treatment which the Son of God received at the hands of men--we see sin in its true colors, stripped of a disguise, exposed in its hideous reality; revealed in its true nature as contempt of God, and rebellion against Him. Here at Calvary we behold the climax of sin--and the fearful and horrible lengths to which sin is capable of going! That sin which germinated in Eden--culminated in the crucifixion! Here at Calvary, we see sin at it's apex--Deicide--in the slaying of the Lord of Glory!
"They kept shouting--Crucify Him! Crucify Him!"
Luke 23:21
Arthur W. Pink
As we approach Good Friday I encourage you to take some time to think about your own sin and the part that you played in the crucifixion of our Savior. It's a hard thing to say, or even to think about for that matter, but if you and I had been there in the crowd that day we would have been screaming "Crucify Him" right along with every one else.

And you know what, He still would have willingly died in our place.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Gospel Of Mark, Part 4 - The Temptation Of Jesus

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
Mark 1:12-13
In these two verses we read that Jesus, the very Son of God, was in the wilderness for forty days, and He was being tempted by Satan. Have you ever stopped to think about what these verses say? Have you ever considered that Jesus Christ - God in the flesh - was tempted by the devil? That is exactly what we are reading here.

In the Gospel of Mark we are not given any details; here we are simply told that immediately after His baptism Jesus was sent by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness, with the wild animals, for forty days where He was tempted by Satan and ministered to by angels. Here, for example, we are not told that for these forty days Jesus didn't eat anything. Here we are not told that at the end of these forty days Jesus was weak and hungry, or it was at that time that Satan chose to launch his attack. We are also not given any details about the nature of these attacks, nor are we told that Jesus withstood Satan's attacks by knowing and accurately using the word of God in His defense (Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13). All of these things are important, and we can read about them in the other Gospel accounts, but for some reason none of them is included here.

As we approach these two verses there are several approaches we could take: we could study the Greek to see what it means that the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness; we could speculate on what it means that the angels ministered to Him; we could even do a study of the significance of the forty days and see what forty days means in the Bible, but if we do all of that and miss the point of what the Gospel writer is trying to tell us here we have just wasted our time.

So what is it that the Gospel writer wants us to see here? Could it be that the thing that we really need to understand is simply that Jesus was in fact tempted by the devil just like we are?

In the letter to the Hebrews we read:
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.
Hebrews 4:15
Did you catch that? Jesus was tempted in every way that you or I have ever been (or ever will be) tempted. Why is that ? Hebrews 2:17 tells us that Jesus had to be made like us in every respect so that He could be our merciful and faithful high priest; in order for Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins He had to be like we are (yet without sin).

Verse 18 then goes on to say:
For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Hebrews 2:18
Because Jesus was tempted He is able to help us when we are tempted. What does this mean? It means that Jesus understands the weaknesses we have because He was made just like us. It means that He knows what it is like to be tempted, because He was tempted. And it means that in temptation there is always a way out (see again Hebrew 4:15; Jesus was tempted yet He remained sinless).

In 1 Corinthians we read:
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
1 Corinthians 10:13
There are several important things in these verse:
  1. There are no temptations that are unique to you or me; we may all struggle with different specifics, but the specifics all lead back to what is common to man - rebellion against God.
  2. God is faithful - this verse promises that He will never let us be tempted beyond what we can endure.
  3. God will always make sure that in every temptation we have a way of escape
These are great promises and we would all do well to remember them.

So what have we seen here? In the Gospel of Mark we saw that Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by the devil. We then went to Hebrews and saw that Jesus was tempted in every way we are, but that He remained sinless (this is an important thing to understand - it means that temptation is not a sin and that just because you are tempted does not mean that you have sinned). And finally we looked at 1 Corinthians where we saw that we have a faithful God who will keep us from any temptation that we cannot resist and that when we are tempted He will always provide for us a way of escape.

So the next time that you face a temptation think about Mark 1:12-13 and remember that Jesus also faced temptation, and that because He faced temptation He is able to sympathize with our weakness. And then rejoice that this same Jesus is our Great High Priest.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Study Of Covenant - Part 1

Over the next several weeks I am going to post a study that I wrote a few years ago on the topic of Covenant. This is one of the most fascinating topics you can study in the Bible, and it is also one that is often overlooked and misunderstood. It is my prayer that over the next few weeks you will get enough of an understanding of what it means to be in in a covenant relationship with God that you will dig deeper into the Scriptures on your own; I guarantee that when you truly understand and embrace this truth you will never be the same.

Kay Arthur, the first teacher I ever heard teach on this topic, said:
Once you understand and embrace the reality that God is a God of covenant, you will experience a peace, a strength, a security you have never known. The Word of God will take on a whole new dimension—delighting you with wonder as you explore the height, the depth, the breadth of what it means to be in covenant with God. The words lovingkindness and friend will take on new meaning and become so precious as you identify them as covenant terms.
She also said:
Once you grasp the full understanding of covenant—and note that I said full—and begin to understand the character and ways of our covenant God, you will find the answer, the cure for pain that threatens to overwhelm you. And as long as you cling to the truth, you'll find yourself soaking in the love, the peace, the confidence, and the joy that belong to those who live in the knowledge of the covenant that God cut on behalf of every man, every woman, every child—regardless of color, nationality, or station in life. All you need to do is enter into and abide in His covenant.
With an introduction like that you can see that this is going to be a wonderful study. The outline we will use as we work our way through this study is as follows:
I. Define Covenant
A. Hebrew words and meanings
B. Greek words and meanings

II. Look at some examples of covenants in the Bible
A. The Noahic Covenant
B. Covenant between Jonathan and David

III. Study in detail the three major covenants in the Bible

A. The Abrahamic Covenant
B. The Sinai Covenant
C. The New Covenant
As we begin our journey please keep in mind that there are over 300 references to covenants in the Bible and that we will not exhaust this topic in just a few short weeks. When we finish here I encourage you to look up the word covenant in your concordance and check out some of the references that we didn't have time to cover here together.

