Bill Blogsmith

Q. What is the chief end of man? A. Man's chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever. Q. What is thy only comfort in life and death? A. That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ

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I write and illustrate, live in Oregon, love God and my family, and that's about all anyone really needs to know.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Righteousness of God

This is a transcript of a talk by Geoffrey Paxton from 1974.  It is the finest and most complete and excellent examination of basic justification by faith I've ever read.  It is reproduced here by permission of Geoffrey Paxton.
We want to commence tonight by asking a fairly fundamental question. Really it’s an understatement to call it a fairly fundamental question because we believe that you could hardly ask a more fundamental question of anyone at any time and the question is this. Note it carefully because we chose the words carefully. First, the question: “On what basis is a person accepted by God?” Look at the question carefully. It’s a simple question. There’s not meant to be any fiendish trick in it. It's meant to be quite straightforward but the wording is chosen carefully. On what basis is a person accepted by God? It’s a merciful exam. I’ve given you a multiple choice. First of all,
  1. A life of obedience to the law which I present God 
  2. Faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ 
  3. Some other way.
Although you can’t make up your own question, you might at least provide your own answer. You might say, “I’m not happy with number one or number two so I’ll provide my own creation, as it were, in number three.” On what basis is a person accepted by God? A life of obedience to the law which I present to God; Faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ; Some other way.
Now at this point we really don’t know what we ought to do because we’ve got into some very embarrassing situations at times. We’ve been in various seminaries, as you know from the advertisement literature, and we’ve given this little exam—simple, basic, fundamental thing and we’ve had a show of hands and sometimes the professors of the college give the wrong answer. Now that becomes embarrassing because we don’t want to embarrass professors and certainly not before their students. I’m not really of the mind whether we should have a show of hands or not. Perhaps—well—it doesn’t matter, does it, really? The glorious thing about the gospel is that you’re accepted even though you’re wrong. Isn’t it really? That’s why I embrace it. It’s the only thing that I could qualify for.
Those who say number one? My goodness! Did you not hear? Number l…I think we’ve got 100% dissent. Number 2…Now don’t be like those people that are bringing the airplanes in. Either yea or nay. I’ll give you another chance. Some people, they like this. Number 2…All right, thank you. Number 3…A few original people. All right, thank you. Well, that’s interesting. Unequivocally everyone turned down Number 1. 90%, I’d say, perhaps 80% chose number 2. 10% chose number 3 and there’s another 10% that’s not choosing anything. They’re playing it safe.
Well, friends, we want to start our forum with this question because we said it’s the most basic question, the most fundamental question that can be asked of any person at any time. We believe that despite the assertions to the contrary, this is still the fundamental, cardinal question that men and women have to be asked and about which men and women have to be clear in their own minds. You’ll get this particular writer in theology who will say that the issue today is not the same as it was in the Reformation. It’s rather this and so we’ll have a proposition about New Being and this sort of thing. But we believe—it’s a simple conviction—but we believe that this is still the fundamental question that plagues the human heart. We believe that this is the fundamental question that is at the root of all else in our society today.
Having said that, let me say this—that we believe in The Australian Forum that the only correct answer to this question is number l. The only basis on which a man, a person, a woman, is accepted with God is a life of obedience to the law, which I present to God. Now, methinks that notwithstanding all the good reasons why it may be the case, we are in a minority. In this meeting tonight, anyway. But of course, you will want to say it’s because of this or it’s because of that. All right. Well, we’ll talk about it.
I’ll tell you why I think you chose number 2 or number 3. Perhaps you chose number 2 and number 3. But I’ll tell you why I think you didn’t choose number l and that is because you did not want to appear to be a legalist. Is that not true? You did not want to appear to think that we are acceptable to God on the basis of the fulfillment of the law. Most folk, we find, in our discussions choose number 2 because they think that number 2 is really against legalism. It’s legalistic to say a man or woman is accepted with God by the keeping of the law. But listen friends, number 2 is really the legalistic answer. Now, notwithstanding the reasons why….you say, “I’m confused.” And, like that university student we saw up in Minnesota with a big “K” on his back---I said, “What’s that?” He said, “I’m confused.” I said, “Confused! You don’t spell confused with a K.” He said, “You don’t know how confused I am.”
Now, you may be saying that. You may be saying, “I’m confused. You tricked us. This will be the last time I’m going to come to your forum.” Let us reason together. Let’s be quiet and think about it. You see, number 2 is really the legalistic answer and not only is it legalistic, but it is what we call antinomianism, against-the-lawism. Because, you see--what is the word for basis? This word that I underlined in your exam papers in bold black type or italics. Now what is another word for basis? Can anyone give me another word for basis? Foundation, all right, thank you. We’ll put that here. That’s a good word. Anything else? Ground, who said ground? Excellent. That’s a good synonym. Basis, foundation, ground. Right. We do not know of any interpreter of the Bible worthy of the name, of any of the great Reformers who would have ever called faith the basis or ground or the foundation on which a man or woman is accepted by God. Faith is glorious! There’s no doubt about that. Faith stands right towards the top in the thinking of Biblical Reformation Theology. There’s no doubt about it. Faith is glorious! It's rich! It's a gift of God! It’s the prince of virtues so to speak. There’s no doubt about that, but irrespective of the princely nature of faith, irrespective of how elated a position it has in the economy of God, it never has the position of the foundation or ground or the basis on which a man is accepted by God. Never! And it’s one of the great perils of the modern religious scene that we are believing and we are thinking and we are behaving upon the conviction that it’s the fact that I believe or it’s the fact that I’m born again, it’s the fact that I put my trust in Jesus that God accepts me.
I say it’s legalistic because it still offers to God or it seeks to offer to God something that is within me. Irrespective of whether we believe it was given by God or not (we’ll talk about that in a moment) but it’s something nevertheless that I do--something that’s in me--on the basis of which God accepts me. You see, some people—you may have felt this way—some people say, “Well, I chose number 2 but I want to qualify it. I want to qualify number 2 by what comes before it. You see, number 2, faith, now I don’t mean faith,” you say. “I don’t think faith is my work. I don’t think that faith is a thing that I contribute to God. Number l says a life of obedience to the law which I offer to God. Now I’m not saying that. Faith is not something I give to God. It’s not a contribution that I make. Faith is the gift of God,” you say. “In other words, faith is the result of grace.” And some people want to qualify it on that basis. But the thing is this, friends, we grant that. That faith is the gift of God “not of works lest any man should boast”. Faith is not my works. Faith is not something I give to God. But irrespective of whether faith proceeds from grace or not, faith is still not the ground on which God accepts me. Faith is still not the foundation on which God accepts me. Belief in Jesus Christ is not the foundation on which God accepts me and so you see, people say, “Well, I want to qualify it on what follows, not by what precedes it and undergirds it and gives it life, namely grace, but it’s the object, you see.” We’ve had some professors say, “Ah, if you had just put faith, I would have never taken it but because you put faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, that’s different. Faith takes its value from its object, you see, and it’s because of the object of faith.” But listen, no Reformer and no interpreter of the Bible would ever suggest—no interpreter of the Bible worthy of the great Reformation tradition—would ever suggest that faith is the ground of acceptance with God. Faith is not the foundation on which God accepts me.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Beaking Up The Family

"For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ."
1 Corinthians 12:12

The Christian church has two meanings.  The first meaning is the church in general, the body of Christians worldwide through the centuries; everyone who is a child of God through the grace of Jesus Christ.  This means every Christian ever has been part of the Church, the Body of Christ on earth, of whom he is the head.
The other meaning is more local: a specific congregation.  This sense of the church is generally understood to be a family, a body created by God for fellowship, worship, learning, exhortation, and aiding the needy and broken in their community.  It is a place for prayer, teaching, hymns, and healing the wounded soul.
In the 90s, I attended a conference by Ligonier Industries in Seattle with the great R.C. Sproul and luminaries such as Rod Rosenbladt, Sinclair Ferguson and so on.  The topic was about the church in both senses, and one of the best talks was about when to leave a church.
R.C. Sproul said that there were three options:
  • You must stay in a church if it is faithful and teaches the gospel and is faithful to God, regardless of how much you like the pastor, how well you get along with the other people, or whether the people there do what you demand they do or not.
  • You may leave a church if it is theologically troubled, but is generally orthodox; has discipline, sacraments, and the word of God.
  • You must leave a church if if abandons the basic faith and teaches total heresy; a church that rejects the Bible, rejects the triune God, and so on.
This is for the layman, the person in the pew.  In other words if you're in a good church but like another one better nearby, you should stay where you are.  Why?  Because you're part of a body, you are part of the family there.  You should only break up that family for very good reason, properly, not simply for personal problems or some whim.  Yes, that lady sitting in the nearby pew might sing off tune or the pastor might not visit as often as you like.  They might sing songs you don't like so much or too slowly, they might not have the certain specific ministry you want, but you're part of a body, and tearing that apart should be done only for a better cause than personal dislikes.
There are other circumstances, for example.  Someone might marry, meaning the couple they can only  one church at a time.  Someone might be in a job that moves a family around often (the military for instance) and thus they have to change churches.  This is more targeted at "church shoppers" who keep moving around to find their ideal congregation, though.
As a Christian, being part of a church body and regular attendance means not only that you become part of a community and fellowship, but that you place yourself under the visible discipline of that church.  If you do wrong, they then have some leverage, so to speak, to help push you back on the path.  In addition you'll be both in the witness of other saints around you, but be a positive influence on the others.
The talk, and Sproul's later writings and talks are very helpful for people dealing with a problematic or annoying church.  In modern culture where everyone is so self-focused and selfish these days we need reminding that our lives are about more than just ourselves and how happy we are.
However, there's a bit of a problem with all that.  Its not that what he says is wrong, its that it is incomplete.  So much so good for church members in the pews, but what about the pastor?
I attend a Christian Reformed Church, a denomination with a heritage of great theology and truth that is falling on bad times theologically.  The local church is very good still, like many scattered across the nation even if the denomination is falling.  It is a typical pattern for the church to swap pastors every five to ten years, each pastor moving on to another church after a short term.  Since I started attending the chuch in 1975, I've seen six pastors, plus all the interim ones between.
Although some churches retain a pastor their whole lives, the typical pattern is for them to move around between congregations.  The Anglican church, for example, will often swap out a pastor after a few years, with some Bishops alternating between a more liberal (theologically) pastor with a conservative one.
And this brings up the question; what about all those arguments for why you should stay with a church?  What about the church being a body you wound when you leave?  What about the fact that you're part of a congregation, a family, and should only leave that reluctantly, and for very good reason?  I understand pastors are a special sort of bird with a different calling than others, but that doesn't negate all the reasons to stay at a church?
So how about it pastors?  Why this exemption, why is it suddenly okay to break up the body, why is it fine to tear part of the family apart for job reasons?  Why shouldn't the pastor be encouraged to stat at a congregation as much as an ordinary pew sitter?
I bring this up because it seems like any time a pastor gets a better offer they "feel the spirit move them" to move on.  This one always wanted to be a missionary and suddenly got an offer, so they go.  That one leaves to head up a school because they always liked the idea.  Another moves on to be at a bigger church.  Still another moves on to be in a church in an area or state they prefer.  A church closer to their family, a church in a climate they prefer, a church with greater opportunities for their talents, a church with more room for growth, on an on.
I am sorry if I sound cynical, but it seems to me that too often this "calling" business is an excuse rather than a cause for moving on, and pastors just get to do it whenever they want.  And if one guy leaving the church hurts it by their loss - and hurts that one guy by his leaving - doesn't it hurt far more to massively disrupt the congregation by a shepherd leaving his flock?  Does a pastor not have an even greater burden to stay with a congregation?
In the end it seems to me that pastors are at least as guilty of "church shopping" for the ideal congregation that bends more completely to their vision of the church and career than even ordinary paritioners.  Individual Christians are guilty of moving about churches for petty reasons and selfish whims, but so are pastors - and when a pastor leaves, its a serious problem for a church.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Political Bible Thumping

Every time there's an election in America (and other places), particularly a national election, folks start standing up and waving a Bible around. You might think I'm talking about preachers and right wing social conservatives, but actually the side you're on doesn't particularly signify.

For example, almost every major Democratic Party presidential and congressional candidate will darken the door of a church once or twice every four years to "preach" at a black church. I say "preach" because the sermon isn't really about God or the Bible, but about politics, how bad their opponent is, and how everyone needs to vote for them. And some Republicans do it too, on occasion.

Another example is from the White Horse Inn, where Michael Horton relates this tale:
Jesus told the rich young ruler, “‘Sell all that you own and distribute the money.’ But the young man, ‘who was very rich,’ turned away. Jesus’ comment? ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God’ (Luke 18: 21-25).” “All too true,” Ms. Thistlewaite sighs with all the self-satisfaction of someone who thinks she’s not the rich young ruler. “It’s also easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a bill with the rich paying their fair share of taxes to get through Congress. Not gonna happen.”
That's from Susan Brooks Thistlewait (that name doesn't evoke leftist academic at all) at the Washington Post. And of course, President Obama has been using the Bible a lot to try to support his economic theories and demonize anyone who disagrees.

Naturally it happens a lot on the right as well, as Michael Horton notes from a recent NPR piece where Richard Land (head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) is quoted as saying socialism is condemned in the Bible and that confiscatory tax rates never work.
In both cases there is some tenuous scriptural reference and support given - there are tales in scripture of high tax rates ruining a nation, for example, but the problem is that these references are taken out of context, used in a manner never intended, and substitute what happened for what ought to happen. Horton goes through a few typically misused scriptures to show their problems, so I won't do that here, but I do want to note one thing in particular.

The Bible at no point condemns wealth or extols poverty. It condemns abuse of wealth, it calls love of money or belief in its power to protect and support you instead of God a sin, and it calls wealthy people who won't help those in need lots of names, but at no point is wealth called bad or criticized. In fact, scripture clearly says that wealth is a blessing from God, something given as a gift.
The Bible at no point supports or calls for wealth to be taken away, pooled by a group of bureaucrats, and distributed evenly to everyone. It continuously calls for those with something to help those without, and it brutally condemns the wealthy who do not (especially in the minor prophets), but always on a per person basis. Giving and generosity is to be done individually, voluntarily, and out of a real concern for those in need, not by gunpoint and law through a government body.

The Bible never condemns government redistributing wealth, specifically, either. Its largely silent on how governments should act other than to fear the Lord, obey His law, punish the wicked, and encourage the righteous. That's pretty much it. You can look through the Old Testament civil laws for ideas on how God wanted Israel to structure their government, but those laws aren't normative and are not necessarily applicable to today in any case - Israel was a pretty specific and special setting. Ex slaves without any real form of government or knowledge of how to run one needed special, specific rules, and they were so intertwined with ceremonial religious rules and the theocracy of Israel that one has to be cautious before applying them too directly.

The Bible is absolutely supportive of the concept of private ownership and earning what you own. The Bible condemns people who won't work for their food ("they shall not eat" - 2 Thessalonians 3:10), and clearly opposes sloth. But that's as far as it goes, there are no policy prescriptions, no word about medicare, no rules on how high taxes should go, and scripture clearly teaches people should pay their taxes.

But the Bible is not a textbook on government, nor is it a primer on how to run a nation. What style of government or economic system you have is not of any real interest to the scripture, as long as you don't violate love for your neighbor and God's commands. Yes, I'd argue that its unethical to take what one man has earned and give it to another who has not, but I can't point to any verse that condemns this as sinful, unless you want to call it theft, which gets a bit murky when it comes to taxes.

The Bible is about redemptive history, or how God worked through every single instance of everyone's actions since the fall of man in the Garden to bring His children to salvation through the doing and dying of Jesus Christ. All of the Bible looks forward either to the coming of the messiah or His glorious, triumphant return. Christians are told what to do while they wait for the return of Jesus Christ, and to realize that injustice, poverty, cruelty, war, sin, and hate will all continue until that final day.

We will not, through any government or economic system, bring utopian peace and justice. We will not end poverty, cruelty, or want. We cannot stop sin, not through any law, system, or policy. We are told to fight to end wrong and promote right, but to realize that God alone can make this happen and only through His will and according to his sovereign plan and that we will not see paradise on this earth until kingdom come.

From that you can extrapolate some political principles (like the rejection of socialist utopias - or conservative ones for that matter), but any time a politician lifts up a Bible and says vote for me because of this, start to treat them with deep suspicion. And when a politician picks up a Bible to condemn another person, be very, very skeptical. Because when Jesus says "judge not lest you be judged" He meant for people to not judge based on themselves or their greatness. Clearly, we are to judge people - the Bible says to all over - but only in the light of God's law. We judge someone based on how they are obeying God, not how they compare to us, and if the Bible is clear on one thing, its absolutely, painfully so on this one principle: judge yourself first.