Let's get started.

I. Define Covenant

Merriam Webster defines a covenant as a:
[F]ormal, solemn, and binding agreement
[A] written agreement or promise usually under seal between two or more parties especially for the performance of some action.
Harper's Bible Dictionary says a covenant is:

[A] formal agreement or treaty between two parties with each assuming some obligation.
The Hebrew word that we translate covenant is the word Beriyth meaning treaty, alliance, or agreement. The word Beriyth is often preceded by the verb Karath, which means to cut.

When these two words are used together it expresses the idea of cutting a covenant. This is significant because according to Easton's Bible Dictionary karath beriyth makes:
[R]eference to the cutting or dividing of animals into two parts, and the contracting parties passing between them, in making a covenant.
So literally, the definition of karath beriyth is a compact made by passing between pieces of flesh.

The Greek word translated covenant in the New Testament is diatheke, which has the same meaning as berith. It should be noted that in the KJV this word is often translated as testament, but this word should actually be translated covenant the same as berith was translated in the Old Testament since they have the exact same meaning.

Karat Berith – To Cut Covenant

As stated above the Hebrew term Karat Berith means to cut covenant. To help you get a better understanding of this I though we should look at the process and examine what takes place in the cutting of a covenant before we move on and look at some examples of covenants in the Bible.

The way in which a covenant was cut in the Old Testament is this: animals were cut in half down the spine and the pieces were placed in a line side-by-side with a path down the middle. The parties involved would remove their robes and hand them to each other to put on. They would exchange weapons. They would give the other party their belt. Then in a figure-eight pattern they would walk between the pieces while reciting the terms of the covenant. They would then point to heaven, and to the animals, while swearing an oath "God, do so to me, if I break this covenant."

Next the covenant partners would take a knife and make a cut in their wrists, clasps hands, and let their blood mingle together. Then they would recite to each other everything that they owned and everything that they owed. They would then reach down and scoop up a hand full of dirt and rub it into the cut on their wrists. After all of this they would exchange new names and then sit down to a meal. Lastly they would set up a memorial, a pile of stones, a planted tree, a written contract… something that would be a testament to the agreement they had just made.

From this point on they were forever in covenant with each other; a covenant that could only be broken by death. There is a lot of rich symbolism in this ritual, symbolism that will become very important to us as we go along, so let's take a few minutes to look at a few of these:

The first thing we see is that after the animals were slain and cut in half the parties involved would exchange robes. By doing this they were symbolizing their new covenant identity with the other person. They were in essence saying "I am putting you on, and you are putting me on; we were once two, but now we are one."

Next we see them exchanging weapons. The symbolism here is that they were saying your enemies are now my enemies and my enemies are your enemies.

Then they would exchange belts. This was a symbol of strength and they were saying that from this point forward you do not have to rely on your own strength – you now have my strength and I yours.

Then dressed as the other person, with the other person's weapons in their hand and wearing their belt, they would walk between the animals symbolizing walking into death. They did this for two reasons: first they were showing that from this point forward they were no longer living for themselves; they were now living for their covenant partner; and secondly they were saying that if they ever break the covenant, they should have done to them what was done to these animals. And they call on God to carry it out by swearing an oath, "God, do so to me, if I break this covenant."

The cut wrist and mingled blood would once again show that they were no longer two persons; from this point on they were one. As stated above they would also rub dirt into the cut; they did this so it would scar, and then every time they saw their wrist from that time forward they would remember that they have a covenant partner.

Next they would exchange new names, which symbolized a new identity - an identity based on the covenant. Then they would share a meal, a covenant meal, where they would each take a piece of bread, break it, and place it in their covenant partner's mouth. While doing this they would each say, "you are eating me, and I you."

There is one more thing we need to talk about here before we move on. A covenant is not always entered into by persons who are equals. So what happens when one of the covenant partners is the subordinate of the other? This is a very important question for us since what we are ultimately discussing here is the covenant that God made with mankind. Man is subordinate to God, we are not equals, so we need to understand how covenant works when one of the parties in inferior or subordinate to the other.

In a covenant where the involved parties are not equals the superior party lowers themselves to the level of the lower party and honors them by dealing with them on a more or less equal footing. The superior stipulates the demand of the covenant and the subordinate either accepts or rejects them. The lesser assumes the duties imposed upon him voluntarily and as a result inherits the blessings of the covenant (more on this later). The superior party is the one who assumes the full responsibility for the conditions of the covenant.

This then is a covenant; a solemn, binding agreement, a pledge cut in blood, a walk into death. And that is exactly what our relationship with God is based upon.

Next time we will look at Noahic Covenant and the Sinai Covenant.