So when a politician starts using the Bible to help their career or sway voters, pray for them. Because they're not hurting you, they're hurting themselves. God will not be mocked.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

WORSHIP WARS

ALTHOUGH it is on my main site, I wanted anyone who stumbled onto this blog to be aware of an essay I wrote about worship, music, and the modern church called Sing a New Song. It covers much of my primary thoughts on worship and what we are lacking and should strive for in church today.
Is Satan dividing the Body of Christ by encouraging people to worship incorrectly or poorly, and then clapping his hooves in glee when people get mad at anyone daring to object? Let us pray for wisdom, strength, and a greater love for God rather than our own whims, desires, and personal preference.
I also wrote an article not long after about churches and men, about how emasculated churches seem, entitled Church is For Women. The article focuses on an attempt to make church more manly and masculine, but missing the mark by instead using a comical caricature of masculinity:
Last Saturday morning, 200 Christian men gathered in a downtown warehouse in Nashville for a daylong spiritual extravaganza. Inside, strobe lights flashed, and tracks by the Killers thumped from speakers stacked on either side of a stage. Four large video screens showed clips of karate fights, car chases and "Jackass"-style stunts. Then the music lowered and Christian comedian Brad Stine appeared. With his rat-a-tat delivery and aggressive style, Stine quickly whipped the crowd into a chorus of “Amens!” “A lot of guys out there wouldn’t have the balls to be here,” he shouted. “Are you ready to be a man? Are you ready to kick ass? Are you ready to grab your sword and say, ‘OK family, I’m going to lead you?’ Buckle up. This is GodMen!”
One of my commenters responded with this thought:
The only tension I remember my grandparents having when I was a kid was over my grandfather's refusal to go to church more than once a month. They fought about that all the time. It always ended with my grandfather telling my grandmother, "That's not a church you go to, it's Christ's knitting circle." Then he would retire to the den with his Bible, a cup of coffee, and a Luke The Drifter album... where he would remain until she got back from church. About once every month or so she would convince him to go, and the experience was always bad enough to send him back to the den for the proceeding 3 or 4 Sundays.

The thing is, if you did something stupid, or something you knew was wrong, my grandfather was always the one who wanted to know how you were going to square that kind of behavior with God, while my grandmother pretty much just worried about what the neighbors were going to think if they found out about it.
-President Friedman
These two ideas really do go hand in hand: worship and our churches should focus on God and not be so influenced by modern culture we cut the gonads off Christianity for fear of offense or to appeal to a target group. Let us approach this prayerfully, Biblically, and with both joy and trembling.

RETURN EXPLAINED

AS a layman and a church member, I cannot claim the high levels of academic degrees and training that most writers can. In fact, there are times as I type on my blogs that I am filled with a dread of appearing arrogant, or at least stepping beyond my proper place, but I am confident in my Lord and in His truth, whether I am able to properly understand it or even express this truth in print. I offer this more in a hope of stimulating discussion and further understanding of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ than to teach anyone.

The following is an article about eschatology, an attempt to understand prophecy and coming days at the return of Jesus Christ in light of scripture and focusing on the thesis of my theology: Christ is the center of the Bible. As Jesus Christ is the perfect revelation of God and I believe the center of history and main focus of scripture, we cannot understand His ultimate return in glory without a study in and through Jesus Christ and His teachings.

Much of what I offer here I learned in pieces from the Australian Forum, a seminar series in the 1970s by Geoffrey Paxton and Robert Brinsmead. Their best material is available still thanks to the efforts of some good folks on the internet and can be found online.

This article is an attempt to avoid the errors that we encounter in prophecy, to answer the fantastical dispensationalism of the popular Left Behind series, and to try to express a more Biblical theology of the future. At some point, I'd love to see it published, that's in God's hands.

THE RETURN OF THE KING

Introduction

The foundational principle of this article is that all of the Bible is about Jesus Christ, much as a novel is about the main character. Whether Sherlock Holmes actually shows up in every scene in one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories about the great detective, the story is about Mr. Holmes. In the same way, the entirety of scripture can be said to be about Jesus our Lord. From beginning to end, the Bible is the tale of redemption, the epic telling of God’s work through history from creation to the future detailed in prophecy. The agent of that redemption is Jesus Christ, through whom the Father redeemed His people and whom the Holy Spirit saves the Children of God for.

It naturally follows then that our view of the end times should be shaped and given its character by this fact, by the understanding that the scriptures are about Jesus Christ, his doing, his dying, his character, and his ultimate return. Naturally, any study of the Eschaton, the end things, must be ultimately about the return of Jesus Christ, but it seems all too often that other ideas take center stage when such a discussion takes place. I firmly believe that the center of scripture, Jesus Christ, must be foremost in any understanding of the Bible and the truth of God whatever the specific topic may be. It is the Love and person, the work and sacrifice of Jesus Christ that shapes the Christian life, the Christian faith, and is the ultimate expression of God’s love and character. If Jesus Christ is The Truth as He says, then how can he not then be the truth about our future as well?


Christ is the Focus of History

We cannot say that God is His creation; Christianity is not a pantheist religion. The chair I sit in may be comfortable, but it is not God. Now it can be said that God is reflected in His creation, that His works cry out in testimony to the glory of God and His infinite wisdom, power, and righteousness, as the Psalms tell us “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1) In the same manner as an artist’s work reflects that artist and has some of him in it, like Michelangelo’s magnificent sculpture of David bears something of Michelangelo’s character and person, we can say that the creation of God bears some of his person. But God is transcendent, that is, we cannot worship a tree and thus be worshipping God, He is separate from creation as the creator that stands apart and above reality.

Further, mankind is not God, we as humans are created beings and not divine. This follows obviously from the previous paragraph, but is also plainly true from scripture “ ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8) Humanity is described as “a little lower than the Angels” and as grass, withering and vanishing in a moment.

We thus have an unbridgeable gulf between man and God, a chasm that becomes even more unthinkably vast when we consider the effects of sin on humanity. A pure, perfect God will not abide sin, and a sinful human can never reach God, even assuming such a thing was humanly possible. This impassible divide is the estrangement of God from His creation, the hostility and war between God and man to which Christ brings peace and in which Christ makes us family. Jesus Christ is the bridge between God and man, He is the God-Man that joins creation to its creator.

Consider, Christ is clearly God as taught in scripture, and is also clearly man, he is fully human and fully divine as the creeds state. By being both parts of reality, Christ is in a certain sense the totality of existence! He is both God and creation, He is both divine and human, He is the representative of all that is and all that ever will be. As Jesus told Nathaniel, He is the bridge that crosses the gulf between God and sinful humanity “And He said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’ ” (John 1:51). We are told in Hebrews that through His work and propitiation on the Cross, Jesus Christ gives us the right to boldly approach the throne of God – the very symbol of God’s righteous judgment.

Jesus Christ is the focus of History, the doing and dying of Jesus Christ is the high point of our reality and of time on earth. All of history before the Advent of Christ looked toward the blessed work of our savior, and all history after his ascension has both looked back at that time and forward to His return. Indeed, all of reality is focused on Jesus Christ until his return; He is the center of reality. Jesus is the world’s beginning “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.” (Colossians 1:16) Christ is its end, the alpha and omega of creation.

Due to this, we must view the end of things, the Eschaton, in terms of Jesus Christ, in the context of Him, with Him at the center, reason, and design of what comes to pass. So what does this mean?


Christ Defines the Eschaton

Something useful to think about when considering the end of History is how prophecy works. Now, in the Bible, prophecy has more meaning than simply “predicting the future” but that is the aspect of prophecy that will be considered here. Much of the confusion and oddness that results in looking forward to Christ’s return result from a confusion in how prophecy functions, what it means, and how to understand it. The primary thesis here is that Christ is our focus and how we should understand all things. How does this apply to Prophecy?

Sitting with the complete revelation of God in our hands, we can look at the Bible and think “well its pretty obvious Jesus Christ came to die on the Cross, how could those buffoons in the Old Testament not understand it?” This is rather uncharitable toward those saints of old for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is how God progressively and gradually revealed His will over time. But prophecy does not give direct, clear statement of things to come.

The prophets in the Old Testament spoke of Christ’s coming as if the entirety of God’s plan for History would be completely fulfilled and revealed in an instant, as if the Advent and Parousia (return of Christ) were a single event. In a certain sense, as we’ll see later, they were right – it all is true in Christ. But there are two events in prophecy that were being spoken of as one event.

Some useful analogies Geoffrey Paxton used to speak of can be helpful here: think of two mountains in the distance, one further than the other. At a distance, both mountains can appear to meld into one distant bluish mound of earth and stone. It is only as you come close to the mountains you begin to distinguish from each other, they are recognizable as two mountains close together. Another analogy is of two fence posts, one behind the other. When you are close to the first fencepost you cannot see the second; the nearer post eclipses the other due to its proximity. Both are still there, but only one is visible and is only as you pass the first that the other can be viewed. Prophets were never completely understood everything they spoke of, even Peter mentions this effect.

Biblical Prophecy, I believe, has three elements to each example that explain it more fully. The first of these elements is Immediate Fulfillment. All prophecy in the Bible that predicted a future event had an earthly, historical resolution. For example, prophecy about Israel’s restoration to glory and independence did take place, they did have a new temple, they did have their own kingdom back after the exile. When Jesus Christ prophesied that the temple would be demolished, in AD 70 it did indeed get demolished, flattened. This historical immediate earthly fulfillment of prophecy sometimes is the only one that is examined or considered, always to the detriment of Scripture and what God had ultimately in mind.

The second element is Gospel Fulfillment in Jesus Christ. As is pointed out in the Gospels, Christ was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, in fact John repeatedly demonstrates in his gospel that different events, deeds, and words of Jesus Christ’s life were to fulfill Old Testament prophecy. Christ Jesus as the main character of the Bible, the center of history, and the focus of reality is also naturally the focus of prophecy. All prophecy in one way or another actually in some way is about Jesus Christ.

When Jeremiah prophecies about the new covenant in which the law is written on our hearts, this is also about how the doing and dying of Jesus Christ brought an estranged, wicked humanity into the Love of God, about how Grace puts the Holy Spirit in each believer’s life because of what Christ accomplished with His perfect life, death on the cross in the my place, and ascension to the right hand of God. When Isaiah prophecies that Israel will have a king that will last eternally and have dominion over all the earth, he clearly speaks of Jesus Christ, the Lord of all creation eternally.

The third element is Ultimate Fulfillment in which the prophecy is ultimately fulfilled in its completion when Jesus Christ returns in glory. All prophecy is ultimately found in its complete expression when our Lord arrives on the clouds and history ends, this is why some prophecy can only be said to have been fulfilled “spiritually.” When the Second Coming occurs, all those partially fulfilled, spiritually explained prophecies will be totally expressed in perfect completion.

For example, the prophet speaks of a new Covenant in Jeremiah 31:27-34:
27 "Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, that I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man and the seed of beast.
28 And it shall come to pass, that as I have watched over them to pluck up, to break down, to throw down, to destroy, and to afflict, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord.
29 In those days they shall say no more: 'The fathers have eaten sour grapes, And the children's teeth are set on edge.'
30 But every one shall die for his own iniquity; every man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.
31 "Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—
32 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord.
33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
34 No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."
Now, in history, this was Immediately Fulfilled in Israel returned to their home from exile, and the rebuilding of the temple and of Jerusalem was completed.

In Christ’s advent, the Gospel Fulfillment was as noted above by the peace brought between God and man, in adoption through Christ in the Holy Spirit. The Word is written in our hearts, God’s law is part of us through the Holy Spirit and in Christ Jesus we have perfect knowledge, love, and commitment to this truth. However, we do not perfectly love the Law of god, nor do any of us keep it perfectly – only Jesus Christ did this, and through him we have his perfection imputed to our sinful natures. Our sins are forgiven in Christ, but we continue to sin.

The Ultimate Fulfillment will be when all of these things describe will be completely, inescapably, and totally true in every possible way.

Prophecy follows this threefold expression and once this is more clearly understood, one can read the Bible with a greater understanding. There is another way of expressing this; it is often called “Historical Redemptive” or a similar term. What is essentially being said is that the scriptures have a single story, that of God’s work in redeeming a people to him and saving a Church out of humanity. This describes how prophecy moves through history from its initial fulfillment, through the Gospel, and finally in his return.


The Parousia

Another important thing to understand about prophecy is how the first and second coming are related, how they interact. The first coming of Jesus Christ is the Redemption of God’s people, of His creation. The Advent is the story of how the Triune God fulfilled prophecy and acted on His covenant to save His people, through sacrifice and love beyond human comprehension. In a word, the first coming is Redemption.

The Second Coming is called the “Parousia” by theologians, a term which sounds something like an Italian dish. The Parousia is the final and public disclosure of what God has accomplished, it is the ultimate and inescapable resounding truth given final form and completion with the coming of the Lord of all creation. In a word, Parousia is Coronation.

To understand this better, lets look at some Biblical concepts and terms that are used frequently.

Redemption is a very mercantile term, buying something at a price, such as when you redeem a coupon. In the Bible, we are described as having Redemption already:
Luke 1:68 “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited and redeemed His people.”
Galatians 3:13 “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’),”
1 Peter 1:18 “Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or
gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers…”
Yet the Scripture also describes Christians as not having yet been redeemed:
Ephesians 4:30 “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
Romans 8:23 “Not only that, but we also who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.”
Does this mean God didn’t do it right the first time, and has to fix His work? Does this mean that somehow the writers of the Bible were mistaken, confused, changed their minds, were contradictory? A few more terms:

Perfection
We are already perfect:
Hebrews 10:14 “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.”
We are not yet perfect:
Philippians 3:12 “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.”And speaking of those who have gone on before us:
Hebrews 11:40 “God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.”
Righteousness:
We have righteousness right now:
Romans 1:17 “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’ ”
Romans 5:19 “For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience many are made righteous.”
We lack this righteousness:
2 Timothy 4:8 “Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”
Galatians 5:5 “For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.”
Death:
Death has been defeated:
2 Timothy 1:10 “but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,”
Death will be defeated in the future:
1 Corinthians 15:54 “So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ”
Each of these appears to be directly contradictory, which may result in some brief confusion. But they are, in fact, a useful way of understanding the relationship between Advent and Parousia. As R.C. Sproul says, the very passages that trouble us most are probably the ones we most need to study, God may want to teach us something in them.

In the Advent, Jesus Christ completely accomplished God’s plan of redemption for His people. His substitutionary life in our place is the perfection God demands from us, and is imputed to us. His death on the cross and descent to hell is the punishment God requires of the life we have lived, our sin imputed to Christ. His ascension to the right hand of God the Father takes this perfection and payment for sin and continually presents this before the Father as our eternal High Priest. This was all accomplished completely, and finished by Jesus Christ on earth in history. This justification that we receive through faith by the work of the Holy Spirit is complete, and when Christ returned to heaven, he sat down as the absolute ruler of all creation:
“He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” (Colossians 1:13-17)
Jesus Christ has our holiness in heaven, All that we have, we have through and in Him. We do not have these gifts of Life, Righteousness, Redemption, Perfection and all the other gifts and Graces perfectly and in our selves, we have them in Christ. Little by little as time goes on and our sanctification advances, we have the “very beginning of holiness” as the Heidelberg Catechism put it. One day, in Christ’s glorious return, we will have all of these benefits perfectly and in completion in glorified new bodies and perfect, sinless souls.

What God accomplishes in Jesus Christ, he discloses in its fullness in the end of times. In other words, all the things we understand in the scripture that we have now in faith and hope, we will have in our hands when He comes again. We have them now, but only partially in faith and fully in Christ. In the future, at his coming, we will have them totally in our glorified selves.

What God says will happen is so sure that the apostles were confident enough to write as if it were a done deal. That’s why the Bible can state that Christians are totally sinless and perfect. We are perfect and sinless in Christ and will be in ourselves when Christ returns – it is so certain, so absolutely trustworthy that the writers sometimes speak of it as a done deal, and it is, in Christ. We have this with total assurance, as sure as Jesus Christ saved his own, as sure as He will return, that sure is our perfection, our redemption, our sinlessness. Theologians speak of this as the “already/not yet” in which we already are glorified and perfect, and are not yet, we have it in Christ yet not totally and completely in ourselves, but it will be one day. God has given us all things (Romans 8:32), and in Christ we are all things (I Corinthians 8:6). What Christ has accomplished, we have, as sure as God’s promise and word.

How glorious a day that will be when we no longer sin, when the weariness of continually failing our savior, of perpetually sinning in rebellion against the one whose love envelops us in perfection and glory each day without fail and without turning aside. God rests in His love toward us, He does not seek another as a wayward lover might on earth; yet each day we step out on him, seeking sin once more. One day this will end, one day we will be as true to the Triune God as He is toward us! No wonder the Biblical writers wrote so fervently hoped for and looked toward the return of Christ!

When Jesus Christ returns, He will bring history to a close and reveal fully what has already been done in perfection. Consider a King who has not been crowned publicly. Jesus Christ possesses all the power, responsibility, armies, holdings, possessions, and reality of his office; but not public acknowledgement nor perhaps even public knowledge of this reality. At the coronation, the public sees, understands, and recognizes this power, all the trappings and benefits of the King. It was real before, and is not more real now; it is simply public and undeniable. Every knee shall bow, every tongue will confess, no one will live in the delusion of no God or a God that accepts less than perfection and love of Christ.

So what does this mean? It means we have a picture and understanding of what will come based on what Christ has done and is already. We will be resurrected just like the first fruits (Jesus Christ: I Corinthians 15:23), We shall have resurrected bodies, glorified and made perfect, just as Christ has now. The blessings Christ enjoys and is the fullness of now, we shall enjoy then. More than this, we’ll know when this day comes, everyone will know when this day comes, it will be a cataclysm like no possible disaster imaginable to the reprobate, and a glory and ecstasy unmatched by the totality of human pleasure and happiness combined for the elect in Christ. No one will stand aside unbelieving or unknowing, all will know and either rejoice or weep.


Christ is the First Fruits of our Blessing

By looking at the God-Man Christ Jesus, we can understand the Eschaton. Not only can we understand the results and reality of the end times in the light of Christ, but we can understand how this affects our life, and what we have to expect in the days to come. Knowing Jesus Christ gives us understanding of all reality, and what to anticipate in the future. All the things stated above, Righteousness, Victory over Death, Perfection, Redemption, and other things such as Immortality and Life we possess by faith alone in Jesus Christ, but at his coming and in our glorification they will be revealed in their fullness.

Hope becomes realization, Hope looks forward; the Eschaton is its realization. Hope in the Bible, whether Old Testament or new is always focused on the return of the Lord. In the Old Testament, the hope was of the coming of the Messiah as prophesied, which found its Immediate Fulfillment in the Advent, its Gospel Fulfillment at the Ascension, and will find its Ultimate Fulfillment in Christ’s Return, the Parousia. All of our benefits as Christians are by faith and in Christ, in which we hope and long for the realization in His return.

Our inheritance is in a safe place, and on our journey on earth, we receive ‘spending money’ like a ward of some billionaire. The prodigal son didn’t want to wait for his fortune, for the future blessing. He wanted a ‘second blessing’ to lift him out of this tedium and sadness, to have the full inheritance immediately. But being a sinful man, without being glorified, he ruined it, spent it, and destroyed it in his sin.

This teaches us two things: One, we are not worthy yet for the glories that await us, and Two that part of the reason God delays is to bring us more into the likeness of Christ Jesus. Thus in a certain sense, the Second Coming will not surprise us, we know what is coming and what to expect, in Christ Jesus. The battle is won, the victory is earned, and the first-fruits show us what will be.


Christ and Anti-Christ

Rather than a single, powerful entity or person called “antichrist” the Bible teaches of many ‘antichrist’ movements and occurrences in history. The only place in the Bible that uses the term Antichrist is in the Epistles of John:
I John 2:18 “Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour.”
Other places in scripture mention a Man of Sin and Beast, assumed to be the same person. The Man of Sin is primarily spoken of in Daniel, referring directly to Antiochus Epiphenes, King of a part of Alexander the Great’s kingdom. But what does it refer ultimately to? This, too, must be seen in terms of Jesus Christ and His work on this earth – the doing and dying of Christ, or the Gospel.

Anti is generally understood to be against (anti-abortion, anti-gun, anti-disestablishmentarianism). But it also can mean in the place of, replacing. Anti-Christ in this sense would mean replacing Christ, or replacing His work. Antichrist in terms of against would also mean this, against the Gospel, against Justification.

Consider the other verses John uses:
I John 2:22 “Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son.”

I John 4:3 “and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.”

II John 1:7 “For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.”
These speak not of Antichrist being some powerful individual, but an approach and hostility toward the gospel. Like Galatians where Paul calls down condemnation on any who preach a false gospel, John here condemns any Anti-Gospel teaching, or disrespect of Jesus Christ. As the Spiritual Warfare spoken of in Corinthians is a battle of Ideologies, of thoughts, of truth vs lies rather than a fight against enemies and armies, Antichrist is a movement in opposition to the Gospel, to the Truth - not a specific entity.

Some may come and stand for Anti Christ so fully and directly that they can be considered a virtual personification of Antichrist, this is what the reformers considered the Pope, and even the Roman Catholic Church its self to be. These men could be called “antichrists” in a sense, but not in the sense many use, of some mighty figure that strides the land catastrophically and the literal expression of Antichrist like a title.

We face Anti Christ every day, from outside and from within the Church. Outside the Body of Christ stand those directly opposed to the Gospel and Jesus Christ in obvious ways, from false religions to direct assaults on God and the Bible. We face more subtle attacks as well, such as a temptation and call to consider all things relative, to reject absolute authority, to judge each situation not by the Word of God but by what works, what pleases you, what fits a political doctrine.

Inside the Church are those who deny the Word of God as authority, those who include other authorities, those who substitute another Gospel for the one Paul taught in terrifying defiance of scripture, those who seek to worship God not for His glory or in careful study of His Word but out of personal whim or a desire to trick people into coming to Church – these are antichrist, these wish to stand in place of Christ, in place of the Gospel. More than outside influences, I believe these are the true danger for the Church.

Antichrist is coming, and is indeed here, as in John’s day and we must oppose this, fight it, strive against it, guard against it, teach to protect against it, pray about it, and search ourselves for strongholds that the Antichrist may have built in us. We must always stand firm on the Gospel, never compromising, never retreating, no matter what the cost, for it is the standing and falling doctrine of the Church as the reformers said. Without the Gospel, Christianity simply becomes a religion, another moral system, no better and perhaps even worse than some others. Without Christ, we are most to be pitied, as Paul said. Other things we can agree to disagree on, we can pass by the battle, but on this we must never cease to struggle.


Christ’s Covenant

When God spoke to Abraham He promised many things, and reiterated these promises again and again with His people through Moses and the Prophets, through the great wisdom of the Psalms and Proverbs. God promised Victory over Israel’s foes, peace and wisdom for the land, that one day they would be a great and powerful people, that their land would be one of wonderful prosperity, an inheritance (Genesis 15 and Deuteronomy 28 are a pair of examples). God promised Israel every good thing, He promised them the world, literally.

Thousands of years later, sitting in Jerusalem in AD 50 nothing seemed further from the truth than those promises. Under Rome’s boot heel, the Jews had no kingdom, no everlasting king, no peace, no victory over their foes. And in comes Paul to say this:
“And we declare to you glad tidings--that promise which was made to the fathers God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm: ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.’ ” Acts 13:32-33
All the promises were fulfilled and made complete in Jesus Christ, savior of the world, according to the apostle! How can this be? Imagine the amazement of the Jews who heard these astonishing words, what boldness!

Take a look back to Genesis 15, when God made the covenant with Abram originally. This covenant was done by a gruesome hacking apart of animals, leaving a bloody mess on the rocks so gory that vultures were attracted and tried to fast on the carrion. This pathway formed by animals chopped in half and dead birds was laid out for a reason, and that reason has to do with the kind of treaties formed at that time period and in that culture.

When a conqueror defeated an area, he would make a deal with the people living there. He’d first state what a great guy he was in the preamble, then give the requirements of the conquered people, what they had to do while under his rule. In this covenant, the conqueror then would lay out the benefits for keeping their end up (you don’t revolt and you keep paying your taxes, and I’ll protect you from marauders and build roads). It also contained a warning of what would happen should you fail to keep the covenant, curses and blessings – all this should be very familiar to any Old Testament Bible reader in the format of God dealing with His people.

Now, what happens next in this story is the astonishing part. Abram waits so long for God and perhaps so worn out from chasing off carrion eaters, he falls asleep. He wakes to an awesome sight, a huge flaming oven blazing with light and power, and a flaming torch. God speaks to Abram, making his absolute promise as noted above, then through this bloody mess of sacrificed animals goes the torch and the oven as Abram watches. This is more or less typical of the covenant making of the time in a more spectacular way, representatives of both parties would go down this pathway of carrion, saying in effect “may this happen to me, may I be burned and hacked to bits, if I do not keep my side of the bargain.”

Now here’s the critical part: Abram doesn’t go through the pathway. Think about this a while, Abram watches this happen, he sees God take His side of the bargain, a truly awesome condescension on the part of the Almighty to act as if there’s any chance He will break the deal. But then God also takes the torch through the hacked apart bodies, not Abram. What God says here is “if I do not keep my side of the bargain may this happen to me... and Abram... if you do not keep your side of the bargain may this happen to me also!” Imagine this, Abram knows exactly how this deal works, he has probably even participated in just such a ceremony in the past. But he knows God just promised to keep both sides, even if Abram fails.

What has God just done? He has promised to both give Abram the benefits, and to take the punishment on himself – which is exactly what Jesus Christ does thousands of years later on the cross! That is exactly what Jesus Christ was, both man and God, walking perfectly to keep the Covenant where we cannot, and paying the price that we deserve for not doing so. And thus, in Christ we have the full benefits of the Covenant, and we get small portions of the blessings in our life here as we live, reaching and hoping for the full inheritance that we will have one day.

The substance of every promise is in Jesus Christ, because when he said it is finished, he sealed the promises. By keeping the covenant perfectly, He upheld his side of the deal as a Man, and thus God rewards Him by the full extent of the Covenant blessings, including eternal life, peace, and comfort. By dying on the cross, He paid the price for our NOT keeping our side of the deal, thereby fulfilling the just requirement of punishment given for such. Furthermore Christ as our representative fulfilled our side of the Covenant by living his life perfectly.
“But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man's offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.” Romans 5:15
Consider this in the light of scripture, what it means that Jesus Christ kept the covenant. All of the blessings Israel was promised are ours, in and through Christ:







GOD’S PROMISE CHRIST’S FULFILLMENT
Victory over FoesChrist has won the Battle
Peacehaving abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace
WisdomBut of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God--and righteousness and sanctification and redemption
Make Israel GreatAll power and authority in heaven and earth given to the King of the Jews
Land and InheritanceChrist - and we through him - are heir of all things

That’s how in the first century AD, Paul could claim that all of the blessings of the covenants were true for God’s people, because it was true, utterly and completely in Jesus Christ. At Christ’s coming all these benefits, all the glories, all the blessings God listed again and again in the Bible shall be ours in totality and glorious unshakable eternity. Not because we are such good people, not because we do things so very well, not because of our faith, good will, efforts, and our lives. All these blessings come because Christ is worthy and has finished His work in perfection and absolute Godly Holiness.

We trust and know these things to be true, we hope and look forward to the day of completion and when we go home because we know Jesus to be trustworthy, and because we know God will keep his promises. In Hebrews this is spoken of in unassailable terms, God promises and in the promise vows on his name, a double-promise as if to go overboard in His assurance for us. God promised this all to be true if we kept the Covenant, and in Christ we have!
“For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us” (2 Cor. 1:20)

Christ and the Millennium

The concept of the Millennium comes from a few verses in the 20th chapter of Revelation (or the Apocalypse of St John, if you prefer):

“1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.
2 He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years;
3 and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while.
4 And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
5 But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
6 Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.”
These few verses have been the basis of a surprising amount of speculation, theological structure, and conflict in the Christian Church that would make any group of Jewish Rabbis proud. Whole dynamic flow charts with history set into divisions, future descriptions of a glorious age, and other amazing constructions have been made using those few verses and some other apocalyptic parts of scripture. Due to the small portion it takes up in the Bible, it is tempting to just ignore this, but since controversy and discussion has raged on this for centuries, it seems prudent to at least give it some examination.

How should we examine this concept of a millennium, a thousand years, in the light of what has been said about Jesus Christ? Well first, we must understand that the Millennium is prophecy, and all prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, ultimately through His triumphant return. The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ now rules, that He is Lord at this moment of his Kingdom and is presently and definitely in absolute power. This is important, because it changes the perspective of how you view future events in terms of a thousand year period.

Some teach a thousand year period in which Jesus reigns, and that he does not presently on earth. This is not true from a study of Scripture; He is in unshakable control of all reality as God almighty. Thus, any point of view that claims Jesus Christ at some future point becomes King and Lord of all cannot be true. Further, any view that claims Jesus Christ loses this kingship at some point, or that this kingship is given a greater, more full expression cannot be true either, for He is Lord now.

This thousand year period is considered the end times, it is described as the last period before Jesus Christ returns, ending with an extraordinary period of wickedness and sin “...so that he [Satan] should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished...”(Revelation 20:3). This is often paired with passages in scripture about the “last days” such as 2 Timothy 3: 1-5a:
“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power.”
But in these “last times” passages, there is always a portion that notes that the times the writer is living in are in fact the last times mentioned. For example, the rest of verse 5 above continues “And from such people turn away!” This injunction is apparently in the Greek a verb that carries the idea of a continuing action, perhaps “keep turning away” is a way of translating it. What Paul says here is: in the last times there will be all these horrible things... and you should keep fighting against that in yourselves.

Now, if the “last times” are some distant hazy future, this is hardly the kind of language Paul would use. In fact, a study of the New Testament reveals that not only the Apostles but also Jesus Christ Himself considered the times they were living to be the last times: “So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near--at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” (Matthew 24:33-34)

Briefly, it seems that scripture teaches that the end times are now, starting when Jesus Christ came to earth, and will end when Jesus Christ returns in glory. Whether things get worse or not in the world, whether crime, war, earthquakes, sin, and unrighteousness continue to increase, the Almighty God is in control. Jesus Christ has won the victory and will keep his Church such that the Gates of Hell its self cannot stand against it. The Church grows in knowledge and wisdom under the leading of the Holy Spirit, and although individual churches as well as individual Christians may stray, and though Christ may cut off the candle of a given church, the Body of Christ will never fail.


Christ and Israel

Another eschatalogical issue that can be encountered often is that of the status of Israel. Some systems envision a grand salvation of Jews at the end of History, some even have the geographical location of Israel focal in the history of the world before Christ’s return. The status of the Jews is sometimes considered an insignificant issue, that it is meaningless, which is difficult to hold given the importance that Paul especially gives them in Romans and other places in scripture.

Looking at the words of Jesus, we see that He considered being a true child of Israel to be a status that was not necessarily connected to the ancestry of a person. Simply being in the lineage of Abraham was not enough to be a true child of Abraham: “They answered and said to Him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham.’ ” (John 8:39), just as John the Baptist noted: “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” (Luke 3:8)

Geoffrey Paxton has this to say about the nation of Israel:
Again, Jesus greeted Nathaniel with the salutation, "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" John 1:47. The word "indeed" signifies a true, or real, Israelite. Jesus therefore declared that a real Israelite is a man "in whom is no guile." According to Psalm 32, the guileless man is not a sinless man but the man who honestly continues to confess his sinfulness and who finds forgiveness at the hand of a merciful God. St. Paul cites Psalm 32 and shows that this guileless man (the Israelite "indeed") is the man who is justified by faith (see Rom. 4:1-8).

The clear teaching of Jesus about the real Israel of God is found also in the Epistles of His great apostle. Could words be clearer than the following?

“For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly: and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” (Rom. 2:28, 29)

”Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed by called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” (Rom. 9:7, 8)

”... even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.”
(Gal. 3:6,7)

”And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Gal. 3:29)

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.” (Gal. 6:15,16.)
Remember in Genesis 15, when the covenant was made, God made a promise to the seed of Abraham to carry out all those promises examined above: “ These promises were made and the covenant carried out by Jesus Christ as our representative, who is described in Galatians 3 as being that very seed that God spoke of: “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your Seed,’ who is Christ.” (Galatians 3:16)

Another criteria must be used than simple genetics to find children of God’s Covenant with Abram millennia ago. In Galatians, Paul tells us what this criteria is: “if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.” And as the Apostle notes in Romans 11:26 “And so all Israel shall be saved...” It is those who are in Christ that are to be saved, they are the true line of Israel from the very beginning of the Covenant.

There is a separate distinction that should be considered here briefly. All people who were under the covenant in the Old Testament were considered part of Israel, be they jews or those brought into the covenant from the outside. All who kept the laws, those who had their males circumcised, those who kept the dietary requirements and other signs of the covenant were Israel. In this sense, all of Israel were the people of God. Any who were under the covenant were the Chosen People of God, be they actually saved believers or simply people carrying out the behavior of a Jew. However of those in the covenant, only some were actually saved, only some were True Israelites such as Nathaniel is described as.

When God made the covenant with Abram and promised to keep both sides, pay the penalty for both sides, and thus guarantee the promises given with a surety that is unequalled in history, He kept this promise with Jesus Christ. Since Jesus Christ is the representative of His people, any who are in Him are the Covenant Children. Consider what Paul says in Romans 9:6 “But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel,” and goes on to note that Abraham had two children, but only Isaac was considered the child of the Covenant, and then to show that Jacob and Esau had Jacob loved and Esau hated, despite both being clearly in the Israelite line. In the same way that Abraham was justified by faith and counted righteous, so are those who have faith in Jesus Christ. Those children of faith are the true children of Abraham, for as John the Baptist noted, “For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” (Matthew 3:9b)

One people, one family is called out of every nation, and grafted onto the same vine, that is Christ. All from any nation of any kind who are truly saved by the work of the Holy Spirit in faith are Israel, be they Jews, Arabs, Russians, Vietnamese, or any other. There is no distinction of race, creed, culture, gender, or economic status when God looks at His children, we all stand equally condemned and hell-bound, and equally justified by Grace through Faith in Jesus Christ, equally co-heirs with Christ in all things.

The Present Truth Magazine (Volume XIV) has a useful chart to help examine this issue more carefully; note how in each instance the description of Israel matches the description of the church:



OLD ISRAEL
NEW ISRAEL
Holy nation; Ex. 19:5,6Holy nation; 1 Peter 2:9; Matt.21:43
Kingdom of priests; Ex. 19:5,6 Kingdom of priests; 1 Peter 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6;Rev.4:4;5:10
A peculiar treasure; Ex. 19:5,6 A peculiar treasure; 1 Peter 2:9
God's people Hosea; 1:9,10; Rom. 9:6-8 God's people; 1 Peter 2:9
A holy people; Deut. 7:6 A holy people; 1 Peter 1:15,16
A people of inheritance; Deut. 4:20 A people of inheritance; Eph. 1:18
God's tabernacle among Israel; Lev. 26:11 God's tabernacle among Israel; John 1:14
God walked among them; Lev. 26:12 God walks among His people; 2 Cor. 6:16-18
Twelve sons of Jacob Twelve apostles
Twelve tribes Twelve tribes scattered abroad; James 1:1
Christ married to His people; Isa. 54:5; Jer. 3:14; Hosea 2:19; Jer. 6:2; 31:32 Christ married to the church; James 4:4; Eph. 5:23-33; 2 Cor. 11:2



Christ and Our Life

So... who cares, right? This has been long, dry, and thoughtful perhaps, but what difference does it all make? Why even pay attention to the future, it will pan out, right? Ultimately, yes, it all does work out; we can read the end of the book of history and it turns out well for God and his people. But this also has deep significance for every day of the Christian life.

First, and foremost, Jesus Christ is most certainly returning and when He does, that’s the end of history. If you are not right by God at that time, you are not right by God ever! Do not hesitate, do not think there’s always time, we never know when the Lord will return. The only indication we have from scripture about when this will happen is that we should always be ready, because it is coming soon. If you have not trusted in Jesus Christ for your salvation, if you have not in faith trusted in the cross, then when Jesus comes judgment will be swift, final, without possibility of appeal, and will result in damnation. The return of Jesus Christ is the most horrible possible event for those not saved by His grace.

But for those saved, it is another story entirely. Scripture often speaks of the hope of Christ’s return as a motivation for a moral life:
“When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:4, 5)
"Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure."
(1 John 3:2, 3)

"But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?" (2 Peter3:10, 12)

“You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:8, 9)
This gives a clear and common thread through the New Testament that teaches us of God’s perspective on how we should view the Eschaton; it was important to the writers of the New Testament, it should be to us.

As noted above, whatever may come, whatever we face in this veil of tears, we know that as sure as God’s Word He will keep his Bride the Church until he comes to take her home. We live each day hoping and looking forward to the day this comes, our actions and lives colored by the truth of the Gospel and the hope of what we will one day be blessed by in God’s eternal love. A life spent with an assurance of the return of Christ that will bring all joy and blessing should change the perspective of any Christian.

Without a sure knowledge of the glorious future awaiting us, the troubles and events of life hold more weight, import, even terror for us. Whoever wins election to high office, what judgment is passed down from a high court, whether that promotion comes through, whatever we face we can face it with the proper perspective: Christ rules, and is coming one day... soon.

We are called complete, blameless, and perfect in the Bible (I Corinthians 1:22, 28; 2:10) but at the same time called to purification, righteous living, temperance, charity and holiness (I John 3:3; 2 Corinthians 7:1; 2 Peter 3:11). This has two effects at the same time.

First, we are to be humble, recognizing our sin and need for a pure life and perfection. This prevents a Christian from living in arrogance or condescension toward others; we stand equally condemned before God and honestly recognize our sin. As Christians, we are humbled by a growing understanding and nearness to God.

Second, we recognize that in Christ we are holy, we are perfect, and we stand blameless. There is only one judge that matters, and He is our advocate and savior (Romans 8:31-34). Thus, while we cannot claim this holiness to be ours through efforts or some greatness in ourselves, we can yet cling to it in the certain knowledge that one day it will be ours in fullness. This gives boldness, a fearless nature that allowed Christian martyrs in the first century to face ghastly tortures and doom with faith, hope, and confidence. It made them move into the world and have God through them turn it upside down (Acts 17:6). We need not fear for derision, dismissal, loss of stature, for our stature is loftier than any possible in this world. One day everyone will know without possibility of pretending otherwise that Christ is Lord and all will worship Him alongside us.

How can we not, given so great a love that meant the sacrifice of His only son for those who hated Him return such a love as we are capable? For Jesus Christ is more lovely than any of His creations, more trustworthy, more worthy. Out of this love and utter gratitude, we must return this love in service, humility, obedience, and a passion for worship and life here. Not cold, empty worshippers, not staid, lifeless and serious, we are filled with a joy that passes all understanding, a contentment, a constant peace that finds expression in both happiness and exuberance as well as sorrow and loss; always with an abiding reverence.

We understand from Scripture that the glory of God’s reign and the paradise we read in scripture is ultimate, at Christ’s return, not a result of our efforts and proper deeds here on earth. The Christian life is one of recognition of God’s rule and a diligent and joyous effort in response to the gospel, not one of work to bring heaven to earth. Theology that predicts a better world and glory on earth is focused on our deeds and on this life, not on Christ’s deeds and God.

At the same time, we are filled with the greatest possible motivation to work in every aspect of life for God’s glory; from media to law, from the newsroom to the boardroom, from the homemaker to the lawmaker, soldier, baker, unemployment line, retirement, and in fact any place we find ourselves. We work everywhere we are at the best of our ability, to the Glory of God and out of a simple joy of doing the work put before us by our loving Savior and Lord. Out of this the world may change, or it may not – ultimately it will be changed and shaken utterly by the return of our King.

In the final days, Jesus Christ is our judge, the judge of all nations, the one who will preside over the final destination of every soul in the history of our world. He is the awesome, powerful, and terrifying almighty God, in His full glory and fearsome omnipotence that we must face. But this is the same Jesus Christ who loved His people so much that while we were yet enemies died for us. This is the same Jesus Christ who prayed the High Priestly prayer for the Children of God. In legal terms, this is known as Conflict of Interest, the Judge being our advocate. For us, this is simply awesome assurance and total promise of love!

As Romans says, ultimately, who can bring a charge against God’s Elect? The only true judge is the one “who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28), and that very judge is our advocate, the one standing eternally at the throne of God as our High Priest, our righteousness before God the Father, with whom he sent the Holy Spirit to indwell us. Fear the judgment? How can we? We face only joy and glory in the coming of Jesus Christ as His children. It is only the lost, only those who reject Jesus Christ as their savior that need fear the coming judgment.

Thus, the Eschaton has present and ‘practical’ meaning for us every day. Our lives are shaped by the hope of what is to come and the memory and constant focus on what has been done in the past for us by Christ Jesus. Gratitude, not fear, nor desire for reward is what drives us to follow the Lord, to strive to be Holy as He is Holy. Hope - not of what we will gain, but of finally going home where the promises we have in Christ will be ours fully and the weary burden of sin will be finally ended - is our joy.

When it finally is all said and done, we do not want to go to be with God because we fear punishment or desire a really nice place to spend eternity, but because the one we love the most is there, and we truly are finally going to our home!

WOMEN IN THE BIBLE

AS time goes on I'll be posting the chapters of a study book I'm working on about the women of the Bible. It is my contention that God has a very special place for women in history, a different way of treating and approaching women than men, and that study will teach us a lot about what women ought to be like and how men should behave. There are other studies and books written about women but they either are simplistic, theologically questionable, or are grossly inventive, coming up with all manner of supposition that is not in scripture. I wanted to stick as closely to scripture as possible and draw all the lessons out I could for each example.

I have several dozen chapters planned, but only two and a half written so far. The first are about Eve, naturally.

WOMEN IN THE BIBLE 1: Eve a

Thank heaven for little girls…

Eve, the first woman, is where we begin our survey of the women of God in the Bible. Her story is the story of more than the fall, it is the story of all women everywhere for all of history. Her story is the story of the conflict of all time, the story of relationships, love, and marriage. In Eve’s life we find the life of women until Our Lord returns: the burdens and the joys, the sins and the triumphs.

When we meet Eve, she has no name yet; her nametag just reads “The Woman.” Don’t be concerned though, Adam just means “The Man.” If they had a pet cat, it probably was named “The Cat.” After all, it’s not like Adam had to distinguish between her and other women.
And the Lord God said, "It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him."
Genesis 2:18

God has looked at His creation and saw it was good, He saw no sin; He saw everything doing what it should in its place. Except… there is an emptiness in the heart of Adam, a lack that God sees is not good, a part of creation that is not complete. Adam is lonely; even before the fall and the introduction of sin into the world, he is incomplete. Adam is made in God’s image, in the likeness of the Lord who is three in one. The triune God has perfect communion between the three persons of the trinity and is never alone, He is constantly in a perfect relationship of love. Adam, bearing God’s image, lacks this constant love and ever present relationship, and feels alone. Further, the man faces alone his task of overseeing and caring for the creation God has given him, and finds no helper suited to him in all the animals of the world. Sure, the monkey is fun and has hands, but it cannot be a true companion in the work, it cannot share Adam’s thoughts and dreams. The dog is terribly loyal and loving, but it cannot help tending the garden and keeps digging up the seeds. Adam needs something more.

Why were the animals not good enough for the job? They were insufficient not only because they were not the kind of social company Adam needs, but because they were not worthy to work with him, side by side in the job of caring for creation. He needed a helper that would work beside him and be his companion, not simply a creature to be his pet or inferior. A pet can be a comfort and a source of cheer, but Spot can never be a true companion to face life with.
And Adam said: "This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man." Genesis 2:23
God responds to this in perfect wisdom, by creating a woman, a new creature in the world that is like man, but one which compliments him by being different. The two faced the creation shoulder to shoulder, as co-workers caring for God’s world. What’s more, the two first humans Adam and the woman were without fear, without shame before each other. Adam and the Woman are described as “naked and unashamed,” not because we should be ashamed at being naked before our mate, and not simply because they were without clothing.
And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed. Genesis 2:25
Most people have had a dream where they show up somewhere naked, always somewhere important or where their peers will be: school, work, church, that kind of place. Always the dream follows a certain pattern, you go about your normal day until you realize people are laughing at you, and only then do you realize your state of dress! The humiliation is complete, you feel laid bare, helpless. It’s not so much your lack of clothes, although that’s disconcerting, but the fact that you’re utterly exposed and defenseless. That burning emotion you feel is shame.

Unlike relationships in a fallen, sinful world, Adam and the woman had no fear of the other learning their secrets, they had no self-consciousness, nothing to hide and nothing to gain over the other. There were not unsaid complaints, no ideas left alone for how they’d be received, there was no hidden frustration or disapproval of some action. Not only was the love they shared that pure and perfect, but also they were without sin and did not do things that would prompt such a reaction in the other. Truly were utterly naked before each other – bodily, yes, but also in their thoughts, dreams, aspirations, and hopes. Not just physically, but personally, completely.

Surely there can be no better relationship among mankind than Adam and his wife, the first woman and man, the first marriage. Standing equal and without shame or secrets, the first couple worked side-by-side for God in love and understanding. Such is the marriage all young couples dream of and wish for when they stand before the pastor and give their vows, the dream of all weddings. No wonder it was called paradise!

As great as this paradise was, as wonderful as such a full, happy life was, it only serves to help understand how very sad and awful the fall into sin was. Exchanging this joy, Adam and The Woman defied God and questioned His wisdom. The first to be tempted by the serpent was The Woman, she faced the craftiest of all God’s creatures alone. Satan tries to appeal to her sense of justice – why, God denies her this beautiful tree that is so very delectable looking, that’s just not fair! Naturally this ignores the entire creation that humanity has full access to, focusing on what is forbidden, but how very appealing that often is to us, isn’t it? From there, it’s all downhill, gathering momentum and mass like an avalanche.

What we don’t have, we want. What we have often seems less important than what we lack, no matter how much we have and how much we should be grateful to God for His mercy and providence. The 10th commandment prohibiting coveting hangs there at the end of the tablet, with the last word to linger on our memories, a reminder. Sure, most people can claim to have kept the technical letter of the law for most commandments – I never have carved an idol, I haven’t gone to court and lied, I haven’t killed someone. But that last one, aye, there’s the rub, to quote Hamlet. Just wanting something is not improper, Jesus teaches us to pray for what we lack and need. But when we start to want what someone else has, there’s when the trouble starts. And that’s what the Woman was tempted by: having what God alone has, a perfect wisdom and understanding of good and evil. But like so often, she had no idea what that really meant. Now we know, don’t we? We all know.

Some want to condemn The Woman for being responsible for the fall, after all, she was the first eat of the apple and offer it to Adam. But despite her sin, it was not until Adam sinned that God came to talk to them, and the fall came. Why? It was as if God was waiting for something before He acted.
Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:24
When God instituted marriage in the Garden of Eden, he completed the lack that Adam had earlier – he was incomplete, lonely, lacking. With The Woman, Adam was made complete; he was joined to his missing piece. The way God takes the rib from Adam to create The Woman is an image of the rest of him that he was lacking, joined to Adam in marriage. Look at how God describes this relationship, before the fall: joined to become one flesh. This describes more than the physical act of marriage, it describes the entire relationship, its meaning. Together, the Woman and the Man Adam are one person. Until both sinned, until both fell, the fall was not complete. They were joined to be one representative of humanity.
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. Genesis 3:17
Where once Adam and The Woman stood together in sinless love and perfect relationship, now they stand together in sin. The result is instant. Wracked by shame, each tries to cover up, to hide behind skins and from not only God, but each other’s gaze. No longer unashamed before each other, Adam and The Woman now have things they want to keep from each other, they feel vulnerable, threatened by the other knowing and seeing so very much.

Not only did sin enter the world, but through it fear and the loss of true relationship. Sin shattered man’s relationship with God, but it also shattered man’s relationship with fellow man and in particular within God’s gift bringing the two into one person: the marriage covenant.

To the woman He said: "I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you." Genesis 3:16


God warned that all who eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would die. Now He comes to the first couple and pronounces His judgment. To the man Adam, he lays a heavy burden of work and constant failure – nothing will turn out quite as he plans and then only by great suffering and effort. To The Woman, God lays a heavy burden of suffering in the time of what is often the source of greatest joy: childbirth. But in addition to this, God declares that man will rule over woman.

Where previously the two were one, sin marred this union with secrets and shame and pride. Where previously both walked side by side in partnership and as equals working the garden for God, sin brought a curse that put one under the other. Of all the tragedies, horrors, and heart-wrenching sadness that the fall has brought to our world, surely this has to be one of the greatest. Adam and The Woman seem the perfect representative for us, choosing what we would have in their place. Who among us would have done differently? The Bible teaches us that none would – they did exactly what we would have, given the circumstances.

Women are given a very particular curse, more subtle than man’s. Where men are cursed with facing constant difficulty and failure in their work that leads to what I believe is man’s besetting sin (sloth and a failure to take responsibility), women have a different burden. Women are said to “desire” their husband, and that he will rule over the woman. How is the first a curse, is a woman not to desire her husband, should this not be proper and right? Did The Woman not desire Adam before the fall?

Some argue this, saying that sex is part of the curse. They point to the pain of childbirth as the theme, and that this means that sexual desire is what is meant here, a desire brought about by the curse that should be fought. But the admonition of God before the fall in Genesis 1:28 is "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.” This at the very least suggests God did not find any particular fault in sexual desire or activity, not to mention Paul’s teaching on the subject.

According to Hebrew scholars, the word “desire” used here is the same word as used in Genesis 4:7, where it describes sin seeking to control Cain. The word seems to mean less desire in the sense of an attraction and more in a will to dominate and control. God lays a burden on The Woman to desire to be the mistress of her husband to control and dominate him, but always to be in a place of submission to him. Woman’s besetting sin, I believe, is to desire to control their husbands.

Like the curse upon man that brings laziness and a failure to take responsibility, not every single woman suffers equally or even greatly from this sin. It is rather a tendency that women in general need to struggle against in their lives, like men must struggle against their tendency. The two work together in a sinister partnership – the man would rather watch TV and play World of Warcraft than take responsibility in the relationship, would rather give in and not cause trouble. The woman takes over because, after all, he’s such a bum and you can’t expect men to be any better, and someone has to get the job done! Each feeds the other, making their sin easier and the relationship suffers in the process as resentment and frustration grows.

The first sin is a perfect example of this dynamic, if you’ll forgive a little reading between the lines. Eve takes the apple to Adam, who rather than cause trouble and take responsibility, gives in to Eve and temptation and eats the apple. It’s just easier that way. How easy men make it for their wives! How easy women make it for their husbands by taking over where he should be strong! God help us all.

Which takes us to next chapter…

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
· What was the only thing God does not describe as good in His creation?
· Why are Adam and The Woman described as naked and unashamed in Genesis 2:23?
· Why does Genesis 3:17 describe the couple as ashamed?
· What is man’s besetting sin?
· How can men better fight this tendency?
· What is woman’s besetting sin?
· How can women better fight this tendency?
· How can both help the other with their struggle against sin?
· How does God help us in this battle?

Questions for deeper study
· Is coveting different from ambition?
-This is a difficult area of discussion, but the motivation of coveting is always rejection of God’s wisdom and authority, and desiring things for ourselves and our pleasure rather than for the benefit of others and to serve God. Coveting targets what others own, ambition targets what we hope to achieve, although it too can be sinful and rejecting the authority of God.
· In the context of Ephesians 5:18-33 how do we understand submission?
-Note that it calls for submission between both members of the marriage to each other and primarily to God. Note also that God commands men to treat their wives in love and sacrifice as Jesus does His church.
· How does God provide for us in our need for forgiveness and in healing broken relationships?
-Always, this points toward the cross. While there is a great deal of advice and there are many commands in scripture, the way God provides for a broken and sinful world is through the gospel.
· Why did God set up this relationship, was there grace even in this curse?
-Before sin entered the world, in a state of sinless innocence, we needed no authority and no structure save that of worshipping God. But with sin and rebellion, humanity requires a structure of authority, which God establishes even in the midst of the curse.
Prayer
Heavenly Father, forgive us for our sins and failure to obey your will, our rebellious spirit that sees only what we have not rather than gives thanks for what we have. Thank you for the forgiveness we know we have in Christ, and the certainty that through the Holy Spirit we learn and grow until the day our Lord returns again to take us home. In Christ Jesus’ matchless name, Amen